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IPCC errors: facts and spin

Filed under: — group @ 14 February 2010 - (Czech) (Svenska)

Currently, a few errors –and supposed errors– in the last IPCC report (“AR4”) are making the media rounds – together with a lot of distortion and professional spin by parties interested in discrediting climate science.  Time for us to sort the wheat from the chaff: which of these putative errors are real, and which not? And what does it all mean, for the IPCC in particular, and for climate science more broadly?

Let’s start with a few basic facts about the IPCC.  The IPCC is not, as many people seem to think, a large organization. In fact, it has only 10 full-time staff in its secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers – thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of the IPCC reports. A large fraction of the relevant scientific community is thus involved in the effort.  The three working groups are:

Working Group 1 (WG1), which deals with the physical climate science basis, as assessed by the climatologists, including several of the Realclimate authors.

Working Group 2 (WG2), which deals with impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems, as assessed by social scientists, ecologists, etc.

Working Group 3 (WG3) , which deals with mitigation options for limiting global warming, as assessed by energy experts, economists, etc.

Assessment reports are published every six or seven years and writing them takes about three years. Each working group publishes one of the three volumes of each assessment. The focus of the recent allegations is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.  Its three volumes are almost a thousand pages each, in small print. They were written by over 450 lead authors and 800 contributing authors; most were not previous IPCC authors. There are three stages of review involving more than 2,500 expert reviewers who collectively submitted 90,000 review comments on the drafts. These, together with the authors’ responses to them, are all in the public record (see here and here for WG1 and WG2 respectively).

Errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

As far as we’re aware, so far only one–or at most two–legitimate errors have been found in the AR4:

Himalayan glaciers: In a regional chapter on Asia in Volume 2, written by authors from the region, it was erroneously stated that 80% of Himalayan glacier area would very likely be gone by 2035. This is of course not the proper IPCC projection of future glacier decline, which is found in Volume 1 of the report. There we find a 45-page, perfectly valid chapter on glaciers, snow and ice (Chapter 4), with the authors including leading glacier experts (such as our colleague Georg Kaser from Austria, who first discovered the Himalaya error in the WG2 report).  There are also several pages on future glacier decline in Chapter 10 (“Global Climate Projections”), where the proper projections are used e.g. to estimate future sea level rise. So the problem here is not that the IPCC’s glacier experts made an incorrect prediction. The problem is that a WG2 chapter, instead of relying on the proper IPCC projections from their WG1 colleagues, cited an unreliable outside source in one place. Fixing this error involves deleting two sentences on page 493 of the WG2 report.

Sea level in the Netherlands: The WG2 report states that “The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level”. This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read “55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding”. It surely will go down as one of the more ironic episodes in its history when the Dutch parliament last Monday derided the IPCC, in a heated debate, for printing information provided by … the Dutch government. In addition, the IPCC notes that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error.

Some other issues

African crop yields: The IPCC Synthesis Report states: “By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.” This is properly referenced back to chapter 9.4 of WG2, which says: “In other countries, additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change include greater erosion, deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-2020 period, and reductions in crop growth period (Agoumi, 2003).”  The Agoumi reference is correct and reported correctly. The Sunday Times, in an article by Jonathan Leake, labels this issue “Africagate” – the main criticism being that Agoumi (2003) is not a peer-reviewed study (see below for our comments on “gray” literature), but a report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Climate Change Knowledge Network, funded by the US Agency for International Development. The report, written by Morroccan climate expert Professor Ali Agoumi, is a summary of technical studies and research conducted to inform Initial National Communications from three countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is a perfectly legitimate IPCC reference.

It is noteworthy that chapter 9.4 continues with “However, there is the possibility that adaptation could reduce these negative effects (Benhin, 2006).”  Some examples thereof follow, and then it states: “However, not all changes in climate and climate variability will be negative, as agriculture and the growing seasons in certain areas (for example, parts of the Ethiopian highlands and parts of southern Africa such as Mozambique), may lengthen under climate change, due to a combination of increased temperature and rainfall changes (Thornton et al., 2006). Mild climate scenarios project further benefits across African croplands for irrigated and, especially, dryland farms.” (Incidentally, the Benhin and Thornton references are also “gray”, but nobody has complained about them. Could there be double standards amongst the IPCC’s critics?)

Chapter 9.4 to us sounds like a balanced discussion of potential risks and benefits, based on the evidence available at the time–hardly the stuff for shrill “Africagate!” cries. If the IPCC can be criticized here, it is that in condensing these results for its Synthesis Report, important nuance and qualification were lost – especially the point that the risk of drought (defined as a 50% downturn in rainfall) “could be exacerbated by climate change”, as chapter 9.4 wrote – rather than being outright caused by climate change.

Trends in disaster losses: Jonathan Leake (again) in The Sunday Times accused the IPCC of wrongly linking global warming to natural disasters. The IPCC in a statement points out errors in Leake’s “misleading and baseless story”, and maintains that the IPCC provided “a balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue”. While we agree with the IPCC here, WG2 did include a debatable graph provided by Robert Muir-Wood (although not in the main report but only as Supplementary Material). It cited a paper by Muir-Wood as its source although that paper doesn’t include the graph, only the analysis that it is based on. Muir-Wood himself has gone on record to say that the IPCC has fairly represented his research findings and that it was appropriate to include them in the report. In our view there is no IPCC error here; at best there is a difference of opinion. Obviously, not every scientist will always agree with assessments made by the IPCC author teams.

Amazon forest dieback: Leake (yet again), with “research” by skeptic Richard North, has also promoted “Amazongate” with a story regarding a WG2 statement on the future of Amazonian forests under a drying climate.  The contested IPCC statement reads: “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000).”  Leake’s problem is with the Rowell and Moore reference, a WWF report.

