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The Guardian’s “Climategate” debate: a mixed blessing 1

The Guardian's "Climategate" event in London

The Guardian’s recent “Climategate” event – picking over the fallout from UEA’s hacked emails – was always going to be a weird one, and I left with decidedly mixed impressions. For some, this event clearly represented the rehabilitation of climate denial in even the more progressive end of the mainstream media. One friend described it as “like being in 1998”, which was not far off the mark. Two of the panellists – Doug Keenan and Steve McIntyre – fall broadly into the “sceptic” camp, while a good third of the room at least seemed to be composed of elements of the denial lobby. Benny Peiser – a serial paid advocate for mining industry frontgroups – was in attendance, as was the eccentric weather theorist Piers Corbyn – whose constant heckling at one point saw him threatened with ejection from the room (to loud applause).

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Watts Up With That & SPPI promoting the BNP

Joss Garman at Left Foot Forward reports that Watts Up With That – arguably the world’s number one climate sceptic site – yesterday cited the BNP in one of its ludicrous stories:

Anthony Watts’ latest source of information is none other than the British National Party – yes, those known to the rest of us as the British Nazi Party.

Garman continues:

Anthony Watts blogged today at 15.30 GMT about how “climate scepticism could become a criminal offence in UK” – and his source? BNP leader, Nick Griffin. Unsurprisingly, by 16.11, the page had disappeared. No doubt, after one of his friends in the UK pointed out it doesn’t look great when you post Nazi propaganda on your blog and twitter feed.

But Left Foot Forward caught screen grabs here, here – and here.

Ouch.

You may remember Watts Up With That from such hilarious climate science fails as:

  • Wrongly claiming Arctic sea ice was growing 50,000km2 per year. (To their credit, they did correct this obvious error, but it didn’t stop them coming out with other howlers like suggesting the ‘Arctic ice looks generally healthier than 20 years ago’ or that sea ice has returned to ‘normal‘. Both completely wrong.)
  • Once claiming anyone wanting a price on carbon was ‘criminal’, the same as ‘murdering people’.
  • Painstakingly asserting that global warming is due to the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect, something scientists are already aware of and correct for. And then in arguing their case, providing data scientists used to show they were completely wrong: temperature stations they argued were causing a warming bias in the temperature record were actually causing a cooling bias!
  • Not understanding basic statistics
  • Falsely claiming that the Antarctic ice sheet can’t and won’t lose mass, because air temperatures are below 0°C. Unfortunately they failed to look at any ice mass data to see what was actually happening. If you don’t like the data, just ignore it!
  • And finally, they recently concluded that the Greenland ice sheet can’t be melting. Their evidence? Temperature data from a single weather station and some photos taken while flying over the ice sheet! They conveniently failed to mention the ice mass data which pretty conclusively shows that Greenland IS losing mass. Again, if you don’t like the data…

We thought Watts up With That had reached as low as they could go with shoddy fact-checking, but citing the BNP plunges them to new depths.

On the other hand, at least Anthony Watts had the decency to take the story down when he realised where it came from. Monckton’s outfit, the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), hasn’t even done that. So while Monckton is happy to dish out words like ‘fascist’ willy-nilly, at the same time he apparently has no qualms about using genuine fascists as a source of material.

Certainly brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘grey literature’.

Richard North’s problem with reality: or, how a climate change denier trashes his own professional reputation 21

Now that the full debunking of the “Amazongate” episode has hit the mainstream, it has been instructive to see how the story’s originator has been responding. The wild claims of blogger, climate denier and sometime collaborator with Christopher Booker Richard North originally found their way onto the pages of the Times – after a brief stopover on far-right conspiracy theorist James Delingpole’s Telegraph-hosted blog. North claimed that the scientists behind the IPCC’s second 2007 report had made unfounded statements about the Amazon – in particular on its sensitivity to declining rainfall and potentially grim outlook – an accusation that was debunked by experts in the relevant field almost as soon as it was published. Following a complaint by Dr Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, who was quoted in the Times’ article, the paper has been forced to publish a retraction.

