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« Defence of the realm | Main | Yeo makes the big time »
Friday
Jan312014

Walport the soothsayer

Listen to this interview with chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport in which he describes the relationship between extreme weather and climate change (link below).

...we know that, statistically, in those parts of the world where there is rain there will be more rain, we know that as water levels rise there will be more flooding...

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, unmitigated tosh. We "know" nothing about future rainfall. We have a hypothesis coming out of a very iffy set of computer models. This sort of claim, made without even the merest hint of uncertainty, is why people are so suspicious of the utterances of chief scientific advisers.

Walport on Nicky Campbell show

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Reader Comments (51)

On Any Questions last night someone asked about about the handling of the Somerset flooding. There was no query about the causes of the flooding, but three of the panelists: Lord Oakshott, Labour's Emily Thornberry, and comedian, feminist, Goth, Kate Smuthwaite all gratuitously linked the flooding to climate change and the fact that extreme weather events are a result of climate change. Lord Oakshott was especially strong in voicing his belief in this link. Huge applause from the Norfolk audience, I'm afraid.

Ken Clarke was the only rational panelist in this debate, saying it was simply one of those things that happen every hundred years or so, but the approbiumn that followed his suggestion painted him as some form of eco-vandal.

Jan 31, 2014 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

It is also unmitigated stupidity. Has the man, along with his boss Davey, and his ultimate boss Cameron, not learnt that sloppy talk like this leads to demands for climate reparations as happened at the Warsaw conference last November?

If Walport has the courage to come to this site to see what we are writing about him, then my recommendation is

PLEASE, PLEASE, PUT YOUR BRAIN IN GEAR BEFORE OPENING YOUR CAKE HOLE

Jan 31, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterColin Porter

Colin Porter:

Correction - delete CAKE insert CACK

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Capell.

Lord Oakshott, as has been shown, is one of the really nasty LibDems. As to the audience: well it does seem that the BBC consistently attract, or select a left wing crowd. I just wish sceptics like Ken Clarke. would quote the IPCC when connecting weather to CAGW: rather than trying to busk the answer. No politician on the left dare disagree with the IPCC, dare they.

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Blaming climate change is really convenient for the avoidance of blaming officials for their lack of preparedness for even slighly anormal weather. Radio 4 this morning had on a very articulate Somerset farmer who told us that the local drainage authority used to regularly dredge the rivers and there were no floods. When the Environment Agency took over they stopped dredging and sold all the machines for scrap and so now it floods regularly. Even if they want to dredge they can't until they get more machines.

And of course the secondary game is to tell us we shouldn't be building on flood plains in the first place, with Chris Smith of the EA loftilly reminding us that the flooded areas in Somerset are all on reclaimed land anyway. It seems the Environmental Agency decided early on that voles, newts, toads etc are more important than people and that the people should just move on and/or stop bitching.

This of course mirrors all the other treehugger quangos and planning authorities who will not allow building on anything that has not been already built on - so we have a huge housing shortage and consequent ridiculously high prices that results in us spending much of our hard-earned income paying ridiculous mortgages.

I'm all for environmental protection but we need authorities that put people first, not the trees or the voles.

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

This one is more of a disappointment than the last one.

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

It wouldn't surprise me if at the interviews for Chief Scintific Advisor, the applicants are asked if they are fervent believers in CAGW. It wouldn't surprise me if, when taking up office, they sign a contract saying they will promote climate CAGW at every opportunity, regardless of the evidence. No doubt an elevation to a peerage is also dangled before them.

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

At the moment he seems to be on a national tour spreading the news of imminent catastrophe.

A couple of days ago it was Manchester's turn, "Catastrophic threat to humanity: Government science chief's climate change warning on Manchester visit".

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:34 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

"we know that as water levels rise there will be more flooding..."

Can't argue with that really. Equally, as water levels fall, there will be less flooding.

So the real nonsense is in the preceding bit - "we know that, statistically". Nope - we can infer from this, but can't know.

