Speaking out

Bill McGuire, who is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL, has written a post suggesting that climate scientists should speak out more and that they should

Come down off the fence and choose the path you know, in your heart of hearts, is the right one.

I must admit that when I started publicly discussing climate change – more than 8 years ago – I was a little surprised that more climate scientists weren’t speaking out. However, I think there are a number of reasons why this might be, many of which are quite reasonable.

I think scientists are naturally cautious about what they say publicly. The tendency is to say things for which there is substantial evidence and to avoid speculating about things that are very uncertain. There is also a tendency to avoid saying things that might sound like advocacy, especially when engaging in what might be regarded as reasonably formal science communication.

I do, though, agree with Bill McGuire that there is pressure to not sound alarmist. A consequence of this has been a tendency to focus on what is regarded as likely and to avoid talking about possible worst case scenarios. Again, this can be reasonable, but does run the risk of not making clear that things could end up much worse than what we regard as likely.

However, there is an additional complication. In a simple sense, the outcome depends on two somewhat independent factors: how much we end up emitting, and how sensitive the climate is to the resulting radiative perturbation. So, when considering worst case scenarios, are they worst case in the sense that the climate turns out to be very sensitive, or is it that we continue to increase our emissions, so that a worst case emerges even if climate sensitivity is not on the high end. Of course, the ultimate worst case would be that we continue to increase our emissions and climate sensitivity turns out to be high.

This does make science communication quite tricky, since we can still do things to limit how much we emit and, consequently, to avoid ultimate worst case scenarios. Consequently, there’s a balance between highlighting how bad things could get while also making clear that it’s still not too late to avoid some of the most severe outcomes. However, we also have the complication that even if we do limit our emissions, we could still experience impacts that are more severe than expected (e.g., the recent heatwaves and flooding).

So, I do think this is a pretty complex science communication environment and, in general, I think climate scientists have communicated very effectively (global governments have agreed to take action, even if they haven’t actually done much yet). I do think it would be good if more climate scientists were to speak out. However, I also think we have to be careful of generating a narrative that suggests that the problem is that climate scientists haven’t spoken out enough, rather than it being that others have mostly ignored what is being said.

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85 Responses to Speaking out

  1. I think that scientist have done thier job. It is now time for politician to do what is avoided. Cut the emissions.

  2. In a sense, the whole RCP8.5 debate (or clusterf**k, as someone suggested on Twitter) is an illustration of the issue. The various scenarios that are used by climate scientists range from ones where we substantially limit our emissions, to one where we continue to increase our emissions. Since the latter now seems much more unlikely than it was ~10 years ago, climate scientists are being accused of exaggerating the risks. There is certainly merit to the arguments that the high emission pathways are now much less likely than was the case, but framing their use as “climate porn” and suggesting that their continued use is one of the most serious scientific integrity issues of the 21st century seems to wildly exaggerate the significance of this issue and downplays that even if this outcome is unlikely doesn’t mean that the impacts won’t still be severe.

  3. Bill McGuire says:

    Oh Dear, Oh Dear! Raymond Horstman’s response goes right to the heart of the problem. Scientists have done their bit, so can now wash their hands and go back to their ivory towers. This is wrong on so many levels!

  4. Come down off the fence and choose the path you know, in your heart of hearts, is the right one.
    It is human to have emotions.
    However, knowledge would appear to reside not in the heart, but in the brain.
    Evidence and observations, which we may all seek to test and evaluate, lead to knowledge, whereas hearts very often energetically lead away from knowledge.

  5. Thomas Fuller says:

    I’m not a climate scientist but I confess I am wondering–you say that we can affect our emissions, something that is obvious and hope happens soon.

    By inference you seem to be stating that sensitivity cannot be altered by human hand. I confess I don’t see how it could be, but is that something that has at least been explored?


    If you were warned that a meteor was going to crash at your home or office at a specific time, what would you do? Your decision would likely depend on how much you trust the source of this information and on the projected extent of the damage the meteor could cause when it crashes. Who is responsible for warning you and what is their duty to warn? Who is liable for damages from failure to warn?
    The science of climate change generates linkages to potential duty to warn issues, and casts a wide net for potential liability and, by extension, climate-related justice.
    Climate change litigation globally has expanded from 884 cases in 24 countries in 2017, to 1550 cases in 38 countries as of July 1, 2020 (Status of Climate Change Litigation, UNEP 2020 https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/34818/GCLR.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y). In the United States, claims related to duty of care or failure to warn are analogous to the scope of past litigation over tobacco or asbestos.
    Climate scientists as expert witnesses in the courts will be a growing trend.

  7. Thomas Fuller says:

    While I’m idly speculating on a summer day, it strikes me that we are perfectly happy to use things like catalytic converters to improve pollution emissions. I know that up to a certain point chemistry differs from physics, but past that point is it possible to alter human emissions so that they become transparent to the radiation they normally intercept?

    We do live in a culture where companies are paying scientists to invent friction free toothpaste so that none remains in the tube…

  8. Willard says:

    Some Climateball habits act as catalytic converters:

    [SCIENTISTS] There’s only a 0.5% chance of ECS below 2 K.

    [LUCKWARMERS] So you’re saying there’s a chance?

  9. Thomas Fuller says:

    Be kinda silly if we walked past a hammer to keep pounding our head against the nail.

  10. Raymond,
    Bill’s point (which I think is correct) is that even if it is time for politicians to act, they don’t seem to be doing so with the urgency that many would regard as necessary. In particular, it seems that many climate scientists may express this kind of view in private, but might avoid doing so in public.

