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« Plus ça change... | Main | Amazon green bestsellers 2010 »

Climategate as a reality check

An interesting interview with Mike Hulme, looking at the changes in climate science and climate policy. (Look for episode 101205 from 5 December 2010).

Part 1 is mainly about the policy aspects of climate, focusing particularly on the change in the landscape in the last twelve months, which Hulme traces particularly back to the failure of Copenhagen with the ensuing disillusion opening the way to a less top-down approach to climate policy.

There is also discussion of climate science and Hulme cites a couple of changes in the way climatologists work:

i) People now paying more attention to data - curation, accessibility, reanalysis of data (ie thermometer data).

ii) Climate scientists pay more attention to caveats and uncertainties now.

A particularly interesting question was whether Climategate was healthy for the longterm future of climate science and science policy. Hulme's answer was an unequivocal "yes", describing the CRU affair as a reality check, which knocked down untenable rhetoric from science commentators and the "infallable status" of the IPCC. The changes in the last twelve months had brought policy back into alignment with the way the world is.

Part 2

In the second part of the interview, Hulme again showed that he has travelled a considerable distance, noting that we are not going to decarbonise the economy with windmills and solar PV. We need real innovation in energy technology and we don't need global carbon targets or top-down approaches like COP.

Asked what role there is for climate science and the IPCC, Hulme noted that there has been some tinkering around the edges with the IPCC, but it continues on its own track. There is no political significance to that: another IPCC report will simply add to the complexity and uncertainty and will not make life easier for politicians.

Hulme wants to deemphasise the science: if we think science determines policy we play into the hands of those who say we can't have action because the science is uncertain, and also the hands of those who say that the science demands certain actions.

The interview closes with what I would describe as a significant pause. Hulme discusses the pressure on him to take a particular line on climate, first discussing a discussion with some green campaigners who harangued him for discussing uncertainties, and then goes on to discuss his conversations with his colleagues. There is what appears to be an almighty struggle, as he tries to conjure up a diplomatic form of words to describe the pressure he is under. Take a listen.

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Reader Comments (42)

Suggest that you all ignore the presenter's intro, midtro and outtro.....more waffle than syrup.

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

The changes in the last twelve months had brought policy back into alignment with the way the world is.

I haven't seen any evidence of any change of policy. We still have the Climate Change Act 2008 and we still have the Renewable Obligation and Fee-in Tariff schemes. Loony Huhne is still pushing his ridiculous plans to ruin the economy and the countryside.

What is the policy change? Indeed, what policy is he talking about (I haven't listened to it yet)?

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Well, Phil, it's a dog with a big tail, and China wags. The BRICs set the policy agenda and the US and EU will stumble after where it will. The tide has turned from the frothing insanity of beating the population against cliffs of physics.

The sad thing is that only cold will confirm the truth, and with the cold will come the whole string of apocalyptic ponies, famine, plague, war, and more. If it warms, it will have been man's fault, and oh, we'll pay with worse than stampedes of destruction.

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

... some green campaigners who harangued him for discussing uncertainties ...
If people like Hulme take a step back and listen properly to statements like that then there is hope. The modern environmentalist is first and foremost a political animal with a political agenda and a marked unwillingness to "take prisoners".
As this quote makes clear they are so convinced of their rightness (and righteousness) that they see nothing untoward in comparing anyone who does not toe their party line with holocaust deniers or in hauling them before tribunals for crimes against humanity.
The description of them as 'water melons' (green on the outside, red on the inside) is all too horribly accurate.
But as Hulme points out there is some sign of a change of emphasis and a recognition that the world does not actually work the way the eco-fascists would like it to. That is the battle that needs to be fought. Win that and the science should look after itself.

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

The trouble is organisation like CRU seem to have learnt nothing , they are carrying on has before , while the 'team' is up to its usual tricks. I see no sign that climate science has addressed the issues , the poor reviews carried out set the message 'carry-on' to this area , so that is what they are doing.

Dec 18, 2010 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Sounds like he's talking the talk, we'll have to wait and see if he walks the walk.

I have to wonder who those "critical colleagues" of his openness about uncertainties were, and I'd like to see his "robust defence" also.

Dec 18, 2010 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

It's very interesting (at about 20 mins), Hulme describes how climate science came into existence. It's the first time I've heard it acknowledged by a climate scientist that the discipline was formed as a politically derived science, in essence, from a number of physical sciences, with the premise that climate change was a problem that needed to be fixed.

