Thursday, September 19, 2013

The coming crisis of climate science?


With the fifth assessment report soon to be released by the IPCC the pre-publication buzz is well underway. A while ago unauthorised drafts circulated in the blogosphere and now the official leaks have found their way into news editing rooms. A central question picked up by most commentators is the ‘pause in global warming’, the ‘stagnation’, or the ‘hiatus’.
An anomaly presents itself for climate science in that model projections about future temperature increases do not concur with actual temperature observations. As expected, comments align with the agendas of the commentators, depending if one wants to defend the official modelling output or criticise it. These agendas are closely linked to policy options and the question if a lower observed temperature trend provides justification for political action on greenhouse gas emissions.

On this blog Hans von Storch expressed optimism as regards the ability of climate science to deal with this anomaly: ‘Eventually, we need to evaluate the different suggestions, but that will need time. No doubt that the scientific community will achieve this.’ Others are quick to pronounce climate science bunk.  David Rose wrote in the Daily Mail ‘A leaked copy of the world’s most authoritative climate study reveals scientific forecasts of imminent doom were drastically wrong.’ Hayley Dixon in The Telegraph put it less blatant but still succinct in her opening sentence: ‘A leaked draft of a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is understood to concede that the computer predictions for global warming and the effects of carbon emissions have been proved to be inaccurate.’

Of course, both papers are on the political right and often skeptical about efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It seems as if this topic is inconvenient for the left leaning papers who support action on climate mitigation. The Guardian so far is silent on the issue and prefers to write about new record lows of Artic Ice coverage. When it looked last at this issue, Fiona Harvey bolstered the heat uptake by the oceans as explanation for the pause in global warming, thus doing away with a potential anomaly. At the same time she claims that climate scientists point out 'that the trend is still upwards, and that the current temperature rises are well within the expected range.' A quick glance at the graph above shows this is an illusion (the grey upper and lower bands are not part of the model prediction range).

Both the Mail and Telegraph quote Myles Allen (Oxford University) who tries to put the IPCC and its work into perspective. Says Allen:  ‘we need to look very carefully about what the IPCC does in future… It is a complete fantasy to think that you can compile an infallible or approximately infallible report, that is just not how science works. It is not a bible, it is a scientific review, an assessment of the literature. Frankly both sides are seriously confused on how science works - the critics of the IPCC and the environmentalists who credit the IPCC as if it is the gospel.’

The Mail quotes Judy Curry (Georgia Institute of Technology)saying it makes ‘no sense that the IPCC was claiming that its confidence in its forecasts and conclusions has increased. For example, in the new report, the IPCC says it is ‘extremely likely’ – 95 per cent certain – that human  influence caused more than half  the temperature rises from 1951 to 2010, up from ‘very confident’ –  90 per cent certain – in 2007. Prof Curry said: ‘This is incomprehensible to me’ – adding that the IPCC projections are ‘overconfident’, especially given the report’s admitted areas of doubt.’

Both Allen and Curry call for a radical reform of the IPCC with Curry being more specific: ‘The consensus-seeking process used by the IPCC creates and amplifies biases in the science. It should be abandoned in favour of a more traditional review that presents arguments for and against – which would  better support scientific progress, and be more useful for policy makers.’ 

Meanwhile in the Financial PostRoss McKitrick wrote: ‘As the gap between models and reality has grown wider, so has the number of mainstream scientists gingerly raising the possibility that climate models may soon need a bit of a re-think. A recent study by some well-known German climate modellers put the probability that models can currently be reconciled with observations at less than 2%, and they said that if we see another five years without a large warming, the probability will drop to zero.’ (this seems to be a reference to the paper by Hans von Storch and Eduardo Zorita recently presented here on Klimazwiebel).

McKitrick goes on: ‘Judging by the drafts circulated this year, [the IPCC] is in full denial mode. Its own figure reveals a discrepancy between models and observations, yet its discussion says something entirely different. On page 9 of Chapter 1 it explains where the numbers come from, it talks about the various challenges faced by models, and then it sums up the graph as follows: “In summary, the globally-averaged surface temperatures are well within the uncertainty range of all previous IPCC projections, and generally are in the middle of the scenario ranges.” Later, in Chapter 9, it states with “very high confidence” that models can correctly simulate global surface temperature trends.’

McKitrick then makes a link between a ‘failed science’ and a ‘costly policy’: ‘since we are on the verge of seeing the emergence of data that could rock the foundations of mainstream climatology, this is obviously no time for entering into costly and permanent climate policy commitments based on failed model forecasts. The real message of the science is: Hold on a bit longer, information is coming soon that could radically change our understanding of this issue.’

This is where the crux of the matter lies. While it is indeed highly problematic to tie costly policies to flawed model forecasts the prospects of climatology are perhaps worth considering.

I chose as title for this blog post ‘The coming Crisis of Climate Science?’ The question mark is intentional and important. It could well be that in the coming year global surface temperatures pick up as expected. Existing models would be vindicated, end of story. The question is: how many more years should climatologists wait for this ‘renormalization’? It appears that mood is shifting towards alternative models and explanations. The timing of the fifth assessment report falls into this critical juncture where a lot of momentum has built up in favour of the current modelling practices which now prove so elusive. While the IPCC tries to make last minute rhetorical adjustments in order to accommodate anomalies, some of its participants, looking beyond, already indicate that this institution may have run its course.

But even if the IPCC was reformed or dissolved, we still would have these questions in front of us:

How convincing is the climate science? How important should it be for climate policies? Do we need to implement climate policies, and if so, what should they be?

I can envisage an irony of history where climatology enters a period of crisis and looses its central place in public discourse about climate change, thus opening up discursive spaces for pragmatic options to deal with the problem.

82 comments:

Warren Pearce said...

Thanks Reiner, good summary. Some brief thoughts:

1) I'm sympathetic to Allen's remarks about how both 'sides' understand how science works. This manifests itself as a squabble over what is 'real science', as I discussed in this Guardian piece: http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2013/jul/30/climate-sceptics-scientific-method If it is not possible to satisfactorily define 'pseudoscience', then it may be similarly impossible to define 'real science'.

