Lords of Climate Change

I see in this piece by Alan Wood that the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs inquiry into “The Economics of Climate Change” (which strongly questioned the science of climate change) is still getting a run in denialist circles.

I haven’t bothered posting on this before, because the main outcome of the inquiry was the establishment of the Stern Review which issued its first discussion paper back in April, stating (from the Executive Summary)

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue… There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and causing warming.

There’s more like this, giving an excellent summary of the mainstream scientific position.

So the House of Lords exercise was something of an own goal for the denialists. But how did a supposedly serious inquiry come up with with such nonsense in the first place?

One possibility is a snow job, with the members of the committee (not scientists) being taken in by the superficially plausible claims of people like Ross McKitrick (I don’t imagine they bothered to check whether he was talking about degrees or radians). However, I think a setup is far more likely. Looking at the list of witnesses, it’s obvious that denialists and anti-Kyoto activists from all over the world rushed to appear before this rather obscure committee, while most serious scientists didn’t find out about it until after it had reported.

Then there’s the dubious logic of the report itself, where the Commitee, admitting it had no qualifications or remit to examine scientific issues, then split the difference between the thousands of scientists who’ve worked on global warming (but did not appear) and the handful of sceptics (nearly all of whom did). This kind of bogus neutrality managed to get past the members of the Committee, and the report was then trumpeted by denialists as a complete refutation of climate science.

Looking at the membership of the committee, the obvious candidate for a setup of this kind is Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 2004, he wrote to The Times with six other rightwing economists (most of them subsequently witnesses to the inquiry), attacking Kyoto. The arguments of the letter, including claims about “scientific uncertainties” were reproduced in the Lords report.

As a politician of longstanding, Lawson would be well aware of the adage “Never set up an inquiry unless you know what it’s going to find”. His only mistake was to succeed so well in getting the report he wanted that it necessitated a proper inquiry, the Stern Review, too well-run and well-publicised to be snowed by the denialists.

87 thoughts on “Lords of Climate Change

  1. Leaving aside for the moment the views clearly held on the global warming issue, do you have no concerns at all about how the IPCC operates. Even if just to avoid handing fuel to the “denialists” it needs to do a better job.

    By the way has the word “denialist” become some type of social lever to exclude people from debate in the way that the word “nigger” or “redneck” have been used at varios times. It seems to up the ante on the term “skeptic” that was previously in use. There does seem to be some form of social marketing going on here.

  2. I suppose that what I am really asking is whether any “denialists” refer to themselves as “denialists”.

  3. “It seems to up the ante on the term “skepticâ€? that was previously in use.”

    It does, since it is essentially impossible for anyone who has followed the debate with any attention to remain a skeptic, that is, someone with an open mind, who nonetheless does not observe a strong balance of probabilities in favour of AGW.

    Nearly all of those who once held this position (eg Michael Shermer of Scientific American) have abandoned it as the evidence became overwhelming.

    Meanwhile, the denialists whose position is based on ideological or financial vested interests, have become more vociferous, even as evidence they once relied on (satellites, natural El Nino cycles and so on) has turned unambiguously against them.

  4. I’m not sure it really was an own goal for the denialists. As far as they are concerned there are now two reports out there, both with impressive sounding titles. One backs them, the other backs the consensus. From their perspective this is as good an outcome as they are generally going to get.

    The fact that one is scientifically credible, and the other is by a bunch of people who probably never studied science, let alone climatology, only matters to those who are paying attention – and the denialists gave up on trying to convince them years ago.

  5. This is the part (in the Alan Wood piece) that makes me cranky:

    In telling the global warming story the IPCC, since 2001, has relied very, very heavily on what has become known as the “hockey stick”. It is based on a 1999 paper, the principal author of which was paleoclimatologist Michael Mann

    There may indeed be valid questions about the methodolgies used in MBH98 (aka the “hockey stick”) but even if MBH98 was proven to be fatally flawed this in no way disproves AGW because there is ample evidence elsewhere. I doubt even M&M would make such a claim.

    ProfQ, any chance you could share your thoughts on John Howard’s plan for Australia to become an “energy superpower”?

  6. Never mind Nigel Lawson. What does his daughter Nigella have to say on global warming? She is probably a more credible authority on the subject.

  7. I thought the Wood piece was about how Wegman et al had supported earlier refutations of the hockey stick theory that IPCC depend on. Its almost as if we read different articles John!

    From this perspective you might:

    (i) take issue with the claim that the IPCC rely mainly on hockey stick theory.
    (ii) argue there is other evidence that supports global warming.

