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After the Paul Nurse programme the other day, eyebrows were raised over one of the claims in the show, namely that emissions from fossil fuel burning dwarfed natural emissions. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

Bob Bindschadler: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It's about seven gigatons per year right now.

Paul Nurse: And is that enough to explain...?

Bob Bindschadler: Natural causes only can produce - yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year. So there's just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.

Paul Nurse: So seven times more.

Bob Bindschadler: That's right.

Aynsley Kellow, writing in the comments said that this was wrong, and so I thought I would try to clarify things by writing to Dr Bindschadler and finding out his source. This is it.

The source is the Arctic Impact Climate Assessment apparently, although I haven't actually looked for the graph in its original location yet. You can see the 7:1 ratio in the front graph, and you will also see that the graph is comparing two anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide, namely fossil fuels and land-use changes. Dr Bindschadler has agreed that this the graph therefore doesn't support the claim he made in the Horizon programme.

Dr Bindschadler suggests that the 7:1 figure is actually not that far out from the correct figure for net anthropogenic:natural carbon dioxide emissions, so the effect of the mistake is limited. We should note, however, that he was originally speaking about emissions rather than net emissions. But even if you look at the net figures I still don't think the numbers are correct. Prof Kellow has pointed me to this page at Skeptical Science, which puts the net figures at 29 GtCO2 emissions for anthropogenic and a net 17 GtCO2 (450-439+338-332) absorbtion from natural sources. For what Prof Nurse and Dr Bindschadler were actually talking about in the Horizon show, gross emissions, the 7:1 ratio for anthropogenic to natural becomes, by my reckoning 1:27 (i.e. with natural emissions completely dwarfing anthropogenic).*

So in terms of what is interesting us here, the figures in the Horizon show were clearly completely wrong, which I guess we knew. It's good to have confirmation of this though. The question is, what does this mean for Prof Nurse and the reputation of the BBC?

*Note that the Skeptical Science page is talking in terms of GtCO2 while Dr Bindshadler was talking Gt carbon, but it's the ratios we are interested in.

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    - Bishop Hill blog - Emissions

Reader Comments (108)

Your Grace..
Can you please show us the exact pages/papers and how you calculated the following statement.

" my reckoning 1:27 (i.e. with natural emissions completely dwarfing anthropogenic).*app"

This would end all arguments back and forth between AGW proponents and climate realists. :)


Feb 3, 2011 at 6:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Williams


On the skeptical science page linked above, natural emissions are 439 + 332 = 771
Anthropogenic = 29

Ratio~ 1:27

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:14 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Jeez, figures can't lie but liars can use absolutely Bullshit 'facts' in a rather patheticly skewed attempt to prove a political non event.

BTW, those 'graphs', a grade six could do better.

Gigatons, sounds like a lot..............................but on the global scale is puny.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan

I've recently been looking at this. To convert from GTCO2 to GTC, multiply by 12/44.

There is only one place (possibly two) where we can "capture," in a way, the effluent from a volcanic vent. That is Lake Nyos, where 700 million cubic feet of CO2 per year are released from solution:

Nota Bene: The 700 million cubic feet of CO2 per year figure is the amount vented by the degassing tube. The incoming volcanic CO2 is somewhat less. A minimal 187 million SCFA should be assumed, based on figures in the paper below:

These figures should be studied in conjunction with this article:

which estimates 3 million subsea volcanic vents.

Note also that these vents are relatively small compared to an erupting volcano. My calculations show about 8.1 GTC annually from the vents alone. This figure doesn't show on the NASA carbon cycle chart.

A quotation from the above site:

"...Over the course of a year, these biological fluxes of carbon are over ten times greater than the amount of carbon introduced to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning..."

Source page:

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

I'm not sure why it's assumed they were talking about gross emissions; I took their conversation to mean net emissions. If you're considering changes in CO2, which in the context they presumably were, then gross emissions aren't especially interesting.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterthing

I make it 4:1 even for the ratio of fossil fuel emissions to land use changes. AR4 Figure 7-3 pegs these flows at 6.4 GtC/yr and 1.6 GtC/yr respectively; the flows seem to derive from a 2006 paper. They seem to agree fairly well with the 2004 ACIA graph you show. The same AR4 figure shows total natural flows into the atmosphere as about 210 GtC/yr, making the fossil fuel emissions a little over 3% (not far from the 1 in 27 from the Skeptical Science site Prof Kellow cites).

