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The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)

Filed under: — group @ 19 January 2010 - (Italian)

Like all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect. Despite the enormous efforts devoted to producing its reports with the multiple levels of peer review, some errors will sneak through. Most of these will be minor and inconsequential, but sometimes they might be more substantive. As many people are aware (and as John Nieslen-Gammon outlined in a post last month and Rick Piltz goes over today), there is a statement in the second volume of the IPCC (WG2), concerning the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding that is not correct and not properly referenced.

The statement, in a chapter on climate impacts in Asia, was that the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035” was “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate (WG 2, Ch. 10, p493), and was referenced to a World Wildlife Fund 2005 report. Examining the drafts and comments (available here), indicates that the statement was barely commented in the reviews, and that the WWF (2005) reference seems to have been a last minute addition (it does not appear in the First- or Second- Order Drafts). This claim did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report, and so cannot be described as a ‘central claim’ of the IPCC. However, the statement has had some press attention since the report particularly in the Indian press, at least according to Google News, even though it was not familiar to us before last month.

It is therefore obvious that this error should be corrected (via some kind of corrigendum to the WG2 report perhaps), but it is important to realise that this doesn’t mean that Himalayan glaciers are doing just fine. They aren’t, and there may be serious consequences for water resources as the retreat continues. See also this review paper (Ren et al, 2006) on a subset of these glaciers.

East Rongbuk glacier 1921 and 2008East Rongbuk glacier just below Mt. Everest has lost 3-400 ft of ice in this area since 1921.

More generally, peer-review works to make the IPCC reports credible because many different eyes with different perspectives and knowledge look over the same text. This tends to make the resulting product reflect more than just the opinion of a single author. In this case, it appears that not enough people with relevant experience saw this text, or if they saw it, did not comment publicly. This might be related to the fact that this text was in the Working Group 2 report on impacts, which does not get the same amount of attention from the physical science community than does the higher profile WG 1 report (which is what people associated with RC generally look at). In WG1, the statements about continued glacier retreat are much more general and the rules on citation of non-peer reviewed literature was much more closely adhered to. However, in general, the science of climate impacts is less clear than the physical basis for climate change, and the literature is thinner, so there is necessarily more ambiguity in WG 2 statements.

In future reports (and the organisation for AR5 in 2013 is now underway), extra efforts will be needed to make sure that the links between WG1 and the other two reports are stronger, and that the physical science community should be encouraged to be more active in the other groups.

In summary, the measure of an organisation is not determined by the mere existence of errors, but in how it deals with them when they crop up. The current discussion about Himalayan glaciers is therefore a good opportunity for the IPCC to further improve their procedures and think more about what the IPCC should be doing in the times between the main reports.

Update: This backgrounder presented by Kargel et al AGU this December is the best summary of the current state of the Himalayas and the various sources of misinformation that are floating around. It covers this issue, the Raina report and the recent Lau et al paper.

1,804 Responses to “The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)”

  1. 801
    visitor says:

    Statement from Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver from the University of Victoria:

  2. 802
    Theo Hopkins says:

    At my comment No 788.

    I wrote:

    “Another article from the UK press that John Beddington, the Chief Scintist, has called for climate scientists to be more open about the uncertainties of climate modeling. This one from the Daily Telegraph.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7081039/John-Beddington-chief-scientist-says-climate-change-sceptics-should-not-be-dismissed.html

    Gavin replied:

    “[Response: And where are all these climate modellers who are not open about the uncertainties of climate modelling? Here perhaps? – gavin”.

    Point taken, Gavin, and I actually expected your reply here as above.

    In that case it is reporting by the media that tends to emphasise only the highest point (or the lowest point) of a spread. If this is so, then it needs that climate scientists make sure that the media present things more accurately,and in a less scaring manner. I do not know if you or your colleagues do this, but the media needs to be brought to book when they only reports extremes.

    When the media write “xxxx could be yyy” and yyy is an extreme, it is my belief that Joe Public reads this as “xxx is yyy”.

    Also campaigning environmental groups – which includes WWF – should be more cautious about using the extreme high/low of any prediction.

    Fifteen or so years back I got involved in campaigning for the better protection of boreal and northern temperate forests. (US folk will know what I mean when I say “spotted owl stuff”,though the same sort of problems were appearing in Canada, Poland,Finland,Russia and Scandinavia).

    This found me standing beside WWF at press conferences. The trouble for me was that the blue-chip environmental groups,Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF would only present the most extreme scenarios. I never felt comfortable about this, and this was one of the reasons I ceased campaigning on the issue. I was told that my nuanced comments would not usefully come across in my 15 second TV sound-bite.

    I learned then that WWF could be very inaccurate,and I certainly would never have given an WWF document “peer review” status. WWF documents are campaigning documents.

    Elsewhere I posted that Pachauri should stand down.I stick by that one.

  3. 803
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #794, Hi Richard,

    RE “Billions will not be dying.”

