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A failure in communicating the impact of new findings

Filed under: — rasmus @ 6 December 2013

I was disappointed by the recent summary for policymakers (SPM) of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assessment report 5, now that I finally got around to read it. Not so much because of the science, but because the way it presented the science.

The report was written by top scientists, so what went wrong?

I guess we need to recognise the limitations of the format of the SPM, and the constraints that they have to work under (word by word approval from 190 country representatives) may not have been helpful this time. The specified report length, combined with attempts from lots of people to expand on the content, may have complicated the process.

My impression is that the amount of information crammed into this report was more important than making a few strong messages.

The SPM really provides a lot of facts, but what do all those numbers mean for policy makers? There was little attempt to set the findings in a context relevant for decision making (ranging from the national scale to small businesses).

It is difficult to write a summary for a report that has not yet been published, and for that reason, the SPM is cluttered by technical details and discussions about uncertainty and confidence which have a better place in the main report.

The authors of the SPM are experts at writing scientific papers, but that is a different skill to writing for non-scientists. Often, the order of presentation for non-scientists is opposite to the way papers are presented in sciences.

A summary should really start with the most important message, but the SPM starts by discussing uncertainties. It is then difficult for non-scientists to make sense of the report. Are the results reliable or not?

I asked myself after reading the SPM – what’s the most important finding? If the IPCC hoped for good press coverage, I can imagine all journalists asking the same question.

My recommendation is that next time, the main report is published before the SPM. That way, all the space used on uncertainty and confidence in the SPM could be spared.

I also recommend that people who decide the structure of future SPMs and undertake the writing take a course effective writing for non-scientist. At MET Norway, we have had such writing lessons to improve our communication skills, and I have found this training valuable.

It takes some training to find more popular ways to describe science and spot excessive use of jargon. Many words, such as ‘positive feedback‘ have different meanings if you talk to a scientist or a non-scientist (a bad phrase to use in the context of climate change for people with very little science background). Also the word ‘uncertainty‘ is not a good choice – what does it mean really?

There are some examples of how the report could be written in a better way: The European Academies of Science Advicory Council (EASAC) followed a different strategy, where the main report was published before the summary, and hence the summary could be written as a summary and with a more coherent structure and a stronger connection to the reports target group.

The World Bank report of last year also comes to my mind – I think that is a much clearer form of presentation.

If I could have my way, I would also suggest that IPCC’s main reports in the future come with supporting material that includes the necessary data (extracted for the plotting purposes, but with meta-data providing the complete history of post-processing) and source code for generating all the figures in the report.

One way to do that could to use so-called ‘R-packages’ as suggested by Pebesma et al (2012) (PDF). It would also be good if future assessment reports pay more attention to replicating important results as a means of verification or falsification.

p.s.There exists a set of headline statements have been issued from the IPCC. THere is also a short video on the IPCC working group 1 findings

p.s. After posting this article, I was made aware of two short documents summarizing the IPCC reports – link here. I’m really grateful for this feedback. -rasmus

Update 2015: Related discussions in Nature Climate Change March 25, 2015. Also, this post motivated an article in EARTH: IPCC: A failure in communicating the impact of new findings


  1. E. Pebesma, D. Nüst, and R. Bivand, "The R software environment in reproducible geoscientific research", Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 93, pp. 163-163, 2012.

214 Responses to “A failure in communicating the impact of new findings”

  1. 51
    BillS says:

    While the headline statement from the IPCC are nice are they really what policy makers want to know? Seems like a lot of technical jargon given the supposed audience.

    If I were a policy maker do I care that “It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.”??? Probably not. What I want to know is how is this warming going to affect my — country, state, county, parish, island? What does it mean for my fisheries? my land planners? Give me some time-frames for the effects, etc., etc.

  2. 52
    Halldór Björnsson says:


    The SPM is a very formal document. It has to be so, since it must be adopted by the UN member states in a formal session of the IPCC. They go over it line by line. Any statement that does not have a direct reference to the main document (and the member states delagates have seen the main document before the session) will be thrown out by irritated delegates. You know that among the member states are nations that are not very friendly towards the whole process, and their representatives may be quite agressive towards anything they feel is vapid or unsubstantiated. This means that any fact-free nice and snappy summary statement is not likely to survive the adoption process on the floor.

    Indeed, if you read the document you should marvel at the skill of those who wrote it. They actually manage to make a document that survives the adoption process and is not unreasonably watered down or obfuscated.

  3. 53
    The Elf says:

    BillS @ 51, A summary of the physical science basis of climate change probably can’t include many details at the regional level, but see Figure SPM.8 for a bit more detail. For (much) more detail, AR5 includes, for the first time in the WG1 report, “Annex I: Atlas of Global and Regional Climate Projections”.

  4. 54
    LdB says:

    BillS above has nailed the problem and it is not addressing the 100 year timescale issue that is causing climate science issues. Many in the middle look at the timescale and simply go we have time to deal with that or that is not something I can rule or legislate on.