The roots of the story are in two blog pieces by North, in which he first claims that the IPCC assertions attributed to the WWF report are not actually in that report. Since this claim was immediately shown to be false,  North then argued that the WWF report’s basis for their statement (a 1999 Nature article by Nepstad et al.) dealt only with the effects of logging and fire –not drought– on Amazonian forests. To these various claims Nepstad has now responded, noting that the IPCC statement is in fact correct. The only issue is that the IPCC cited the WWF report rather than the underlying peer-reviewed papers by Nepstad et al. These studies actually provide the  basis for the IPCC’s estimate on Amazonian sensitivity to drought. Investigations of the correspondence between Leake, scientists, and a BBC reporter (see here and here and here) show that Leake ignored or misrepresented explanatory information given to him by Nepstad and another expert, Simon Lewis, and published his incorrect story anyway. This “issue” is thus completely without merit.

Gray literature: The IPCC cites 18,000 references in the AR4; the vast majority of these are peer-reviewed scientific journal papers. The IPCC maintains a clear guideline on the responsible use of so-called “gray” literature, which are typically reports by other organizations or governments. Especially for Working Groups 2 and 3 (but in some cases also for 1) it is indispensable to use gray sources, since many valuable data are published in them: reports by government statistics offices, the International Energy Agency, World Bank, UNEP and so on. This is particularly true when it comes to regional impacts in the least developed countries, where knowledgeable local experts exist who have little chance, or impetus, to publish in international science journals.

Reports by non-governmental organizations like the WWF can be used (as in the Himalaya glacier and Amazon forest cases) but any information from them needs to be carefully checked (this guideline was not followed in the former case). After all, the role of the IPCC is to assess information, not just compile anything it finds.  Assessment involves a level of critical judgment, double-checking, weighing supporting and conflicting pieces of evidence, and a critical appreciation of the methodology used to obtain the results. That is why leading researchers need to write the assessment reports – rather than say, hiring graduate students to compile a comprehensive literature review.

Media distortions

To those familiar with the science and the IPCC’s work, the current media discussion is in large part simply absurd and surreal. Journalists who have never even peeked into the IPCC report are now outraged that one wrong number appears on page 493 of Volume 2. We’ve met TV teams coming to film a report on the IPCC reports’ errors, who were astonished when they held one of the heavy volumes in hand, having never even seen it. They told us frankly that they had no way to make their own judgment; they could only report what they were being told about it. And there are well-organized lobby forces with proper PR skills that make sure these journalists are being told the “right” story. That explains why some media stories about what is supposedly said in the IPCC reports can easily be falsified simply by opening the report and reading. Unfortunately, as a broad-based volunteer effort with only minimal organizational structure the IPCC is not in a good position to rapidly counter misinformation.

One near-universal meme of the media stories on the Himalaya mistake was that this was “one of the most central predictions of the IPCC” – apparently in order to make the error look more serious than it was.  However, this prediction does not appear in any of the IPCC Summaries for Policy Makers, nor in the Synthesis Report (which at least partly explains why it went unnoticed for years). None of the media reports that we saw properly explained that Volume 1 (which is where projections of physical climate changes belong) has an extensive and entirely valid discussion of glacier loss.

What apparently has happened is that interested quarters, after the Himalyan glacier story broke, have sifted through the IPCC volumes with a fine-toothed comb, hoping to find more embarrassing errors. They have actually found precious little, but the little they did find was promptly hyped into Seagate, Africagate, Amazongate and so on. This has some similarity to the CRU email theft, where precious little was discovered from among thousands of emails, but a few sentences were plucked out of context, deliberately misinterpreted (like “hide the decline”) and then hyped into “Climategate”.

As lucidly analysed by Tim Holmes, there appear to be a few active leaders of this misinformation parade in the media. Jonathan Leake is carrying the ball on this, but his stories contain multiple errors, misrepresentations and misquotes. There also is a sizeable contingent of me-too journalism that is simply repeating the stories but not taking the time to form a well-founded view on the topics. Typically they report on various “allegations”, such as these  against the IPCC, similar to reporting that the CRU email hack lead to “allegations of data manipulation”. Technically it isn’t even wrong that there were such allegations. But isn’t it the responsibility of the media to actually investigate whether allegations have any merit before they decide to repeat them?

Leake incidentally attacked the scientific work of one of us (Stefan) in a Sunday Times article in January. This article was rather biased and contained some factual errors that Stefan asked to be corrected. He has received no response, nor was any correction made. Two British scientists quoted by Leake – Jonathan Gregory and Simon Holgate – independently wrote to Stefan after the article appeared to say they had been badly misquoted. One of them wrote that the experience with Leake had made him “reluctant to speak to any journalist about any subject at all”.

Does the IPCC need to change?

The IPCC has done a very good job so far, but certainly there is room for improvement. The review procedures could be organized better, for example. Until now, anyone has been allowed to review any part of the IPCC drafts they liked, but there was no coordination in the sense that say, a glacier expert was specifically assigned to double-check parts of the WG2 chapter on Asia. Such a practice would likely have caught the Himalayan glacier mistake. Another problem has been that reports of all three working groups had to be completed nearly at the same time, making it hard for WG2 to properly base their discussions on the conclusions and projections from WG1. This has already been improved on for the AR5, for which the WG2 report can be completed six months after the WG1 report.

Also, these errors revealed that the IPCC had no mechanism to publish errata. Since a few errors will inevitably turn up in a 2800-page report, obviously an avenue is needed to publish errata as soon as errors are identified.

Is climate science sound?

In some media reports the impression has been given that even the fundamental results of climate change science are now in question, such as whether humans are in fact changing the climate, causing glacier melt, sea level rise and so on. The IPCC does not carry out primary research, and hence any mistakes in the IPCC reports do not imply that any climate research itself is wrong. A reference to a poor report or an editorial lapse by IPCC authors obviously does not undermine climate science. Doubting basic results of climate science based on the recent claims against the IPCC is particularly ironic since none of the real or supposed errors being discussed are even in the Working Group 1 report, where the climate science basis is laid out.