  11. Tom,

    By inference you seem to be stating that sensitivity cannot be altered by human hand. I confess I don’t see how it could be, but is that something that has at least been explored?

    Climate sensitivity is defined as being how much we will warm after doubling atmospheric CO2, or a change in forcing equivalent to doubling atmospheric CO2. And there is transient climate response and an equilibrium climate sensitivity. It’s an emergent property of the system, so isn’t something that we can alter. We can change how much we will warm by changing how much we emit, but we can’t change the climate sensitivity itself.

  12. Tom,

    I know that up to a certain point chemistry differs from physics, but past that point is it possible to alter human emissions so that they become transparent to the radiation they normally intercept?

    We can certainly change the relationship between energy use and warming, primarily by generating energy in a way that doesn’t also involve emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For example, use more renewables, or nuclear.

  13. Bill,

    Scientists have done their bit, so can now wash their hands and go back to their ivory towers. This is wrong on so many levels!

    Indeed, I agree that we can’t assume that all the necessary communication has been done.

  14. I am listening *right now* to Alice Bell talking about the history of climate science at RI, at the same point that John Tyndall stood, and how inspiring has been their contribution. I find it strange to critique them for not shouting loudly enough. Huhumm. Without them, we would not have the data to shout about. Give them a f***** break!

  15. Richard,
    Since you mention Alice Bell, would be interesting to know what role Bill (if he’s still reading this) thinks the social sciences have played in this whole communication environment. My own view is that it’s mixed at best. My impression is that the advice about communication isn’t consistent and can tend to be rather simplistic. Also, some in the science in society/policy field have presented arguments that – in my view – mostly illustrate that they don’t understand the science very well and can also come across as them trying to police what scientists do in public (the Honest Broker, for example). I do think we need to be conscious that how people interpret the scientific evidence and what we should do, given that evidence, will depend on their values/ideology. However, that doesn’t really change the scientific evidence. Just because we don’t want sea levels to rise isn’t going to change that they will continue to do so.

  16. Ken, I think that is a too-narrow framing. We do need a wide range of viewpoints. My favourite book related to climate is by a novelist, Amitav Ghosh, ‘The Great Derangement’, but I also read the scientific papers. There is no binary choice here. Kahan devastating insight (snark warning) that trying to tell denialists about the science doesn’t change their minds, should not be used as a standard to judge social sciences. Most people are confused, not in denial. We need a multidisciplinary approach to help develop ‘the conversation’. Frustrating for scientists who want to show the IR spectrum of water and carbon dioxide; but the reality of how we move from science to action. We need to continue to communicate the science, but also to highlight the agency that people have; not by just recycling bottles, but by aggistating for change, lobbyying, voting. These are not in a scientists skill set, so I puzzle at the binaryism in discussing influence.

  17. Richard,

    Ken, I think that is a too-narrow framing. We do need a wide range of viewpoints.

    Oh, yes, I agree. I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. I probably phrased it poorly. There are certainly many people from many different disciplines who made very constructive contributions. I’ll try to frame it more carefully :-). I guess what I was mostly getting at was that Bill is calling for climate scientists to speak out more bluntly. However, I think there are some academics who would argue against this on the basis of it not being an entirely scientific issue and, potentially, who would also argue that scientists may, in fact, be too prominent already. I was interested in whether or not Bill had come across this and, if so, what he thought of it. It’s possible, of course, that my impression is too narrow, or simply wrong.

  18. You have articulated reasons to stay on the fence here, as I read what you wrote. I think it’s a shame that some highly motivated actors will weaponize past communications, jump on simple misstatements and reinforce the safety of fence-straddling communication styles, but that is no surprise. The fossil fuel industry has certainly poured a lot of money to these actors to make sure their message got traction and had impact. I guess it gets hot in the kitchen, right?

    I don’t worry about the narrative regarding scientist’s reticent communication habits very much. Some scientists have shown more courage than others in this regard, but at the end of the day, the science has been very clear for a very long time about the connection between CO2 and global warming. I don’t think communication has been the big problem.

  19. there is a lingering question as to whether scientists have underestimated impacts and arrival of changes related to global warming. I think we see this kind of headline on a regular basis and if scientists are expressing shock, what does that tell us about their insights into the risks of global warming?

    “The intensity and scale of the floods in Germany this week have shocked climate scientists, who did not expect records to be broken this much, over such a wide area or this soon.”


  20. Journalists: we need a narrative of ‘this is a big surprise’ that caught scientists of guard
    Scientists: I think we already told you about this – this is not really a surprise – and we have said it very clearly 1000 times before e.g.

    with Professor Belcher.
    How loud, clearly and frequently does one have to say it before politicians get a grip?
    This Newsnight segment is extremely good climate science comms. Looking but not finding the alleged silence.

  21. mrkenfabian says:

    Whereas I think Raymond is correct and for politicians and others holding positions of trust and responsibility (including journalists and news editors) there is a Duty of Care to pay attention to the expert advice, a duty to make an effort to be well informed (or defer to those that are) and to craft appropriate responses. Also a duty to inform – and not misinform – the public in turn about the expert advice… which they called for – allegedly so they made no precipitous decisions on poor information, but have come to use as an excuse to stall.

    But for 3 full decades they’ve gotten fundamentally consistent advice, the same whether called for by governments that lean Left and governments that lean Right. Probably there have been confidential briefings from Police and Intelligence services to sceptical leaders on the political affiliations and potential collusion and data tampering by scientists (despite those same people being the ones that made those accusations up – maybe why they believe it?), which clearly never found any socialist/globalist/environmentalist/scientist-ist climate conspiracies or there would have been prosecutions and celebrations. I would be relieved myself to learn the climate problem isn’t a problem – that droughts and bushfires with another 4 or 5 or 6 degrees.

