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The lukewarmer meme

The talking point this morning is going to be the history of the use of the term "lukewarmer" at the Making Science Public blog. It focuses on its appearances in the mainstream press, and thus misses the older history, going right back to the late John Daly. Nevertheless it's fun to see the way the term crept into the legacy media after doing the rounds of new media for years beforehand. 

It would have also been interesting to juxtapose the term against the responses from the mainstream, principally the use of the d-word. Mind you, in the era when even President Obama is casually referred to as a climate denier for not toeing the green line, you can see that you are dealing with desperate attempts to smear rather than to enlighten.


The Vatican blinks

Anthony is reporting rumours that the Vatican just blinked on climate change.

Word has it, according to Vaticanist Sandro Magister, Pope Francis has decided to postpone the publication of his long-awaited encyclical on the environment. The reason, according to Magister, is that the Pope realized that the document in its current state had no chance of receiving the approval of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under the leadership of Cardinal Gerhard Müller.

Mind you, once one realises the horrors that climate change policy is dishing out in the developing world, the Pope should probably be shuddering, as well as blinking.


Science is often flawed

That is the message of this long piece at

Recently, the conversation about science's wrongness has gone mainstream. You can read, in publications like Vox, the New York Times or the Economist, about how the research process is far from perfect — from flaws in peer review to the fact that many published results simply can't be replicated. The crisis has gotten so bad that the editor of The Lancet medical journal Richard Horton recently lamented, "Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue."

That science can fail, however, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. It's a human construct, after all. And if we simply accepted that science often works imperfectly, we'd be better off. We'd stop considering science a collection of immutable facts. We'd stop assuming every single study has definitive answers that should be trumpeted in over-the-top headlines. Instead, we'd start to appreciate science for what it is: a long and grinding process carried out by fallible humans, involving false starts, dead ends, and, along the way, incorrect and unimportant studies that only grope at the truth, slowly and incrementally.

I'm not sure that this is meant to apply to climate science though.



Sir Paul's new politicking

With his time at the helm of the Royal Society winding down over the rest of the year, Sir Paul Nurse must have been starting to wonder how he could continue his work as a political agitator once he no longer had access to the Royal Society's pulpit. News today reveals that he may be exploring new niches:

A high level group of scientists is to be recruited to provide independent advice to the European Commission.

The panel will supersede the role of chief scientific advisor that was controversially abolished last year by new EC President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The commission wants also to strengthen its relationship with the national academies across Europe.

Sir Paul is going to be advising Mr Juncker on the recruitment of this group of scientists, so it will be interesting to see (a) if he ends up on the panel himself and (b) if its ranks are filled with the doomsters and millennarians whose company Sir Paul seems to find so congenial.



Diary dates, divestment edition

There's a Guardian campaign afoot, and academia is leaping into action to help the cause of right-on folk. This time it's the Cambridge lot.

Climate Damage, Portfolio Risk and Fossil Fuel Investments
Date: 12:30-14:00, Monday 27th April 2015
Venue: KH107, Keynes House, Judge Business School, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1AG

CSaP Policy Fellow Howard Covington is giving the first EPRG Energy & Environment Seminar of the Easter term 2015. At 12:30 on Monday 27th April Howard will give a paper on "Climate Damage, Portfolio Risk and Fossil Fuel Investments".

Howard is a former investment banker and asset manager, and has been chief executive of two City firms. He is a Trustee of the Science Museum and the Royal Institution, and the first non-academic chairman of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge. He has written op-ed pieces on climate change for the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. He is now the Chairman of Science Museum's Finance and Strategy Committee.

Mr Covington seems chummy with Chris Rapley.


Diary dates, hunger games edition

Word reaches me of an event in Aberdeen next week:

How To Feed The World
19 May 2015, 18:00 – 19:30 New King’s 6, Old Aberdeen

A panel of experts will discuss the challenge of feeding the ever-growing population.

The world will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have consumed in all of human history; an even more daunting challenge considering this increased production has to come from a finite amount of agricultural land amid a changing climate. As a result, business as usual will not do it and novel strategies are required.

Click to read more ...


Humanitarianism versus environmentalism

Edinburgh University has decided that it will shun the trend among its fellows and refuse to divest its pension fund from the fossil fuelled part of the energy industry. Instead it will require companies in which it invests to report on their emissions.

Companies will be required to report on their emissions and benchmark them according to best performance in their sector.

In addition, the University will focus specifically on companies involved in the extraction of the highest carbon-emitting fossil fuels: coal and tar sands.

The University will withdraw from investment in these companies if: realistic alternative sources of energy are available and the companies involved are not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.

Click to read more ...


