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« Briggs on statistics | Main | UK opinion on climate »

Full retreat?

Geoffrey Lean at the Telegraph has, somewhat belatedly, picked up on the low climate sensitivity news.

Yes, you read that correctly, Geoffrey Lean. Who will be next to turn sceptic?

The new research focuses on the arcane but crucial issue of “climate sensitivity”. This is normally expressed as the amount of warming that would eventually result from doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its level before the Industrial Revolution – something which, on present trends, we will achieve in the next few decades.

The resulting increase has long been put at between 1.5C and 4.5C (the threefold range itself gives some idea of how little is known): the best guess has been 3C, which would be likely to have devastating effects on the climate. But the latest findings – which stretch over several papers from different, well-established scientists – suggest that the rise may be towards the lower end of that big range, possibly less than the 2C danger level.

When even zealots like Lean are in retreat it's fair to say that something significant has changed. One can only wonder whether this change of tune is a function of the Economist's coverage of the issue or of what Lean's contacts are whispering to him about the Fifth Assessment Report.

Either way, this is an interesting moment for those, like Joe Romm and Keith Kloor, who laid into Matt Ridley for saying the same thing.

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Reader Comments (59)

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!

Apr 5, 2013 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil McEvoy

Are we perhaps seing the thin end of the (AGW) wedge.
As the spanisn would say "mas vale tarde que nunca"

Apr 5, 2013 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

It's difficult to tell with mr Lean, whether he is retreating or not. Did he ever managed to advance?

Apr 5, 2013 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterfenbeagle

Wow, Geoffrey Lean is now a lukewarmer. The planet will not burn up due to increased levels of CO2. We are saved, praise the wind turbines.

Apr 5, 2013 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaltesertoo

Having now read the complete article, I can only detect a slight hesitation and nothing remotely like a full retreat.
More's the pity.

Apr 5, 2013 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

And Matt Ridley writes the diary in this week's Spectator and makes plenty of jabs at the daft climate/energy policies in the UK. Good on yer, Matt. Keep it up.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Hmm - still plenty of bedwetting angst, but he's able to confess that, to paraphrase Dr Ed Cook once more, what climate scientists know for certain about climate is that they know f***-all.

Not sure about Bob Watson being 'deeply respected' by anybody though - maybe by his own family??

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:04 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Louise Gray in the Telegraph with an unusually balanced article on shale gas too. I wonder if there's been a shift in editorial policy there?

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil McEvoy

It reminds me of a strange episode, three decades ago, when they said we were going to freeze to death in the next ten years. Getting a bit of a hammering in the comments, isn't he.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Cruickshank

'Again, this is not to say, as some sceptics attest, that (co2) is innocent – the science showing that it is a greenhouse gas has been established for more than 150 years and accords with the very laws of physics'

Name those sceptics please.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernieL

I like the reference to the "arcane" topic of climate sensitivity, as though this is something which only a select few can be concerned with. The reduction in the sensitivity estimates comes directly from the fact that there has been no warming for 16 years and thus the estimates are all having to be re-calculated with that data. That is hardly arcane - that is the absolute crux of the matter.

If this is Lean in retreat, I'd hate to know what to call it if (when) he does admit that it is not worst than we thought(TM)

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

Ah the sound of nitive dissonance cogging away

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterTallbloke

I doubt this is even the beginning of the end for CAGW. Too many people has too much to lose. The alarmism is already mutating into other forms of climate scare - weird weather, tipping points, missing heat, etc.

The saga will continue to waste valuable resources and keep poor people poor in order for the apparatchiks to have the quality of life they desire.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfusedphoton

Lean has been trading shamelessly for years on his reputation as a kind of cuddly but incisive elderly hippy with a fast track to cutting-edge 'environmental' thought.

In reality, he is a supremely irrelevant, silly old sod, years past his sell-by date. And that is being very kind.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAgouts

I have a problem with some aspects of Climate Science™. To me, earnest discussion of "climate sensitivity" seem as firmly rooted in physical reality as discussions of angels dancing on pinheads.

[1] "Radiative Forcing" seems a nonphysical concept that can exist only in models, not in reality. Yet it lies at the heart of the notion that "climate sensitivity" can be computed.

The IPCC gives its definition as: "The radiative forcing of the surface-troposphere system due to the perturbation in or the introduction of an agent (say, a change in greenhouse gas concentrations) is the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus long-wave; in Wm-2) at the tropopause AFTER allowing for stratospheric temperatures to readjust to radiative equilibrium, but with surface and tropospheric temperatures and state held fixed at the unperturbed values."

(And, since the "forcing" is the hypothetical change in the balance of radiation as the result of the change in a parameter of the system, in my book it is a response and not a stimulus, so how can "forcing" be a suitable word for it?)

