Posts Tagged ‘sceptics’

BBC interview: global warming pause, climate sceptics, long timescales

September 27, 2013

I was interviewed by Matt McGrath from the BBC last week, as were several other Dutch climate spokespeople (including PBL’s senior scientist Arthur Petersen and skeptical science writer/journalist Marcel Crok). Short parts of these interviews have appeared on the web  and on Radio 4 (“The World Tonight”, 26-09). Below I try to provide a bit of context to my quotes.

Both pieces are centred, as is fashionable these days, on the apparent smaller rate of surface warming in the past 15 years. The web piece is entitled “Climate sceptics claim warming pause backs their view”. Of course they claim it does. What sceptics did achieve –credit where credit is due- is to put this so-called “pause” on the agenda of mainstream media, until it got so fashionable that they all feel forced to use it as an anchor for any reporting on climate. But, as Gavin Schmidt is quoted as saying:

focus on a global warming pause over the past 15 years is a “misplaced” distraction that misses the big picture. He said, “The IPCC and the issue of climate change is not about the weather next year or the next five years; it’s about the long-term climate change that we are engendering.”

See also this useful figure from Stefan Rahmstorf, underscoring the silliness of drawing all too strong conclusions from 15-year trends.

giss2012c - Rahmstorf - Global temp with two silly trendlines

Figure showing NASA GISS global average temperatures with trendlines from 1992-2006 (light blue) and 1998-2012 (green) as well as the most recent 30-year trend in red. Naturally, starting in a very cold volcano-influenced or very warm El Nino influenced year will inflate or deflate the trend. (source: Stefan Rahmstorf)

I am quoted in the BBC piece as follows:

Bart Verheggen is an atmospheric scientist and blogger who supports the mainstream view of global warming. He said that sceptics have discouraged an open scientific debate.

“When scientists start to notice that their science is being distorted in public by these people who say they are the champions of the scientific method, that could make mainstream researchers more defensive.

“Scientists probably think twice now about writing things down. They probably think twice about how this could be twisted by contrarians.”

The discussion was about to what extent climate science isn’t open/transparent enough, as contrarians routinely claim. Matt also asked to what extent skeptics actually play a positive role in making science more open/transparent and more self-critical. I said ideally they would. People who are critical usually have a good influence that way. But many climate contrarians don’t just stop at raising partly valid criticism, but go on to distort the science. That has the opposite influence, as scientists noticing this behavior become more careful and more defensive, and(have to) think ahead how their words might get twisted by contrarians. So they may become less open and less frank, and more careful in how they chose their words.

That is the opposite of what contrarians claim they want to achieve, so it’s quite ironic (though entirely logical) that this is the more likely effect of their behavior. It shows quite a lack of self-awareness on their part that they don’t see how their actions and their behavior affect the dynamics of the public debate. For the worse, in most –though not all- cases.

There may also be some lack of self-awareness among the mainstream that they respond in a way that’s not conducive to a long-term open and frank dialogue with society. From an older comment of mine:

If the valid criticisms wouldn’t be packaged in such conspiratorial/accusative/exaggerated (c/a/e) ways, they would be welcomed much more than they currently are. The art that mainstream scientists and their defenders must learn is to take the valid parts of the criticisms and deal with/respond to them, and leave the c/a/e packaging for what it is. That is increasingly difficult because the critics and their supporters will try to keep the c/a/e in (presumably because this packaging is what is most effective at decreasing the scientists’ credibility and sowing doubt). That dynamic needs to be broken. It needs effort from both sides, as difficult and unfair as it sounds.

As I wrote in my earliest (and still rather positive) reflection on the Curry-turn:

There is a tendency of ‘circling the wagons’ within the scientific community, in response to the continuous attacks on the science. Attacks that are mostly based on smear and insinuation rather than solid arguments. (…) I think the ’us-versus-them’ feeling amongst many scientists and their supporters is understandable (as a reaction to the contrarian c/a/e attacks on the science), but counterproductive in the long run.

