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« Back on Black | Main | Nature: no scrutiny of the academy »
Wednesday
Nov092011

Dangerous climate change?

This is a slightly edited version of a comment Richard Betts left on the discussion forum. I thought it was quite challenging to much of what we hear about climate change in the mainstream media and therefore worthy of posting here as a header post. (Richard, for anyone visiting for the first time, is head of climate change impacts at the Met Office).

Most climate scientists* do not subscribe to the 2 degrees "Dangerous Climate Change" meme (I know I don't). "Dangerous" is a value judgement, and the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society. The most solid evidence for something with serious global implications that might happen at 2 degrees is the possible passing of a key threshold for the Greenland ice sheet, but even then that's the lower limit and also would probably take centuries to take full effect. Other impacts like drought and crop failures are massively uncertain, and while severe negative impacts may occur in some regions, positive impacts may occur in others. While the major negative impacts can't be ruled out, their certainty is wildly over-stated.

While really bad things may happen at 2 degrees, they may very well not happen either - especially in the short term (there may be a committment to longer-term consequences such as ongoing sea level rise that future generations have to deal with, but imminent catastrophe affecting the current generation is far less certain than people make out. We just don't know.

The thing that worries me about the talking-up of doom at 2 degrees is that this could lead to some very bad and expensive decisions in terms of adaptation. It probably is correct that we have about 5 years to achieve a peak and decline of global emissions that give a reasonable probability of staying below 2 degrees, but what happens in 10 years' time when emissions are still rising and we are probably on course for 2 degrees? If the doom scenario is right then it would make sense to prepare to adapt to the massive impacts expected within a few decades, and hence we'd have to start spending billions on new flood defences, water infrastructure and storm shelters, and it would probably also make sense for conservationists to give up on areas of biodiversity that are apparently "committed to extinction" - however all these things do not make sense if the probability of the major impacts is actually quite small.

So while I do agree that climate change is a serious issue and it makes sense to try to avoid committing the planet to long-term changes, creating a sense of urgency by over-stating imminent catastrophe at 2 degrees could paint us into a corner when 2 degrees does become inevitable.


*I prefer to distinguish between "climate scientists" (who are mainly atmospheric physicists) and "climate change scientists" who seem to be just about anyone in science or social science that has decided to see what climate change means for their own particular field of expertise. While many of these folks do have a good grasp of climate science (atmospheric physics) and the uncertainties in attribution of past events and future projections, many sadly do not. "Climate change science" is unfortunately a rather disconnected set of disciplines with some not understanding the others - see the inconsistencies between WG1 and WG2 in IPCC AR4 for example. We are working hard to overcome these barriers but there is a long way to go.

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  • Response
    - Bishop Hill blog - Dangerous climate change?

Reader Comments (285)

Well, I suppose the guy works in the met office so he should know to which direction the wind is changing.

As a cynical old b*stard I can't help feeling he's just creating an escape route...

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

BBD

"it all depends on your attitude to risk"

Not to mention the degree of risk in the first place. That seems to be the moot point...

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

diogenes

is anyone curious about what has happened to the rapid response disinformation team? I am surprised that Zeds and Hengist have not popped up yet.

This is bad karma, diogenes. Please be thankful for the civil debate for a change.

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Hey here's a thought. Now that respected scientists are beginning to study the science and finding it wanting, and given that the warminista side of the debate is now being funded by big oil,

http://joannenova.com.au/2011/11/big-oil-money-fund-warmists-confusing-attack-machine/

shouldn't the warministas be called 'deniers' . I even sense a change in the air concerning the bbc. I reference the recent panorama jobby on windfarms and even, yes even perhaps the 'Frozen Planet'. Very little mention there of the CO2 demon.


sorry it just went to my head.. I've calmed down now

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

J4R

I have a feeling that the problems in 100 years time will be very different (and possibly a lot scarier) than a few degrees of projected extra warmth!

I suspect that the reluctance of the climatologists to quantify the probability (beyond the risible 95% that used to be bandied about) is because the real figure is too small to mention.

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Met Office forecaster Dave Britton said: “We have done research into probability for years. Weather forecasts are never guaranteed. Using the new system, if someone wanted to know about whether to put out their washing, they can make a more informed decision if they knew there was a 75% chance of rain or even 50% that day.”

So look out for;

Your washing is wet/smoke because we only have this old computer for weather/climate.

or

We said there was a 10% chance of snow and look! Snow!