To be fair to our colleagues from WG2 and WG3, climate scientists do have a much simpler task. The system we study is ruled by the well-known laws of physics, there is plenty of hard data and peer-reviewed studies, and the science is relatively mature. The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824 by Fourier, the heat trapping properties of CO2 and other gases were first measured by Tyndall in 1859, the climate sensitivity to CO2 was first computed in 1896 by Arrhenius, and by the 1950s the scientific foundations were pretty much understood.

Do the above issues suggest “politicized science”, deliberate deceptions or a tendency towards alarmism on the part of IPCC? We do not think there is any factual basis for such allegations. To the contrary, large groups of (inherently cautious) scientists attempting to reach a consensus in a societally important collaborative document is a prescription for reaching generally “conservative” conclusions. And indeed, before the recent media flash broke out, the real discussion amongst experts was about the AR4 having underestimated, not exaggerated, certain aspects of climate change. These include such important topics as sea level rise and sea ice decline (see the sea ice and sea level chapters of the Copenhagen Diagnosis), where the data show that things are changing faster than the IPCC expected.

Overall then, the IPCC assessment reports reflect the state of scientific knowledge very well. There have been a few isolated errors, and these have been acknowledged and corrected. What is seriously amiss is something else: the public perception of the IPCC, and of climate science in general, has been massively distorted by the recent media storm. All of these various “gates” – Climategate, Amazongate, Seagate, Africagate, etc., do not represent scandals of the IPCC or of climate science. Rather, they are the embarrassing battle-cries of a media scandal, in which a few journalists have misled the public with grossly overblown or entirely fabricated pseudogates, and many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam. It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again, e.g. by publishing proper analysis pieces like the one of Tim Holmes and by issuing formal corrections of their mistaken reporting. We will follow with great interest whether the media world has the professional and moral integrity to correct its own errors.

PS. A new book by Realclimate-authors David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf critically discussing the main findings of the AR4 (all three volumes) is just out: The Climate Crisis. None of the real or alleged errors are in this book, since none of those contentious statements plucked from the thousands of pages appeared to be “main findings” that needed to be discussed in a 250-page summary.

PPS. Same thing for Mike’s book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, which bills itself as “The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC”. Or Gavin’s “Climate Change: Picturing the Science” – which does include a few pictures of disappearing glaciers though!

Update 24 March: Simon Lewis has made an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about Leake’s Amazon story.

Update 29 March: IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has published an interesting article in the Guardian.

601 Responses to “IPCC errors: facts and spin”

  1. 501
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “For example, any impulse on the part of Dr. Jones to “hide the decline” (an impulse which I regard as nonexistent) surely was overwhelmed by his reaction to the assault of vexatious FOI requests.”

    It certainly doesn’t exist.

    The quote is taken to mean “hide the cooling temperatures” therefore proving that we’re now in a cooling period just like the deniers said all along, if only the pesky scientists weren’t silencing the truth.

    But then how do you hide a real temperature decline by using real data instead of proxies?

    You can’t.

    Therefore their “hide the decline” doesn’t exist.

    Rather like “contain the MWP”. Cited to mean contain in “damage limitation” sense. It doesn’t exist. But if the MWP goes back to 1200BP, a record of the last thousand years doesn’t contain the MWP in the same way as a pint pot doesn’t contain the quart you poured into it.

  2. 502
    Tim Jones says:

    So much for my contributions to a litany of errors, facts and spin this morning.

    2ND UPDATE: UN Climate Chief Yvo De Boer To Resign
    FEBRUARY 18, 2010, 10:54 A.M. ET
    By Selina Williams

    LONDON (Dow Jones)–United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer, who oversaw troubled climate talks in Copenhagen last year, is to resign from his post ahead of schedule, sparking calls for a swift replacement to advance negotiations on tackling global climate change.

    De Boer is to depart July 1, ahead of the scheduled end of his term in September. His resignation comes amid concerns that countries will again fail to reach a binding deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at climate talks at the end of the year in Cancun, Mexico.

    However, some analysts say his move–which follows the failure of negotiators from over 190 countries to secure a binding deal on emissions cuts at December’s Copenhagen summit–could bring a new lease of life to climate talks.

  3. 503
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    Ray Ladbury,
    I get the feeling that you illustrate a crucial issue: Scientists are very proud people. They have invested great time and energy. They want all to share their own self perception. They want to be questioned on their own terms, i.e. peer review. If someone analyse them from other terms and reach other results they feel deeply insulted. This can also explain the rather arrogant reactions from the IPPC last couple of month, I think.

    It is not true that common motives are assumed or that social scientists do not ask people. Interviews and surveys often aim to find motives. Far from all dig deep in this, many are glad to mere accept the face value of what people tell them. I find that shallow, but seems you argue that a social analysis must subordinate the analysis to the self perception of the “object of study”. To describe self perceptions and the thought of scientists and what they believe themselves are only one of many approaches. I do not mind such description, and I am well aware of the beauty of understanding and the inner world of a scientist at heart (I am a scientist and philosopher).