    This is only true if we mitigate GW and reduce our GHG emissions way down, and avoid tipping points caused by leaving the arctic with greatly reduced albedo, and releasing gigatons of carbon from melting permafrost and ocean hydrates. These latter could spiral us into climate hysteresis and huge mass extinction die-outs as in past extreme warmings, or perhaps even runaway warming as on Venus, in which all life on earth will perish. These are things that can happen and have happened. They are possibilities, and we seem to be hard at work emitting GHGs to make them probabilities and even likely.

    If we do not mitigate so as to avoid these scenarios, the billions of people won’t be dying all at once (as in an astroid hit), but probably over many hundreds, perhaps thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.

    Perhaps the biggest die-off would happen toward the beginning of this period, within several hundred years, since the earth is so highly populated now.

    Later, when the human population is greatly attenuated, the die off in actual numbers might not be as great, but it will probably be more poignant.

    I don’t know what make us think that somehow this age will be different (not harmful at all to life) from past ages when these things happened.

  4. 804
    Ernst K says:

    776 Andrew Hobbs, 27 January 2010 at 4:43 AM

    Those high percentages are for snow and glacial melt combined. Here’s a quote from the abstract of reference 41 in your above quote from barnett et al:

    “The average snow and glacier runoff contribution to the annual flow of the Chenab River at Akhnoor is estimated to be about 49 percent”

    The vast majority of that is almost certainly from snow, not glacial melt.

  5. 805
    Theo Hopkins says:

    At my post No. 784:

    I wrote (among other things)

    “”I am surprised that no one is posting that Pachauri should resign (or be sacked) from his post as chair of the IPCC.

    Such a call should come from within the climate community, and it should be from the top of the climate community (Hansen?).””

    Shortly after posting my No.784, is read that Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change Studies, of the University of East Anglia (close colleague of the CRU folks) has called for Pachauri to resign. That’s “close enough to the top of the climate community” for my liking.

  6. 806
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis looks forward a decade “But by then the whole AGW house of cards will have collapsed.”

    Really, Richard, would you care to tell us what particular “cards” are vulnerable?

    Is quantum mechanics of stat mech wrong?

    Is our understanding of the radiative behavior of CO2 wrong?

    Which of the dozen or so independent lines of evidence that all favor a CO2 sensitivity of 3 degrees per doubling–and preclude a sensitivity below 2 degrees–is about to be overturned?

    Do you know of some magical negative feedback that the rest of us have missed?

    Do tell, Richard. Enquiring minds want to laugh…er, I mean know. Yeah, know!

  7. 807
    ken says:

    270,000 + 360,000 is 11.4% of the entire Amazonian rain forest, not 40%. Now maybe there was some extrapolation as to what area MIGHT be affected, but regardless, the areas in the Nepstad paper are areas that were at risk due to the 1997-98 drought, caused not by climate change but by El Nino and furthermore, this was forest that was at risk because of the effect of logging. i.e. had the logging not occurred, then the risk diminishes. Additionally, the WWF paper refers to 40% of the Brazilian rain forest and AR4 says the Amazonian rain forest. There is a big difference.

    The point is, when the AR4 authors were writing it, making a statement that nearly half the Amazonian rain forest is extremely sensitive to drought, it should raise alarm bells. I don’t care who you are, or what side of the debate you are on, that is a bold statement to make. So, similar to the glacier comment, you would think that it would be a trigger for someone to really fact check, and make sure that the sources of the information were solid, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

    I am an environmental engineer-in-training, and one thing I learned both back in my school days, and now in my working days, is that any time you come to any result, or you are making any conclusions, is that you should do a quick reality check. Just take a step back and say, ok, does this number make sense. Otherwise you could easily be off by a magnitude of error or more, and not even realize it, just trusting that you did the work correctly. I find it hard to believe that a person writing something as important as the AR4 could put the words on paper that essentially 40% of Amazonian rain forest is in dire trouble if warming continues, and not perform one of these checks. So then the question is, did they not do the check, and just trust that they didn’t make a mistake which would be fairly negligent considering the ramifications of the statement, or did they ignore the fact that it was grossly overstating the concern with full knowledge of the exaggeration?

    To me, neither is a good option, but there should be some accountability

  8. 808
    caerbannog says:


    [Response: Much more relevant is that Watts still, after years of being told otherwise, thinks that the global temperature analyses are made by averaging absolute temperatures. – gavin]

    And here’s another shining example of Watts’ incompetence: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/02/28/a-look-at-4-globaltemperature-anomalies/

    Just one note of caution: Secure all hot beverages before clicking on the above link. I will not accept responsibility for gummed-up keyboards, scalded nasal passages, etc.

  9. 809
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “798
    Frederic says:
    27 January 2010 at 9:47 AM

    i can`t believe in this: himalayan glaciers could be gone in 2035.

    Sorry, but my grandmum knows that this big glaciers up to 8000m of hights can never melt in this short time.”

