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« A climate bet | Main | Conference on the Science and Economics of Climate Change - cartooned by Josh »
Wednesday
May112011

The conference - a summary

I ground to a halt on my live blogging yesterday - a combination of IT issues and frustrations with the conference itself being the cause.

The Howard Trust did a huge public service in getting together the group of people they did, but there were real issues with the format of the event. With the programme already packed, the fact that chairmen had also been asked to make short presentations meant there was almost no time for meaningful questioning of the presenters. On the rare occasions that the Q&A did spark into life the need to move on would bring things to a halt. This was a big issue in terms of developing an understanding of where the differences lie and how readily they might be resolved. There were video cameras in evidence, so you will get the chance to see what I mean. As Vaclav Klaus said in the introduction to his talk, the impression you got was of two groups of people who were talking past each other rather than engaging in a meaningful way.

If it was me organising it, I think I would have asked for much more tightly focused presentations, looking at specific areas of disagreement, rather than each side setting out its catechism once again. At least we could have learned something from this.

Morner and Plimer were colourful characters, with Morner in particular verging on the comical. I think this is a defence mechanism. Svensmark on the other hand was soberness personified and I sensed he was held in much higher esteem by the AGW subcribers as a result. I wondered if a certain degree of eccentricity is a requirement for those who choose to sit outside the climate science mainstream.

The subscribers were much blander - I don't mean this as a criticism though. Jones looked pretty drawn to me. I was interested to see the reactions to the sceptic talks from AGW subscribers. Andrew Watson was clearly very unimpressed, particularly with Plimer. I think Plimer probably felt the same way about Watson though. Their brief exchange wasn't enough for anyone to work out who was right. I was struck by the stony faces from the AGW subscriber side when Vaclav Klaus made some jokes in his talk. I think that, despite what they say, they are very much of the left. Perhaps they just don't realise it.

All of the presentations were pitched at a level that was relatively superficial - what else could they be given the time constraints? I would have found it more useful to assume a certain level of background knowledge but to tell us about where the differences of opinion lay. Then we could listen to the debate and learn something.

The post-conference reception was much more useful, and I was able to engage with a number of people from the other side of the debate and I learned a great deal. A lot of ice was broken - it's amazing what a glass of champagne will do to people operating in separate trenches. I think this is going to lead to some meaningful engagement in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

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Reader Comments (48)

I wondered if a certain degree of eccentricity is a requirement for those who choose to sit outside the climate science mainstream.

You've gone too far this time Bishop. I resemble that remark.

May 11, 2011 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

BH

Good effort.

Never mind about the live blogging - you did your best.

But it sounds like the real achievements came later. Good.

May 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

“I was struck by the stony faces from the AGW subscriber side... I think that, despite what they say, they are very much of the left”.

And I very much resemble that.

If you libertarian climate outsiders are eccentric, what does that make us lefty climate outsiders?

May 11, 2011 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Groups of more than about 7 active participants can't really get anything done. You see thiis time after time with the King's Council expanding and being replaced by the Privy Council, which in turn is replaced by the Cabinet, which is now a rubber stamp for the Inner Cabinet. Groups larger than that should be divided up into subcommittees.

May 11, 2011 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

And Delingpole has blogged it too..

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100087415/climate-change-an-emetic-fallacy/

But he gets the yogurt thing the wrong way round. It is they, the warmists, who present the perfect fruit yogurt. Is it they who cannot stomach the dog poo of uncertainty spoiling their confection. And that;s why they can't compromise, there can be no compromise between certainty and doubt which is not just doubt. (As a very wise commenter wrote here a couple of days ago, a very wise commenter. OK, it was me)

May 11, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

Who are The Howard Trust?

Charities Commision didn't seem to have anything resembling them and some googling found an article suggesting this was a followup to the Lisbon workshop. If so, the talking past each other sounds like it's still the problem and a sign that climate tribalism still hasn't been overcome. If so, thats a shame because if pro/anti AGW camps can work together, then areas of uncertainty are easier to identify and communications could be improved. Much of the tribalism is probably due to lack of effective communication and a tendency for some prominent advocates to preach rather than educate.

