SKETCH: Unsettling the “Settled Science” of Climate Change

The committee for Energy and Climate Change must be in line for an award. Its performance this week was exceptional.

The mental level of Yeo’s committee is – well, the climate debate is so rancorous let’s try for decorum.

Suffice it to say that John Robertson’s questioning would have been a credit to a clever dugong. Albert Owen nearly grasped the idea that that a Greenpeace activist in charge of an IPCC Chapter might lack objectivity. And Tim Yeo’s chairing was as good as a golf club captain in a Saturday night lock-in.

The committee had just received three mainstream climate workers and now, to say they had looked at all sides, they had three sceptics.

No doubt their sceptical remarks are contentious, their facts arguable and their conclusions unusual – but the three of them certainly gave the lie to the claim that “the science is settled”.

Richard Lindzen, a professor at MIT, in his low-key, diffident manner, looked placidly into the committee’s apocalyptic future. How that annoyed them.

The Chairman asked a number of leading. loaded or frankly loopy questions .

Such as:

“So, you think the report should be compiled on a more slipshod basis?”

And:

“Are you saying the Government is deliberately appointing scientists who aren’t as good as others?”

And, here’s an exchange worth quoting at length.

Yeo pressed Lindzen to get a Yes to the question, “Was 2000 to 2010 the hottest decade on record?”

Lindzen: (Eventually) Of course it was.

Yeo: It’s interesting you’re using that as evidence that somehow global warming has stopped. That we’ve just gone through the hottest decade of all time (sic) and that this is actually evidence that global warming is not taking place.

Lindzen: You’re saying something that doesn’t make sense.

Yeo: Oh, so it is continuing!

Lindzen: How shall I put it? On a certain smoothing level you can say it’s continuing. It hasn’t done anything for 15 years.

Yeo: Except we’ve just had the hottest-ever (sic) decade . . . If I was clocked driving my car at 90 mph, faster than I’d ever driven it before, I don’t find that convincing evidence I haven’t broken the 70mph speed limit.

It dawns on Lindzen the chairman has special needs. He explains how a 16-year smoothing average means one thing, how a pause and plateau means another.

Yeo responds: Just because we’ve had the hottest decade on record doesn’t seem conclusive proof that global warming has come to an end.

After a chorus of contradiction:

Yeo: I thought Professor Lindzen was saying the upward trend has come to an end.

Lindzen: (quite sharply, for him) No! I never said it’s come to an end! I said for 16 years it hasn’t increased!

Yeo: I don’t think we’ll get much further on this. I’m happy to be judged by what’s on the record.

I bet he won’t be.

Complacency has its place

In his final exchange the professor defied the political imperative that “doing nothing is not an option”. His view is that “it’s clear that there is no policy that is better than doing nothing.”

That was the last straw. The first straws were pretty good, too.

First: Scientists in general do have a declarable interest. “In the US, the reward for solving a problem is to have your funding withdrawn . . . There is an intrinsic pressure to make sure your problem never disappears.”

Second: He explained the small number of properly qualified experts in the climate science field: “Were the brightest people in college studying meteorology and oceanography?”

Yeo: (incredulously): Are you suggesting that people who had gone into this field of work were academically or intellectually inferior to those who’d chosen other fields of work?

Lindzen: (enthusiastically) Oh yes! I don’t think there’s any question that when we were in college that the brightest minds went into physics and math, then chemistry, then other areas . . .

Third: “Whatever the UK is doing about climate change will have no effect on your climate. It will have a profound effect on your economy.”

Fourth: The warming between 1979 and 1998 (when the hiatus began) was no greater than the warming between 1919 and 1940.

There are surely grounds for consensus round these points, at least?

The models are defective

A co-witnesses, Nicholas Lewis, claimed that that the climate models were out by very significant amounts, and that the conclusions of the latest report were centred 60 per cent higher than if they had been based on observation.

The aerosol cooling effect, he said, was much larger than previously thought, so the warming – whatever caused it – must have been proportionately smaller.