    Does your grammy know that the ice on the himalayas isn’t 8km thick?

  10. 810
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “792
    Richard Steckis says:
    27 January 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Watts admitted his error. Move on.”

    How about this one:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/On-the-reliability-of-the-US-Surface-Temperature-Record.html

    ?

  11. 811
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Giles: “do you think that reducing CO2 will suppress ” hurricane or cyclone warnings, food poisoning warnings, storm or flood warnings, flu outbreaks” ?”

    Do you think that climate change won’t change any of those?

    And when the stock market for corn falls down, the rest of the stock market won’t like it.

    Nor will it like it when Manhattan floods.

  12. 812

    #791, Gavin says “nonsense”: It’s true that the WUWT paper undermines its own case by plotting graphs of the average temperature instead of anomalies. I have said as much at their site. Nevertheless, an 85% loss in the number of stations does introduce a systematic error in the anomaly surface trend, of order 0.2°C in the late 20th Century, as I have alreadydemonstrated.

    In theory, the anomaly method removes the effect of station migration. But in the face of such dramatic migrations, the onus is on GISS and CRU to show that the method removes the effect to by two orders of magnitude. Why have we never seen a graph from GISS or CRU that shows how the stations have migrated? I made one myself and its very pretty. You guys are awesome at plotting maps. Why wouldn’t you plot such a map yourselves?

    Nor have I ever seen a graph of the number of stations plotted by GISS or CRU. I have asked twice here for you and others like to you address this matter head-on by plotting such graphs. By delaying until someone else points out these sources of error, your actions are no different from some hypothetical researcher who has not been looking hard at all.

    Instead of saying “nonsense”, why not present a detailed analysis of the number of stations question, and the migration question, with some simulated data and some pretty plots, and be done with it? That’s what I’d do. Indeed, I’d be delighted to do it. But when I do it I come up with the conclusion that the surface trend can’t be trusted to better than ±0.1°C/decade.

  13. 813
    Joe Cushley says:

    Ken @ 807 I am an environmental engineer-in-training…

    Bully for you Ken, then perhaps you should pay attention to detail. The IPCC/WWF paper says ‘up to 40%’, in your hands this becomes ‘nearly half’. Careful.

  14. 814
    potentilla says:

    ErnstK notes in Comment 764:

    “However, I’m still not happy with the “serious consequences for water resources” part because it needs more context. You shouldn’t be surprised that people read that and immediately think of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. Yes, they’re not the totality of water resources in the region, but if we’re talking about water resources that are influenced by glaciers then they are by far the most important”

    Well the reason people think of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra when considering “serious consequences for water resources” is because of the emphasis on this in IPCC AR4 Chapter 10. Here are a couple of quotes from that document:

    “Climate change-related melting of glaciers could seriously affect half a billion people in the Himalaya-
    Hindu-Kush region and a quarter of a billion people in China who depend on glacial melt for their water supplies (Stern, 2007).

    About 15,000 Himalayan glaciers form a unique reservoir which supports perennial rivers such as the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra which, in turn, are the lifeline of millions of people in South Asian countries (Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh). The Gangetic basin alone is home to 500 million people, about 10% of the total human population in the region.”

    Setting aside the curious use of Stern(2007) as a reference in an IPCC report there is no question that these statements are highly misleading. For example glaciated areas in the Ganges Basin comprise only 1.6% of the total river basin area. Even if the glaciers totally disappear there would still be runoff from these areas though, of course, the storage effect of the glaciers would be eliminated. However the storage effect would only be significant in areas immediately downstream of a glacier. Water resource use in headwater catchments would therefore be affected, but not large river basins such as the Ganges.

    As pointed out by ErnstK in Comment 804, meltwater from snow and ice is critical for Himalayan river flows but snowmelt is by far the largest component. It is this sloppy mixing of terminology and understanding that leads to “peer-reviewed” science being misinterpreted to support climate change advocacy.

  15. 815
    Sekerob says:

    Think where glaziers reach 6-7 km and higher and a 6C temp drop per 1km altitude they ever would completely drop off the face of the planet. Sort of a very silly overstretched comment similar to the Arctic ice disappearance, which was meant to be the mid summer situation. Of course if the Brookers and Wattsuses get ahold of this, they will milk it to the last drop, so if scientists of any make put such words towards those of the printing press, it will spread like oil… the type of genus Steckis unable to figure that out, denialist pur sans… if he would display understanding of acidity, my granny would understand higgs bosons.

  16. 816
    Ken says:

    Joe @ 813.

    Really, that’s the best that you can come up with to rebut my post? That 40% can’t also be stated as nearly half? What would you describe it as then if you were using words instead of numbers? more than one third? or would you go straight to two fifths?

    Here’s an exercise for you. Draw a line that is one meter long, and then put a mark on it that is forty centimeters from one end, and stand back and look at it. How would you describe that? Nearly half fits the bill pretty closely doesn’t it? ;-)

    Hey, if it is fair for the IPCC to use gross exaggeration, then it should be fine for me to use minor exaggeration.

