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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


References

  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, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2012EO160003

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

  1. 151

    “Empathy”–IMO, a crucial word in this discussion. Yes, it is very helpful to communication.

    And it’s rather the point for fictional literature–you are not primarily meant to respond cognitively, but rather in a complex cognitive/emotional manner which enables you to ‘grasp’ another’s subjective reality–to ‘see’ *and* ‘feel’ how it coheres and why it makes sense to that other.

    It’s not so much about facts–as Vonnegut pointed out, fiction is using carefully selected lies to tell the truth–as it is about experience. (Imaginitive experience.)

  2. 152
    Radge Havers says:

    “goofing” — teasing, making fun of, as in perhaps a poe. In other words, “Are you putting me on?”

    Maybe it’s not used that much any more or is a regional thing…

    As to empathy, I think it operates on a number of levels not least of which is being able to identify and connect with your audience; something I seem to be having trouble with myself currently.

  3. 153
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 21 Dec 2013 @ 7:29 PM

    My lifetime partner (wife) is an expert in early human socio-emotional and cognitive development and she says that perspective taking is an under appreciated but primary component of intelligence. I believe her and I think Vonnegut would agree.

    Steve

  4. 154
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thank you Kevin for speaking of “empathy”. This to me is key, as in one of the AGU lectures, the development of a sophisticated and open attitude towards the community of humankind as something like a forest of trees, where the health of the whole is dependent on the inclusion of individuals. Grinspoon, Sagan lecture (usual login necessary as noted elsewhere):

    http://virtualoptions.agu.org/media/P41B-01.+Terra+SapiensA+The+Role+of+Science+in+Fostering+a+Wisely+Managed+Earth./1_2vqp1xt6/17184291

  5. 155
    Edward Greisch says:

    151 Kevin McKinney: Empathy is irrelevant to this discussion. Fact: The species Homo Sapiens is headed for probable extinction. The appropriate emotions are fear and panic. According to Bart Levenson and Aiguo Dai, BAU makes our collapse happen between 2050 and 2055. Nobody needs empathy under the circumstance. People need sanity and education in science and math. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Nope. Feelings are useless, except for fear that gets channelled into action. Control them and get to work.

    Feelings: Gut feeling is High level thinking, for a worm. Humans should be able to do better. Gut feeling is sure to lead you astray in the situation we are in. ONLY math and science can lead you to do the right thing to save our species from extinction. We will still have a population crash, but it can be lessened. Human Evolution will probably once again be driven by rapid climate change.

    Writing: I learned to write in philosophy classes. What I learned in English Lit is that Marmaladeoff’s character opposite is MarmaladeON. Our supervisors [in the US government] sent us to writing class several times. Each time we came back “worse.” The English teacher taught us the queen’s English. The supervisors wanted either Federalize or Army jargon. One supervisor punctuated only with dashes, and besides that he couldn’t write. When supervisors say they want better writing, they could also mean they don’t want to hear anything “inconvenient.”

  6. 156
    Edward Greisch says:

    http://www.thenation.com/video/158093/noam-chomsky-how-climate-change-became-liberal-hoax

    video “How Climate Change Became a ‘Liberal Hoax’ by Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky”

  7. 157
    DIOGENES says:

    Edward Greisch #155,

    “Empathy is irrelevant to this discussion. Fact: The species Homo Sapiens is headed for probable extinction. The appropriate emotions are fear and panic.”
    I agree with your assessment as to where we are headed, although you may be a generation or two early. I don’t know how you define “appropriate emotions”. I have known a wide variety of people who were facing personal extinction (death) from different causes, and they displayed a wide spectrum of emotions. Some displayed ‘fear and panic’, especially at first, but a greater number came to display ‘acceptance and resignation’. Which was the most appropriate; does ‘appropriateness’ even make sense here? The real challenge to avoiding climate change extinction is to figure out what will motivate people to preserve life on Earth, and then channel that motivation into action. There are many different motivations; it is not ‘one size fits all’. That’s what makes the problem so challenging. Add on to that the external forces that are profiting from, and want to preserve, the status quo, and the problem becomes doubly challenging.

