In the last five years, we have worked to radicalise environmental debate in the UK, giving others the space to push for deeper change in policy, attitudes and values. This has ranged from highlighting the urgency of the problems we face (in Climate Safety and The Green Investment Gap) to producing pioneering research into the potential for transforming our energy system (in Zero Carbon Britain and The Offshore Valuation) to advocating radical policy solutions (in Energy Bonds and Carbon Omissions).
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 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
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?
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
Good morning! Welcome to the first day of British Summer Time. With luck you’ll have remembered last night to set your clocks forward by one hour: one more hour of sunlight to enjoy each day, as we adjust our hours of activity to fit better with the changing seasons.
Today also marks the launch of a campaign to see the UK’s clocks changed permanently – shifting them forward by two hours in summer, and one hour in winter – in order to boost tourism, reduce road accidents, and cut carbon emissions.
The campaign – called Lighter, Later – is being coordinated by 10:10, the civil society movement working for a 10% cut in the UK’s emissions in 2010. It is being backed by a wide range of organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Age Concern, the Tourism Alliance, and Sport for England. Read more
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
Several weeks back, amidst the media storm, Richard Somerville a Lead Author of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment report (IPCC AR4) wrote a short and punchy “response to climate change denialism“. We finally got round to posting it here.
It’s a great, simple communication by a veteran climate scientist. It’s not going to solve the climate communication problem, but it’s the sort of thing we need to see a lot more of. Short, punchy, accessible writing (and imagery) that scientists and others can use when covering the basic science and beyond… Read more
The Guardian reports that Simon Lewis, a UK-based Amazon scientist, is taking the Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission over an article they published in January claiming the IPCC wrongly predicted that 40% of the Amazon rainforest was vulnerable to reduced rainfall:
Lewis said he was contacted by the Sunday Times before the article was published and told them the IPCC”s statement was “poorly written and bizarrely referenced, but basically correct”. He added that “there is a wealth of scientific evidence suggesting that the Amazon is vulnerable to reductions in rainfall”. He also sent the newspaper several scientific papers that supported the claim, but were not cited by that section of the IPCC report.
Lewis also complains that the Sunday Times used several quotes from him in the piece to support the assertion that the IPCC report had made a false claim. “Despite repeatedly stating to the Sunday Times that there is no problem with the sentence in the IPCC report, except the reference.”
Climate Safety originally covered the bogus claims:
As Lewis made clear in correspondence, the problem was not with the accuracy of the IPCC’s statement, which reflected the peer-reviewed scientific literature – but with the reference that had been attributed to it. The issue had in fact already been dealt with in the report of Working Group I (on “The Physical Science Basis” of climate change), which had got the references right. Did Leake’s article accurately reflect Lewis’ views? “Absolutely not.”
Lewis, it turns out, had sent both Leake and Harrabin the same email. But while Harrabin had included Lewis’s comments on the IPCC’s accuracy in his BBC piece, Leake simply ignored them. Instead, he seems to have invented his own, more congenial version of reality. “4000-page report makes insignificant referencing error” is admittedly a rather less powerful headline – even if it does possess the distinct advantage of being true.
More astonishingly, as science blogger Eli Kintisch revealed, Leake had been told exactly the same thing by Dan Nepstad – author of a 1999 Nature paper cited by WWF, and others that back up the IPCC on the Amazon – two days before his story was published.
Interestingly, the Guardian article doesn”t name the journalist in question, Jonathan Leake. Readers who also follow Tim Lambert over at Deltoid will be all too familiar with Mr. Leake. Tim Lambert”s research shows that, among other things, he:
- Was responsible for the bogus story about Google”s carbon footprint
- Made up a story about heart attacks falling after the smoking ban
- Misrepresented Richard Dawkins
- Misrepresented Bruce Hood
- Broke an embargo and got the Sunday Times banned from EurekAlert, an outlet which provides journalists access to embargoed science stories.
- Did the same with JAMA, a medical list, with the same outcome
- Misrepresented the IPCC on tropical cyclone trends
- Quoted a scientist who had refused to speak to him!
All of this led Lambert to post:
Here”s a game you can play at home. All you need is a search engine. Take a Jonathan Leake science story with a dramatic headline. For example, Facebook fans do worse in exams. Then do a search on the headline. You win if you can find complaints by scientists that their research was misrepresented by Leake. Like this.
Try the game, it”s fun!
Of the whole AmazonGate/LeakeGate affair, we originally concluded:
While it is wholly unsurprising that the denial lobby should be attempting to push baseless and misleading stories to the press, what is surprising is the press’s willingness to swallow them. In this case, two experts in the relevant field told a Times journalist explicitly that, in spite of a minor referencing error, the IPCC had got its facts right. That journalist simply ignored them. Instead, he deliberately put out the opposite line – one fed to him by a prominent climate change denier – as fact. The implications are deeply disturbing, not only for our prospects of tackling climate change, but for basic standards of honesty and integrity in journalism.