  17. 817
    CM says:

    ken #807,
    I too simply looked up the area of Amazonian rainforest in Wikipedia and did the same back-of-envelope calculation. But take into account that Wikipedia says 60% of the quoted area is in Brazil, so you should get 19%, not 11%. I’m still unsure how WWF/IUCN got “up to 40%”, but it’s an awful lot of fire-prone rainforest in any case — put your pocket calculator away, look at all the brown stuff on the map in Repstad et al. 1999, and think about it.

  18. 818
    Gilles says:

    Fed up :Do you think that climate change won’t change any of those?
    actually I doubt that anybody will see a statistically significant (above 3 sigmas of natural variability) change during his life. Is it a reasonable definition of “won’t change” ? (since of course everything has changed since the beginning of the earth).

    And when the stock market for corn falls down, the rest of the stock market won’t like it.

    when do you think that the stock market of corn is likely to fall down?

    I personally fear that the whole stock market and many states economies could collapse (again) within 5 years due to peak oil and their inability to reimburse their debt. What about your term ?

    Nor will it like it when Manhattan floods.

    same question : when?

  19. 819
    Bob says:

    Two weeks ago David Rose seemed to simply make up quotes by Mojib Latif. Now it’s the same with Murari Lai.

    Is this really happening? And the larger players in the news media, including Science News, are picking up the original fabrications and reporting it as fact.

    Note that it’s the same reporter at Science News for both articles… she just didn’t bother to check her sources until three days after she published the original story, which she pretty much just copied from the Daily Mail.

    Isn’t there some sort of law that prevents the press from flat out lying and making things up? It’s bad enough when bloggers do it…

    I used to think that some modern major news outlets had abandoned all journalistic integrity. Now I’m starting to think they all have. I’m starting to think that journalism is totally dead. It’s a time when it’s okay to just print whatever you want to believe as fact, knowing that most people will read it and accept it on faith (see this hoax on the media for another perspective).

  20. 820
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “actually I doubt that anybody will see a statistically significant (above 3 sigmas of natural variability) change during his life.”

    So again you’re only thinking of yourself.

    “same question : when?”

    When the West Antarctic melts.

    If GW continues and *we* don’t do something to stop it, it will melt.

    If you don’t care that it melts as long as you’re dead before then, then say so.

  21. 821
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Nor have I ever seen a graph of the number of stations plotted by GISS or CRU.”

    Likewise, I have never seen Anthony Watts correct himself over anything.

  22. 822
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I doubt that anybody will see a statistically
    > significant (above 3 sigmas of natural variability)
    > change during his life

    Already happening. Search “phenology”

  23. 823
    Ron Taylor says:

    Theo Hopkins said:

    “In that case it is reporting by the media that tends to emphasise only the highest point (or the lowest point) of a spread. If this is so, then it needs that climate scientists make sure that the media present things more accurately, and in a less scaring manner. I do not know if you or your colleagues do this, but the media needs to be brought to book when they only reports extremes.”

    Theo, that is one of the reasons RealClimate was created, to correct misleading reports in the media.

  24. 824
    t_p_hamilton says:

    Kevan Hashemi claims:”#791, Gavin says “nonsense”: It’s true that the WUWT paper undermines its own case by plotting graphs of the average temperature instead of anomalies. I have said as much at their site. Nevertheless, an 85% loss in the number of stations does introduce a systematic error in the anomaly surface trend, of order 0.2°C in the late 20th Century, as I have already demonstrated.”

    You’re doing the error analysis incorrectly. Your units are not even correct. Trend is degrees /per time unit.

    “In theory, the anomaly method removes the effect of station migration. But in the face of such dramatic migrations, the onus is on GISS and CRU to show that the method removes the effect to by two orders of magnitude.”

    This sentence makes no sense. Have you read the papers on how data adjustments and homogenization are done? Scientists have done what is needed, the onus is on you to read them before claiming things have not been done right.

  25. 825
    Didactylos says:

    Kevan Hashemi said: “Nevertheless, an 85% loss in the number of stations”

    85%? Where did you get that number from? You go on to complain that this number isn’t published anywhere, but you have no trouble making up a number?

    “Nor have I ever seen a graph of the number of stations plotted by GISS or CRU.”

    It’s right there in the GHCN documentation. All you have to do is look. No link, you can do the actual looking up part yourself. Can’t you?

    Really, I don’t know why you bother. You know the UHI effect isn’t relevant. You know station counts aren’t relevant. You just want to think of ways to reduce the existing trend. What a waste of effort!

    Gavin already explained the reason for the drop-off in station numbers. But just in case anyone missed it the first time around, this is what the GHCN overview says: “The reasons why the number of stations in GHCN drop off in recent years are because some of GHCN’s source datasets are retroactive data compilations (e.g., World Weather Records) and other data sources were created or exchanged years ago. Only three data sources are available in near-real time.”