    In fact there has even been push back against civic planners who sought to block developments because in 100 years an area would be underwater. A private individual may be unconcerned by that because they may have magnificent ocean views until they die, they won’t see the 100 year problem. Now that is a vastly different idea to a commercial developer creating a subdivision and selling it to unsuspecting public. So this becomes a legal minefield between individual rights and trying to protect the public.

    Non of our normal bureaucracy is geared to deal with projections of problems in 100 to 300 years time. BillS is right what the bureaucracy wants is better time data not statements about how certain this that or the other is. Climate science needs to get off the political agenda and back on the science agenda and do what it does best provide data. If the world governments decide not to act decisively they still need data on things they can do right for the next 100-300 years.

  5. 55
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Mike S — 8 Dec 2013 @ 3:55 PM

    Good idea.


  6. 56
    GlenFergus says:

    I occasionally try to teach technical writing to unsuspecting young scientists and engineers (not always badly, according to feedback). There’s a market for fresh workshop examples. Here’s a candidate from the third paragraph of the SPM:

    “Probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment.

    OK, stochastic probabilistic modelling is part of my day job, and I reckon I’m getting the drift … on the second or third reading. But your average policy wonk might fairly be running with “WTF?”

    My view: “…breathtakingly ugly prose made worse by the update.”

  7. 57
    Hank Roberts says:

    > ocean views until they die, they won’t
    > see the 100 year problem.

    That’s not the problem. The problem is, first, pollution from a higher-than-planned-for water event, whether it’s a storm surge or a tsunami. Leaving stuff around to poison the site is externalizing a huge cost that we can account for. No question it’s there to handle.

    And the problem is, second, that these lovely seashore sites will become intertidal zones and then shallow coastal water in a few centuries.

    And that needs to be cleaned up — cleaned up purposefully, not left for storms to sweep “clean” — because that’s where most of the ocean’s life reproduces, in the coastal shallow water.

    Building where the ocean is going to be is like any other intentionally polluting choice.

    Look at the work done to manage, say, underground storage tanks — which leak, eventually: These links provide state (or Regional) contact information, plus up-to-date data on the UST system universe in each state (or Region) as well as the status of implementing various national program initiatives.

    How many are right along the current seashore? Check it out.

  8. 58
    LdB says:

    I don’t buy that at all Hank … compared to the pollution that get dumped into the ocean year on year this is trivial when you consider it over 100 years. I saw a recent study from Australia that they had 4000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer that is a much bigger problem year on year than a few houses becoming pollution. Most of the houses would be decommissioned just on economic grounds if they were going to be left for the ocean to take. I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill to satisfy an argument.

  9. 59
    patrick says:

    #14 Hear, hear. Easterbrook (your link, #23) cites the “hard to follow” but “most important paragraph in the entire report.” Then he helps a lot by spelling out probabilities stated in the problem paragraph–and he draws “one inescapable conclusion.”

    Then he says:

    “We’ve never done that before. There is no political or economic system anywhere in the world currently that can persuade an energy company to leave a valuable fossil fuel resource untapped. There is no government in the world that has demonstrated the ability to forgo the economic wealth from natural resource extraction, for the good of the planet as a whole. We’re lacking both the political will and the political institutions to achieve this. Finding a way to achieve this presents us with a challenge far bigger than we ever imagined.”

    This is what time it is.

  10. 60
    patrick says:

    #52 Important points. Although it may be old news to you, please note the link Easterbrook provides (08 Oct post) to article by Justin Gillis–spelling out the making of the very formal sausage [“How to Slice a Global Carbon Pie?].

    Easterbrook links the article for background to “a major battle on the exact wording” of the paragraph he calls “the most important paragraph in the entire report.”

  11. 61
    Mike S says:

    Halldór Björnsson @52

    Then perhaps some group like the NRC or AGU could develop a friendlier summary for U.S. policy makers and journalists.

  12. 62
    Hank Roberts says:

    > trivial when you consider it over 100 years

    I pray you consider the possibility that you could be wrong.

    Yes, plastic trash in the oceans is a huge problem and a gross example of human stupidity.

    That doesn’t mean the real estate industry can — responsibly — keep building along the coastline and trust people in the future will take care of cleaning up all that crap and restoring the natural conditions there, before the ocean rises over it.

    Seriously. Those big fish you care about in mid-ocean that are swallowing plastic? Look at where their parents’ breeding happens.

    Look at the places around the world where the seacoast is very flat for a long way inland, so the sea will cover great extents of land as it rises even slightly. Bangladesh. Texas. Look at what covers the land there now.

    Then realize, if people want the oceans to continue productive resources, all that crap has to be cleaned out thoroughly.

    Someone buying coastal property now on any area with a low slope is buying land that will be intertidal, shallow coastal water eventually. Yes, for one home builder, it’s “trivial” — except it’s all that one person’s responsibility for putting it there.

    See, dealing with plastic trash washing into the ocean is a point source problem for someone else — your city government, probably. Easy. Carry a cloth bag.