  8. 158
    MARodger says:

    Edward Greisch @155.
    I don’t think Aiguo Dai is anywhere saying “BAU makes our collapse happen between 2050 and 2055.”
    Bart Levenson may be saying it but I don’t know where. His much-mentioned thesis “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series” appears still to be unpublished. As a result, the comment that has been cut & pasted around the blog-o-sphere that it says “Under BAU, desertification will cause agriculture to collapse some time between 2050 and 2055″ may be premature as it can be no more than unsubstantiated tittle-tattle without a sight of Levenson’s thesis. There is no sign of such a paper at Levenson’s bibliography page Indeed, that it appears it has taken over two years and yet to gain that publication suggests the thesis may have fundamental problems.

  9. 159
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward,
    Science is a human activity–anything that facilitates the ability of humans to work together is relevant–most especially empathy.

    Likewise the ability to speak cogently, coherently and clearly–and that is something you are more likely to learn in a lit class than a physics class.

    Your portrayal of scientists as disinterested robots is not helping.

  10. 160

    Edward Greisch wrote in 155:

    Empathy is irrelevant to this discussion. Fact: The species Homo Sapiens is headed for probable extinction. The appropriate emotions are fear and panic. According to Bart Levenson and Aiguo Dai, BAU makes our collapse happen between 2050 and 2055.

    Could you point to where Aiguo Dai makes the claim that our civilization will collapse by mid-century? As I remember it, this is a claim made by Bart Levenson who loosely bases his work on Aiguo Dai’s. But I have no reason to think that Dai himself is aware of the claim or would endorse it if he were. But perhaps I missed the memo.

    Incidentally, given the lag-times involved, I believe what we do now till mid-century have very little effect by then, but our present continuation of BAU will mean a great deal more later in this century.

  11. 161
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed, I don’t think you’re getting what people a talking about here. If it isn’t intuitively obvious and you haven’t followed the Wikipedia link on Theory of Mind (which isn’t what it sounds like) take a look. It’s about the functioning of the social brain, “the ability to attribute mental states…to oneself and others”. It’s a place to start.

  12. 162
    MartinJB says:

    Edward Greisch says: “Fact: The species Homo Sapiens is headed for probable extinction.”

    Well, yes, over some timeframe that is almost certainly true. But positing 2050-2055 our event horizon is far from “fact”.

  13. 163
    MartinJB says:

    Oh Ed, I missed this. From Gavin in the Unforced Variations thread: [Response: Sorry, but the idea that "positive feedback and/or BAU implies extinction" is just nonsense. Please take it somewhere else. - gavin]

    Or are you just trying to instill “fear and panic”?

  14. 164
    SecularAnimist says:

    Oh, look. There’s an elephant in the room.

    Conservative Donors Pump $1 Billion A Year Into Climate Denying Groups, Study Finds
    By Kiley Kroh
    http://www.ClimateProgress.org
    December 22, 2013

    Organizations that actively block efforts to address climate change are funded by a large network of conservative donors to the tune of nearly $1 billion a year, according to the first in-depth study into the dark money that fuels the denial effort.

    The study, published Friday in the journal Climatic Change, analyzed the income of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups, and industry associations, funded by 140 different foundations, that work to oppose action on climate change. The study’s author, Robert Brulle, refers to these organizations as the climate change counter-movement, and concludes that their outsized influence “has not only played a major role in confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue.”

    [...]

    The result is not just an obfuscation of fact and deliberate effort to slow any progress on addressing the most pressing issue of our time, but an assault on democracy. “Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible,” said Brulle. “Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square. Powerful funders are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise public doubts about the roots and remedies of this massive global threat. At the very least, American voters deserve to know who is behind these efforts.”

  15. 165
    Edward Greisch says:

    158 Ray Ladbury: I do not portrayal of scientists as disinterested robots. I was a scientist. What you are more likely to learn in a Lit class is that the professor is either not sober or not sane. Philosophy, not physics, is the place to learn to write.

