Nic Lewis on Radio 4

The BBC has continued with its goal of always including someone associated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation in any segment on climate science. This morning it was Nic Lewis on Radio 4. The segment starts about 15 minutes in, and is actually okay. It mainly focuses on Nic Lewis’s recent work, and the apparent convergence of the views of “skeptics” and mainstream scientists. Apart from Roger Harrabin confusing doubling CO2 concentrations and doubling CO2 emissions, he does a pretty good job of describing the situation. Even though Nic Lewis’s work does suggest that climate sensitivity is lower than other estimates suggest, there is a large overlap and they aren’t as inconsistent as some might have you believe.

Nic Lewis doesn’t say much, but does do the standard climate models running too hot. This is clearly a possibility, but it is really too early to know, and they aren’t the only reason that we think equilibrium sensitivity is around 3oC per doubling of CO2. There are also a number of reasons to think that Nic Lewis’s recent work may be underestimating climate sensitivity. I’ve discussed this before, so don’t want to go into great detail again. There are, however, some things to bear in mind.

  • The energy budget method used by Nic Lewis – although useful – is quite simple and can’t capture all the complexities of the climate system, such as inhomogeneities in the forcings or non-linearities in the feedbacks.
  • Similarly, these energy budget methods do not capture slow feedbacks.
  • Even though Nic Lewis’s work implies that climate sensitivity might be lower than other methods suggest, there are recent adjustments to the surface temperature record and the ocean heat content (not considered by Nic Lewis) that would increase these estimates.
  • Nic Lewis’s results do not exclude the possibility of the equilibrium sensitivity being higher than 3oC, or the transient response being close to 2oC.
  • Even though these energy budget estimates do use observations, they still rely on results from models.

So, if climate sensitivity is on the low side (which is a possibility, even given the IPCC estimates) then we would have more time and our inaction today may not do as much damage as it would were it higher. However, if it’s not low (and even Nic Lewis’s work allows for this), and we follow a high emission pathway, there is a possibility that we could have 2oC of warming, relative to pre-industrial times, within the next 3 decades. It would be great if climate sensitivity is low. However, if we do assume that it is, and we turn out to be wrong, our error will be apparent very soon.

The segment also mentioned climate skeptic and influential blogger Andrew Montford. Well, if he keeps promoting – without comment – dross like this on his site, then I don’t think climate skeptic is the correct descriptor. Essentially, though, this BBC segment on climate science only mentioned two people, both of whom are associated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). I’m actually struggling to think of a single BBC segment on climate science in the recent past that has not had at least one person associated with the GWPF. Here’s a challenge to the BBC. Why not have something on climate science that does not include someone from the GWPF. I’m not suggesting excluding them completely, just suggesting that there are many other organisations who would be (more?) suitable. With all due respect to Nic Lewis, if all you’re looking for is a climate scientist with a few publications who would be willing to speak to the media, there are hundreds of candidates. Of course, if you’re looking for one who is willing to argue against the mainstream position, the pickings may be slightly slimmer.

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44 Responses to Nic Lewis on Radio 4

  1. I heard it. I’d say it was actually a bit crap, not fairly OK. Because they puffed NL as independent.

  2. Joshua says:

    ==> “It would be great if climate sensitivity is low.”

    Please. As Miker speculates, it’s clear that if all your friends and family don’t die from catastrophic climate change, you’ll be very disappointed. Why pretend otherwise?

  3. William,
    That is a point. I think I try to give NL a lot of credit since he actually does research and publishes papers. That may temper my criticism somewhat.

  4. BBD says:

    I’ve said it before, ATTP, but you are too kind.

  5. BBD,
    I gather that there are many that disagree.

  6. Joshua says:

    ==> ” Of course, if you’re looking for one who is willing to argue against the mainstream positions, the pickings may be slightly slimmer.”

    Well, I think that the media, to some extent appropriately, feels compelled to present both “sides” of the debate. As such, it seems that w/r/t your post downstairs, better that they pick someone like Nic than someone like Marcel. Of course, there is still an element of “false balance” if an impression is created that Nic’s perspective is anything less than a minority opinion. in the scientific community. W/o listening to the clip – did they make that clear?