Let”s hope the Press Complaints Commission steps up… then again, don”t hold your breath.
Update: Climate Progress has an excellent post on the same subject.
Update 2: Leake botches another story, this time on UK wind power.
Update 3: Sunday Times admits story was “flawed”, offers to print Lewis”s original letter, Lewis rejects.
Dive right in:
- Scientists hash out the uncertainties of climate sensitivity – Here’s some great science journalism, climate sensitivity made fun (almost!).
- Methane bubbling out of Arctic Ocean – but is it new? Great piece by New Scientist on the Arctic permafrost and the uncertainties inherent in any ‘new’ scientific discovery.
- Debunking Lomborg, the Climate-Change Skeptic – Turns out Bjorn Lomborg really is the T-2000 of climate denial world: younger, smarter, stronger, more sophisticated. But essentially still a destructive machine sent from the future…
- Texan Scientists: On global warming, the science is solid – We need more scientists doing this sort of thing, regional and local newspapers are really important!
The international consensus on global warming has seemingly experienced a spectacular slow-motion train wreck over the last few months, with “climategate” reports piling up in public debate like derailing rail cars filmed in freeze frame. The fascination for on-lookers, however, is that the science itself is largely blameless. Instead, the pile-up stands as a case study in how not to wage a political battle. And make no mistake; the attacks on climate science are pure politics. We have seen attacks on science before, just pick your favorite example: smoking, toxic pollution, seat belts, etc. However, until there is a fundamental reframing of the climate science debate, one that illuminates the politics, the current round of attacks will continue to enjoy success. Read more
Dive right in:
- SealevelGate – Real Climate cover the true IPCC sea-level scandal. Must read.
- Climate of fear, Nature editorial (free access) – “The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”
- Overview of all the ‘Gates – very useful brief run-down of the last 4 months.
- Short must read: Climate Change and the Media – “What’s truly infuriating about this episode of journalistic malpractice is that, once again, it illustrates the reasons why the East Anglia scientists adopted an adversarial attitude towards information management with regard to outsiders and the media. They were afraid that any data they allowed to be characterised by non-climate scientists would be vulnerable to propagandistic distortion. And they were right.”
Another batch of private emails from climate scientists has been leaked/hacked/stolen/whatever. These ones, though, are very different than the last.
It’s a thread of emails from the NAS (US National Academy of Sciences), and these guys are mad. They are mad about vested interests skewing the discussion. They are mad that journalists have sat and lapped it right up without checking their facts. They are mad that the public is suddenly more confused than ever about a field of science that is more united than ever. Read more
A brief summary of the Science & Technology Committee”s “ClimateGate” hearing
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee met yesterday for a one off evidence session looking at the disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. This blog post is a brief summary of the key issues. [Apologies for the use of some jargon that crops up because of the nature of the CRU emails.]
Lord Lawson and Dr Benny Peiser were first up. They represent the Global Warming Policy Foundation who, amusingly, failed to plot 8 temperature values correctly in their logo – I”m not sure that this gives them the authority to question 25 years of academic research on climate data but let”s see what they had to say… Read more
As the ‘Climategate’ news cycle creaks on, pundits are busily delivering advice on how scientists can do their jobs better. “It is time for the IPCC to be disbanded,” declares Ann Widdecombe in the Express, “and replaced by a group of open-minded, fact-orientated, cautious scientists who are interested in truth, however inconvenient.” “Scientists, you are fallible,” proclaims Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Climatologists “are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even journalists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity.”
These are strange statements, given that climatologists have meanwhile willingly acknowledged and corrected genuine errors, and offered suggestions on improving IPCC processes. The journal Nature published a series of suggestions from five prominent climate scientists on ways forward for the IPCC. The Guardian ran a similar story full of scientists suggesting reforms. Climate modeller William Connolley critiqued the thoroughness of IPCC Working Group II, while defending its use of “grey” literature. Other scientists suggested separating the IPCC’s Working Groups. The evidence suggests the scientific profession puts reflection, doubt and criticism at the heart of its practice.
By contrast, the media’s reluctance to address its own failings is stark. Recent weeks have seen a deluge of “inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” in climate change reporting – precisely the kind of material it is the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC’s) stated role to guard against. But, as its exoneration of Jan Moir’s falsehoods over Stephen Gately’s death has highlighted, this “self-regulatory” industry body remains toothless. Read more
Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
Scientists who challenged the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades have retracted their argument. Mark Siddall, whose paper claimed sea level rise from global warming could not be more than 82 centimeters (32 inches) by 2100 — despite other estimates of up to 1.9 meters — asked for the conclusions published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience to be retracted, accepting corrections from researchers who had made the higher estimates. The Guardian misleadingly presented the news with the headline, “Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels“:
Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report’s author now says true estimate is still unknown.
If all one read was the introduction, a reader might get the false impression that sea level rise from global warming is in doubt. The misleading Guardian headline was picked up — as per usual — by the Drudge Report and Marc Morano’s conspiracy site Climate Depot. Read more