2. Linked to this is the role of the IPCC. Whether or not it was intentional in its creation, its reports have come to be judged by both sides in terms of whether they are 'real science'. This coincides with their reports' biblical qualities, in terms of authority, length of production time and sheer weight. In this world, there is only one consensus view, although of course both sides pick and choose which passages they quote in support of their position (also rather like the Bible).

3. On a more practical note, Curry's charge that consensus-seeking amplifies biases is echoed by Ian Boyd in Science http://www.nature.com/news/research-a-standard-for-policy-relevant-science-1.13699 who raises the possibility of systematic bias in particular branches of science. Curry noted the parallels. I don't know if she's right, but the laser-like focus on consensus, rather than Hulme's notion of dissensus, has had unforeseen consequences in the social world. That's not to agree with McKitrick's extraordinary claim about the 'crackup' of the climate science paradigm. However, it may be that if attempts at consensus unravel, it will *appear* that way in the spheres of policy and politics.

Karl Kuhn said...

Activist climate scientists have managed to nudge us into the notion that the decisive question of climate policy is by how much earth’s average surface temperature will increase after a doubling of CO2-emissions. This question, of course, can only be answered by climate scientists. All other sciences have made themselves into mere downstream industries of climate modeling, staring at the model outputs like rabbits at the snake in a take it or leave it attitude. Climate science, however, has the problem that many time series needed for comprehensive climate modeling are still very short, too short to come up with certainties on the tenth-of-a-degree scale. Many processes are not yet understood, the major two being water vapor and cloud feedback, and the speed of temperature sequestration by the oceans (yes, the speed of warming is utmost crucial for policy decisions!).
But the decisive question about climate change is not by how much earth’s temperature increases in the first place, but the capacity of human societies to adapt to regional weather and climate changes consequences now and in the future, and depending on welfare levels and technical progress. This is something we have much more knowledge about, knowledge that - unfortunately – is hardly used in the mainstream discussion, where the ‘humans behave like ants’ paradigm is still the default mode. My plea is for an emancipation of all the other relevant disciplines (engineering, agronomy, economics, social science, anthropology) from the prophesies of climate science.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Just one or two questions. You say that a possible crisis in climate science might open up 'discursive spaces for pragmatic options to deal with the problem'. How will these pragmatic options to deal with what seems to be 'a problem' be assessed or evaluated? How will you know what 'the problem' is and what options to implement pragmatically where, when and how? What knowledge-base will you use to do this?
Raffa

Anonymous said...

overly confident predictions (not not 'projection'), that are confidently put forward for policy purposes, have perhaps bred a certain degree of cynicism..

an example from the UK Met Office:
http://web.archive.org/web/20080708230357/http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2007/pr20070810.html

10 August 2007
The forecast for 2014...

Climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre will unveil the first decadal climate prediction model in a paper published on 10 August 2007 in the journal Science. The paper includes the Met Office's prediction for annual global temperature to 2014.

Over the 10-year period as a whole, climate continues to warm and 2014 is likely to be 0.3 °C warmer than 2004. At least half of the years after 2009 are predicted to exceed the warmest year currently on record

These predictions are very relevant to businesses and policy-makers who will be able to respond to short-term climate change when making decisions today. The next decade is within many people's understanding and brings home the reality of a changing climate.

-----------------------



Lars Karlsson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lars Karlsson said...

Concerning the grey shading, the caption of Fig 1.3 (at the top of the post) includes the following (my emphasis):

"The coloured shading shows the projected range of global annual mean near surface temperature change from 1990 to 2015 for models used in FAR (Scenario D and business-as-usual), SAR(IS92c/1.5 and IS92e/4.5), TAR (full range of TAR Figure 9.13(b) based on the GFDL_R15_a and DOE PCM parameter settings), and AR4 (A1B and A1T). The 90% uncertainty estimate due to observational uncertainty and internal variability based on the HadCRUT4 temperature data for 1951 -1980 is depicted by the grey shading."

willard said...

> Both Allen and Curry call for a radical reform of the IPCC with Curry being more specific [...]

Judy was even more specific than what follows this quote in the op-ed, e.g.:

The best thing, IMO, would be to abandon the entire IPCC process, and have the AR5 be the final report.

http://judithcurry.com/2013/09/15/leaked-ipcc-report-discussed-in-the-msm/

Since Judy just quoted the fall of this op-ed, which she hopes is prophetic, it might be nice if Reiner acknowledged that the fall of Judy's goes a bit farer than what he presumes in the current op-ed.

Lars Karlsson said...

This is what Allen really thinks:

"I did not say this should be the last IPCC report, I said that in my view producing a massive volume once every six years has become counterproductive. […] For what it is worth, I would favour much shorter annual update reports, plus special reports on specific issues..."

Lars Karlsson said...

Link to Allen quote.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Warren #1

Pseudo- and real science are mutually constitutive. The irony is that real climate science risks becoming pseudo if it falls for strategies of self-immunization (at least according to Popper's theory of science). Picking one post-hoc explanation for the 'hiatus' (sich as the heat uptake of the ocean) goes in such a direction.

Karl Kuhn #2

Agreed, but you need more than just other academic disciplines. You need public engagement.

Raffa #3

We should deal with climate change as we deal with all other complex and difficult problems ('wicked problems'), using whatever knowledge we have, trying to do identilfy levers for action and applying important principles such as promoting human dignity and social equality. This will not be a consensual or science led process, but a contested process which nevertheless may end in workable policies which have some consensus.

Lars #6

I did not have access to the leaked document but saw the caption below the graph on the Financial Post website (it seems this has now been deleted on their website). Can you explain what the emphasized sentence is supposed to show?

Willard #7

What do you mean by 'fall of op-ed'?? What should I acknowledge?

Lars Karlsson said...

Reiner, you can find the figure by Googling "IPCC AR5 Figure 1.4 from Chapter 1" (without the quoutes).

willard said...