I think one thing is the origins, the way in which climate change, the human dimension of climate change was first made visible it came out of a particular physical science tradition. It was the meteorologists, the oceanographers, the atmospheric scientists who first worked at this in the 1970s and the 1980s. I think also there was then this transfer from something like stratospheric ozone into climate change. And so what emerged 20 years ago was a particular framing of climate change, that saw it as an environmental problem that could be solved though a top down United Nations process, and a lot of people then bought into that narrative around climate change, and they imported their particular ideological preferences into that storyline.

Dec 18, 2010 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

A centrally planned science, eh, Simon. Complete with 5 year plans.

Dec 18, 2010 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Heh, the Road to Corbyn Piers.

Dec 18, 2010 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

"Hulme discusses the pressure on him to take a particular line on climate, first discussing a discussion with some green campaigners who harangued him for discussing uncertainties"

One wonders why green campaigners would be interested in enlisting scientists to their cause if they have such disdain for science and the scientific method. Why should they even bother to harangue Hulme for making careful scientific statements? They seem to want it both ways: 'Science says...', whilst at the same time destroying science.

We've seen this eco-fascist pressure on climatology, on our politicians, on the IPCC, on the media, on business etc. And in every case it is leading to corruption. If people have any self respect and concern for the professionalism in their various fields, why don't they simply tell these man haters and destroyers to hate and destroy themselves, to get lost? If these various disciplines did, that would likely signal the end of their nonsense.

I'm wondering why so many people allow themselves to be pressurized, perverted and unprofessionalized by this hateful minority.

"There is what appears to be an almighty struggle, as he tries to conjure up a diplomatic form of words to describe the pressure he is under".

I can better understand the peer pressure, but the greenies are not Hulme's peers, and if they harangue him he could simply say 'game over' and show them the door. Can't we all do that?

Dec 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

I'm wondering why so many people allow themselves to be pressurized, perverted and unprofessionalized by this hateful minority.

It is just an expression of the love for the beauty and wilderness in nature. The green campaigners come dressed as Nature's chaplains. How do you say no?

Dec 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Re ScientistForTruth

One wonders why green campaigners would be interested in enlisting scientists to their cause if they have such disdain for science and the scientific method. Why should they even bother to harangue Hulme for making careful scientific statements? They seem to want it both ways: 'Science says...', whilst at the same time destroying science.

They're interested because it provides the appeal to authority and provides a veneer of legitimacy to their PR campaigns. So 97% of scientists say their grants prefer a consensus. While the campaign was working, money poured into climate science. Universities opened up climate research departments to get funding creating green jobs for researchers and tenure for professors of the new religion. Life was good.. Until pesky sceptics started noticing problems with the research and the advertising coming out of these new labs.

As to how scientists fell for this, that's easy, the same reason that usually allows people to become corrupted. Money, Ideology, Conscience and Ego. Climate science appeals to all four, allowing people to make money saving the world and becoming celebrity scientists along the way. The Hockey Team demonstrate this in spades. Some scientists saw the problem coming, like Hulme with his last book, or RPJr with his 'Honest Broker', or Dr Curry. Some never joined the bandwagon and retained their objectivity. The greens don't really care about the damage done to science, they'll just move on to the next campaign, whether that's acidification, biodiversity or whatever. They'll find more useful idiots to help support those campaigns and discard any current ones that have become too tainted.

I can better understand the peer pressure, but the greenies are not Hulme's peers, and if they harangue him he could simply say 'game over' and show them the door. Can't we all do that?

If you have the strength of character, yes, but then Climategate also showed the pressure applied by 'peers' to other climate scientists that strayed away from the official party line.

Dec 18, 2010 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

He reminds me of a "Born Again" preacher I heard on the American tele the other night.

Fire and Brimstone. Damnation if you don't repent.

Meanwhile, we are freezing in the dark with ruined economies. And what does he want to do? Why make it colder, darker and poorer. Twit.

Dec 18, 2010 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Surely part of the problem is that if you're interested in Green issues and politically active in that area, you're more likely to go and study environmental-type degree courses at University, where you're being taught by other like-minded individuals who before you did the same. So there's a basic bias in the political affiliations of such graduates in the first place. It's hardly a surprise that you'd then find yourself under pressure not just from Green lobby groups, but also from your own peers, if you stray from the paradigm.

Dec 18, 2010 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't Hulme been a prime proponent of "post-modern" science? In which case he has prepared the ground for the evangelist scientist and now seems to be trying to slime away from responsibility by trying to create a distance between himself and the more obviously guilty parties.
I suspect that his colleagues might be more angry at him for being the rat leaving the sinking ship - especially if he was one of those handing them the tools and encouraging them to hole the ship in the first place.