    Dealing with crap that you build along the coastline is a point source problem too.

  13. 63
    Hank Roberts says:

    ps for LdB — I’d welcome any example of any coastal real estate development property that has been what you call “decommissioned” responsibly by the owners, knowing it will be taken by the ocean.

    Heck, even better, any example of a development built intentionally in a way it can readily be restored to productive tideland condition as the ocean rises.

    Extra credit if it’s in North Carolina (grin).

  14. 64
  15. 65
    Hank Roberts says:

    High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis
    By John Englander; Foreword by Jean-Michel Cousteau

    (Publisher: The Science Bookshelf; ISBN 978-0615637952. Suggested retail $19.95)

    While the physical impacts of sea level rise will be on the order of another inch this decade–hardly discernible–what will start to change will be the perception of coastal real estate values. Most importantly, a new perspective will emerge on how to begin “intelligent adaptation”–a true mindset shift that will last for centuries.

    Explains why sea level will rise for at least 500 years regardless of our efforts to limit global warming.
    Looks at sea level rise apart from the broader issues of climate change. Rising sea level is special in that it is easy to visualize, unambiguous and will have huge financial impacts globally on homeowners, cities, businesses, and nations.
    Shows how sea level rise is much more urgent than is currently being reported in the media. Coastal property prices could start being “discounted” in the next decade long before they actually go underwater. This will lead to the destruction of trillions of dollars of assets.

  16. 66
    Doug Bostrom says:


    “It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.”


    “Probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment.

    These and indeed the rest of the document are shaped in part by a warped communications formality, a formality evolved over a couple of decades of concerted, professionally-guided distortion of this process and something now so familiar it’s almost invisible. IPCC communications would be vastly different if they were not created from a posture of defense, with the certain knowledge they’d be subjected to intensive, unreasonable attack.

    “Don’t drop a lit match in a pool of gasoline” is something that could be discussed endlessly given the right circumstances. Bending over backward to an exacting, demanding pyromaniac, we might provide intricate descriptions of how gasoline burns, how likely it is that the match will pass too quickly through the mixed fuel-air layer to cause ignition, how and why the flame front might propagate across the surface of the gasoline. Different report sections could be produced: “The Science of Gasoline Combustion,” “The Impacts of Gasoline Combustion,” “How to Avoid Gasoline Combustion.” The possibilities for ignoring the obvious are almost inexhaustible. Meanwhile the pyromaniac has already dropped the match.

    We usually don’t adopt the style of formality we’ve been guided into in this situation.

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dan Moutal – November 29, 2013, 7:56 am says:
    The IPCC has released a very snazzy video that summarizes the fifth assessment report.
    He points to:

  18. 68
    GlenFergus says:

    The principles of good technical writing are not so very difficult, and do not entail imprecision or vulnerability to obfuscation.

    Start with short, ordinary words in short, spoken sentences. Sentences you might say rather than think, with a doing-word at the core. Asked how he managed to produce his great tome on the civil war, Ulysses S Grant is reported to have said, “With verbs. I used verbs.” Read it, and be surprised. You won’t fall asleep, as I did four times with the SPM.

    Then think about: targeted, structured, precise, terse. That’s targeted at a particular audience (or audiences), structured to make it easier to assimilate (and provide multiple entry points), precise, because that’s what technical is, and terse because the tech report the reader found too short has yet to be written.

    And use technical words for technical things. The jargon problem is not with the special terms of the field (always defined of course); rather with the those who would try to add gravitas with big words for ordinary things. “Anthropogenic”, anyone?

    “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” If that’s not you, maybe just go out and employ one.

  19. 69
    Abi says:

    Re LdB @ 54

    “In fact there has even been push back against civic planners who sought to block developments because in 100 years an area would be underwater. A private individual may be unconcerned by that because they may have magnificent ocean views until they die, they won’t see the 100 year problem. Now that is a vastly different idea to a commercial developer creating a subdivision and selling it to unsuspecting public. So this becomes a legal minefield between individual rights and trying to protect the public.”

    Miami-Dade County begs to differ.

  20. 70

    #69–Good for Miami-Dade! But their situation may be past adaptation to a considerable degree. “But the region at highest risk was Florida, which has dozens of towns which will be locked by century’s end. The date of no-return for much of Miami would be 2041, the study found. Half of Palm Beach with its millionaires’ estates along the sea front would be beyond saving by the 2060s. The point of no return for other cities such as Fort Lauderdale would come before that.”

    The source paper was in PNAS…

    I’d also remark that it was a good thing that New York didn’t wait to this November to start planning. ;-/

  21. 71

    I have a thought in regards to communicating land warming versus ocean warming.

    Why do they call the larger land warming as land amplification rather then ocean suppression?

    It seems clear to me that the ocean surface warming is being suppressed by its large heat capacity, while the land has very little heat capacity and is not being suppressed.

    If I talk normally while someone else talks with a pillow over their face, I don’t consider that I am amplifying my voice but I do think the pillow is suppressing the other person’s voice.