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Flannery : Walport is just Flannerising
..scaremongering predictions without any evidence.
Show us your PROPER evidence otherwise scaremongering and magic solutions is just QUACKERY

- Even before Shermer popped up last week I had been thinking we should use this word quack more it is is entirely appropriate and also in the way they keep quacking, listen out for the distinctive call of the eco-quak
quak quak - flooding, flooding
quak quak - warming, warming
quak quak - ice melting, ice melting ..polar bear, polar bear, ..sea level risising, tiny islands dying, quak, quak
quak quak - all going to die
quak quak - think of children
...and then quak solutions
quak quak - wind power, wind power, "zero" emmission ..energy for "free",
quak quak - solar PV, solar PV, "zero" emmission,..energy for "free"
quak quak - for free, for free .."we are new, can we have a massive subsidy ?"
quak quak - need electric car, electric car, "zero emmission", can swap batteries, quak, quak, gimme a subsidy
..you can just imagine them lining up at some 19th century American street carnival, hyping up some infirmity that doesn't really exist and then flogging magic solutions to cure it

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:40 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"we know that as water levels rise there will be more flooding..."
..if water level is rising faster than the land is rising
..and in other areas yes there will be flooding cos the land is sinking
..it all depends on the CHANGE in the speed of sea level rise ..yet the actual statistics are rarely chanted implying they are not that terrifying

Jan 31, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

At least Walport didn't try to suggest we in the UK had been getting the wrong type of rain as Chris Smith head of the Environment Agency suggested last year:

http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/a-new-kind-of-rain/
http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/forecaster-bill-giles-tells-lord-smith-its-not-a-new-kind-of-rain-its-completely-normal/

Like, Yeo, Walport does appear to have Special Needs when it comes to climate, meteorology and statistics.

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:00 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Since the PM was forced to publically announce that lack of dredging was responsible for what happened, it has been inevitable that the watermelons would be launching a full on spin attack to get their message out that it is CAGW and only CAGW to blame and that the solution lies with their particular ideology. As usual, the BBC is their main propaganda outlet.

As soon as Drainage Boards were subsumed by an Environment Agency, flooding was inevitable. In time the waters will recede, and the pledge to dredge the rivers and clean out the ditches will be quietly forgotten, unless responsibility is returned to bodies whose remit is to keep areas drained.

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterNW

We should not expect too much of Walport. He is but the latest in a long line of stooges selected by, or advocated by, senior civil servants.

I suspect these people are well known as people who will follow the agenda without making waves, in other words useful idiots. After all, nobody wants a chief scientific advisor who reads or thinks or dares to decide for himself having properly read the evidence for and against.

Its still a bit of a dissappointment that Walport has not read the IPCCs AR5 before he opens his mouth.

I think the title is wrong, he should be 'High Priest of the Settled Science'.

As a retired one time drainage engineer in East Anglia I have been horrified, for several decades, with these crazy ideas about planting reeds and placing obstacles in drainage channels, not dredging and promoting flooding in the name of biodiversity, climate change, etc.

At least on the Somerset Levels the people on the ground know the truth - that maintenance of rivers is necessary to avoid flooding - simples.

William Baird

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Baird

@JamesG - 10.15

It's much worse than you paint it. English Nature as was in 1997 decided winter water tables should be maintained at a high level to support wading birds migrating from Europe. Saturated land + more water = flood. Much of the drainage from the Levels and Moors requires pumping up into the high level carrier rivers, before it drains into the sea when the sluices in the sea wall are opened on a falling tide. If the carrying capacity of the rivers are not maintained, the land remains flooded for much longer - by default. Much of the flood management policy has been decided behind closed doors by the usual misanthropic suspects without reference to the populace.

This is as severe a case of maladministration as you will see - and a wildlife crime to boot. Things what swim or fly might have some chance of escape but them what can't are all dead by now. Than includes much of the soil biota, which on the whole prefers more or less aerobic conditions to anoxia.