Weather is not climate but their fudge factors are similar.

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Confused

“I even sense a change in the air concerning the bbc”

It’s easy to clutch at straws, but I caught an interesting remark from Mark Damazer, no less (the former controller of Radio 4), when reviewing the papers for ‘Broadcasting House’. He had spotted a piece about an imminent close brush with an asteroid, due to pass between us and the moon, and wondered aloud if this wasn’t an area more worthy of research spending than climate change.

Perhaps, because it was live, they couldn’t shut him up in time, but it was refreshing, nonetheless.

Nov 10, 2011 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"The thing that worries me about the talking-up of doom at 2 degrees is that this could lead to some very bad and expensive decisions in terms of adaptation.”

Adaptation? Richard, can I ask you, what adaptation strategies were you thinking of that were particularly bad and expensive? I ask this because many think that the bad and expensive decisions are those that are based on mitigation – such as those you appear to prescribe - that require policy to reduce emissions from energy usage. Many argue that mitigation policies are very likely in the future – as they are already (re issues raised by Panorama) - to do more harm than good. Do you really think mitigation is cheaper and more likely to succeed than adaptation?

Are mitigation policies that seek to “achieve a peak and decline of global emissions” the only tools you consider that could “give a reasonable probability of staying below 2 degrees”, or do you (or the Met Office) like the sound of any particular adaptation strategies?

As far as the “5 year window” meme is concerned, didn’t Lomborg refute this type of debate device yonks ago, by suggesting that policies to reduce emissions would only ever delay any temperature rise, or forestall it by (n) years, thus negating any talk of “windows”? Isn’t the mention of time-constraints only a tactic intended to galvanize public support quickly – Durban perhaps?

Lastly, given that you seem very keen to imply emissions reduction policy is the primary weapon of choice to attack temperature fluctuations, I have these questions that have vexed me for a good while:
If energy related emissions reductions are supposed to trigger a temperature hold or decrease, how could this be tested and validated in the field, and accurately extracted from the natural variability within the system once the policies have been implemented and in place? How long would they have to be followed for there to be enough data to draw solid conclusions about their effectiveness? How could one ever possibly know whether son-of Kyoto global emissions treaty was working? Even if temperatures dropped, how would we know with any real certainty that the mitigation policies put in place triggered the temperature reduction? If ever any global emissions treaty gets ratified, a nightmare awaits. Let’s hope we don’t get Durbanized next month.

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ert

A lot of interesting comments are getting missed. Richard Betts, who has spent his working life promoting the cause of spending billions to cut down on carbon emissions to avoid flooding, etc, now sees that it’s not working, and suggests spending billions on flood defences instead. Someone suggested flooding may be due to leaves blocking the drains, due to councils cutting back on drain maintenance.
So what’s it to be? Geo-engineering? Windfarms? A trillion pound carbon market? Or a bloke down a manhole with a stick?
What does the science say?

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

I think we could cut Richard a bit of slack. He contributes a fair bit here, quite voluntarily, and probably at some risk to his CV. I suspect that most of us swallowed the party line at some previous juncture, and we weren't working at the MO...

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

J4R
"I have a feeling that the problems in 100 years time will be very different (and possibly a lot scarier) than a few degrees of projected extra warmth!"

Or even sooner than that. We may be facing the very short term threat of a severe recession and in the not much longer period we will have three nutball nuclear powers. I'm not optimistic that we will avoid a nuclear exchange in the next 20 years.

Fortunately our political leaders are more Gods than men ;)

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Thankyou, Richard for your contributions. I personally think we are priveleged to have you posting on this blog.

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

Yes

Give Richard a break..
All most of us, I think, just want to have a debate.
Richard has no obligation to get involved here.. his BBC climate science and confusion article, wad I thought very good...

So good he hasn't been on the BBC since ? ,-) !

Nov 10, 2011 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Alright already.
I value Richard's contributions as well. Slack is cut. Sorry to sound like a raging sceptic.