May 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

Rhoda, if I understand you correctly, then you, unlike the AGW crowd, can accept a certain amount of dog poo in your yoghurt.

I'm beginning to think that I'm on the wrong side ...

May 11, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

@ geoffchambers

If you libertarian climate outsiders are eccentric, what does that make us lefty climate outsiders?

It makes you mentally ill, but nothing that a bit of punitive psychiatry won't fix.

May 11, 2011 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

It sounds as though it may have been a sort-of-useful conference. If there were exchanges after the day had ended, then maybe the presentations had at least reminded everyone of what the different people thought that the key issues were. Academic conferences often involve some good talks and some terrible ones. And egocentrism makes everyone think they have a right to use other people's time up by talking to them - hence long introductions are not so rare. Some conferences allow very little formal time for discussion - but at others, the rather stilted nature of the 'questions to the speaker' format can mean that although a lot of time is spent on them, then you really only get more of the same - people stating what they believe, rather than engaging with what other believe.

My feeling is that if you, Nigel Lawson and others got a chance to talk informally with people like Jones and Watson in the informal discussion at the end, and there was some effort on each side to understand what the other side was saying, then that is not so unsuccessful. We will indeed 'watch this space'. Thanks for the post.

May 11, 2011 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

Justice4Rinka: “It makes you mentally ill..”

Thanks, Justice. I thought you were on the side of the underdog?

May 11, 2011 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

I sense a degree of frustration, your Grace, though it seems that — as usual — it's the networking in the corridors and the bar that is likely to produce results, if there are to be any.
I'm afraid I never held out any great hope for this. It sounds like what was to be expected - a gab-fest which was designed to make sure that no beliefs (on either side) were seriosuly challenged. Isn't the establishment so, so good at that?!
Geoff -- I'm sorry to say it because, as they say, some of my best friends are lefties (sort of) but a long life has taught me that the left - when actually beingleft, as opposed to just having a pint down the pub - have no sense of humour nor a sense of the ridiculous. Mention any serious subject and they instantly don their anoraks and go all po-faced on you. If only they would lighten up, just a bit.

May 11, 2011 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Bit like when I entertain my vegetarian friends to dinner. I make an effort to produce stuff they'll eat; but when I'm invited back do I get meat - no way. Of course they can't stand any ribbing whatsoever. Funny old world

May 11, 2011 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBaxter 75

Mike Jackson said "Mention any serious subject and they instantly don their anoraks and go all po-faced on you. If only they would lighten up, just a bit."

A recent conversation with by sister, who is rabidly leftist, on CAGW was bizarre. She initially reacted exactly as you say, with endless appeals to authority (which oddly she completely rejects when it comes to GM foods). She couldn't accept the possibility of academics being wrong, as this could only be due to some world-wide conspiracy which she sees as absurd.

So she tried the various trivial arguments about ice and sea level and droughts, etc, and after a few minutes of me countering everything she said, she literally became unwell and had to go for a walk to the local shops, looking pale and uncomfortable. She genuinely seemed unable to even think about the possibility that the Guardian might be wrong sometimes.

In her case, and I suspect many like her, it was not unlike a real challenge to deeply held religious beliefs, and she just was unable to handle it.

May 11, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

geoff chambers

Ha! Very good.

May 11, 2011 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

What you lot don’t get is that all so-called lefties, from Clegg to Trotsky’s hamster, are really running dogs of imperialism in disguise. Only me and my mates down the pub are the real thing. No wonder we’re sometimes po-faced.
Steveta: Your sister is not typical of Guardian readers. Look at CiF comments, and you’ll see that disagreeing profoundly with the Guardian is the sure sign of a true Graunista.

May 11, 2011 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

@ geoff

Surely the true sign of a Graunista is the view that there is only one permissible lefty opinion on any subject?

It's nice if the Narugida and its readers are in step, but if not, the correct CiF commenter response is to shriek abuse at it until the foam flies from your lips.

But seriously - a major weakness of the CiF / EF/ warmist persuasion is that they rarely take the trouble to understand and get acquainted with their opponents' actual views and arguments. Some sceptics think the average temperature is not changing, and at the other end of the spectrum, some thing it is and that we're to blame buit that it's not worth fixing.