    159 Timothy Chase: Just look at the maps Aiguo Dai put in his paper and try and figure out how we are going to grow food in 40 years. 2012 was bad enough here in the corn belt.

    160 Radge Havers: I read the Wikipedia link on Theory of Mind. That isn’t what Lit is about. Lit is about indoctrination into Freudianism.

    162 MartinJB: Saw that later. Am I just trying to instill “fear and panic”? No. I’m pushing for meaningful action. Fear and panic come naturally with understanding what GW is all about.

    163 SecularAnimist: The same story is being repeated by many email news letters. It is also in books that are years old.
    Reference: “Climate Cover-Up” by James Hoggan
    “Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes and Conway
    “Denying Science” by John Grant
    That is why I said earlier in the past week that the scientists are good enough communicators.

  16. 166
    sidd says:

    I agree with one of Mr. Greisch’s assertions, that science education ought to be improved. Given Mr. Greisch’s evident passion, surely he will greatly contribute toward science education. I await news of his initiatives in pedagogy with great interest.

    I disagree with almost every thing else in his post.

    1) Dai nowhere proposed human extinction by midcentury.

    2) Nothing humanity can do before midcentury will appreciably affect climate at midcentury, short of deliberately setting aflame surface coalbeds of the size of Powder River.

    3)Most of all I disagree with the statement “Empathy is irrelevant.”

    Without empathy, we are all psychopaths. And by empathy I mean not just empathy for one’s fellow man, but also empathy for all of Nature, all the countless, unnoted, little scurrying, squirming swimming, buzzing, flapping and sessile things that make up this wonderful living world. Call me animist. But I go further, I claim that it is possible to feel an emotion very akin to empathy for as vast and indifferent a thing as the Ocean, to wish it to remain clean, not because a clean Ocean is of benefit to Man, but rather because a clean Ocean is a happier ocean, in a very real sense, at least for all the life it harbours.

    Science education is all very well, but science alone can do no more than prescribe means towards particular ends. Science can tell us how to do something, but cannot tell us what is worth doing.

    I submit that sanity requires empathy, a person devoid of empathy is not fully sane.

    “We must all love one another or die.”

    sidd

  17. 167
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch: “Philosophy, not physics, is the place to learn to write.”

    Actually, I learned to write in a geography class in high school–not because of the subject matter, but because the teacher insisted on it.

    I have also benefitted from reading great writers, some of whom give explicit advice on writing. In particular, Mark Twain had advice that ought to be taught in every class on technical writing.

    Abraham Lincoln learned to write by reading the King James Bible.

    I would commend to you “The Plague,” by Albert Camus. It will teach you more about literature, philosophy, and indeed about the situation we face with climate change than any other piece of writing I know of.

    What humanity lacks in confronting this threat, more than anything else, is courage: the courage to accept the truth; the courage to act without guarantee of success; the courage to push forward into uncharted waters; the courage to confront the rich, powerful and unprincipled and perhaps most important, the courage to realize that we are responsible for our own fate. If we fail, the blame lies with us. If we succeed, I am sure some of our progeny will claim there never was a crisis and it was all fearmongering. We must be courageous and wise, so that our progeny have the luxury of being as cowardly and foolhardy as we have been.

  18. 168
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed @~165

    160 Radge Havers: I read the Wikipedia link on Theory of Mind. That isn’t what Lit is about. Lit is about indoctrination into Freudianism.

    Again with the Freud. We discussed this. Get over the Freud already.

    And btw, I posted that link in reference to communication (with a small ‘c’) not Literature (with a cap ‘L’).

  19. 169

    Edward Greisch wrote in 165:

    159 Timothy Chase: Just look at the maps Aiguo Dai put in his paper and try and figure out how we are going to grow food in 40 years. 2012 was bad enough here in the corn belt.

    Which paper? The most recent that seems relevant is the open access:

    Dai, Aiguo. “Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models.” Nature climate change 3.1 (2012): 52-58.http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n1/full/nclimate1633.html

    However, the only mapped projections were for soil moisture (Palmer drought severity index and revised) from 2080-2099 and comparing 2099 to 1950 under the “intermediate future GHG emissions scenarios”. But you had specifically said in 155:

    According to Bart Levenson and Aiguo Dai, BAU makes our collapse happen between 2050 and 2055.