Reiner,

By fall, I am referring to your kicker:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_style#.22Kicker.22

My translation from the French term, i.e. "chute", might be too literal.

By op-ed, I mean the editorial you just wrote. So the fall of your op-ed would be:

> I can envisage an irony of history where climatology enters a period of crisis and looses its central place in public discourse about climate change, thus opening up discursive spaces for pragmatic options to deal with the problem.

FYI, this kicker has been quoted here:

http://judithcurry.com/2013/09/19/quote-of-the-week-2/

What you have to acknowledge is that "a radical reform" might be some kind of understatement when referring to Judy's position. If Judy's position can be represented by the quote about starting with "The best thing, IMO, would be to abandon the entire IPCC process" expresses something that may be a bit stronger than your counterfactual "But even if the IPCC was reformed or dissolved".

Hope this helps.

Karl Kuhn said...

@ R. Grundmann

"... you need more than just other academic disciplines. You need public engagement."

Not sure what you mean by public engagement. By scientists? Well, sometimes I think also the public needs a well-deserved 'pause' on the issue to cool down the passions ...

The other disciplines are all there already, and they thrive under the umbrella of climate science and their model results: the impact community. Climate change is now the biggest cash cow of the science grant landscape, which is why the sticky dependence of the impact community on climate science (by focusing on the impacts of global or regional climate predictions) does not come as a surprise from an economic point of view ... you just need to collect the money. But this focus on impacts leaves the definitional power over the climate crisis to an unhealthy large part to climate modelers. From that perspective, the 2 degree goal was a smart move, as it constantly makes the world stare at climate sensitivity. And it unnecessarily narrows down what other disciplines can contribute to the question what the capacity of mankind to deal with adverse weather conditions actually is. The ceteris-paribus condition here is: what happens when the climate changes, everything else left equal. But human capacity to deal with adverse environment is more and more likely to change (i.e. improve) much faster than any climate change. Something which is rarely discussed.

willard said...

Let's rewrite this:

> If , of course, Judy's position can be represented by the quote about starting with "The best thing, IMO, would be to abandon the entire IPCC process". Also note that this quoteexpresses something that may be a bit stronger than your counterfactual "But even if the IPCC was reformed or dissolved".

Sorry about that.

***

Oh, and to answer your kicker: of course you can envisage such thing. How interesting.

Anonymous said...

Reiner #10
Do you have any good examples of complex and wicked problems that have been dealt with in the way you propose? That might be helpful for those trying to deal with the problem of climate change (if that is indeed the problem you refer to).
Raffa

Anonymous said...

"It appears that mood is shifting towards alternative models and explanations"

Here you go:

http://www.newclimatemodel.com/new-climate-model/

Stephen Wilde

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Karl Kuhn #13

'Not sure what you mean by public engagement. By scientists?'

No, I mean proper participation by the public. The democratic process demands that citizens can participate in decision making about important issues of public concern, such as climate change.

Raffa #15

'Do you have any good examples of complex and wicked problems that have been dealt with in the way you propose? That might be helpful for those trying to deal with the problem of climate change'

Any problem of social policy (or planning, where the term wicked problem was coined, see Rittel/Webber 1973) could serve as an example. There is a nice quote from these authors which should give you an idea what this means:

As distinguished from problems in the natural sciences, which are definable and separable and may have solutions that are findable, the problems of governmental planning--and especially those of social or policy planning--are ill-defined; and they
rely upon elusive political judgment for resolution. (Not "solution." Social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved--over and over again.)


In fact, climate change has been described as a 'super wicked' problem.

The hint by Rittel and Webber that scientists tend to be able to identify tame problems with definable solutions makes you think what happens when these same people are let loose on a problem that defies such a description.

cleanwater said...
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cleanwater said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cleanwater said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
@ReinerGrundmann said...

Cleanwater, unless you try to comment on this specific thread, your comments will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

Reiner #17
I think climate scientists know all too well that they are dealing with complex, difficult, wicked and certainly not 'tame' problems (such complex problems actually abound in the natural sciences). My question was: Can you point to policy makers who have used your pragmatic approach to manage such wicked problems? This knowledge and experience could then be used to deal with climate change related problems in the same pragmatic way.
Raffa

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Raffa

I think you do not realize that 'complex' is not the same as 'wicked' in the definition given by Rittel and Webber.

Examples abound: think of drug policy or any social policy such as unemployment. There is no agreement when the problem is 'solved' or how to solve it, or if there is a problem in the first instance... sounds familiar? - this is what happens also in climate change. But climate change is different in that here we are given the impression that because the efforts are science-led, we are able to define the problem much better and solve it more efficiently.

Punksta said...

It is argued by some that the plateau ('Pause') could well be explained by the 'missing' heat somewhow ending up in the deep oceans, which some data suggests is now warming. Is this really possible though?

AGW is supposed to work by (additional, man-made) CO2 being warmed by upwelling longwave radiation, the warmed CO2 in turn heating the remainder of the atmosphere by conduction.

So if as now the atmosphere is not heating, this must mean that AGW is having no effect; either it is too small, or it being offset by some opposite forces.

Which in turn means that the claimed heating of the deep oceans, is cannnot due to AGW.

Norpag said...

