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The Economist does not disappoint

Filed under: — eric @ 13 April 2010

The March 20th -26th cover story of The Economist, “Spin, science and climate change,” deftly bypasses the politics surrounding ‘climategate’, to tackle the more important issue: whether any of this has any bearing on climate change science and policy. This is a refreshing bit of journalism that everyone should read.

It is no secret that we have been unimpressed by the quality of reporting of climate science or late. From the insinuation that data were manipulated (for which there remains no evidence, primae facie or otherwise), to the suggestion that “climate skeptics” had somehow been kept from publishing in peer reviewed literature (how, we wonder, does Lindzen keep getting published?), to the blind repetition of false claims of major errors in the IPCC (when only a couple of actual errors – and none of them in the primary (Working Group 1) report – have been found), to the falsehood that climate data have not been readily available (yes, they have), the reporting has been more akin to the populist fearmongering of the McCarthy era than to the celebrated investigative journalism of Watergate. That’s too bad, and not just because sensationalistic journalism may have done lasting damage to some institutions and individual scientists. More importantly, it has done damage to public understanding, quite the opposite of the rightful role of the free press in a democratic society.

In this context, we were delighted to read the article, and “leader” in the March 20th-26th edition of The Economist. And our delight with the The Economist’s take on the story is not that they share our opinion on the politics surrounding climate science. Indeed, they appear to take at face value that the stolen CRU emails reveal ‘shameful mistakes’ by scientists, and the dubious claim that IPCC errors (such as they are) have ‘tended to exaggerate the extent of climate change’. They also repeat a few other contrarian memes – such as the idea that the various “Hockey Stick” climate reconstructions killed off the Medieval Warm Period (they didn’t) – without sufficient criticism, to our taste. Yet this is actually the strength of the The Economist’s articles: rather than engaging in ultimately rather trivial bickerings, they provide a refreshingly accurate and up to date assessment of much of recent climate science.

For example, The Economist emphasizes the obvious yet frequently overlooked point that that even if the most outrageous claims about the land temperature data were true, there would still be the temperature data from the oceans and the satellites to contend with. And they articulate very well the more subtle understanding that the possibility of errors in the instrumental data doesn’t actually have a lot of bearing on our understanding of climate. It is often assumed, they write,

“that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex recondite and slippery…. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is at least as fair a picture. Data are vexatious, theory is quite straightforward.”

Those who do not appreciate this point can easily be misled by the cavillous arguments of others who have become adept at focusing on this or that that specific bit of data and using it to convince people that they have uncovered some fundamental flaw in the theory. Yet The Economist doesn’t simply dismiss these criticisms out of hand; they are, for example, exceedingly fair to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Dick Lindzen, who views the possible role of clouds as a strong negative feedback as a reason to believe the climate sensitivity is lower than all the other evidence indicates. (At they same time, they get Linzden to admit that he agrees that the mainstream views on the magnitude of the water vapor feedback -– roughly doubling the direct radiative impact of CO2 — is probably correct).

Our only technical criticism of the The Economist’s main article is that it states that the IPCC ‘expects the temperature to have increased by 1.1o to 6.4 oC by 2100’, without pointing out that this combines the uncertainty in climate sensitivity with the uncertainty in policy. This could easily be taken to suggest that we could keep the global mean temperature to within 1.1oC above 19th century values, without any reduction in fossil fuel use, a virtually impossible result. But this doesn’t detract from the larger point that The Economist is making here – that the uncertainty is itself a reason for action, not a reason to delay action. As they succinctly put it: “The fact that the uncertainties allow you to construct a relatively benign future does not allow you to ignore futures in which climate change is large”.

In sum, The Economist appears to understand what balanced reporting actually means: accurate reporting of science can be done while neither stifling debate nor accepting the criticisms of so-called ‘skeptics’ at face value. The self-described goal of The Economist is to engage vigorously in the “contest between intelligence and timid ignorance,” and they are doing a rather good job of it. Whether this will prove sufficient to win the contest against aggressive ignorance is, of course, another matter.


92 Responses to “The Economist does not disappoint”

  1. 1
    Mitch Golden says:

    I was pretty disappointed that they left the impression that all the errors in the IPCC report went in one direction. In fact, the most serious error (as covered here on RC) is that the sea level estimates are misleadingly low.