  7. There is always the possibility that the BBC has the GWPF on speed dial for when climate science is discussed and actually does not realise they are a lobby group that was set up to filter the science and play down the outcome of climate change. The very name is designed, at best, to sound credible and, at the worst, to deceive.

  8. Joshua,

    if an impression is created that Nic’s perspective is anything less than a minority opinion. in the scientific community. W/o listening to the clip – did they make that clear?

    That’s partly why I thought it was okay, as they did make that clear and also presented Nic Lewis as the darling of the skeptics. Also pointed out that many mainstream scientists defend the models. So, what Roger Harrabin said seemed like a reasonable representation of the position. Of course, continually including people like Nic Lewis may then create a sense of false balance anyway.

  9. john,
    I wonder. My guess is that they know but quite like the idea of presenting things in a manner that makes it appear as though there is a controversy, even if it is a somewhat manufactured one.

  10. BBD says:

    John Russell

    There is always the possibility that the BBC has the GWPF on speed dial for when climate science is discussed

    On present evidence, I’d say it was a certainty.

  11. BBD says:

    If the BBC is manufacturing controversy over climate change then the editors responsible have failed in their core ethical duty to the British public and must be sacked.

  12. BBD says:

    Editors working for a public broadcaster are supposed to understand that they *have* an ethical dimension to their role and they are supposed to behave accordingly. Which is why the constant appearance of GWPeffers in interviews is flatly unacceptable. The public broadcaster has a duty *not* to misinform the public.

  13. BBD,
    I didn’t mean that they were manufacturing it, I was suggesting that they’re seeing it. It’s clear that there is a perception of a controversy. Of course, if you were to talk mainly to climate scientists and were to talk to a good enough sample, then it would be clear that there were little disagreement about the broad picture. Of course, if you always talk with someone associated with the GWPF, that would not be quite as evident.

  14. jsam says:

    I think a complaint to the BBC about constantly using a secretly funded thinktank may warrant a complaint. I’ve been away so haven’t tracked the items. But if someone has the list then maybe completing the form and whizzing a copy off to Bob Ward might be useful?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/

  15. BBD says:

    ATTP

    Of course, if you always talk with someone associated with the GWPF, that would not be quite as evident.

    This is what I mean. Fostering and broadcasting confusion by constantly featuring lobbyists from the GWPF is, I believe, a fundamental breach of the BBC’s obligations to the public.

  16. Maybe next time the BBC invites a climate scientist they could invite someone from Earth First who is confident that almost all species and all of the humans will die from climate change in 2100 for balance.

    Just for balance.

  17. BBD says:

    jsam

    I think a complaint to the BBC about constantly using a secretly funded thinktank may warrant a complaint.

    But would it be waved away? I suspect it might. The BBC has got form for this as George Monbiot has pointed out:

    One name in particular jumped out at me: American Friends of the IEA. The Institute of Economic Affairs is a British group which, like all the others, calls itself a free market thinktank. Scarcely a day goes by on which its staff are not interviewed in the broadcast media, promoting the dreary old billionaires’ agenda: less tax for the rich, less help for the poor, less spending by the state, less regulation for business. In the first 13 days of February, its people were on the BBC ten times(8).

    Never have I heard its claim to be an independent thinktank challenged by the BBC. When, in 2007, I called the institute a business lobby group, its then director-general responded, in a letter to the Guardian, that “we are independent of all business interests”(9). Oh yes?

    The database, published by the Canadian site desmogblog.com, shows that American Friends of the IEA has received (up to 2010) $215,000 from the two secretive funds(10). When I spoke to the IEA’s fundraising manager, she confirmed that the sole purpose of American Friends is to raise money for the organisation in London(11). She agreed that the IEA has never disclosed the Donors’ Trust money it has received. She denied that the institute is a sockpuppet organisation: purporting to be independent while working for some very powerful US interests.

    Would the BBC allow someone from Bell Pottinger to discuss an issue of concern to its sponsors without revealing the sponsors’ identity? No. So what’s the difference? What distinguishes an acknowledged public relations company taking money from a corporation or a billionaire from a so-called thinktank, funded by the same source to promote the same agenda?