    Yes, I am also sceptical to social science “projection” of themselves to their “objects of study”. Sound like you read some early etnographic studies (so called laboratory studies) from the early 80´s. I am a human ecologist and I am critical to both physical reductionism and social reductionism. Sociological studies of science ad something important to the physical reductionist world of the natural sciences: it adds humans, power, motives, culture, interest etc etc. This is important! It is a shame that most natural scientists totally ignore this and mere get offended. But I do agree with you also, these studies are social reductionistic, it is mere some aspects of reality, not the most important for a natural scientist. I hate the “science was” and the ignorance of both sides.

    one can also study processes (behaviour), describe behaviour and theoretize the data, a typical natural science approach (psychology is deeply influenced by natural science, they do this all the time, with advanced statistical analysis). One can study how the public interpret what natural scientists are saying or how their science are taken up tp politics and to what extent science influence policy outcomes. This is normal empirical research, yet natural scientists seems very afraid of such things. It is kind of the reaction of climate sceptics: we do not want to believe, we have good reasons not to believe. We do not want to change or to understand. We want prefeered change, in areas where we are interested, but not elsewhere, change elsewhere that may impact on me. I think physical reductionism and the culture of objectivity is the key to understand the climate scientists. This is important since climate scientists control the truth of climate change, all prestigue is in WG1, all power emanate from WG1, the whole institutional structure of climate research is rooted in the earth sciences …

  4. 504
    flxible says:

    Andreas – I define the climate problem from the viewpoint of the whole system. ie: looking outward; humanity is only one part of it, ultimately a relatively unimportant part – you [focusing on “society”], define the climate problem from the single species viewpoint, looking inward, seeing society as the relevent part. The science is showing us that our species is an inextricable part of the whole, not something apart from it, we need to figure out how to fit into the system, not try to figure out how we can change our views of it. Nature is the one that “delimits the climate problem” and how your neighbors feel about it doesn’t contribute much to our position in the physical reality. If your interest is in how the “common man” views the real world, then get on with figureing that out, don’t ask physical scientists to do it for you.

    It’s not that “most climate scientists have no knowledge on social theory”. One thing real physical scientists are NOT is “unknowledgeable”, but they have little interest in trying to convince the unconvinceable, little interest in being “PR hacks”. The facts will speak for them, so they get on with elucidating the irrefutable. Consider Lovelocks writings.

    Someone [possibly famous] said: “The measure of life is change, the measure of intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”.
    I say: “Remember that on average half of the population is … below average”.
    There has always been turbulence in human society, and it appears it may intensify. Cannabilism hasn’t been common, but it may well get to be.

  5. 505
    flxible says:

    Tim Jones “So am I, I just haven’t been around as long.”
    Stick around Tim, the insights you bring from your obvious awareness of the real world are useful and interesting. :)

  6. 506

    CFU @ 488:

    No, I’m sorry — we can’t “go broke” and still spend the money to burn all the carbon it would take for the BAU scenarios. The examples you gave aren’t the GLOBAL economy — they are portions of portions of the global economy.

    DRM? There are companies that don’t use DRM to “prevent” people from using their products. The companies that are most in bed with DRM are having problems, while businesses such as iTunes adapt and sell DRM-free music for a slightly higher price.

    The difference here is that the more people decide / realize that carbon-free power is the economically “better” solution, the more other people have to commit to burning every bit of fossil fuel they can get their fingers on.

  7. 507
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    My discipline (Human ecology) is defined as the study of the interaction of nature and human societies. The whole system is concequenty included in my discipline, yet I am not omnipotent, so I do focus on some aspects, mainly society. My environmental philosophy is neither antropocentric but (weakly) biocentric. To figure out how we can change our views are crucial if we want to fit into this whole system. Because our culture separates nature from society rather strongly. The same is true of the IPCC (my dissertation is mainly on this issue. I have done quantitative bibliometric studies with 14.000 empirical units and 41 variables, using multidimensional scaling to produce a two dimension image of the lack of whole system assessment in the IPCC assessment). Especially WG1 is problematic from this viewpoint, as it hardly acknowledge human society at all as part of this system (look at the overview illustration of the “whole system” in the TAR WG1 chapter 1 for example). There is a very strong physical reductionism (as biology are more or less excluded as well) in WG1. This troubles me, as WG1 study the cause of climate change (to simplify) whereas WG2 study consequence and WG3 response. The study of cause is far to narrow (ultimately we want to know: what kind of a problem is this) and to be much more narrow than the problem at hand when study it is not very good cause that also lower the quality when later addressing what to do about the problem.

  8. 508
  9. 509
    Tim Jones says:

    Al Gore gave a presentation of An Inconvenient Truth to a philanthropic foundation meeting here in Austin in March
    of 2006. Some of us were asking questions after and Mr. Gore told me to visit the Real Climate website if I wanted to keep up with the truth of it. I replied that I’d already posted there. He smiled, seeing that some of his audience were up to speed.

    I took photos of incredibly giving folks expressing indescribable admiration for the important work he’s done.

    My feelings are that Real Climate is a virtual open university for the science of climate change. The moderators write text books! Even more than that it’s a forum for an exchange of ideas pertinent to one of the most important crises of our times. My preoccupation is wildlife photography. But as I’ve recovered from surgery and come back to RC for awhile I’ve found again one of the most compelling dialogues between people ranging from experts in the field to the youngest novice seekers of knowledge to folks with an utterly contrary view. The virtually no holds barred dialectic reveals all sorts of on topic issues to be explored in admirable detail. The synthesis of ideas leads perhaps to real progress in the way we operate this planet. I’m honored to participate.

    That fact that anyone can engage on so many different levels speaks to the greatness of this forum and the magnanimous
    giving of time and energy by those who have put it together and maintained it for so long.

    Step back for a second and see yourself and where you are. With the Internet we are on the leading edge of one of the most fantastic evolutions of civilization one can imagine – the free exchange of ideas with almost anyone in the world.

    Real Climate has perceived the utility of what we have and opened a door of perception. What can I say but thank you for mentioning I’ve not wasted your time.

  10. 510
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andreas, there is a huge difference between “being proud” and saying “listen to the experts”. I am not saying “listen to me” on climate change. I am not an expert on climate change. I am saying “Listen to the experts, the people who publish regularly on the subject.” Do you see the difference. I emphasize the importance of “expertise” because I’ve seen what can happen when folks decide to go it alone without the experts. It ain’t pretty.

    As to “reductionism” in WG1, this is predominantly about the physics. Homans don’t matter here except as sources of ghgs, changers of albedo, etc. The biosphere is the same. It’s physics. It’s supposed to be reductionist. They figure out how much CO2 is added, how the system changes in response and then they can tell you how much the temperature rises. Perhaps they can narrow things down to regions rather than the whole globe.