.The climate models are incorrectly structured because they are based on three irrational and false assumptions. First that CO2 is the main climate driver ,second that in calculating climate sensitivity the GHE due to water vapour should be added to that of CO2 as a feed back effect and third that the GHE of water vapour is always positive.As to the last point the feedbacks cannot be positive otherwise we wouldn't be here to talk about it .
Temperature drives both CO2 and water vapour independently,. The whole CAGW - GHG scare is based on the obvious fallacy of putting the effect before the cause.As a simple (not exact) analogy controlling CO2 levels to control temperature is like trying to lower the temperature of an electric hot plate under a boiling pan of water by capturing and sequestering the steam coming off the top.A corollory to this idea is that the whole idea of a simple climate sensitivity to CO2 is nonsense and the sensitivity equation has no physical meaning unless you already know what the natural controls on energy inputs are already ie the extent of the natural variability.
Furthermore the modelling approach is inherently of no value for predicting future temperature with any calculable certainty because of the difficulty of specifying the initial conditions of a large number of variables with sufficient precision prior to multiple iterations. There is no way of knowing whether the outputs after the parameterisation of the multiple inputs merely hide compensating errors in the system as a whole. The IPCC AR4 WG1 science section actually acknowledges this fact. Section IPCC AR4 WG1 8.6 deals with forcings, feedbacks and climate sensitivity. The conclusions are in section 8.6.4 which deals with the reliability of the projections.It concludes:
"Moreover it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining the future projections,consequently a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed"
What could be clearer. The IPCC in 2007 said itself that we don't even know what metrics to put into the models to test their reliability.- ie we don't know what future temperatures will be and we can't calculate the climate sensitivity to CO2.This also begs a further question of what mere assumptions went into the "plausible" models to be tested anyway. The IPCC stays with the same useless methodology in the AR5 report.
In summary the projections of the IPCC - Met office models and all the impact studies which derive from them are based on specifically structurally flawed and inherently useless models.They deserve no place in any serious discussion of future climate trends and represent an enormous waste of time and money.As a basis for public policy their forecasts are grossly in error and therefore worse than useless.
For further discussion and estimates of the timing and amount of the coming cooling based on finding quasi cyclic quasi repetitive patterns in the temperature and driver data see several posts on http://climatesense-norpag.blogspot.com

eduardo said...

@ 24
Norpag,

Your comment is off topic and some of your assertions are incorrect and may be derived from insufficient knowledge about the structure of climate models:

'First that CO2 is the main climate driver '

Models are not built under this assumption. This is a result of the simulations. It is not built in into the models.

'second that in calculating climate sensitivity the GHE due to water vapour should be added to that of CO2 as a feed back effect'

This is also incorrect. The climate sensitivity of a model is not calculated in this way. It is calculated by running two simulations with present and doubled CO2 concentrations. You are confusing the calculation of the climate sensitivity with the diagnosis of the feedbacks, which is an a posteriori assessment to explain why a particular model displays a particular sensitivity.

'As to the last point the feedbacks cannot be positive otherwise we wouldn't be here to talk about it .'

Some of the feedbacks are positive and other are negative, but the sum of all feedbacks is always negative in all models. The confusion may arise because the strongest negative feedback, - the Planck or black-body radiation of the planet - is not explicitly discussed because it is rather trivial.

'Furthermore the modelling approach is inherently of no value for predicting future temperature with any calculable certainty because of the difficulty of specifying the initial conditions of a large number of variables with sufficient precision prior to multiple iterations'

This is also clearly incorrect, and demonstrably so. Why can we predict with all certainty that July 2014 in Germany will be warmer than December 2013 in Germany , even without using any model and without any knowledge of the initial conditions ?

eduardo said...

I think there are two motivations driving IPCC authors: to inform and/or to convince, activism or honest broker. Both are not completely compatible. On the long term, I think that to inform thoroughly and completely is the best way to convince, but it takes longer. Short-cuts may lead you into a trap, as we are now.

Norpag said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norpag said...

Eduardo the false assumptions are built into the simulations so that if you run two simulations and take the difference you get back exactly what you built in. Further you say
"This is also clearly incorrect, and demonstrably so. Why can we predict with all certainty that July 2014 in Germany will be warmer than December 2013 in Germany , even without using any model and without any knowledge of the initial conditions ? "
That is exactly my point you can get much more accurate predictions without any modelling at all. Glad you agree

eduardo said...

Norpag,

the typical reader of the Klimazwiebel can recognize, much more quickly than in other blogs, when someone is trying to spin arguments. You clearly said that the problem of climate predictions was the impossibility of exactly knowing the initial conditions, which is wrong.

Can you be more specific and inform us about the 'false assumptions built into climate models' and how they are built in ?

Anonymous said...

Reiner,
Sorry to ask again, I am just trying to get a sense of what you are saying. So, climate change is a complex problem (science-wise) and a wicked problem (management-wise). Your argument seems to be then that a crisis in the science (of climate change as a complex problem) opens up new spaces for managing climate change pragmatically as a wicked problem. And that this management of climate change as a wicked problem can take inspiration from the management of other wicked problems, such as unemployment, for example (where, I have the impression, there is, however, no equivalent link between the science issue and the management issue)?
Raffa

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Raffa

This is basically correct. Imagine how we would deal with unemployment a la IPCC: we would do continuous research and evaluation & assessment of the research in order to justify specific policy measures. We would constantly emphasize how important it is to be led by the best science and that we have to counter misinformation campaigns. We would wait for economists to produce ever better models of economic forecasting in the belief that this would give a clear guidance of many Euros invested will lead to what reduction in unemployment. Such efforts are doubtless being undertaken but they do not dominate the policy domain. Here it is acknowledged that many factors influence economic activities and that decisions have to taken under basic uncertainty.

Karl Kuhn said...

RG said "Imagine how we would deal with unemployment a la IPCC"

Funny thought experiment.

Imagine this labour-IPCC would come to the conclusion that minimum wages cause unemployment.

As a result, people in favour of minimum wages would be called 'labour contrarians' or 'unemployment deniers'.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Lars

I am still grappling with the meaning of the sentence "The 90% uncertainty estimate due to observational uncertainty and internal variability based on the HadCRUT4 temperature data for 1951 -1980 is depicted by the grey shading."

I wonder if the grey shading was added to give the impression that the outliers at the bottom were somehow 'contained' in order to be able to say that they are 'well within the uncertainty range of all previous IPCC projections'


@ReinerGrundmann said...

Sorry, typo:

"clear guidance of *how* many Euros invested will lead to what reduction in unemployment"

hvw said...

Reiner,

I don't think that the way economical science influences policy sets a good example. The recently discovered fatal flaw in the hugely influential Reinhart and Rogoff study makes things more appear like this:

Policy makers pick and choose whatever they find that supports their preferred policy. This way a single mistake in operating Excel served to dramatically impact millions of people (among other impacts by raising unemployment) across the globe.

