Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Down-the-line class action risks increase cost of inertia on climate and environment

Not sure whether to frame this comment as an enquiry or a proposal, but it's a thought...

Looking at a range of phenomena: 

  1. The tendency of political and corporate interests to focus on the economic costs and benefits of Environmental action/inaction
  2. The unbelievable costs sustained by BP as a consequence of litigation following their gulf oil spill disaster
  3. The intriguing mechanism used by James Morrow in his book (which I featured a couple of weeks ago) to draw attention to our present responsibility for future events
It occurs to me that at some time in the foreseeable future, the consequential damage to both individuals and social groups from CO2 - stimulated climate shifts, in the first instance, and environmentally unsustainable practices such as the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon or the harsh exploitation via UK institutional funding of Borneo's habitats, in the second, will represents a material and measurable harm to substantial number of people (well, all of us, in effect).

It also occurs that there is therefore a quantifiable risk that corporate, or indeed governmental institutions responsible for decisions which permit the causes of these harms to occur, will be the subject of potentially vast law suits (possibly class actions) from potentially vast numbers of people whose utility will have been materially damaged.

So, it follows that, since I'm just an average Joe, at least some of the clever people who work for insurance companies, law firms, in Government and corporate social responsibility, will have already realised that at some point the s**t is going to hit the fan, and legal fingers will be pointed.

This implies that some of the institutions currently responsible for the most dramatic examples of Planet Abuse (maybe one day this will be taken as seriously as other forms of abuse) will face very big bills for the actions derived from their present decisions.

So, here is the question: is this risk (of expensive future litigation) factored in to the analysis of costs and benefits which are so popular amongst the political and corporate entities when climate/environmental indecision is 'justified'? If the answer to this is 'Yes', has anyone calculated the cost impact in real terms? If the answer is 'No', is this potentially another tool to use in the arsenal of those who wish to see action rather than words from those principally responsible for the Abuse of our Planet?

Finally, if this potential cost to Abusers is not already factored in to current analyses of envrionmental costs, isn't it about time that it was?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Oops, I did it again; Tol 'Lomborged' by Ridley?

I am not going to criticise Matt Ridley's article on the net benefits of climate change. Others have already done this, and he has replied/rebutted in turn. Instead (and my apologies to all authors concerned for slightly extended quotations), I am going to present three pieces of material and ask two or three (hopefully) pertinent questions. Please don't read this as an attack on Ridley - I want to understand where his point of view on climate change is coming from, that is all.

Because there is a substantial amount of material on this post, I am asking that you consider the questions first, then go through the material afterwards.

First up is Ridley's opening salvo from the Spectator article, available in full here. In this, he cites Richard Tol's most recent work, and his 2009 review of CC economic studies. 

Next up are cherry-picked extracts from the 2009 paper in question, 'The Economic Effects of Climate Change', (whole text here). These are lifted wholesale from Tol and are extended so the reader can understand some of the context of Tol's comments.

Finally, I have extracted Gary Yohe's letter to the Guardian in 2008 (entire). Yohe was Tol's co-author of the 2008 paper used as the cornerstone climate analysis of the 'Copenhaged Convention'. Yohe complains that Lomborg has failed to accurately represent the findings in his eagerness to argue that carbon tax was a waste of money.

My questions are reasonably straightforward:

1. Are Ridley's assertions or implicit conclusions in his article compatible with Tol's research (at least, from 2009)?

2. If Ridley is using Tol as a justification for his view of the effects of climate change, is it reasonable to also expect him to support Tol's view that a Carbon Tax of $50-100 per unit is advisable, and that immediate action to mitigate admissions is indicated? Furthermore, will we see this proposal championed by the Global Policy Research Institute?

3. Given that there is a precedent, is it reasonable to believe that Ridley has 'gone Lomborg' on Tol once again, and if so, is this a genuine misunderstanding, or a deliberate manipulation on Ridley's part?

This is Ridley on 'The net benefits of climate change:

Few people know that warming is doing more good than harm
Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.

At first, I thought this was just their usual bluster. But then I realised that they are genuinely unaware. Good news is no news, which is why the mainstream media largely ignores all studies showing net benefits of climate change. And academics have not exactly been keen to push such analysis forward. So here follows, for possibly the first time in history, an entire article in the national press on the net benefits of climate change.

There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.

To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3˚C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8˚C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports define the consensis, is sticking to older assumptions, however, which would mean net benefits till about 2080. Either way, it’s a long way off.

This is Tol (cherry-picked), f
rom: The Economic Effects of Climate Change Richard S. J. Tol - Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 23, Number 2—Spring 2009—Pages 29–51. The Highlights are mine:

A first area of agreement between these studies is that the welfare effect of a
doubling of the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas emissions on the
current economy is relatively small—a few percentage points of GDP. This kind of
loss of output can look large or small, depending on context. From one perspective,
it’s roughly equivalent to a year’s growth in the global economy—which suggests
that over a century or so, the economic loss from climate change is not all that
large. On the other hand, the damage is not negligible. An environmental issue
that causes a permanent reduction of welfare, lasting into the indefinite future,
would certainly justify some steps to reduce such costs.

The horizontal axis of Figure 1 shows the increase in average global temperature.
The vertical index shows the central estimate of welfare impact. The central
line shows a best-fit parabolic line from an ordinary least squares regression. Of
course, it is something of a stretch to interpret the results of these different studies
as if they were a time series of how climate change will affect the economy over
time, and so this graph should be interpreted more as an interesting calculation
than as hard analysis.

However, this pattern should be interpreted with care. Even if, initially, economic
impacts may well be positive, it does not follow that greenhouse gas emissions
should be subsidized. The climate responds rather slowly to changes in greenhouse gas emissions. The initial warming can no longer be avoided; it should be viewed as a sunk benefit. The fitted line in Figure 1 suggests that the turning point in terms of economic benefits occurs at about 1.1°C warming (with a standard deviation of 0.7°C). Policy steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the near future would begin to have a noticeable affect on climate sometime around mid-century—which is to say, at just about the time that any medium-run economic benefits of climate change begin to decline (Hitz and Smith, 2004; Tol, 2002b; Tol, Fankhauser, Richels, and Smith, 2000).

In short, even though total economic effects of 1–2°C warming may be positive, incremental impacts beyond that level are likely to be negative. Moreover, if one looks further into the future, the incremental effects look even more negative.