These (and all points between) are distinct and different views, but the EF reaction is to conflate them together as one and to argue that all who believe the latter also believe the former. Thus all are equally wrong. This happens, IMHO, because that's how the left sees things - there's a right answer and everything else is heresy.

Or, if you're in the Soviet Union, it's mental illness, for which the treatment is not debate and persuasion, but incarceration and punitive psychiatry. And Warmists are keen on both for sceptics, you may have noticed.

May 11, 2011 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

"The subscribers were much blander - I don't mean this as a criticism though. Jones looked pretty drawn to me."


"Mention any serious subject and they instantly don their anoraks and go all po-faced on you. If only they would lighten up, just a bit."

I wonder if "Anally retentive" is the phrase you are seeking?


Just a thought.....

May 11, 2011 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Did anyone from the CAGW camp put forth some new physical hypothesis that explains some forcing and, thereby, extends our knowledge of the effects of CO2 beyond what we have from Arrhenius? If not, what is there to discuss?

Svensmark has physical hypotheses that go beyond Arrhenius. Did anyone comment on this fact? Because he has these hypotheses, Svensmark is most likely the only person at the conference whose ideas are provably false (falsifiable). Did anyone comment on this?

May 11, 2011 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

I am frustrated too as a non scientist desperate to find out what is really going on with our climate. The key issues are accurate and unbiased records of (in my humble opinion) ocean heat content, sea level and to a lesser degree atmospheric global temperatures as well as how the land based ice sheets are performing (volume) over long enough periods to assess if they are increasing, staying the same or decreasing. Also degree of acceleration or deceleration if there is a change. All the rest is periferal. If there is an accumulation of heat through AGW it must be somewhere by now at almost 400ppm. It can only be in the oceans or in the atmosphere or troposphere above us. Where is the missing heat if any? Are the oceans warming? Is the land based ice melting? and if so, how much and is it significant. I am fed up with the posturing of certain "scientists" and the lack of progress in getting towards fact based indices we can believe in. The eminent scientist cannot even agree on constructing one set of best possible indices to account for such movements (if any). As for computer models I have read too much about them to believe they can predict anything 40 or 90 years out. Regrettably it would now appear to be "follow the money" rather than follow the science now.

May 11, 2011 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohn Peter

I wonder if "Anally retentive" is the phrase you are seeking?
Thanks, Martin, but I decided to go with "anorak" instead this time! ;-)

May 11, 2011 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Theo Goodwin

That's the spirit.

May 11, 2011 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

John the point is "such movement if any".

I do not say there is zero warming, or that there is, both depend on the accuracy of measurments and the timeline chosen. The real world question is "is there warming or movement greater than has occurred in the historic and prehistoric record". The answer to that is an unequivocal no for overall temperature (we are significantly cooler than during the Climate Optimum) and a probable no over the rate of increase (bearing in mind that there has been a decrease since 1998) If there is not a catastrophic warming there is, by definition, no CAGW and no reason to spend trillions "preventing" it.

May 11, 2011 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Theo - the first tennant of the Church of AGW, is never, ever put forwards something that is falsifiable within the span of your career!

May 11, 2011 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

Neil Craig

Which climate optimum?

May 11, 2011 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Steveta-UK -

"She genuinely seemed unable to even think about the possibility that the Guardian might be wrong sometimes."

I was going to suggest you could get her one of these for Christmas - (a Daily Mash T-shirt: Guardian logo with "Wrong about Everything", but them seem to have sold out! http://dailymash.shotdeadinthehead.com/default.aspx?Page=1

May 11, 2011 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

No, they are still available - http://dailymash.shotdeadinthehead.com/product_view.aspx?pid=1573

May 11, 2011 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

“Jones looked pretty drawn to me."

Not by Josh he doesn’t. Are you sure it’s not just the pullover?

May 11, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minmal qualifications and only half a mind:

QED The science is NOT settled.

Maybe a job for this blog should be to point this situation, and its likely continuation into the foreseeable future, out to politicians and get them to realise that policies on energy, carbon and the like that are based on the belief that it IS settled threaten to impoverish us all for no good reason.