The consolation prize

After the appointment of a green tinged minister at DECC, the realist community's consolation prize from the Cameron government is the appointment of a windfarm sceptic as one of her underlings. Andrea Leadsom has campaigned vigorously and consistently against onshore wind but despite this has managed to get herself a role as minister of state at DECC.

However, what this signfies is unclear. One wouldn't put it past Mr Cameron to try to spend his way out of a corner by going for the eye-wateringly expensive offshore wind instead.



Heatwaves affect wheat yields without causing problems

Further to the last post, the news on wheat yields is similarly interesting. Today Tack et al report that the wheat yields are affected by both extreme spring heat and freezing events in the autumn. Their regression analyses reveal that the benefits from warmer temperatures - namely fewer freezing events - will be outweighed by the losses from increasingly prevalent spring heatwaves. It's all going to be worse than we thought.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is expecting a bumper wheat harvest.

The world is awash in wheat and is likely to remain that way, the UN FAO said in its latest semi-annual Food Outlook report. The past two years have both seen record wheat crops, leaving exceptionally large inventories—and lower prices.

It will be a disaster, but not yet.


Sea level rising faster without causing problems

Two papers on sea level have caught the eye this week. Chris Watson and colleagues from the University of Tasmania claim to have detected an error in the satellite measurements for the 1990s. Having corrected the alleged error, more recent decades are warming relatively faster and so a certain amount of vindication of the climate models' projections of acceleration is claimed.

Meanwhile, Kench and colleagues working at the University of Auckland have found no evidence that coral atolls are sinking beneath the waves. Having monitored 29 islands in Funafuti Atoll, they find if anything a slight increase in land area.


Voters hiding in deep ocean - Josh 326

One of the main things we learned from the recent UK General Election was that the forecasters got it catastrophically wrong - catastrophic in that the pollsters reputations are now in shreds. The collective narrative was that it had to be a hung parliament, nothing else was possible - even Nate Silver agreed so it had to be true.

Yet how wrong they were.

Not everyone was wrong - Dan Hodges got it about right, as did Janet Daley, and I am sure there were others.

It is horriblly like that other consensus - the one that always has to be 97% and which we all know is also catastrophically wrong. 

H/t to Paul Matthews whose excellent blog post has the reference to voters hiding in the deep ocean.

Cartoons by Josh


Cameron's ruddy duck

So David Cameron won himself a majority and the chance to return some sanity to the UK's energy policy after the disastrous tenures of Ed Davey and, before him, Ed Milliband. All it was going to take was the gumption to face down the green blob and put the consumer interest ahead of the vested interest.

Unfortunately, Mr Cameron may well have ducked this particular challenge, as it has now emerged that the DECC portfolio is being handed to Amber Rudd, formerly a junior minister in the department, who is seen as a green friendly appointment. In an interview last year she had this to say:

The main purpose for me [here] is to get up to speed with the relationships and the issues to do with delivering one of the most important things we're ever going to do, which is limiting global warming to under 2°C.

I don't think you could get a cigarette paper between me and Labour on our commitment to getting a deal in Paris.

Lucky old vested interests.


Rebecca Roache's potty time

Readers may remember a paper I wrote about a few years back which considered whether the human race shouldn't biomedically modify itself to have a smaller impact on Gaia. This tinkering with a kind of eco-eugenics was the stuff of 15-minute headlines, and was quickly forgotten, but one of the paper's author's came to my attention again over the weekend when Maurizio tweeted about her ramblings in the wake of the election result. Here's her considered view of Cameron's victory, published at the Practical Ethics blog of the University of Oxford:

One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online...

I don’t want to be friends with racists, sexists, or homophobes. And I don’t want to be friends with Conservatives either.

There is some interesting discussion in the comments as to whether her astonishing bigotry makes it impossible for anyone of right-wing political views to attend Ms Roache's course. Last week, someone helpfully pointed out to me that something like 90% of UK academics have left-wing views of one kind or another. That being the case, and in the light of the kind of behaviour described above, what future is there for the universities?


BBC metropolitan elite, moi?

Result confirms my suspicion about uncaring ignorant Britain the moment you step outside of London.

Gaia Vince is not amused





Lomborg axed

The Australian media reports:

The University of Western Australia has cancelled the contract for a policy centre that was to be headed up by controversial academic Bjorn Lomborg after a "passionate emotional reaction" to the plan.

The Federal Government had pledged to contribute $4 million to the Consensus Centre, a think tank that was to use methods similar to those used by Dr Lomberg's Copenhagen Centre.

If you are an academic, dissent on climate change or climate change policy will lead to a loss of your livelihood.

You have been warned.