    Kevan, I looked at your site. I was not impressed. You not only already have a graph of station numbers (unsourced, although you imply it is from CRU), you have shown that you are unable to read it correctly. For the record, CLIMAT includes over 2000 stations.

    I think your biggest mistake is thinking that the number of weather stations available is immutable. It is not. The graph changes with time, as older data is added.

    Your insinuations that nobody has noticed the historical distribution of stations is amusing (and reprehensible) because again, this is extensively discussed by climate scientists – in the very sources you have clearly read, yet pretend not to have seen.

  26. 826
    Ken says:

    CM @ 816 The question, however, is not even whether the 40% figure is perfectly accurate, and the question is certainly not whether logging has a detrimental effect on the rain forest.

    It is a no brainer that the type of deforestation that has taken place greatly affects the remaining rain forest. The question of ethics, and accountability is the bigger issue here. It has gone from 270,000km2 of Brazilian rain forest that was at risk due to extreme drought caused by logging and a strong El Nino, to 40% of Brazilian rain forest that is at risk under sever drought, to 40% of Amazonian rain forest that is at risk because of climate change. That’s quite the change in story with no justification. What could the possible reasons be for this type of exaggeration of the facts?

    I’ll put my calculator away if you open up a book about professional ethics.

  27. 827
    Joe Cushley says:

    Bob @ 818 said – “I used to think that some modern major news outlets had abandoned all journalistic integrity. Now I’m starting to think they all have.”

    Yup, Nick Davies documents this in his excellent book Flat Earth News. It depends what you mean by ‘journalistic integrity’, but a lot of this cut-and-paste approach is because print news is dying and journalists just haven’t got time to investigate stories properly. I was a journalist for 12 years and a section editor for 2, and the increasing pressure from owners/managers to cover more with fewer resources was ramped up massively in that time. But this tendency is also because, well, a lot of journalists lack integrity…

  28. 828
    t_p_hamilton says:

    “Instead of saying “nonsense”, why not present a detailed analysis of the number of stations question, and the migration question, with some simulated data and some pretty plots, and be done with it? That’s what I’d do. Indeed, I’d be delighted to do it. But when I do it I come up with the conclusion that the surface trend can’t be trusted to better than ±0.1°C/decade.”

    Go to http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/12/are-the-cru-data-suspect-an-objective-assessment to get a rough idea (i.e. whether your intuition is likely to be correct). Explicit instructions are given.

    (all numbers 1850 – present)
    With only 30 land stations the trends are 0.61 +/- 0.11 degrees C per century (all numbers 1850 – present), 0.55 +/- 0.08 for an independent set of 30 stations, IPCC states 0.54 +/- 0.016 from WG4 Table 3.2 (all stations, see how the error went down as you would expect.

    The trends are about 5 times the magnitude of the standard error for even as few as 30 stations, which means warming is definitely happening.

  29. 829
    SecularAnimist says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan wrote: “If we do not mitigate so as to avoid these scenarios, the billions of people won’t be dying all at once (as in an astroid hit), but probably over many hundreds, perhaps thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.”

    I can pretty much guarantee you that at least six and a half billion human beings will die by the end of the 21st century. Why? Because that’s the approximate current human population of the Earth, and very few of us are likely to live to the end of the century (90 years from now).

    The real question is when will death rates exceed birth rates to the point that the human population begins dropping? Global warming will surely increase death rates, and decrease birth rates.

    I think it is more likely than not that unmitigated global warming will cause a world-wide failure of agriculture within decades, and billions of people will starve to death very quickly — within a few years — after that. And it may well be already too late to prevent that, even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today.

    I’ll be surprised if the human population of the Earth in fifty years is more than half what it is today, and it could easily be a whole lot less than that, especially if human societies react to the catastrophic effects of global warming with our traditional, time-honored behaviors (e.g. war and genocide). Imagine nuclear-armed China, nuclear-armed India, and nuclear-armed Pakistan fighting over dwindling glacier-fed water supplies while the monsoons fail and the agricultural regions of all three nations turn to desert. Not a pretty picture.

  30. 830
    SecularAnimist says:

    I wrote: “… I’ll be surprised if the human population of the Earth in fifty years is more than half what it is today …”

    Just to clarify, I am not speaking literally when I say that I will be surprised, because in 50 years I will be dead myself and won’t be around to be surprised.

  31. 831
    Theo Hopkins says:

    Theo Hopkins said: (at No 823)

    “In that case it is reporting by the media that tends to emphasise only the highest point (or the lowest point) of a spread. If this is so, then it needs that climate scientists make sure that the media present things more accurately, and in a less scaring manner. I do not know if you or your colleagues do this, but the media needs to be brought to book when they only reports extremes.”

    Theo, that is one of the reasons RealClimate was created, to correct misleading reports in the media.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 27 January 2010 @ 2:28 PM

    Yes, Rod.