    Doubt, Deny, Delay as climate policy is a profound betrayal of trust and responsibility by people holding some of the highest positions of trust and responsibility there are, in order to preserve the possibility of RCP8-5 level emissions as a Sovereign Right; it is NOT the fault of science communications that they chose that response to the science based advice.

  22. Russell says:

    “A consequence of this has been a tendency to focus on what is regarded as likely and to avoid talking about possible worst case scenarios. Again, this can be reasonable, but does run the risk of not making clear that things could end up much worse than what we regard as likely.”

    The duty of care on the Climate Desk side extends to candor in discussing rates of climate change as well as their magnitude.

    Hyperbole in ” speculating about things that are very uncertain” tends in the long run to corrode the credibility of long-term risk asessment.

    Few ClimateBall players wish to see such considerations publicized


  23. RE says “Scientists: I think we already told you about this – this is not really a surprise – and we have said it very clearly 1000 times before e.g.”

    But I don’t think that is the case at all with regard to the european flooding. This is from Dieter Gerten, professor climatology at Potsdam: “I am surprised by how far it is above the previous record,” Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said. “We seem to be not just above normal but in domains we didn’t expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed.”

    from the same article, before the DG quote: Climate scientists have long predicted that human emissions would cause more floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather, but the latest spikes have surpassed many expectations.

    I don’t believe it is true or correct that “scientists” have told us that this level of damage was coming. I think that Potsdam is pretty mainstream and Gerten at Potsdam is is surprised. Not surprised that no one listened to a thousand warnings that this would occur, he is surprised by terms of spatial extent, the speed it developed and how far this is above the previous record.

    These kind of quotes from mainstream scientists are popping up all the time now in the media and no matter what any of may have to say about the lack of action on the part of the governments, there is really no doubt that the level, spatial extent, and speed and timing of development are surprising scientists. Some of the things that are happening now and being covered by the media are a surprise to scientists. Please check with Professor Gerten at Potsdam if you think that is not correct.



  24. Ben McMillan says:

    I’m not sure how more climate scientists speaking out would really make a big difference. There are plenty of prominent climate scientists who use whatever public platform they can access to make stark statements about the consequences of inaction.

    They aren’t going to get more TV time just because there are more of them willing to stand up in front of a camera.

    Really the hard part is getting access to platforms with wide enough reach, and how to best use the existing access to public media to best effect. And especially, how to counter misinformation and apathy. A lot of the complexity of the communication is really a result of misrepresentation and bad-faith attacks from inactivists. The RCP8.5-is-bollox crew will continue to conflate the difference between projections and predictions as a means to smear scientists.

    It is amazing, and a testament to the effective communication of climate scientists, that climate has the prominence it has given all the other things that are important in peoples’ lives.

    Consider infectious disease, which is arguably about as important as climate change, but is usually completely absent from media coverage in the developed world until an epidemic is well underway.

  25. How many times are we all going to play this so-called bait-and-switch game anyways?

    This version: climate scientists need to be screaming banshees and whirling dervishes to boot. Because that is the self righteous path to a required course correction that humanity appears to need. More words and no actions. Same old same old …

    Is any country installing renewables fast enough to reach climate goals?

    “But if countries aren’t in the process of improving their policy situation, they either need to start pursuing alternatives (like efficiency and carbon capture) or acknowledge that they don’t actually intend to reach their commitments.”

    They ain’t and they won’t. Go nuclear or go home or just stfu. :/

  26. Steven Mosher says:

    Come down off the fence and choose the path you know, in your heart of hearts, is the right one.

    full on nukes!!!!

    the path we KNOW is the right one

  27. Steven Mosher says:

    I think that scientist have done thier job. It is now time for politician to do what is avoided. Cut the emissions.

    the job isnt done until gavin or mike Mann design a transition away from FF.

    faucci told us to wear masks, but really we need him physically putting masks on people who refuse them.

    we are in thid mess because of bloggers. let them fix it

  28. jacksmith4tx says:

    I predict we re-engineer the biosphere to modify the climate. After all, science is just a thought process but technology can change reality. (Politics is just how you rationalize the changes.)
    DeepMind’s Alphafold has published (for free) the human proteome covering 98.5% of known human proteins. As is typical of humans the headlines focus on the potential to treat and cure human diseases but this is so much bigger than that.
    It could be the philosopher’s stone or pandora’s box. Next up; use quantum computer machine language (announced by IBM this month) to accelerate everything above.
    Why do I feel simultaneously elated at the possibilities and terrified of future shock.

  29. Willard says:

    > Why do I feel simultaneously elated at the possibilities and terrified of future shock.

    That’s how headlines keep you reading. Same for “Go Nukes!” and “Go Green!” sloganeering.

    We all know what sugar does. We still consume it.

  30. jacksmith4tx says:

    I just can’t wait for my Tesla Neurolink implants!!

  31. Willard says:

    Meanwhile, 30$ will provide one solar light to a kid living in energy poverty, which will impact the lives and the health of five persons, afford 2K hours of study without kerosene, and save 80% of their kerosene budget, which will go into seeds instead of more black carbon:


  32. I watched Fauci take on Sen. Paul a couple of days ago over covid and I think that is what McGuire is suggesting with his suggestion that scientists speak up and speak out. If anyone needs to understand how to deliver a scientific message to the public and to government officials, all they need to do is watch Dr. Fauci. Fauci is a brave and capable science communicator. Not everyone has his skills, but everyone can watch him in action and decide if they can up their scientific communication game. It’s safer to straddle the fence and makes more sense if you a person is strongly conflict-avoidant.