    As such it would seem you could not be speaking of this paper? So which paper?

    Now when you wrote that sentence, it was immediately after you stated:

    Fact: The species Homo Sapiens is headed for probable extinction. The appropriate emotions are fear and panic.

    I assume that by “collapse” you do not mean our “probable extinction”, but as Levenson speaking of it, the “collapse of civilization.” This is a claim of his that I am familiar with. But it is not a claim that I have heard Dai make regarding 2050-2055 or even 2099.

    Not being able to grow corn in the corn belt does not imply the collapse of civilization. Widespread drought or even starvation does not imply the collapse of civilization, even were Dai specifically speaking of the 2050-2055 timeframe. And even if you could somehow argue that the collapse of civilization will necessarily follow given Dai’s projections regarding drought, this would not be equivalent to Dai stating that “BAU makes our collapse happen between 2050-2055.”

    What maps of drought are you speaking of? And why focus on maps when the question at hand isn’t drought or widespread starvation, but the collapse of civilization between 2050-2055? I have seen nothing to suggest Dai has ever made any claim that remotely resembled what you are attributing to him. Is it possible that you are mistakenly conflating Bart Levenson’s and Aiguo Dai’s views?

  20. 170
    Edward Greisch says:

    167 Ray Ladbury: We can agree on courage of a strange kind. I remember Camus vaguely.

    166 sidd: Empathy is the opposite of psychopathy? Well OK then, as long as Empathy doesn’t have to mean being an “Empath” like councillor Deanna Troy. Psychopaths don’t care about themselves either.

    168 Radge Havers: So what do the Lit professors use instead of Freud these days? How the human brain works is ongoing research in the social sciences, medicine and computer science. There is no place for Lit professors in that bunch.

  21. 171
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch,
    I’ve read that one of the reasons Gandhi was so formidable an opponent was because of the deep empathy he had with his opponents. It made it possible for him to understand their fears and motivations, mollifying the former and subsuming the latter.

  22. 172

    #153–”My lifetime partner (wife) is an expert in early human socio-emotional and cognitive development and she says that perspective taking is an under appreciated but primary component of intelligence.”

    Thanks, Steve. Mine, too. ;-)

    #154–Susan, thanks for the kind words and the link.

    #155–Ed, no. The topic is communication. Empathy, for reasons discussed above and below in this thread, is highly relevant. (Consider, for example, Ray’s point at #171–not just the obvious ‘touchy-feely’ aspect, but Gandhi’s great (if under-appreciated) gifts as a deal-maker: if you don’t know what is important to your opponent, how will you know what will move them to agree to compromise?)

  23. 173
    Radge Havers says:

    Ed,

    If you must, schools of literary theory:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_theory#Schools_of_literary_theory

    This isn’t about Lit profs usurping science. Not that there isn’t an over abundance of malarkey in the arts; this is about learning to communicate and understanding people’s differing perspectives. Much of that learning takes place by analogy and so probably doesn’t work the way you think it does. Otherwise it’s perfectly understandable that artists would be interested in anything that might deepen their understanding of what they do for a living.

    Your comments on the topic so far have been anecdotal, over generalized, and parochial almost to the point that they sound trollish. Not to get too personal, but this doesn’t sound like you.

  24. 174
    SecularAnimist says:

    Radge Havers wrote: “Your comments on the topic so far have been anecdotal, over generalized, and parochial almost to the point that they sound trollish. Not to get too personal, but this doesn’t sound like you.”

    It’s pretty much what I have come to expect.

  25. 175
    wili says:

    Ray at 167 wrote: “What humanity lacks in confronting this threat, more than anything else, is courage: the courage to accept the truth; the courage to act without guarantee of success; the courage to push forward into uncharted waters; the courage to confront the rich, powerful and unprincipled and perhaps most important, the courage to realize that we are responsible for our own fate. If we fail, the blame lies with us. If we succeed, I am sure some of our progeny will claim there never was a crisis and it was all fearmongering. We must be courageous and wise, so that our progeny have the luxury of being as cowardly and foolhardy as we have been.”