In the transcript, Dr Bindschadler is quoted as saying:

Natural causes only can produce - yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year.
I read into that statement that perhaps he was referring to variation (year-to-year) of natural emissions, rather than to the total amount of natural variations, which is vastly larger. But that does not jibe with what he wrote to you. I remain perplexed.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

I asked over on
why Ward or Fiona love in did not discuss this huge error.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

A year or so ago I used IPCC figures of 23.5GTCO2/year for just fossil fuel burning and 697GTCO2/year for natural fluxes to the atmosphere. These data are close to your 1:27 ratio.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Sceptical Science is all over the shot on this. They talk at one point about total anthropogenic emissions, and in another about Fossil & cement emissions - both roughly the same figures

One of the biggies is land-use changes and is included in total anthropogenic emissions.

Further research is needed I think

Feb 3, 2011 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Nurse was right about one thing,,, science is under attack. Only it is not the AGW sceptics doing it, it's the likes of Bob Bindschadler with their preposterous spin and utterly false assertions.

Feb 3, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAutonomous Mind

The diagram on the link below is taken from the ARIC Atmosphere, Climate & Environment Information Programme website - a DEFRA endorsed teaching resource for Key Stage 4 and A-Level students in the UK. The sources of carbon dioxide show that 95% of CO2 occurs naturally.

Feb 3, 2011 at 8:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAutonomous Mind

As if there is no problem making definitive statements about Co2 in the first place, given the level of knowledge in this area, it's estimates of estimates.

It's a bit like arguing who has the most accurate number of habitable planets in the universe, whatever the number, the crucial bits are hidden in the error bars, the whole exercise can be spun any which way because it can't be proved wrong.

I can't remember the numbers, but I was given the impression a few years ago that deforestation when compared to annual crops was something like 8:1 carbon in the IPCC calculations, I'm not so sure about that, but there's absolutely no way a rain forest only has 8 times more carbon than a corn field, no way.

Then there's the local cloud effects of deforestation e.g. lower precipitation Himalayas - and we know what the IPCC thinks about that!

Feb 3, 2011 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I'm a bit worried about that graph (yes, I do read Numberwatch. ;-) ). Is it right to compare atmospheric CO2 in terms of ppm with emitted CO2 in gigatonnes? How do we know that those two scales compare fairly? Is it me or is that 3D layout hiding a suppressed zero on bottom of the ppm scale? Does the 3D style and left forward right back orientation exaggerate things? What happens if you redraw it flat and with the atmospheric CO2 converted to gigatonnes and on exactly the same scale as emissions for a fair comparison? Does it perhaps stop looking quite so conveniently scary? I may try later just to satisfy my curiosity.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterAngry Exile

These ratios are based on the assumption that only natural CO2 emissions are absorbed and that man-made CO2 emissions are not - (gross man-made : net natural)

The question is - how does Mother Nature, Gaia, the great sky fairy discriminate on that basis - what gets absorbed and what does not?

Since Paul Nurse believes that science has all the answers at hand perhaps he can answer that conundrum.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

1. The Atmospheric CO2 concentration graph is very misleading. [Not Bindschadler's fault, of course.] By choosing a baseline of 260 ppm, instead of 0 ppm, a ~30% increase in concentration is made to look like a ~450% increase in concentration. The slope of the emissions curve becomes misleadingly parallel to the slope of the concentration curve, which is made to be parallel to the temperature curve - making it brainlessly apparent to policy makers what they should conclude.

2. Notice that the decentered temp trend is Mann's hockey stick.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterjim edwards

Just more playing with numbers.

To the uninformed observer the message is unambiguous "man's impact no the natural world is massive; 7:1".

But as always the ideologically driven are trying to hide pea. In this case the pea is the fact that the issue with Catastrophic AGW is the system wide net effect - in other words how feedbacks kick in.