  33. Bob Loblaw says:

    I’ll bet that Fauci felt a lot more comfortable saying what he said the other day with Biden as president instead of TrumpleThinSkin. For government employees, there is always a certain hesitation when your views are contrary to the current political masters.

  34. Willard says:

    Speaking of teh Fauch, here’s a fascinating story:

    TRACIE HUNTE: And this is getting at, like – if you’re trying to push a government or the world to pay attention and make change, how do you do that? How do you do that while also being true to yourself, your experience, your emotions, your ideals?

    LULU MILLER: Right.

    TRACIE HUNTE: So I was looking for parallels to what we’re going through now, and a familiar name popped up.

    Hello. Good morning. Sorry (laughter).

    ANTHONY FAUCI: Good morning.

    TRACIE HUNTE: A Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    I wasn’t expecting you to pick up, like, immediately.

    LULU MILLER: The Fauch.

    TRACIE HUNTE: The Fauch.

    LULU MILLER: The Fauch is in this story?

    ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I’m here. If you want me to go away, I’ll leave.

    TRACIE HUNTE: No, no, do not. Please don’t go away.

    The Fauch is actually a big part of this story.

    ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I mean, yeah.

    TRACIE HUNTE: Back in the ’80s, early in the AIDS crisis, he had the exact same job that he has now.

    LULU MILLER: Like, truly the same title?

    TRACIE HUNTE: The exact same title, job, everything…


    TRACIE HUNTE: …The head of NIAID. And back then, he was studying immunology with the molecular architecture of fevers. Then he heard about this weird disease…

    ANTHONY FAUCI: HIV/AIDS before we knew it was HIV.

    TRACIE HUNTE: …That, in the United States at the time, was afflicting mostly white, young, gay men.

    ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, who would have thought, back in the ’80s, that you would have 78 million infections and 37 million deaths from a disease that no one wanted to pay attention to?

    TRACIE HUNTE: His mentors at the time were like, what are you doing? You’re on this path to, like, success. Why do you want to work with AIDS patients?

    ANTHONY FAUCI: But I had a great deal of empathy for these gay young men.

    TRACIE HUNTE: So he ignored his mentors.



  35. To Fauci, a verb, would probably meet McGuire’s plea to climb down off the fence. On climate, I think it’s time for scientists to Fauci the message. Off the fence, get your fauch on, baby

  36. mrkenfabian says:

    Everett – “They ain’t and they won’t. Go nuclear or go home or just stfu. ”
    A lot of assumptions about the capabilities and cost effectiveness of nuclear and the ability to scale nuclear up rapidly as well as presumptions of incapabilities of renewables to scale up. Assumptions also about lack of achievements to date coming out of a real depth of policy commitment – ie intrinsic to the technology choice.

    I don’t think those assumptions stand up to scrutiny. So, no, I won’t just stfu. Nor should others who seek to push ahead with technologies we can roll out now – as readily in nations with poor governance as those with better governance. We should push RE as far and as fast as possible and if they fall short that should not be because we gave up on them just when they are on the cusp of competitive cost effectiveness. Competitive even in places where an enduring amnesty on emissions and climate costs remains the largest de-facto energy subsidy.

    Looks to me like RE is scaling up quicker and much more readily than nuclear – despite the conflicted politics. WNA claimed we could have 25% of global electricity with nuclear by 2050, with strong climate policies that include strong carbon pricing. I thought they were trying to be optimistic!

    RE will do that within the coming decade, most places without carbon pricing and even without especially ambitious and consistent policy.

    Most of the RE growth has been within the last decade – a tipping point on costs has been (or is on the verge of) being passed – and it hasn’t been proponents of RE that have persistently opposed or obstructed carbon pricing and strong climate policies. These are technologies that are moving targets; citing of past costs and rates of take-up for projecting future costs and rates of take-up will get answers that are wrong. I suggest, way wrong.

    Of course we don’t know how some crucial steps to zero emissions will be done – but I suggest claims that with “just use nuclear” we have a sure path to zero emissions with no crucial steps left uncertain – are greatly exaggerated.

    With most of the extant political support for nuclear locked away behind a Wall of Denial – pro fossil fuels climate science deniers bonding with nuclear advocates over their shared dislike of climate and environmental activists, despite their goals being fundamentally antithetical – we aren’t even seeing those who like and trust nuclear supporting the policies that would advance it, starting with carbon pricing.

    Which comes back to the problems with those in the very Offices where these issues must be dealt with still passing over the science and falling back on Doubt, Denial and Delay; the nuclear option is a victim of that mainstream political choice. Call it Friendly Fire and/or Collatoral Damage, but nuclear has clearly been a sacrifice pro fossil fuels opponents of climate responsibility have been willing to make. Handing the issue off to others in “you care so much, you fix it” style then objecting “Not like That” was always a profound betrayal of public trust.

  37. Willard,
    That was a really interesting podcast. Thanks.

  38. Chubbs says:

    Second Ben’s point that climate scientists don’t have the media reach to influence public opinion much. Fortunately we have gradually seen an improvement in broader media climate communication. In addition the changing climate is becoming harder to ignore. Climate recently the second most important issue in the US.


  39. russellseitz says:

    smallbluemike says:
    July 24, 2021 at 1:38 am
    To Fauci, a verb,

    May the fauch be with you.

  40. anoilman says:

    I think that the issue with asking scientists to speak out is precisely why deniers have been very public about attacking them. Deniers want to keep them quiet so they can have their way. Sticking your head up is a great way to get attacked.