    It is only in WG2 and 3 that humans have any consequence.

  11. 511
    Completely Fed Up says:

    FurryCatHerder says:
    18 February 2010 at 1:50 PM

    CFU @ 488:

    No, I’m sorry — we can’t “go broke” and still spend the money to burn all the carbon it would take for the BAU scenarios.”

    No, you don’t go broke when you have nothing. You go broke before then.

    Never been absolutely stone dead broke before?

    You still have something, it’s just nowhere near enough.

    But your response still doesn’t affirm that your contention about BAU is right.

    Does it.

  12. 512
    Tim Jones says:

    Re: 505 flxible says: 18 February 2010 at 12:57 PM

    “Stick around…”

    Meant to be answered with comment number 509.

  13. 513
  14. 514
    Herb Lindahl says:

    It looks to me that all the data is a short term view on scientific data.
    What happens when the sun exposure to the earth changes? It seems to me
    that should be included. The Sahara Dessert and the petrified forest are
    examples. More recently the dust bowel in the great plains of the USA.
    I remember those days!

  15. 515
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Herb Lindahl says:
    18 February 2010 at 4:31 PM

    What happens when the sun exposure to the earth changes?”

    The TSI changes.
    ” It seems to me that should be included. ”

    It is.

    Over the course of 1,000 years however, the sun doesn’t change average output.

  16. 516
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    Ray Ladbury,
    I also say “listen to the experts” but also that expert domains overlap and that collaboration and interaction among researchers and domains is needed. For example, if we were experts on our psychological states and causes, all our problems and thoughts, their would be no need for psychologists. Still, people go to the psychologists to understand themselves. Sometimes the patient is too proud to listen to the expert (the psychologist) cause he think that he must be the expert on all issues that concern the domain of the self. Clearly, expertise overlap in the psychologist – patient context. Thus, dialogue is probably wise, and is also the method of most psychologists. At the same time that expertise is important, it also causes problems. Especially since expertise per definition is limited whereas real world problems are not. It is evident at this blogg for example, it tries to adress and solve issues much bigger than the climate science (in the narrow definition). The climate science – media – public – politics – policy – sceptics … issues is far broader than climate science expertise.

  17. 517
    Tim Jones says:

    Re: 514 Herb Lindahl says: 18 February 2010 at 4:31 PM
    “What happens when the sun exposure to the earth changes?”

    Congratulations on your long life. May we all be so fortunate.

    The answer to your question may be here:

    Astronomical Theory of Climate Change

    It should be noted that the Earth’s positioning according to
    Milankovitch cycles is such that it would be cooling as it
    approached another ice age a few thousand years into
    the future.

    Natural climate change: Milankovitch cycles and biological causes

    According to observations of solar brightening and frequency
    of sunspots there is nothing to indicate solar forcing as a cause
    of global warming, aka climate change.

    If the sun is approaching a grand minima of solar activity there
    is some thought that greenhouse gas forcing could be neutralized
    according to the degree of reduction of solar irradiance. The Maunder Minimum may have been due to a grand minima.

    It corresponded with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age.

    See also:
    Another Little Ice Age? Solar activity and climate change

    The actual paper is here:

  18. 518
    Tim Jones says:

    CLIMATE: Top U.N. climate diplomat announces resignation (subscription)
    Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter

    The United Nations’ top climate diplomat will step down July 1 following a raucous four-year term during which world leaders struggled to reach agreement on a new international global warming deal.

    Yvo de Boer said today that he plans to leave his post as executive secretary of the Bonn, Germany-based U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change for a job providing consulting services to businesses and universities.

    De Boer, 55, was at the center of December’s chaotic summit in Copenhagen, which ended in frustration for many world leaders who had hoped to craft a legally binding deal that would put the world on a path to reduce greenhouse gases in line with scientific warnings. Instead, they got a non-binding plan brokered in part by President Obama that saw two dozen of the world’s largest global warming polluters pledging to cut emissions and help poor countries cope with climate change.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, de Boer said he wasn’t leaving the U.N. job because of the outcome in Denmark. But he also acknowledged his disappointment that countries only “noted” the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” but didn’t officially adopt it.

    “We were about an inch away from a formal agreement,” de Boer said. “It was basically in our grasp, but it didn’t happen. So that was a pity.”

    De Boer often got into the middle of the crossfire between developed and developing countries battling over terms of a treaty for curbing greenhouse gases. Wealthy nations complained that he favored the views of poorer countries. And he was renowned for making public statements that on occasion got him in trouble with some of the 190-plus countries that participate in the overall process (Greenwire, Sept. 21, 2009).

    “I think the conventional role of a secretariat is to shut up and make sure things work,” de Boer told E&E last summer. “I said in my interview to [then-U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan, ‘If that’s what you want, then don’t hire me.'”

    De Boer played a pivotal role in the U.N. process in elevating the climate debate among world leaders and their top ministers. He urged countries to send their heads of state to the Copenhagen negotiations, which in some ways led to the chaotic nature of the event’s closing hours as Obama shared the spotlight with more than 120 other presidents and prime ministers, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    “Their involvement was welcome, but it also overwhelmed the systems,” Dirk Forrister, head of the Natsource consulting firm and a former White House climate official from the Clinton administration, said of the large number of official delegations.

    Several longtime observers of the U.N. process said de Boer is partly to blame for the uncertainty that has come in the wake of Copenhagen, as countries are still sifting through whether they are on track toward a legally binding agreement or something else entirely.

    “Rightly or wrongly, Yvo is associated in many minds with the perceived failure of Copenhagen and no longer has the confidence of parties,” said Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “He probably shares in the blame but is hardly alone. There’s plenty to go around.”

    Diringer added, “Yvo’s biggest mistake was helping to set wildly unrealistic expectations for Copenhagen, so that even a modest success would invariably be seen as a failure. He later tried to temper those expectations, but it was too late.”
    But others came to de Boer’s defense, given the agreement reached in Copenhagen, where major emerging economic powerhouses, including China and India, for the first time ever put emission reduction numbers on the table.