Given that forecasts are imperfect, agents are constrained in many ways, and markets are often distorted—particularly in the areas that matter most for the effects of climate change such as water, food, energy, and health—recent studies of the economic effects of climate change may be too optimistic about the possibilities of adaptation and thus tend to underestimate the economic effects of climate change.
Although the evidence on uncertainty here is modest and inconsistent, and I suspect less than thoroughly reliable, it seems that negative surprises should be more likely than positive surprises. While it is relatively easy to imagine a disaster scenario for climate change—for example, involving massive sea level rise or monsoon failure that could even lead to mass migration and violent conflict—it is not at all easy to argue that climate change will be a huge boost to economic growth.
In short, the level of uncertainty here is large, and probably understated—
especially in terms of failing to capture downside risks. The policy implication
is that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should err on the ambitious side.

Although Table 2 reveals a large estimated uncertainty about the social cost of
carbon, the actual uncertainty may well be larger still.

To place these estimated costs of carbon in context, a carbon tax in the range
of $50–$100 per metric ton of carbon would mean that new electricity generation
capacity would be carbon-free, be it wind or solar power or coal with carbon capture
and storage (Weyant et al., 2006). In contrast, it would take a much higher carbon
tax to de-carbonize transport, as biofuels, batteries, and fuel cells remain very
expensive (Schaefer and Jacoby, 2005, 2006). Substantial reduction of carbon
emissions thus requires a carbon tax of at least $50/tC—which is just barely
justifiable at the mean estimate for a pure rate of time preference of 3 percent.

In contrast, Dell, Jones, and Olken (2008) find that climate change would slow the annual growth rate of poor countries by 0.6 to 2.9 percentage points. Accumulated over a century, this effect would dominate all earlier estimates of the economic effects of climate change. However, Dell et al. have only a few explanatory variables in their regression, so their estimate may suffer from specification or missing variable bias; they may also have confused weather variability with climate change. One can also imagine a scenario in which climate change affects health, particularly the prevalence of malaria and diarrhea, in a way that affects long-term economic growth (for example, via a mechanism as in Galor and Weil, 1999); or in which climate-change-induced resource scarcity intensifies violent conflict (Zhang, Zhang, Lee, and He, 2007; Tol and Wagner, 2008) and affect long-term growth rates through that mechanism (Butkiewicz and Yanikkaya, 2005). These potential channels have not been modeled in a useful way. But the key point here is that if climate change affects annual rates of growth for a sustained period of time, such effects may dominate what was calculated in the total effects studies shown earlier in Table 1.

The missing effects further emphasize that climate change may spring nasty surprises. Such risks justify greenhouse gas emission reduction beyond that recommended by a cost–benefit analysis under quantified risk. The size of the appropriate “uncertainty premium” is in some sense a political decision.

There is a strong case for near-term action on climate change, although prudence may dictate phasing in a higher cost of carbon over time, both to ease the transition and to give analysts the ongoing ability to evaluate costs, benefits, and policy mechanisms.

And, finally, here is Yohe on Lomborg:
Climate change is real, compelling and urgent

Björn Lomborg has been a persistent global warming naysayer and his claims misrepresent my findings
In late 2009, the world's top climate scientists, environmental officials and business and NGO leaders will converge on Copenhagen to negotiate a solution to climate change. It will be a meeting with global repercussions, and its participants will be united by a common belief in the need for a comprehensive solution to this common threat.

The need for such a solution is supported by the best science available, including the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007 and of which I was a member. The IPCC's message is clear: climate change is real, compelling and urgent - and we need a concerted, comprehensive and immediate effort to confront it.

But in the midst of this momentum and clarity, one voice has stood out as a persistent naysayer.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Sceptical Environmentalist, makes headlines around the world by arguing that capping carbon dioxide emissions is a waste of resources. He recently published a piece in the Guardian in which he dismissed efforts to craft a global carbon cap as "constant outbidding by frantic campaigners" to "get the public to accept their civilisation-changing proposals".

To support his argument, Lomborg often cites the Copenhagen Consensus project, a 2008 effort intended to inform climate negotiators. But there's just one problem: as one of the authors of the Copenhagen Consensus Project's principal climate paper, I can say with certainty that Lomborg is misrepresenting our findings thanks to a highly selective memory.

Lomborg claims that our "bottom line is that benefits from global warming right now outweigh the costs" and that "[g]lobal warming will continue to be a net benefit until about 2070." This is a deliberate distortion of our conclusions.

We did find that climate change will result in some benefits for developed countries, but only for modest climate change (up to global temperature increases of 2C - not the 4 degrees that Lomborg is discussing in his piece). But developed countries are relatively prepared to handle climate change's effects - they tend to be in colder areas, and they have the infrastructure to mitigate severe depletion of resources like fresh water and arable land.

That is precisely why our analysis concluded - and Lomborg ignores - that climate change will cause immediate losses for developing countries and the planet's most vulnerable, millions of whom are already facing challenges that climate change will exacerbate.

Downplaying the threat of climate change allows Lomborg to focus on his claim that "unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good, we should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy." He attributes this finding to our analysis as well, but again he overlooks a key element of our work.

Of course the world needs to make significant investments in cheaper, low-carbon energy. But making those investments without also implementing a constraint on emissions would fail to address the problem.

Our analysis assumed that over the next century, $800bn will be spent confronting climate change - $50bn spent on R&D in the next 5-10 years, and the remaining $750bn spent on adaptation and mitigation. This allocation of resources will reduce the cost of "clean" technology andincrease the effectiveness of policies - like capping emissions - that are designed to reduce global CO2.

In short, we never advocated research into new technologies as a stand-alone way to fight climate change, nor did we accept Lomborg's dismissive attitude toward the threat climate change poses.

The negotiators in Copenhagen will need credible, accurately reported analyses upon which to base their discussions. This is not the time to deny the scope of the problem or belittle efforts to implement solutions. We need all options on the table. This was the message of the Copenhagen Consensus Challenge paper, and even a sceptical environmentalist should understand that.

Am I mistaken in imagining that Ridley's argument appears to be undermined by the very material on which it is founded?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

If I listened long enough to you - is it time to 'hug a Fuzzy'

I am inclined to believe that the so-called ‘climate change denial’ bloc of the general public (as opposed to those who make a living from ‘denial’), which in the USA is probably over 30% and in the UK is possibly around 25% of the populus, can readily be divided into certain ‘subsets’.