Were there an internationally respected source of knowledge that summarized and made accessible the state-of-the-art in economic science, and policy makers felt forced to take that into account in their decisions, this could not have happened.

The IPCC may have its problems and maybe will loose relevance in the future. But everybody who favours policy based on the best available information, in any area, should strive for the establishment of institutions or processes that have a similar mission to that of the IPCC in climate policy. The IPCC can be seen as a prototype (they all have flaws) of necessary but not yet implemented devices to at least enable rational decisions by policy makers. This is an important goal in a globalized world. Whether policy makers want that or not, whether they get away with not wanting, and also considering that science doesn't solve value conflicts, all that doesn't make this goal less important or less attractive.

Anonymous said...

The unemployment analogy has a bit of a flaw, as unemployment, drugs use, poverty etc., all wicked problems for sure, are normally not portrayed as a hoax or a fraud.

eduardo said...

SPON informs about a tension between scientist and policy makers.

If this report turns to be true, it looks rather strange. Should policy makers require the best information scientist can provide or should they try to influence scientist to get the politically appropriate message for them ?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

we obviously disagree on this point. I would agree with the comment from the FT which you kindly linked. Laurence Summers says:
'no important policy conclusion should ever be based solely on a single statistical result. Policy judgments should be based on the accumulation of evidence from multiple studies done with differing approaches.'

So far so good and you could make your case for IPCC style assessments.
But he continues:
'Even then, there should be a reluctance to accept conclusions from “models” without an intuitive understanding of what is driving them. It is right and understandable that scholars want their findings to inform the policy debate. But they have an obligation to discourage and, on occasion, contradict those who would oversimplify and exaggerate their conclusions.
Second, all participants in policy debates should retain a healthy scepticism about retrospective statistical analysis. Trillions of dollars have been lost and millions have been unemployed because the lesson was learnt from 60 years of experience between 1945 and 2005 that “American house prices in aggregate always go up”. This was not a data problem or misanalysis. It was a data regularity – right up until it wasn’t.
The extrapolation from past experience to future outlook is always deeply problematic and needs to be done with great care. In retrospect, it was folly to believe that with data on about 30 countries it was possible to estimate a threshold beyond which debt became dangerous.'

While high quality observational data are needed for knowledge intensive policy decisions (economic and environmental alike) I doubt that the consensus style and inclusion of policy makers into the assessment process is a virtue in this endeavour. As Eduardo's link to the SPON article shows, politicians now refuse to accept the 'hiatus' as a fact.

Science needs to be independent from political expediency in order to play a useful role.

hvw said...

Reiner,

I agree too with every single word of what you quote from Summers. In particular the part about "healthy scepticism about retrospective statistical analysis" is so true! However, I have problems to connect this with the main, politically relevant message from climate science, which is definitively not based on "extrapolation from past experience to future". If it was, we wouldn't need all these super-computers. It appears that climate prediction/projection stands on epistemologically far more solid ground than economic prediction, which relies mostly (to my tiny knowledge) on extrapolation.

Science needs to be independent from political expediency in order to play a useful role.

I could not agree more, also with your preceding sentence. The construction of the Summary for Policymakers however is not a scientific activity. The involvement of the target audience also has a purpose, i.e. to make sure they understand it. That this involvement is possibly misused to subvert the purpose is to be expected and sad. More work has to be done to come up with a process to "transfer" scientific knowledge as distortion-less as possible into the other spheres. And I do not subscribe to to "deficit model", in case you were wondering.

Unknown said...

Reiner says: "I am still grappling with the meaning of the sentence "The 90% uncertainty estimate due to observational uncertainty and internal variability based on the HadCRUT4 temperature data for 1951 -1980 is depicted by the grey shading."

No such shading was shown in the AR4 diagram from which the AR4 projections were derived.

Nor was there any such shading in Figure 1.4 in the First Order Draft, which purported to show that observations were squarely in the middle of AR4 projections. Unfortunately, there was a major screw-up in the First Draft Figure 1.4: it mislocated the AR4 projections and the apparent coherence was an illusion. The Second Draft Figure 1.4 coopered up the gross error of the earlier draft, but the covering text was no longer true. It seems to me that the grey band was added to cooper up the situation. However, it is freelancing by the IPCC author group and not derived from peer reviewed literature.





Anonymous said...

I agree on this:
http://www.nature.com/news/the-final-assessment-1.13757

Andreas

Günter Heß said...

Dear Mr. Zorita,

Your post is excellent.

I do have a few comments and questions.

„How convincing is the climate science?“

Is this a scientific goal to convince people?
How convincing is statistical thermodynamics?
What do you mean exactly?
How convincing is climate science to justify politics?
Or do you mean, how convincing is climate science that the results, hypothesis and models are correct?

“How important should it be for climate policies?”

Being part of the background information for politicians as other sciences as well.

“Do we need to implement climate policies, and if so, what should they be?”

I do not know anymore what are “climate policies” and what are old political or ideological goals that ride piggyback on the climate policy bandwagon.

Therefore, I prefer the implementation, if our government decides to implement such policies, not as a mixed policy package, but rather individual tasks that solve concrete problems.

Best regards
Günter Heß

@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

'More work has to be done to come up with a process to "transfer" scientific knowledge as distortion-less as possible into the other spheres.'

If you mean we need research to understand this process, fine. Have a look at our book The Power of Scientific KNowledge: From Research to Public Policy, esp. the Introduction and Conclusion.

If you mean to transfer knowledge 1:1 is an ideal to be achieved then I think you are committing a category error. Politics re-interprets scientific statements, and politicians pick them in order to beef up policy decisions which were taken independent of the science (as Summers said in the FT).

Günter Heß said...

Dear Mr. Grundmann,

I somehow thought Mr. Zoruita wrote the article.
Sorry, I relize it is yours.
So, again. Your article is excellent and my questions and comments above go to you.

Regards
Günter Heß

Anonymous said...