    “He got big players to play,” said Ned Helme, the head of the Center for Clean Air Policy. “He got targets. Who’d have said in August that all these guys would have come forward with these kinds of targets?”

    “There’s still a big challenge ahead, but Yvo really moved the process through some important developments,” said Angela Anderson, program director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups. “Copenhagen was a globally significant summit that both displayed the intensity of worldwide concern about a warming planet and evidence that nations are ready to act. What Yvo did not accomplish was convincing all nations sign up to a fair, ambitious and binding treaty. He moved the world as far as he could.”

    Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, said de Boer was “an enormously dedicated leader in the fight against global climate change and has made a major contribution in advancing that effort.”

    As in the process used to hire de Boer in 2006, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to begin interviews soon for a replacement. Vannina Maestracci, a U.N. spokeswoman, said the goal was to get a new executive secretary in place well ahead of the next major U.N. climate summit scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 10 in Cancun, Mexico.

    Several longtime observers of the U.N. negotiations said they expect the next executive secretary will be from a developing country — with de Boer’s deputy, Canadian Richard Kinley, filling in if there are any gaps. The two previous U.N. executive secretaries have been from wealthy nations.

    “It makes a lot of sense to pick a developing country person … to build trust,” said Helme, who suggested South Africa’s former top climate diplomat, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, who now is the country’s leading tourism official.

    “It’s not a easy job,” added Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s a lot of moving pieces and a lot of country dynamics. You have to be seen as someone who’s an honest broker, that’s providing leadership to the entire UNFCCC process. You can’t be an advocate for one country’s views over another, or you won’t be an effective secretary.”

    De Boer said he will be a consultant on climate and sustainability issues for KPMG, a global accounting firm. He also will help several universities. Prior to joining the United Nations, de Boer worked as the lead climate negotiator for the Netherlands and as a Dutch housing minister.

    De Boer’s departure was expected by many. The United Nations last summer had given him a one-year extension on his term that allowed him to serve through the Copenhagen conference and into 2010. He also had told E&E that he was interested in starting a bed-and-breakfast with his wife in Eijsden, a small farming town in the Netherlands near Belgium and Germany.

  19. 519
    flxible says:

    Andreas – You should be talking with this guy who commented on another thread.
    The “interaction of nature and human societies” has historically largely been that we pillage the handy resources with no regard to consequences and when we’ve reached the limits that our profit can be supported we move on to pillage the next resource. That is, we see ourselves as apart from nature. I’ve been through the social science degree scene and decided that analyzing and studying it was much less satisfying than being part of it. In fact I realized that the majority of psychologists were in it to grok their own place in society, not in nature.

    If you mean that human caused climate change should have been better addressed by WG1, I think societies impact on climate is implicit in the physics, at least in terms of CO2 and biome impacts, and WG1 was intended to provide an understanding of the physical science, which I don’t find reductionist. The primary problem with the science is we don’t have a handle on every single uncertainty, but that doesn’t negate the major contribution obviously made by our [excessive] population and consumption patterns. The consequence and response part is where society and policy and politics come in and your investigations begin.

  20. 520
    David B. Benson says:

    Tim Jones (517) — At least 20.000 years into the future. See the references for

  21. 521
    kas says:

    @Doug Bostrom

    If you’re looking for a response from Dr. Pielke regarding a specific post on his blog, I wonder if there might be a better place to go ask for one than in a hundreds-of-comments-deep comment section on completely separate site? Hmm…

  22. 522
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andreas, I have certainly never said that other disciplines play no role in the process. Sociologists, politicians, other scientists and, yes, psychologists all have a role consistent with their expertise. Most climate scientists are interested in policy only insofar as their role in assessing whether it addresses the risks.

    I haven’t noticed an overabundance of people clambering to carry the load, though. It’s pretty clear when you have scientists, politicians, sociologists, etc. all coming back shot to hell that messengers for this cause face a risky future.

    This is precisely the sort of risk humans are terrible at dealing with–a long time horizon, but very severe consequences. It may just be that it doesn’t matter who the messenger is.

  23. 523

    This discussion of 95% confidence limits seems to neglect the important difference between criteria for science and policy-making. Scientists are like the jury of a criminal case – they are looking for ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Policy makers are more like a jury in a civil case – looking for balance of probabilities and directing relative action and compensation accordingly. 20 to 1 are, after all, pretty long odds.

    God help us if scientists stop looking for ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ – and God help us if politician ask for so much before they decide to take action. It might even be perfectly justifiable for a scientist to advise a politician to take action based on a good deal less than 95% confidence – assuming that they make clear the necessary caveats.

  24. 524

    CFU @ 511:

    I actually =have= been completely flat broke — go-to-Pawn-shops, borrow-from-lo@n-sharks, consider-turning-tricks broke. I’ve stolen food so I had food to eat. I used to go days on end without eating — or maybe a can of Campbell’s soup and a cup of rice. And if I couldn’t afford a can of soup (back when it was maybe $0.25 for a can of soup), I might have tossed a bouillon cube in for flavor. That’s pretty broke.

    The problem with BAU is that eventually there is NO MORE MONEY. The pawn brokers won’t have it, the lo@n sharks won’t have it, and the johns won’t have it. At some point, fossil fuel energy costs are going to become such a large part of everyone’s budget that they’ll have to choose between fossil fuels (which they can’t eat, drive, or sleep in) and things they can eat, drive, or sleep in. We saw a capitulation on fossil fuel demand back in ’08 when oil was over $100 a barrel.

    Just not seeing how BAU is realistic. Not saying that like “we don’t need to do anything” because we’re screwed if we don’t start doing something to get away from fossil fuels as fast as possible. And not like “Oh, my, isn’t it a little warm” in 20 years, I mean the end of our way of life because we just can’t afford it. Fortunately, I’m prepared — unless I do several loads of laundry, the electric company is going to owe me for today.

