‘Apocalyptic climate predictions’ mislead the public, say experts

I was going to rant about Lord “I know what you should hear” Ahmed but that’s just the religious suppressing freedom of speech, which is hardly news.

But then along comes a much more interesting rant, from Vicky Pope, about the good old Arctic sea ice. ‘Apocalyptic climate predictions’ mislead the public, say experts. Met Office scientists fear distorted climate change claims could undermine efforts to tackle carbon emissions. With which I agree. Recent headlines have proclaimed that Arctic summer sea ice has decreased so much in the past few years that it has reached a tipping point and will disappear very quickly. The truth is that there is little evidence to support this. Indeed, the record-breaking losses in the past couple of years could easily be due to natural fluctuations in the weather, with summer sea ice increasing again over the next few years.

Of course, if you strongly disagree with her, you can bet with me (terms and conditions apply).

Mind you, I don’t know what Peter “summer 2003” Stott is doing in there.

Sorry, can’t resist.

Arctic Sea Ice in a Warmer Climate is worth a read.

44 thoughts on “‘Apocalyptic climate predictions’ mislead the public, say experts”

  1. From the perspective of an alarmed lay person with youngish children:
    Given the immense inertia of the climate system and the strong likelihood that there are some [probably unpleasant] surprises ahead [tipping points, abrupt transitions] and that we don’t [yet] know the threshold levels, and the climate’s response. We must surely act with caution, a caution that has been so far lacking.

    I can’t help thinking that Morono’s response to such an article was entirely predictable and all such comments that encourage deceivalists like Morono should be not made in public as it will certainly not help the cause of getting the politicians and public behind the solution. In other words people like Pope should be a great deal more circumspect about what they say or perhaps it would be better if they STFU!


  2. If anyone believes that action is necessary they should worry a lot about what the professional deceivers will do and not feed them. There are ways of saying things that don’t feed the trolls. There are ways of talking to reporters that don’t provide talking points for Morano. And yes, Eli thinks that people should be aware of these.


  3. As I understand this issue, climate models have problems with warm paleoclimates. Specifically, these models predict that the Arctic would be rather colder than what fossil evidence of the flora and fauna indicate. This suggests to me that there might well be an unpleasant surprise to be found as the climate warms, perhaps in the Arctic, perhaps elsewhere.
    What we see in recent sea ice variations might or might not be part of this surprise. These variations are certainly a large change from historical norms, but increasing variability of sea ice in a slightly warmer climate might be completely unrelated to the real surprise.


  4. So you think the arctic ice melt might be natural fluctuations? I thought you were a “yeah its a long-term trend but don’t exaggerate based on single years like 06-07” kind of guy.

    [Thats exactly what I and Vicky are saying. She isn’t saying that the long term trend is natural -W]


  5. Dr. Hansen is quoted in the Guardian.

    Key points from my perspective.

    1) Kyoto was worthless which is what I have believed all along. “Such schemes, encouraged by the Kyoto climate treaty, were simply “weak tea” and did not work.” “The United States did not sign Kyoto, yet its emissions are not that different from the countries that did sign it.”

    2) Fossil fuel tax is the main policy initiative that is worthwhile. Along with a ban on coal. I agree, but it needs to be global to be effective.

    3) “Only a carbon tax, agreed by the west and then imposed on the rest of the world through political pressure and trade tariffs” will work. I understand where he is coming from, but using trade tariffs as a form of economic warfare will inevitably fail, and lead to enormous human suffering in the form of a global depression beyond anything we have seen so far.

    That word “imposed” is unlikely to seem benign to countries outside the west.

    [Agree, talking about imposing things isn’t very sensible. We should just do it ourselves. OTOH, he is probably talking to the West here, not the East, and thinks he needs to say this to sond good back home -W]


  6. WC,

    This is where we disagree, just doing it ourselves doesn’t do much good. But we’ve already gone around this.

    I’ve often encountered this in business. People say, well I know this idea isn’t very good, but what we are doing now isn’t working so what have we got to lose. Turns out in my experience the answer is, a lot.


  7. I think Hansen’s point is that e.g. goods the U.S. imports from China should get the same carbon tax as if they had been made in the U.S. This seems reasonable.

    William, Vicky’s comment that there isn’t much evidence for a recent much sharper trend in Arctic sea ice is just weird. In addition to Maslowski et al (discussed here previously), Zhang et al (2008) should have been hard to overlook. I suspect Vicky got a few sharp emails as a consequence.

    [Zhang? -W]


  8. It seams to me that US totally missed the point with Kyoto, I think it is because they don’t want to feel behind or guilty. Kyotos main achievement is to try to work out how the trading scheme works and how to control it not to get heavy cutbacks in emissions. And how good the emission cuts have worked is discussible… http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/10/16/international/i042856D64.DTL

    A carbon tax could be the best solution but getting it done politically seams far harder the a cap and trade program.