    Very nicely put. Unfortunately the kind of courage and wisdom you speak of seem to be in short supply.

  26. 176
    SecularAnimist says:

    Timothy Chase wrote: “Not being able to grow corn in the corn belt does not imply the collapse of civilization. Widespread drought or even starvation does not imply the collapse of civilization …”

    That depends on the meaning of “collapse” and the meaning of “civilization”, as well as on the severity and extent of the drought and famine.

    And drought is only one of multiple GHG-driven threats to humanity’s food supply.

  27. 177
    Ray Ladbury says:

    wili,
    Courage is never common–hence its intrinsic value.

  28. 178

    SecularAnimist (176), not much disagreement coming from here on any of those points.

  29. 179

    A side note on the drought issue: it’s one of the very few areas where AR5 finds increased uncertainty WRT AR4. The Technical Summary says something like “AR4′s conclusions of drought are no longer supported.”

    The problem as I understand it is in considerable part that there are a number of metrics for drought, and the trends found for instance in Dai 2010–the basis for Barton’s unpublished statistical study–are not robust across those metrics.

    The usual hot-spots as identified long since in “Six Degrees” and in the professional literature–the American Southwest, the Mediterranean basin, South Africa, and quite possibly the Amazon–are still expected to dry quite considerably, as the expansion of the Hadley Cells seems to be well-supported, and said drying is a straightforward consequence, and because that drying has been so robust across generations of models.

    But global trends are now considered quite uncertain. It’s modestly good news from AR5–not great news, there isn’t any of that. But it’s an area where the story got a little less dire than it had been.

  30. 180
    wili says:

    Ray, nicely put, again.

    KM, you might want to check out the latest post on drought and GW at SkS: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-intensity-drought-trenberth.html#comments

  31. 181

    Kevin McKinney (179), in line with what you wrote, there is a study that just came out that discusses some of the uncertainties regarding the question of whether there will be a trend towards increased drought. Different studies regarding drought have reached different conclusions, and the authors argue that much of this is due to methodological differences but also in data sets. It calls for better data, but also states towards the end:

    Increased heating from global warming may not cause droughts but it is expected that when droughts occur they are likely to set in quicker and be more intense.

    The paper is discussed against the backdrop of drought research in:

    Global warming will intensify drought, says new study
    John Abraham (Guardian UK), 2013-12-23
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/dec/23/global-warming-intensify-droughts

    The study itself is here:

    Trenberth, Kevin E., et al. “Global warming and changes in drought.” Nature Climate Change 4.1 (2014): 17-22. (Paywalled)
    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n1/full/nclimate2067.html

    There are of course other threats to food security. One recent story:

    Dramatic decline in industrial agriculture could herald ‘peak food’
    Nafeez Ahmed (Guardian UK), 2013-12-19
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/19/industrial-agriculture-limits-peak-food

    The paper itself:

    Grassini, Patricio, Kent M. Eskridge, and Kenneth G. Cassman. “Distinguishing between yield advances and yield plateaus in historical crop production trends.” Nature Communications 4 (2013). (Open Access)
    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/131217/ncomms3918/full/ncomms3918.html

    Also of possible interest…

    ‘Whole world’ at risk from simultaneous droughts, famines, epidemics: scientists
    Nafeez Ahmed (Guardian UK), 2013-12-17
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/17/planet-climate-change-risk-drought-famine-epidemic

    … regarding a special feature from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that includes ten papers that are all Open Access:

    Global Climate Impacts: A Cross-Sector, Multi-Model Assessment Special Feature
    http://www.pnas.org/

    The elephant, the blind, and the intersectoral intercomparison of climate impacts; Carbon residence time dominates uncertainty in terrestrial vegetation responses to future climate and atmospheric CO2; Multimodel assessment of water scarcity under climate change; Constraints and potentials of future irrigation water availability on agricultural production under climate change; Assessing agricultural risks of climate change in the 21st century in a global gridded crop model intercomparison; Hydrological droughts in the 21st century, hotspots and uncertainties from a global multimodel ensemble experiment; The Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI–MIP): Project framework; Global water resources affected by human interventions and climate change; Multisectoral climate impact hotspots in a warming world; First look at changes in flood hazard in the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project ensemble

  32. 182
    Edward Greisch says:

    169 Timothy Chase: Please read:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.81/full
    “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review” by Aiguo Dai
    atmos.albany.edu/facstaff/adai/
    “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series”  by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055 due to drought/desertification caused by GW [Global Warming].