    My point is to always tell it like it is.

  22. 72
    Jim Larsen says:

    57 Hank,

    Remove the valuable stuff and the the worst of the toxic stuff and leave the rest. Artificial reefs work wonderfully.

  23. 73
    Sean says:

    @68 GlenFergus says : “If that’s not you, maybe just go out and employ one.”
    Hi Glen, clearly you know your funk and wagnells on this critical issue. Being one who has written Training Manuals, and Policy Manuals for large Corporations (as well as class room and one-on-one practical training in situ) I know exactly what you are speaking to here and the importance of concise and effective communication. Not to mention Marketing briefs and production of PR advertising packages of all kinds.
    I do suspect that you may be better served writing a note directly to the head of the IPCC or Communications Dept though. Might gain more traction, if you know what I mean.
    So one can present direct clear key points to be taken up by an audience, in the case Climate Scientist on RC, and it can still get lost in the “noise”. It’s also human nature that when being presented with annoying examples of what not to do, but which is done repeatedly by the IPCC and general climate science communication efforts, the key point is still lost on those it is directed at.
    BillS nails it, as do you @56 “But your average policy wonk might fairly be running with “WTF?”” as have many many others, and who stick to the CORE TOPIC of the thread.
    Others way too often instead totally distract the dialogue onto irrelevant personal interest topics such as their google search skills and cleaning up buildings before SLR sweeps us all off our feet. A reminder for all, including the Moderators, the topic is “A failure in communicating the impact of new findings”
    Some consistency is this wouldn’t kill anyone, imho. But given the popular human sport on this venue is “shooting the messenger”, one might find this comment in the Bore Hole. Despite the fact it is polite, humourous and yet still very pointed and directed at the core problem of public communication of complex technical issues.
    Including right here as well as the IPCC SPM. This being 100% ON TOPIC and RELEVANT to the “discussion” asked for by Rasmus writing his article in the first place.
    Showing people what not to do, is as important as training them in how to do it better. The former motivates the latter being taken more seriously, and may I say far more URGENTLY. Bad text never killed anyone. Climate change already has.

  24. 74
    Sean says:

    Hank @67 That Video has already been included here @2 Maybe you missed it?

    Hank @ 57, 62, 63, 64, 65 are all off-topic, argumentative, disruptive, and personally directed at LdB comment made at @54 being “BillS is right what the bureaucracy wants is better time data not statements about how certain this that or the other is. Climate science needs to get off the political agenda and back on the science agenda and do what it does best provide data.”

    Why do you repeatedly distract and detract from the ‘discussion’ and On-Topic commentators (who use a simple example to make their point), not only here but on almost all comments pages?
    Why do you continue to passive-aggressively criticize such people’s “comments” presented here in Good Faith by flooding the board with numerous links found via search barely a minute before? There must be reason but it has nothing to do with the topic under discussion here, nor what LdB was addressing.

    Here you are making FIVE posts that totally ignore the *communication* aspects highlighted by LdB. He was was On-Topic and directing his comments to Rasmus’ article and not to yourself.

    Yet now all I can see here is another personal crusade to prove you are right and he is wrong about his “example”. One that was simply intended as the kind of Information Policy Makers might need/desire from the IPCC materials, in his personal view.
    Now I will be curious to see whether my comments are shoved off into the Bore Hole as being “belligerent” and “off-topic”, whilst yours remain here as usual to bring down the previous positive tone of the discussion for ever.

  25. 75
    Sean says:

    Comments 69 & 70 & 72 prove my point as clear as day about such activity. No longer is the discussion about ““A failure in communicating the impact of new findings””

    [Well if my rational and well reasoned logical point actually gets published – which looks dubious at this point – this enclosure can be edited out of course. ]

    Unfortunately, only those who point this out are summarily dispatched. Not the original long term perpetrators of it. This is supported by manifold evidence. A standard of evidence as high as the Climate Science is – Unequivocal.

    Simply speaking the unspeakable and calling it for what it is in my very humble and very experienced personal opinion. Others opinions may vary significantly.

  26. 76
    Peter Thorne says:

    As others have commented the form of the SPM is largely guided by a set of pre-existing restrictions placed upon the document by the parties who call for the IPCC reports. The document must use the calibrated uncertainty language, it must reflect the underlying report structure (which is set by the parties at outset), and so on and so forth. These restrictions guide and strongly constrain the form, structure, and the language of the SPM – it is not an exercise in freeform writing, but rather the exact opposite. Given clearly stated ‘customer requirements’ the scientists involved (caveat emptor: I am down as a contrib author) did an excellent job of communicating the science to those specifications. The customers clearly stated what they wanted and it would be incorrect to then blame the suppliers (scientists) for producing that.

    If you go to a market stall and ask for an apple and the stall keeper provides a pineapple you would be none too pleased and would not pay. Similarly, the report is produced to meet stated and agreed requirements of the parties who called for it otherwise they would be, quite rightly, unhappy and it would not have been adopted. That would be an unthinkable outcome.