    One scientist I know simply can’t look at the internet anymore since its just so full of cr*p, and BS shoveled by Global Warming deniers.

    Another more obvious issue is that the skills required to be a great scientist are not the same as the skills required to be a great communicator. I don’t think anyone here would say that the scientists in the global warming denial community are bad communicators.

  41. Thomas Fuller says:

    If solar continues to grow at historical rates we won’t need nuclear. But trends that can’t go on forever, don’t. As a solar advocate who worked in the industry I’m a big fan. But I recognize that we have yet to solve the problem of consistent baseline dispatching of reliable electricity.

    One fruitful approach would be to focus on solar charging of EV batteries, while waiting for the Godot of better storage options.

  42. David B Benson says:

    One study claims that an investment of nearly $30 trillion per year until 2050 is required to keep global warming down to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The study can be found via the indirect link

  43. Oilman says: “I don’t think anyone here would say that the scientists in the global warming denial community are bad communicators.” I think you are probably right. The warming denial “scientists” are very effective communicators. They may be dishonest and/or incorrect, but they will be and have been well-rewarded for their project to slow down action that would hurt the fossil fuel industry.

    Honest scientists need to have a quick response to the denialists and they need to avoid being dragged into the weeds with pointless arguments. A sample of the response: Hey, what you are saying is utter nonsense. You should be embarrassed by your arguments and positions. But I get that your livelihood depends on spreading the fossil fuel industry message. A couple of decades ago, your type of scientist made a decent living disputing the science that showed smoking tobacco was harmful. Utter nonsense. Voodoo science. Shame on you.


  44. Thomas Fuller says:

    Mr. Benson, in 2019 global GDP was estimated at $87.26 trillion. Not quite sure that anyone’s willing to spend a third of global GDP on mitigating climate change.

    FWIW, a decade ago I estimated that in the U.S. it would cost $12 trillion to convert to renewable energy if we did it over 40 years, and $23 trillion if we accelerated the transition to only 20 years.

    I’m not really sure what your totals include, but if it really does require $30 trillion a year, I’m buying more sunscreen.

  45. russellseitz says:

    There’s a rather large stranded research investment that may be relevant to the energy storage and sequestration quandry.

    Back in the 1950’s a lot of work was done on using CO2 to cool really big piles of carbon blocks. The thermal engineering was fine, but the system was alas nuclear, and an unsuspected solid state energy storage mechanism led to the windscale reactor catching fire.

    However, if you don’t have a nuclear reactor to worry about a thousand ton checkerwork of graphite bricks inside a thick insulating blanket can simultaneously store a lot of heat and sequester a lot of carbon, as can the working fluid used in the ill-fated Windscale design.

    If you heat the graphite when the wind blows and the sun shines, the thermal mass can turn a cavern full of captured liquid C02 into turbine power when it’s cloudy and calm.

    Likewise , when there is PV and Wind power to spare, it can generate the hydrogen needed to reduce captured CO2 to Bosch process elemental carbon that can be turned into graphite bricks to
    build more plants that sequester more carbon, cutting the capex of the sequestration cycle.

  46. mrkenfabian says:

    I don’t want to divert too much from the original topic, but I suggest the remarkable and unexpected successes of wind and solar have been critical to undermining the rhetoric of alarmist economic fear of going without fossil fuels and that has been crucial to the current willingness of nations to make commitments to zero emissions. Nuclear energy can be a beneficiary of the breakdown of monolithic opposition to such commitments but I think nuclear advocacy has to ditch the appeasement of climate science denial and their anti-environmentalist and anti-renewables rhetoric.

    Throwing funding at wind and solar – whether as empty gesture politics or give em enough rope politics – I suspect more of those than genuine commitment to either the climate issue or to wind and solar as solution – may have been the best mistakes on climate and clean energy that mainstream politics made.

  47. Joshua says:

    Bill Mcguire –

    > Scientists have done their bit, so can now wash their hands and go back to their ivory towers. This is wrong on so many levels!

    Anders –

    >In particular, it seems that many climate scientists may express this kind of view in private, but might avoid doing so in public.

    Those statements seem to suggest that a significant reason for a lack of movement on mitigation is the messaging of scientists.

    I think that notion is wrong on so many levels!

  48. anoilman says:

    Thomas Fuller says:
    If solar continues to grow at historical rates we won’t need nuclear.

    I don’t agree. I don’t think renewables can do the job without a massive improvement in efficiency. Storage is an issue as is longer term drop outs, like the fact that solar output is 50% in winter. (I don’t want to sound like a total downer, but right now the best we can hope for is to reduce emissions. I feel that we should be doing that with maximum effort.)

    I believe that the issues around electricity, heat, and transportation are far more complex than simply providing renewables.

    Dealing with household energy consumption is incredibly difficult, but possibly doable. (I looked at what I’d need to heat my house through winter with a ground loop geothermal, and I’d need 3 roof tops of solar panels. There are a lot of houses in my city, and its pretty much heated with natural gas.)

    Industrial power consumption easily dwarfs household energy consumption in most regions. We’ll most certainly need large power grids just to support them. (It takes a lot of electricity to make the silicon for solar panels. I’ve seen the factories.)

    Load shifting can only do so much, and there’s only so much that you can shift. (Regionally we have a virtual battery, in the form of businesses who have contracted for lower power quality. They get paid if the power goes out.)

    Geopolitics is still a huge barrier. (In Canada trade between provinces is still fraught with conflict. Oil Town Alberta will not want to use Hydro power from BC.)