With a more honest explanation of the data as you have done Bishop, it would become all too obvious that there is needed only a very modest change in the natural carbon cycle needeed to nullify our (even massively increased) emissions, rather than the other way around.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

For years I and others have been reminding/winding up warmists on blogs by pointing out that termites produce more CO2 than humans, and to my knowledge no-one has ever refuted or disproved this statement. CO2 is a trace gas, which does have a greenhouse warming effect at levels up to 250-300ppm. After that it's effect is negligible, due to the law of diminishing returns or Beer-Lambert Law to be more precise. Even the IPCC and their playstation modellers agree with this, and have to rely on fictitious postitive feedbacks to create the warming. The issue is not whether continuing to burn fossil fuels will cause catastrophic climate change, because it won't, but one of resource depletion (and to some extent habitat destruction) for future generations. If the greens and so called scientists stuck to the latter argument, I would have more time for them, but they don't so they are fair game.

By the way, for any that haven't seen it, I recommend reading Dr Roy Spencer's post over at Anthony's - - also some very good comments. I went through late last night/early morning, here are my highlights:

Cochrane, February 2, 2011 at 12:11 pm. - a long one so I won't paste it here.

-=NikFromNYC=- February 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm - Why invoke natural variability when natural regularity will do, namely a smooth linear warming trend going back 350 years as directly measured by real thermometers in the world’s classic old cities? I plotted them in postcard format:
Finding these old records was the end of my interest in active debate. Neither side seemed very interested when I started posting this basic data in the days leading up to Climategate. How can history be a Hockey Stick if single site thermometer records failed to show even a hint of noticing?

And Lucy at February 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm as usual hit the nail on the head with her reminder that irrespective of increased CO2 emissions, the rise we have seen in the last 100 years is nothing unusual - and gave the link to Bob Carter's presentation - (in 4 parts - GISP data, geological record, and 6 or 7 torpedos for the Good Ship IPCC).

Bob Carter's presentation is a killer, I'd like to see Nurse's comment on that, or better still a debate/discussion between the two of them.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

For Nurse not to know enough to burst out laughing at the claim is a very sad day for The Royal.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

It would be good to have more clarity on the overall emissions/absorbtions in the CO2 cycle. I've not seen anything that points to the hypotheses, assumptions, experimental data, and calculations; surely it can't be that hard to put something comprehensible together for the intelligent layman.
As for what this does for the reputation of Nurse and the BBC - the answer is nothing. It has become clear that only an on-message AGW supporter can be president of the RS. And those of us with sceptical minds already know that the BBC is acting as a scientifically illiterate propagandist for AGW; and that the sheep who don't or can't question the orthodoxy will dismiss the misrepresentation as 'one tiny error in an hour long programme - the important thing is that the overwhelming majority of scientists etc etc'.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

The 'warmist' cause has been dealt a very severe blow by Damian Carrington at the Guardian . This new 'Mini-Monbiot', in his blog 'Will cyclone Yasi push Australia into action on climate?', has created a 'cyclone' of his own, embarrassing his usual supporters and providing a field day for 'sceptics'.
He is still there digging an ever deeper hole for himself by attempting to deny what he said a few paragraphs earlier.
All of which begs the question 'Did George Monbiot willingly hand over this poisoned chalice or was he pushed ?'

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad

What a piece of unadulterated BS that chart is. Not content with repeating the 'indication' that CO2 ppm and temp are a linear correlation they then try to show a triple correlation with Gt of CO2 - where the natural element is shown NET while the fossil-fuel is shown GROSS.

Better minds than mine have already made the point here that the effect of CO2 as a GHG is not linear, but I do hope someone with a better understanding of the multiple charting errors displayed here will take the trouble to redraw it in an honest form.

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Given that this serious error by Dr Bindschadler went completely un-noticed/challenged by Nurse and the BBC staff (oh for a return of the glory days of Horizon under Nigel Calder et al) should someone not be raising this matter with the Royal Society and the BBC?. The BBC should at least give a correction considering that Horizon is their flagship science programme, which (sadly) many viewers still look up to. Best of all would be for the BBC to allow sceptics to present the case against CO2 induced AGW - e.g. 45 minutes for the alarmists to put their case, then 45 minutes for the sceptics, then have a studio discussion with the key scientists from both sides (not the Monbiots and Dellingpoles). I think the latter part will be the problem, given that none of the Team would even turn up in Lisbon.

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Hang on, let's not get too carried away here. Bindshadler and Nurse might have been using figures in a particular way, but things might not be as radically 'wrong' as some might want to believe.