  27. 77
    Radge Havers says:

    I’m curious about a couple of things. One is how it’s viewed by policy makers in general (not just the ones who had a hand in writing the standards). The other is more about the details of the process and specifications. If the process produces a cluttered product, maybe it should be amended or replaced entirely.

    The notion that it was written exactly the way the writers thought it had to be written and therefore is fine seems a little thin to me.

  28. 78

    If making a strong message is the purpose, then, IMHO, it should clearly state that a shift to nuclear power is the most effective means by far to reduce emissions.

  29. 79
    Hank Roberts says:

    This may help: the IPCC’s pages
    and that leads to

    The IPCC’s work is guided by a set of principles and clear procedures for all the main activities of the organization. This page serves as a repository for all official procedural documents guiding IPCC activities.

    The IPCC’s processes and procedures are constantly being reviewed and updated to ensure that they remain strong, transparent and reliable. For recent changes to IPCC procedures and related information see the Review of Processes and Procedures page that covers all the recent changes to IPCC procedures approved by the Panel in the period 2010-2012.

    (links on the original page)

    The Interacademy Council’s recently completed review of the IPCC’s structure and procedures:

  30. 80
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steinar Midtskogen wrote: “If making a strong message is the purpose, then, IMHO, it should clearly state that a shift to nuclear power is the most effective means by far to reduce emissions.”

    That would be a “strong message” indeed. It is also absolutely false.

    In reality, a “shift” to nuclear power is one of the LEAST effective and MOST expensive options for reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation. Wind and solar are already doing the job faster, cheaper and better.

  31. 81
  32. 82
    wili says:

    From #73: “I know…the importance of concise and effective communication” lol ‘-)

    Welcome back, SA! Where’ve ya been lately?

  33. 83
    Sean says:

    @77 Radge Havers “I’m curious about a couple of things. One is how it’s viewed by policy makers in general”

    I can tell you one thing to answer your curiosity here, and you can take it or leave it. But first of all let’s get the SEMANTICS RIGHT and call them what they really are “Politicians”!

    For example Politicians epitomized by the “mind set” of Australian ex- Prime Minister John Howard and the current Government recently elected back into office in Australia NEVER READ THE IPPC SPM NOR ANYTHING ELSE more complicated than the SPM. I suspect the same applies to Canadian PM Steven Harper, UK PM David Cameron and all those within their Government including the latest recruit into parliament. I also suspect on anecdotal evidence and observing Senate and House Committee Hearings that probably +90% of the Politicians in the USA both Federal and State NEVER READ any one of the SPMs either. And if they did they would undoubtedly NOT comprehend a word it and if they did they would not believe it anyway.

    That is, imho, how useful and effective the effort and time put into the feed in Science and these IPCC Reports the last 25 years have been. You may consider my words as pure speculation and dismiss it out of hand. But that kind of response will never make it untrue.

    IF you’d like to hear WHO ex-PM Howard and others like him do listen to and what they DO READ, then go here:
    The 2013 Annual GWPF Lecture – John Howard The actual words are far harsher and more manipulative than the text provided here: John Howard Climate Change Speech: One Religion Is Enough

    I have posted this to RealClimate before but not one commentator nor one RC scientist paid any attention to it. It was ignored. At your own peril, imho.

    When Howard Speaks it always gets onto the TV News for over a week (and not only in Australia – check Google News), and the Voters then hear his OPINION, and more than half heed it, as do other Politicians worldwide.

    And cry in desperation how all the good work Climate Scientists have done is in so many ways been a complete waste of time due to your “communications failure” to not cut through to POLICY MAKERS with the Truth of the matter.

    This may be an issue you all might like to raise and confront at the AGU Meeting over the week end. But honestly and for good reason I have quit trying to help and resign from dealing with Denier propaganda and the professional “Distortionists” they use at every venue and opportunity open to them to destroy the credibility of the IPCC and scientists like yourself and your Science.

    Because if you are not willing or lack the courage to defend yourself and your work, then why should I?

  34. 84
    Alastair McDonald says:

    Peter Thorne writes: “If you go to a market stall and ask for an apple and the stall keeper provides a pineapple you would be none too pleased and would not pay. Similarly, the report is produced to meet stated and agreed requirements of the parties who called for it otherwise they would be, quite rightly, unhappy and it would not have been adopted.”

    If the problem is that the IPCC reports are being produced to meet the requirements of the national governments who are paying for them, then we need to find a new way of financing those reports. As I recall, at the recent Royal Society meeting to announce the SPM it was suggested that the national scientific societies should jointly publish reports instead of the IPCC. In that case they could employ science journalists from Science and the Nature stable to make the reports readable, as they do weekly alongside the scientific papers they publish.

    Something must be done about the IPCC reports. They have failed to be effective, and with no replacement for the Kyoto treaty efforts to avoid dangerous climate change are
    going backwards. See: Assessing ”Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature’

    Cheers, Alastair.