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterfilbert cobb

- Dr Walport's Magic Climate Medicine ..quack quack

..now on his travelling roadshow..... peddling his wares to innocent children

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:23 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

- Dr Walport's Magic Climate Medicine ..guaranteed to cure future climate catastrophe in 100 years time
.... special bargain price to you : tripling of energy prices and export of industry and jobs abroad

(as used in 1850, and since there was no catastrophe in 1950 that proves it works !)

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:28 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

> We "know" nothing about future rainfall. We have a hypothesis coming out of a very iffy set of computer models.

Walport addressed that point, in a part of the interview that was mysteriously not broadcast. Here's what he said.

"The same computer models failed to predict the lack of warming for 17 years. Obviously, the models would not get BOTH temperature and rainfall wrong. So, we should trust them for rainfall."

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterSara Chan

@ Philip Bratby

Yes they do, officially, although specifically. One just needs to watch a few episodes of "Yes Minister", will enlighten, Sir Humphrey & his boss discussing new appointments to senior Guvment adviser positions, they often include the expression...."of course the suitable candidate must be sympathetic towards the governments policy on......" fill in the blanks! Guvment advisors are never the best people for the job, they are politicos themselves, the adviser position has the Gong already in place one becomes Sir/Dame by default, it's largely an honorary post for being jolly good boys & girls!

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Sara, did you make that up? Naughty.

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

...we know that, statistically, in those parts of the world where there is rain there will be more rain, we know that as water levels rise there will be more flooding...

Has Walport forgotten that a few years ago all the CAGW enthusiasts were talking about droughts and water shortages - in Britain. Next time we get a long spell of hot, dry weather (let's hope it will be this summer) we can be certain that the CAGW crowd will claim that it is the result of global warming.

In all climate-related matters we can be sure that whatever the question, the answer is global warming caused by man-made CO2 emissions.

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

JamesG and filbert cobb

I heard the following in a radio programme:

The Environmental Agency is in a cleft stick, being subject to European Union rules that require it to conserve habitat for fauna, as well as, or perhaps rather than, conserve the value of land to humans.

I would not regard the source as reliable or, on this occasion, biased.

The veracity and details of all this will be better known in the Somerset levels, I suppose. An opportunity for UKIP?

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

JamesG

"a very articulate Somerset farmer"

That was Michael Eavis, of Glastonbury fame. He knows about rain!

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:16 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

steveta_uk, it was intended as sarcasm! I obviously forgot about Poe's Law.

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSara Chan

Uncle

"habitat for fauna"

I'm not sure if cows qualify as fauna*, but killing off all their grass is pretty unhelpful. Law of unintended consequences and all that...

*Apparently, they do.

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

And yet it wasn't that long ago they were all moaning about droughts and water shortages: Also due to climate change apparently. Some of the anti-fracking clods forgot to change their propaganda from drought to flood, telling us that we couldn't frack in the South-West because it was a drought-stressed area. I hereby predict drought will occur again in a couple of years and they'll change their story again and the memory-challenged media still won't manage to smell the BS.

What causes our weather extremes is jetstream meandering. What it is going to do, nobody knows. The Met office used to not only know this, but teach it too.

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The estimable Mr. Pile has a piece on the less than estimable Sir Walport over at Spiked.

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/scientific-adviser-or-court-jester/14592#.UuuRbxDV8UY

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

If I energy saving light bulb can I make it stop rainning

Jan 31, 2014 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I even heard someone on telly today (my flabber was so gasted that I didn't note his name or title) stating quite matter-of-factly that: 'sea levels were going to rise a metre by 2100, so flood defences (e.g. for the Somerset Levels) needed to be improved'...
Oh, yes they are - someone has said so, so its fact...

Jan 31, 2014 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

I have lived in the South West, yeah it does get a bit wet and on occasion it is very, very wet.

I've lived near to London and yeah it too does get a bit wet on occasion despite the EA telling me not so long ago that the south east was as arid as an area such as the middle east.

Now, I am living in the North East of England - we've had quite a wet winter but nothing extraordinary, so no records broken yet - give it time - that's what they are there for - to be broken. This is Britain, where the grass is always greener [yes I know about NZ too].