From the start - and I haven't seen the polemic, sorry, programme yet - my reading of the transcripts made me think they must have been talking about a net figure. Sure there are massive emissions from natural cycles etc. But there is also massive absorption by nature. Net? Probably a minus (absorption) figure. Whereas us buggers burning fossil fuels is a net emission, n'est pas?

We can argue about the 7:1 ratio blah, blah. But the phrase 'splitting hairs' comers to mind.

Please, please correct me if I am wrong. But surely the point was that the contribution of man-made CO2 to the increase in measured CO2 in the atmosphere is seven times that from natural cycles. This can be tracked by isotope, too, right?

Attacking the programme on the basis of something that can be seen as tenuous or hair-splitting is just going to look desperate.

I've got my hand on my coat...

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

OT but may prove interesting.
A February 2nd post by "Al" on CA details a conversation he'd had with Stephen Metcalfe MP.
Stephen was one of the MPs who voted down the Stringer amendment.
Currently, Als post has attracted little attention possibly because it's tucked at the end of a quiet thread.
I think the Bishop may find it noteworthy

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

I did remark to His Grace on the irony of Dr Bindschadler quoting the Hockey Stick at him!

For those interested in the detail of the various fluxes, according to the Koran (AR4 IPCC WG1), I refer you to Fig 7.3, which states the fluxes in GT C pa. Here you will find the following figures for anthropogenic fluxes:
Fossil Fuel: 6.4 GT out
Oceans: 20 Gt pa out; 22.2 in (A net anthropogenic sink of 2.2 GT pa)
Land use change: 1.6 GT pa out; Land sink: 2.6 GT pa in (A net anthropogenic sink of 1 GT pa).

The annual nonanthropogenic flux out is adds up to 190.2 GT pa.
The nonanthropogenic flux in is given as 190.2 GT pa
(This seems strange! The best estimate - it's in the IPCC, it must be true - is that nature is in perfect balance! Wouldn't you know it!)
The IPCC did not see fit to include Dr Bindschadler's volconoes as a separate item.

According to this figure, anthropogenic sink activity offsets half of fossil fuel emissions of 6.4 GT pa, so the net anthropogenic figure is a mere 1.7% of natural fluxes (3.2 of 190.2), if we want to talk nets rather than grosses. This is not something we should ignore, but let's at least state it accurately.

Of course, put in those terms, it doesn't frighten the children and horses. Either Bindschadler and Nurse knew this and wanted to frighten same children and horses, or were talking through their hats.

Either way, it rather destroys the point of the program, since climate science seems most under attack from Sir Paul Nurse.

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

The figures were misleading (incorrect) as I said right from the off in comments on the original thread. The effect is to ramp up the impact (alarmism).

I firmly believe this was intentional as it is easier to believe that than accept that the president of the Royal Society is utterly ignorant of climate science basics.

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Gixxerboy - I don't think it is splitting hairs. It is demonstrative of how little key people like Nurse (who are the first to defend the alarmists and their supposedly settled science from perfectly valid questioning by sceptics) know about the basics of climate science and the CO2 hypothesis assertion. If they wish to use consensus and appeals to authority to bolster their position then we are perfectly at liberty to point out their ignorance, especially when their errors are broadcast in supposedly factual science programmes like Horizon.

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

BBD - Nurse is a leftie (nothing wrong with that - I am more left than right on many issues) but as such he probably gets his understanding of climate science from The Guardian. Possibly also the New Scientist and Nature, not that they are much better. I think it was a case of genuine ignorance rather than dishonesty, but then again this is an assumption and I could be wrong.

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

One small mistake by Paul Nurse should not detract from the larger consensus that mankind is warming the globe.

One small mistake by Paul Nurse should not detract from his scientific credentials either. At least in my book.

Nurse's global warming ideas should stand or fall on their own merit, and from his CO2 idea above, and his acquiescence to the editorial decisions of the BBC, he falls.

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

NASA has a CO2 chart here:

Which I summarized here:

I figure, based on the NASA chart that man emits 3.3% of CO2, nature emits 96.7%


Feb 3, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJim Karlock

For an authoritive source on the relative contributions to CO2 emissions refer to the US Dept. of Energy report

This takes data from the IPCC's 'Scientific Basis'. See Table 3 on the 26th. 'pdf' page (Numbered page 6).