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ert

Agreed, we should give Richard a break, as I've said before posting on here could threaten his career, although he doesn't seem to think so. However, what Richard has said, although not 100% coincident with my scepticism, i.e. the uncertainties are huge, and the unknown unknowns are, well, unknown, are pretty much in line with what the arguments from the sceptics have been about the forecasts (not forecasts, scenarios, that the politicos take as forecasts). Having said that I believe most practioners in climate science are in agreement with Richard and the sceptics on the uncertainties.How could they be otherwise if they're real scientists? But they''ve remained schtum when the IPCC produced its various ARs. Are they going to speak out when AR 5 produces the sort of rubbish in its Synthesis Report that was in AR 4, or are they going to speak out and point out that "very likely" for any weather/climate events in the future is just plain not scientific?

There are big stakes on the table here, governments with varying degrees of lunacy have taken on board the rubbish in the Synthesis Report and are busy putting up the price of energy at the behest of the Greens to discourage its use and subsidise renewables. In the case of the UK we're at about 9 on the Reichter scale of lunacy, with high energy prices and no clear plans how to fill the energy gap that's going to come about when we abandon coal and oil. So, in my view at least, the more the real scientists come out and explain the uncertainties the better. And I believe Richard is doubly courageous, those who have had the cojones to question the "consensus" have been pretty shabbily treated by the scientific establishment, so he's brave there. He's also brave to come onto this blog and speak to a bunch of curmudgeonly retirees.

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Richard Betts - please can you send a copy of your comments to Lord Stern?:

******
Impacts and risks from uncontrolled climate change

"There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally"

The first half of the Review focuses on the impacts and risks arising from uncontrolled climate change, and on the costs and opportunities associated with action to tackle it. A sound understanding of the economics of risk is critical here. The Review emphasises that economic models over timescales of centuries do not offer precise forecasts - but they are an important way to illustrate the scale of effects we might see.

The Review estimates that the dangers could be equivalent to 20 per cent of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around 1 per cent of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but our economies could continue to grow strongly.

If we take no action to control emissions, each tonne of CO2 that we emit now is causing damage worth at least $85 - but these costs are not included when investors and consumers make decisions about how to spend their money. Emerging schemes that allow people to trade reductions in CO2 have demonstrated that there are many opportunities to cut emissions for less than $25 a tonne. In other words, reducing emissions will make us better off. According to one measure, the benefits over time of actions to shift the world onto a low-carbon path could be in the order of $2.5 trillion each year.

The shift to a low-carbon economy will also bring huge opportunities. Markets for low-carbon technologies will be worth at least $500bn, and perhaps much more, by 2050 if the world acts on the scale required.

Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy; ignoring it will ultimately undermine economic growth.

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_064854

*******

"Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen. The evidence on the seriousness of the risks from inaction or delayed action is now overwhelming. We risk damages on a scale larger than the two world wars of the last century. The problem is global and the response must be a collaboration on a global scale."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/nov/29/climatechange.carbonemissions

******

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Looking back at the warmer periods of the past—the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval Warm Periods—and the way civilizations thrived with their 1-4 deg C warmer conditions, why would we fear warming?

It is only the junk science of the AGW crowd and their evil political agenda that we should fear, as they do not have the welfare of the people or the planet in mind in way way.

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharles Higley

The obsession of the AGW community on CO2 and their assignment of 'costs' and claims of impending doom from CO2 are sad expensive and wrong.

Nov 10, 2011 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Richard Betts

Did the Telegraph misrepresent you in 2009?

Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said the new study showed how important it was to try and reduce emissions.

The global picture shows rainfall could decrease by 20 per cent in Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia, causing mass drought. Temperature rises in the Amazon would cause the rainforests to die, while Alaska and Siberia would see the melting of the permafrost causing more carbon dioxide to be released.

"Four degrees C of warming averaged over the globe translates into even greater warming in many regions, along with major changes in rainfall," said Dr Betts. "If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut soon then we could see major climate changes within our lifetimes."

Perhaps it did not. You did say that 2C of warming may not be as serious a problem as many claim. Proper scientific caution. You also say that, per the IEA Strategy Report, there is a strong likelihood that we will see rather more than 2C (this century, I assume?).

So why allow your words to be widely misunderstood/misrepresented on this thread without cautioning the worst offenders? I did say last night that confusion would ensue.

I absolutely do not understand what you are doing here. Can you elucidate?

Nov 10, 2011 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

@BBD: " I absolutely do not understand what you are doing here. Can you elucidate?"

I believe he's disappointing you by indicating that there is no certainty about what would happen with increased temperatures. What do you mean by:

"So why allow your words to be widely misunderstood/misrepresented on this thread without cautioning the worst offenders? I did say last night that confusion would ensue."?