Yet now that this fake scandal has been exposed, including in an important account by the Guardian’s George Monbiot, North has – perhaps unsurprisingly – been pouring scorn all over that paper’s comment pages. More significantly, after Monbiot noted North’s well-deserved reputation as an “egregious fabulist” “nearly all of” whose “concocted” “stories” (and Booker’s) “fall apart on the briefest examination”, North proceeded to threaten Monbiot and the Guardian with libel action. North referred to “all references to myself” in Monbiot’s blog post “as being libellous and highly damaging”. Read more

This week’s top climate science links

Dive right in:

  • Will 2010 be the hottest year on record? – it all depends on which data source you choose: GISTEMP (likely) or HadCRU (about as likely as not).
  • Climate change is leaving us with extra space junk – Even the space junk is trying to tell us we’re changing the climate. One more independent line of evidence to add to the pile, how many do we need?!
  • Black Carbon’s Grey Areas – A brilliant, must-read article on black carbon. Who would have thought it has such broad geopolitical implications? Worth the effort. It’s conclusions: 1. Stop throwing cook-stoves at the problem. 2. Target diesel. 3. Be very careful about comparing black carbon with carbon dioxide.
  • Ocean acidification – still happening.
  • Arctic climate may be more sensitive to warming than thought – “Our findings indicate that CO2 levels of approximately 400 parts per million are sufficient to produce mean annual temperatures in the High Arctic of approximately 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F) [19 degrees Celsius warmer than today!],” Ballantyne said. “As temperatures approach 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain permanent sea and glacial ice in the Arctic. Thus current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere of approximately 390 parts per million may be approaching a tipping point for irreversible ice-free conditions in the Arctic.”
  • Network Rail study to assess impact of climate change – eco-stealth taxes are being used to… strengthen our vulnerable rail network, oh.
  • Troubling ice melt in East Antarctica – it’s losing mass, which is not good. – “It’s too early to know what the ice loss in East Antarctica really means, says Isabella Velicogna, a remote-sensing specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “What is important is to see what’s generating the mass loss,” she says. Reductions in snowfall, for example, might reflect short-term weather cycles that could reverse at any time. But thinning caused by accelerating glaciers—as seen in West Antarctica—would warrant concern.”
  • Peru inventor ‘whitewashes’ peaks to slow glacier melt – In a remote corner of the Peruvian Andes, men in paint-daubed boilersuits diligently coat a mountain summit with whitewash in an experimental bid to recuperate the country’s melting glaciers. Peru’s Environment Minister Antonio Brack has said the World Bank’s 200,000 dollars in funding would be better spent on other “projects which would have more impact in mitigating climate change.” “It’s nonsense”, he commented bluntly last year.
  • Leakegate: A retraction – “It is an open question as to what impact these retractions and apologies have, but just as with technical comments on nonsense articles appearing a year after the damage was done, setting the record straight is a important for those people who will be looking at this at a later date, and gives some hope that the media can be held (a little) accountable for what they publish.”

And finally, on a slight tangent:

  • Ben Goldacre: Yeah well you can prove anything with science – “When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate bid to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken. This is an interesting finding. But I’m not sure it makes me very happy.”

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Who controls the numbers? Small Island Survival, 350ppm & 1.5°C 2

What difference can a degree or two make? Well the answer, as I’m sure that you will know is a lot. The image below taken from the IPCC’s fourth assessment report (AR4) gives a simple (although now out of date) picture of what a degree means.