  18. It appears that not all BBC staff are deceived. Matt McGrath says of the GWPF, “one of the world’s foremost bastions of contrariness when it comes to man-made climate change”, which seems pretty unequivocal to me. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26468564

    That article is about Nic Lewis, so is relevant to this post.

  19. Joseph says:

    It’ seems a bit ironic that Curry thinks that the climate is very complex and that the mainstream position doesn’t capture the complexity, yet she publishes a paper using a “simple” model that doesn’t even reflect all of the complexity we know about much less the hypothetical unknowns or unproven theories like her “Stadium Wave.”

  20. Richard Erskine says:

    Joseph – I was having the same thought. Puzzling lack of self awareness or applying different standards depending on whether the results align with preconceived “beliefs”?!

    But it got me thinking about this charge (repeated by Nic Lewis) that the models are “all over the place”. At this point maybe the response should be “the climate system is complex and the models attempt to model as much as possible of that complexity … And the result is that there is variation in the detailed outcomes particularly at regional level … But at a global level the result broadly align around a central conclusion … If you add energy to a system at a faster rate than it can lose it, the whole system will warm as we are seeing … The second law of thermodynamics guarantees that the different parts will share the heat over time, including the atmosphere and oceans, as observed … We are a long way from a new equilibrium and the increased CO2 will stick around for a very long time … This is a super super tanker heading towards the rocks”

    To say they are all over the place, as Nic Lewis did, is just a lazy.

    James Lovelock takes a swipe at the models in his latest book, “A Rough Ride To The Future” (primarily because the much greater heat capacity of the oceans and a feeling these need to be modelled as well as the atmosphere, to have a convincing model). But then he is enamered of the models he did for daisy world, that were intended to prove the Gaia hypothesis. Again, a surprising lack of appreciation of the irony of preferring these simplistic daisy models to the highly sophisticated ones that model our climate.

    No wonder Matt ‘the irrational opportunist’ Ridley loves the book. They both share a rather amoral lack of concern for the impact of climate change on millions of people (for different reasons).

    James Lovelock hates the idea of wind turbines obscuring his view of the British countryside, but then tells the rest of us to pack up, leave our cottages, and head for Singapore style cities (no doubt with high walls to keep out the dispossessed who don’t make the cut).

    No, not amoral, incredibly immoral.

    I suspect Nic Lewis is not so complacent about the future. But he needs to apply consistent logic, and some humility regarding his own models, and not fall into the arms of those who are whistling in the dark, as Matt Ridley has made a career of doing, who are uninterested in genuine dialogue on the science, and wedded to optimism at all costs.

    Phew. I got through that without once mentioned libido 🙂

  21. Overnight it came to me that the solution to the BBC always turning to the GWPF every time they want someone to comment on climate change, would be to set up a UK-based group of communicative climate scientists, perhaps called something like the ‘Climate Science Information Network’ (a charity of course), who could field working climate scientists as speakers.

    With sufficient publicity and a network of contacts, such a group would provide exactly what the media wants: a quick and easy way to fulfil their need for instant spokespeople. That’s the service that the GWPF currently provides. The only way to knock them off their pedestal is to provide a better service.

  22. Richard Erskine says:

    Yes, yes, yes!

  23. The UK doesn’t have anything like the Union of Concerned Scientists. I wondered a while ago if there would be some merit to trying to start something here. The problems I can see would be that there’d be cries of “conspiracy”, “can’t trust scientists who associate”, so you’d have to be willing to do so and put up with (and counter) such arguments. However, I get the impression that it just might not be a very British thing to do, but maybe I’m wrong.

  24. Richard Erskine says:

    I used to be active in SANA during the 80s (Scientists Against Nuclear Arms) and drove around the country (UK) giving talks on nuclear winter science, etc. … That morphed into SGR (Scientist for Global Responsibility) of which I became an inactive member as work, mortgage, kids, etc. came along. I did wonder about SGR as a vehicle, but I think something much more focused is needed.

    The mission statement needs to be very clear – to assist policy makers, journalists and the general public to digest and understand the climate science and impacts of climate change. To do this proactively and but also to monitor the media and react as needed. That will need good scientists, communicators, and savvy media relations. This is desperately needed. But it does need some serious resourcing otherwise it will be pea shooters against battleships in terms of getting the access needed. A good proposal would attract funding I believe.