Who's confused? Sceptics have been saying, quite rightly, that there are huge uncertainties involved in forecasting the future, Richard Betts has said he feels the same way, as would anyone not so totally committed to a cause as to suspend their common sense.

It seems to me that you are disappointed that he's broken ranks and not followed the party line, and after all the time you've put into cultivating us to believe you're a moderate, open minded warmist who's been persuaded by the sheer weight of evidence (none!), he's gone and blown it for you by, if not siding with the deniers, allowing that they may have a point.

If I may can I ask you the same question:

"I absolutely do not understand what you are doing here. Can you elucidate?"

Nov 10, 2011 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

geronimo

I believe I asked RB, not you. Perhaps you should not be putting words into his mouth.

Nov 10, 2011 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Richard Betts

It seems to me that you are disappointed that he's broken ranks and not followed the party line, and after all the time you've put into cultivating us to believe you're a moderate, open minded warmist who's been persuaded by the sheer weight of evidence (none!), he's gone and blown it for you by, if not siding with the deniers, allowing that they may have a point.

See what I mean?

Nov 10, 2011 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

“I even sense a change in the air concerning the BBC”

I heard one Prof Bob Watson say on the Beeb that the UEA emails were leaked. He has enough contacts to be believed, even if it was a freudian slip.

The comments about the build up to AR5 are spot on: I am reminded of a sentence in one of Le Carre/'s novels 'how could they resist this remorseless fusilade?'. The warmists did this last time with AR4, stacking their papers high and shoving them through courtesy of pal review and cowed or compliant editors. How can the blogs compete in the eyes of the cowed and compliant idiots at Westminster?

Ask your MP about the COI policy which is not going to be adopted for AR5, that's a good start. Complain about your energy bills, predict electoral wipe-out if there are power cuts or if energy rationing results from their half-baked efforts.

Not enough, though. It's as if they were hypnotised.

JF

Nov 10, 2011 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

is it just me or do I hear the sound of boats being rowed back ?

Nov 10, 2011 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

I'm puzzled.

"The most solid evidence for something with serious global implications that might happen at 2 degrees is the possible passing of a key threshold for the Greenland ice sheet, but even then that's the lower limit and also would probably take centuries to take full effect. "

Yet only yesterday, an article in the Daily Telegraph proclaimed:-

"Arctic sea ice could completely melt away by the summer of 2015, destroying the natural habitat of animals like polar bears, one of Britain's leading ocean experts has claimed."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/globalwarming/8877491/Arctic-sea-ice-to-melt-by-2015.html

Nov 10, 2011 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

It is patently absurd to declare a value of global average mean temperature as a threshold to catastrophe. For far too long, so much time, effort and money has been wasted nurturing supporting and promoting that metric as meaningful. An unfortunate legacy of the climate scientific community sold on, and formerly mesmerised in, homage to the underpinning and promotion of that doomsday environmentalist dogma.

It is hugely encouraging to witness climate science coming of age, led by rational thinking men and women putting ethics before shabby politics. Bravo Richard and Tamsin engaging here, Judith there, and perhaps others in spirit.

Climate science needs to free itself from the bondage of its anthropogenic CO2 dogma and global temperature. Looking properly at all climatic parameters and how/why they changed in the past and present and why, at the regional province rather than global average level. Take the following new paper (recently blogged on WUWT) , where it is very possible that some paradigm beyond CO2 as yet poorly understood is responsible for the dramatic temperature asymmetry between the southern and northern hemispheres.

The latitudinal presentation of temperature is so much more revealing than that awful global average, but also the contrast between tropospheric and stratospheric trends is striking.

http://www.atmos-chem-phys.org/11/10727/2011/acp-11-10727-2011.pdf

Nov 10, 2011 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

You DO know why it is called "GREENland" - right?

Nov 10, 2011 at 9:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterScuzzaMan

Charles Higley

we don't have much evidence for how life was in the UK or the USA when the Minoans were jumping over bulls... lol. I bet all the cricket matches were rained off, however.

Nov 10, 2011 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

You have to hand it to the politicians. I mean - to find a topic that will instigate endless, pointless, unresolvable debate whilst creating a new 'currency', taxation and intrusive laws that would otherwise raise merry hell amongst the populace.......