    But how do you get those bl**dy journalists actually to read Real Climate?

    Ideally – though it might overload your work day – scientists need to (politely) call erring reporters and give them to facts.

  32. 832
    Septic Matthew says:

    778, Barton Paul Levenson: BPL: Since derailing action on AGW will cause billions of deaths, it’s hard not to describe the people who do it as evil. What else would you call them? Misinformed? Doing what they think is right? How about “defending their profits/lifestyle no matter how many people die as a result?”

    Some of each, plus others, perhaps including “Chinese”. It’s like saying that all the people who promote AGW are “statists”, “Marxists”, “rent-seeking” (like Gore and Pachauri), “histrionic”, or “insufferably arrogant”.

  33. 833
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “826
    Ken says:
    27 January 2010 at 2:45 PM

    CM @ 816 The question, however, is not even whether the 40% figure is perfectly accurate”

    Indeed, it’s why you were inaccurate five ways from sunday about it.

    Why were you so inaccurate, Ken? It’s not like you didn’t read it. Or is it?

  34. 834
    Joe Cushley says:

    Ken @ 816 – I’ll leave the analysis of other points in your posts to the experts. As a layman, but a fairly sharp-eyed ex-journalist and editor, I find it amusing – no, not amusing, erm, inconsistent is perhaps a better word – that you belabour other people’s inaccuracies and then come up with a considerable one of your own (a roughly 25% exaggeration isn’t minor in my book). And you’re still doing it. “Up to 40%”, not “40%”, please. And you do this in “full knowledge of the exaggeration” to quote one of your earlier posts? Tut, tut.

  35. 835
    Didactylos says:

    Ken:

    This is insane. Yes, I know that the rabid denialosphere will seize on anything, but trying to play citation-jump? Beyond pathetic.

    “In the 1998 dry season, some 270,000 sq. km of forest became vulnerable to fire, due to completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper five metres of soil. A further 360,000 sq. km of forest had only 250 mm of plant-available soil water left.”

    This statement, in Rowell and Moore (2000), cites the Nature letter. It’s all about forest fires, after all. All very interesting, and all having very little to do with climate or the IPCC.

    But the statement before it, “Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall” is cited by the IPCC. Is it reliable? Well, duh! It says “up to”. I can’t really think of any way of saying more clearly “this is a very crude estimate, handle with caution” – can you?

    I’m not the first to explain all this. You need to look beyond your walled garden. Delingpole is just trying to cover his embarrassment at making a mistake (plagiarising yet another denier! By his own admission!). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  36. 836
    Tom says:

    @794 , BPL writes:
    Since derailing action on AGW will cause billions of deaths, it’s hard not to…

    It’s really hard not to use a word like “alarmist” or “alarmism” to describe statements of such tenor (and such surity), actually. { I’m no skeptic, but I’m also no fan of wild-eyed statements to “name your putative” effect, either. }

    Do you have a citation to back up all these billions of deaths attributable to lifestyles of others?

  37. 837
    Ian says:

    With regard to journalism, the Australian reported that the UK chief scientist was very critical of and concerned about recent actions of the IPCC and considered some of their predictions to be exaggerated. Is this true or is it just journalism? And if true where does it leave the IPCC?

  38. 838
    Steve Brown says:

    Sorry, this is OT but too good to miss: HRH Prince Charles visited CRU yesterday as a show of support. Prof. Phil Jones welcoming ol’ jug ears to the dept. as well!

    Local Anglia TV news report here: http://www.itv.com/anglia/royal-climate-research48555/

  39. 839
    Jeff Nelson says:

    Watching how the “skeptic” community is responding to this reminds me that my mom used to tell me “be careful what you wish for”. Do they really think that if AR5 is restricted to only peer reviewed papers the “skeptical” position will be strengthened?

  40. 840
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “It’s really hard not to use a word like “alarmist” or “alarmism” to describe statements of such tenor ”

    Then what do you say to those who proclaim that any action would ruin the economy?

    How about those who say that action would make the poor people starve?

    And when your doctor tells you you have a heart condition and you need to do something or you could die, is he alarmist too?

  41. 841
    Tim Jones says:

    Re: 765 Gilles says:
    27 January 2010 at 3:32 AM
    Time Jones:Re: 705 Giles says:

    “The argument of coal is not valid, because conventional reserves of coal are not able to produce any of the catastrophic scenario that media describe so easily.”

    I wrote:
    “Falsify the hypothesis then. Just saying so doesn’t make it true. If you can’t falsify the argument that burning current reserves of coal will result in a “catastrophic scenario” with facts and figures then we’ll assume you understand the statement to be the truth.”

    You replied:
    “The fact is : I have read no warning for any imminent catastrophe based on the lowest B1 scenario in newspaper and media. That’s a fact (it doesn’t prove that there aren’t, but i’ve never seen one). Have you ?

    We weren’t discussing “imminent catastrophe.” Do you only prepare for imminent disasters?