Andreas, I agree with you and the article in Nature, especially the sentence " What is missing from these talks is not science but political ambition, which is ultimately a reflection of public support." The problem is that the the necessary links between science, political ambition and public support are getting weaker and weaker.

hvw said...

Reiner,

If you mean to transfer knowledge 1:1 is an ideal to be achieved then I think you are committing a category error.
Yes, I agree.

If you mean we need research to understand this process, fine.
Yes, that is what I mean, in addition to put into practice the findings and create processes/institutions, which implement a way of policy advice, which at least offers politicians the possibility to base their decisions on science. And I would like to put forward that an institutionalized form is a good choice and that the IPCC has worked pretty well so far, for the first prototype of an "honest broker" for a global scale issue.

Politics re-interprets scientific statements, and politicians pick them in order to beef up policy decisions which were taken independent of the science.
This sounds as if you had given up on scientific policy advice.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Günther Hess

I probably should have used the word 'credible' instead of 'convincing'.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

I am just being realistic. I thought you had endorsed the Summers quote as well?

Günter Heß said...

@Reiner Grundmann

What I wanted to express is the following:

If I read a scientific paper, I check the data and the method and then I decide if it is
useful information and store it together with the attached uncertainty.

For me there is no point in time when I believe it. So, credibility does not work for me together with scientific information.

I might use the information and base decision on it, because it is the best information at a given moment in time, but for believing I see no reason, because it would put shackles on my thinking about the basic science and hamper my progress in discovering new things.

Best regards
Günter

hvw said...

Reiner,

I am just being realistic.
"It's been always like that therefore it will always be like that" is not a realistic attitude. It's called "pessimistic". Also it is just based on extrapolating the past to the future.

I thought you had endorsed the Summers quote as well?
Do you consider changing the context from "ideal to be achieved" to "what is observed right now" a smart and stealthy rhetorical device?


@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

So what is the 'ideal to be achieved?'

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Andreas #42

There is one crucial sentence in the Nature editorial which captures the problem with the IPCC:

'The IPCC has a crucial role in this process and must remain the central authority on global warming.'

Anonymous said...

To come back to my initial question. If the scientific knowledge-base, as assessed (not generated) by the IPCC, can no longer be used, on what type of knowledge should the pragmatic policy actions you wish to see be based? What are they? Do you think they would get public support, and if so why?
Raffa

hvw said...

Reiner,

So what is the 'ideal to be achieved?'

A process/institution to "transfer" scientific knowledge as distortion-less as possible into the other spheres.

Is you problem with the IPCC that "it [specifically the IPCC] has a crucial role in this process and must remain the central authority on global warming", or do you more generally take issue with the perception that there is/should be a central authority, no matter how it is organized?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

'distortionless transfer' sounds like the property of a technical device and less of a process or institution. Social communication works in different ways and if you are looking for metaphors, 'orchestrated consensus' (Elzinga) is probably the best to describe the IPCC. But not everyone likes to play in this orchestra, and not everyone likes to play in tune. As long as there is freedom of speech there will be little bands playing their own tunes. It is not a question of what "I like' or not, but how these processes work in practice.

The ultimate question is: would we have better climate policies if the ideal of 'distortion-less transfer' was achieved? I very much doubt it. In your own account the IPCC does a pretty good job for this purpose so there is little room for improvement (correct me if I am wrong). Yet, we see an utter failure to reduce GHG emissions. How come?

hvw said...

Dear Reiner,

I am not happy with the "distortionless-transfer" metaphor myself, therefore the scare quotes. Thanks for pointing me to Elzinga, gotta have a look at his book.

But not everyone likes to play in this orchestra, and not everyone likes to play in tune
And that is a good thing. I see something like the IPCC as a device to foster the inclusion of scientific knowledge in policy-making. Of course a great number of smaller or bigger bands don't like that and should be free to lobby for their interests. That's democracy.

The ultimate question is: would we have better climate policies if the ideal of 'distortion-less transfer' [an ideal implementation of the IPCC's mission] was achieved?
Probably not, as I believe the IPCC has done a reasonable job, yet you are obviously right that we don't see any global GHG emission reductions.

How come?
This question needs to be answered by people who analyse the process of political decision making. Implementing policy is obviously not part of IPCC's mission statement (that is were you seem to be wrong).

So the question might arise "What is the IPCC or something similar good for, if the policy-result is the same whether it exists or not?"

Answer:
1) There are policy results in that the basic information that science can contribute here is acknowledged by a vast majority of political decision makers.
2) In some countries this awareness has led to political action towards emission reductions, even though so far the effect of these small steps does not show up on the global emission inventory.
3) And I think this is most important: Policy decisions can be judged by politicians and the public alike, whether they take into account what science has to offer or not. This, in principle, is a necessary precondition for democratic societies for rational decision-making. To what degree that comes to pass, in the presence of interest- and value-conflicts (and the subjectivity of "rational", of course) is another matter.



@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

the Elzinga paper is here:
Elzinga, Aant. 1995. Shaping Worldwide Consensus: The Orchestration of Global Climate Change Research. Pp. 223-255 in Internationalism in Science, edited by A. A. Elzinga and C. Lundström. London: Taylor and Graham.

Regarding your second point on the list ('In some countries this awareness has led to political action towards emission reductions, even though so far the effect of these small steps does not show up on the global emission inventory'):

It is interesting to note that while the US arguably
has shown lower 'awareness' and certainly less political action (in terms of endorsing Kyoto etc) it did achieve an actual reduction in carbon emissions through the shale gas revolution.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I just realize that we had a lively discussion about a year ago about an article written by David Rose and published in the Daily Mail. At that point two prominent climate change warriors (Michael Mann and Bob Ward) tried to tarnish the argument about a pause in global warming as 'denialist' . What a difference a year makes.

hvw said...

Reiner,
It is interesting to note that while the US arguably
has shown lower 'awareness' and certainly less political action (in terms of endorsing Kyoto etc) it did achieve an actual reduction in carbon emissions through the shale gas revolution.