Nov 10, 2011 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterD Gill

very very true D Gill....let them eat brioche

Nov 10, 2011 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Let them eat coke

Nov 10, 2011 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

@JoePublic

It's the difference between floating sea ice and a huge icecap.

Nov 11, 2011 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterScots Renewables

Hi All

Thanks for all the comments! I'm really sorry to have been out of the loop - long day!

Just got time to quickly respond to some of the general themes - I'll try to look in again tomorrow.

First let me point out to both BBD and Stephen Richards that I wasn't "trying to do" anything with the comment I posted on the discussion thread, which BH liked so much he put it as a main topic. (Thanks BH - glad you found it a useful starter for a debate!) I just said what I thought about an issue relevant to original discussion, which was the IEA report and it's citation of the 2 degrees target. BBD, I don't see why you query my motives, I didn't say climate change isn't a problem, I just said we're too uncertain about the impacts to say sensible things about what level of warming constitutes "dangerous" and pointed out that overstating the certainty of imminent major impacts could have serious consequences. Stephen, I wasn't consciously trying to sell the need for a bigger computer, but now you mention it, yes of course we do need one in order to have any chance of significantly improving the seasonal forecasts! :-)

Geoff, Lord B, Paul Matthews and others - good idea about turning this blog post into something more mainstream. I may well try to do that. I've recently finished a chapter in an academic book which makes similar points, but that may not reach the audience you are talking about.

Jack Hughes - I didn't really have an opinion on this 10 years ago. At that time I was working on the impacts of land cover change on climate, and it was only in more recent years that I started getting into the impacts of climate change and looking into it closely myself.

Atomic Hairdryer, Justin Ert - when I said "spend too much" on adaptation I meant things like the Thames Barrier, which may need improving or replacing in due course, but we shouldn't do it before it is necessary. It will cost billions if/when it's needed, so it's important not to assume that the scary scenarios are the most likely and spend those billions too early. The Met Office and Environment Agency have worked together on this to establish a long-term flexible adaptation plan for improving the Thames Estuary flood management & defences over the next few decades. Also things like avoided deforestation in the tropics - while climate change *may* reduce rainfall in some of these areas, the more immediate threat is deforestation but it is sometimes argued "well, if climate change is going to kill the forests anyway then we may as well chop them down now!" (AH, you are right that river and pluvial flooding are already a hazard because of a number of factors including the one you mention, and more protection is needed.)

Josh: blank paper calling? Hmmm ... should I be nervous?

'night!

Nov 11, 2011 at 12:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

@RB
Thanks for all your input. Given your position in the Met Office, an organisation that has had little respect in the past from sceptics like myself, you demonstrate genuine courage, a willingness to engage in an honest way along with a clear and transparent enthusiasm for your chosen subject.
You, like Judith Curry, have set an example that should be applauded, not villified, by the broad spectrum of public debate and dissent.
Jaw, jaw <> War, War.

Nov 11, 2011 at 1:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

@Richard Betts Nov 11, 2011 at 12:38 AM

Richard,

When I first saw this headpost as a comment (wherever I saw it!), I was pleased to see that you had appeared to have unshackled yourself from the reins of IPCC[orrectness]

But the 2 degrees C meme is still rampant (viz the recent recycling of the "authoritative" - according to the 26 "leading scientists" (14 whom were amongst the stellar stable of AR4 globaliteratti) - The Copenhagen Diagnosis - which, IMHO, probably shoiuld have been called "The Copenhagen Diagnosis Dusted off for Durban"

Apart from signing up as "expert reviewers" to AR5 (which may or may not be feasible or appropriate for many of us), what would you suggest that those of us who (like you) do not subscribe to the alarmist 2 degrees C meme can do to support your efforts to bring some realism and clarity to the (for all intents and alarmist purposes currently non-existent) debate?

Nov 11, 2011 at 4:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

@ScuzzaMan
Greenland is called Greenland because Erik the Red thought that that name would attract more settlers than a more accurate name. It's an early example of false advertisement.

Nov 11, 2011 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

@Richard Tol Nov 11, 2011 at 8:16 AM

Greenland is called Greenland because Erik the Red thought that that name would attract more settlers than a more accurate name. It's an early example of false advertisement.

Hmmm ... Are you sugesting that Greenland was not greener then than it is now? What should he have called it? (And in twitter-speak would Erik have been guilty of "disinformation"?!)

Nov 11, 2011 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

"attract more settlers"

I doubt they'd have come if it had been like today, advertising or no.