And Walport? Ferk*n heck, he is an embarrassment. Oakshot, is a libdem botherer with an ovine tendency and said Nick Campbell programme was unalloyed propaganda.

Jan 31, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Judith Curry, testifying to the US Senate this month:

"In the U.S., most types of weather extremes were worse in the 1930’s and even in the 1950’s than in
the current climate, while the weather was overall more benign in the 1970’s. This sense that extreme
weather events are now more frequent and intense is symptomatic of ‘weather amnesia’ prior to 1970.
The extremes of the 1930’s and 1950’s are not attributable to greenhouse warming and are associated
with natural climate variability (and in the case of the dustbowl drought and heat waves, also to land
use practices)."

http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=07472bb4-3eeb-42da-a49d-964165860275

Jan 31, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

Capell, did you mean "Question Time" from Norwich? (I stopped watching the programme years ago. I consider it the political equivalent of cock-fighting or badger-baiting).

I did a quick search on-line and found Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian (yes, I know) giving the brief report


"Ken Clarke says he is not an expert in drainage. This is a freak occurrence. Climate change may be making this worse. This furore, "lynch mob stuff", we are seeing in Somerset is not helpful, he says.

(Oops. That's the Tory vote in Somerset down the drain.)

11.08pm GMT

Lord Oakeshott says it is "pretty shocking" that a climate change denier, Owen Paterson, is in charge of this.

Ken Clarke says the little egret is now a common bird in the UK. (He's a bird watcher.) You used to only see it in France.

11.11pm GMT

Emily Thornberry says climate change is clearly a factor. It is not necessarily global warming."

Which doesn't sound so bad. Considering that Norwich is the epicentre of UEA-CRU, it's probably a good sign that the audience wasn't far worse.


Back on-topic, per the English language, I'll grant Sir Mark Walport that any given flood is indeed usually associated with raised levels of water. And yes, sometimes rainy places do occasionally get even more rain. That is one way of knowing that you live in England.

Now if he can cite some sources as predictions for his quotes, and then some facts, then Walport will have reached the starting line for the 'grown up debate' he claims to want. He will have also started his own education on the matter.

Jan 31, 2014 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

According to The Times today:
"Farmland in parts of the Somerset Levels should either be abandoned to nature or converted to less intensive forms of farming that can cope with regular flooding, wildlife groups claim." ...
"The RSPB and the Somerset Wildlife Trust, which own several thousand acres of the Levels, issued a statement yesterday calling on the Government to limit the amount of dredging and to “plan and enable land-use change to provide more space for water”." ...
"A senior member of one wildlife group said: “The Levels could be the Camargue or the Everglades of England. But we cannot say that publicly because people there are understandably very angry and upset.”"

Jan 31, 2014 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptical Chymist

Soooo. They REALLY REALLY honestly expected much more flooding, yet did nothing to mitigate it...

Incompetence or lying or both?

Jan 31, 2014 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

The wettest January on record

So obviously a hose pipe ban this summer

Jan 31, 2014 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Michael Hart
Yes, I did mean Question Time. Much the same as Any Questions really.

Oakeshott did bluster quite a lot. Words to the effect: "I believe in climate change, and honestly how much more evidence do we need, we've been having far more variability with the weather, and far more problems caused by climate change . . . we've just had the wettest January ever [sic]".

You're right, perhaps I should stop watching.

Jan 31, 2014 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

The EA had a very good flood engineer in Kingfisher House ,Peterborough but he left in late 90s to go to The Church Commissioners . Part of the problem is the lack of good engineers in the EA, most design work is done by outside companies. http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/

Wolport is a medical doctor and very few are going to have the maths to understand complex non-linear systems and statistics . I suggest the sort of maths skills required to understand weather/climate are of the type possessed by Freeman Dyson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson

Jan 31, 2014 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

"This sort of claim...is why people are so suspicious of the utterances of chief scientific advisers."

Unfortunately, all too many half-wit MPs (and Lords) accept this tosh without question.