    Reference: “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses.   Fagan and Diamond told the stories of something like 2 dozen previous very small civilizations. Most of the collapses were caused by fraction of a degree climate changes. In some cases, all of that group died. On the average, 1 out of 10,000 persons survived.

    Not being able to grow corn in the corn belt does imply the collapse of civilization. That is the way it has happened many times in previous civilizations. No semblance of civilization remains within hours of the moment the food runs out.

    ANY change in climate can put the food supply in jeopardy. Warmer, colder, wetter, dryer. Whatever changes makes the farmers’ former practice not work. Farmers are traditional people in that they strongly tend to grow the same thing year after year.

    Search climateprogress for what is happening already. The searcher there does not work well for me, so take some time.

    http://climatestate.com/2013/12/22/climate-change-clashes-and-riots/

    172 Kevin McKinney: Nature does not compromise. We do it right or we experience human evolution.

    181 Timothy Chase: Thank you very much.

  33. 183
    Hank Roberts says:

    > No semblance of civilization remains
    > within hours of the moment the food runs out.

    Depends on whether you’re a scientist or not, some evidence suggests:
    http://www.splendidtable.org/story/how-nikolay-vavilov-the-seed-collector-who-tried-to-end-famine-died-of-starvation

  34. 184

    Edward Greisch wrote in 182:

    169 Timothy Chase: Please read: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.81/full
    “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review” by Aiguo Dai
    atmos.albany.edu/facstaff/adai/

    I was asking you for a statement by Dai where he claims that civilization will collapse in 2050-2055, and expressly not a map showing severe drought in some parts of the world, not others, later in the century. Are you unable to find or quote a relevant passage?

    You continue:

    “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series” by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055….

    Irrelevant. As I stated, I am aware of Levenson’s unpublished claims. I was asking about Dai’s.

    You continue:

    Not being able to grow corn in the corn belt does imply the collapse of civilization.

    Not if it can be grown and shipped in from elsewhere. And if some nations run out of food those nations may collapse, but this does not imply the collapse of civilization itself.

    Incidentally, Aiguo Dai is listed as the second author of the paper:

    Trenberth, Kevin E., et al. “Global warming and changes in drought.” Nature Climate Change 4.1 (2014): 17-22. (Paywalled)
    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n1/full/nclimate2067.html

    In the conclusion they state:

    Increased heating from global warming may not cause droughts but it is expected that when droughts occur they are likely to set in quicker and be more intense.

    … as quoted by:

    Global warming will intensify drought, says new study
    John Abraham (Guardian UK), 2013-12-23
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/dec/23/global-warming-intensify-droughts

    Even were Dai to have made the claim that you attribute to him in one of his earlier papers, wouldn’t you agree that in judging an author’s opinion a more recent paper supersedes a less recent one?

  35. 185

    Edward Greisch, I don’t doubt that what we face under Business As Usual is serious, particularly later in this century and in the centuries that follow. My point is simply that if one attributes a given view to a given author that attribution is accurate. Further, I believe that the consequences of inaction are serious enough we do not need to exaggerate them. Do you think this sensible?

  36. 186
    Hank Roberts says:

    > corn belt

    Civilization already broke down there. Several short-sighted greedy varieties of stupidity replaced civilized thinking some time back. It’s another classic example of failures communicating the impact of new science, for the Cassandra file.

    The scientists who called for caution now are saying “I told you so”

    2011

    … if they plant just corn, year after year, rootworms are likely to overwhelm any weapon someday.
    The problem, Meinke says, is that farmers are thinking about the money they can make today.