  25. 525
    Tim Jones says:

    Re: 514 Herb Lindahl says: 18 February 2010 at 4:31 PM
    “What happens when the sun exposure to the earth changes?”

    Add this to your list of articles and papers to read regarding
    sun exposure changes, meaning solar irradiance changes, I presume.

    What would happen if the sun fell to Maunder Minimum levels?
    Friday, 19 February, 2010

  26. 526
    Doug Bostrom says:

    kas says: 18 February 2010 at 8:42 PM

    He was here, rendering judgment about acceptable standards of proof, which kind of got my goat as you can probably tell. It’s not my job to follow him back to his blog and help him get his facts straight.

  27. 527

    AB: There is a very strong physical reductionism… in WG1.


    I knew those IPPC bas***ds would try to sneak modern science in there somewhere!

  28. 528
    Completely Fed Up says:

    FurryCatHerder says:
    18 February 2010 at 11:38 PM

    The problem with BAU is that eventually there is NO MORE MONEY.”

    Yeah, but this has never stopped those who pilot the companies into NO MORE MONEY in the guise of BAU.

  29. 529
    Completely Fed Up says:

    FCH: Maybe my reason for what I’m saying about BAU is missing.

    BAU has to be legislated against because for the ones who decide where the company is going, the disaster at the end is meaningless and will affect them last. This is proven by many and varied cases where the management (or even large investors) make a company do stupid things that are KNOWN to kill the company’s long term future just so they can make a buck today.

    The rich won’t change as a group unless they are forced by the only thing that is (supposed) to make us equal: government action.

    For the Randians amongst you: before you caterwaul “Communist!”, do you like laws that ensure your house can’t get burgled? Government action.

  30. 530
    Tim Jones says:

    Re: 520 David B. Benson says: 18 February 2010 at 8:02 PM
    Tim Jones (517) — At least 20.000 years into the future. See the references for

    My read of this would be 50,000 years.

    “It is sometimes asserted that the length of the current interglacial temperature peak will be similar to the length of the preceding interglacial peak (Sangamonian/Eem Stage), and that therefore we might be nearing the end of this warm period.

    “However, this conclusion is probably mistaken: the lengths of previous interglacials were not particularly regular (see graphic at right).

    “Berger and Loutre (2002) argue that “with or without human perturbations, the current warm climate may last another 50,000 years. The reason is a minimum in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.”[1] Also, Archer and Ganopolski (2005) report that probable future CO2 emissions may be enough to suppress the glacial cycle for the next 500 kyr.”

    Interesting discussion:
    scroll to:
    Variations in Earth’s orbit (Milankovitch cycles)
    “It is very unlikely that the Milankovitch cycles can start or end an ice age (series of glacial periods)…
    In contrast, there is strong evidence that the Milankovitch cycles affect the occurrence of glacial and interglacial periods within an ice age.”

    “Past and future of daily average insolation at top of the atmosphere on the day of the summer solstice, at 65 N latitude as derived from orbital parameters The current interglacial may last an unusually long time. advocates we may need to wait 620,00 years for sufficient reduction in insolation to trigger an ice age. Blue dot is current condition at 2 ky AD (2000 AD).”

    The more one looks at this the further away an approaching ice age recedes.

  31. 531
    Trever says:

    Reassess the credibility of your sources(The world bank, IMF?)….

  32. 532

    CFU @ 528 and 529 —

    There’s a difference between “we’re going to run the company into the ground in 1 / 2 / 5 / 10 years” and “we’re going to keep running the company into the ground, even after it’s completely and totally buried into the dirt!”

    If you look at the evolution of the present economic unpleasantness, starting back in 2004, 2005, with the run-up in oil prices pre-Katrina, then into 2007 and 2008 as prices failed to retreat, it’s really easy to see that the =consumer= will not be able to afford to purchase products from companies that might want to run themselves into the ground in order to insure that BAU happens.

    I’d have to go back through some of my older posts on other blogs, but it was obvious to me in 2006 that people needed to start adjusting their energy consumption or we were going to be in a crunch. When people started having to choose between food / clothing / shelter and oil in 2007 or so, it was obvious that we were in for rough times. Another 10 years on the BAU track would make the 2008 market collapse look like practice because =everything= starts with “energy”, and right now “energy” means coal, oil, natural gas, etc.

  33. 533
    chopbox says:

    An interesting reaction to the RealClimate treatment of Africagate as seen in this posing can be seen at [edit]

    [Response: Take your personal attacks and associated distortions to those who enjoy such things.–Jim]

  34. 534
    David B. Benson says:

    Tim Jones (530) — Yes, there is quite a good forcing 50,000 years from now but still a small chance at only about 20,000 years.

  35. 535
    mondo says:

    Jim. Re your response to 533. Richard North’s comments don’t deserve a response? It seems to me that he offers a rather telling critique that should not be left unrefuted by RC.

    [Response:Sorry, already been done: read the post on the topic. And interesting to see how you somehow knew what link was removed from that comment, given that you didn’t write it.–Jim]

  36. 536
    mondo says:

    “And interesting to see how you somehow knew what link was removed from that comment, given that you didn’t write it.–Jim”

    Well actually. I was pointed to the Richard North piece this morning from one of the blogs I check (I would have to check which one it was) and read the discussion. Then I checked here to see if there was any discussion, and saw post #533. I surmised that it was about the same issue. I neither know chopbox, nor did I have any way of knowing what links he might have provided to you.

  37. 537
    chopbox says:

    Hello Tim,
    I don’t come here very often.

    I realized that Richard North’s viewpoint was different than yours; it was precisely for that reason that I wanted to bring it to the attention of RealClimate and its readers. If you can believe it, I must admit that it was my hope that it would bring about a small debate, maybe even a little back and forth. I had no idea that you would view my presenting it here as “personal attacks”. I offer my apologies for adding heat when all I was looking for was a little light. As I have already said, I don’t come here very often, and I didn’t understand that you would take it the way you did.

