Tell us we're all doomed, MPs beg climate scientists

Is a climate scientist a real scientist?


Models are evidence?

Earlier on Stott, Hoskins and Allen gave a "steady as she goes" summary of climate models.

"We have a greater wealth of evidence now, and better observations," said Stott - so their own confidence in themselves had increased.

Nonetheless, Hoskins and Allen allowed themselves a little more wiggle room.

"Climate uncertainty should wobble", said Allen.

"The system has become more complex [since when?], so uncertainty could increase," warned Hoskins.

Allen said we shouldn't pay any attention to ECS because TCR (or "Transient Climate Response"), the estimate derived from the ECQ estimate, was actually more significant.

But what about the pause?

“We are first and foremost scientists – our decisions are based on the science, not politics," said Stott.

But Allen made clear what the politicians in the room should be doing. Uncertainty shouldn't cause too much reflection or change policy, he stressed.

"There's general agreement on the science now," he insisted, "there's disagreement on the actions … The IPCC gives a range, if we can accept that and move forward - it's just about agreed, we don't know all the details, let's move on the next stage to what do about it."

To support the "Full Steam Ahead" position, Allen cited a paper co-authored by his favourite climate scientist - himself. At the low end of the IPCC range we have to reduce CO2 by 1.4 per cent a year - at the high end by 2.2 per cent a year.

"In both cases we have to reduce by a challenging amount. The remaining uncertainty has little effect on policy design," he said. Allen was telling MPs there was only policy - CO2 emission reduction.

Lindzen demurred. The UK's carbon dioxide emissions are so small as a proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions, that even stabbing itself repeatedly would have almost no effect on the climate – but a large effect on the person being stabbed.

"I think there would be no disagreement here that whatever the UK is deciding to do vis a vis climate, will have no impact on climate. But it will have a profound impact on your economy. You're taking a decision on something which might not be a problem, taking actions you know will have consequences - so you can feel you've done the right thing."

"That's negative," huffed Robertson, MP for some of the poorest voters in the UK (Glasgow NW) - those most affected by renewable energy policies and higher household bills. Perhaps he imagines China and India will follow suit - and his constituents will rise up as one and thank him? It would be nice to put this to test.

Stott, of the Met Office, said the models made projections over many decades - and so couldn't be expected to predict a "hiatus".

Are models evidence, in the empirical, scientific sense of the word? Hoskins made them sound oracular. The climate models were producing "a body of knowledge" and "many people all around the world are interrogating that data".

Hoskins said something interesting. MP Graham Stringer (Lab) asked why, if the Earth had survived periods of higher atmospheric levels of CO2 before, did the scientists think the climate was now unstable?

"We weren't around with our socio-economic activity in those times," Hoskins replied. "Yes, the Earth has been through those but we weren't there."

Stringer looked puzzled - perhaps because Hoskins implied that the wealthier we were, and the greater our capacity to withstand environmental extremes ... the more vulnerable we were to those extremes.

"The number of extremes have [sic] exposed our vulnerability to our environment. Our society is hoping the environment will keep within these bounds. Any movement outside those bounds is something that would put huge stresses our society," said Hoskins.

Yeo lets rip

The sparks really flew when the committee chairman Tim Yeo, visibly peeved by the sceptical three, tore into Professor Lindzen. First, Yeo could not compute the possibility that if the last decade was "the warmest on record", then there could have been any pause, plateau or hiatus in global warming. Lindzen must therefore be a liar. Three times Yeo pressed Lindzen on this and three times Lindzen attempted to explain.

"If you take a 16-year average (then) global warming is continuing. In the past 16 years in their own right, it isn't continuing. If you say that we're at the peak and temperature has levelled off, that level is still at the level of the highest temperature. It's perfectly clear what each of these statements means."

Yeo responded:

"It seems to me the evidence that we've had the hottest decade on record is evidence of global warming - not that global warming has stopped."

"Nobody is saying that!" Lindzen protested.

Nor could Yeo allow the possibility that humans might cause some global warming, but not catastrophic global warming. It had to be apocalyptic.

"You're saying we have a higher concentration of CO2 but it has no effect on the climate?" Yeo asked.

"Theoretically, it has, and I think it should," Lindzen replied. "But that's not the same as a saying it's the major factor. It's not the same as saying there's catastrophe round the corner."

Lindzen tried to point out that doing nothing might actually be the correct course of action.

"When [economist] Nordhaus estimates the cost/benefit analysis of various policies, there's not one policy that beats doing nothing for fifty years."

Why?

"Because the other policies wouldn't have done much to avoid it. That's easy to show."

Other than Stringer and Lilley though, there wasn't a politician on the Energy Committee who would dare to be seen to be "doing nothing".

While the public says "So What?", the show rolls on. ®

Bootnote

Lindzen made a fascinating aside that may distress some readers.

"When you were at university were the people studying meteorology or oceanography the brightest?" he asked. Maths and physics seemed to attract the most intellectually able, Lindzen observed.

Yeo saw an opportunity and leaped into the attack again. Was Lindzen suggesting, he fumed, that people involved in climate science with backgrounds in (say) oceanography were somehow intellectually inferior?

"Oh yeah," responded Lindzen. "The brightest went into physics and maths. Now that has ceased. The brightest might go into business … Your statement although it makes people a little queasy - 'my field is not as strong as your field' - is obviously true."

His point was that there aren't enough experts in the world to feed the voracious IPCC machine.

"What I'm getting at is, when you're dealing with the IPCC, is it's manpower intensive. You heard someone mention that 58 per cent of participants are new participants. I know from my group that lots who have participated once have decided not to participate again. That's not a bad thing per se, but in a small field where you have to keep finding people when there aren't any … The world just doesn't have that many 'leading climate scientists'. So we're inventing something."

["Climate scientists" come from many academic backgrounds. Some were originally trained as biologists, some were zoologists, some studied geography. There are plenty of actual physicists who know hard sums active in the field, however. - Ed]


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