    [work out how the trading scheme works and how to control it not to get heavy cutbacks in emissions – well, Kyoto certainly doesn’t seem to have caused any heavy cutbacks in emissions! Cap-n-trade is politically feasible largely because its meaningless, as far as I can tell -W]


  9. No and the point with Kyoto was not that…

    Why would Cap-n-trade be meaningless?

    [I mean, in practice, so far, because it has made no obvious difference to the humble citizen. All that has happened, in the EU, as far as I can tell is that various companies have made money from being given free emissions credits, others have made and lost money on trading them, and a whole pile of bureaucrats have made careers discussing it. Whereas a carbon tax would just be paid. But I haven’t been paying all that much attention. If you have links to it doing something useful, let me kow. Or blog it! -W]


  10. Mr. Bloom,

    Dr. Hansen meant what he said as the word “impose” makes pretty clear. He is a smart guy and he knows that there is no way to tax imports based on CO2 content as I discuss here.


    Dr. Hansen is saying that Kyoto was useless specifically because it encouraged cap and trade. I agree.


  11. Magnus,

    Agreed on two points. Dr. Hansen is way out of his area. Second cap and trade has worked in other areas. But the CO2 problem is too broad and complex for cap and trade, unlike something like Sulfur.


  12. NN, your opinion that a carbon tariff couldn’t be successfully implemented is IMHO poorly supported, although imposing such a tariff is obviously a last resort. All of the available mechanisms (cap-and-trade, tax, regulate) could work, but none can compensate for a lack of political will. In the present context, Hansen is particularly leery of cap-and-trade because it’s far easier to dress up a bad plan as a good one.


  13. Well, the Hadley COP 14 brochure (prepared a year ago) at least acknowledges Maslowski and otherwise seems reasonable:

    “There is no strong evidence that a threshold or tipping point has been reached, although it is still an open question and further research is required. When our model is run into the future using one of the IPCC emissions scenarios, it projects summers largely free of Arctic sea ice by the 2060s.


    “However, it is important to note that there is still considerable uncertainty in sea-ice projections. For example, a different, credible climate model has projected an earlier ice-free date.”

    Vicki should have stuck to this language. It does make me wonder if she ran her piece by the modelers.

    [Errm, you think she should talk to herself over breakfast? -W]


  14. Mr. Bloom, rather than just saying my argument is poorly supported. What specifically do you feel is not supported? I would like to make myself clearer, or understand where I am going wrong. No one has yet made a specific criticism of the arguments that I made in the blog post.


  15. ER,

    Rather than going in circles, just actually read what I wrote and make a specific comment. It has nothing to do with sales taxes which is what a VAT essentially is. Look up tariff in Wikipedia and then get back to me.


  16. It’s not like there is a will work will not work situation. I actually think that a tax would be better but I don’t think that it is much harder to get. What I think we never will see is a simple carbon tax about the same in all countries. You must give different countries different taxes (Sweden already have one quite large) and you will need to give different type of industry different rules and maybe even different parts of different countries different taxes and so on…

    And that’s why Bali was needed… and why I’m ranting about ppl thinking we are living in a perfect world. A trade war would harm the economies far more that taking care of global warming but the politicians need to feel the possibility of being re-elected for some reason. And the Industry as we all know is good at lobbying.

    That is also why Kyoto was good. As they also say…

    It also opened up several different project and alerted the industry. E.g. at the moment it seems like Germany will invest heavy in Swedish wind power sins Sweden already mainly run on water and nuclear….


  17. OT? I’m not so sure. I’m all for an objective description of the problem. I know that it’s a difficult balancing act with uncertainty, but while we must not overestimate the problem, surely we must also not underestimate the challenges that we must overcome.

    It would seem that a combination of [overly?] conservative reporting by the IPCC combined with a previously unprecedented growth spurt in CO2 emissions from China and India could make warming substantially worse than any of the IPCC scenarios so far considered. I am led to believe that the IPCC may have overestimated the role of technology in reducing future emissions and carbon sequestration. I had a brief look but didn’t manage to confirm this.

    Climate change likely to be more devastating than experts predicted, warns top IPCC scientist

    Stanford, CA— Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising more rapidly than expected, increasing the danger that without aggressive action to reduce emissions the climate system could cross a critical threshold by the end of the century, warns a leading member of the [edit] IPCC. Studies indicate that greenhouse warming could trigger a vicious cycle of feedback, in which carbon dioxide released from thawing tundra and increasingly fire-prone forests drives global temperatures even higher.

    Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group 2, will address these issues at a symposium titled “What Is New and Surprising since the IPCC Fourth Assessment?” at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago. [edit].

    “The data now show that greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating much faster than we thought,” says Field. “Over the last decade developing countries such as China and India have increased their electric power generation by burning more coal. Economies in the developing world are becoming more, not less carbon-intensive. We are definitely in unexplored terrain with the trajectory of climate change, in the region with forcing, and very likely impacts, much worse than predicted in the fourth assessment.”

