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Republican probe off again

The back-and-forth over the proposed global warming hearings in the US House of Representatives appear to be off again. According to The Hill, although a New Yorker profile of new House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa, suggested that he was keen to do an investigation, a statement yesterday by Issa's spokesman said that no such inquiry would take place.

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella on Monday pushed back against the depiction of Issa’s climate plans in The New Yorker piece, claiming that Issa had been asked about the issue rather than raising it as a priority.

“We are not pursuing a Climategate probe,” Bardella told The Hill on Monday morning.


Virginia legislators to thwart Cuccinelli

Democratic senators in the Virginia State legislature are going to launch an attempt to thwart Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's probe into the work of Michael Mann. Their aim is to repeal the section of the Virginia legal code that permits the AG to issue demands for information - the so-called CIDs that Cuccinelli is currently directing at the University of Virginia.

The senators, A. Donald McEachin and J. Chapman Petersen, will meet this morning with Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, at the Capitol to discuss the legislation.

“This particular statute has been used to get at an issue that would be discussed more appropriately by scientists, not legislators or elected officials. This bill would repeal the whole statute. I’m not sure it has to go that far, but that’s what the bill seeks,” Toscano said.

Officials in Cuccinelli’s office said they have not seen the bill and cannot comment until they get a chance to read it.

The idea of repealing legislation to prevent an investigation, even a politically inspired one, from going ahead seems extraordinary to me.


Government rejects deep greens

Roger Harrabin is reporting that the Tyndall Centre have called for a moratorium on shale gas extraction in the UK "until the environmental implications are fully understood" (meaning permanently, one assumes). The report was apparently commissioned by the Cooperative (which used to be called the Co-op Bank).

The Co-operative is concerned that Decc pronounced shale gas safe last week before the end of a consultation into the technology by MPs on the Commons energy and climate change select committee.

Paul Monaghan, head of the organisation's social goals, said: "There should be no fracturing of rock for shale gas until legislation can catch up.


Mooney on Climategate

Chris Mooney gave a talk yesterday at the Science Online Conference. Apparently a large group of science communicators who are worried about global warming flew in from other countries to hear the great communicator talk about Climategate ;-).  I discovered the talk too late to pick up the live stream, but we can get a feel for what was said by some of the twittering that went on. Chris Rowan's seems the most detailed account.

1. Now in session about climategate, or 'antiscience lies and the lying liars who tell them'

2. Chris Mooney on how 'climate' of scientific ignorance in which the scandal broke provided fertile ground for it to grow in.

3. Mooney admits grudging admiration for Mark Morano (in terms of his effectiveness at communicating his agenda)

4. Interesting: '6 Americas of global warming' chart shows that doubtful/dismissive are a hardly a majority. But they *are* very loud.

5. Mooney wants 'deadly ninjas of science communication' - to abseil down the through the windows of the Fox News building, perhaps?

6. Q being posed by @: are climate denialists the new creationists? If so, we're screwed.

7. 'It's a knife fight', says Tom Peterson. I'd argue that we're considering picking up a knife while other side researching nukes.

The talk of ninjas and knife fights is interesting in the current atmosphere. (Tom Peterson is a scientist at NCDC. SOme may know him for his work on urban heat island effect).


Josh 67


Uncertainty is good

That seems to be the message from an opinion-taking exercise run by the Edge magazine. The respondents are a group of leading scientists, philosophers and others. The results are discussed in the Guardian.

Being comfortable with uncertainty, knowing the limits of what science can tell us, and understanding the worth of failure are all valuable tools that would improve people's lives, according to some of the world's leading thinkers.


More on Brisbane floods

Casting around for someone to blame for the Brisbane floods continues and there is an excellent article in the Australian considering the issue of whether the Wivenhoe damn should have been emptied earlier (H/T Aynsley Kellow, in the comments). There is a fairly damning quote from a local hydrologist:

When they finally did release [water from the dam], it was because they had received so much inflow this week that they were afraid the whole system would collapse. There is no doubt in my professional opinion that most of the flooding in Brisbane should have been avoided. It is extraordinary to me that people are not asking more questions about this. Brisbane should have been protected by Wivenhoe Dam. Instead, the dam is a large part of the reason the city has flooded.

There is also, however, this word of caution from an engineer who was involved in the dam's construction:

"These questions are all valid, but put it this way - you would have to have very large balls to [significantly reduce the dam's volumes in the months after the weather warnings] after 10 years of drought, because if you had got it wrong you would be accused of wasting the water" 


Josh 66

More cartoons by Josh here.