    Resources alone are not enough (look at UNEP with hundreds of millions of dollars annual funding but underwhelming impact in their mission to turn science into policy outcomes, at least in the climate change area). Passion, ideas, commitment and creativity are needed in a sustained way to make the impact needed.

  25. Rachel M says:

    I think a UK-based science communication charity is a wonderful idea and you’re the best person to kick start something like this, AndThen.

  26. jsam says:

    That’s a worthy idea. I’m in the UK. As I type this I am wearing my Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate Legal Defence Fund tee-shirt. No, I’m not a scientist, of course. But, hey, that doesn’t stop the GWPF.

  27. OPatrick says:

    What’s needed, perhaps, is a group of genuinely sceptical scientists who could be called on to provide the contrarian viewpoint, rather than the BBC having to rely on the ‘scepticism’ of groups like the GWPF.

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Libido strikes again?

  28. Richard Erskine says:

    Yes, yes, OMG!

    Me and my big mouth.

    Genuine scientists are sceptical of unusual or novel claims and seek to question them, with an interest getting to the truth. But valid claims are soon accepted if the claims stack up.

    The current ‘sceptics’ seem mostly to be neither scientists nor interested in doing independent research to advance the sum of knowledge.

    Nevertheless, I agree it is worth having a critical dialogue, maybe with Nic Lewis or whoever. But even without them we can use a method similar to the kind used by Greek philosophers – between the informed expert and an intelligent seeker after the truth … This model is a great way to explore doubts and uncertainties in people’s minds even where there is less uncertainty in practice?

    Creating the right platform is very important. Open unmoderated blogging ain’t the route to enlightenment .. For the following reason …

    At 1315hrs today Matt McGrath posted a blog piece on the BBC regarding the IPCC synthesis report published today. Within ONE hour there were over 700 posts! The majority were of the ill-informed or trolling variety and responses were not much better by those on ‘both sides’. These trollers now have packs that target journalists and scientists. And people say why is ATTP anonymous. You have the answer! There is a monstrous hydra of noise out there, instead of the polite and educated world of well moderated ATTP 🙂 (no idea how I slipped through 🙂 )

    But the man of the Clapham Omnibus will probably not seek or find ATTP …

    There needs to be a well thought out strategy for improved communications across multiple channels and with a strong media arm. Like the Union of Concerned Scientists, as someone said earlier but focused on climate science. Feels like some offline work is needed to look at options. Divergent thinking before convergent thinking (solutions). If the answer was simple we’d have it by now.

  29. @OPatrick

    So a contrarian wing of the ‘CSIN’?

    Maybe Peter Wadhams would fit in this category. A discussion between him and one of the more centrist climate scientists would be very interesting—and perhaps much more representative of the genuine controversies within climate science?

  30. OPatrick says:

    Nah, Wadhams could be put up against Ridley perhaps – there would certainly be entertainment in that. I don’t know who would be in the contrarian group – Nic Lewis might have been, but he’s too closely tied now to the GWPF. Of the people active in the blogosphere James Annan comes mind, I’m sure there are many others who could fit the bill.

  31. Some time ago there was a minor flood in Switzerland. So the journalists called every scientist in Switzerland to harvest quotes. All scientists said: yes, global warming makes precipitation stronger, but no you cannot say that this one event is due to global warming. The journalists were highly frustrated and kept on calling and calling and calling. In the end they were forced to publish: yes, global warming makes precipitation stronger, but no you cannot say that this one event is due to global warming. No one had provided a contrarian opinion.

    Thus if you would like to build an organization that competes with the GW Policy Foundation, it should be one that also does not care about science and is willing to make weird contrarian claims. That is what journalists want and why they call the Policy Foundation.

    Alternatively, we as consumers could tell the journalists that we are not longer willing to eat their rubbish and want real information.

  32. Victor,

    Thus if you would like to build an organization that competes with the GW Policy Foundation, it should be one that also does not care about science and is willing to make weird contrarian claims. That is what journalists want and why they call the Policy Foundation.