    New studies are also revealing potentially dangerous feedbacks in the climate system that could convert current carbon sinks into carbon sources. Field points to tropical forests as a prime example. Vast amounts of carbon are stored in the vegetation of moist tropical forests, which are resistant to wildfires because of their wetness. But warming temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns threaten to dry the forests, making them less fireproof. Researchers estimate that loss of forests through wildfires and other causes during the next century could boost atmospheric concentration of CO2 by up to 100 parts per million over the current 386 ppm, with possibly devastating consequences for global climate.

    Warming in the Arctic is expected to speed up the decay of plant matter that has been in cold storage in permafrost for thousands of years. “There is about 1,000 billion tons of carbon in these soils,” says Field. “When you consider that the total amount of carbon released from fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is around 350 billion tons, the implications for global climate are staggering.”

    “The IPCC fourth assessment didn’t consider either the tundra-thawing or tropical forest feedbacks in detail because they weren’t yet well understood,” he says. “But new studies are now available, so we should be able to assess a wider range of factors and possible climate outcomes. One thing that seems to be certain, however, is that as a society we are facing a climate crisis that is larger and harder to deal with than any of us thought. The sooner we take decisive action, the better our chances are of leaving a sustainable world to future generations.” [/quote]


  18. I have updated my blog post based on the feedback. In summary from an import tax perspective carbon taxes are not similar to VAT or packaging taxes.

    It isn’t a question of a perfect world. It takes a lot of time and effort to get these things done. When it is completely ineffective like Kyoto then we are worse off.

    If the purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce fossil fuel use in the specific countries where it is implemented then it is effective policy. If the purpose is to solve the global CO2 output problem then it will not be effective, unless it can be simultaneously implemented by all the significant emmitters.

    Barring that we need another approach.


  19. Vicky’s one of the modelers? Well, probably she should be in touch with whoever developed the appropiately nuanced language in that Hadley brochure, or failing that spending a little more time rehearsing her public statements. At breakfast wouldn’t be a bad time.


  20. NN, who ever thought Kyoto was supposed to be effective? More than anything, it was supposed to be a proof of concept. The goals were nominal. IMHO some useful information was gained from the exercise. In sharp contrast, the next treaty does need to be effective.

    Re the tariff, do you have some other suggested mechanism to use if a significant number of countries fail to come on board with reductions, regardless of whether it’s via regulation, cap-and-trade or tax? ? “Keep negotiating” and “give up” aren’t mechanisms. Implementation could be problematic if approached in the wrong way, but there are ways to do it that would avoid the appearance of being unfair or arbitrary.


  21. SB,

    I agree that it is easy to say what won’t work. But it is also important to recognize what won’t work.

    My opinion is that on this issue it is very unlikely that international agreement will be achieved that will limit CO2 output in a meaningful way. By that I think it might be possible to reduce the rate of growth on a global level, or perhaps at the extreme reduce the absolute level a bit.

    Starting from that point I would look hard for ways to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. I would also look hard for energy solutions that would be transformational. I don’t believe either will occur naturally in the necessary time frame even with things like higher taxes.

    So if I were in charge I would set up a massive research program targeting the problem of pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. I would try to get other countries on board with the effort, but unlike other solutions I could start now and it wouldn’t depend on global agreement. As president of the US it is the only way that I could feel that I was doing every thing necessary to solve this potential crisis.

    I have only arrived at this conclusion in the last few months as I have seen no evidence, and heard no coherent argument for another approach which has any likelihood of achieving the objective.


  22. Re an international agreement, the first essential thing is for the U.S. and China to work something out. Encouragingly, BHO and HRC seem very clear on that point. See this post on Eli’s blog. Bear in mind that compared to the U.S., China is looking at much worse impacts combined with less ability to adapt.

    Re energy research I agree with you since it has clear near-future benefits, but a focus on air capture can lead to exchanging feasible mitigation for a future fantasy. Policy needs to be based on technology that is known to be feasible.

    Bear in mind that the technology air capture requires is the same as CCS, and as soon as we have that (which I seriously doubt will happen very soon, BTW) we’ll be burning coal instead. Under those circumstances it would probably make even more sense to do biomass CCS rather than coal, but air capture makes little sense regardless.

    I should clarify that I think air capture and to a lesser degree CCS are impractical not because of the technology but because of the need for them to be as cheap as other available mitigation steps.


  23. Regarding China and the US, we know hope that Australia will come in and help with that since US don’t seem to like that EU takes the lead as… some sort of little goody two shoes… (sp)


  24. Yes, and it must be frustrating for him… acting as a chairman for EU while they try to deliver a climate agenda… so far I have not heard any thing about them trying to slow the process down…


  25. In the context of a recession unleashed by American climate deniers once again bringing us closer to extinction, the tariff idea still has merit.
    You make the tariff “revenue neutral”. The tariffs on coal and oilsands emittors are balanced by subsidies on wind and conservation economies. The proper refutation is to suggest subsidies be enacted during recession and tariffs during fat, but such an idea would certainly be attacked as trying to do too much at once.


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