    If only even one article could just get it all correct.

  2. 2

    Swedish television recently asked what Swedish researchers thought about the reporting on “Climategate” and IPCCs “errors”, not surprisingly a clear majority thought media exaggerated it all… and from what I can tell the debate in Sweden is much better of then in USA and UK.

    http://uppsalainitiativet.blogspot.com/2010/04/overwhelming-majority-of-swedish.html

  3. 3
    Derecho64 says:

    Now you know part of the reason I’ve subscribed to The Economist for many years now. Their reporting on science is extremely good for a general readership magazine. I believe part of that comes from their requirement (as noted in the magazine from time to time) that their science/technology section be authored by scientists who can write well, rather than journalists who are interested in science.

    It was rather depressing to see the same contrarian memes show up in the comments section on the articles on the Economist website, however.

  4. 4
    L Hamilton says:

    I know someone, a nonscientist and “skeptic,” who read the Economist piece and *only* took away, as truth, the few things that Eric notes as errors — for example, the misunderstanding that IPCC forecasts have that huge 1.1-6.4 degree uncertainty; that climate data were hidden; and so forth.

    I’m learning not to underestimate how powerfully people can filter information, so they assimilate only those bits they believe confirm their prejudices.

  5. 5
    CPR says:

    I agree with Mitch above – for The Economist to say that the only IPCC errors were those exaggerating things was very annoying. In fact, I pretty much stopped reading then and there back when it was originally published. It seemed rather clear to me that they hadn’t even read RealClimate – a rather grievous error.

    Maybe I was being too harsh on them though…

    [Response: I think you are. Read the whole article. It really is very good on the science.–eric]

  6. 6
    Tom S says:

    I thought this blog was all about science. There seems to be a huge focus on politics lately. I thought the science was supposed to speak for itself.

    [Response: Unforunately, getting the science to be heard requires getting through a bit of politics these days. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to it — and indeed, the Economist largely does, which is precisely why we’re highlighting their article.–eric]

  7. 7
    mike roddy says:

    Excellent piece, Eric, thanks, especially the first paragraph. To state that the US media has failed- including flagship outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post- is an understatement.

    When I ran a small company with overseas offices I relied on The Economist, even though I didn’t like their politics. Their key readership sector is international business managers, who depend on factual reporting. The magazine’s hardheaded approach is their trademark, and their pride.

    We don’t have anything like that here. You can peruse the scientific evidence in the science journals, but they aren’t readable for most people. The magazines that do feature quality writing are generally captive to the politics or financial interests of their management. The closest thing we have to Economist reporters (who don’t sign bylines) is Seth Borenstein of Associated Press, who pops up once in a while to bring sanity to the subject of climate change.

    You write well, Eric, and so does Gavin. I humbly suggest that you brainstorm a better way to communicate the critical evidence that you continue to develop. Climate blogs like this one are great, but the audience is too small. You would rather do science, and we certainly need you there, but the US media would rather do something besides report the evidence clearly and accurately.

    I suggest that the climate science community:
    1. Establish a US media climate science watchdog, specifically charged with publishing factual or implicit errors that appear in the media daily.
    2. As part of this effort, expose fossil fuel and timber companies’ efforts to muddle the science, by highlighting false statements that emerge from their “think tanks” and subcontractors.
    3. Prepare a fact sheet summarizing the science that is more readable than IPCC or various statements from scientific organizations. Distribute it to the editorial boards and stockholders of every major US media company. Don’t just put it in the mail: send someone to their headquarters.
    4. As a separate effort, lay out plausible results of the various projected temperature increases in the next century. Three degrees, for examaple, doesn’t mean much to the average citizen.
    5. Hire a small staff to monitor and educate full time, and have them report to a group such as yours.
    6. If funding is not available within your organization- or it may be too awkward- solicit funds from a quality NGO. Be careful of some of the more entrenched NGO’s, whose board and management have been penetrated by fossil fuel interests. There are a few good ones left.

    You guys know what the deal is. Let’s finally get this accomplished.