Nov 11, 2011 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

BBD:"geronimo

I believe I asked RB, not you."

Forgive me BBD, it had not occurred to me that anyone would put up a post on a public blog and expect to have a private conversation.

"Perhaps you should not be putting words into his mouth."

Now I do take issue with that, I said:

I believe he's disappointing you by indicating that there is no certainty about what would happen with increased temperatures. What do you mean by:

"So why allow your words to be widely misunderstood/misrepresented on this thread without cautioning the worst offenders? I did say last night that confusion would ensue."?

Who's confused? Sceptics have been saying, quite rightly, that there are huge uncertainties involved in forecasting the future, Richard Betts has said he feels the same way, as would anyone not so totally committed to a cause as to suspend their common sense.

It seems to me that you are disappointed that he's broken ranks and not followed the party line, and after all the time you've put into cultivating us to believe you're a moderate, open minded warmist who's been persuaded by the sheer weight of evidence (none!), he's gone and blown it for you by, if not siding with the deniers, allowing that they may have a point."

Richard said:

"BBD, I don't see why you query my motives, I didn't say climate change isn't a problem, I just said we're too uncertain about the impacts to say sensible things about what level of warming constitutes "dangerous" and pointed out that overstating the certainty of imminent major impacts could have serious consequences."

Which part of "not siding with the deniers" is confusing you? He's stating the bleeding obvious to those outside the alarmist tent, that the uncertainties in a barely understood non-linear system should make us cautious as to how we approach prevention/mitigation, because the cure might be worse than the disease. That we're already seeing with green taxes on energy to subsidise technologies that wouldn't be developed otherwise. The wealthy, of course, have already cashed in by buying solar panels and benefiting from FITs.

I believe you've tried to shut Richard up on this thread because you don't want to give succour to those of us who don't believe the rubbish coming from the some people in the climate change science community (nice distinction by the way Richard) masquerading itself as science. There are, of course many people in the climate change science community who are producing scientific papers that don't agree with the Team and their associates, too many in fact for them all to be hunted down and destroyed, so the evidence is mounting daily that the Synthesis Report for AR4 is a gross exaggeration of the certainties of climate change.

Once we get to the truth of the certainties/uncertainties coming from the scientific community we can get a strategy in place that represents the response to the real dangers of global warming, if there are any.

Apologies again for interrupting your private conversation.

Nov 11, 2011 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Richard I heard that too, about Eric the Red telling porkies about Greenland being green, but I wonder when this story first surfaced, do you know?

Certainly it was common knowledge that the Vikings colonised it and farmed there, so it must have been at least as warm as parts of Scandanavia today, else they'd have stayed put wouldn't they?

Again, he may have exaggerated but why? Why would Eric want the Vikings to colonise it if it was a barren arctic waste? And why would anyone want to stay there?

The story doesn't make sense to me, I suspect we have the green post hoc response to the unfortunate fact that within the last thousand years or so Greenland had shed enough of its ice for farming to take place there. Implying that in the not too distant past the temperatures of the earth were considerably higher than today.

Nov 11, 2011 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

First the ‘scientists’:

Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, P. Kharecha, G. Russell, D.W. Lea, and M. Siddall, 2007: Climate change and trace gases. Phil. Trans. Royal. Soc. A, 365, 1925-1954, doi:10.1098/rsta.2007.2052. (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/ha02210k.html)
Paleoclimate data show that the Earth’s climate is remarkably sensitive to global forcings. Positive feedbacks predominate. This allows the entire planet to be whipsawed between climate states. One feedback, the “albedo flip” property of water substance, provides a powerful trigger mechanism. A climate forcing that “flips” the albedo of a sufficient portion of an ice sheet can spark a cataclysm. Ice sheet and ocean inertia provides only moderate delay to ice sheet disintegration and a burst of added global warming. Recent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change that could run out of our control, with great dangers for humans and other creatures.
Hat-tip: Frank K., comment to post at WUWT (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/10/only-52-days-left-get-on-with-the-dying-already/#more-50947)


Then the ‘sensationalist media’:

Over 4.5 Billion people could die from Global Warming-related causes by 2012
Hydrate hypothesis illuminates growing climate change alarm
Compiled by John Stokes
‘….
Runaway Global Warming promises to literally burn-up agricultural areas into dust worldwide by 2012, causing global famine, anarchy, diseases, and war on a global scale as military powers including the U.S., Russia, and China, fight for control of the Earth's remaining resources.
Over 4.5 billion people could die from Global Warming related causes by 2012, as planet Earth accelerates [sic] into a greed-driven horrific catastrophe.
Bibliographic reference courtesy of Brad Arnold who has an extensive resrarch [sic] background on Global Warming.’