Very interesting indeed. There is other data pointing this direction: Recent US emissions due to shale gas exploitation were dwarfed by an order of magnitude by the CO2 emission reductions achieved in the Russian Federation between 1990 and 2000. A time and place where climate change mitigation was even much less on the agenda than currently in the US.

So yes, you are right: Lack of awareness, action and commitment obviously cause emission reductions and we should do away with the IPCC ASAP!

@ReinerGrundmann said...

hvw

your Russian example is instructive, as is the British 'dash for gas' in the 1980s and Germany's de-industrialization of the GDR. The latter two countries pose still as 'leaders' in CC policy because of these convenient developments. They were far more effective than any exercise of scientific assessment. The question is: do we want to de-industrialise? While some radical green might say yes, this will never be acceptable as a political option.

Perhaps you should think again about your cynical (or impulsive?) statement 'Lack of awareness, action and commitment obviously cause emission reductions and we should do away with the IPCC ASAP!'

Anonymous said...

Reiner, what is your point? hvw's last sentence was ironic and rightly so. It sums up the point you have been trying to make quite nicely. Your point seems to be that political action on cc which is not informed by any science is the way forward.
Raffa

hvw said...

Reiner,

my last post was both ironical and impulsive. Thanks for answering anyways.

I just can make no sense at all of your preceding comment. It reads like total nonsense.

In case you are trying to make an argument or communicate an idea related to IPCC, policy advice, etc. by all means please elaborate what CO2 emission fluctuations due to gas-for-coal substitution or episodes of de-industrialization have to do with it.

Karl Kuhn said...

HvW,

is it really so difficult for you to grasp that scientific credibility cannot be created by a body that is trying to produce an unanimous consensus, particularly when this body is stuffed with Greenpeace and WWF activists?

In Germany, we have scientific advisory boards on all and everything. I know that at least the German Council of Economic Experts publishes minority opinions in its reports, even though this is not the legally desired result. Maybe that is possible because economists are much longer used to deal with fundamental dissent in a civil manner, and that funding for economic research in Germany is not dependent on the survival of an alarmist narrative.

The secretive consensus production by the IPCC, in contrast, is almost the antithesis to science. This is what the interested public increasingly realises.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The latest from Lord Stern about the relationship between IPCC assessments and mitigation policies (or 'risk management' in his new terminology).

He calls the sceptics 'unscientific' and 'irrational' and part of a well organized campaign which is paid by 'hostile industry'. While it is not surprising to see this affirmation of the simple world view pronouncing on the good and bad, he does not mention the 'pause' at all.

So what would the role of a 'scientific' and 'rational' response be in policy terms? To convince policy makers that we need to act ('tackling greenhouse gas emissions'), sooner rather than later. Is this all? Looks like it.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Axel Bojanowski has a piece in Spiegel online (for now only in German) which states that IPCC is bogged down in negotiations over wording of Summary for Policymakers (SPM), due to be released tomorrow morning. As nations guard their interests, and government reps are having a say in the wording, there are conflicts which appear difficult to bridge. For example, Russia has set its eyes exclusively on those parts of the SPM that touch upon the Arctic. Brazil and Saudi Arabia clash over the inclusion of non-CO2 drivers of climate change (such as deforestation). Whatever the final text, it will have to be supported by the scientists in the room (here is a list of drafting authors, not sure if all will have a final say; the rules are not that obvious to me, perhaps someone can illuminate me).

Just a moment ago I had a little exchange on Twitter with Richard Klein who complains that DER SPIEGEL seems to have a source in the room violating the agreement not to talk about substance before the end of meeting. Klein himself has given an interview for the Independent, saying that negotiations might 'run to the wire' because governments want to have to most 'precise' wording in the document.

This raises the question about the transparency of the process, and the wisdom of involving scientists in what appears to be a political haggling process.

And yes, the 'pause in global warming' seems to have been addressed and is seen as 'climatologically insignificant', while at the same time it appears to be acknowledged that this phenomenon is not fully understood.

Anonymous said...

The german delegate (and scientist) Claußen says in "Die ZEIT":

"Ich denke tatsächlich, dass die Diskussion zwischen Regierungen und Wissenschaft Vertrauenssache ist – im guten Sinne. Solange darüber gesprochen wird, sollte es vertraulich sein, damit man offen reden kann."

I think that's a good point worth of further discussions.

BTW: Is it good journalistic practice to draw conclusions about a report which exists only in form of a draft? Rose and McKitrick seem to try to give the report a special kind of spin.

Let's wait and see, for example if the figure presented by Reiner Grundmann above will appear unchanged in the WG1 report. Maybe some people will have to rewrite some early conclusions.

Andreas

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The 'dodgy sandwich' figure from the draft report has been scrapped and no discussion about the pause is provided. The text states:

In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits
substantial decadal and interannual variability (see Figure SPM.1). Due to natural variability,
trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in
general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15
years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to +0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is
smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade)


The new figure which is provided makes the problem invisible, see page 27 of the SPM.

So in the end those who felt uncomfortable with a discussion of a potential scientific problem have won the day.

Keven Trenberth was quoted yesterday saying the hiatus was 'a denier-manufactured diversion'. Has this sentiment prevailed over a more open and self-critical approach?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The SPM says that models have improved in comparison to AR4. Here is what it says about the 'pause' (shh, don't use the word) in terms of model evaluation:

"The observed reduction in surface warming trend over the period 1998–2012 as compared to
the period 1951–2012, is due in roughly equal measure to a reduced trend in radiative forcing
and a cooling contribution from internal variability, which includes a possible redistribution of
heat within the ocean (medium confidence). The reduced trend in radiative forcing is primarily
due to volcanic eruptions and the timing of the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle.
However, there is low confidence in quantifying the role of changes in radiative forcing in
causing the reduced warming trend. There is medium confidence that internal decadal
variability causes to a substantial degree the difference between observations and the
simulations; the latter are not expected to reproduce the timing of internal variability. There
may also be a contribution from forcing inadequacies and, in some models, an overestimate of
the response to increasing greenhouse gas and other anthropogenic forcing (dominated by the
effects of aerosols). {9.4, Box 9.2, 10.3, Box 10.2, 11.3}"

Anonymous said...