    [Response: I reacted as I did because North uses that piece to trash RC, and Mike Mann in particular. We made our statement–at length and with care–about the supposed errors in the AR4, and their significance. If North wants to object our interpretation, fine, he can set down his case. But he can do it without the personal attacks and put downs and, well, lies, that he uses.–Jim]

    By the way, I’ve never heard of Mondo but thank you Mondo for understanding my reason for posting the link.

  38. 538
    BFJ says:

    Editorial : Currently, a few errors –and supposed errors– in the last IPCC report (“AR4″) are making the media rounds – together with a lot of distortion and professional spin by parties interested in discrediting climate science.

    This needs to be offset against the fact that alarmist mainstream climate science, politically funded as it is, is a largely just a professional fraud designed to boost the political institutions that fund it. This explains fraudulent hockey sticks, ferocious concealing of data and algorithms, and various other shenanigans on which majority opinion rests.

  39. 539
    Ray Ladbury says:

    BFJ@538, Ah, I love the smell of unsubstantiated allegations in the morning. Smells like fear!

  40. 540
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim says, ” If North wants to object our interpretation, fine, he can set down his case. But he can do it without the personal attacks and put downs and, well, lies, that he uses.”

    Bet he can’t. He’d have nothing left to say then.

  41. 541
    Completely Fed Up says:

    well, bfj, if you’re going to spout lies, might as well make really big ones. you don’t get much bigger than that pile ‘o tripe

  42. 542
    Completely Fed Up says:

    fch, you seem to have missed the past 10 years. SCO and McBride did just that.

  43. 543
    David B. Benson says:

    BFJ (538) — For the scientific facts and how those were found, please do read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

  44. 544
    ferocious says:

    Re 454: Dear Fed Up, I am getting a bit fed up too:

    “ferocious whines “Now, hold on just a wee minute here! Are you seriously contending that the standards for scientific truth be contingent upon the desirability of the conclusions?”

    The scientific truth, the reality behind what we are discussing, is of course not dependent on anything. It just is. Our understanding of that reality is a lot more problematical, and that is where the statistical confidence comes in, and the desirability of the conclusions have nothing to do with it. That is a value laden statement that has no place here. When the results of our understanding are going to be used to justify huge expenditures and total restructuring of the world economy they require a much greater confidence in the results than lesser endeavors.

    The IPCC quotes “likely” as corresponding to a 60% confidence interval- in repeated tests you would expect to get results within a certain deviation from the average 60% of the time. In my experience, that is a laughably poor statistic in the physical sciences. In fact I’ve never heard of any study in the physical sciences that would publish that kind of a result. A 40% chance of accepting the wrong answer is just slightly better than flipping a coin and has no business being in any kind of report that is supposed to be based on science. As I pointed out in another quote I’ve done lots and lots of experiments, and even a 95% CI results in mistaken outcomes much too often. The worst possible track to take is look at the data and say something like “the trend close to 95% significance”. That is the kind of fuzzyheaded thinking that has wasted countless dollars. It is seeing things that just aren’t there.

    The kind of scenarios discussed in AR4 and the kind of recommendations that come out of it need to be in the 99.9% likely range to be justified because the consequences are so large.

  45. 545
    Hank Roberts says:

    BFJ, you’re copypasting culture war talking points in a machinelike way.
    Why not try for something new that’s not already in this batch for example?
    Deltoid’s far more willing to host people who want to go on about that stuff.

  46. 546
    ferocious says:

    RE: 523
    Richard Robinson says: This discussion of 95% confidence limits seems to neglect the important difference between criteria for science and policy-making………

    Actually Richard, the policy makers have to be held to an even higher standard than science. After all, the scientist generally has an option to go back and do another experiment or try another hypothesis. In the case of global warming, the policy makers have only one chance to get it right. Blow all the money on the wrong policy and there won’t be another chance. If trillions are spent mitigating CO2, which apparently even the IPCC believes can’t really be done, and the climate still keeps heating up and deleterious effects do materialize there will be no money left to spend. Even worse, to spend the trillions and it turns out to not be needed will doom millions more people to a life that is “nasty, brutal, and short”.

  47. 547
    Mal Adapted says:

    This needs to be offset against the fact that alarmist mainstream climate science, politically funded as it is, is a largely just a professional fraud designed to boost the political institutions that fund it. This explains fraudulent hockey sticks, ferocious concealing of data and algorithms, and various other shenanigans on which majority opinion rests.

    The denial industry’s money trail is abundantly documented, in books like Climate Cover-Up and The Heat is On, and websites like Sourcewatch and ExxonSecrets. It’s not hard to follow, because most of it is right out in the open. Corporate speech is protected, after all, as the US Supreme Court just affirmed.

    Nobody’s getting wealthy on the science side, despite the tu quoque allegations of the professional deniers. That’s working pretty well for them, obviously.

    BFJ, if you’ve got any credible evidence to substantiate your accusations of fraud, show it to us. Come on, BFJ, we’re waiting!

  48. 548
    John E. Pearson says:

    RIght on BFJ!

    Here he debunks AGW.

    He shows not only all that other stuff you said, he also shows that the idiot physicists don’t even know how to define energy properly!

    Here he debunks the so-called “theory of relativity”.

    He debunks most of the junk science that passes for modern science. The whole house of cards is coming down!!!

  49. 549
    John E. Pearson says:

    Dang it. I need that preview button Maladapted was talking about.

    [Response: Get it right the first time! :)

  50. 550
    dhogaza says:

    Ferocious says:

    The kind of scenarios discussed in AR4 and the kind of recommendations that come out of it need to be in the 99.9% likely range to be justified because the consequences are so large.

    The kind of inaction discussed by ferocious and others had better have a 99.9% chance of a favorable outcome because the possible negative consequences of doing nothing are so large.