Source: http://www.agoracosmopolitan.com/home/Frontpage/2007/01/08/01291.html
(hat-tip WUWT (loc cit) and The Daily Bayonet (http://dailybayonet.com/?p=9291))

And the ‘more responsible media’:
‘Met Office: catastrophic climate change could happen with 50 years
Catastrophic climate change could happen with 50 years, five decades earlier than previously predicted, according to a Met Office report. ‘
...
‘Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, said the new study showed how important it was to try and reduce emissions.
The global picture shows rainfall could decrease by 20 per cent in Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia, causing mass drought. Temperature rises in the Amazon would cause the rainforests to die, while Alaska and Siberia would see the melting of the permafrost causing more carbon dioxide to be released.
"Four degrees C of warming averaged over the globe translates into even greater warming in many regions, along with major changes in rainfall," said Dr Betts. "If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut soon then we could see major climate changes within our lifetimes." ‘

Source: Daily Telegraph, 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6236690/Met-Office-catastrophic-climate-change-could-happen-with-50-years.html
Hat-tip: BBD in a comment on post at Bishop Hill (http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/11/9/dangerous-climate-change.html?currentPage=3#comments)

Now the ‘cold-feet apologists’:

‘Most climate scientists* do not subscribe to the 2 degrees "Dangerous Climate Change" meme (I know I don't). "Dangerous" is a value judgement, and the relationship between any particular level of global mean temperature rise and impacts on society are fraught with uncertainties, including the nature of regional climate responses and the vulnerability/resilience of society. The most solid evidence for something with serious global implications that might happen at 2 degrees is the possible passing of a key threshold for the Greenland ice sheet, but even then that's the lower limit and also would probably take centuries to take full effect. Other impacts like drought and crop failures are massively uncertain, and while severe negative impacts may occur in some regions, positive impacts may occur in others. While the major negative impacts can't be ruled out, their certainty is wildly over-stated.’

Source: Prof Richard Betts, http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/11/9/dangerous-climate-change.html

What a pantomime! Albeit a tragic one, involving as it does so much loss of life amongst the poor, reduction in development prospects for the more fortunate, and a destructive and deliberate spread of despair amongst the young and other vulnerable groups. At least the sequence as shown, if replicated widely and quickly, contains a bit of hope that some kind of progress is being made.

Nov 11, 2011 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Truthseeker (9th Nov 9, at 10:44 PM) provided a link to another scare-monger’s article “Arctic sea ice 'to melt by 2015'” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/globalwarming/8877491/Arctic-sea-ice-to-melt-by-2015.html) even if Professor Wadhams and Dr Maslowski are correct (which is highly unlikely considering the predictions of an upcoming little ice-age) and the poor old polar bears have to start hunting on land and trading their white fur for brown it would hardly be a global catastrophe. It certainly wouldn’t justify our politicians throwing away money that we don’t have on useless wind and solar-powered electricity generating installations.

I wonder how that pair of scare-mongers will wriggle away from their wild prediction.

Best regards, Pete Ridley.

Nov 11, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete Ridley

@hro001
Yes. Erik the Red peddled disinformation.

@James P
Information was slow in those days, and migration largely irreversible.

@Geronimo
Erik the Red wanted to start a new colony for him to rule.

Also today, Greenland is more than just ice.

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Nov 11, 2011 at 10:24 AM | John Shade

Glad you see you are pleased that uncertainties are being highlighted and discussed.

For the record, I definitely did not talk about "catastrophic impacts" to the Telegraph when disussing the work they quote in the article you mention - they added that word themselves. The article is about my paper and talk on 4 degrees, and in neither of those did I discuss impacts, catastrophic or otherwise (I posted links on another thread here a few days ago). The journalist added further context to the interview in the form of material from other presentations at the same conference. When talking to journalists I do make clear the uncertainties as I did in my post above.

A key aspect of the final step in your sequence is the introduction of social media. The Telegraph article relied on the journalist's presentation of the issue in order to make a newspaper article, and while I don't think I was actually misquoted (I did say "could") I was responding to direct questions and the journalist will have decided which bits of my responses to quote. The good thing about blogging is that you can see exactly what I said myself in its entirety!