    Wood is arguing that global warming theory is just that – a theory. The evidence supporting it is not all in so that terms like ‘denialists’ are inappropriate. Its a fair argument.

  8. “global warming theory is just that – a theory.”
    Harry, that exact phraseology is used by creationists in summarising the theory of evolution. Of course, the point is that global warming, like evolution, isn’t just a theory. It is a theory supported by a huge amount of evidence.

    Indeed, the mass felling of trees to produce the paper on which this volume of evidence has been published may in itself have contributed to global warming.

    Jokes aside, what Wood has done is take the conclusions from a completely unauthoritative enquiry and presented it as evidence of a “global warming hoax” as it was put on the front page of today’s Oz, just because it suits his prejudices. John is quite right to call him on this.

  9. Hi Harry, you might like a read of the wikipedia entry on the word ‘theory’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory

    Here are the few key lines, though its worth reading the whole entry:

    In scientific usage, a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it often does in other contexts. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from and/or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable. In principle, scientific theories are always tentative, and subject to corrections or inclusion in a yet wider theory.

    e.g. theory of gravity
    special theory of relativity
    theory of evolution

    Apologies if I seem finnicky and all tangled up in semantics, I’ve just been reading a John Gribbin book on science history and it is fresh in my mind.

  10. Uncle Milton and Steve, I am not rejecting the idea that global warming is occurring – you are ‘sending up’ an imaginery HC. This discussion very weird – did any of you read this long piece cited in Wood by Wegman et al. Was it just rubbish pseudo-science? It seemed OK to me.

    Maybe I am missing some history but I feel like I wandered on stage onto the wrong set. John Quiggin’s blog? Am I dreaming I am awake or just dreaming? It is worrying.

    Go back to sleep Harry and don’t blog after 1-00am.

  11. Not surprised that Alan Wood, News Corp, Wall Street Journal and Centre of Independent Studies are the last bastians on climate change. However their far superior intellectual peers like Tyler Cowen and Greg Mankiw have certainly turned the corner.

  12. The Australian’s War on Science…

    Last month the National Research Council report on climate reconstructions released its report and basically vindicated the hockey stick. This was widely reported in the media. But not in The Australian. I did a search through the archives of The……

  13. Harry, I already posted on the Wegman study, pointing out that the same question had been studied by an NRC panel which broadly supported Mann.

    The only new thing in Wegman et al was a social network analysis, which I showed to be tautological nonsense, proving things like “Mann has written a paper with all of his co-authors”.

    Since I’d already dealt with Wegman, I thought I should address the House of Lords as well.

  14. It does, since it is essentially impossible for anyone who has followed the debate with any attention to remain a skeptic, that is, someone with an open mind, who nonetheless does not observe a strong balance of probabilities in favour of AGW.

    I don’t deny that the AGW theory has some things going for it, however I am not ready to plug my ears up and cease listening to counter points. By attempting to socially isolate certain people from the debate it seems to me that you want to silence debate. It seems that you remained open minded just long enough to become closed minded.

  15. Terje, there is a political debate over AGW and creationism, and obviously, I’m taking part in this debate by pointing out the fraudulent nature of denialist rhetoric.

    The scientific debate on these issues is over. If the evidence isn’t enough to convince you, either you haven’t been paying attention or you are letting your policy preferences drive your factual beliefs.

  16. Harry,

    the point is that in his column Wood positioned the House of Lords report and the Wegman piece as providing solid evidence that throws genuine doubt on the existence of global warming, when they do nothing of the kind.

    It would be like an economics columnist citing, as definitive, a study supposedly showing the benefits of high tariffs on imports, while not mentioning the thousands of studies showing the benefits of free trade.

  17. John,

    If CO2 is a problem then I think the solution is a trading scheme like Kyoto or a carbon tax (lately I am leaning towards the latter). I don’t think anybody has a God given right to fowl the air. I don’t think regulating CO2 will cause economic collapse. I think that alternative energy solutions at least in electricity generation will soon be near competative with coal. I think battery technology is making great strides and hybrids are the future. I think Howard is full of hot air in suggesting that picking winners and giving them government money is better than changing incentives across the board. I think that carbon taxes would have little serious economic impact if they replaced other transaction taxes (eg cut income tax or GST). I think that the body politic is getting behind the AGW theory and most of what you advocate will come to pass.

    I accept that the earth has warmed over the last century. I accept that CO2 has risen over the last century. I think that AGW is the best theory. However I don’t think AGW is the only theory. I don’t think we can extrapolate accurately. I think Mann stuffed up. I think the IPCC has been sloppy. I think our understanding of climate is probably at about the point of maturity that medicine was in the 1800s. I think that the fact that CO2 rises lag temperature rises by 700 years in the Vostok ice cores and other climatic records suggest we should proceed carefully.

    Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, although I think I have done better than most of the public. Perhaps my position is based on ignorance (bounded knowledge and all that). However in terms of a lable for me I think this all makes me a skeptic not a denialist. And I have a hard time seeing it as being otherwise for those that look at the facts and arrive at a similar position. I am also something of a cynic when I see people leaping on the bandwagon without much thought as to where it is going (although on this issue I would not put you in that class).

    I don’t know of anybody in this debate that self references as a denialist. So it seems to be just name calling. Of course you can call people names if you want. However it seems petty.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  18. “It would be like an economics columnist citing, as definitive, a study supposedly showing the benefits of high tariffs on imports, while not mentioning the thousands of studies showing the benefits of free trade. ”

    To get the analogy right in msot cases, it would be a study by a thinktank representing protected industries and undertaken by cranks/hacks with no training in economics

  19. John,

    Just a thought. If the science debate is over does that mean that the IPCC has finished it’s job and can now be closed down? If not then why not?

    Regards,
    Terje.

  20. Terje, the IPCC should be closed down for the same reasons that biologists should be sacked. Both have no credible opponents.

    More seriously, there is much more to the climate than knowing that greenhouse gases are a significant driver of it on human relevent timescales.

  21. From this perspective you might:

    (i) take issue with the claim that the IPCC rely mainly on hockey stick theory.
    (ii) argue there is other evidence that supports global warming.

    Harry, perhaps the most important points are that (a) the hockey stick isn’t particularly important for global warming theory (it was first published in 1998 when the theory and observations were already very advanced) and (b) a number of other studies have come to the same conclusions as the hockey stick papers.

  22. I think that the body politic is getting behind the AGW theory and most of what you advocate will come to pass.

    Really?! The only politician that matters in this country clearly does not accept the AGW theory. Howard wants to massively expand Australia’s fossil fuel exports, invest more in oil exploration, and steadfastly refuses to raise the mandatory renewable energy target.

    The AGW debate in this country is entirely academic until someone convinces Howard that genuine policy changes are required, not just spin and rhetoric.

  23. What Howard believes is irrelevant ; he is shortly to pass from the scene . He is political constipation but relief is not far away. When his increasing ga-ganess (early onset dementia) becomes obvious to even his most rusted on supporters action will be swift.

  24. What Howard believes is irrelevant ; he is shortly to pass from the scene . He is political constipation but relief is not far away. When his increasing ga-ganess (early onset dementia) becomes obvious to even his most rusted on supporters action will be swift.

    Bill, which planet are you on? While the economy keeps ticking along (and that seems assured while the commodites boom continues) Howard will stay on. I reckon he’s got at least two more elections in him, which takes us out to 2013.

  25. Really?! The only politician that matters in this country clearly does not accept the AGW theory. Howard wants to massively expand Australia’s fossil fuel exports, invest more in oil exploration, and steadfastly refuses to raise the mandatory renewable energy target.

    It is a question of timeframes. I am talking about the coming decade not the next election.

    I just spent the moring read through all the Tim Lambert archives relating to the debate about McKitrick, radians versus degrees etc and I was impressed with the precision with which Tim Lambert writes. I’ll have to sacrifice some of my Quiggin reading and do some more Lambert reading.

  26. As I understand it, there is a criminal offence of trading while you know you are insolvent, or should reasonably know you are insolvent.

    If it was a criminal offence to argue a scientific case while knowing that it was fraudulent, or being reasonably expected to know it was fraudulent I think we would find this debate really would be over.

    (Not that I’m suggesting this)

  27. Steohen L – “If it was a criminal offence to argue a scientific case while knowing that it was fraudulent”

    Next you would be making it a criminal offense for a polititian to lie and that would be the end of democracy as we know it.

  28. It is a question of timeframes. I am talking about the coming decade not the next election.

    So am I. Howard will be PM for another decade.

  29. John W Zillman. President, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and former Australian and World Meteorology chief, says that based on the reliability of the IPCC model of climate warming, he personally believes there is only about a 66% probability that ANY of it is human induced.

    He also has stated that: “the IPCC Lead Authors were very careful to say only that they were confident that there is at least a 66% chance that the past century has been the warmest of the past millennium.�

    Are there any statisticians here? Would anyone like to draw conclusions based on a 66% probability? Is this what Quiggen refers to as scientific consensus? Wow, what a hunch these climate zealots have about humans influence global warming.