    2013

    Some people are smarter: Woody Agriculture

  37. 187
    Edward Greisch says:

    184 Timothy Chase: You should have been here last year. The rain came at the wrong time at the wrong intensity. Look at Aiguo Dai’s drought maps again.

    2012 in Iowa and Illinois: Spring: drought; Summer: drought; harvest time: flood. Corn and soy beans made very little grain. In the fall, you couldn’t drive a combine across the fields because the mud was too deep. Farmers waited for the ground to freeze before harvesting what freeze-damaged grain they could.
    Missouri: No corn, it died.

    Looking at Aiguo Dai’s drought maps, I see 2050 as worse by far than 2012. There won’t be any corn in the 2050s. Corn will not be imported from somewhere else. Aiguo Dai’s drought maps are global. Agriculture won’t work in those other places either. Since we have almost no reserve and no surplus, we can’t stand any glitches.

    Rain timing matters. Rain intensity matters. Just a little drought with the wrong timing and intensity is as bad as a lot of drought. Floods during planting wash seeds away.

    Barton Paul Levenson’s paper is not irrelevant. I read it. Why don’t you write your own paper from the same data?

    I am not exaggerating. I happen to be in the corn belt where I can talk to farmers and drive past fields. 2012 was a bad drought year even if the average rain for the whole year was average.

    186 Hank Roberts: Hazelnuts & Chestnuts grow on trees that take many years to grow. Farmers can’t take 40 years off to let trees grow.

  38. 188
    Hank Roberts says:

    Apparently, however, we are willing to pay any price for oil, even at the cost of renouncing to a number of things that, once, were taken for granted, such as public health care, social security, public transportation, and the like.

    It is a choice that we made and that we may well regret in the near future because we are not only beggaring ourselves but creating a much worse problem: a true climatic disaster. As depletion is forcing us to consume more energy in order to produce energy, the final result is that emissions are growing and they show no sign of abating.

    Plundering the planet: an update

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Griesch … many years to grow …. Farmers
    > can’t take 40 years off to let trees grow.

    You make up numbers.

    LMGTFY

    Stay with a plan that the scientists are telling you is failing, or make a transition to a plan that the scientists are telling you works better. Hmmm. How to decide?

  40. 190
    flxible says:

    Hazelnuts & Chestnuts grow on trees that take many years to grow. Farmers can’t take 40 years off to let trees grow.

    Ed needs to quit blathering on with speculative opinions about things. Hazelnuts are actually produced on the Hazel shrub, which should start producing within 3-5 years, the same as most fruit crops, which are grown by many farmers profitably without “taking 40 years off”. Hazels are also quite drought tolerant and can be expected to continue good production for 40 years or more. Chestnuts are more properly large [fast growing] trees, but also start producing within 5 years.

  41. 191
    MARodger says:

    Edward Greisch @187.
    My apologies if this is repeating comment @158.
    Levenson’s paper has not been presented in this thread for folk to comment on. Yet you have more than once recommended we take on board what it contains by reading it. Either point to this fabled paper or present the substance of its content, or be quiet about it. The only shred of information we otherwise have is some three year-old comment from the man himself (that fits uneasily with other comment from him) and nothing but hand-wringing from you. This is a level of support for your argumenting which is very far from satisfactory.

  42. 192

    According to AR5, global drought projections are no longer supported, as the projections are not robust across various drought metrics. (Dai used Palmer.)

    “Do [we] feel lucky?”

  43. 193

    MARodger, the title of Levenson’s paper is “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series”. It was submitted to Science but rejected in late 2010. Judging from a search for that title and the his name in Google, despite its apparent unavailability, the paper has been the subject of considerable discussion, including at the Economist, New Scientist, Scientific American, and The Conversation.

  44. 194

    Correction: that should read “search for that title and the his last name in Google”.

  45. 195
    Edward Greisch says:

    Hazelnuts & Chestnuts in 3 to 5 years! That is amazingly fast growth for a tree. Even the engineered tree is supposed to take 11 years to grow here. If a tree can grow in 3 to 5 years, I want to plant some! How tall will the trees be in 4 years? I have never seen any tree grow that fast.