Dec 18, 2010 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest


Quite right. All those so-called "climate scientists" at UEA are environmentalists and they are in the School of Environmental Studies. They haven't been trained in science, and it shows.

Dec 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Philip, the school is the 'School of Environmental Sciences' and most definitely not the 'School of Environmental Studies' which is something quite different. It has geologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, atmospheric scientists etc. as well as climate scientists and social scientists amongst it's faculty. I'm on the faculty of the school and am a geochemist and geologist rather than an environmentalist. I'm not sure what difficult conversations Mike Hulme is having with colleagues. My scepticism is well known, indeed was the subject of a Guardian front page article, but I've not had any difficult conversations with colleagues.

Dec 18, 2010 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Paul Dennis

Regardless of the school's name, Phillip is quite right in his assertion that the Climate Scientists clearly show a lack of knowledge of the scientific method and statistics. It is definitely a environmental studies program, regardless of the title over the door. Plugging random data collected by devious means into PCA and calling it science is fraud in my book.

My condolences to you for having to have to deal with them daily.

Dec 18, 2010 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

I'm not sure if Hulme is a "chameleon" or a "teflon-man" (or perhaps a teflon-coated chameleon!)

Certainly in this interview his views are encouragingly nuanced - and he seems to see the writing on the wall for the IPCC/UNFCCC. With the exception of some rather convoluted turns of phrase - perhaps a vestige of his prior post-normal leanings - it's hard to find fault with much of what he said.

Not too long ago, Hulme did quite publicly "shrink" the consensus - which (as to his credit he acknowledged during this interview) he had been instrumental in building pre-Kyoto - even if he did subsequently backtrack and support the IPCC "way":

"I think it is important to explain how knowledge is assessed by experts and how headline statements come into being. By the way, I think this is an entirely credible process of knowledge assessment, but people should not claim that it is more than it is." [emphasis added -hro]

Don't know about others, but I find it odd that (as Paul Dennis noted above) Hulme and his evolving views do not seem to generate the flak that Judth Curry invariably seems to incur for daring to veer from the alarmist party-line.

But he does seem to have jumped off the "all eggs in the carbon-basket now" bandwagon, which is a good thing, IMHO.

The interviewer, though, really needs to listen to his output - and make a New Year's resolution to produce a significant decline in the number of "uh's and uhm's" with which his narrative is littered!

Dec 18, 2010 at 7:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterhro001

Don Pablo

"He reminds me of a "Born Again" preacher I heard on the American tele the other night.

Fire and Brimstone. Damnation if you don't repent.

Meanwhile, we are freezing in the dark with ruined economies. And what does he want to do? Why make it colder, darker and poorer. Twit."

If you want to hear some real "fire and brimstone" check out Greg Craven's Open Letter at Judy Curry's blog.

Dec 18, 2010 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnyColourYouLike

Paul Dennis

Happy Christmas! I still keep checking your dormant blog from time to time. Meanwhile here's my favourite environmental Father Christmas with a short seasonal greeting! And heres a clue first, he has a great quote:
'God, I mind getting older. It's horrible. I open old people's homes and once, when I got to one, I was the oldest person there.' To see who, if you haven't guessed already, fire up this link

Dec 18, 2010 at 8:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Nice article tonight on GWPF folks.

Lets you know just how really really good the Met office is(n't).

Smile while we all bask in their warmth...generated by the heat coming off their enormous computers.

Here is the header for the item.

"Warm Bias: How The Met Office Mislead The British Public "

To paraphrase Brucie on Strictly...

Not so much Keep Dancing than Keep Freezing.

Dec 18, 2010 at 8:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRETEPHSLAW

The Mike Hulme interview was quite revealing.

Although Hulme has not backed down as far as supporting the “mainstream view” on AGW, he has apparently had a serious wake-up call. This has come partly from the “reality check” of Climategate and later revelations (although he maintains that “claims of fraudulent science were largely dispelled”). The failure of Copenhagen also played a role. But he points to the encounter with climate “activists” who berated him for expressing uncertainties relating to the scientific evidence with “you’re not making our life any easier” as the key turning point for him.

Interesting is his call for “fragmented” solutions (rather than the top-down UN approach with global carbon caps and taxes), which would include, for example, working on eliminating black soot (relatively easy to do) rather than concentrating on CO2 reduction (which he described as the “hardest part”, which only represents “45% of the problem”). This appears to be a major shift from the prevalent view on climate change policy.