There are the flat-out flat-earthers, the trolls and sock-puppets, whose beliefs are irrelevant (to themselves) and whose motivation for AGW denial is principally mischievous. Basically, these people get their kicks from being provocative and setting up disharmony. The playground equivalent is the self-loathing, trouble-seeking little s***bags who manipulate other kids, through lies and accusations, into fights with one another. These people are fundamentally cowards who never actually fight themselves but instead get a hit from imagining that somehow they are manifesting power; and their cronies, the petty bullies and sneaks whose pleasure comes from being the centre of attention in a very, very small fishbowl, and who need the attention more than they fear the associated shame and self-loathing which normally follows.

Then there are the Idealists, who have strong feelings about ‘them and us’, and who view themselves as ‘outside’, either through disenfranchisement or via an indirect recognition of their existential condition. Such people might tend to emphasise the ‘conspiracy theory’ approach to ‘denialism’: it’s a Government con; it’s an excuse to interfere in Freedoms; it’s a device designed to justify increasing taxation; all scientists are liars, and variations on such themes. For these people, the stance on AGW is not dependent on the reasoning or science related to AGW, but on the implied and feared consequences of concession, which represent both a challenge to the freedom to make up their own minds and an example of ‘big boys’ pushing around ‘us little guys’.

But I tend to think that the largest majority of the people who are unwilling or unable to ‘concede’ to the majority view that AGW is real and has real future problems associated with it fall into neither of these categories (though sometimes their arguments will contain ‘evidence’ from the first or occasional tendencies towards the second).
It is wrong to label all of these people as ‘untrained’ or ‘ignorant’; many, especially at influential levels (advising Governments or Ministers), are highly educated, rational and considered individuals. Some are uncomfortable with ‘science’ as such, but by no means all. These people have ‘reasonable doubts’ and as such are interested in testing both doubt and reason.

In engaging with the larger community (via blogs, for example), much traffic and time is wasted on the first category. In some respects this is necessary, to provide counters to the lies and to run interference on the misinformation strategies. In other respects, it’s a waste of time, especially with the sock-puppets and trolls, since they have no interest in anything but troublemaking, and never offer anything but attempts to disrupt.

The second category is more difficult to have a ‘standard’ approach to. However, it is likely that the underlying motivation for ‘denial’ has a stronger force to the individuals concerned than any possible argument which will contradict their world-view. Given that the AGW call to action has become so heavily politicised in the USA, for example, this is an important segment of the ‘denialosphere’ which cannot be ignored or overlooked completely. But there may be approaches which can address the ideological basis for denial (whatever it happens to be) and seek to find ground where ideology and AGW need not be in contradiction. It’s a tricky one, which will need more investigation at another time.

But the largest ‘denial’ community are not really ‘denialists’ as such – they are instead Uncertains, Fuzzies, Floating Voters; in other words, people unwilling to bow to ‘the Orthodoxy’, with genuine concerns and genuine questions about AGW, in addition to other important issues. For many of these people the question is often less about the reality of AGW as it is the assessment of the risks and costs, not just of AGW mitigation but also of the comparable risks and costs of other important global human issues – population, security, food, health, development, economy.

The most important characteristic of the Climate Fuzzies is that these are basically reasonable people. Or at least, they want to be. With basically reasonable people it is possible to have a basically reasonable – or rational – discourse, to address actual arguments rather than spurious ones, and to deconstruct that fuzziness into component parts which, through discourse, can be argued (in the rational sense). 

To do this requires an openness on the part of both parties – in other words, an inclination to actually pay attention (listen) and respond to the other – rather than wait for the opportunity to talk and simply restate our own beliefs/assertions. It also requires an acceptance before we even start that we are as likely to be wrong in our beliefs as we imagine them to be. This is really hard, but I would suggest that it is critically important. Entrenchment is not the sole domain of the ‘other’ – in fact, without Acceptance we are almost doomed to be entrenched ourselves before we start a dialogue.

And here is my challenge to my ‘friends’ of the blogosphere: Seek out the ‘real’ doubters (they are there, I promise), embrace their uncertainty, and look to find out if their uncertainties do in fact challenge your own fundamental assumptions. Then talk about this. So, in the spirit of positive engagement, let’s ‘Hug a Fuzzy’ as soon as we can.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

I can't believe we're on the eve of destruction

Picking up on a couple of pieces of editorial in the Guardian recently, both by Adam Corner, gives me the opportunity to cover two matters which I think are important. The first concerns changing our World for the better here, "Morality is missing from the debate about sustainable behaviour" and the second, "Will the IPCC start a new conversation about climate change?", here .

Reading the comments to the latter piece it was interesting to note that many of the responses were about responsibility, crisis, protection, danger; familiar themes in climate change dialogue, and the common subject for accusations of alarmism. Here is my contribution to the comments thread:

Fear need not be the overriding 'necessary' response to climate change. To an extent it plays into the hands of those unwilling to face the reality of change; it's just too easy for them to cry 'alarmism' or simply go into denial.
The IPCC was formed to help all governments understand and address the risks which were first identified twenty years ago. What have governments managed to achieve in this time? Some are trying, most are failing.

The fact that our world is changing almost faster than we can comprehend should be recognised as a simple reality. But it is also an opportunity. We can see from countless bits of evidence that we have placed ourselves in jeopardy from the historic indifference not just to the climate but also the environment and ecology of the planet. We know the relationship between our past choices and present predicament.

So now, being able to see what has been and see what is likely to be, without decisive action, we have an opportunity. Our generation can (should?) shape the future that we choose; we can let the slide into the mire continue, or we can choose to envision a better way of living within our planet and get off our arses and do something about it.

Don't be afraid. Be determined.

The first Guardian piece is really about the reasons we have for making a change in our personal lives. Corner proposes that most lasting behavioural change comes from internalisation and decision based on ethical foundations. He also points to the ineffectiveness of purely 'money-as-value'- driven arguments for action. These are the ones which assume that we are stuck in the 'sixties presumption that all the Public cares about really is the 'pound in their pocket'.

It was interesting to note the creation in September of a new think tank,  The New Climate Economy. Read the 'about' section to get a sense of the undoubtedly valuable mission the organisation has. But the organisation suffers from the same fundamental problem shared with much of the Political debate on climate change - it presumes that the ultimate motivation for any future action must be self-interested, and (for politicians and corporations) that variations of cost-benefit and risk assessment analysis are the way forward, since their content is ostensibly measurable.