The impacts and extent of climate change is subtle and effects unevenly distributed, a degree for one country such as the UK or the US may not be an existential crisis but for people living in small island developing states (SIDS) is certainly is. These states, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea make up 5% of the world’s population and a great proportion of the worlds cultural diversity. It’s no secret that these states are the most vulnerable to climate change but for these countries the numbers that are negotiated literally in no uncertain terms mean the life of death of their homeland, and their culture. At Copenhagen some of the most moving and courageous speeches were made by these states and I would urge you to take a look at the following two speeches by Tuvalu and The Maldives who have fought the corner for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for a long time. Read more

Climate change: the merchants of doubt will soon run out of steam 2

Last week saw the release of three university-led nationally representative surveys on public attitudes towards climate change – two in the US (1, 2) and one in the UK. In line with previous surveys from the last few years, the UK poll shows four consistent findings:

  • A large majority of people think the climate is changing (78%)
  • A large majority of people are concerned about this (71%)
  • A large majority support the use of tax revenue to fund low-carbon policies such as investment in renewables (68%)
  • A large majority of people say they are willing to reduce the amount of energy they use in order to tackle climate change (65%)

If this doesn’t sound like the findings you saw reported, or your impression of public attitudes towards climate change, then go and look up the results which are publicly available. The picture in the US is slightly different, but not drastically so, with large majorities agreeing that climate change is happening and expressing support for developing low-carbon energy infrastructure. Read more

This week’s top climate science links

Dive right in:

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Pickles’ ‘big society’ recycling scheme is a nudge in the wrong direction

On the Guardian’s Comment is Free, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles has made some bold claims about ‘human nature’ in introducing the coalition’s household recycling policy. Under the new policy, householders will be rewarded for recycling with points that can be cashed in at ‘local businesses’ such as Marks and Spencer and Cineworld. Bravely summarising decades of behavioural research in just two sentences, Pickles states that:

“There are some basic truths about human nature that the previous government found hard to grasp. If you want people to do something, then it’s always much more effective to give them support and encouragement – a nudge in the right direction – than to tell them what to do and then punish them if they don’t obey.”

He later goes on to claim:

“What’s really important about this scheme is that it treats people like adults. There’s no compulsion to participate, no penalties for opting out. It works because there’s a clear incentive to get involved. You put something in, you get something back. This is the Big Society in action.”

Unfortunately, the one basic truth about human nature that Pickles overlooks is the one that seems most essential for the Big Society: people respond to what others around them are doing, and don’t just behave in a rational, individually beneficial way. If they did, far less people would play the lottery.

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Proof-reading vs. climate science 2

Joss Garman is a climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK and a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He blogs at: www.jossgarman.com.

The respected BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin has published an original but controversial piece criticising the Royal Society, which concludes: “If the great science academies can’t find ways of including the best experts from the blogosphere in their deliberations they may find themselves badly left behind.”

Harrabin draws particular attention to well known “climate sceptic”, Steve McIntyre. He writes, “He has taken on the scientific establishment on some key issues and won. He arguably knows more about CRU science than anyone outside the unit – but none of the CRU inquiries has contacted him for input.”

But I disagree with Roger because the kind of ‘scepticism’ which is the meat and potatoes of bloggers is qualitatively unlike the organized scepticism which questions, refines and replaces theories about how the world works – i.e. it is unlike science. Read more

Renewable prospects: new reports paint bright picture for clean energy

There are three commonly held misperceptions of renewable energy: that the available resource is too small to be useful; that its inherently variable nature is too difficult to manage; and that it is too costly to develop.

    A slew of new reports, profiled at a conference organised last Friday by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), fundamentally challenge these myths.

    This past week saw the publication of The Offshore Valuation, a major new study supported by a broad consortium of Government and industry bodies and coordinated by PIRC. It is the first report to attempt a full economic valuation of the UK’s offshore renewable energy resource. Its findings have been startling: by developing less than a third of the practical wind, wave and tidal resource around the British Isles, we could become a net electricity exporter, generating by 2050 the electricity equivalent of 1 billion barrels of oil per year. Doing so could bring multiple benefits to the UK: £31 billion of revenues from electricity exports to Europe, 145,000 green jobs, and insurance against fossil fuel price volatility. Read more