The Big Questions

I discovered that Andrew Montford was a guest on The Big Questions this morning. I normally don’t watch it as I think it’s generally a very silly programme, that normally has some kind of religious undertone, and normally has guests who just end up shouting at each other. Of course, I get the feeling that this is how some think that all such discussions should take place.

I’ve just, however, watched this part of the show on iPlayer. I don’t really want to do some kind of major summary, but I think (assuming he can watch it) that Willard would be pleased, as the basic message from Andrew Montford, and one of the other guests, was that we had to focus on groooowwwwth. The general picture being that we needed to grow the economy first, then consider tackling these problems. I’m not an economist, but I would have thought that we could grow the economy by tackling these problems?

It was also unfortunate that Andrew Montford decided to titter when one of the other guests was speaking. Maybe Andrew should remind himself that the online climate debate may be juvenile, but that that may not be best way to behave when in front of the general public. It doesn’t come across particlarly well. He also disputed the idea that 96/97% of scientists agreed about the basics of anthropogenic global warming and claimed there was only one paper that suggested this (wrong!). He should probably talk to Richard Tol a bit more.

He also got a little upset when someone suggested that he had pseudo-skeptic views, suggesting that his views were being mis-represented. One way to avoid this – IMO – is to not say things that make it seem that you have pseudo-skeptic views. This was nicely illustrated by his next comment where he accepted that CO2 would cause warming, but then said that he was at the bottom end of the range suggested by the IPCC (which really just means that he’s guessing), and that the net effect of the next few degrees of warming would be roughly zero. If that isn’t a pseudo-skeptic view, I don’t know what is. Seriously, if you don’t want people to think that you’re a pseudo-skeptic, stop saying things that make it appear that you are.

In fact, this is roughly the sum total of my experience with Andrew Montford: on the few occasions that I have ended up in discussions with him, he’s complained that I’ve misrepresented his views, and then immediately said something that appears entirely consistent with what I had just said. There’s probably some kind of name for this: say something silly, complain that you’re being mis-represented when someone points out you’ve just said something silly, then say something silly again. I imagine that it could be quite an effective strategy.

Posted in Climate change, Comedy, Satire, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 255 Comments


Richard Tol has another article about how claims of a scientific consensus don’t stand up (you can read it here if you really want to). It’s the standard message that he’s been promoting for quite some time now and I really can’t bring myself to point out the flaws again; it’s just getting tedious. I’m also tired of always being a critic. I thought I might, instead, try to write something a bit more positive.

I think what Richard has done here is a fantastic example of how persistence can eventually pay off. If you have some kind of agenda, or a message you’d like to promote, just be persistent; eventually you will succeed in getting it out there. It doesn’t really matter if what you’re saying is strictly correct, or not. It doesn’t really matter if what you’re saying is balanced and objective, or not. It doesn’t really matter if what you’re arguing against is something you’ve already accepted as being true. Just keep going. Eventually you will succeed.

Ignore those who point out your errors and tell you that you’re wrong. Ignore those who point out that your behaviour leaves much to be desired. Few people are sufficiently persistent, and so they’ll eventually just give up. You’ll be left to promote your message, free from the criticisms of those who would rather your audience were informed, than misinformed.

Now, there are of course some big caveats. Your message does need to appeal to some kind of audience, ideally one with some power and influence. There’s no point doing this if you won’t actually achieve something. Your message also has to be at least plausible, and you do need to avoid promoting something that would be obviously objectionable and/or libelous. Of course, you’ll be reasonably safe from claims of libel, as most who typically complain about such things would probably be in your audience, rather than amongst those about whom you’re writing.

This strategy also isn’t for everyone. If you have any interest in maintaining some actual credibility, this may not be optimal. If, however, that doesn’t particularly bother you, then carry on. It can be a particularly successful strategy, as long as you have suitable persistence and little interest in what others might think of you.

So, there you go. People think that I can only be a critic, but sometimes I can see the positives in what those with whom I broadly disagree are doing. I think Richard is the living embodiment of the saying if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!. Maybe we could all learn a lesson from this episode? Maybe this is a strategy worth considering. On the other hand, if you have any interest in maintaining a shred of dignity, possibly not. Similarly, if you would like the strength of your argument to be based on something other than your critics simply giving up, this may not be for you.