    First, if you give an answer to a different question than the one asked you have set up a straw man.
    This is a logical fallacy. http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html

    That said,

    “Burning current reserves of coal will result in a catastrophic scenario” is not at all rebutted with “I have read no warning for any imminent catastrophe based on the lowest B1 scenario.”

    Gilles, B1 is a HUGE qualifier! http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc%5Fsr/?src=/climate/ipcc/emission/094.htm
    (excerpt)
    “These proactive local and regional environmental measures and policies also lead to relatively low GHG emissions, even in the absence of explicit interventions to mitigate climate change.”

    You have re-framed the discussion to narrow the impact in two ways – “lowest B1 Scenario” and “imminent catastrophe.”

    Your answer doesn’t falsify the hypothesis by any stretch of the imagination.

    In the first place “current reserves of coal” means virtually all that’s left in the ground that we know of. In the second place how would anyone burn current reserves fast enough to create an “imminent catastrophe?” Of course you haven’t read that. It would be ridiculous on the face of it.

    CO2 global warming is incremental. Coal is burned every year to achieve an incremental increase in atmospheric CO2
    which will eventually become a doubling of CO2 because each year’s CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for 50 to 200 years. More CO2 year by year causes an increase in global surface temperatures to where dangerous climate change will occur.

    Not all years will demonstrate an effect due to natural variability. Some years will be worse. Sometimes it will be hard to tease out the signal. Sometimes the signal is in our face and the denialist’s are howling that extreme weather doesn’t prove anything! It will take years of looking back before the signal to noise ratio becomes definitive.

    But the catastrophic scenario ensues when storm events are continually extraordinary, i.e. level 6 hurricanes and typhoons, level 6 tornadoes, consistently record floods and droughts, when sea level rise is indisputably causing shorelines to recede at great cost for infrastructure repair, and so on.

    There will be no single date when all this becomes convincing and compelling. (By that time it would be too late.)

    One thing is certain, there is enough coal in the ground to raise the level of CO2 to where GLT are sufficient to
    cause catastrophic scenarios. Mostly they will be local. Sometimes widespread as in floods and droughts.

    To get back to “… I have read no warning …. Have you ?”

    Yes. Of course. Read about subtropical droughts as the tropics move northward. In the American Southwest this
    is becoming a real problem.

    A small rise in temperature can have huge results. Let me remind you that a mere 18º C, caused by CO2 warming, is what separates us from being frozen solid on a snowball in space. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

    And by the way, temperatures in Texas are much on people’s minds some times of the year. When we have temperatures of well over 100º every day for well over a month, when it hasn’t rained at all during that period, some people begin to wonder what’s up. This kind of “exceptional drought” has people working the land very concerned about whether they’ll make it or not. Most are hoodwinked by Republican institutional denial, given to believe it’s all just natural variability.
    The current El Niño reinforces their illusion. Unfortunately the rains will go away and the drought will scorch the land as rarely, or as never before this coming summer. (I hope I’m wrong!)

    Your appeal to material gratification and greed as the excuse to forge blindly ahead with the consequential emissions reminds me of the story about the ant and the grasshopper.

  42. 842

    “”I am surprised that no one is posting that Pachauri should resign (or be sacked) from his post as chair of the IPCC.””

    Please look at why Robert Watson left as the head of the IPCC according to the freedom of information act documents.

  43. 843
    Theo Hopkins (In the UK) says:

    @ 838 Steve Brown

    Your link to the video of HRH Prince Charles visiting the CRU is very cheering at a time when mainstream climate science is being threatened.

    Don’t miss it.

  44. 844

    Gilles: Have you ever heard of AGW consequences causing 100 millions deaths? no?

    BPL: Not yet, but it should cause about eight billion sometime around 2040-2060.

  45. 845
    CM says:

    Ken,

    And here I was thinking we almost agreed — after all, I already gave my opinion that in this case they should have gone to the original paper — and then you come with a description of the message creep that gets it wrong at every stage. The attribution of the 1997-98 drought to logging is yours, not the Nepstad paper’s (there was drought in non-logged areas too). And the attribution of risk to climate change in the sentence in question is, again, yours, not the IPCC’s. To use your own words, what could the possible reasons be for this type of distortion of the sources?

    I’m not someone connected with the IPCC or even working in any related field, so impugning my professional ethics is a bit off. But as someone who sometimes edits academic texts for a living, I can say that I would love to have the presence of mind to notice, and the time to check out and correct, each and every even slightly questionable claim or source. Actual working conditions often impose an element of triage, though, where one spends 90% of the time straightening out some major problem.