Global warming and Oz floods

There is a great deal of interest in this article, by Brendan O'Neill, which examines the possibility that the flooding in Australia was made worse by an earlier decision by the Queensland government to keep water levels behind the Wivenhoe dam high, since they were expecting global warming driven drought to be a problem for the foreseeable future.

The Queensland government’s belief that water conservation should be a key priority in this speedily warming world of ours appears to have led to the situation where local dams were allowed to get dangerously full. So in recent weeks, the Wivenhoe dam was running at 150 per cent to 180 per cent capacity, which means that the authorities had to start releasing water from the dam at the same time that the rain-caused flash floods were hitting Brisbane’s river system – effectively contributing to the deluge. It is surely worth asking, at least, whether Queensland officialdom’s embrace of the ideology of climate change, its fervent belief in future manmade drought and thus the need to store as much water as possible, made it unprepared for the current flooding of the Brisbane area.


Mea culpa

In the comments to Judith Curry's blog, I note that someone has mentioned the George Monbiot quote I cited here the other day:

...every time someone dies as a result of floods in Bangladesh, an airline executive should be dragged out of his office and drowned.

The suggestion is that this was a joke, and having taken a look, I think I would agree.  I had verified the quote, but not taken in the context. So mea culpa. And sorry, George.


What we paid for the IAC

I have had a response to my FOI request regarding the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Interacademies Council report on the IPCC.

Firstly, I asked how much funding DECC gave to the inquiry, and the answer is as follows:

The UK strongly supported the IAC review of the IPCC as an opportunity to make an excellent organisation even more effective. Alongside other IPCC Governments, the UK received a request from UNEP to provide financial support to enable a review of the IPCC to be carried out, and provided US$ 35,000 to support the review process.

Then I asked about whether DECC had put in a response to the inquiry. The answer is that they had, and I was referred to pages 654-8 of the recently published archive of the submissions. The relevant extract can be seen below. DECC think that, on the whole, the IPCC is fine and dandy, with just a bit of tightening up around the margins required.

Lastly I asked for any related correspondence, and they've said that I will have to be a bit more specific. I will give this some thought.


DECC IAC submission


Fixing the sky

For centuries, farmers in Austria shot consecrated guns at storms in attempts to dispel them.  Some guns were loaded with nails, ostensibly to kill the witches riding in the clouds; others were fired with powder alone through open empty barrels to make a great noise -- perhaps, some said, to disrupt the electrical balance of the storm.  In 1896, Albert Stiger, a vine rower in southeastern Austria and burgomaster of Windisch-Feistritz, revived the ancient tradition of hagelschiessen (hail shooting)  -- basically declaring "war on the clouds" by firing cannon when storms threatened.  Faced with mounting losses from summer hailstorms that threatened his grapes, he attempted to disrupt, with mortar fire, the "calm before the storm," or what he observed as a strange stillness in the air moments before the onset of heavy summer precipitation.

From the new book, Fixing the Sky, a history of attempts to control weather and climate. H/T Marginal Revolution.


New tree ring paper

There is an article in New Scientist today, describing a new paper in Science by Büntgen et al. This is a tree ring study using samples from France, Germany and Austria to recreate temperatures and precipitation for the last 2500 years. There is a hint of a lack of a Medieval Warm Period:

From AD 250 to 550, the climate flipped, from one decade to the next, between dry and cool, and warm and wet. "Such decadal changes seem to have the most impact" on civilisations, Büntgen says, because they harm agriculture but are not prolonged enough for people to adapt their behaviour.

The climatic turmoil coincided with political upheaval and waves of human migrations. By AD 500, the western Roman Empire had fallen.

In other notable periods, the relatively stable medieval society was characterised by more constant climatic conditions. But the Black Death coincided with a wet spell and the disease spreads faster in humid condition


Why is everyone ignoring me?

Bob Ward is in the Guardian, wondering why the newspapers have turned lukewarm on climate change. Commenters seem well able to help him out with some answers.

(H/T Dreadnought)


Open access and gatekeeping

Nature is to start up an open-access scientific journal. The new journal, to be called Scientific Reports, will cover biology, chemistry, the earth sciences and physics.

The story, in the Times Higher Education Supplement, concentrates on the implications for subscription-based journals, but it is interesting also to consider whether this will have any effect on attempts to keep sceptics out of the scientific literature.

Like the Public Library of Science's PLoS ONE journal, Scientific Reports will be entirely open access and will publish every submission deemed by a faster peer-review process to be technologically sound - including those reporting useful negative results.

One wonders if a "faster" peer-review process, 88 pages of peer review correspondence can simply be replaced with the word "No".