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« Climate Change Act Reconsidered part I - Josh 129 | Main | A meeting of the Tyndall advisory board »

El Reg on Schellnhuber

Andrew Orlowski has penned a fascinating profile of H-J Schellnhuber.

Schellnhuber had become fascinated by complex systems and non-linearity, particularly the work coming out of the New Age-y Santa Fe Institute. (He formally joined the Institute last year.) This was deeply influential. What he saw terrified him: a world out of control. Let this hagiographic profile of Schellnhuber pick up the tale.

"After many successful, and some failed, attempts to explain climate change to political leaders and CEOs, Schellnhuber has a good sense of what works and what does not. As the lead author of the chapter on 'large-scale discontinuities' in the third report produced by the IPCC, he used the phrase 'tipping point', which has wide currency in the business world," we learn.

“In a conversation with a BBC journalist, I said ‘these are, more or less, tipping points’ [in climate change]. He immediately understood," Schellnhuber told his profiler.

Schellnhuber capitalised on this with a paper, Tipping Elements in the Earth's Climate System co-authored with several others. Despite its speculative nature – "subsystems indicated could exhibit threshold-type behavior in response to anthropogenic climate forcing", we learn. It has been cited over 500 times.

Read the whole thing.

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Reader Comments (17)

This will make you laugh and/or cry

Nov 30, 2011 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrederick Bloggsworth

Schellnhuber looks like he could have an alternative career in horror movies, or as a James Bond villain. Scary looking bloke.

Nov 30, 2011 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPalantir

The 2008 paper, Lenton et al (including Schelnhuber) is just a piece of speculation. It includes a fancy "definition" of a "tipping element", but does not include even one verifiable example of an actual tipping element, let alone a quantification of the value of a threshold, the time required to reach the threshold, the time required for the supposed effects to occur after the threshold is reached, the actual "irreversibility" of the process once the threshold is passed (in fact, in many instances the tippong-point process is mentioned to be reversible), and so on. Many "possible" tipping elements are mentioned, including "estimates" of the times involved, from Greenland meltdown to the savannisation of the Amazon forest, but even those examples (where the few figures come from the "consensus" of a dozen people in a workshop including the authors and a few more people) are contradictory. For instance, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is said to be likely to reach a tipping point after which it would shift to a "permanent" El Niño state, something that would occur "within a millennium"; but at the same time an enhanced and quasi permanent El Niño is supposed to be present very soon, and to trigger more frequent droughts over the Amazon in the near future, thus "triggering" rapid savannisation of the forest in the coming decades.
Little more than spin and wishful thinking is contained in that paper, in my humble opinion.

Nov 30, 2011 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterHector M.

Saw the photo of Schellnhuber on the El Reg link. Reminded me of Phil Jones.

More - both recalled a warning from my Dad when I was a teenager: men with such mouths are egocentric, interested in their own gratifications only, and carry a whiff of debauchery.
While I found debauchery rather intriguing at that age, the rest was a bit off-putting.

Anyway - the e-mails of CG2 show that my Dad definitely knew what he was talking about, these many decades ago ...

Nov 30, 2011 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

Well, this might explain why I seem to be in the "denier" class. I'm one of the uncaring, ignorant fools who doesn't see human beings as a scourge and cancer to the planet. You know, one who doesn't care about people. How selfish and selve serving of me to believe it is "natural" for humans to make use of the resources our world offers, while remembering we are have been tasked as stewards of this very same world.

What I don't understand is why all those caring folks who believe the planet is overpopulated don't just do their public service duty and off themselves.

Nov 30, 2011 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

timg56 Nov 30, 2011 at 8:24 PM

"... while remembering we are have been tasked as stewards of this very same world."

Not only is that a "fact not in evidence" there is not even the minutest indication in the whole world that it is true.

The religion of CAGW, while utterly wrong, is still infinitely more grounded in facts and logic than your Man in the Sky hypothesis(read WAG).

Putting that sort of nonsense in posts gives ammunition to the alarmists; they can say "Look the denialists are just religionists with no understanding of science.

Nov 30, 2011 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered Commenteracementhead

"Tipping points" is - I have to admit - a very clever expression. Its meaning seems obvious: we've all known things which topple over, after all. It chimes with everyday experience.

But the underlying premise, the deception which the unwary swallows without gagging, is that the system in question is in unstable equilibrium. Or, alternatively, that the system is subject to positive feedback rather than negative.

"Just one little push is all that's needed", we are led to believe, "and we'll topple over the edge."

4.5 billion years of evolution says that life clings on tenaciously rather than snuffing it upon the slightest disruption. The ecosystem is not fragile; it's robust. Rachel Carson's influential book 'Silent Spring' argued for fragility. Since then, the green meanies have been equating development with irreversible destruction of nature.

But in these troubled economic times, these doomsayers may have outlived their welcome. Joe Public is in no mood to be lectured on how wicked it is to become prosperous. The Global Warming Religion flourished in the good times. I fervently hope that governments and citizens will dismiss it as a now-unaffordable folly.