    Yes, that’s a fair point. If it is an organisation that sticks rigidly to the science and won’t produce the soundbites that the media likes, it will probably be ignored. If it does produce the soundbites that the media likes, it would probably be justifiably criticised. Not easy to see how it could be effective and scientifically honest. I’d, of course, prefer both.

  33. Richard Erskine says:

    ATTP and Viktor, I think you are being too pessimistic… People are often looking for enlightenment and in the current media often find a lack of it. Maybe the Swiss floods are a difficult case, a too local to be global example. But take the Increased Antarctic sea ice apparently undermining the science, despite the decrease Arctic ice. We can offer catchy rebuttals “Matt Ridley seems to be confusing the area of ice with the volume of ice! There is a difference and the volume of melt overall is what counts. Where that ice is currently on land and not already floating, then that means rising sea levels … Etc.” I am just trying out some thoughts …

    There needs to be more punchy sound bites that are nevertheless accurate summations of the argument, not the dry text of a IPCC report that journalists struggle to process. We can be media friendly and scientifically accurate. But it takes a lot of work and careful crafting to avoid the fact/ message getting mangled.

  34. BBD says:

    Teh Pause!

    That isn’t.

  35. Richard,
    Yes, maybe you’re right. There are certainly things that could be both effective and true. Maybe I should try and dial back the cynicism a little 🙂

  36. VV said:


    In the end they were forced to publish: yes, global warming makes precipitation stronger, but no you cannot say that this one event is due to global warming. No one had provided a contrarian opinion.

    The media deal in sound bites. Consider that in national broadcast news yesterday, just about every top-of-the-hour news feature told everyone to adjust their clocks backwards by one hour due to daylight savings time. Yet, Arizona doesn’t have that policy.

    The dilemma is that there is not enough time for network news to fill in all the exceptions and qualifiers. And we all know that science is filled with exceptions and qualifiers.

    You can’t fight how the news media operates. But of course, Nic “Reggie” Lewis knows how to play into it — he just wraps the outcome in a tidy little number and says that TCR=1.3 and spews that to whoever will listen.

  37. Not sure if the problem of the message of the GW Policy Foundation is just the missing of a few qualifiers. The media love them because the problem is much bigger. Just suggesting that you new organization should not just explain the science; journalists have enough telephone numbers of scientists. You may not have to lie, but you should at least somehow create controversy. Try saying during a flood that the real problem is drought. Maybe that helps and may even be right in the right region.

  38. Steven Mosher says:

    you can talk about the upper tail of the distribution in arctic ice loss, but not about the lower tail in sensitivity.

    pretty funny actually.

    As i explained to folks long ago. All you have to do to expose the real lack of balance is to talk about the lower HALF of expectations.

    When you do that people will characterize you as a “minority” view at best, or a denier.

  39. Steven

    you can talk about the upper tail of the distribution in arctic ice loss, but not about the lower tail in sensitivity.

    Are you at all interested in putting your money where your mouth is and actually illustrating where this is happening, or are you just mentioning your own strawman for reasons I’ve yet to ascertain?

    Having said that, there is a perfectly valid reason why you might see more focus on the upper tail than on the lower tail. The reason is probably related to the fact that a suitable response to “the brakes on the car seem a little soft, we should probably get them checked” is not “don’t bother, they’re probably fine”.

  40. BBD says:

    Cenozoic hyperthermals and associated CIEs, Steve. A hint that maybe we should err on the side of caution with this sensitivity stuff.

  41. dhogaza says:

    ATTP:

    “Having said that, there is a perfectly valid reason why you might see more focus on the upper tail than on the lower tail.”

    Or why, examining the lower tail of the probability of smoking causing cancer, one might be willing to talk about it while simultaneiously giving up smoking …

  42. Michael says:

    Mosher weighs in with his luke-warmer cr@p – what a surprise.

    Interesting discussion re:info for the media. It’s Schneiders conundrum.

  43. grammar nitpicking; it’s ‘it’s’ whenever you can expand it to ‘it is’. Otherwise: “its”. OK? So your first sentence needs upgrading.

  44. Steven,
    I know the rule. I don’t always get it right.

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