The official figure given for global CO2 production is 770 gigatons from natural sources and 23 gigatons from human activity.
Thus, 97% of atmospheric CO2 arises from natural sources.

The claim that humans produce 7 times as much as nature is simply false. In the field of climatology however, if the facts are inconvenient just make some up and the BBC is sure to broadcast it.
Still no correction from the BBC?

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBomber_the_Cat

Just ask weather Nurse was playing a scientific role in the program, or a political role. If the former then he can judged on his excellent scientific record, if the latter then he cannot.

Does he sound like he is really concerned about the science, or really concerned about the political message?

Since his position is part of the "establishment" I suspect he is only concerned with the message. Debating weather he "should know better" etc. is irrelevant, he's doing a political job, so don't expect anything different until he is told to.

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I agree with Shub. One has to assume that this was cockup rather than conspiracy. I think the bigger problem for Sir Paul is his apparent endorsement of Jones.

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:23 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

To the uninformed observer the message is unambiguous "man's impact no the natural world is massive; 7:1". - Geckko

This is straight out of the Tobacco Control playbook. You make some outrageous claim (e.g. that heart attacks fell 17% after the UK smoking ban), and ensure it gets widespread publicity. When people come along later and point out that the real figures were about 5%, and showed no change on the preceding trend, you don't retract your figures. You don't do anything at all. Because you're not trying to do science. You're just trying to plant messages in people's minds, to keep them on your side. You want Mr Uninformed Observer to tell his friends at the Dog and Duck that human CO2 emissions dwarf natural emissions by 7 to 1, and he heard it from the mouth of the President of the Royal Society, and you can't get it from any higher authority than that. And Mr Uninformed Observer will do exactly that.

Sir Paul Nurse was just doing the job that Climate Control paid him to do: to get a Big Lie out there, with all the authority of Science behind it. And he did the job very, very well.

But in the end, it'll be the death of science. Because people will eventually find out.

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to keep us informed on the climate scandal.

The roots of this scandal go very deep - dating back at least to the time when analytical results started to be manipulated from the Allende meteorite that fell in 1969 and the the Apollo lunar samples that were returned to Earth for analysis later that same year.

Former President Eisenhower warned that government science might one day become a tool of government propaganda.

That apparently started to happen almost immediately after his warning and might have continued, undetected by the public, except for Climategate.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterOliver K. Manuel

Apologies that this is off topic but something was nagging at me about Nobel Prizes for medicine, as we all know Prof Nurse has one, so surely he should remember Barry J. Marshall

who won his prize for proving that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, which was completely against the consensus of medical opinion at the time.

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered Commentermrjohn


With a more honest explanation of the data as you have done Bishop, it would become all too obvious that there is needed only a very modest change in the natural carbon cycle needed to nullify our (even massively increased) emissions, rather than the other way around.

This for me hits the nail on the head. The carbon cycle is massively complex and, as Freeman Dyson has argued for many years, deserves to be measured much better. In one interview I've found very helpful Dyson points to the groundbreaking work of Steven Wofsy of Harvard - and how it has been starved of funds because of climate science's obsession with 'modeling' rather than the much more fundamental task of measuring the fluxes in and out.

But Geckko's comment also raises a far deeper issue. Physicists have been debating the anthropic principle for years now - ever since it became clear how fundamental constants and the starting conditions of the Big Bang seemed incredibly fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life. Why, given this great mystery, is it such a stretch to think that this planet might not engineer a "very modest change in the natural carbon cycle needed to nullify our (even massively increased) emissions", as required for the development of humanity, going on from six to seven billion?

I'm not arguing for a personal creator here but from the anthropic principle. I've been dying to mention this for about twenty years, when I first became aware of the climate debate and the holes in the alarmist case.

To reiterate, we need to as Dyson says to become much more concerned with painstaking measurement. No anthropic principle lets us off the hook of that. But, as Richard Lindzen said to the House of Lords around the same time, if we have to be metaphysical, isn't it rather strange to come so far only for a tiny bit of extra CO2 to torpedo the whole show?

Feb 3, 2011 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard Drake

There is a risk of circular logic with the anthropic (or strong anthropic) argument. Just consider these statements and the slight shift from observation to hypothesis:

Things are as they are, and we are here.