  35. 85
    Sean says:

    @76 Peter Thorne re “The customers clearly stated what they wanted and it would be incorrect to then blame the suppliers (scientists) for producing that.” and the rest.

    What we have here Peter is too narrow a framing issue. Within the framing that you perceive is real and valid, as a scientist author (no probs there) you have gone about your work judiciously to meet the requirements as laid down.

    There is a problem with this frame of reference imho. I put it to you to consider it and shift your point of view dramatically.

    First, you are in business and customer sedns you an email with the specifications for an “apple” they wish to purchase. You say, oh yes sir, we can provide when would you like it. 4pm friday please, we will come and collect it.

    When the “customers” arrive, you relaise it was NOT in fact one customer but a committe of disagreeing customers. The most powerful in the band rock to your front counter and say, right now give me that PIneapple we ordered. YOu naively go HUH? You ordered an Apple. The custemoer gets immediately furious abuses you insults you and say no no no, we wanted a Pineapple, and you are a pathetic at running your business.

    You remain humble as best as humanly possible, pull out the email order to show it to him and he grabs it and tears it up, and scrams at you to not be insulting .. HE is the customer and you have NOT provided what the customer really ordered, and what they really wanted. Now give me a Pineapple or I will not pay you and will sue you and shut down your business and also take the issue to the Internet and destroy your reputation for giving me what I wanted.

    Dumbfounded the poor genuine and ethical apple businessman is so shocked he is lost for words, and promises to do better next time. The GROUP of conjoined Customers [20% of them way more powerful the whole of the group] who actually don’t care less about you, your work or your Business shuffle off laughing at each as they ridicule you endlessly. They knew form the get go who to create an “Customer Order” that is un-deliverable to the Specs. Plus they know how to change those specs at will, AFTER you have delivered the next Order, and then they complain about that in the very same way.

    But unlike most Customers, these ones actually come with their own COVERT PR Advertising Campaign of people who moonlight during election campaigns as ideological volunteers and whom are expert at shifting Public Opinion about various “businesses” that operate selling apples.

    Follow that idea to where ever it leads you … or maybe give it up.

  36. 86


    > “In reality, a “shift” to nuclear power is one of the LEAST effective and MOST expensive options for reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation. Wind and solar are already doing the job faster, cheaper and better.”

    This is interesting. The reason why I brought this up is that, if the purpose is to provide the best information from scientists to politicians, a summary of the best knowledge of dangers will not suffice. It’s not very constructive if the message does not also provide solutions. If you do not, you just become the wise guy who points out what’s wrong and what wont work, but when asked how exactly it can be done better, he would simply reply that it’s not his job.

    Has the scientific community discussed the solutions well enough and arrived at a consensus on what they are? I don’t think so. And without a consensus, the SPM will have little impact. All the authors then can hope for is the opportunity to say “we told you so”.

  37. 87
    Sean says:

    Short version @76 Peter = It is a Game! A very long game. And I suggest to you anyone willing to listen that most of those good people in the Climate Science, Environmental, and rational/valid Economics fields have been getting played like a fiddle.
    Anyone who sits down at a p o k e r table and cannot work out the signals that show who has a good hand and who is bluffing within 30 minutes should never play Texas Ho ld em. Or another way, if whenever a Climate Scientist meets a Journalist/TV show presenter or an agent for a “Policy Maker/Politician” and cannot work out instantly when they they are lying to you, then you will get played like a fiddle.
    I suggest you all go hire some decent ethical people who are capable of dealing with these kinds of circumstances, so you guys can just stick to the Real Science.
    Anyone who still doesn’t get it, a million words will make no difference. Which is why I decided to not bother with climate science communication. It’s a no gain no win outcome all downside for me. For Climate Science your only saviour left for you now is going direct to The People.
    in my humble opinion, and yes I could be wrong. But if I didn’t already think I was right, I wouldn’t be saying a word nor taking such personal risks in saying it publicly on the Internet. Now would I?

  38. 88
    Edward Greisch says:

    80 SecularAnimist: That is a taboo subject. Drop it.

  39. 89
    michael sweet says:

    Is it possible that obstructors like Exxon or Saudi Arabia deliberately use the requirement for 100 percent agreement to get the discussion of uncertainty at the front? Many highly paid lawyers go over the SPM before it is approved, not just scientists. These lawyers can use their influence to have the SPM written in a manner that is not very effective at conveying the information. This would be a simple technique to dilute the content of the SPM. Much of the content cited on this thread sounds like a law brief and not a scientific report to me.

  40. 90
    nigelmj says:

    I agree with Shaun at 83, although he could have stated it more briefly. I generally applaud the efforts of the IPCC and agree we are warming the planet. However on the negative side of things, Im not so sure the IPCC or mainstream climate science community is really getting through to the politicians, or defending itself well enough against the sceptical propoganda.

    That would be the key point, refuting the sceptical arguments and in terms the public can grasp. I understand that the IPCC obviously doesnt want to get into a public debate, and shouldnt, but there are other ways Im sure. Just a little more presence from some notable climate scientists in the daily media might help.