[2] The idea that the "forcing" is a log function of CO² change comes from fitting formulas to the results from approximate numerical models, not from analysing the physics of anything. (ref: Myhre)

[3] The concept that the the resulting change in global temperature (averaged over time and surface) is a simple scale factor multiplying the "forcing" seems to be widespread, even universal, amongst climate scientists.

This seems to me related to (and as realistic as) the commonly used explanation of the greenhouse effect, where it is assumed that global average temperatures can be used, even though T^4 black body expressions are involved, and it is assumed that the only significant energy transfers occur as radiation.

Even Science of Doom seems unimpressed by "radiative forcing". He says:

The good news is, when we get the results from a GCM, we can be sure the value of radiative forcing wasn’t actually used. Radiative forcing is more to inform the public and penniless climate scientists who don’t have access to a GCM."

To me, it is all just guesswork and unverifiable computer models dressed up to look like physics. To borrow a phrase from the IPCC Chair, it is nothing but "voodoo science". It's laughable.

Apr 5, 2013 at 11:51 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Lean has enjoyed the "fat times", the decade long "scientists" suggest, predict, project, conclude, catastrophic headline grabbing leads.

Lean now sees the fat congealing. So it is back to the tofu! Better than a weather vane, want to know which way the bread is buttered? Watch the old pros.

The times they are a changing, Lean does not have enough fat to fight for a cold April being caused by "Global Warming", it appears that he has a "TILT" on his play.

PS, GL's next article will be about how you personally have contributed to the "desperate" state of Arctic Sea Ice! (Nearest I am ever likely to get to making a prediction)

As always time will tell!

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Lest we forget:

The current temperature rise is not JUST from CO2, but from coming out of the LIA AND CO2. So even if the projected rise is 2C, once you take out the recognized, reduced power of CO2, the A-CO2 "threat" may significantly less..

If the IPCC said previously that the to-date rise was 0.74C and "most", meaning 80% (?) was CO2, or 0.59C, but now think CO2 has less power than before, it means that the to-date contribution of CO2 is perhaps 0.5C.

We fall into the warmist trap whenever we talk of rising temperatures without keeping the non-CO2 but admitted IPCC component. Fossil fuel CO2 is only part of the story, while all of the story is the McKibben McScare.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

"devastating effects on the

Is there a reference for this devasting effect of 3 degrees or can we just simulate it roughly from driving from the north to the south of England.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Isn't he a climate advisor to that sage of atmospheric physics Dame Vivienne Westwood?

It would be really entertaining watching her eat (vegan) crow

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:17 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Hmmm. I wonder if any of this change of heart / change of mind, has been stimulated by the Climategate 3 files sitting in limbo. Just a small opportunity to put your house in order before the s*** hits the wind turbine. The timing seems about right.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered Commenternzrobin

Two perspectives on the climate sensitivity problem.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Lean one way,lean the other.
They blinked.
Now push,and keep pushing until the entire stinking pile falls off the cliff.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterbanjo

As with all things political, when the wind changes direction the "middle ground" gets crowded

Well Mr Lean your present day realisation is about a decade behind what the real world actual observational data has been telling you, had you chosen to look. But no, you chose the "virtual reality" of the "infallible model projections", resulting in the nonsensical claim of an "infallible virtual projection"

Welcome home Mr Lean, jump in the water it is fine, hasn't changed much in the last decade, temps still the same and the level, is still just about half the way up a duck.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:48 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

If you tell lies you will always be caught out. It really is that simple. The important point that now needs to be addressed is how far the climate science voodoo cult has infested real science. Human progress has only been due to the application of the scientific method; everything else is bullsh*t.

Apr 6, 2013 at 1:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

I force myself to read Mr Lean's column every week - know thine enemy.
I would love to be present at a conference with Lean, Booker and the DT editor discussing facts about CAGW and energy policy.
Does poor Lean have any facts?

Apr 6, 2013 at 2:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

Yes, the Retreat from Copenhagen continues, with the Green Army shedding followers at a rate only matched by Napoleon in 1812 as shown in the iconic Minard graph.

Apr 6, 2013 at 4:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

From Lean's article: "Long lulls have occurred before, only for temperatures to resume their relentless rise."
I'm not sure who's telling him this, because it doesn't appear so to me. Looking at the 15-year trends for major non-satellite global temperature indices (GISS LOTI, HadCRUT3, HadCRUT4, NCDC), the only time since the 70s when the OLS trend was anywhere close to the current value, was a brief interval around 1979-94, when the cooling effect of Pinatubo artificially lowered the trend. ["Artificially" can't be the right word for a natural event, but the eruption was not part of any meteorological cycle.]

Still, I think that Lean is getting closer to a realistic picture. Black carbon has more effect than had been attributed, although Lean does not mention land use effects which also contribute; the sensitivity to greenhouse gas is less than previously thought; and a natural climatic variation enhanced (~doubled) anthropogenic effects in the 80s/90s and is counteracting them at the present.

