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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".



Recycling recycling

Another dodgy green claim that I've looked at from time to time is the environmental and economic benefits of recycling.

In Roger Harrabin's latest piece, we hear once again about the resources expended on recycling, and once again we hear that there is little or no market for all the product of all this spending.

Shifting priorities on waste presents many challenges. Many councils have moved to co-mingled waste in which domestic waste is sent to recycling centres where items are separated by air-blowing machines like giant tumble-driers.

The system is cheaper than separation by hand, but can leave fragments of waste in the wrong recycling streams - glass in paper is a particular problem.

Another challenge is developing markets for recycled materials. The UK waste industry is fragmented with different councils adopting very different approaches.

Environmentalists do love waste don't they?


Brisbane flood history

Thanks to readers who have pointed out Brisbane's flood history:

According to the BBC the flood gauge peaked at 4.46m, which makes it big, but smaller than some floods in the past, and much smaller than the megaflood in (I think) 1894.


Australian Climate sanity

The Australian Climate Madness site has a level-headed post on the meaning of the floods.

It's difficult for people who don't live in 
Queensland to understand the volumes of water we're talking about
 here. This is not some drizzling Victorian rain or misty English 
weather. This is a proper, tropical summer monsoon rainfall a bit
 further south than it normally is. The written history of Queensland is
 only about 200 years long, but it is peppered with tales of huge
 floods that astound new observers. People see the 1974 markers on
 buildings around Brisbane and think it can't possibly have 
happened. The puny infrastructure put in the way of these periodic 
deluges is nothing compared with the water volumes. It will happen 
again, at least once per lifetime of the average person. There's 
nothing that can be done. After all, it's just weather.