In the Radio 4 show (at ~33:50 min in; earlier in the downloadable mp3 version), I am saying a few things about the timescale of the problem and of the solution. I brought this up when the discussion was about whether we now have more time to respond to climate change. This is a vastly underappreciated point in the climate discussion:  The climate system will take much longer to cool down than it did to warm up. This is a consequence of how the carbon cycle works. In this context, I said the following:

We’re going somewhere, and if we don’t like where we’re going, we have to turn that wheel in time.  As when you’re on a giant supertanker on the ocean, you can’t say “oh, I’ll wait until I can feel the iceberg with my pinkie and then I’ll turn the wheel”. Then you’re a bit late, so you have to start doing that in time. That’s the other side of the coin. But if you keep banging the drum saying “it’s five to twelve! It’s five to twelve!” doesn’t work either. And that could be counter-effective to engage those who are a bit more skeptical.

Global warming is a problem in slow-motion, hence the “five to twelve” line is not the most useful one to get people on their feet, because if it remains five to twelve for too long, they will tune you out. That’s what happened in the aftermath of COP15 in Copenhagen for example (where the 5-to-12 line was used a lot, and not much has changed in the years since). The supertanker analogy is more appropriate I find, since that makes clear that even though the problematic situation that’s on your path isn’t in close proximity yet, it is necessary to change course, if you wish to avoid it.



November 14, 2012

Guestpost by ClimateDialogue editors Rob van Dorland, Bart Strengers and Marcel Crok
Exploring different views on climate change

Goal of offers a platform for discussions between invited climate scientists on important climate topics that have been subject to scientific and public debate. The goal of the platform is to explore the full range of views currently held by scientists by inviting experts with different views on the topic of discussion. We encourage the invited scientists to formulate their own personal scientific views; they are not asked to act as representatives for any particular group in the climate debate.

Obviously, there are many excellent blogs that facilitate discussions between climate experts, but as the climate debate is highly polarized and politicized, blog discussions between experts with opposing views are rare.

The discovery, early 2010, of a number of errors in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report on climate impacts (Working Group II), led to a review of the processes and procedures of the IPCC by the InterAcademy Council (IAC). The IAC-report triggered a debate in the Dutch Parliament about the reliability of climate science in general. Based on the IAC-recommendation that ‘the full range of views’ should be covered in the IPCC-reports, Parliament asked the Dutch government ‘to also involve climate skeptics in future studies on climate change’.

In response, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment announced a number of projects that are aimed to increase this involvement. Climate Dialogue is one of these projects.

We are starting Climate Dialogue with a discussion on the causes of the decline of the Arctic Sea Ice, and the question to what extent this decline can be explained by global warming. Also, the projected timing of the first year that the Arctic will be ice free will be discussed. With respect to the latter, in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, IPCC anticipated that (near) ice free conditions might occur by the end of this century. Since then, several studies have indicated this could be between 2030-2050, or even earlier.

We invited three experts to take part in the discussion: Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Walt Meier, research scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado; and Ron Lindsay, Senior Principal Physicist at the Polar Science Center of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Future topics that will be discussed  include: climate sensitivity, sea level rise, urban heat island-effects, the value of comprehensive climate models, ocean heat storage, and the warming trend over the past few decades.

Our format
Each discussion will be kicked off by a short introduction written by the editorial staff, followed by a guest blog by two or more invited scientists. The scientists will start the discussion by responding to each other’s arguments. It is not the goal of Climate Dialogue to reach a consensus, but to stimulate the discussion and to make clear what the discussants agree or disagree on and why.
To round off the discussion on a particular topic, the Climate Dialogue editor will write a summary, describing the areas of agreement and disagreement between the discussants. The participants will be asked to approve this final article, the discussion between the experts on that topic will then be closed and the editorial board will open a new discussion on a different topic.

The public (including other climate scientists) is also free to comment, but for practical reasons these comments will be shown separately.