And so I think that the New Climate Economy is missing something - in sticking to the presumption of the pre-eminence of Economy over other elements of the sustainability circle, it will no doubt do much to counter the pseudo-Lomborgian 'Climate change mitigation is a waste of money' argument. But it won't stimulate sustained behavioural change without a heart. As Corner suggests, that heart needs to be fundamentally ethical, based on values other than economic ones. Then, the language, the communication and the call to action will have a more powerful response.

We should recognise that, in important ways, the way that modern human society works has resulted in disproportionate power being placed in the hands of the bean-counters and their lawyers. And whilst their role and contribution to development, change management and future-building is both important and valuable, I would leave you with the questions: Are these the (kind of) people who we want to shape our future World? If they are already just too powerful to replace, what can we do to restructure both climate and sustainability thinking in such a way that their role is less about the why and more about the how?

Because the why matters.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Reasons to be cheerful, one, two, three

Back to the AR5 on the subject of the Antarctic, and in particular the Marine Ice Sheet Instability Hypothesis. The AR5 confidently asserts that 'it is likely that abrupt and irreversible ice loss from WAIS is possible'. Why does this matter? Because if it occurred, that additional sea level rise which the AR5 does not expect, of 'several tens of centimetres', would become a reality.

For non-scientists, (usual warnings apply), a 'sudden and irreversible ice loss' refers to the possible 'collapse' of the mechanism which currently constrains the export of ice into the oceans and therefore the contribution to sea level rise. This would be signalled by rapid, non-linear changes to the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) and Thwaites Glacier (TG). These two represent a substantial proportion of the potential sea-level contribution of the WAIS, which is why they are important. One of the keys to recognising that a sudden process  is under way is the retreat of the Grounding Line (GL) of the glaciers. Recent research suggests that Pine Island is more risky than Thwaites because of the relative basal geography of the two.

The process follows a theoretical sequence: The glaciers at the sea end thin, meltwater seeps down from above, the glacier fractures deep into the outlet section, then collapses; the glaciers behind speed up, pushing more ice seawards, and the grounding line (where the sea can no longer get 'under' the glacier, retreats inland. 

In Chapter 13, The AR5 discusses the condition under which such an event might occur and the consequences:

"Two processes that could trigger GL retreat are particularly relevant to contemporary polar climate change. The first is the presence of warmer ocean water under ice shelves, which leads to enhanced submarine iceshelf melt (Jacobs et al., 2011). The second is the presence of melt water ponds on the surface of the ice shelf, which can cause stress concentrations allowing fractures to penetrate the full ice-shelf thickness. This process appears to have been a primary factor in the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf (LBIS) over the course of two months in 2002 (MacAyeal et al., 2003). The collapse of the LBIS provided a natural demonstration of the linkage between the structural integrity of an ice shelf and the flow of grounded ice draining into it. Following the breakup of LBIS, the speeds of the glaciers feeding the collapsed portion of the shelf increased two-to-eightfold, while the flow of glaciers draining into a surviving sector was unaltered (Rignot et al., 2004; Scambos et al., 2004; Rott et al., 2011). This indicates that a mechanical link does indeed exist between shelf and sheet, and has important implications for the future evolution of the far more significant PIG and TG systems of the WAIS."

In addition to any other, earlier material, a new paper in The Cryosphere describes Condition One:

Dutrieux, P., Vaughan, D. G., Corr, H. F. J., Jenkins, A., Holland, P. R., Joughin, I., and Fleming, A. H.: Pine Island glacier ice shelf melt distributed at kilometre scales, The Cryosphere, 7, 1543-1555, doi:10.5194/tc-7-1543-2013, 2013.
There are other observations and calculations substantiating that there is water under the PIG, that it is relatively warm, that it is progressively undermining the glacier. There seems little reason to doubt that this condition is currently being met. 

Condition two requires the presence of meltwater at the top of the glacier. I can't find the source (maybe someone can help), but I am certain that I have very recently seen a record of observation of this phenomenon - I believe it was at the Thwaites Glacier, but there is no reason to suppose that the phenomenon would exist at one glacier and not the other.
Forthcoming papers (not yet published) look at the 'condition' of PIG and seem to offer further evidence that the conditions exist for a full-depth fracture of the PIG.
So; it would appear that the required conditions for the fracture and subsequent collapse of the Pine Island Glacier are being met. If this is correct, the next 'critical' stage would be the appearance of a glacier-wide fracture, probably during the Austral Summer. On the surface, it very much feels like this is no longer a matter of 'if', but of 'when'.

Prediction a non-linear shift is, of course impossible. It has to be a sophisticated form of educated guesswork as to when this could occur. To me, given that other indicators suggest that the transformational process in the cryosphere are systematically understated in the 'official' lines, it could as easily be this Summer, or ten years, or twenty, thirty years away.

If any of my readers can give guidance as to the plausible timeline in which we are working here, it would be much appreciated. Likewise, if someone thinks that I am misrepresenting or overstating the case. But from the viewpoint of this blogger, that 'likely that it is possible' statement of the AR5 goes nowhere near capturing the reality of the situation or the risk. As a consequence, the decision to eliminate sea level rise estimates which incorporate a collapse in the 21st century look at best misguided, at worst, much too conservative.

I'll look out for other connections on the subject: for example, Aslak Grinsted's excellent summary of the estimates, and RealClimate's ongoing discussions.

I think this is a real, substantive risk which has a significant timeline for the current generation, and that serious and urgent investment in Antarctic research is now essential.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Girl, there's a better place for me and you..

Reading Lord Ridley's letter to the Guardian a couple of days ago, my first response was to wish to be critical of some of the assertions within. This is because his expressed views, on first reading, tend to clash with mine on certain significant matters.

Fortunately, I took a little time to do some background research. The origin of the letter is a response to Bob Ward's somewhat acerbic inclusion of Ridley's supposed role in the GWPF's 'campaign' to undermine the AR5 in advance. The Ridley article is paywalled at the Times, but a copy is on his blog. In it, he argues that the 'climate debate' has become too polarised and a 'third way' might actually be more constructive.

So far, so good: I also believe that the debate has polarised - it was always adversarial, but in my original blog, Old Man in a Cave, I sought to encourage a more 'open' kind of response to what I believe is genuine uncertainty amongst the general public (of people not trained in science) about the significance and meaning of climate change. In the intervening years it seems to have hardened further. I, too, believe in a 'third way', but for different reasons.