Apr 6, 2013 at 4:40 AM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

"We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the last."

Charles Mackay, 1841

Apr 6, 2013 at 5:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay,1841

CAGW -- a macédoine of the South Sea bubble, astrology, witch hunting, the Philosopher's Stone, etc etc

Apr 6, 2013 at 5:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

A madness of the herd, stampeded by fear, fleet-footed by guilt, guided by greed, made tragic by the lust for power.

Apr 6, 2013 at 6:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I am just reading, "the Age of Global Warming- a History" by Rupert Darwall. I'm about a fifth of the way into it, but certain facts are already apparent. The most important thing so far is that the likes of Lean truly believe that Mankind is a cancer on Gaia, an awful aspect of evolution which should never have happened. C.S. Lewis dealt with this in, "That Hideous Strength". In the '60's such people were postulating that the Earth was getting colder because of the release of air-borne particulates caused by industrialisation which would lead to another Ice Age - it was all Man's fault. Remember acid rain anyone? The slight warming of the '80's and '90's was also entirely due to the action of Man upon Gaia as we know only too well. My point is that Mr. Lean and Mr. Hansen et al are not recanting, they are adjusting their positions. The onslaught upon Mankind will be renewed from a different tack.

I recommend the book . It's as near a dispassionate record of the politics of global warming as one is likely to see.

Apr 6, 2013 at 6:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Lohse

"And eight of the nine hottest years on record have still all occurred since 2000..."

What a peculiar cherry to pick.

Apr 6, 2013 at 7:08 AM | Registered Commentermatthu

The global warming saga is a classic example (and admitted as such) of a story that is ben trovato (lit. well-found).

In other words, it is appropriate even though untrue, a happy invention for those behind its inception, an idea in sync with the Western zeitgeist, and it will be a long and slow process before the West fully realises that it has been sold a pup.

Apr 6, 2013 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

The "science" is well and truly settled! It has been so for years and years - I remember Gordon Brown telling me I was a flat-earther, because the "science" was settled.

Well done Gordon "the science is settled" Brown - you only bankrupted the country and your successors aren't doing any better.

Apr 6, 2013 at 8:04 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Mr. Lean has made a journey from "It's worse than we thought" to "It is not quite as bad as we thought."

There will not be any policy reversals based on that short trip. There is so much more work to do.

Apr 6, 2013 at 8:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Rupert Wyndham posted a comment on the Lean article in response to Piers Corbyn. Have you seen his eloquent letter to Nurse at Jo Nova?

Apr 6, 2013 at 8:17 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Yes, I agree Jack. No doubt Geoffrey has retreated a little, and of course he cannot dispute what the data shows anymore. However until the Climate Change Act and suicidal ramp ups in the carbon floor price are repealed, and loony goings on such as Drax being converted from coal to wood chips (mostly imported from the U.S.), we cannot let up. In the meantime we sure can have a little toast at this juncture that the divergence between models and reality and invalid estimations of climate sensitivity to plant food are finally being acknowledged by some quarters within the mainstream media.

Apr 6, 2013 at 8:25 AM | Unregistered Commentermyrightpenguin

"But if the new research is right, it might be held below this ominous threshold after all, if determined worldwide action is taken."

As with so many calling for "determined worldwide action" as nothing disastrous continues to happen, they must constantly recast their assertions so that there's a chance we can save mankind if we act immediately.

High sensitivity combined with the current hiatus are a blow to predictions. Lower sensitivity now becomes their best hope at getting something done.

Apr 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered Commentermrsean2k

"CAGW -- a macédoine of the South Sea bubble, astrology, witch hunting, the Philosopher's Stone, etc etc"

Apr 6, 2013 at 5:21 AM | Rick Bradford

I applaud such a wonderful use of English to create such a metaphor. And it reminds me, I haven't enjoyed macédoine for years! Well said!

Apr 6, 2013 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

As someone living in Scotland, I'd add the Darien scheme and "100% renewables" to that list of Rick Bradford's.

Apr 6, 2013 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Richard black was obviously more intelligent than we gave him credit for. He jumped off before the ship started sinking.

Apr 6, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterme

Full retreat? No. It looks more like hedging his bets, rather like I considered the recent Economist article. Only worse.

Lean still doesn't get it. He writes:

"None of this justifies the frequent claim by climate sceptics that global warming has stopped, and may now reverse. Long lulls have occurred before, only for temperatures to resume their relentless rise."

While temperatures don't rise as the models predict, then the models are not good enough whether the general "trend" is up, down, or sideways. Long lulls have indeed occurred before: It is called natural variation.