The project organization consists of an editorial staff of three people and an advisory board of seven people, all of whom are based in the Netherlands. The editorial staff is concerned with the day-to-day operation of researching topics, finding participants for the discussion and moderating the discussions between the experts. The main task of the advisory board is to guard the neutrality of the platform and to advise the editorial staff about its activities

Editorial Staff
Project leader is Rob van Dorland of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). Van Dorland is a senior scientist and climate advisor in the Climate Services section and is often operating at the interface between science and society.

The second member is Bart Strengers. He is a climate policy analyst and modeler in the IMAGE-project at the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and has been involved in the discussion with climate skeptics for many years.

The third member is Marcel Crok, an investigative science writer, who published a critical book (in Dutch) about the climate debate.

We welcome comments on this blog and are happy to answer any questions regarding this project. You can send an email to info [at] climatedialogue [dot] org.

Postscript (Bart V):

(Disclaimer: I am involved in this initiative as a member of the advisory board)

I think ClimateDialogue is a unique project in both its organization (people with wildly different views are involved) and in its aim: Facilitating a public discussion between scientists with strongly differing opinions.

Discussion topics are chosen to be relevant and interesting to the general public as well as receiving scientific attention. Discussants are chosen to reflect different stances in the spectrum of scientific opinion, explicitly including ‘sceptical’ voices. Naturally, the ensuing discussion is not necessarily representative of the full spectrum of scientific discussion (painting it as such would likely lead to a ‘false balance’).

The idea is that the discussion can alleviate the polarization between ‘sceptics’ and ‘mainstreamers’ and provide some clarity in background of the (dis)agreements. Moreover, having scientists discuss their scientific disagreements in a public setting can go a long way to increase the public trust in science, which has suffered from the (imho incorrect) impression of being closed-minded. All in all, I think that ClimateDialogue provides a valuable service to both the public and the scientific debate. That doesn’t mean that it’s free of risks, but these are more in the framing and the perception than in the discussions itself. Naturally, the participation of good scientists is a necessary condition to make this experiment a success. Don’t hesitate to contact the editors (or me) if you fit the bill and are not afraid of a public debate!

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now

June 14, 2011

A thundering open letter from the Australian scientific community has been published on “The Conversation”, as the start of a two-week series on climate science and “skeptics”:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.”

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people.

A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

And don’t miss this excellent article by Karl Braganza who describes in as few words as realistically possible how we know that we are warming up the earth:

fundamental understanding of the physics of radiation, combined with our understanding of climate change from the geological record, clearly demonstrates that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will inevitably drive global warming. (…)

It’s now practically certain that increasing greenhouse gases have already warmed the climate system.

That continued rapid increases in greenhouse gases will cause rapid future warming is irrefutable.

Tom Fuller’s advice for “warmists”

December 27, 2009

Tom Fuller had a post on how science minded folk (“warmists” he calls them) should talk with “sceptics”. Well meant, but coming from the perspective of the “skeptics” having a lot of useful things to say about the science, which is only rarely the case if you ask me. Below are his main points with my replies:

1. Tom: Without ‘reaching across the aisle’ you will not have adequate support to implement your policy preferences.

Me: Coming from a scientist point of view, my prime concern is to advance the public understanding of the issues, and to fight efforts at increasing misunderstanding. From a policy advocacy position, you’re surely right. Though it’s an illusion that you could possibly get 100% of people to agree with your position. Some people are just dug in too deep.

2. Tom: What most skeptics want more than anything else is a seat at the table–to be listened to and taken seriously.

Me: Play by the scientific rules, and you have a seat. Publish, come to meetings, use real arguments.

Tom’s comeback: Climategate seems to show that the rules can be bent, and that some of those saying skeptics should get published in peer-reviewed journals are conspiring to prevent that from happening.