  8. 8
    vboring says:

    Their conclusion is a bit odd for an economic magazine:

    “The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science. They are wrong when they present that as a reason for inaction.”

    Economists’ bread and butter is risk management. From an economic perspective, the right thing to do would be to develop risk-weighted cost scenarios. From this perspective, a 50% chance of an expensive result is very different from a 90% chance. They would justify different levels of action.

  9. 9
    Tamlin says:

    I’d like to add one more relatively small error to the list of those found in the IPCC report. On page 263 of the WG I report there is a figure showing the first EOF of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) from 1900-2002. This is based on work of Dai et al. originally published in 1998 in Geophysical Research Letters and then updated in a 2004 paper in the Journal of Hydrometeorology that has been discussed before on RC. The figure appears to be correct, but the caption indicates that this first EOF accounts for 67% of variability in PDSI over this time period. This is incorrect, as figure 6 in the Dai et al. 2004 paper indicates that the correct value is, in fact, 6.7%. I’m sure this is just a typo, but it’s a typo that changes my interpretation of the figure fairly substantially and thus has at least some importance. It’s probably impossible to weed out all mistakes of this nature, but it would be nice if the AR5 process had a slightly more robust method for ensuring that these errors don’t slip through.

  10. 10
    MapleLeaf says:

    I read that issue of the Economist (while visiting friends). There were a couple of pieces in there. Overall, I was impressed.

    IMHO, it was not perfect as other shave noted. However, the Economist has thus far done an excellent job in accurately reporting on climate science. Their reporting is balanced and, for the most part, factually correct. This places them leagues ahead of the other media outlets like Der Spiegel.

    Kudos to The Economist!

  11. 11
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Much of the reason why “data are vexatious” is because this research has been starved for instrument resources.

    A prime example: ICESat, now offline for gathering more cryo data due to the failure of its last working laser of the three units onboard, an anticipated failure that came as no surprise. We knew that a replacement spacecraft was imminently necessary with the last laser failure in 2008, we know that polar observations are very important to narrowing uncertainties w/regard to climate change. Despite this, we had no spacecraft ready for launch; a replacement will not be launched until 2014.

    One could argue that failure to plan and construct a replacement (and what would be wrong with simply an identical satellite, if budget was an issue) was down to poor oversight of the mission but one would be wrong. One could say that other, more important Earth observation missions took priority over an ICESat replacement but one would again be wrong. No, this feckless gap in our data will most likely be revealed as political in nature once historians produce a definitive account; the particular inclinations of the administration in charge during the period of interest are a hint but we’ll see about that.

    Fortunately ESA has launched a replacement for CryoSatNow since they had a slightly more urgent attitude about climate change and quickly produced a replacement for the spacecraft lost on their first launch attempt. Meanwhile NASA is doing gap-filling via other means to make up for the loss of ICESat. But thanks to crappy management we’re now faced with a data splicing nightmare, a pointless challenge for investigators which also naturally will provide fodder for Dark Ages personalities determined to throw sand in the wheels of public policy.

    There are other examples. Ocean heat content is tough to fathom (hah!) in part because the ocean is not as richly instrumented as necessary. This is a great intellectual challenge for researchers but at the end of the day, the fact we can’t account for missing energy (Trenberth?) is a serious problem when it comes to public policy; the heat we can’t measure is made into a subject of debate which again retards policy response.

    The amount of money we’re talking about in all cases here is paltry compared to what we spend on other things. Compared w/a $60 trillion global economy the gap between proper resources and poor resources is invisible.

    This parsimonious approach to instrumentation is one of the reason I laugh when I hear rejectionists muttering about all those rich scientists and their giant AGW gravy train. Innumeracy strikes again.

  12. 12

    Magnus Westerstrand wrote (2):

    Swedish television recently asked what Swedish researchers thought about the reporting on “Climategate” and IPCCs “errors”, not surprisingly a clear majority thought media exaggerated it all… and from what I can tell the debate in Sweden is much better of then in USA and UK.

    Not that surprising. I and others have noticed that the disinformation campaign is primarily an English-speaking phenomena, concentrating in the United States, Australia, Canada and England.

    Please see for example:

    The denial industry has worked itself into the international arena, slowly but surely, over the past 20 years. It remains a largely English-speaking affair centred around the United States, but has spread further into key countries targeted by the deniers and think tanks.

    Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science
    Greenpeace (March 2010)
    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/dealing-in-doubt

    Interestingly, this largely mirrors the spread of creationism where it has made a big push to get into schools. And at least in the case of creationism, some of the seed money has come from the United States, e.g., Howard Ahmanson and the UK. Likewise, the cooperation between industrial front organizations is greatly assisted by a common language.

    Then again, the strategies and frame of mind are often similar with denialism directed against different branches of science, and oftentimes people who are “skeptical” of one branch of science are similarly skeptical of another. For example, Roy Spencer who has been a proponent of “skepticism” with respect to mainstream views in climatology is a creationist. Philip Johnson, the father of Intelligent Design is also involved in HIV/AIDS denial.

    Likewise, oftentimes many of the organizations involved in one denial campaign serve in another. Please see for example my list of 32 organizations that are part of the climatology denial campaign that were also involved in the denial of the connection between tobacco and their associated health problems, and some of the major figures involved are the same as well. Please see for example Naomi Oreskes’ The American Denial of Global Warming.

  13. 13
    Heraclitus says:

    I’ve mixed feelings about The Economist’s reporting on climate change, though on balance certainly they should be applauded, all the more so if the tenor of the comments their articles receive is any indication of the views of their readership as a whole. Perhaps these comments are some justification for their pandering to the ‘sceptic’ agenda in their use of phrases such as “the scientists’ shameful mistakes”, but perhaps they are just poor journalism – the media’s own confirmation bias.

    The message as a whole from The Economist has been positive, and more so in recent years, particularly as a conservative paper that has credibility with that group of people who would naturally be sceptical of climate change because of the policy implications (the need for government intervention) but who still have some degree of intellectual honesty. However, the tone of their reporting still leans towards a delaying approach, underplaying the urgency of the situation and exaggerating the doubt.

    One phrase that stood out for me was this:

    “The problem lies not with the science itself, but with the way the science has been used by politicians to imply certainty when, as often with science, no certainty exists.”

    There should be certainty in the political response even though the science is not certain and doesn’t claim to be. If my child runs out on to the road I am not certain that they will be hit by a car, but I am certain that I should get them off of the road as quickly as I can.

  14. 14
    Walter Manny says:

    The article concludes with a paean to the precautionary principle, which is OK, but it begins with, “When governments started thinking seriously about climate change they took the sensible step of establishing, in 1989, the IPCC,” and concludes with, “The IPCC has suffered from the perception that it is a tool of politicians.” Well, that’s not exactly a perception, is it? Are governments no longer comprised of politicians? Does the Economist propose disbanding the IPCC?

  15. 15
    Jim Bob says:

    NASA reports that the northern hemisphere just experienced its 5th warmest winter on record. Hah!

  16. 16
    Septic Matthew says:

    FWIW, I agree that everyone should read it.

  17. 17

    Jim Bob (15) wrote:

    NASA reports that the northern hemisphere just experienced its 5th warmest winter on record. Hah!

    Not sure where you are getting that from (where is the reference by the way?) but I wouldn’t be surprised: smaller regions and periods of time will tend to show greater variability and be less reflective of the overall trend.

    However, according to NASA the winter of 2009-2010 was the second warmest in instrumental record for the earth as a whole.

    Please see:

    8. Weather variability versus climate trends

    Public opinion about climate change is affected by recent and ongoing weather. North America had a cool summer in 2009, perhaps the largest negative temperature anomaly on the planet (Figure 14a). Northern Hemisphere winter (Dec-Jan-Feb) of 2009-2010 was unusually cool in the United States and northern Eurasia (Figure 14b). The cool weather contributed to increased public skepticism about the concept of “global warming”, especially in the United States. These regional extremes occurred despite the fact that Jun-Jul-Aug 2009 was second warmest (behind Jun-Jul-Aug 1998) and Dec-Jan-Feb 2009-2010 was second warmest (behind Dec-Jan-Feb 2006-2007).

    pdf pg. 20, Current GISS Global Surface Temperature Analysis (Draft, April 2010)
    J. Hansen, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo
    NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York, USA
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/paper/gistemp2010_draft0319.pdf

  18. 18
    Martin says:

    #12 @Timothy Chase
    “…disinformation campaign is primarily an English-speaking phenomenon…”

    In how many languages are you following the climate debate?