In addition, observation of the rapid warming from the late 1980s shows 0.1 per cent. Lewis said, “The models show 0.1 to 0.5 with clusters around 0.3 to 0.4.” So, the models’ predictions are three times as high as the instruments show.

The suggestion that half the excess or lost or hidden heat has been absorbed by the oceans “doesn’t appear to have observational support.”

Lindzen was asked whether models had improved. He cited something called the quasi-biennial oscillation – where the wind in the upper atmosphere blows from one direction for 26 months and then from the other for 26 months. “It’s very well-observed . . . but no model got this. And yet we knew the physics of it.”

He said that a technique called “parameterisation” was being used to fudge the physics. “The things they can’t resolve, they force the model to behave the way nature is observed to do. Is that an advance? I don’t know . . . You can add complexity to a model but it hasn’t helped them to do major things with ocean processes.”

Ian Mearns: (seeming to understand): You don’t think the models are reliable?

Lindzen: No! Of course not! If you can’t get TODAY’s distribution of regional climate right why would that be reliable for the future?

Maybe the IPCC should be disbanded?

Donna Laframboise started to write a book about the IPCC, and finished writing another book about it.

She told the committee that she thought the Panel should be wound up. That it was not an objective judge or jury. It was not trustworthy. It was barely academically respectable – her audit found that 21 of the Fourth report’s 44 chapters used less than 60 per cent peer-reviewed sources.

She compared it to a criminal trial: “If we find out there was bias among the jurors we have to throw the verdict out and start again.”

She cautioned Tim Yeo against relying on the summary of the report (he declared he wouldn’t read the whole thing, it being 2,000 pages) as there would inevitably be selections and judgements made to get it all into 31 pages. And that the summary process was opaque and done behind closed doors and fought over line-by-line by politicians.

She also suggested that the review editors should be chosen by and report to people outside the IPCC. That the summary-writing process should be televised. And that the scientists involved shouldn’t all be appointed by governments.

All interesting ideas.

John Robertson had been asking plain-man questions and up to now was holding his own in that plain-man way. You need people like him who don’t understand “non-Bayesian statistical methods” however important the concept might be understanding the answer to his questions.

He turned away from Ms Laframboise’s remarks with a dismissive, “With the best will in the world, you’re just one person and a lot of people would disagree with you. And you’ve had your chance to sell your book, so . . . “

I wasn’t going to mention it until he said that, but he should know, as he’s serving on a science-based committee, that the word “methodology” is pronounced as it’s spelt. We don’t say “methology”.

Laframboise also annoyed Albert Owen. She is blonde, glamorous, highly-educated. That doesn’t always go over very well with Paleo-Labour.

He took exception to her suggestion that a Greenpeace and WWF activist should not be put in charge of a Chapter. She had said: “That is going to affect his view. He’s not objective. He has a very particular activist world-view”.

Albert Owen: (incomprehendingly) “Do you think people should be sidelined if they have strong views?”

Laframboise suggested that putting an activist in charge of official information was not very healthy.

Albert Owen said that the committee hadn’t dug into the backgrounds of the three current witnesses. (Though they must have, to select them as skeptics). He said: “It’s nice to get an array of people with colourful backgrounds.”

If this is the recruiting policy for the IPCC it should definitely be disbanded.

Owen again: “I’ve tried to be calm and collected but it’s difficult when I hear remarks saying that just because you don’t agree with certain activists that somehow they don’t contribute in an important way to the debate.”

These particular MPs are simply not up to it. Climate enthusiasts will be embarrassed by them, and sceptics contemptuous. They are treasured, however, by sketch writers.

Last word on settled science.

Tim Yeo: Are there any areas of climate science you would consider settled?

Lindzen: I think we agree that man should have some effect. And I think we agree that climate changes. And these are the areas that people point to when they say there is consensus. But none of this tells us there is a problem.

Yeo: Do you go further and say we shouldn’t do anything about it?

Lindzen: I’m saying that not only we don’t know what to do about it but that almost everything proposed would have very certain consequences for people – and very uncertain consequences for the environment . . . It is clear that there is no policy that is better than doing nothing.”

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