  30. John W Zillman. President, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and former Australian and World Meteorology chief, says that based on the reliability of the IPCC model of climate warming, he personally believes there is only about a 66% probability that ANY of it is human induced.

    Amy, you’ve misunderstood Zillman. He didn’t say that there was a 66% prob. that ANY of the warming was due to human activity. He was paraphrasing the IPCC which states that there is a 66% prob. that MOST of the recent warming is due to human activity.

    It would pay next time, to actually read what the IPCC writes before writing patronising posts like yours.

  31. which states that there is a 66% prob. that MOST of the recent warming is due to human activity.

    If that is what they said then I would take it to mean that they believe there is a 66% chance that more than 50% of warming is human caused.

    Which is the same as saying that there is a 34% chance that less than 50% of warming is human caused.

    It sounds like the IPCC are still somewhat skeptical. Which would be a good thing, because it doesn’t pay to be too dogmatic about these sort of things.

  32. The relevant term is “likely”, which is interpreted by the IPCC as meaning “a probability of 66 to 90 per cent”.

    Moreover, all of these observations relate to the 2001 Third Assessment Report. There has been a lot of new evidence since then, and these probabilities are mostly being revised to “very likely”, interpreted as a probability of 90-99 per cent, in the Fourth Report, which is currently in draft form.

  33. “I now believe, as does the IPCC, that there is no more than a one in three chance that the observed global warming over the past century is entirely natural in origin.” –John W Zillman

    This statement and the ones in my earlier response were made in the past 20 months, not five years ago. While Dr Zillman obviously still believes in AGW, in his own words it is still hardly conclusive science at this point.

    I look forward to the release of the Fourth Report.

  34. To restate “no more than” is not the same as “about”. But, the Fourth Report will settle most of this.

  35. John Zillman wrote an article for Issues Magazine (which I edit) two years ago on the expected effects of global warming on agriculture. This article was written for a high school audience, rather than a scientific publication, so position is perhaps clearer, rather than being couched in scientific terms which are confusing to the general public.

    I think the denialists would not find much support from what he wrote there, and I would be very surprised if his opinion has softened in the following two years.

  36. I don’t think anybody has a God given right to fowl the air.

    Yes, I know, all them damn wild chickens flying all over the place. 🙂

    I think battery technology is making great strides…

    It is, and I think storage technology is the major stumbling block to the widespread take up of renewable electricity generation.

    Howard will be PM for another decade.

    Not a hope in Hades.

  37. Howard will be PM for another decade.
    Not a hope in Hades

    I’d love to share your optimism Seeker, but Howard has more staying power than the energizer bunny, has more political nous than anyone in Parliament, and presides over a strong economy courtesy of the resources boom. Howard will be 67 on Wednesday. Ronald Reagan assumed office a few weeks before his 70th birthday and was President for 8 years. I see absolutely no reason why Howard won’t stay on for another 10 years.

  38. I would like to see some of this overwhelming evidence of global warming.
    The only evidence I have seen that is strong is the computer models, and these models are full of errors and unknowns.

    Telling me that tree frogs are dying some place and the only thing anyone can think of is global warming does not constitute evidence.

    Telling me that glaciers are melting and this is of course due to global warming also does not constitute evidence. Glaciers have advanced and retreated for centuries.

    Show me how the CO2 concentration can rise after the temperature and still be the cause of the temperature change.

    Show me how the computer models depict the MWP or the LIA over the last 1000 years.

    Show me any predictions that the models have made that can be verified with experimental data.

  39. “I would like to see some of this overwhelming evidence of global warming.”

    Fortunately, the International Panel on Climate Change has collected a summary, very readable and only a thousand pages or so. But if that’s not enough for you, you could read the thousand or so papers surveyed by Naomi Oreskes, many of which give good reading lists of earlier literature. So your desire for evidence is easily satisfied.

    If when you’ve read the IPCC report, there are further points you’d like addressed I’ll be happy to suggest more readings for you.

  40. “, and I think storage technology is the major stumbling block to the widespread take up of renewable electricity generation.”

    Isn’t there a large market for electricity during the times that renewables actually generate power? e.g. isn’t there a large market for electricity during the day when solar sources generate power? Shouldn’t renewables start on the markets where they have the greatest advantage/least disadvantage first?