  41. 91

    #86–The IPCC is not tasked with policy-making; that’s the brief of the Conference of Parties. (Not that the latter have been exactly shining in that role.) There are several reasons for that, I suppose, but IMO the leading one is that policy options involve more than efficacy (and of course efficacy is generally not completely predictable in advance.)

    Policy almost always involves questions of value, and those are properly in the political sphere. Consider Germany’s current energy policy, the so-called energiewende. Given widespread public distaste for nuclear power, and also wide support for action on climate change, post-Fukushima they’ve chosen to shut down nuclear very rapidly, and to accelerate the adoption of renewables as much as possible. But they’ve had to accept some short-term emissions increases, mostly due to coal use, during that transition. They’ve also had to accept some price issues and market turbulence as the price of the remarkable progress that they have made toward their goal.

    Was that the best way to proceed? Outsiders have questioned that; and personally, I might have preferred that they taper off nuclear more gradually in order to cut emissions quicker. But it’s not my call to make; I don’t have to live with the consequences. Neither do those miscellaneous outsiders (like the staff at the Economist magazine, for instance.) It’s a political call, weighing the perceived issues with nuclear power and climate change against the economic realities. Science doesn’t afford methodologies for the weighing questions of ethics.

    And it’ll probably never be entirely clear whether the strategy chosen was the ‘best given the constraints’ although I suspect it will be subject to historical debate for quite a while–assuming, of course, our civilization makes enough good choices to endure in some fashion.

  42. 92
    wili says:

    Yeah, let’s all get advise on effective communication from the guy who writes: “customer sedns you” “you relaise it” “but a committe of” “and scrams at you”…!?

    Look, my sweet Sean. There are probably more people here sympathetic to your essential message than you care to notice.

    But, as MM said so long ago, the medium is the message, and if your medium is carelessly written (drunken?) rants, your message is going to be…less well received than you might like.

    Oh, and try to avoid paragraph-free blocks of text–not particularly inviting to read.

    Of course, if you see yourself as just here to enlighten the benighted, and as someone in need of no friendly, helpful suggestions yourself, then please do ignore this and all other notes from the thoughtful folks at this site.

  43. 93
    Radge Havers says:

    Hank @~79


  44. 94
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by wili — 12 Dec 2013 @ 5:16 PM

    I agree with your and Ray Ladbury’s ( assessment of Sean’s communications.

    Accepting that the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) is not a popular media document, what is most amazing and disturbing is the fact that policy makers at the highest levels of government and who, thereby, have enormous informational resources at their disposal, don’t want to even task someone competent to find out what is going on with the science so that they can generate a reasonable plan of action that would be consistent with their political beliefs. Their attitudes and actions are suggestive of some of the silliest postmodern thinking.

    I think that the larger problem is that the general public, who don’t have the skills to evaluate important scientific findings, make emotional evaluations that inform their political decisions on the basis of what their family, neighbors, religious leaders, and their elected government officials have to say. This is the group that has to be persuaded and facts will not compete with their personal associations and beliefs. One realistic attempt at communicating with this group is being attempted by Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.

    Suggesting a power move of organized communicators and scientists hammering science into a denialist blog is about the most naïve suggestion I have heard. How many here have tried to post on the high school graduate, weather man’s blog, and found that their clarifications of science are off topic, deleted, and banned?


  45. 95
    Sean says:

    @94 Steve Fish … now if i hear you correctly Steve, what you are basically saying here is that you don’t agree. You have a different point of view and opinion about things. If I have that wrong here, do correct me.

    and if I may, correct your good self, not once did I say nor suggest the ‘purpose or goal’ was *hammering science into a denialist blog*.

    So if that is your main take away thought from my fine essay then you have not read it and/or understood it. I know this, because I wrote it. I know what it said and what it did not say. Please try better not to misrepresent my own words publicly by building a Strawman out of them.
    I’m the one holding a match, see?
    Each person is quite capable of reading my essay and making up their own minds as to whether they agree, disagree, or whatever. They do not need an intermediary telling them it says something other than it says.
    This is one of the reasons why Apple created the right click “copy and paste” function when they introduced the Mouse. :)

  46. 96
    Sean says:

    @86 Steinar Midtskogen, you bring up a really good point here imho. The IPCC are ‘precluded’ ie ‘blocked’ by their mandate to suggest solutions aren’t they? This was done in the beginning by the politicians aka ‘customers’ who set it up adn control it. The UNFCCC has similar constraints as it is not really a free agent but controled by Government consensus, and politics etc.
    iow as Michael Sweet suggests quite rightly @89 “These lawyers can use their influence to have the SPM written in a manner that is not very effective at conveying the information.”
    eg US policy makers are called ‘Lawmakers’, most other places we call them Politicians.