Me: “Climategate” shows that scientists are human too. I’ll concede that some unfortunate statements were made in a minuscule fraction of these emails. However, concerning peer review, the major problem discussed in the emails was how peer review broke down at Environmental Climate Research, by letting a methodologically flawed paper sail through review. See e.g. a recount of the story by then editor-in-chief Hans von Storch, who is as close to a non-alarmist climate scientist as you can get. See also an opinion piece on the stolen emails by him and Myles Allan in Nature. Specifically, they write: ”Even we —the two authors of this piece — find it impossible to agree whether or not some people went too far to ensure dominance for particular points of view. We do agree, however, that it is absurd to suggest there is some kind of global conspiracy involving all climate scientists.” And “What the e-mails do not prove — or even suggest — is that the main product of the CRU, namely the record of global surface air temperature based on thermometer readings, has been compromised.”  This commentary is also very insightful. The widespread attack on science and on scientists is entirely uncalled for.

3. Tom: It has been convenient for ‘warmists’ to class all opposition as ‘denialists,’ usually adding such terms of endearment as ‘flat-earthers,’ etc. This has had the unfortunate effect (for ‘warmists’) of uniting the opposition.

Me: Although I try to refrain from using that term for pragmatic reasons, it seems befitting for more than a few. ‘Denialism’ relates to using certain tactics, and it exists in other areas as well (e.g. health issues). See also here.

Tom’s Comeback: I think ‘denialist’ is a political term used for political reasons, to class anyone who doesn’t agree with the activist point of view alongside those who denied the Holocaust. I don’t like it.

Me: The phrase “being in denial” is common English AFAIK, and is not only attributable to holocaust deniers. There are more things being denied by people than the holocaust. It is unfortunate that the term “denier” brings up associations with these characters, but it does not mean that the term doesn’t also apply to others.  See e.g here, where they argue that denialism is based on conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic. What other name could be given to those engaging in these types of tactics? It’s clear that it has nothing to do with sincere scepticism. For lack of a better word, and to avoid angering people who are not aware of the ins and outs of the internet debate, I usually refer to them as “sceptics” in quotation marks. Where I agree with you is that it is not smart nor correct to class everybody who disagrees as a denier or denialist. Disagreement comes in many flavours, and not all amount to denialism (though some do, unfortunately).

4. Tom: Acknowledge error. Start with Steve McIntyre.

Bart: Genuine errors should, and are usually acknowledged. It’s a tricky thing to do so with people who are overtly hostile and having smeared you through the mud though. Scientists are human too: Accuse them too often of fraud, and they’ll stop listening to you.

Tom’s Comeback: Bart, is there any way you could justify hiding the divergence of proxy temperatures from real data in a presentation for non-scientists? For politicians debating on whether or not to spend $1 trillion a year of our money in response to what the graphic showed them?

Me: Admittedly I haven’t followed the details of the divergence discussions, but AKAIK, it was discussed in the IPCC report back then. In speaking to the public, the message necessarily has to be adapted, and it often means simplified. If I go to a scientific talk even remotely outside of my field, it’s incredibly hard to follow. Let alone if I were to go to a talk of a totally different discipline. There’s a catch 22 for scientists talking to the public.

More importantly, the decision to spend a trillion dollars doesn’t hinge on one graph. The importance of the hockeystick graph has been overstated to the extreme. Initially also by the IPCC itself, but since then mostly by the “sceptical” camp.

5. Tom: Free the data. Free the code. Open up the debate. From what I’ve seen of the people you think are your bitter enemies, they will respond with help, kindness and forgiveness of your boorish behaviour in the past.

Bart: There are more data and code available than you think. And your second argument that the response will be helpful, kind and forgiving is utterly naïve. It won’t change a single thing in the witch-hunt and anti-scientific attitudes.

Tom’s Comeback: Try us. Specifically, try Steve McIntyre. Ask him for help in his area of competence.

Bart: If McIntyre were sincerely interested in contributing to the science, he would do so. I looked in some detail into his role in the Yamal-debate. I was not impressed. For a more recent example, see eg here. He has made a niche for himself, and it is to provide fodder to “sceptics” and harass scientists. Whatever you say can and will be used against you, seems to be his motto. I completely understand why scientists are loath to try and accommodate him, even if at instances it may be counterproductive, and even if at instances he has a point. Basically, you’re damned it you do and damned if you don’t accommodate.