Jan 31, 2014 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

The EA had a very good flood engineer in Kingfisher House ,Peterborough but he left in late 90s to go to The Church Commissioners . Part of the problem is the lack of good engineers in the EA, most design work is done by outside companies. http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/

Wolport is a medical doctor and very few are going to have the maths to understand complex non-linear systems and statistics . I suggest the sort of maths skills required to understand weather/climate are of the type possessed by Freeman Dyson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson

Jan 31, 2014 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Perhaps Sir Nurse means that he 'knows' in the biblical sense; i.e. he really gets off on unusual weather, (helped by complete amnesia regarding past weather events).

Jan 31, 2014 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

my bad! I typed a dismal response and posted it in the wrong thread. My apologies.

Jan 31, 2014 at 6:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

...we know that, statistically, in those parts of the world where there is rain there will be more rain, we know that as water levels rise there will be more flooding...

If we have a dry summer he'll say that in those parts of the world where there is rain there will be less rain.

In short, man made climate change will cause the weather you don't want to increase and the weather to do want to decrease.

Jan 31, 2014 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Charlie

You make a very good point. I've noticed that gaining a little scientific knowledge to some people, especially physics when this is not their speciality, enbues them with a false authority and confidence, like what some people are like on the old cocaina. The problem is that it is just too hard to explain to such people how methodical, tiresome but ultimately rewarding doing science, applied science and engineering is.

Dyson would understand it's a long road.

Actually it reminds me of weightlifting, something I've been doing for a few years now. You can't shortcut it, it takes dedication and you need to lift heavy, big compound movements. Not sit staring in the mirror doing bicep curls. That's basically what these guys are doing - getting the "pump" of climate science.

Jan 31, 2014 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

A little bird from Downing Street told me that Smith's job as chairman of the useless Environment Agency is being advertised.

Jan 31, 2014 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

posted this on an earlier thread but relevant here also -

from - http://www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/chief-scientific-adviser

"The Government Chief Scientific Adviser

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A key function of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser is the responsibility towards the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to ensure that the best science and engineering advice is brought to bear effectively on Government policy and decision-making.

The office is supported in this by the Government Office for Science and by the network of Chief Scientific Advisers now in place in all major science-using departments. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser also work closely with the economic, statistical, social research and operational research professions.

Another crucial part of the role is to work with Ministers, the scientific community and the media to ensure that the scientific method, risk and uncertainty are understood by the public. This is especially important at present given the misunderstandings around climate change."

wonder what his remit/agenda might be ?

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

dougieh

Never mind HIS agenda - if he's contracted to "ensure that the best science and engineering advice is brought to bear effectively on Government policy and decision-making" then dismissal would be appropriate at the very least for incompetence, and with any more scientifically illiterate outbursts, misconduct.

Why should we pay the wages of this fool?

Jan 31, 2014 at 11:58 PM | Registered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

Roy @ 11:52
" Next time we get a long spell of hot, dry weather (let's hope it will be this summer) we can be certain that the CAGW crowd will claim that it is the result of global warming."

Roy, you don't have to wait; just look across the pond. Obama has pointed to the drought in California as the reason he will bypass Congress and use executive action to address the impending disasters of Climate Change. (Ignoring of course the actions of the greens to restrict water flow from the Sierras in order to save an "endangered" small fish - a smelt if I recall correctly.)

Feb 1, 2014 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis
Feb 1, 2014 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Chief Scientific Officers have a poor track record.
Lord Cherwell was Churchill's in the War, and declared that Germany could not have rockets as we could not build them: he though the photo-reconnaisance pics of V2s were 'barrage balloons', shortly after they rained down on London.

Then we have Sir David King who stated that in 100 years from now the only habitable continent would be Antarctica!

I am hoping to listen/ask questions of Walport in Bristol on Tuesday evening. 6pm at the At-Bristol Centre Anchor Rd.

Feb 1, 2014 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterphilip Foster

The itinerary for Walport's "roadshow" is here:
http://sciencecentres.org.uk/events/MarkWalport/index.php

Feb 7, 2014 at 11:21 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

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