    IMO Germany isn’t that much better. Stephan Rahmstorf has just written up all the errors the SPIEGEL made in its latest report. Articles in other newspapers have been rather a mixed bag as far as I have been following them.
    In France Claude Allègre, the ex-minister for education, science and technology, member of the academy of science, CNRS gold medallist, etc. has published a book “L’imposture climatique” which is pure denialism.
    I don’t know about other countries. Does anyone have access to a global map of climate scepticism?

  19. 19
    bibasir says:

    reference #15 Jim Bob
    I tried to find the NASA release that said we had the 5th warmest winter. Can you give a link?

    [Response: GISS does not put out press releases on the temperature record except for the round up at the end of the year. Figures and data are updated monthly. – gavin]

  20. 20
    Edward Greisch says:

    Economics assumes civilization advanced enough to have a system of money. That is a limiting assumption. Economics cannot deal with a broader picture, such as crashes of civilization and population crashes. Economists assume continuous monotonic growth in the population. “The Economist” is an economics journal.

    The obvious limiting situation: If population growth on Earth continues monotonically, eventually the total mass of humans exceeds the mass of the Earth. This is clearly not possible. Economists cannot deal with such limits inside of economic theory.

    Since economists do not have tools for dealing with any situation that is outside of their standard assumptions, climate change is beyond the boundaries of economic theory. The article in The Economist should have started with a statement of the limits of economic theory and the fact that GW is a broader subject than economics.

  21. 21
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “If my child runs out on to the road I am not certain that they will be hit by a car, but I am certain that I should get them off of the road as quickly as I can.”

    This, kids.

    Totally this.

  22. 22
    CM says:

    In the mid-noughties, something opened The Economist’s eyes to climate change. Before that (I’ve been a subscriber these past 15 years), they were content to heap scorn on “greenery” and root for Lomborg. (The science section was generally good, though.) When they changed their tune, I was terrified, thinking, If even The Economist takes climate change seriously now, the oceans must be about to boil…

  23. 23
    Manuf says:

    Martin #18 “In France Claude Allègre, the ex-minister for education, science and technology, member of the academy of science, CNRS gold medallist, etc. has published a book “L’imposture climatique” which is pure denialism.
    I don’t know about other countries. Does anyone have access to a global map of climate scepticism?”

    I follow a few French science/technology news websites, with comment sections. I can confirm that there is a lot of “skepticism” (at least numerous comments in that directions, maybe not from that many individuals) using exactly the same worn out arguments as in the US. Media are in general more along the mainstream scientific view though. Interestingly, while I read a lot about the “enviro-nuts left wing conspiracy” on the US websites, french skeptics see the AGW as a conspiracy from the French nuclear lobby…

  24. 24
    Jim Eager says:

    Jim Bob @15 appears to be extrapolating his experience of where he lives to the entire northern hemisphere.

    If I were to do the same I would have to express surprise that it was only the fifth warmest winter, with only one notable winter storm before Christmas for the entire winter, and even this in the lee of one of the great lakes.

    Fortunately we don’t have to rely on groping our way around the hemisphere in this fashion, we can look at the data that has been conveniently collected for us by NASA and NOAA.

  25. 25

    I wrote in 12:

    Not that surprising. I and others have noticed that the disinformation campaign is primarily an English-speaking phenomena, concentrating in the United States, Australia, Canada and England.

    Please see for example: …

    Martin (18) wrote:

    In how many languages are you following the climate debate?…

    Perhaps I should have said, “as far as I can tell… the disinformation campaign is primarily an English-speaking phenomena, …” as I have seen little reporting on it elsewhere — although as I pointed out the Greenpeace report takes the same view.

    IMO Germany isn’t that much better. Stephan Rahmstorf has just written up all the errors the SPIEGEL made in its latest report. Articles in other newspapers have been rather a mixed bag as far as I have been following them…

    You might also point to Czech president Klaus:

    Conference organisers were celebrating something of a coup in securing as a keynote speaker the Czech president, Václav Klaus, at a time when his country holds the rotating presidency of the EU. Klaus, a Eurosceptic, believes that efforts to protect the world from the impact of climate change are an assault on freedom.