Apr 6, 2013 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I've no time to read the article so I'm very happy to take the Bish's word for it and to spread the optimism. Of course it's a big shift for Lean to be talking lower sensitivity, following The Economist. I also think Martin A is right to probe the foundations of the concept and find them wanting. But it's the best we have - or that the IPCC has. Such wobbly words won't directly lead to radical changes in policy but, little by little, the the extinction of the human race seems to be off the menu. So many fears and irrationalities can only be corrected bit by bit. Too many egos on the line. The Bish is right that something significant has changed.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:31 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The Telegraph's Bloviator-in-Chief must have choked on some of the words he has been forced to write. Still manages to come across as one of the world's biggest tossers. Tragic when he was in full flow. Pathetic in retreat. What is truly unbelievable is that we are commenting on the mindless drivel of this cretin.

PS might not have made it crystal clear I don't think much of this chap.

Bish feel free to snip. Just had it with these twonks.

Apr 6, 2013 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

Apologies for a second posting but thanks to Phillip B for the reference to Rupert Wyndham. No better way to illustrate the chasm that separates Geoffrey Lean from talent.

Apr 6, 2013 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

It's a start at least, and from one of the most alarmist of the alarmists to boot. I see also in today's DT that dear Louise has written a half decent article on shale gas. Something seems to be on the move here.

Apr 6, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterANH

How about slightly negative, superimposed on substantial cooling from solar effects? Low EUV causing jet streams to move and low magnetic field causing more clouds. This being superimposed on the cooling 30 years of ENSO. -1.5 K from recent temperatures perhaps?

We are already back to the 1980s.

Apr 6, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecm

Great minds thinking alike?

'Abdussamatov says the Earth has had a negative energy budget since 1990, but that the oceans have been able to compensate with its stored energy. But the Russian scientist now says that’s over. Bild writes:

Beginning around 2014 the average annual temperature will begin to drop, and by 2050 it will be about 1.5°C cooler than today when the low point is reached. Also the water temperature in the world’s oceans will fall about 1°C.”'

Apr 6, 2013 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Lean, is a slob journo and they love a free ride, full of pompous cant, of left wing dogma and doubtless a refugee of ban the bomb agitprop [Russia's little helpers].

I am fed up of his claim about "150 years" [surprisingly he didn't mention Arrhenius] - whatever.

But the point is moot - yeah............. so what CO2 is a GHG. All atmospheric gases are GHGs, the warming scam is predicated on the false notion that somehow mankind's puny addition - is the cause of runaway 'global warming'.
That's the claim, that's his [Lean's] claim - yeah cos he should know.......... Svante Arrhenius, Ludwig Boltzmann, even probably Pythia of Delphi told him so. That's the BS [CAGW] and although Lean comes across fairly sober in this [again] miserable piece - he's still the green agenda obsessed water melon - just as he ever and always was.

God spare us all, from knuckle headed Socialist card carriers and green loons like Lean, one of the last of the dinosaurs, sub species - slob journos.

Apr 6, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Several points:
1) The case from Hansen et al has never been opposing CO2 alone. The attack has been on "Business As Usual" (BAU) The CO2 is a proxy for industrialized civilization.

2) The case has never been that "humanity" is a blight upon Gaia. The attack has been upon Western Free Market Industry (BAU). Efforts to tax and regulate CO2 offer a proxy for governments to control Industry.

3) The case has never been that Industrialized nations would reap the whirlwind of catastrophe from the seeds sewn of the winds of change. Ever and always the greatest calamities were to fall on the farthest and poorest, the cutest and cuddliest, the bears of the poles and the whales of the circum-antarctic oceans, the natives of Tuvalu and the impoverished malaria-sufferers of an expanded tropics. The attack has been to obligate the wealth of industry to the needs of the unproductive. Hence, Kyoto.

4) And today Anthony Watts makes clear data (which must be suspect, considering the source) that the productive industrialized United States has MET the CO2 goals set by the proposed Kyoto Accords, even while never ratifying the treaty nor accepting the premises of the proxies (CO2, climate, or obligation to the non-industrialized nations and endangered species of non-territorial areas.)

BAU accomplished the stated goal desired by SOME, though not all, of the market forces in play. The stated overt goal was reduction in CO2 and the forces of the invisible hand as manifested in the market and democratic action (BAU) delivered the goods to specification. The customer is always right, even when he's wrong.

The PROBLEM now is twofold. The covert hidden project of taxing and controlling CO2 and BAU has been subverted by this accomplishment. And, the product -- happy polar bears, stable beaches -- no long seems to require the insurance (or lucky charm or snake oil, whatever it was) being offered. Why do we need the UN and the IPCC if BAU is on the job?

A whole bunch of activists seeking UN control over BAU are going to have to completely rethink the approach to their goals. New proxies, new disaster forecasts, new treaty proposals, and probably new spokesmen.

Apr 6, 2013 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterpouncer

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