Flight free talk

I gave my first ever public climate science talk at a Flight Free event in Edinburgh. If you’re interested in seeing my talk slides, you can download them here. The idea behind Flight Free is to encourage people to pledge to not fly in 2020.

In my talk, I mainly presented some of the basics (greenhouse effect, indicators of warming, consequences, and some of the possible impacts) and then some things that I’ve felt are quite useful to understand, but aren’t always appreciated (there is essentially no warming commitment, stopping climate change requires getting net emissions to zero, it’s going to be challenging, delaying emission reductions is likely to make it increasingly difficult). I tried to be partly hopeful (what we do now can make a difference) and partly somewhat more direct (the changes are probably irreversible and achieving some of our stated targets is going to be extremely challenging).

The other speakers were a Green party candidate, someone who runs a charity that tries to connect the arts and sustainability, and Anna Hughes, the UK Director of Flight Free. It was all quite measured and pleasant, and the audience were – as far as I could tell – quite engaged with the topic, and noone was adamantly demanding that everyone should stop flying (it was more about recognising some of the issues associated with flying and about considering limiting how much we fly). I enjoyed giving my talk and I thought it went okay; people were nicely complementary, but maybe they were just being polite 🙂

I also got to meet some people I’ve only ever interacted with on Twitter, which was very nice, and I’m also going to meet someone from extinction rebellion next week, which should also be interesting. So, I enjoyed my first venture out of social media. Apart from meeting with someone from extinction rebellion, I have no immediate plans to do more, but I quite enjoyed stepping outside my comfort zone, so I may well try and do more, if the opportunities arise.

Posted in Carbon tax, Climate change, Greenhouse effect, Personal, Scientists | Tagged , , , , | 137 Comments

The GRRRRROWTH Institute

Posit an opiniator O* from the Super Wonderful Punditry think tank SWP. Deadlines displease him. The international community failed to meet so many since 1995 that such call becomes self-defeating, or so O* worries. To interpret IPCC deliverables, time for a new paradigm:

Benchmarks, billions upon billions of benchmarks.

Perhaps O* dreams that one day we will rise up and live in a world without deadlines, where actions are simply benchmarked. Science as a mere modeling exercise, consequences be damned. Why care about making decision based on knowledge we discount anyway?

That must appeal to O* – think tanks subsist to sophisticate benchmarks. No wonder why he’d welcome political promises revolving around them. Instead of We got 12 years to stay under 2C would, why not shout We got 12 years until the next benchmark? If this does not galvanize think tank troups, nothing will.


Nevertheless, paradigmatic rebranding of political slogans may not suffice. Think tanks also need to tackle economic progress. For that purpose, allow me to introduce an institute who could perpetuate GRRRRROWTH through benchmarking.

The GRRRRROWTH Institute would monitor our inexorable economic progress. Its main benchmarking tool, with the Extensive Propelling of Income Creation model, would make us realize we live in the best possible world, up to future, better benchmarks. Our economic reality would then reach EPIC proportions.

Nobody may understand for sure how its arcane calculations work exactly. More a feature than a bug, it’s how the process warrants its objectivity. Too much transparency could be gamed.

Under that paradigm, year after year it will be the best of times, never the worst of times. Now is the age of benchmarks. Nothing gets lost, everything transforms itself with inevitable added value. In the end, GROWWWWWTH wins.

Thank you.

This parable illustrates how formal and material modes of speech can be conflated. (The distinction has a venerable tradition.) It also points out how an economy can trivially be made to grow indefinitely. All one needs is an institution that remodels it so it does. Once we take spirit stuff like intelligence, imagination, and wonder into account, sky’s the limit.

Anyone who managed debts understands that consolidating them matters insofar as someone somewhere starts paying its capital some day. The same applies to carbon budgets. Debt refinancing can be done ad nauseam, with improved analyses, new means to generate assets, etc. (Printing money is child’s play; the sticky part is making otters use it.) As long as creditors play along, this kind of audit never ends.

Formally speaking, GRRRRROWTH can go on forever. In reality, nature bats last. To wait her collectors may be unwise. They reject benchmarks as paybacks.

Posted in ClimateBall, economics, GRRRRROWTH, Philosophy for Bloggers, Satire | 45 Comments

Stepping outside my comfort zone

I noticed that I was getting some flack in the comments on another climate blog (to which I won’t link), with some commenters claiming I’d lost whatever credibility I had. This seemed a little surprising, as I didn’t think I really had any with those who typically commented there. Turns out, it was because I’d signed this petition. I’m often reluctant to sign petitions, because they’re – by their nature – simplistic and rarely say something I completely agree with.

In this case, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the claim that human-caused changes to the Earth’s land, sea and air are severely threatening the habitability of our planet. I think we are certainly messing with the system that makes this planet habitable, but I don’t think what we’re doing is going to make it un-inhabitable (although we could make some currently habitable regions, uninhabitable).

However, I am trying to step out of my comfort zone, and I do think we need to take immediate and decisive action, I do think that the warnings from the scientific community have – to date – been largely ignored, and I do support those who are campaigning to get governments to act (although, it’s key that this remains peaceful and non-violent). Hence, I wanted to show some support.

On a similar note, I’m actually part of a panel discussion at the flightfree2020 event in Edinburgh. I’ll also be giving a short talk, which will be the first time I’ll have given a public talk on this topic, so I’m somewhat nervous about it and am hoping I’ve pitched it correctly. It does give me a chance to highlight some things that I think are important, but are not always appreciated. I’ll maybe let people know how I think it went (unless it appears to have gone badly, in which case I might ignore it 🙂 ).

Posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Environmental change, Personal, Policy, Scientists, The philosophy of science | Tagged , , | 170 Comments


One of the demands from Extinction rebellion is that the [g]overnment must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. This has been criticised as being so unrealistic as to potentially damage their basic message. Although I think achieving this would be extremely challenging, and may well be virtually impossible, there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, these are demands of the UK government, not demands of the entire global community.

Also, if you recall the Paris agreement, it had a central aim to

strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

If you then read the recent IPCC SR15 report it says

[i]n model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range). For limiting global warming to below 2°C CO2 emissions are projected to decline by about 25% by 2030 in most pathways (10–30% interquartile range) and reach net zero around 2070 (2065–2080 interquartile range).

In other words, pursuing the aspiration of the Paris agreement would require aiming to cut global emissions in half by about 2030.

If you also think that those countries that are richer, and have contributed more to the problem, should do more, then that might suggest that the UK should aim to do more than halve its emissions by 2030. Alternatively, it should aim to cut its emissions in half before 2030. Maybe not quite net-zero by 2025, but still a substantial reduction in emissions on a very short timescale.

So, you might think the demands of extinction rebellion are ridiculous, but then we did agree to aim for something that would probably require doing something that’s not entirely inconsistent with their demands (very large emission reductions by about 2025). Maybe we shouldn’t have agreed to something that is now regarded as virtually impossible, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that some are demanding that we at least try.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming, Policy, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 48 Comments

A survey of blog audiences

A while ago, I was interviewed by Christel van Eck, who is a PhD student at Wageningen University & Research. It was for a project about the journalistic norms adhered to by bloggers. There should be a paper appearing quite soon.

Christel has just been back in touch to say that there is a new project that also involves Sander van der Linden, from Cambridge University, and Bob Mulder and Art Dewulf, both from Wageningen University. This time it is a survey to try and better understand the audiences of climate blogs.

Those who participate will be offered a sneak preview of the data as well, and have a chance on winning a $20 Amazon gift card. According to Christel, the data is anonymous and will be handled with the highest confidentiality and will only used for research purposes.

If you are willing to participate, you can do so by following this link.

Posted in Climate change, Global warming, Philosophy for Bloggers, Research | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Extinction rebellion

I’ve written about extinction rebellion before. Although I think they get some of the science wrong, and some of their demands seem unrealistic (we can’t get emissions to zero in 7 years), they are having an impact. We keep getting told that simply providing information is not going to work, so it’s hard then to criticise a group that has at least managed to make this front page news.

They also seem to be riling up the right people. There’s also been a rather remarkable set of Twitter exchanges that included David Rose referring to extinction rebellion as an end of times death cult who are beyond the pale of civilised discussion and Matt Ridley referring to them as lying violent extremists.

Given that both have – in the past – complained of the rhetoric aimed at them, you might find this somewhat ironic. That would require thinking that their previous complaints were based on a genuine desire to improve the dialogue, rather than simply an attempt to control the narrative; calling people climate science deniers is unacceptable, but claiming that climate protestors are a death cult who are lying violent extremists is okay.

Of course, I’m not really surprised by this. It’s just another example of same ol’ same ol’. Probably shouldn’t have even bothered writing a post, but I’m doing dinner, so had a bit of free time while it’s all cooking.

Posted in advocacy, Climate change, ClimateBall | Tagged , , | 114 Comments

Worst case scenarios, or not?

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the debate around high emission scenarios, which I found rather frustrating. I think it’s an important issue, but the manner in which some people choose to frame this does make it difficult to have a serious discussion about it.

However, it does seem as though we no longer live in no climate policy world and, hence, it’s now very unlikely that we will follow an emission pathway that could lead to an RCP8.5 concentration pathway. This is – in my view – a very good thing and does mean that we may already have done enough to avoid some of the more extreme outcomes. On the other hand, I do think one should be careful of how to interpret this.

Credit : IPCC AR5 WGI SPM.10

The figure on the right shows the relationship between cumulative (total) emissions and warming. If we’ve largely now ruled out an RCP8.5 concentration pathway, then we may well have ruled out more extreme levels of warming (> 4oC, for example). However, it seems that we may still not have ruled out something close to an RCP6-like concentration pathway. Given the range of warming associated with this pathway, this could still lead to something close to 4oC of warming, which some regard as potentially having extremely serious consequences.

The other issue, which (somewhat ironically) those who criticise the use of RCP8.5 also point out, is that achieving some of our stated targets is going to be incredibly difficult. The figure on the left shows mitigation pathways that would give us a 2/3 chance of limiting warming to 2oC. If we’d started reducing emissions in the mid-1990s, we could have done so relatively gradually. Today, we’d need to halve emissions in about 15 years and get to almost zero emissions by around 2060; an extremely challenging prospect. Plus, there would still be a roughly 1/3 chance that we could do this and still end up with warming exceeding 2oC.

So, although it seems great that we may already have done enough to avoid some of the more severe outcomes, we still aren’t doing enough to achieve our stated targets and are still heading for a level of warming that could lead to very serious consequences. Furthermore, there are still factors that are uncertain, such as climate sensitivity itself, and how the carbon sinks are likely to respond as we continue to emit CO2 and, hence, continue to warm.

So, as much as I’m pleased that it appears that we’ve already implemented enough climate policy to avoid what might be regarded as a worst case scenario, it still appears that we’re heading in a direction that could still lead to pretty severe impacts. Just because the outcome is unlikely to be as catastrophic as it could have been does not mean that there’s nothing left to do.

Posted in Carbon tax, Climate change, Climate sensitivity, ClimateBall | Tagged , , , , , | 47 Comments