  41. I should have given a little more detail:
    1] Average global temperatures have increased approx. 1/2 degree centigrade in the last 100 years. I think almost everyone can agree with this.
    2] CO2 concentrations have increased by 50% over the last 100 years and some of this increase is the result of humans. I think almost everyone can agree with this.
    3] Since the world is recovering from the LIA ending in the mid 1800’s, one would expect some global warming, and most of the measured warming has occured before 1940 and before most of the CO2 increase.
    4] Climate models predicting large 4-9 degree centigrade warming are filled with inaccuracies and assumptions that are unknown. These models do not replicate the MWP or the LIA nor current conditions. Without this type of checks and balances these models should not be used to set policy based upon predictions that can not be verified.

  42. Roy, it appears you agree with IPCC, since the preferred models don’t predict 4-9 degrees C. The central range in the 2001 TAR was 1.2 to 3.5 degrees (by 2100). I think this has been increased a bit in the forthcoming report. And the models used to generate this do a good job in fitting the data, particularly the decline from 1940 to 1970 on which you appear to be placing a good deal of stress.

    In any case, it looks as if you need to read the IPCC report.

  43. Roy:
    1. the temperature increase average is 0.6 degrees and is more at the poles.

    2. CO2 concentrations have increased by 50% over the last 100 years and MOST of this increase is the result of humans.

    3. Wrong – most of the warming has occured recently

    4. No they are not. The models that predict climate senstitivity are checked and rechecked. The models are not supposed to replicate the LIA or the MWP – that is not what they are for. Policies are set on risk not certainty. There is nothing certain about climate change. Warming is quite certain as this science does not depend on proxies or climate models. The risk of the extent of climate change is modelled in experiments and also assessed from past climate change records. Thousands of experts worked together in 2001 to produce a document that gave polititians the potential risk of dangerous climate change. Models are not used to set policy – assessment of risk is.

  44. Given how many people live in earthquake zones our tolerance for risk seems at times to be quite high.

  45. Terje – and everyone seems to be tolerant of the risk of climate change as well as nothing is being done. However that tolerance usually diminishes in the aftermath of an event. We have not had clearly defined climate change event that puts that risk in the public mind.

  46. And here we are at full circle.

    That the computer models cannot replicate past climates including the LIA indicates that the tweaking required to make them appear to function at current conditions are not completely valid; this being the case any predictions of the future must be looked upon as probably incorrect as well.

    There is no causal relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature that can be definitively shown either in the past or currently. That being the case, the global temperature changes being recorded are mopst likely of natural causes just like the thousands of other global changes that have ocurred over the last millions of years.

    Why does it take some new unknown positive feedback now for global temperature increase when this was not required in the past. I suppose so that now we humans, especially we white, male, American humans can be shown to be destroying the world. It is unfortunate that science cannot be left to scientists and politicians cannot be shut up.

  47. Roy – ‘hat the computer models cannot replicate past climates including the LIA indicates that the tweaking required to make them appear to function at current conditions are not completely valid; this being the case any predictions of the future must be looked upon as probably incorrect as well.”

    No computer model should be used to do this – where did you get this information from?

    “There is no causal relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature that can be definitively shown either in the past or currently. That being the case, the global temperature changes being recorded are mopst likely of natural causes just like the thousands of other global changes that have ocurred over the last millions of years.”

    This is not even close. There is a strong causal relationship between rising CO2 and temperature rise. Correlation does not imply causation however when there is a strong forcing like the current imbalance in the Earths energy budget due to a measured rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases then this does imply causation. The natural changes thousands of years ago did not have humans emitting gigatons of CO2. As an analogy – Are you suggesting that a valid defense for a murder is to say that there were 20 murders in this area in the last year and I did not do any of those so I am not responsible for this one?

    “Why does it take some new unknown positive feedback now for global temperature increase when this was not required in the past. I suppose so that now we humans, especially we white, male, American humans can be shown to be destroying the world. It is unfortunate that science cannot be left to scientists and politicians cannot be shut up.”

    There is not some unknown feedback. More CO2 and other greenhouse gases traps more long wave radiation and the Earth heats up in response. It is nothing to do with white male americans it is every human that uses electricity or drives a car. If you feel especially victimised then that really is a personal issue with you that you need to deal with. If you want to leave science to scientists then you should listen to them. They are telling you that AGW is a real phenomon and that there is a risk that it will cause some climate change.

  48. One last time.

    All data indicates that the temperature increases before the CO2 level increases. Therefore no causal relationship.

  49. Roy – “All data indicates that the temperature increases before the CO2 level increases. Therefore no causal relationship.”

    All PREVIOUS data plus the relationship is pretty close – it it very hard to tell exactly from ice cores. Climate change in the past does not let us off the hook now. Look at the Eocene Thermal Maximum to see what greenhouse gases can do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s