    Transportation is still a concern, EVs lack range, and its a real barrier. I believe that there is some hope for air travel in the form of synthetic gas.

  49. Ben McMillan says:

    Once you think about decarbonising the whole economy, and not just the electricity sector, the big question, if energy is largely supplied in the form of electricity, shifts from how to store energy to how to largely electrify the industrial sector and produce carbon-free fuels and feedstocks.


    They estimate the additional cost (ignoring climate+health benefits) of the transition at ~0.5% of GDP.

    Since you inevitably have to produce large amounts of fuel and feedstock using electricity, large amounts of flexible demand and convenient storage of large quantities of energy is an unavoidable side-effect.

  50. Joshua,

    Those statements seem to suggest that a significant reason for a lack of movement on mitigation is the messaging of scientists.

    I think that notion is wrong on so many levels!

    Yes, I agree. This is why I think it’s important to not creative a narrative that suggests that the main problem has been messaging of scientists. I don’t know if you’ve seen RPJ’s latest senate testimony, but it includes the claim that the “key scientific guidance on climate that informs policy– including central bank stress testing and U.S. government estimates of the social cost of carbon – has departed from basic standards of scientific integrity.”

    It’s one reason why I was asking Bill what he thought of the role of other scholars, which I posed in this comment. We already have supposedly serious scholars criticising the messaging from scientists. If they spoke out more bluntly, would it be more effective, or would you end up with these scholars claiming that they were departing from the basic standards of scientific integrity and being invited to give evidence to senate committees?

  51. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Without focusing on one individual, and looking at the larger, polarized and politicized dynamic in play – it seems to me that climate scientists are going to be attacked pretty much whatever they say by people who have a mis-aligned political orientation w/r/t to the policy implications their science. The issue has become tribal and the nature of tribalism is that people will identify scientists as either in their tribe or not, and praise or attack them accordingly. And then we can see in some cases that it also becomes personal, and people take the political stage (such as testifying before congress) to wrangle over the science as an outgrowth of a personal aggrievance agenda.

    People who are more identified on the issue filter whatever it is that a scientist says to reinforce the ways in which they identify on the science. People who are less identified don’t know what to think, and move one way or the other w/r/t climate change policies in line with the state of the economy or the signals apparent in recent weather phenomena.

    I think that the weaknesses of the deficit model in this context are pretty well established. More direct communication might potentially have some level of impact, but my guess is that any impact in one direction would be cancelled by an opposing impact in the larger direction, and both impacts would only have a small effect around the margins anyway, an effect that would get lost as noise in the much larger political signal already in play for decades now.

    I’m struck by a disturbing aspect of Bill’s piece, characterized by this excerpt:

    There is nothing worse than being ridiculed within your own community. It can, I know, mean loss of prestige, a squeeze on funding, and a closing down of opportunities for advancement. I understand, therefore, why you continue to play down anything that might draw attention, why you lie low, tow the party line. I know, too, what you really think and feel about climate change, because I have talked to many of you in private, and the response – without exception – has been that the true situation is far worse than you are prepared to admit in public.

    Because it sounds so similar to what I read on “skeptic” websites or on Twitter from rightwingers or attention-seeking grifters on the left – who are monetizing a political angle on COVID. I’m not in a position to question Bill’s personal interactions with his colleagues, but this theme that there’s an overriding careerist driving force that explains what scientists do and don’t do, say and don’t say, just seems implausible to me. On the right, they say that climate scientists over-hype the risks of climate change because they’re effectively indifferent to the suffering of poor children in Africa and just want to chase grant money or generally further their careers. On the left, they say that climate scientists are essentially indifferent to an existential risk to the planet and just want to chase grant money or generally further their careers.

    I dunno. I’ve been thinking lately about fundamental attribution error: https://www.simplypsychology.org/fundamental-attribution.html

    And cognitive empathy – or “the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking.”

    My guess is that what’s going on is inevitably going to be more complicated than Bill’s (or the typical “skeptics”) asserted motivational chain of causation. For just one obvious example, maybe a scientist is actually concerned that “sticking their head above the parapet” is going to engender an counterproductive backlash in the public, and it’s not that they’re just worried about fearing shot by peers.

    But on top of that, even if BIll’s chain of causality is absolutely accurate for why a larger % of climate scientists aren’t out front talking more forcefully about the risks of climate change, I doubt that them doing so would change much of anything.

    When on one side someone says there would be a notable increase in support for mitigation if climate scientist communicated differently, or on the other side “skeptics” say that the reason there hasn’t been more mitigation is because “activist” climate scientists have over-hyped the risks of climate change and created a backlash, I think they’re missing the more explanatory forces in play that explain how the public views the issue. That, then, has a circular effect for me, where it leads me to be more skeptical of their views on the chain of causality.

  52. David B Benson says:

    Recent heat domes and excessive rains ought to be convincing.

  53. David B Benson says:

    Thomas Fuller—- I was off by a factor of 10.

  54. Joshua says:

    David –

    > Recent heat domes and excessive rains ought to be convincing.

    I think for sustained and sufficient degree of “convincing” it will take more – to the point where large numbers of people feel there is an imminent threat.

    My understanding is that at a more localized level there are very wide uncertainties and on a decadal time frame we wouldn’t expect to see a strong signal of extreme events on a regional scale for the country.

    So I kinda suspect that people won’t be convinced for a while – but it’s within the realm of possibilities.