Posted in ClimateBall, Global warming, Satire | Tagged , , , , , | 553 Comments

ECS > 2K?

I know Eli has already beaten me to it, but I thought I would also post the video of Andrew Dessler’s at the recent meeting on Earth’s Climate Sensitivity. It includes a talk by Bjorn Stevens called Some (not yet entirely convincing) reasons why 2K < ECS < 3.5K. This is a little ironic given that his recent paper on aerosol forcing is being used by some to argue that ECS is probably less than 2K.

Andrew Dessler’s talk is essentially also arguing that ECS > 2K. It’s quite interesting in that he’s trying to use short-term variability to estimate ECS. This has the advantage that the change in external forcing will be small, allowing it to be ignored. It does, however, require having some idea of how short-term estimates compare to longer-term estimates, which is obtained through comparing forced model runs, with unforced control runs. What he also did was to consider, initially, the feedbacks about which we have some confidence (water vapour, lapse rate, surface albedo) and showed that these alone would suggest an ECS of about 2K. There are then some reasons why cloud feedbacks are likely positive, which would then suggest that the ECS is probably greater than 2K. I don’t quite know the arguments for why cloud feedback is likely positive, so if anyone else does, it would be useful to get an idea of what they are.

Anwyay, that’s all I was going to say. The talk is quite good and clear, so just watch the video :-)

Posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, Global warming, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments


I stayed up last night and watched the South Africa – New Zealand semi-final at the cricket world cup. I really shouldn’t have, as I really am now too old to do an all-nighter, and we lost. However, I also had a brief Twitter exchange with Mark Ryan (who has commented here before) who pointed me to an interesting interview with Michel Foucalt called Polemics, Politics, and Problemization; perfect reading for the early hours while watching cricket :-)

There were really two reasons why I found the interview interesting; it certainly seems relevant to much of the online climate debate, but it also reminded me of what I was striving for, even if I don’t often manage to achieve it. I don’t want to write a long post (I’ve said that before) so thought I would highlight a couple of things that I found of interest. This seemed particularly relevant: when asked why he didn’t engage in polemics, Foucalt responded with

I like discussions, and when I am asked questions, I try to answer them. It’s true that I don’t like to get involved in polemics. If I open a book and see that the author is accusing an adversary of “infantile leftism” I shut it again right away.

This seems particularly prevalent in the online climate debate. There are many blogs that regularly have posts decrying “greenies” or “leftist” or some other similarly generic label. My current problem is that instead of doing as Foucalt suggests, I get annoyed, write some kind of comment, and then get dragged down the rabbit hole.

This also struck a cord

The polemicist , on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat

Certainly, I’ve been involved in far too many discussions where I seem to be essentially saying (naively) “why do you think that is an appropriate way to engage in such discussions?” There was a recent Bishop-Hill discussion on “the poors” that I got dragged into. Me suggesting that accusing others of arguing for the death of millions was sub-optimal, was typically followed by some claiming that that doesn’t happen, and others accusing me of arguing for the death of millions.

The final thing I thought I would highlight was

Perhaps, someday, a long history will have to be written of polemics, polemics as a parasitic figure on discussion and an obstacle to the search for the truth.

which is something I’ve pondered myself. Will we look back and wonder how we let ourselves and our societies be dominated by those whose goal is not to strive for truth, a better society, or a better understanding of the world around us, but simply a desire to drive forward an agenda at all costs (or almost all costs). To be clear, I’m not meaning the climate debate only here; I think this is prevalent throughout society at the moment.

Anyway, those are just some quick thoughts. Bear in mind that I read most of this at about 3am while trying to watch the cricket and not fall asleep (which I didn’t entirely manage). I’m sure there’s much more to it than I’ve described, and I may well have not properly captured all the subtleties. I’m sure some of my more philosophically minded commenters will have more insightful thoughts than I’ve managed. I thought I would end, though, with a link to a Slate article that explains cricket for Americans. It’s just a pity that they only explained one-day cricket, and didn’t go into the complexities of test-match cricket :-)

Posted in ClimateBall, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 86 Comments


I took my daughter and some friends to see Muse at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow last week. I didn’t know much about the band myself, but I essentially had to go as my daughter is too young to go by herself, but too old for me to say “you can’t go and see your most favourite band ever on a school night!”.