    Czech leader joins meeting of climate change deniers
    Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
    The Guardian, Monday 9 March 2009
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/09/climate-change-deniers

  26. 26
    MapleLeaf says:

    @15, more importantly Jim Bob, the globe just experienced its warmest (or tied for warmest) January-March on record. And the last 12 -months (April 2009 through march 2010) have been the warmest on record. Regardless, I’m not sure what your post has to do with the Economist articles?

    @14 “Does the Economist propose disbanding the IPCC?”
    Wishful thinking, and no it does not.

  27. 27
    Kate says:

    I read that article when it came out, and I had similar feelings to yours. Several common misconceptions, but the overarcing message was generally spot-on. Similar to Inconvenient Truth in that way…

    I think it’s strange how the recent media kerfuffle has flipped things around. It used to be that the Guardian, a fairly liberal paper, had the best and most accurate writing on climate change, but it has steadily declined in recent months. Now, the Economist, quite a conservative publication, takes top spot – at least in my mind.

  28. 28
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Amazing! An article in the UK press about climate science with some serious scientific content.

    For years now, the rest of the media do discuss climate science but only in a highly politicised and sensational way. This includes the Guardian which does occasionally invite climatologists, but whose editorial policy tends to discourage this sort of wide ranging and deeper approach. It also includes the BBC which appears to be scared to touch the science , for fear of criticism, and to employ non expert scientists who are not that well informed.

    That said , it is sad state of affairs when every article about the subject has to include obligatory unsubstantiated ‘health warnings’ about the CRU. Most articles elsewhere , deserve a “Fail” or Bare Pass. The Econ. might have achieved a “First” were it not for the shortcomings mentioned by Eric and others.

  29. 29
    Russell Seitz says:

    Just when you thought yourselves safe in the utilitarian hands of The Economist, Fred Singer’s publisher of last resort, the not-so-learned journal of The John Birch Society, has weighed in to accuse the IPCC , get ready for it , of the Pelagian Heresy :

    http://www.jbs.org/jbs-news-feed/6036-gores-climatological-pelagianism-and-the-ipcc

    [Response: Who knew? – gavin]

  30. 30
    Jimbo says:

    What do people here think of:

    “Global warming has reached the point of no return, a study published in the Tuesday edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…

    Dr. Susan Solomon of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research laboratory led the study. “People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years; that’s not true,” she said, adding the effects are well nigh irreversible.”
    http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2009/01/29/2009012961002.html
    http://cires.colorado.edu/people/solomon/

    Does this mean that the debate is actually over and that there is no need for cap and trade, carbon taxes, carbon credits etc.? I want to know RC’s position on the article linked above.

    [Response: Why do you think we have ‘positions’ on every recycled article that people point us to? Are we likely to go back to pre-industrial temperatures any century soon? No – but I’m pretty sure you don’t think we will either. So what is your specific point? – gavin]

    [Response: Well, actually we did take a ‘position’ on Susan’s work on ‘irrersibility’, here.-eric]

  31. 31

    CORRECTION to 25:

    The following:

    IMO Germany isn’t that much better. Stephan Rahmstorf has just written up all the errors the SPIEGEL made in its latest report. Articles in other newspapers have been rather a mixed bag as far as I have been following them…

    … was written by Martin (18) who I was responding to.

  32. 32
    Bill says:

    If NOAA is saying it now, perhaps we should have a position.You can read what she says as well as I can…

  33. 33
    CM says:

    Jimbo, Bill, (and Ibrahim on the Krugman thread),

    Oh come on. Disinterred canard for supper, anyone? You’re linking to Korean news site Chosun for your “news” about a PNAS study? What’s with this reflexive, unthinking re-posting of any reheated junk you find served up on WUWT? The grown-ups – who are trying to have a conversation here, by the way – discussed the implications of that study when it came out, over a year ago, so if you want a “position”, go read it.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/02/irreversible-does-not-mean-unstoppable/

  34. 34
    Edward Greisch says:

    A disappointment I find in the “The Economist” article is that it doesn’t tell the cost of doing nothing. It assumes that you already know what is wrong with a 6 degree C rise.