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

Richard, what is the proven ace for the story about Eric's exaggeration, do you know?

I'm not convinced about his motive of wanting a colony to rule. My take on colonies is that they are an attempt by a foreign power to get at the natural resources, or the migration of people to a better place. Clearly if the Vikings did migrate there it was because it was better than where they were. If it wasn't they'd have come home, surely?

Did I say Greenland was all ice? I didn't mean to.

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

The 4 degree meme.

Quote Dr Betts, 2009, "Four degrees of warming, averaged over the globe, translates into even greater warming in many regions, along with major changes in rainfall. If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut soon, we could see major climate changes within our own lifetimes."

Forecast (life time prediction), Met Office, 2009, "The Arctic could warm by up to 15.2 °C for a high-emissions scenario, enhanced by melting of snow and ice causing more of the Sun's radiation to be absorbed."

Basically a 10C change in Arctic temps in a life time.

So are we seeing 1C+ per decade trend increase in Arctic temperatures now, over the short term, long term, from station data, from satellite data?

The answer is NO!

So is the 4 degree meme in reality just as invalid as the 2 degree meme?

Without a doubt!

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Richard do you (and now Vicky Pope who's joined you it appear in calling for more caution in presenting scenarios) intend to stay silent when, as I expect AR5 comes up with the same disaster stories that appeared in AR4?

All but a very few scientist, climate, or climate change, stayed schtum, not many of you called for caution in using the Synthesis Report to develop policy. Yet here on this blog you've recommended a very much more cautious response and one I'd agree with wholeheartedly. In fact it's so lukewarm you appear to have forfeited the friendship of BBD! (Just kidding).

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Mac. Give Richard a break everyone makes mistakes, that's why they put rubbers on the end of pencils. Let's take it that he was responding to what would happen if the global temperatures rise by 4C, not telling us they would. Having said that he's still guessing, aka using the outputs of the models.

Nov 11, 2011 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Nov 11, 2011 at 4:28 AM | hro001

I don't think IPCC has actually formally endorsed the 2 degrees thing, has it? I know that in AR4, WG2 produced the table which attempted to show impacts for different levels of warming, but I don't think the 2 degrees meme is an IPCC line. (However if you have evidence to the contrary I'd be pleased to see it - I'm just going on the basis of the parts of AR4 that I am reasonably familiar with, including the SPMs).

As for continuing the discussion, well, I don't like to tell people what to do, but since you've asked for my opinion I will give it. My remarks that follow apply equally to people on all sides of the discussion.

Basically, try to discuss issues and argument on their own merits and don't fall into the trap of allowing preconceived ideas about people's background and motivation to cloud the issue.

Don't assume that there are certain well-defined groups who all sign up to a clear set of opinions or goals. The discussion is not between "alarmists" and "deniers", there's a whole range of opinions in between and you can't always tell who thinks what on face value. There's also a silent majority out there who don't feel strongly enough in either direction to put themselves out for public discussion (but maybe we can bring these folks out if we can make the discussion less polarized).

Be prepared to challenge extremists at either end of the range of opinions, not just the one at the end furthest from where you are. Extremists at your own end can reflect badly on you.

Be prepared to take a hit from extremists on your "own side" - if they don't like what you've said then that's their problem. Their own credibility will ultimately be damaged by undermining the moderates on their side.

Don't assume that because there are extremists on the "other side" that this means the "other side" is completely wrong. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Let bygones be bygones. There's a lot of bad feeling around because of things that happened in the past - let's get over that and move forward (and not let the same things happen again).

I could say more, but I'd recommend reading the last couple of pages of "Climategate: The CRUtape letters" by Mosher and Fuller. Their excellent summary of the situation:

Warmists: don't cry wolf!
Sceptics: there is a wolf!
All: get a grip!

Nov 11, 2011 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Betts

Geronimo

Eric the Red, it has always been my belief that the world was, knowledgeably, a lot smaller back then and when out 'adventuring' through the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic, sea and ice would be the norm. Once you came across a habital land that could support a colony you would surely let everyone know that there is a Green land in the West that can sustain farming and livestock. I personally would not call this 'over selling' as the expected population movement would have probably been in the hundreds rather than millions.

Nov 11, 2011 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

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