It was, actually, a very impressive show and I’ve become something of a fan. I did decide, however, that discretion was the better part of valour, and stood in the back tapping my feet with the older crowd, while the youngsters Moshed (?) in the front. I was slightly worried that I might see one of them passed over the heads to the front after being crushed by someone twice their weight, but it all went fine and they even managed to get some of the water being passed out by the security people at the front.

Since I’m an astronomer, I thought I would at least post one a their relevant songs. I can also recommend Supermassive Black Hole. I gather Richard Betts is also something a fan, but I assume he – unlike me – was up for some Moshing in Exeter last night.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , , , | 73 Comments

Aerosol forcing

I was wondering if a anyone had any insight into this new paper by Bjorn Stevens called Rethinking the lower bound on aerosol forcing. The basic goal seems to be to try and more tightly constrain the forcing due to anthropogenic aerosols. The IPCC AR5 5-95% range was -0.1 to -1.9 Wm-2. Stevens (2015) suggest – via various calculations – that the lower limit should really be -1.0 Wm-2, with an upper limit of around -0.3 Wm-2.

Of course, constraining the range is a good thing, but this result has the “skeptico-sphere” all excited, because it has implication for climate sensitivity. Nic Lewis has a post on Climate Audit and on Climate Etc.. It’s also mentioned on Bishop-Hill and, I presume (although I haven’t looked) on WUWT. As an aside, Stoat has an amusing post on how best to describe Willard Anthony Watts and his blog.

The reason the skeptico-sphere is all a flutter over this, is that if you redo Nic Lewis’s energy balance calculation, the reduced aerosol forcing means you get an ECS range (5-95%) of 1.05 – 2.2K and a best estimate of 1.45K. The TCR range drops to 0.9-1.65K. So, nice and low. Fantastic, if true. However, not only does this seem really implausibly low, it also means that Nic Lewis’ method is now diverging from the IPCC range (1.5 – 4.5K for ECS). In such a scenario, someone presumably has to be wrong (unless reality happens to just lie in the overlap region). Who is it? Well, I guess we don’t know, but we could hazards some guesses. For example:

  • Paleo-climate is largely inconsistent with an ECS that is lower than 1.5K. It’s probably difficult to see how we could have moved out of a snowball Earth or between glacial and inter-glacials if the ECS was as low as 1.45K.
  • The greenhouse effect itself is inconsistent with such a low ECS, unless – for some reason – the ECS has a very strong temperature dependence.
  • The net feedback response (water vapour, lapse rate, clouds) is thought to be around 2 Wm-2K-1. An ECS as low – or lower then – 1.45K would suggest a feedback response of around 0.6Wm-2K-1, much lower then we would expect. I also have a feeling that there is something logically inconsistent about an ECS range that encompasses the possibility of no feedbacks, but maybe not.

Now, I don’t know the answer and am not claiming that such a low ECS must be wrong: it just seems clear that an awful lot of our current understanding must be wrong in order for it to be this low.

There is also an interesting irony about this paper. One of the arguments made in the paper is that the CMIP5 climate models typically underestimate the warming between 1920 and 1950. One way to resolve this would be if these models were over-estimating the aerosol forcing during this period (more negative than it actually is). However, the CMIP models have an ECS range from 2.1K to 4.6K. Therefore it seems a little inconsistent to use the result in Stevens (2015) to argue for an ECS with a range from 1.05K to 2.2K when the result in the paper is partly based on models with an ECS range from 2.1K to 4.6K.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts and the whole aerosol thing is quite a complex topic about which I know little. Hence, I wondered if any of my much more knowledgable readers might have some other insights.

Posted in Anthony Watts, Climate change, Climate sensitivity, ClimateBall, Global warming, IPCC, Judith Curry, Science, Watts Up With That | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 229 Comments

Is the GWPF avin’ a larf?