Nov 30, 2011 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

I wonder if the advanced economic modeling which asserts that the planet can only accommodate 1 billion people is based on the premise that a certain fraction of tax-payer funded individuals are given several salaries simultaneously? If the simultaneous salary factor (SSF) were high enough - it might well prove to be a reasonable model.

Nov 30, 2011 at 10:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

Schellnhuber gets around... ... and has even more influence than stated.

he is also the Chair of the Advisory Board of the European Climate Foundation,

"Members of the Advisory Council actively engage in advancing ECF’s mission both by providing strategic advice and through advocacy."

About Us

which boasts of multil millions of Euros funding. and whose stated goal is to lobby in Europe for 90% co2 emission cuts in the EU by 2050...the ECF's media arm, the Energy Strategy Centre also happens to fund The Carbon Brief

They have provided hundreds of grants, for groups lobbying in the EU, like greenpeace and Baroness Bryony Worthington's Sandbag organisation..

Nov 30, 2011 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

This paper "Tipping Elements in the Earth's Climate System" is well worth a read for those who want to see how a “scientific” paper can be used as evidence of “it is worse than we thought”. Consider this from the introduction.

“Previous reviews have defined “abrupt climate change” as occurring “when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause”
"We have formulated a much broader definition of a tipping element, because (i) we wish to include nonclimatic variables; (ii) there may be cases where the transition is slower than the anthropogenic forcing causing it; (iii) there may be no abruptness, but a slight change in control may have a qualitative impact in the future; and (iv) for several important phase changes, state-of-the-art models differ as to whether the transition is reversible or irreversible (in principle)."

Given that there are extreme weather events occurring all the time, and that climate goes in cycles of differing lengths, broadening of definition of tipping points can give credence to the interpretation of any slight pattern shift as prophetic signs of future cataclysm.
This is made worse by gathering together nine dubious hypotheses about tipping points and dressing them up. Then, a few years later when the paper has matured a bit, someone will come along and further embellish the message with further scientific language, such as commented on here

Nov 30, 2011 at 10:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter


For issues requiring my tax dollars I am a firm believer in seeing hard evidence. For developing a personal philosphy - i.e we being tasked as stewards - I have room for faith. If I take it on faith that I have this responsibility, all the name calling in the world matters naught.

Nov 30, 2011 at 11:59 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

aka religionists,

I'm Catholic by choice (converted in high school). Many reasons, such as liking the continuity, solidity and history of the church. I'd say a very influential reason at the time was the fact that in my neighborhood, the Catholic girls were the best looking. Whatever the reason for my choice, it was something that only applied to me. What others choose is up to them. I certainly never developed the idea that it gave me any special rights or insight. Just my choice on how I wanted to pursue my relationship with my creator. Should someone want to have a cow about it, they can waste all the time they want on it. I only advise they don't get to the foaming at the mouth stage. Someone could confuse them as being infected and in need of putting down.

Dec 1, 2011 at 12:09 AM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

Oh, c'mon, acementhead, where do you live that you don't have to keep your room clean?

Dec 1, 2011 at 6:44 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I'm a great fan of the venerable El Reg and of Orloweski in particular, he gets a lot of stick because of his rationality (so bring him some support!). I've been perusing them for some time, being a bit of a techie - it confirms my prejudice that most skeptics (yes, I've finally secumbed to the American persuasion!) have, what is lacking in the 'convinced', a sense of humour!

Dec 1, 2011 at 8:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

You may consider religion and the existence of God as "nonsense". Many people (I would venture to suggest worldwide a majority) would not agree with you.
Such a belief has no bearing on the rightness or otherwise of CAGW. What it does have a bearing on is the argument that the planet is overcrowded and that if we don't stop people (usually other people, needless to say) from breeding than we are all doomed.
If the warmist fanatics wish to use timg56's beliefs (and mine) to disparage those who don't slavishly follow their particular faith then that is their problem. I tend not to bring religion into the debate because by and large it is not relevant (certainly to the terms of the debate as normally framed on blogs like this) but your implication that we should not mention our beliefs for fear of giving aid and comfort to the enemy is wrong-headed — in my view, that is.

Dec 1, 2011 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I thought the face was familiar. The German broadcaster ZDF (= BBC 2) had a section in the early evening news magazine two days ago on the Durban conference and climate change, and Schellnhuber was the person they interviewed.

The footage shown was of recent extreme weather events, begging the question of whether these are signs of worse to come - climate change being dangerous is a given. They also showed a range of possible future temperatures ranging from 2°C to 6°C higher than now, which is worse than the last IPCC range. They didn't explicitly claim this was going to happen, but the whole piece left you with the impression that the situation is urgent and serious. I wish I had recorded it now so I could look at it again and give it my undivided attention, I would certainly see it largely as propaganda. I think it shows the high level of 'Green' influence here.

Dec 1, 2011 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterKen

Really weird - almost alien!

Dec 1, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneMustGo

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