I also note that much of Ridley's argument is a reiteration of his previous article, in May, which was analysed, criticised and discussed in detail at the time - there seems no point in going over that old material. For the record, I am satisfied that Lord Ridley is a sincere person who is expressing an opinion based on a genuine interpretation of a substantial amount of research and previous discussion. He means what he says and doesn't view this as being any part of a 'conspiracy', rather it is, to him, a reasoned and reasonable response to the evidence as he has interpreted it. No doubt some will think I am naive, but I prefer to think of myself as 'accepting' - I will presume the good intentions and sincerity of others as far as is possible, unless it becomes evident that the other in question refuses to reciprocate.

There are so many avenues of discussion arising from Ridley's article and other writings, but I will focus today simply on the content of the Guardian letter, and consider two questions: firstly; are we right (him and me) to argue for a depolarisation of 'the climate debate'? Secondly, what is it in his letter that makes me feel that we are potential adversaries?

The letter's opening statement contains the first ticking timebombs of potential disagreement:

"In his continuing attempt to polarise the climate debate into believers and deniers, Bob Ward has resorted to conspiracy theories and attacked me..."

For someone seeking to promote a 'honest debate' this might not be the best way to start.

To a hardened climate science enthusiast, this reads as a characteristic 'role reversal' strategy - let's establish who is the 'attacker' and who the 'victim'; it is the 'alarmist' who is attepting to polarise the debate, and the 'alarmist' who is resorting to conspiracy theories.

It doesn't take very long for an intelligent and curious reader to find endless examples of 'attempts to polarise' and 'conspiracy theories' in the climate debate, but historically these domains have tended to be occupied far more by so-called 'denialists' than by their adversaries. I personally think that the successful polarisation (and subsequent politicisation) of GW discussion has been one of the more significant achievements of those who have consistently advocated or pursued inertia as the best response to climate change.

Since this kind of role-reversal is a familiar strategy in the climate change rhetoric it is easy to understand why an experienced reader might immediately assume that all that follows is going to be another example of obfuscating, procrastinating disinformation. Which means that a reader like me is already predisposed to find fault with the content. Which is a successful polarisation. If I am provoked, my 'human' response is to become and adversary, and so the game goes on. This doesn't feel like we are setting the grounds for an 'honest debate'.

Next, the letter goes on to cite Tol:

"Professor Richard Tol's 2009 summary of 14 separate studies found that there is likely to be net global benefit to human or planetary welfare from warming till temperature has increased by 2.2 degrees from 2009 levels, which is about 3 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. This is before taking adaptation into account so it is conservative."

This is important because it forms the foundation of much of the following argument. To me, it is worrying because it suggests that much of Lord Ridley's opinion is founded on Tol's analysis, from his paper of 2009, for example. I have no doubt that others have pointed out that Tol's analysis has its critics, and that some have argued that his principal argument contains flaws and the dependent conclusions are thus called into question.

It also seems to suggest that this particular analysis has greater weight to Ridley than others by such as Stern (2007). A cynic might observe that we are disposed to accept the evidence which tends to support our pre-existing prejudices and prefer them to evidence which contradicts them, and suggest that this may be what is going on here. I know this is true for me, though I do try to be self-aware about it.

But I suspect that it is the final section of the letter, which is so dependent on the validity of the Tol position, which really got me ticklish:

"Millions of people are currently being driven into fuel poverty, hunger, malnutrition and respiratory ill health by today's climate policies. Mr Ward appears to think they should be ignored in favour of concern for the welfare of wealthier people in the next century."

The first of these two sentences is, to me, deeply misguided. I cannot think of anything I have recently read which could possibly support this statement. It runs so counter in every respect to the material I have read on the subjects concerned that I feel inclined simply to assert that this is not true. I'm not claiming it is a lie, only that it is wrong, a false assertion. And I believe it would be so irrespective of whether it depended as it does on the unproven assertions of Tol.

The second sentence raises a matter which I do believe is a genuine conundrum: what value do we place on the interests of future generations in relation to the present generation and how do we measure this? It doesn't help that it has been phrased in terms which are once again likely to provoke polarisation, rather than 'honest debate'. But it also looks at least superficially that Ridley has already made his mind up on this, and that he does not think there is sufficient evidence of substantial future harm at a level which would justify present investment (no, not sacrifice or suffering, but investment).

A finishing point. Debate is an interesting phenomenon. I used to do a lot at school. It is the basis of procedure in Politics, especially the two-party model, and in Law. It is a potentially valuable and useful tool for reaching a Hegelian Synthesis from a thesis and antithesis. But it is fundamentally polarising. It presumes adversarial interaction. The procedure is not dialogical but rhetorical. I do believe that open, honest interaction between people is the 'third way' to address both private and public engagement in the issues of climate change. I am not convinced that 'debate' is the best tool for the job.

None of the above should be read as suggesting that I am defending Ward or attacking Ridley. I am presenting my own reaction, partially deconstructed, of what I read and how I reacted. Ward and Ridley are big boys, they can resolve their own differences.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sea Oddity - it's a godawful small affair

Well, RC went and stole a march by posting about chapter 13, and deservedly their material will get more attention because the contributors are specialists in the area. But whilst they discuss some technical matters, they don't seem to have covered some of the 'oddities' which, to my eye, point towards an innate conservatism in the Sea level rise assessment. Since RC has done it I will also, after all, use some of the draft, but will try to do so sparingly. Interested readers can read it for themselves.

As usual this is the 'outside' view, so I expect (and hope) for feedback.

First up is the paragraph about the two model intercomparison papers, Bindschadler et. al. (2013) and Nowicki et, al (2013), which concludes:

"The resultant projection included contributions from lubrication, marine melt and SMB-coupling and generated a mean SLR at 2100 of 162 mm over five models, or 53 mm if an outlier with anomalously high response is removed (including SMB results in SLR at 2100 of 223 and 114 mm for five- and four-model means, respectively). This comparison lends further weight to our confidence."

I don't have a problem with the concept of removing outliers as such, and it is clear from the very large differences in results that the outlier must be well out, but if they are included in the model intercomparisons, should they not be included in the assessment of the range? My beef with this is that they seem to be saying that once they have fiddled a bit with the original papers (and I'll admit, I might also be inclined to discount an outrageous outlier if there was no sensible reason to consider its' plausibility), they end up with a number which adds confidence to their 'chosen' assessment range. This doesn't seem, on the surface, to be entirely transparent.