    Let’s try to see the forest for the trees here (difficult with those rainforest canopies, I know). The sentence we’ve been obsessing over is broadly consistent with other, independent findings; it is worded so it can’t be flat wrong; and above all, it plays at most a modest supporting role in an argument about impacts of global warming. They could have dropped it without changing a word in the executive summary of the chapter:

    Replacement of tropical forest by savannas is expected in eastern Amazonia and the tropical forests of central and southern Mexico, along with replacement of semi-arid vegetation by arid vegetation in parts of north-east Brazil and most of central and northern Mexico due to synergistic effects of both land-use and climate changes (medium confidence)

    …or in the WG2 summary for policy-makers:

    By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia. Semi-arid vegetation will tend to be replaced by arid-land vegetation. There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many areas of tropical Latin America.

  46. 846

    BPL Actually, another decade’s delay is putting all the nails in the coffin, dropping it in the grave, shoveling in all the dirt, and tamping it down with a steamroller.”

    RS: I bet you said that 10 years ago.

    BPL: Nope. In 2000 I was just starting to write atmosphere models and was interested in the subject mostly to write about other planets.

    RS: Why don’t you and others at this site wake up to yourselves and realise that it will take at least 10 years to get to the point where you are going to even start turning things around.

    BPL: My personal opinion is that it will not be turned around. You and your denier pals are going to win on the politics, and human civilization will collapse some time in the next 40 years.

    RS: But by then the whole AGW house of cards will have collapsed.

    BPL: Yeah, and they’ll have repealed relativity and quantum mechanics, too, and admitted that aliens built the pyramids.

  47. 847

    RS: What arrant nonsense. Billions will not be dying. Catastrophising an issue does not make it a reality.

    BPL: And how do you know billions will not be dying? What, precisely, is the source of your certainty?

  48. 848

    Tom: Do you have a citation to back up all these billions of deaths attributable to lifestyles of others?

    BPL: What part of “70% of the Earth’s entire land surface will be in drought by 2025” did you not understand?

  49. 849
    Jimbo says:

    # 682

    “Money always gets in the way” – spot the irony.

    “Mr Jimbo is certainly earning his fees on this thread isn’t he – work, work, work; link, link, link.”

    REPLY – There you go again! Why do you think all sceptics are paid? If you believe I am being paid then where the heck is my oil cheque? :o)

    ———–

    # 687
    Jimbo says: “You should know that correlation is not causation old bean.”

    “…are you one of those special people who claim CO2 is not a greenhouse gas.[?]”

    REPLY – Yes I do realise CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Do you realise that water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, sulfur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons are also greenhouse gases? If only I could send you to take a sauna on Mars with its CO2 rich atmosphere. :o(

    ———

    # 689
    “…I guess you can’t find 100 papers by denialists, can you? In fact, you’d probably have trouble finding 10 that you’d actually want to cite, wouldn’t you?”

    REPLY – You’re right, I can’t find 100 or even 10 – however, I’ll give you over 150 see link below

    [edit – don’t use crap links in lieu of discussion]

    ——-
    #710

    Jimbo, it seems like you should be institutionalised.

    ““Money always gets in the way”

    Don’t forget the religious angle: not only god but the Church of Ayn Rand.”

    REPLY – But the BBC (25 January 2010) thinks global warming campaigners are increasingly using religious symbols and slogans.

    “If the case for tackling climate change is backed by science, why do so many green campaigners rely on the language of religion?”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8468233.stm

    +++++++
    For me it’s not about money, politics or religion. I have no axe to grind – I just don’t like being taken for a ride by politicians riding on the backs of naive greens. (I’m concerned for the environment by the way but I’m also concerned about TRUTH).

  50. 850
    Bob says:

    On the potential for forest fires in the Amazon: Amazon drought and its implications for forest
    flammability and tree growth: a basin-wide analysis — Nepstad et al (2004)
    .

    There’s no 40% number, but there is a frequent 31% reference that comes up through a specific metric (25% PAWmax = plant-available soil water, maximum). Looking at the tables, during the 2001 ENSO the percentage of the Amazon forests in the 0-50% PAWmax category is 51%, and that is from one specific drought. From reading this I think a 40% number may actually be conservative, but I only gave it one quick read through. Of course this is only talking about susceptibility to fire, not “a drastic reaction”. I have to go through it again, in more detail, tonight.

    From the abstract:

    Field measurements and experimental forest fires indicate that soil moisture depletion below 25% PAWmax corresponds to a reduction in leaf area index of approximately 25%, increasing forest flammability. Hence, approximately one-third of Amazon forests became susceptible to fire during the 2001 ENSO period.

    From the body of the report:

    Rooting depth influences PAW by affecting PAWmax and the amount of moisture that is potentially stored in the soil to sustain ET during periods of low rainfall. A halving of rooting depth from 10 to 5 m results in a doubling of the Amazon forest area in which PAW drops below 25% of PAWmax, during most years (Figs 9 and 10). Using a rooting depth of 5 m, RisQue estimates that virtually the entire Amazon had dropped below 50% of PAWby the end of 2001 (Fig. 9).

    and:

    By the end of 2001, we estimate that nearly one-third of the forests of this region had depleted all but 25% of plant-available soil moisture to a depth of 10 m (Fig. 9, Table 1).