  35. 35

    How times have changed. Remember when The Economist was one of the main cheer leaders for Bjørn Lomborg (a failed academic who hit on the rather obvious ploy of stirring controversy by writing a book on a subject he knew nothing about, that went contrary to the findings of people who did know what they were talking about — if anyone’s forgotten him)?

  36. 36
    arch stanton says:

    Bill (32) – NOAA didn’t say it. Susan Solomon said it (quite a while ago as CW pointed out).

    Ask Anthony where NOAA ever “issued a warning” as he claimed…

  37. 37

    Martin (18) wrote:

    I don’t know about other countries. Does anyone have access to a global map of climate scepticism?

    The following isn’t exactly a map and being from 2006 it is a little dated. Moreover, it won’t tell you the extent to which coverage is biased or how strong the AGW denial campaign is in a given country, but…

    Global Warming Concerns

    A great deal, a fair amount, only a little or not at all, don’t know
    United States 19 / 34 / 47 / 1
    Great Britain 26 / 41 / 32 / 1
    Spain________ 51 / 34 / 14 / 2
    France_______ 46 / 41 / 14 / 0
    Germany______ 30 / 34 / 36 / 1

    Russia_______ 34 / 31 / 34 / *

    Indonesia____ 28 / 48 / 23 / 1
    Egypt________ 24 / 51 / 23 / 1
    Jordan_______ 26 / 40 / 34 / *
    Turkey_______ 41 / 29 / 23 / 8
    Pakistan_____ 31 / 25 / 39 / 5

    Nigeria______ 45 / 33 / 20 / 2

    Japan________ 66 / 27 / 7 / 0
    India________ 65 / 20 / 13 / 2
    China________ 20 / 41 / 37 / 2

    From pdf pg. 6

    15-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey
    For Release: Tuesday, June 13, 2006
    http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/252.pdf

    You are right: Germany would seem to have a problem, more so than Great Britain at this point. China — with its largely government-controlled media would also seem to have a problem. France — not so much. But the United States? We’re #1.

    PS My apologies if the formatting doesn’t turn out.

  38. 38
    Arun Murthy says:

    “…suggestion that “climate skeptics” had somehow been kept from publishing in peer reviewed literature…”. This is something like the creationists cribbing about not being able to publish in the Nature. Climate skepticism is not science. It should be categorized along with scientology and astrology. Let them shout to the roof in tea parties, but they can’t claim that ever sane person should hear them.

  39. 39
    RaymondT says:

    Eric,

    I don’t understand your statement “This could easily be taken to suggest that we could keep the global mean temperature to within 1.1degree C above 19th century values, without any reduction in fossil fuel use, A VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE RESULT” since the ability of the climate models to predict global temperatures has not been shown. Therefore, I disagree with the vitually impossible part of the comment.

    The following statement really makes me skeptical: “But this doesn’t detract from the larger point that The Economist is making here – that the UNCERTAINTY IS ITSELF A REASON FOR ACTION, not a reason to delay action” since the whole point of modelling the climate on a global scale is to reduce the uncertainties.

    I think climatologists fail to convey to the general public the number of assumptions and adjustable parameters that go into the climate models. I think if the policy makers knew better all the adjustable parameters that go into the models they may not have as much faith in the long term predictions.

  40. 40
    Frank Giger says:

    What, nobody played stickball on the street here, or rode bikes?

    It’s all about risk management and mitigation, and a great analogy.

    :)

    The big takeaway, IMHO, is that one can be accepting of the science and not care one whit for the proposed political solutions (and vice versa). I think that too often these get tied together, when they are really mutually exclusive.

  41. 41
    Donald says:

    Their reporting on science is extremely good for a general readership magazine. I believe part of that comes from their requirement (as noted in the magazine from time to time) that their science/technology section be authored by scientists who can write well, rather than journalists who are interested in science.

    Who?

    This was something I’d suspected given the author’s familiarity with the science. Is the author’s identity a secret?

  42. 42
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    “I thought this blog was all about science. There seems to be a huge focus on politics lately.”