@ Reiner Grundmann

Isn't there a contradiction between your posts #68 und #69? In #69 you quote a discussion of the "pause", don't you?

I have not checked, if your figure presented above appears unchanged in the WG1 report. If it has changed there are two possible reasons:
- the figure has been improved
- WG1 hides inconvenient truths
I warn about being too quick.

Andreas

Andreas

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Andreas, if you call that paragraph a 'discussion' then fine. Please go check for yourself how Fig.1 now looks like. The 'sandwich' has been replaced with a 'staircase'. Is this improvement? Maybe good PR, but will it be sustainable, especially as we know they were discussing the problem?

Pekka Pirilä said...

The final Fig. 1 of SPM is exactly the same as that of the draft dated 7 June 2013 based on the leaked material available on the net.

hvw said...

@Pekka

You are such a killjoy! Can't you just respect the hard work other people put into creating a desperately needed new myth?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

There were two leaks, one in December 2012 with a full draft of WG1 report (including Summary for Policy makers, SPM), and one in June 2013 with a draft of SPM. The figure I am referring to, and which is reproduced at the top of this blog post, is from the first leak, in chapter 1. Will have to see what the new version of WG1 contains as today's publication was only SPM. The June version of SPM does no longer contain the sandwich graph.

eduardo said...

There are tow main points in the SPM, which are related but are not completely the same thing. One is the detection and attribution of observed climate change, the other is the skill of the models to predict future climate change. The SMP must do a real difficult balancing act around the second point. I could spot quite a few contradictions, probably unavoidable in the current political context. For instance, hidden between the lines:

-There is high confidence that aerosols and their interactions with clouds have offset
a substantial portion of global mean forcing from well-mixed greenhouse gases.

and later:

Climate models now include more cloud and aerosol processes, and their interactions, than at
the time of the AR4, but there remains low confidence in the representation and quantification
of these processes in models. {7.3, 7.6, 9.4, 9.7}

But the estimation of cloud-aerosol interaction can only be estimated with models (?)

Simultaneous high confidence and low confidence. If I were a policy maker seriously reading the SPM I would certainly be confused.



-

Anonymous said...

@ Reiner Grundmann

You wrote in #68 there's no discussion of the hiatus in the SPM. But then in #69 you quoted a paragraph containing all possible reasons:
1.) internal variability
2.) changes in forcings
3.) lower climate sensitivity

But maybe you expected something different? A deeper discussion whether models are able to reproduce such trends? Or an explanation why all models are flawed?

There's an interesting sentence in the mentioned paragraph:
There is medium confidence that internal decadal variability causes to a substantial degree the difference between observations and the simulations

I wonder if this assessment has been influenced by the Kosaka/Xie paper, which was published after the IPCC deadline.

Andreas

@ReinerGrundmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
@ReinerGrundmann said...

Andreas
I would have expected that the issue of the 'pause' was addressed more explicitly given that there were rumours that scientists wanted to do this. At the same time government representatives (from the same country?) seem to have prevailed, at least in the SPM. Let's what the full WG1 report does (no government reps).

The term 'confidence' is interesting. It is used a lot in this SPM, in fact one of the most frequent words. I made a word cloud which shows this (compared to AR4 SPM there is less importance of the terms 'observed' and 'average', see word cloud here).

But what does level of confidence mean? It is basically a going round the table where scientists express their subjective belief about something.

Here are two discussions of the term, one from a (sympathetic) scientist in the Telegraph, one from a (critical) scientist on a blog (Judy Curry).

My impression is that 'level of confidence' is taken to mean 'probability' as the message travels across to policy and public arenas.

Anonymous said...

Reiner,
I still haven’t got a satisfactory answer to my first question: On what knowledge, expertise or whatever you want to call it, would you base your pragmatic climate change policies if the scientific knowledge that is available at this moment in time cannot be used for policy making? Now, this question only makes sense, of course, if one regards climate change as a real problem (wicked or otherwise), as a reality (needing to be discussed by policy makers). You seem to imply in some of your posts/comments that this ‘reality’ is (entirely) constructed by science/models (am I right?). But if climate change as a reality is constructed by science, then, of course, dismissing science as your knowledge base would also do away with climate change itself (as a reality/problem) and one would not have to think about climate change policies at all. So my first question would, in fact, be absurd. Would you agree with that summary? I am just trying to understand the discussion and I may, of course, have completely misunderstood it.
Raffa

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Raffa

I do think climate change is a real problem and we know about it mainly because science has produced (or: constructed) a body of knowledge. The two go hand in hand, how cold we otherwise know? We do not have immediate sensory experience of 'global climate change', only through representations (knowledge constructions).

What I object to is the belief that therefore scientists are the most relevant actors to talk about responses to climate change, or the need for a scientific consensus in order to get a policy response. To come back to the analogy with economics: economic policies are not stalling because different branches of economics cannot agree with each other.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

There are signs that the reduced climate sensitivity range and the 'pause' in global warming will be replaced by other rhetorical tools narratives. An example is on The Guardian environment blog. The authors say 'The thing that doesn't matter (much): revisions of climate sensitivity' and contrast this with 'The thing that does matter: cumulative carbon budgets'

Both metrics have beautiful interactive graphs.

Elsewhere we have seen the 'downgrading' of the importance of observed temperatures and a focus on heat content instead.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

According to the new narrative, the heat is stored in the oceans and will be released in due course. The IPCC did not offer this as explanation, but as a possibility.

Thomas Lovejoy, in an op-ed in the NYT, prefers to state it in slightly more certain terms:

'In this particular case, it would appear that the oceans have been taking up more heat than previously thought. Since the oceans make up 71 percent of the planet, this is probably the consequence of a slightly different temporary behavior of a major current. There is considerable likelihood that at some point the ocean will release some of this recently absorbed heat.'