Then, to climate science itself, Hulme agrees that it has had a “health check”, and that people are paying more attention to the data. As a result, he agrees that, in order to regain public trust, a re-analysis of the temperature data is required in order to answer the question “is it robust?”, more transparency is required across the board as is the open recognition and expression by scientists of the many uncertainties in the science.

As far as IPCC is concerned, Hulme states that its process misused science and that it has been shown not to be infallible. He does not see that another IPCC assessment report will make life any easier for policymakers, since it will only increase the level of uncertainty regarding the science and the projections.

But I think his statement: “If we hold science up as more authoritative than it is we are doing a disservice to science”, is revealing of just how profound his wake-up call really was.


Dec 18, 2010 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Thinking folks' views change over time, fossils' dont.

It is interesting to note how Hume traces back his third eye opening to ~5 years back when the Amazon modeling papers from the Hadley Center - he is in all likelihood referring to the Cox and colleagues papers.

Dec 18, 2010 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

I certainly do not agree with most of Mike Hulme's views on "dangerous AGW".

But I'm sure that most of you who live in the UK (I do not) will be pleased that he stated "we will not drive fossil carbon out with windmills and solar panels".

Is this just "talk" or will he push for stopping all those costly, ineffective and ugly windmills that are being plunked all over the place at taxpayer expense?

Let's see.


Dec 18, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

Rather a good interview I thought. Hulme comes across as an intelligent individual, probably harbouring personal regrets that in naivity and innocence he climbed aboard in good faith. I suspect he is painfully aware of multitudinous ecopoliticoscientific hanky panky, had second thoughts and is now rather relieved that the wagon has slowed sufficiently for him to consider stepping off, if he can do so gracefully.

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Cooler Heads Event with Dr. Richard Lindzen on Cap and Trade

Lindzen's comments on the cooptation of science are still appropriate.
Also his comments on Hulme's book and views.

After the "Battle of Seattle", seems to me that Clinton commented in essence that if TPTB couldn't yet achieve the full global agreement they desired, that the same agenda would still proceed nevertheless via means of multiple bi/tri/etc/lateral agreements still directed towards the same ends.

It seems to me that the same applies here, and one should not assume that the long range agenda has changed in the least, however the methods may take a slightly different trajectory towards the same end goal.

I don't think one should assume any meaningful change in Hulme's long range vision or views, but IMO any seeming softening of position is no more that a tactical maneuver on his part. (indicating that he's astute politically, but still as committed as ever to his "post normal" vision of science)

Sorry if this dashes some optimism , but that is the context IMO in which Hulme's recent utterances should be viewed .

all the best

Dec 18, 2010 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Re: Dec 18, 2010 at 10:30 AM | kim

Fortunately, BRIC is not nearly far enough down the wealth and comfort road to pretend to be able to afford to destroy the foundations of their own--and world--economies, which is what the UK, EU, UN, and (till recently) the US have been doing.

As for the consequences of warming, what if they turn out to be banal and benign? As all of human history, recorded and archaeological, strongly indicates? (There have been ZERO warming depop crises, and MANY cooling ones.) Then the screamers and 'mongers will be locked in their echo chamber. Kindly people will perhaps slip rations through the slot, in consideration of the Warmists total incapacity to feed and care for themselves, much less the Global Empire they now so urgently conjure up.

And the other tail of the distribution is that a Pink Swan may be found. I consider that far more likely and closer in time than the Black Swan hobgoblins being invoked.

Dec 19, 2010 at 2:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H

"uhs" and "ums" are speech devices to give time to come up with the next statement, without giving up the floor with inviting silence. The best solution is to know what you are talking about. Sometimes it permits genuine thinking, but mostly it's just unwillingness to be quiet when you have nothing to say.


Dec 19, 2010 at 2:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H

Hulme the Gods wish to destroy, they first make as mad as a Huhn.
You, and your two friends Cameron and Cl'egg, going to pickup the tag for those cold-climateer's energy bills who made it into March 2011 by ticking the "I'll cut out the food option so I can keep the heating on" box!
If, and it's a big if, you help the survivors of your collective, consensus madness to survive by cutting the obscene profits of the energy suppliers to no more than ten times base rate, then WTF are you going to do about the funeral costs of those that ticked the "wrong" box.
Fair dinkum, the dead can't vote but the bereaved can, and will.
Before you dismiss my words as just the ravings of a madman, just do this. Switch off your heating for three days, buy in fan-heaters, run them full-time to stop your pipes freezing, drape travel-rugs over your shoulders for preservation purposes, do it while getting £100 a week and then explain why I should be happy with your ideas.
Tell that to the multitudes who will slip into the quiet premature darkness of death thanks, no thanks, to your well-intentioned and murderous policies.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Your intentions, however noble, lead to a noble Holocaust. Sleep tight and don't let the nightmares bite!