    191 MARodger [Dr Martin Rodger]: 11 Aug 2010 comes after 14 May 2010. Bart Levenson was in doubt in May and had a firm answer in August. I can’t find my copy of his paper to check the date.

    If you ask Bart Levenson, he might let you read his paper. But you are a PhD climate scientist, so you should be able to do the same analysis and publish before Bart Levenson does. I would like to have more than one paper to go by. Please do write a paper like that.

    Nobody else is doing the same type of analysis that I know of and nobody else is producing the same type of result that I know of. Why? Agriculture is the most critical industry. It seems to me that the majority of climate science from now on should be devoted to GW effects on agriculture.

    I got the data, but I need training in the R programming language. I am slowly learning some Python. Bart Levenson knows more statistics than I do. I will not be able to duplicate the same paper, but possibly I could do a lesser paper if a computer language remains accessible for long enough. Computers and computer languages change too fast for my budget.

  46. 196
    wili says:

    Ed, you seem to be your own worst enemy, here.

    You are essentially asking us to trust _your_ reading of a mysterious paper.

    Even if said paper exists, the fact that we can all see that you can’t seem to read or comprehend the word “shrub” in fixible’s post at #190 is not likely to make anyone here very confident that you are accurately representing what is in that Levenson paper.

  47. 197
    wili says:

    Back on topic: The ‘other side’ has been putting considerable resources into communication for the last decade. And they don’t have to bother funding research–it is much easier to concoct lies than to discover something close to the truth. (Apologies if these links have already been posted):

    http://phys.org/news/2013-12-koch-brothers-reveals-funders-climate.html

    “Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort”

    http://www.drexel.edu/~/media/Files/now/pdfs/Institutionalizing%20Delay%20-%20Climatic%20Change.ashx

    “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organization”

    Robert Brulle

    Climatic Change
    DOI 10.1007/s10584-013-1018-7

  48. 198
    MARodger says:

    Timothy Chase @193/4.
    I do appreciate you your looking but, as I said @158, a single comment about that Levenson paper has been extensively cut&pasted round the web. A search of New Scientist & Scientific American (The Economist appears not to have a search function for its website) yields only that same cut&paste blog comment within their comment threads, all from the same source, & no discussion of this elusive Levenson paper within the articles published by New Scientist & Scientific American.

    Edward Greisch @195.
    But I am not a PhD Climate Scientist. And you ask “Nobody else is doing the same type of analysis (as Levenson’s) that I know of and nobody else is producing the same type of result that I know of. Why? “ Perhaps this is because you haven’t looked? There are certainly others conscious of the potential impact drought will have within a future AGW world.
    For instance, while the full text of SREX Chapter 3 Seneviratne, S. I., et al., 2012 ‘Changes in climate extremes and their impacts on the natural physical environment.’ does not make the point directly, within the overview of SREX Chapter 3 the point is made concerning projections of drought under AGW – “Limited number of regions with agreement, but including important agricultural regions – therefore – global implications”

  49. 199
    flxible says:

    Hazelnuts & Chestnuts in 3 to 5 years! That is amazingly fast growth for a tree. Even the engineered tree is supposed to take 11 years to grow here. If a tree can grow in 3 to 5 years, I want to plant some! How tall will the trees be in 4 years? I have never seen any tree grow that fast.

    And we’re expected to accept your anecdotal incredulity as the science of agriculture? The growth rate of a plant says nothing about the productive potential of it, and food producers don’t depend on “engineered” trees, whatever those are. If you want a hybrid nut ‘plant’ appropriate for your climate, consult a local nursery, they do well in zones 4-9. Hazel shrubs are 8 – 15 feet at maturity, depending on how they’re pruned and cared for, and can gain 2 feet or more per year.

  50. 200
    Steve Fish says:

    If Barton Paul Levenson was unable to, or decided not to publish his analysis in a peer reviewed journal then it is just an interesting opinion. BPL used to comment here and he is a pretty smart guy so I think he would probably agree.

    Steve


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