We are here because things are as they are.

Things are as they are in order that we can be here.

Feb 3, 2011 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

A fourth statement is even more hypothetical:

Things are as they are in order that we can have this debate about it.

Still, we seem to like to debate. I don't rate CO2's chances of stopping us. I've long wanted to line up the anthropic and precautionary principles for a slug-fest. Thanks for the precision of your feedback!

Feb 3, 2011 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

It doesn't have to be a "conspiracy" to be doing his job pushing the "establishment" agenda. Since all the main political parties, with the exception of the odd lone voice (like Stringer) are well on the bandwagon complete with investigative blinkers, it's hardly a stretch to call it an establishment agenda is it?

Feb 3, 2011 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

The programme was intended for the public. To influence the public. Scientists splitting hairs about how to interpret the data will not do. Either human activity is producing 7 times more carbon dioxide than natural emissions, or they are not.
If they are not, then it was not a helpful thing, for Paul Nurse, in his position to say. Particularly if he was trying to gain peoples confidence in trusting to a scientific 'consensus'.

Feb 3, 2011 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterFenbeagle

Fenbeagle, agreed, it was a central moment in the film, as the 'real scientists' reasoned together to show how all the alarm was in fact justified. If at this key point a very misleading ratio was popped into the public mind, not only Bindschadler but Nurse should go into writing to say so - and on top of that the makers of the programme should. It's not just the great unwashed but opinion formers like Singh, Goldacre and Nick Cohen that will have been energised by this. Nick's been strongly on my mind ever since I saw his vehemence about the need to cut emissions at the debate between Monbiot and Delingpole at Free Word in Dec 09. He's the kind of person who should be much more aware of Martin Durkin's point of view about CO2 controls ending the African dream on the basis of very uncertain science. Surely it can't be long before some of these guys see the light.

Feb 3, 2011 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Frank Davis

Sir Paul Nurse was just doing the job that Climate Control paid him to do: to get a Big Lie out there, with all the authority of Science behind it. And he did the job very, very well.

Exactly so.

History is replete with Big Lies, which although made famous by Goebbels, were not invented by him. While I certainly can't point to the first big lie, you will have to go back before written history to find it. One that comes to mind is "Barbarians" a Roman big lie about the tribes to the north of Rome. We are now finding that they were highly skilled metal workers, putting the Romans to shame.

As for what else is a big lie, I leave it to your imagination. But as guide, I suggest the old saw of "Believe none of what you are told and half of what you see."

Another is "How do you tell if a politician is lying? Check to see if his lips are moving."

Feb 3, 2011 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

DPdlS (and many others): it's premature and counter-productive to assess Paul Nurse's motivation. What's important is that Dr Bindschadler has admitted this central claim was in error - and the fact that the error left a deeply misleading impression for those not immersed in the subject. Paul Nurse should, out of his passionately declared love for science, be extremely eager to put the record straight. If he turns out not to be so eager, then it's fair to draw certain conclusions from that. But why abuse him now. Let's wait and see.

Feb 3, 2011 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I was at the Royal Society last year when a member of the audience asked Lord Oxburgh what was the relative output of greenhouse gas emissions of man's activity compared to nature.

Answer "they are pretty small. The natural emanations from Icelandic eruptions and things like that are quite small by comparison with the total output of human beings."

I remember this because I found the answer quite surprising and delivered in a very matter of fact manner.

Feb 3, 2011 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

On the general topic of ratios, you cannot use ratios of partial numbers ie net fluxes. You can check this by looking at an end member case. Eg if the world CO2 budget were in steady state with no net gain or loss, how would you represent as a ratio the +6.4 Gt added by burning fossil fuels? 6.4 / 0.0 would be infinite. The calculation is clearly absurd.

You have to look at either the net addition compared to the total eg +6.4 Gt from fossil fuels divided by atmospheric reservoir of +597 Gt = 1/100.

Or you look at it as a ratio of the fluxes eg burning fossil fuels as a proportion of total flux = 6.4 / 200 = 1/31 (close to the 1/27).

