Monthly Archives: May 2015

Communicating the risks … that we know about

When looking for more information about the new Lewandowsky seepage paper, I came across the press release. In it, this statement stood out for me (my emphasis):

Professor Lewandowsky said: “We scientists have a unique and crucial role in public policy: to communicate clearly and accurately the entire range of risks that we know about. The public has a right to be informed about risks, even if they are alarming”.

On the surface, I could agree with that. Scientists should communicate the entire range of risk to the public that they know about, even when it is alarming. But the thing to take home here is “that we know about”.

How much is known about the entire range of risk? That assessment will obviously not come from observation or statistical analysis. We live on only one planet with a complex, chaotic climate system and we haven’t been in this situation before. I am very curious how it would be possible to assess the entire range of risks in a system with inherent uncertainties? So I am not really sure what he means with “know”? Wouldn’t it be better to use “assume”?

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About the pause

When Lewandowsky and Oreskes produce a paper together, then you know what you gonna get. Their latest effort is called Seepage: The effect of climate denial on the scientific community. When reading the article describing the paper, it sounds strange, even when I try digging real deep in my memories of past my alarmism.

As far as I can understand the paper is about a “contrarian meme” (more specifically, the pause) seeping from public debate into the scientific process.

This is a nuanced issue that can be addressed in multiple different ways. In this article, we focus primarily on the asymmetry of the scientific response to the so-called ‘pause’-which is not a pause but a moderate slow-down in warming that does not qualitatively differ from previous fluctuations in decadal warming rate.

They agree that there is a “slowdown in temperatures” in the last 15 years, let’s call it the common ground. The difference is that they don’t find it meaningful. In a way, looking back at my believer years, I can somehow understand their reasoning. If we look at the long-term datasets like Nasa Giss or HadCrut, we see that the direction of the temperature is up. The current global temperature is higher than the current one, about 0.8 °C, even when there were also slowdowns in temperature like for example 1950s until the 1970s.

So far, so good. Been there, done that.

What made the difference in my case? Well, the issue is even more nuanced than is shown.

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Three quarters of the climate scientists DISagree that climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted

Looking into the climate change matter at both sides, over time it became obvious to me that one of the most important things that are forgotten in the debate is that climate is chaotic in nature and that, with reliable data just since a couple decades, high certainties would be rather unlikely. This had changed my idea from “The scientists know” in my believer years to “How could they possibly be so sure?” now. My idea was that scientists were nevertheless be aware of the complexity, but that it was just difficult to communicate this uncertainty to the public. It was with surprise that I took notice of the Financial Post article: The con in consensus: Climate change consensus among the misinformed is not worth much, with the subtitle “Not only is there no 97 per cent consensus among climate scientists; many misunderstand core issues”.

The 97%-agrees meme and how it is a fabrication was the subject of the article. Two sentences drew my attention. The first was this one:

Like so much else in the climate change debate, one needs to check the numbers. First of all, on what exactly are 97 per cent of experts supposed to agree?

I couldn’t agree more. That is how I see it also. It is also my experience that one has to check the numbers or, more general, what was really said, what was really investigated. It is often brought as if scientists agree that climate change is anthropogenic, dangerous or whatever fits the current story. The problem is that when looking at the methodology of those 97% surveys, one finds that those said statements weren’t investigated at all…

But what really caught me, and this brings us to the title of this post, was this little gem about a recent survey of international climate scientists published by the Netherlands Environmental Agency:

Three quarters of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “Climate is chaotic and cannot be predicted.”

No way! This could not be true… Is it really true? Really?

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The authoritarian activist group mistaken for a democratic movement

Previous post was about Klimaatzaak, the initiative of 11 Flemish celebs that threatened to sue the Belgian Government, as it was presented in a current affairs television program. As seen in that post, they were framed by a sociologist like voters not believing in politics and therefor organize themselves to get something done what politics couldn’t do.

In a second part the representative of Klimaatzaak and of that of another organization sat around the table. They were presented as some democratic movements to reclaim their democratic rights as voters but, as I said in previous post, I don’t think this is actually the case for Klimaatzaak. They surely represent voters, but that would surely be a minority of them. If there was a broad movement on this in our society, then the climate change issue would have been on the top of concerns of the voters, not at the bottom.

Look at how they are formed: 11 celebs and academics started the suit. I don’t think those celebs were the ones that started the whole thing, they were probably issued in order to be able to piggy back on their success.

They aren’t the sort of grass root movement they are framed as. But, but, weren’t there 9,000 co-plaintiffs who were recruited? Isn’t that some sign of a democratic movement? Well, yes, but those co-plaintiffs have no rights in this, they have no voice in the process, it all comes top down. That is a far cry from a democratic movement.

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The voter has spoken, but what did he say again?

It was a long time ago that I heard something of Klimaatzaak (climate case). To refresh your memory, at the end of last year a group of eleven Flemish celebrities threatened to start a law suit against the Belgian state because of what they consider a failed climate policy. Last week they came in the picture in the Flemish current affairs program “Terzake”. They appeared several times in the reportage, the first appearance was in: The voter has spoken now he has to shut up, that is squarely against what people want.

That reportage was about an eco-fair called “Ecopolis” where alternative ideas where proposed and in in extension of that some citizens’ initiatives were presented, one of which was Klimaatzaak. The central question posed in this reportage was whether such actions by “civilians” are an enrichment of our parliamentarian democracy or show the weakness of it.

The reporters asked that question to Prof. Em. Luc Huyse, a sociologist at the University of Leuven. He explained that many people’s belief in elections has been diminished, they want to do something and start to organize themselves. The difference between those new organizations and previous gatherings are that they are professionally organized, their use of social media, work around contemporary themes, have no direct link with politics and find the money to pay for their operational costs themselves.

Looking at these points I still agree that Klimaatzaak can be categorized as that. But the theme of the interview was that voters had enough of failing politics and want to take action themselves. He closed with this statement:

Now they [the politicians] say: het primacy of politics has to dominate. This means: the voter has spoken, we have the mandate and now the voter has to shut up. That is squarely against what people want.

I don’t know how much that is applicable to the other groups he was talking about, but I am sure this is not applicable to Klimaatzaak, at all.

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When doing something is considered doing nothing

The questions of Mr. Beyer to Dr. Curry on the Committee Hearing of The President’s UN Climate Pledge were interesting. As seen in previous post both used the same word, but with a different meaning. I ended with Dr. Curry’s reaction. For completeness I repeat it below:

Okay, the confusion is this: scientifically the term “climate change” means a “change in climate”. And it changed for the past four billion year or so. This whole issue of human caused climate change is a relatively recent notion. So climate is always changing and it is going to change in the future. The issue is how much of the change is caused by humans. We don’t know. We don’t know what the 21th century holds. Climate change may be really unpleasant and that may happen independently of anything that humans do. My point is that we don’t know how much humans are influencing climate and whether it is going to dominate in the 21th century. Given that we don’t know this, we are still going to see extreme weather events, whether or not humans are influencing the climate. This is what I am talking about, that we really don’t know how the 21th century climate is going to play out and that we should figure out how to reduce our vulnerabilities whatever might happen and that includes extreme weather events that are going to happen regardless whether humans are influencing climate change.

This gave rise to following reaction from Mr. Beyer:

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