Dec 19, 2010 at 2:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Oops, nearly forgot to tell you two, Messrs CanCuneron and Comfort-break boy that, for us the great u washed, life does actually matter.
For sure, it ain't the life that you rakes lead. Its more about survival and subsistence at the most basic of levels than you are capable of never understanding.
You want to lead? I have no problems with that. Someone has to.
Just prove that you're worthy of my faith!
Is that a problem?

Dec 19, 2010 at 3:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Well, BH @ Two:

Good for you, you are more optimistic than am I. Of course, I expect steady or warmer temperatures to be socially benign; I was referring to the fact that the sophistical politicians among the alarmists will be sure to connect human activity with warming and thus enslave us. Only with cooling will the truth of man's relative impotence with respect to the climate be made manifest.

So, I hope you are right and I am wrong.

Dec 19, 2010 at 4:36 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Roy, last year I told my friend Peter Bocking that I hoped it would all end in ridicule and he replied that too many had died already.

Dec 19, 2010 at 4:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Roy, I think you just dialed yourself out of the Elect who will make up the down-sized post-culling global population. Various estimates exist, but let's go with 2bn. You won't be one of those being issued an ox and a few sections to cultivate for Those Ones, I fear.

Welcome to the Un-Elect!

Dec 19, 2010 at 4:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H


Yes. I believe you are right in saying that Hulme's concessions are simply tactical moves.

After all, he is a "leopard" and, as such, does not really change his spots. But he is also politically astute enough to realize that the tide of public opinion has turned and that, at the same time, more and more scientists are beginning to raise questions about the "mainstream consensus" position.

So he is positioning himself as an open-minded "man of reason" with his call for more transparency, re-analysis of temperature records, greater recognition and communication of uncertainties regarding the scientific data, etc.

But he showed his spots with his statement (regarding Climategate and the IPCC revelations) that the claims of fraudulent science were "largely dispelled".


Dec 19, 2010 at 7:11 AM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Hulme is having a 1945 moment and cutting the insignia off his uniform.

Dec 19, 2010 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Hulme, post normal nutter.

I would trust that bastard with his own faeces.

On an 'arbitrary phantom menace' - may I suggest where (in a very dark place) he sticks his opinions.

Incidentally, he is only a bloody geographer, not a real scientist but then....... you all knew that.

Dec 19, 2010 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan


Dec 19, 2010 at 8:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan

Re Kim

Roy, last year I told my friend Peter Bocking that I hoped it would all end in ridicule and he replied that too many had died already.

This is the sad part that is often overlooked. Climate policy is killing and will kill more people. This winter's death toll is likely to be high* and should get our politicians looking long and hard at energy policy and fuel poverty. Stock answer from greens seems to be raising benefits to cover rising energy costs.

*Potentially compounded by flu and low uptake of vaccinations this year. Next Thursday's HPA update could be interesting.

Dec 19, 2010 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Yes, and given the publicly proclaimed misanthropism of the Greens et al., one is tempted to wonder if these "Consequences" are really "Unintended". Culling is never a pretty process, after all ...

Dec 20, 2010 at 5:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian H

'Climategate' the theft of emails from the CRU probably by Russian criminals probably working for Exon-Mobil or some such outfit ended in the smallest of whimpers.

Three separate inquiries exonerated the scientists concerned of any scientific or academic wrongdoing, although it was revealed they did have bad thoughts against climate deniers, as do I, and many others.

The Glacier scandal was a trivial error in one paragraph of a 3000 page report; and in point of fact most glaciers will be gone in a fairly short time if the globe keeps heating the way it is.

To inflate these trifles into proof of a conspiracy against the trouf or widespread corruption and incompetence is simply fantastic, literally a product of fantasy; making the most enormous mountain out of the tiniest of molehills.

Anyone who'd accept such drivel is obviously gullible beyond belief, but then again I suppose you can't be a denier if you're not, can you?

Climategate has joined Glaciergate, Amazongate and all the other Whatevergates in the dustbin of history and the case for Global Heating, always strong, has with research released this year, reached the status of incontestable.

If this is the best the deniersphere can come up with we may yet save the world.

Please feel free not to come begging for favours when we do.

You'll be lucky if we even speak to you.

Dec 21, 2010 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered Commentermacsporan

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