Climate Comms

Those communicating about climate change have had a turbulent time over the last few years – with an often vicious war of words between those with differing opinions, scientific understanding, and values. PIRC has responded to this according to what we’ve seen as the needs of the time; through addressing the gap between science and policy, providing accessible science for wide audiences, and, most recently, through deepening the understanding of the effects of our cultural values on how we process information and act upon big issues.

Some of our more recent projects include:

  • Being a partner in the Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG) – made up of a diverse range of individuals from academia and the third sector, with expertise in climate change communication and engagement. CCCAG’s aim is to use current academic research and practitioner-based expertise to best inform government and non-governmental climate change communications and engagement.
  • Publishing The Climate Factsheets, providing up-to-date and accessible climate science for third sector and government communications.
  • Common Cause; a network of people and a series of initiatives aiming to help to rebalance our cultural values to promote action on climate change and the other big issues of our time.
  • In collaboration with COIN we created Talking Climate, an online gateway to research on climate change communication.

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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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

This week’s top climate science links

Dive right in:

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Debunking Shellenberger and Nordhaus, again.

Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus are names that may be familiar. They are the authors of The Death of Environmentalism – a notorious critique on the tactics of the green movement that attempts to address environmental goals from a radically different perspective. Most recently, the two penned a withering attack on environmentalists and climate scientists.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus re-state a plethora of half-truths, misrepresentations and outright fantasies that have lately become almost canonical in the public sphere.

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Why fishermen believe in climate change (and everyone else believes in overfishing) 8

How much of what is recorded as scepticism about the scientific reality of climate change is simply a desire for it not to be true – or at the very least, for it not to be as bad as the scientists and politicians say? This is a question that cannot easily be answered.

When people are motivated not to believe something, they are also motivated not to acknowledge that their non-belief is anything other than rational. But two fishy tales shed some light on one type of climate change scepticism, and highlight a major challenge for climate change communicators: how do you persuade someone to believe something that they really don’t want to believe? Read more

Matthew Nisbet on the over-reaction of science & ways to move forward

Matthew Nisbet over at Framing Science has an excellent blog post on the potential over-reaction by climate scientists to the events of the last few months. The piece is written from a US perspective, but I think it applies equally here in the UK. He notes:

Multiple surveys show a decline in public concern with climate change and it”s clear that political momentum for policy action has stalled. But there are several likely causes, the direct efforts of the climate skeptic movement just one of them, and probably one of the more minor causes.

These other factors include the economy, confusion over colder weather and other perceptual biases, general distrust of government, climate policies such as cap and trade that are not easily sold as effective or in line with public values, the absence of strong Presidential leadership on the issue, institutional barriers in Congress and at the international level, and the continued belief by some scientists and advocates that public support and policy action will turn on science rather than on a calculation of values and trade-offs. Read more

This week’s top climate science links

Dive right in:

  • Climate Change: A Threat to Global Security. US & UK Defense agree. – “I am struck by how similar UK and U.S. thinking is on the national security implications of climate change. Our defense departments agree that the impact of climate change is likely to be most severe in areas where it coincides with other stresses, such as poverty, demographic growth, and resource shortages: areas through which much of the world’s trade already passes.”
  • A Superstorm for Global Warming Research – a terrible terrible piece from Der Spiegel, who are usually pretty good at science reporting. Two of the authors have previously written some very misleading and inaccurate articles on climate change. Watch this space for updates…
  • Visualizing Arctic Sea Ice Extent Trends – “If you find yourself asking “what about … or what happens when…”, it’s probably time to make another chart that directly addresses your new “compared to what” question. Don’t expect one chart to answer multiple questions.”
  • Arctic ice recovers from the great melt – Wow, a semi-decent piece by Jonathan Leake! Apart from wrongly attributing the recent ‘spurt’ in ice growth to the Arctic Oscillation (it was more likely just a response to changes in regional atmospheric circulation) it’s a measured and almost insightful piece… is something weighing on his mind perhaps?

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Don’t leave climate change to the politicians 2

We saw in December that governments seem to be expected largely to take responsibility for dealing with climate change, rather than to encourage people to be responsible themselves.

This struck me then as a problem, and data from January’s Mori poll adds weight to this thought, suggesting that there is a real risk in politicians being the main group that’s heard to talk about climate change. But the results also give us some of the most striking results I’ve seen to suggest that the British public are in fact pretty concerned about climate change. Read more

The Science Museum has not gone climate change “neutral”, whatever that means 1

The Times and the Daily Mail mangle the story, ignoring the obvious: that the Science Museum understands how to communicate science to a large and diverse audience.

“Global warming scepticism forces Science Museum to rename ‘climate change’ gallery” headlines the Daily Mail. Only slightly less sensationalist is the Times, with: “Public scepticism prompts Science Museum to rename climate exhibition”.

So does the Science Museum believe that the scientific consensus on climate change has diluted or weakened? Actually, no. But you wouldn’t know that from the headlines. Read more