  55. russellseitz says:

    Even with a heat dome in place, some thoughtful journalists have begun to duck at the sound of climate scientists shooting from the hip. The New York Times Climate Desk membership did not stop it from observing :

    “The study is the latest in a growing body of research termed “rapid attribution” analysis, which aims to establish if there is a link between climate change and specific extreme events like heat waves, heavy rain storms and flooding. The goal is to publicize any climate connection quickly, in part to thwart climate denialists who might claim that global warming had no impact on a particular event. The study, which took a little more than a week, is not yet peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal-

  56. are you convinced that there is an imminent threat, Joshua?

  57. Willard says:

    That looks like baiting, Mike.

    Drive-bys are fine. Baiting, less so.

  58. no, really just a genuine question to Joshua. I couldn’t tell where he stands on the imminent threat question.

  59. Willard says:

    I’m sure the question is genuine, Mike.

    The topic of the thread isn’t your pet topic, however.

  60. mrkenfabian says:

    Anoilman – lack of interconnections will be a major problem for coordinating geographically diverse energy supply – that seems true not just for renewables but it looks to be an essential component of a low emissions electricity supply. Sounds like you need that BC hydro (and BC wind) in Winter and perhaps solar that comes from way South, US Nevada maybe, rather than relying on solar from your own roof where the climate cannot support that.

    A shift to zero emissions requires finding alternatives to gas for heating but if politics struggles to do electricity interconnectors I don’t see how it can possibly manage a major build of new nuclear. Nuclear as rhetoric – as the bar too high, that mainstream politics won’t support unless environmentalists support it first, framing it as their fault (so just keep using fossil fuels until they change their minds) sound similar to arguments here in Australia around emissions reduction targets – that if nation x (China, India usually) doesn’t do big emissions reductions first it will be their fault that we don’t (and vice versa) so keep using fossil fuels until they do. I expect the same people making such arguments will simply shift the goal posts and find other reasons why they cannot do clean energy.

    I see cheap solar and wind as the wedge that is cracking the old ‘built around baseload’ electricity supply paradigms and that won’t help nuclear. Not the full solution by any means, but a big build up of solar and wind will force energy providers to deal with the issues – they are not going to invest heavily in pumped hydro, massive batteries or other storage until circumstances require it. I also think that once the option to NOT fix it is removed that we will see more solutions being made to work.

    Solar clearly works a whole lot better all year round here in Australia – and I suggest much of the populated world – than in Canada. EV’s? Given current levels of R&D I will be very surprised if we don’t see very significant improvements in range, in fast charging, in cost. Mr Gates suggested a fivefold increase in R&D – but I suspect for batteries that has already happened.

    I think the biggest impediment is lack of commitment, not the capabilities of technologies.

  61. Joshua says:

    Mike –

    I’m not entirely sure why it’s baiting – but since Willard says it is I’ll limit my response to simply stating the obvious: It matters very little whether I think there is an imminent threat.

  62. Thomas Fuller says:

    To provide a reasoned answer there would almost have to be an agreed upon definition of both ‘imminent’ and ‘threat.’ Good luck with that.

  63. Joshua says:

    Since I introduced the term I’d be happy to say what I meant by it (all you need to do is ask – unlike some people I’ve encountered online, I’m happy to clarify what I mean when asked).

    I basically mean when people are fairly certain that their lives will be significantly disrupted in the foreseeable future. Like flooding will occur where they live and their property would be damaged, or there will be a water shortage such that they’ll have to deal with rationing, or that agriculture will be affected leading to shortages and/or large spikes in prices, or they’ll have to seriously consider moving… Stuff like that. Just ask if you want more clarification.

  64. David B Benson says:

    Joshua —- sorry, but what term did you introduce?

  65. Steven Mosher says:

    it seems to me that climate scientists are going to be attacked pretty much whatever they say

    or attacked for what others say !

  66. Joshua says:

    David –

    > Joshua —- sorry, but what term did you introduce.

    I was talking about this discussion and the idea of “imminent threat” as a pivot point in public opinion.

    Of course, I’m not referring to the use of that term in the broader discourse.

  67. Joshua says:

    Steven –

    > yup
    or attacked for what others say !

    Or attacked for distortions of what they’ve said or outright fantasies about what they’ve said.

  68. I need a ruling on that from comment from Joshua. Was that baiting or a drive-by? Either way, I liked it.

  69. Willard says:

    > I need a ruling

    That’s playing the ref, Mike. But I’ll play along as I’m on vacation.

    Here’s how I see it. An expression is defined by whatever people understand when they’re being asked about that expression. People best understand what they mean when they assent.

    That’s all we can say about the perception of an imminent threat. Take you. You’re peddling “but there’s an imminent threat” in just about every thread in which you comment, often to chastise climate scientists who are not acting like you’d like.

    Do I need to know exactly what you mean by an “imminent threat”? No, all I need is to see how you behave. It’s clear that *any* interpretation of what you perceive as an imminent threat should imply something more imminent than how the established viewpoint portrays it.

    In other words, you’re the perfect mark for the “But CAGW” meme that contrarians exploit daily. You want more “But CAGW” in a thread? Easy. Bait people about the C in “But CAGW.”

    You can shriek to the top of lungs every day all you want, Mike. You’re not the scientific establishment, and they’re not reading comment threads. So what’s in it for you?

  70. Michael Mann is speaking out a bit: Prof Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University in the US and not part of the new research, said: “This study underscores something that has been apparent in the record weather extremes we’ve seen this summer: dangerous climate change is here, and it’s now simply a matter of how dangerous we are willing to let it get.” Mann’s own research published in May showed a possible doubling of heat stress in the US by 2100.