Next up is the 'introduction' of the Marine Ice Sheet Instability material:

"There is an underlying concern that observations presage the onset of large-scale grounding line retreat in what is termed the Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI; Box 13.2), and much of the research assessed here attempts to understand the applicability of this theoretical concept to projected SLR from Antarctica."

Now call me a pedant (it's a reasonable charge), but the language chosen: 'this theoretical concept' at this point, whilst it may be technically correct, might predispose a reader to imagine that MISI is an implausible scenario. Later on, the Chapter includes the memorable:

"In summary, based on ice-dynamics theory, numerical simulations, and paleo records, it is likely that abrupt and irreversible ice loss from WAIS is possible. However, theoretical considerations, current observations, numerical models, and paleo records currently do not allow a quantification of the perturbation that is necessary to destabilize the ice sheet."

Can someone tell me what that first sentence means? It's a cracker.

Last up for this post is what appears to my eyes to be mildly remarkable:

"More detailed regional modelling using scenario A1B illustrates the potential for warm water to invade the ocean cavity underlying the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf in the second half of the 21st century, with an associated 20-fold increase in melt (Hellmer et al., 2012). Based on the limited literature, there is medium confidence that oceanic processes may potentially trigger further dynamical change particularly in the latter part of the 21st century, while there is also medium confidence that atmospheric change will not
affect dynamics outside of the Antarctic Peninsula."

Wow. So there is another hypothetical process that indicates a possibility of a larger potential sea level rise, which includes local changes in orders of magnitude. Does this not indicate that the reasonable range of SLR might be upped a bit? After all, we are talking about a range, aren't we?

I'm going to finish this off in another post because I am tired.

Comments, please.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Little by Little

After the last IPCC (AR4) I spent some time on the available literature as well as conversing with several qualified people (scientists) and concluded (purely on the basis of how it all seemed to add up), that the AR4 estimates of sea level rise (SLR) probably were conservative and that a rise of around a metre by 2100 was a reasonable estimate, that 1.5 metres was plausible, but that much more seemed unlikely in the timescale, given the range of evidence.

Having gone through chapter 13 of the new AR5, I am steadily moving towards the view that a metre by 2100 is possibly the lower bound of SLR, that 1.5 metres is now the reasonable estimate, and that a larger rise is not so much unlikely as uncertain, which is a very different thing.

Of course I'm not allowed to print the stuff (well..) in the draft itself, but I extracted some parts, particularly in relation to the contribution to Sea Level Rise of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet, thinking to comment as a whole. But there is too much - even reduced to the bits which seemed most relevant to the dialogues here and on other websites.

In addition, there are plenty of better qualified commentators already working on this in the public domain. Thanks to Steve Bloom, who provided these sample links (you will need to expand the comments). This is also thematically connected to the discussion of the cryosphere (Chapter 4) here.

What I wanted to draw out of the AR5 were the potential reasons why others might think that their assessment is conservative. I have come across 9 slight oddities which will be dealt with a bit at a time (otherwise it's just too much). The first one concerns the basis for estimating the SLR contribution from the Antarctic.

It looks to me as if the core statement of estimated likely SLR from this source is based on Little et. al. (2013). [NOTE - the Little paper in question is behind a paywall at Nature Climate Change, but available as a pdf via Google Scholar] Actually, that's what the report says. But then it goes on to say, apparently, that the reason for choosing this as the reference point is that it's somewhere in the middle of the available ( process model-based) assessments, not including outliers (!) , and not taking into considering semi-empirical model estimates. But this is undermined in the selfsame explanatory paragraph by stating that it falls at the lower end of the estimates from the other process model-based assessments which were available. [NOTE - the Little paper in question is behind a paywall at Nature Climate Change, but available as a pdf via Google Scholar]

It's important to remember that the people who put this stuff together for the IPCC are experienced professional scientists and they work very hard to present what is the representative view in a balanced way. Yet, throughout the chapter, there are side-comments and minor details which, put together, strongly suggest that their chosen rubric is a consciously conservative one. 

The other point which is frequently being made is that this is an example of over-dependence on the process models. There is enough evidence in the chapter to support this view, some of it overt. As things stand, I am inclined to think that not enough weight has been given to either the semi-empirical models, which consistently produce SLR rates higher than the process models, or to the people on the ground, who also seem consistently to question the AR5 estimates and suggest they are understating things.

As was pointed out to me, the most important source of difference between estimates of sea level rise is the Antarctic. Why? In broad terms, the contribution from other sources, such as the Greenland Ice Sheet, can be imagined as adding to SLR in a way comparable to the way a tap adds water to a bath, steadily. With Antarctica, this is also the case, but there also is an identifiable (but uncertain) risk that someone is planning to jump into the bath - via a destabilisation of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (definitely more on this in a later post). The analogy also works when we think about the proposed timescales for change. There's a huge difference between adapting to a slightly overfilled bath by being careful, and clearing up after the idiot went and jumped in.

There is a lot more to be said on this subject, suffice it to say for know that I am now more concerned, after reading the report, than I was before, about the ability to adapt to some of the possible changes in the next forty-odd years, and even more worried about the following half century.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Not with a bang but with a whimper

Full of Good Intentions in response to helpful comments by Steve Bloom and William Connolley, I spent three hours this morning digesting Chapter 13 (draft) of the AR5 on Sea Level Rise.

What was most helpful about my critics' comments was that I had been reminded that if you want to say something useful, you have to stay up with the game. I've been out of the arena of GW and GW discussion for some time and have forgotten much and misremembered more. 

So, following my own personal interests and alert to my new-found ignorance, I chugged through the chapter with full intention of finding something to say and blogging it here. Which I probably will, later.

But in the interim I've been diverted by a sideline which I feel certainly deserves a mention. Thanks to dialogue on RealClimate (sidebar link) and via email, I got to thinking about one of the best books I have ever read. And I have read a lot of books.

It isn't a book about climate change or global warming. It isn't strictly science fiction, nor truly easily fitted into any particular genre, but it is profound, affecting, literate and relevant.