Constructive criticism is one thing; harassment is quite another. Do too much of the latter, and your efforts at the former will be stonewalled. Misguided? Perhaps. Human? Certainly.

6. Tom: Say a fond but firm farewell to those who have served you poorly in the struggle to gain public support. Al Gore. Joe Romm. (Not Jim Hansen or Gavin Schmidt.) Michael Mann. Phil Jones.

Bart: Scapegoating is not the answer.

Tom’s Comeback: I’m not saying get rid of them because I don’t like them, or even because I think they have acted wrongly. I’m saying get rid of them because they are a hindrance, not a help to your cause.

Bart: There is no board of scientist-directors anywhere who have the power to “get rid of” anyone as they seem fit. Apart from that, I disagree about the people you mention all having been a hindrance to advance public understanding; in some cases quite to the contrary (even if not without faults). There could be some (rather unethical) pragmatism to get rid of people who are receiving the most blame, in an effort to clean our plate, at least in the mindset of the “sceptical” public. But I disagree with such scapegoating.

7. Tom: Abandon the tactic of artificial deadlines and panic attacks. We have more than 10 minutes to save the Galaxy.

Me: There is no strict deadline. OTOH, the longer we wait with taking measures, the more drastically we have to reduce emissions later, which in the end will probably be more difficult and more expensive. Not to mention it increases the chance of crossing dangerous tipping points. So time is of the essence.

Tom’s Comeback: It will be more expensive, but we should be richer, right? As for tipping points, I think this is the core of our disagreement on the future of our climate in the near term. I just don’t see it happening.

Me: “Tipping points” is perhaps too loaded of a term. The world doesn’t end after it is crossed, nor is everything fine when it’s not crossed. Consider for example the increasing melt of both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. The dynamics of these melt processes are very uncertain (and potentially worrisome), but it’s very likely that once big changes are set in motion, it’s very difficult to reverse them. Even more so because the CO2 concentration responds only very slowly to emission reduction efforts. So by the time society realizes “whoops, we’re in serious trouble now”, it may be too late to reverse it by ordinary means. Warning signals from the science are ignored at our peril.

The costs of reducing emissions doesn’t rise linearly with the amount of emissions to be reduced. It rises more or less exponentially. That makes your argument that we’ll be richer in the future moot, at least beyond a certain level. There are arguments made that 4% emission reduction per year is more or less the maximum achievable; beyond that the regular way of innovation and change (learning curves etc) doesn’t apply anymore. It would necessitate much stronger and much more costly and invasive measures to go beyond that. Typically the kind of measures that the “sceptics” oppose most strongly.

Those who oppose strong control by the government, should really favor emission reductions to start sooner rather than later, to reduce the pain that the measures would otherwise cause. That point is easily overseen.

The last point, and in addition the fact that more uncertainty should make one more, not less careful, are the key concepts that “sceptics” are missing the mark on, I think.

8. Tom: Accentuate the positive. Almost all of the measures you advocate to help bring about a greener world are justified without a trace of global warming. Emphasize the common-sense approach

Me: True, but it risks painting a rosier picture than it really is. If solar energy is expensive, people won’t do it just because it’s cool or because it creates jobs. They may because it gives an innovation advantage down the road (but that already implies the reality of AGW).

Tom’s Comeback: I have no comeback. I will actually have to think about this for a while…

9. Tom: Don’t ever again be trapped into untruths by a desire to shorten the story line.

Bart: I don’t’ understand the “again” in this context. Which untruths? If anything, scientists are way too long winded and fond of weasel words as it is. (Guilty as charged…)

Tom’s Comeback: True, but they stayed out of trouble (and the limelight) most of the time before.

10. Tom: Be the first to bring this debate out of the morass of partisan politics. This isn’t a left vs right debate.

Me: Entirely correct. CO2 absorption isn’t influenced by political leanings. This is mostly a message though for those who let their political views blur their judgment of the science.

A mirror story, advice for “skeptics” is here.


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