    M Sweet @ 89 also asks “Is it possible that obstructors like Exxon or Saudi Arabia [USA/China/Australia/Financiers/ the 1% iow] deliberately use the requirement for 100 percent agreement to get the discussion of uncertainty at the front?”
    Possible? My opinion is more than likely the case.
    The last thing Climate Change recalitrants (in or out of Political circles) are interested in is the validated Science and a clear understanding of it by the public – ie Voters in ‘democratic’ nations.
    btw Australia no longer has a Minister for Science … first time in over 70 years or so.
    re ” Much of the content cited on this thread sounds like a law brief and not a scientific report to me.” which might suggest the ‘communication’ issue has less to do with the complexity of the science being communicated and more about the bottle necks it keeps being fed through? I don;t know, it’s a very complex side of events I am not privy too, bar what people say about it publicly.

    I think it is a mythical belief that every thing will suddenly change once people and the Politicians really do “understand the science” – as it will be ‘obvious’ to all. I believe that is a forlorn hope whilst the current ‘political/economic/geopoltical/media’ issues remain addressed.
    Until those barriers to the communication of the climate science are removed only then will the public across the board be able to listen a clear message and begin to support viable solutions and accept any personal sacrifices. Unfortunately that’s a big IF imho. Fingers crossed.

  47. 97
    MARodger says:

    I think it is difficult to refute that “hammering science into a denialist blog” was the central message presented @86 elsewhere. This was, of course, presented as a means to an end so was not at all “the ‘purpose or goal’.”
    I do perhaps set for myself higher standards of exactitude than most. While I accept that others will be less diligent, there does come a point when the continuous use of error-filled and slipshod commentary becomes an abuse of the process that requires to be terminated one way or the other.

  48. 98
    Tom Bond says:

    Refer to comments above on nuclear energy.
    Over the past 40 years misinformation from both the anti nuclear and climate denial groups and popularised in the mainstream media have ensured that fossil carbon fuel use continues to grow. If this growth continues this century human civilisation is facing an AR5 RCP8.5 scenario with CO2 atmospheric concentrations of above 900ppm and rising by 2100.
    Paleoclimatology teaches us that last time CO2 levels were 900 ppm was during the Eocene Climatic Optimum 50 million years ago, when mean global temperatures were about 12 degrees C higher and sea levels about 60 metres higher than today. A climate change of this magnitude is high risk for human civilisation and maybe even for the human species.

    The laws of physics, arithmetic and common sense teaches us that renewable energy alone cannot replace an annual global consumption of 14 billion tonnes of fossil carbon fuel.


    To meet the RCP 2.6 scenario, fossil carbon fuel use needs to be reduced to zero before the end of this century. This will still give CO2 atmospheric concentrations of above 400ppm by 2100. The last time CO2 levels were above 400ppm was during the early Pliocene when mean global temperatures were 2 degrees C to 3 degrees C higher and sea levels 25 metres higher than today. Still difficult for human civilisation to adapt, but maybe manageable.

    Compared to these risks nuclear power issues are miniscule. See the UNSEAR reports on Chernobyl and Fukushima at

    Their reports show that while both these accidents were devastating for the people in the immediate vicinity, the number of deaths from radiation even 25 years later (Chernobyl) are relatively small. Unfortunately the lessons learned from the Chernobyl accident were not applied to Fukushima and the biggest health risk, the irrational fear of radiation caused by misinformation was repeated.
    Jim Hansen analysis is that nuclear not only reduces emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels it also saves lives.


    Generation 4 fast breeder reactors will not only generate non carbon energy efficiently they can also dispose of nuclear waste.

    The bottom line is; to have any chance of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2100 requires the deployment of every non carbon technology that is available globally including nuclear.

  49. 99

    #91 “The IPCC is not tasked with policy-making; that’s the brief of the Conference of Parties.”

    Yes, and that is clearly not going anywhere. However, the scientific community does not need to be instructed to present solutions. If the community thinks this is an important issue, it can on its on initiative do so. But it seems more interested in getting the public to agree with the science than to say exactly what to do and how to do it. The credibility and influence of the scientific community in this matter will not increase from apologetics, but rather from its ability to offer pragmatic and scientifically sound solutions.

    And pragmatism should lead the way. One step at a time. Even the use of fossil fuel must be acknowledged as a necessary step towards the ultimate goal of clean practically free energy for all. The low hanging fruits first. I would immediately point out two orthogonal actions: 1. Maximising nuclear energy production, which currently is going in the wrong direction on totally non-scientific grounds. 2. Increased efficiency and energy optimisation, which already seems to be going in the right direction.

  50. 100

    Sean, tried to read your #95. When I came to “So if that is your main take away thought from my fine essay then you have not read it and/or…” the eye-rolling set in. It struck me as tendentious, pretentious and unnecessary.

    Steve was offering you his perception of what you wrote. It would further the conversation if you had chosen to follow the “not once did I say…” sentence with a statement about what you *did* intend to say. ‘Cause what you want to say is very often not coming through.

    Speaking for myself, I’d read your stuff if a) it were shorter, b) it were less tendentious (lose stuff like “your good self”) and c) less saturated with ego (“I’m the one holding the match, see?”)