From his own website, I have borrowed the following:

This Is the Way the World Ends

Finalist, Nebula Award
John Campbell Award 
BBC Critic's Choice (Best SF

In 1995, George Paxton is an ordinary American living an ordinary life in an ordinary town. Content as a tombstone carver and family man, George lacks only one thing: a fashionable "scopas" survival suit--complete with sanitary facilities and a Colt.45--to protect his daughter in the event of nuclear war.
Then, through a twist of fate, George secures the coveted suit, a deluxe golden model, for the price of a mere signature. Unfortunately, what he signs proves to be a diabolical pact affirming his complicity in the escalating arms race, and as the war that could never happen happens, George is whisked into the past and the future to face the consequences of his actions.

Morrow's own comment is most pertinent here:

At first blush, a critic might bracket This Is the Way the World Ends with other post-holocaust fiction. From Alas, Babylon through A Canticle for Leibowitz to Riddley Walker, this genre has commonly styled itself an avatar of hope. My goal lay elsewhere. I began with the assumption that most people would prefer to exercise hope before the warheads arrive. I wanted to speak for victims, not celebrate survivors.

Even the most elaborate nuclear exchange would probably fail to extinguish Homo sapiens. Some of us will muddle through. In This Is the Way the World Ends, though, I decided to use self-extinction as a metaphor for the legions who won't make it. It's all very well to valorize our species's undoubted resilience, but a mass grave is hardly a fit monument to such sentiments.

Reading Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth., I was particularly impressed by one line: "The right vantage point from which to view a holocaust is that of a corpse." It struck me that most nuclear-war fiction is really a kind of pornography, inviting us to identify with winners while the losers, the corpses, drop away. So how might a novelist assume the vantage point of the dead? Through recourse, I reasoned, to the tools of speculative fiction. Eventually I hit upon the conceit of "the unadmitted," the generations whose births were canceled by the extinction. I gave them flesh and a temporary lease on life.

Reprinted from SFWA Bulletin

How good is this book? Here are two critics' assessments:

"This Is the Way the World Ends begins where Dr. Strangelove ends. It is a tale told from the other side of the grave--quite literally from the point of view of the dead--and what makes it so wonderful is not merely that it is informed about how and why the world may end, but because throughout it remains a true tale, rich in narrative and moral complexity, magically inventive and comic ... This Is the Way the World Ends defies genre. It is science fiction the way Gulliver's Travels is science fiction, fantasy the way John Collier's Fancies and Goodnights is fantasy, satire in the way George Orwell's 1984 is satire. It is also profoundly and grimly comic in the way Thomas Berger's novels are comic. Which is only to say that This Is the Way the World Ends is a unique mix of science fiction, satire, fantasy, and comedy--a gorgeously crafted and insanely funny tale about mortal and ghostly matters. It is a fable for our times, yes, but (except in a few of the too-lengthy trial sections) rarely moralistic or heavy-handed ... James Morrow is an original--stylistically ingenious, savagely funny, always unpredictable. He has written a story of the way and the why of our dear and foolish world--its sources of life and of death--that is utterly dazzling and memorable."

Jay Neugeboren
Philadelphia Inquirer

"Add to this scenario great suspense, fast action, a complex and sympathetic protagonist, and unrestrained black comedy, and the result is a wonderfully surreal novel worthy of comparison with the best political satire of this century ... Everyone should read this book: pacifists, moderates, militarists, and especially the uncommitted."

John A. Zurlo

Forth Worth Star-Telegram

The relevance comes from transposition. Morrow places his protagonist in a position where he is judged by future generations, both living and never born (the 'future dead') for his shared complicity in failing to prevent disaster to befall the planet, for thinking of himself first and not considering the consequences of his choices.

I am sure an intelligent reader can draw the obvious comparisons for herself.

I don't need to advise you to read and digest. The process of reading alone will guarantee that you will think about lots of things, not least how brilliant Morrow is.
Please, read the book.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Five years, my brain hurts a lot

A man is standing in the middle of a road, saluting his flag and smug in the knowledge that, since he is okay, so the world is okay too.

A car drives up. Just before it is about to go past, it screeches to a halt. The driver opens his window.

'Hey there,' he says, 'You know there's a truck coming, yes?'

The man in the road looks at him quizzically. 'What truck? I don't see no truck.'

'That's because you're not looking the right way. It's coming - look!' Says the worried driver.

'I've always looked like this,' the man replies, 'what's wrong with the way I look? Are you criticising me? I don't take to folk criticising me..'

'Please,' the driver begs him, 'just turn around and take a look down the road. You're about to be hit by a truck, really! Get out the road!' By now he is almost shouting.

The man chooses to remain obtuse. 'Don't see many trucks round here. Figure I'd know if there was a truck coming. I don't see no tr...'

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Might as well try and catch the wind

Today in the Guardian and on the Skeptical Science blog John Abrahams writes about a new paper by Mora et. al. (same article) about the timing of climate change impacts. At the same time, ScienceDaily covers a new paper by Ostberg et. al.: Critical impacts of global warming on land ecosystems. 

By coincidence I came across the latter yesterday and was already preparing to write about it because I found the conclusions both interesting and important. The Mora paper is behind a paywall, but the Ostberg one is Open Access, here, thanks to the excellent EGU-supported (link in sidebar).

We can't directly compare that articles unless we subscribe to Nature (which I don't), but we can compare what is written about them, and consider one or two other points related. The ScienceDaily review is a reasonable summary of salient parts of the paper, though I would possibly have had a slightly different focus had I reviewed it directly. I must presume that the Abrahams review (along with the Abstract) also gives us a reasonable summary.

A couple of things are quite striking immediately, though. Both papers use models to look forward to environmental change out to 2100 in response to AR5 scenarios. Both reach very similar conclusions, through different methods, about the timings connected to changes. Both indicate that we are already along a pathway to changes which cannot now be diverted, even with radical mitigation.

Not surprisingly, Mora and SkS/Guardian focuses on the Climate - the word is used 20 times - and climate extremes (the subject of the paper). In contrast, the Ostberg paper focuses on ecosystems. Though I write mainly about climate change myself, I find I prefer the Ostberg et. al. approach much more compelling (not least because I can actually read the material). 

In part this is probably because I am not comfortable with the focus-shift in the entire agenda to climate/weather extremes. My suspicion is that this has in part been driven by the (correct) historical perception that neither policy makers nor the general public was getting the point of climate change, and also driven by the fact that weather extremes have a measurable economic cost, and there has been a general shift towards placing economics at the centre of the sustainability concept, a shift with which I have profound concerns.