    But he said: “If anything, this latest study, and our own, are underestimating the potential for deadly heat extremes in the future, in the absence of significant climate action.” That is because current climate models do not capture the slow-moving and very persistent nature of the extreme weather phenomena seen in the Pacific north-west heatwave and German floods recently.

    The new research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, concluded: “Record-shattering extremes are [currently] very rare but their expected probability increases rapidly in the coming three decades.”


    “…record-shattering extremes are [currently] very rare but their expected probability increases rapidly in the coming three decades… ”

    I give credit to Professor Mann for recognizing that this study, just published, is likely underestimating the potential for deadly heat extremes in the future. Mind you, this is not me saying that his study underestimates the potential. Professor Mann said that, and he’s a respected climate scientist. Professor Mann says the current climate models do not capture the slow-moving and very persistent nature of the extreme weather events in the PNW and in Germany.



  71. Willard says:

    > this is not me saying

    This is you quoting MikeM, Mike. And MikeM’s opinion is still his own opinion. He’s not the megaphone for Science, and he never has been, to our contrarians’ dismay.

  72. Brandon Gates says:

    Ripple et al. have a new study out in BioScience which reads more like an op-ed than a research paper. I’m sure the usual suspects will consider it alarmist activist advocacy, but as I’ve long said who better than domain experts to make such recommendations.

  73. Dave_Geologist says:

    The UK Met Office speaking out: State of the UK Climate 2020.

    Commentary: Extreme weather will be the norm and UK is not prepared, report warns.

    A tad under 1°C in 30 years, and 6% more precipitation. Clausius-Clapeyron wins again. After all there’s opinion and speaking out, but then there’s that old standby, physics.

  74. russellseitz says:

    Willlard , are yor still playing CalvinBall ?

    “Do I need to know exactly what you mean by an “imminent threat”? No, all I need is to see how you behave. ”

    Better you shoukd explain to mike exactly what you mean by “existenial threat”.

  75. Steven Mosher says:


    cool tool 4 search

  76. Steven Mosher says:

    The United States is joining Germany, France and Israel in giving booster shots, ignoring a plea by the World Health Organisation

  77. Joshua says:

    Where are booster shots being given in the US?

    This reminds me of one aspect of the climate wars – where “skeptics” argue that money spent on mitigating climate change leads to starving children in Africa.

    If the political will (in the US) is lacking to actually get shots out to places that lack vaccines, does the US have a moral obligation to not give booster shots (or for that matter, do I have a moral obligation to not get one)?

    I mean it’s kind of a navel-gazing question because there’s little doubt that in the US, they will start giving out 3rd shots before the rest of the world gets 1st shots (and prolly little doubt I’ll refuse one if they do).

  78. The USA has donated more vaccines to the rest of the world (110 million doses and counting) than the rest of the world combined.

  79. Joshua says:

    Steven –

    Not entirely surprising that much of the rationale behind the anti-masking activism was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how infectious diseases (outside of tuberculosis) can be spread through aerosolized particles.


  80. anoilman says:

    Joshua… I’m not certain what misunderstanding by whom, you think is happening. Your article seems to imply that epidemiologists don’t know about aerosols. Yet everyone single one that I know (including a doctor that advise the WHO) all know what they are, and generally view the world as a continuum of particle sizes.

    The decision of airborne versus droplet\contact is based on reality. If COVID was airborne doctors would know. Hospitals do not operate with all wards on isolated negative pressure, and all staff wearing N95 masks. Heck, its hard to get staff to even wash their hands.

    Part of the decision model over how to handle an infectious diseases is how likely you are to catch it via different methods.

    All this really means is that you are incredibly unlikely to catch it via airborne transmission so its not a concern. But slobbering over communal food (pizza?), in a crowded space (pub?) where you have to talk loud (speaking moistly) and or with shared accommodations would definitely spread COVID. i.e. droplet/contact.


  81. AoM,
    As I understand it, COVID is airborne, but you are unlikely to catch it in a well-ventilated space. This is not the case if you’re in a closed space that is not well ventilated. According to someone I know who has been quite involved in the COVID issue, their US school district successfully prevented transmission at schools by ensuring that they had suitable ventilation, and the only case they did get was on a school bus when they forgot to open the windows (apochryphal, I will admit).

  82. Joshua says:


    > I’m not certain what misunderstanding by whom, you think is happening. Your article seems to imply that epidemiologists don’t know about aerosols.

    I’m referring to the arguments that “masks don’t work,” made primarily by rightwingers (e.g., “denizens” at Climate Etc.) because infection is via aerosols that are so small that they pass through the mask material with ease (except, perhaps, with N95s). It has been a favored rightwinger argument, as I’m sure you must know, to justify the argument that freedoms are being stolen because a store owner might expect a minor inconvenience of a pampered and entitled rightwinger on the order of wearing a mask, so as to potentially reduce the risk to employees and other customers.

    The problem with that argument, and which the article discusses, is that the distinction between what is an infectious aerosol and what is an infectious droplet is largely arbitrary, and there’s a lot of associated uncertainty – all of which is inconsistent with the arguments that I’ve read so often that “masks don’t work.” The arguments of which I speak (and which the article speaks to) rested on the assumption that infectious “aerosols” are necessarily so tiny that masks can’t possibly be effective – when the belief about the size of what comprises an “infectious aerosol” is largely an artifact of history rather than established science.

    > All this really means is that you are incredibly unlikely to catch it via airborne transmission so its not a concern.

    I think there’s a lot of information out there that runs counter to that claim. The article looks interesting (and at a quick glance seems to dovetail with what I just wrote) – thanks, I’ll check it out.

  83. Pingback: 2021: A year in review | …and Then There's Physics

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