Some interesting observations about CO2:

1. IPCC assume approximately steady state for nature but ignore huge contributions of CO2 from sub-sea volcanoes. Part of that steady state is inferred by looking at differences! And gross fluxes have uncertainties of +/20% (bounds not stated: is this 1 SD?), so for the 200 Gt per annum flux the uncertainty is +/- 40 Gt which is more than 6 times the fossil fuel contribution. Sabine (2004) gives the ranges for their estimates for some sources and sinks as -110 +/-30 Gt and +100 +/- 40 Gt. Showing ratios of net fluxes makes the numbers look scary and hides the ENORMOUS uncertainties in the flux estimates. The net human contribution is a tiny number in a very big noisy dynamic background.
2. Atmospheric flux (annual) is about 200 Billion tonnes (about 90 billion with ocean and 110 billion with vegetation/soils etc)
3. The average residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is estimated by 37 independent studies to be 5 years or so. This means that human attributed CO2 is scrubbed out pretty quickly (and if people tell you that our CO2 is different, well they need to take a chemistry course. All carbon molecules are born equal and there is no discrimination between isotopes in chemical reactions). Using the 5 year lifetime gives the total atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuel burning as 1.2%. The IPCC claims 55% of the emissions remains in the atmosphere. How? Because the IPCC assumes the residence time is 50 – 200 years.
4. IPCC ignores CO2 measures before 1961 taken by the Pettenkofer chemical method. This method has an accuracy of 1 – 3%. From 1812 to 1861 more than 90,000 measures were taken. These data show highly variable CO2 but the high values are rejected by IPCC and the lowest values are used as the pre-industrial baseline.
5. Current atmospheric CO2 estimate of the whole earth is the average of 2 measurements: one at Mauna Loa and the other at the South Pole. The Mauna Loa measurement is by infra-red and this has not been validated against Pettenkofer. Some 82% of the data from Mauna Loa is edited and ignored as it is assumed to be poor data.
6. The total carbon estimated in various places (in tonnes, just for fun!) is
a. Atmosphere 800,000,000,000
b. Soils, veg, humus 2,300,000,000,000
c. Ocean 39,000,000,000,000
d. Carbonate Rocks 65,000,000,000,000,000
7. There is more carbon in soils than the total of the atmosphere and all living matter.
8. Much of the carbon in those carbonate rocks was once in the atmosphere (as was all the fossil fuel carbon as well) and the oceans.

Feb 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

It will be interesting to see if the BBC or Nurse issue a correction. I don't recall any correction following this famous propaganda piece featuring:
1. A flawed experiment - to 'prove global warming'
2. Sir David King implying that oceans will rise 100m in the life time of an audience member's child's lifetime
3. Sir David King alleging that 'hackers' supported by mysterious agencies hacked into the CRU's mobile phones
This was on Newsnight. Not only has there been no correction, or follow up on Sir David's extraordinary allegations, but the propaganda piece is still proudly posted on the BBC site.

This is the standard the BBC maintains.

What happened to the Steve Jones probe into the BBC's scientific reporting?

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Your grace,
"One has to assume that this was cockup rather than conspiracy"

If we give Paul Nurse a free pass for a gross error, nevertheless, you have to ask where does that leave his 'killer' question for Delingpole on cancer treatment ?

Surely, if the credentialled experts made mistakes of the order of 1: 30 becomes 7 : 1 some people would distrust them, and would be right to do so.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobbo

Sorry, in my post above the Pettenkofer method was used from 1812 to 1961, not 1861 as stated.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Compare and contrast two BBC shows. Horizon, where the CO2 question is asked, repeated for dramatic effect and in error. The second, Storyville where Monckton is pilloried for misatributing a quote. Who's error shows a greater misunderstanding of the science, which is what the debate should be revolving around, not the characters.

If Nurse has been misinformed by his peers, then he may be concerned by this. But being systematically misinformed is why there's been what he sees as an 'attack on science'. We're not attacking science, we're criticising bad science. Nurse is probably not a good person to alienate because he spoke very passionately about his love for science and the correct scientific method. When he realises he may have been misinformed by his peers, he may become a very useful advocate. Given the RS's role in rubberstamping the CRU whitewashes, he's also in a position to institute a more reasoned review of the science, as Oxburgh was supposed to have done. Somehow, I can't see him being too impressed by the kind of behaviour Doug Keenan uncovered with CRU's work, or the hockey stick shambles.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

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