My reaction, though, is probably mainly driven by my ability to grasp and imagine what an ecosystem change might actually look like, whereas I struggle to conceptualise and visualise what a climate change might look like, beyond the obvious weather extremes, which, coincidentally, I don't see as the most important aspect of climate change.

Which leads me to what may be a the spark of an original thought. The air is invisible and often intangible. The earth (ground) is the opposite. As human beings we engage with the immanent far more readily than the insubstantial. Is climate change 'resisted' by many members of the public for this reason -it is just too difficult to 'grasp', literally?

There is so much more to be said about these pieces of research and the collective message they give, independently, about where we are going and what it might look like, but for now, I can only recommend that you read the Ostberg et. al. paper (it is not 'too' mathematical for a layman to get to grips with) for yourself, and consider whether it matters that we mitigate future climate change impacts now.

Postscript: The Mora paper has been widely picked up in the media, less so the Ostberg. The Daily Mail response, found after trawling down through endless z-list nonsense, is a pice of classical alarmism (on the surface). This is an interesting disinformation strategy, since it serves to perpetuate the myth that GW discussion is 'commy' alarmism. If you want to be truly horrified by our ability to learn nothing and care less, skip the article, which is drivel, and go to the comments. The message is not getting through! 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Global Warming Caused by Jupiter - thank heavens! (semi-empirically)

When I noticed a comment and link from Nicola Scafetta on Judith Curry's blog, my curiosity was piqued. Back in the day, Scafetta, Moon et al. were lauded as champions of the climate change doubters community and by and large critiqued negatively by most if not all of the climate scientists who blogged back then.

At the time, I'm fairly sure the furore was about attribution to Solar influences and, having kind of assumed that this had been looked at a lot recently and largely worked out, I thought I'd have a closer look.

The link kindly provided by Dr S. on JC's blog goes to a paywall, but the actual paper is available on his own page, here (for the time being). If the link goes down, no worry, I've saved a pdf just in case.

So what's it all about, NS? Snappily entitled Discussion on climate oscillations: CMIP5 general circulation models versus a semi-empirical harmonic model based on astronomical cycles, the paper compares a semi-empirical model produced by NS with the CMIP5 models and finds the latter wanting. Quoting:

     Power spectra of global surface temperature (GST) records (available since 1850)      reveal major periodicities at about 9.1, 10–11, 19–22 and 59–62 years. Equivalent  oscillations are found in numerous multisecular paleoclimatic records. The Coupled  Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) general circulation models (GCMs), to be used  in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5, 2013), are analyzed and found not able to  reconstruct this variability. In particular, from 2000 to 2013.5 a GST plateau is observed  while the GCMs predicted a warming rate of about 2 °C/century. In contrast, the  hypothesis that the climate is regulated by specific natural oscillations more  accurately fits the GST records at multiple time scales.

As usual, the reading is my non-scientist's rough watering down. In summary, about half of the GW observed since 1850 'could' be attributed to 'natural oscillations'. These oscillations are linked to half a dozen interplanetary relations - Sun/Moon, Sun/Jupiter, Jupiter/Saturn, etc.

Now this hypothesis, that our temperature is affected significantly by such distant forces as those from Jupiter and Saturn, is not an new revelation from Scafetta, so perhaps I'm behind the curve on this one again, but to my (untrained) eye, this hypothesis seems at the least counter-intuitive. It puts me in mind (no doubt unfairly) of Astrology.

I've no doubt that a suitably qualified analyst can explain very simply whether this is a legitimate line of enquiry or not - I'll try not to let my prejudices get in the way - but since I'm fairly sure someone will trot this out as 'proof' or 'evidence' that AGW is not all it's cracked up to be, it would be useful to get clarity on what is wrong with this hypothesis. As usual, depending on responses...

Monday, 7 October 2013

Can we move on?

People argue a lot online about climate change and AGW. The 'Public Acceptance' of AGW fluctuates somewhat, but in broader terms, a majority accept that AGW is a reality and 'Something Must Be Done' about it, whilst a minority (which varies in size depending on variables such as demographics, geography, etc. but is not insubstantial) challenge this 'Conventional Wisdom'. I suppose many climate blogs exist precisely because their authors see a necessity/opportunity in engaging with what is potentially a sizeable audience of the 'General Public' and expressing/espousing/championing/defending their own point of view on the subject.

And now we have got stuck. The opportunity for developing a better understanding of the subject is more or less non-existent. You see, people just don't listen. Part of the fun of the blogosphere is that we can, as bloggers or commenters or trolls, have our voices heard. So much of the interaction between people is reduced to SHOUTING or having a dig at another (relatively) anonymous, absent person who can't really punch us because we're seven thousand miles apart and anyway he/she is an idiot...

The challenge that 'scientists must/should engage more actively' (or similar) in order to sway the balance of Public Opinion is commonly touted, but, honestly, there are a lot of scientists doing a lot of this and it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference.

The politicisation of climate science hasn't helped. It tends to polarise  - by design - discussion, turning it into (at best) Rhetoric and Sophistry or (at worst) Polemic. It has to be recognised that sophistry can be influential - people can be and are swayed by smooth arguments and clever manipulation of the facts. Polemic is just shouting, it frequently confuses and upsets people, but probably doesn't change their thoughts, opinions or inclinations, unless they are so frightened by the bullying that they simply withdraw.

And of course this suits The Media very well. The essence of News is conflict. The communication of AGW has firmly been been framed in terms of 'pro' and 'anti' and we, the masses, naturally tend to join in on the side with which we most readily associate (Us versus Them). There's no point in blaming the media for doing this - it is in the nature of the beast itself to be thus - but that doesn't mean conversely that we should sit idly by while the flim-flam men and snake-oil sellers rip off our neighbours...we should (and often do) speak up and expose these people for what they are.

All of which leaves us in a dark place; the possibility that no matter what you do or say, that majority/minority is unlikely to change its mind in less than a generation, at least. There will always be a differencing, the problem with it is that, as it stands, it encourages politicians and decision makers to believe that the status quo is an acceptable state of being, so that important, difficult, potentially world-effecting decisions do not actually have to be made; they can sit on the fence and fudge it, avoiding the risk of becoming unpopular and thereby losing their mandate.

Is there no hope? Of course, there is always hope (thanks, Pandora). I have a couple of ideas about how interaction between science and the public can move forward in such a way that we, the masses, can look at our own uncertainties/opinions/obsessions/prejudices and question them, that we can actually change our minds. And I'll give you a clue - it isn't via Pedagogy. More on this later.