I know I should really ignore these things, but not only is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) taken seriously by some, my incredulity also tends to win out. The latest in my they can’t really have said that, can they? series, is a report called The Small Print: What the Royal Society left out. The idea is to tell us things about climate change that the Royal Society won’t/doesn’t. There’s a very good reason why the Royal Society doesn’t tell us these things: these are particularly stupid things to say and the Royal Society – by and large – is not made up of idiots. It’s a little concerning if the GWPF released this report as some kind of joke. It’s even more concerning if they are actually serious.

Let me give you some examples. This alone should completely invalidate anything else they say:

Carbon dioxide levels have been increasing steadily. A body of evidence points to this being due to human effects – emissions from burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes – although the Earth’s carbon dioxide budget is not sufficiently understood to accurately quantify the human and natural contributions.

It’s all anthropogenic. This is not in dispute. It’s about as certain as anything can possibly be. Only half of our annual emissions remain in the atmosphere: more than half is absorbed by the oceans and biosphere. If they weren’t doing so, atmospheric concentrations would be rising even faster than they currently are. That the oceans and biosphere are absorbing more than they emit, means that they can’t be the source. All that’s left is us. It really is us. There is no plausible alternative.

The report also says

Is the climate warming?
This is hardly an important question. The Earth’s surface is always warming or cooling, or on some occasions barely changing. What is important is that the change referred to is small and imperfectly measured.

Small and imperfectly measured? Small is clearly a judgement. Imperfectly measured may be true in the sense that analysing all the data so as to produce a temperature record is difficult, imperfect and has errors and uncertainties. Noone, however, doubts that we have warmed and that the change in temperature since pre-industrial times is probably unprecendented in the Holocene.

I don’t want to go through too much, but another example is:

There is significant evidence that the Sun has played an important role in climate change, and over the 20th century in particular.

No, there isn’t. There really isn’t significant evidence that the Sun has played an important role in climate change over the 20th century. It certainly influences our climate, but the dominant change in forcing over the 20th century is anthropogenic.

One more:

The Earth has many and hugely varied climates. The climate also changes naturally on every timescale. Mankind is remarkably adaptable, living in almost all of these climates.

Well, yes, but there is vast difference between it being possible to live in a wide variety of different climates, and being able to provide food, shelter, and a decent standard of living for a population in excess of 7 billion people. As I may have said before, this isn’t about the survival of our species, but about the survival of our civilisations! There’s a reason why some regions of the planet are more heavily populated than others.

and another:

While carbon dioxide levels appear to be higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years, they are relatively low compared to most of the last 600 million years (when most lifeforms evolved), ….. there were periods during which the carbon dioxide level was as much as 10 times higher than today but the climate was colder, for example the Silurian Period (about 443–420 million years ago). The fact that most plant life evolved during these periods is because plants thrive when carbon dioxide is increased.

Good grief! Humans have only been on the planet for about 100000 years. Mammals for just over 100 million years. The plants that evolved during the Silurian are nothing like the plants we have today. This also ignores other issues, like ocean acidification, which the report also suggests may not be a big problem.

and finally:

it is not currently possible to reconcile estimates of sea level rise with estimates of the factors that are thought to contribute to it.

Yes, it is. It is true that it’s difficult to project future sea level rise because of uncertainties about ice sheet melt, but the general view is that projections are probably a bit conservative: just ask the US Navy.

There’s plenty more if you can bothered to read it. Some might find it amusing; well in a depressing how can anyone possibly think this makes any sense kind of way. It’s quite remarkable that people who regard themselves as experts have actually endorsed this tripe. It seems that even some Fellows of the Royal Society are not immune.

It’s reports like this that make me cynical about the idea that we should reduce name-calling and engage in more grown-up dialogue. Not that I’m specifically arguing for name-calling, but if those endorsing this report are the elite of the “skeptic” movement – and if they are actually serious – grown-up dialogue is clearly impossible, and it’s hard to see how name-calling would actually make any difference, one way or the other.

Posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Global warming, IPCC, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , | 130 Comments