    What is this science? And what is it about? I thought that political science was science? I guess I was wrong? Physics is the only science, right? Biology can hardly be accepted as real science, that is why we dont see any biology in the only real science assessment of the IPCC: Working group 1. All the rest is just politics and rhetorics ….

    Stick to the science, hit your head against the wall, that is physical, it is real, you can feel it physically, stick to the real world, real science, real climate change.

  43. 43
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    More nonsense, this time from Harrabin of the BBC:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8618441.stm

    Somebody says, he may think, it is believed that, we expect that, it is reported …

    Completely meaningless nonsense. Not a single factoid in the whole piece. And that is BBC. He just could not wait for the few days to get the actual report.

  44. 44
    DanH says:

    For a while now, I’ve been hearing in one ear that English libel law is so biased in favour of plaintiffs and against journalists that it’s stifling freedom of speech; whilst hearing in the other ear that the popular press are getting away with making false accusations against individual scientists at CRU and against the IPCC. Anyone care to comment on how the two fit together?

  45. 45
    Louise D says:

    OT I know but ‘There was no scientific malpractice at the research unit at the centre of the “Climategate” affair, an independent panel has concluded.’ from BBC news website this morning. Just what we expected I know but good news all the same.

  46. 46
    JMurphy says:

    Good to see that the Oxburgh Report has backed the CRU scientists and their work, while suggesting that they might make more use of statisticians in future.
    Another conspiracy whitewash for the so-called skeptics to cry about ?
    What will they be left with when Russell leaves them empty-handed too ? It seems to me that all that will be left then will be the troofer types, who see conspiracies everywhere.

    Report here

  47. 47
    Lotharsson says:

    From this perspective, a 50% chance of an expensive result is very different from a 90% chance.

    True, but it depends on the full probability distribution of outcomes, with the associated cost for each such outcome.

    And even computing the expected cost doesn’t necessarily give you enough to do good risk management. (“The Black Swan”, anyone?) Some bias towards avoiding potential catastrophe, even if fairly unlikely, is generally a good thing in risk management.

  48. 48
    HotRod says:

    The Oxburgh report actually landed a few blows, while pretending not to. Most were in the report itself, and in interviews they said:

    ‘Lord Oxburgh said any exaggeration of the extent of global warming happened when the data produced by CRU was presented to the public by various organisations, including the UN body in charge of climate change the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that went on to advise Governments around the world.’

    Oxburgh knew who the relevant lead authors were, but criticism of their role as IPCC authors was outside his brief.

    “I am sure that they [public bodies including the IPCC] took the uncertainties into account making policy but in the way some of this has been presented to the public, it has not,” he said.

    ‘However Professor Hand did say that “inappropriate methods” were used by a separate university to draw up the infamous “hockey stick” graph showing the rise in global temperatures over more than 1,000 years.

    Again, he said the basic shape of the graph would not have been changed but the rise in temperature during the 20th century compared to the past was exaggerated.’

    Coupled with the comments on needing statisticians more involved, I would call the report a score-draw.

    Text above lifted from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7589715/Climategate-scientists-criticised-for-not-using-best-statistical-tools.html

  49. 49
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Coupled with the comments on needing statisticians more involved, I would call the report a score-draw.”

    But is why then the case that the CRU should be tried for War Crimes in the US or commit ritual suicide?

    RWN media were all for death and worse for climate scientists.

    I guess since it’s all a draw, they’ll be evening up the scales by calling for death and worse for Lindzen et al?

  50. 50
    Derecho64 says:

    #41 Donald says:
    “This was something I’d suspected given the author’s familiarity with the science. Is the author’s identity a secret?”

    The Economist doesn’t supply bylines for their articles; it’s their policy:

    “Articles often take a definite editorial stance and almost never carry a byline. Not even the name of the editor (from 2006, John Micklethwait) is printed in the issue. It is a longstanding tradition that an editor’s only signed article during his tenure is written on the occasion of his departure from the position. The author of a piece is named in certain circumstances: when notable persons are invited to contribute opinion pieces; when Economist writers compile special reports; and to highlight a potential conflict of interest over a book review. The names of The Economist editors and correspondents can be located, however, via the media directory pages of the website.”


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