May 11, 2011 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

"I think this is going to lead to some meaningful engagement in the coming weeks"

Yeah. Perhaps Professor Jones will agree to write a 'Dear Phil' column for this blog. And we can all write in with our climate questions.

May 11, 2011 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

The real debate is whether human understanding of climates is advanced enough to

a) diagnose problems in climates and
b) fix those problems.

Or whether it is premature to base any decisions on a primitive discipline.

If you start debating anything else then you have conceded this point.

May 11, 2011 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Did you ask Vaclav if he gave the pen back? :))

May 11, 2011 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

No - I bet BH has just reallised his own pen's gone missing!

May 11, 2011 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

"If you libertarian climate outsiders are eccentric, what does that make us lefty climate outsiders?"--geoffchambers

Respected, for having an open mind and not being a lock-step, knee-jerk liberal.

LOL @ stephen richards & matthu re the Pirate of Pens' Antics! Obviously, Klaus does have a sense of humour.

Looking forward to your "Dear Phil" advice to the data-lorn column, your Bishopness. Will read it with an open mind.

May 11, 2011 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

I agree about the problems with the debate format. I think we could take lessons from Richard Dawkins on this. The most stimulating discussion was the Four Horsemen set up. http://richarddawkins.net/rdf_productions/the_four_horsemen Perhaps this would have been a step in the right direction to open up the debate? Rather than formal speeches.

BTW I went of the “Hardest Hit - Defending disabled people’s future” demo this morning which marched outside parliament with my “Repeal the Climate Change Act CO2 Taxes = Fuel Poverty”, placard and people were very willing and interested to chat about this very real concern - not so much the science - but the impact that this policy will have on our most vulnerable citizens. A price on CO2 is a price on human life.

I think we need to pay closer attention to the politics and the policy. The science is no longer the main issue. I think the debate has moved on to the impact of the decarbonisation. The most recent Gallup poll indicated that 43% of the UK public do not think global warming will pose a threat to them and their family. This is a significant section of the electorate. We have the Arctic big freeze winters to thank for this and fears about inflation and jobs - “it’s the economy stupid”.

In fact there has never been a deep level of support for Green ideology and decarbonisation within the general public. I think there is a real mismatch and a culture clash.

Real evidence for this can be seen in the poor support for the 10:10 campaign which aimed to get people to sign up to cut their CO2 emissions by 10% last year. Now correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t there 225,000 Guardian readers and just 76,393 people signed up to cut their carbon emission by 10% in 2010! And Greenpeace boasts 177,000 members. Even their members didn’t buy this. So there is little interest or support for this decarbonisation policy amongst the labour, liberals or anyone else, even though tens of thousands of pounds have been spent, and the 10:10 campaign had full MSM and all party support.

The real question is how long can the political class keep the decarbonisation policy afloat? In reality it is already a vote looser - have you heard any politician mention climate change recently? No! The climate scare is over. So let’s get Britain off the climate change bandwagon.
SIGN OUR PETITION http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43914.html

May 11, 2011 at 11:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterFay Kelly-Tuncay

"If it was me organising it, I think I would have asked for much more tightly focused presentations, looking at specific areas of disagreement, rather than each side setting out its catechism once again. At least we could have learned something from this."

So, a different format would have brought about useful re-thinking? I'm of the opinion that a different or altered set of presenters would have aided this result example, scientists whose work argues for a falsification of CAGW would have been helpful. and

Lindzen and Choi, Roy Spencer, and Andrew Dessler - from America, for instance - would have shifted the focus from catechism to the empirically falsifiable.

May 12, 2011 at 12:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterOrson

@ Fay

Now correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t there 225,000 Guardian readers and just 76,393 people signed up to cut their carbon emission by 10% in 2010! And Greenpeace boasts 177,000 members. Even their members didn’t buy this. So there is little interest or support for this decarbonisation policy amongst the labour, liberals or anyone else,

I think the point is that liberals aren't troubled by their own emissions, they're troubled by yours. The problem isn't the Islington liberal's 4x4, which s/he needs; it's yours, which you don't need and are driving only because you're a selfish show off.

Liberals don't volunteer to cut their emissions because their strategy is to force other people to cut theirs.

May 12, 2011 at 1:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

@ J4R

The aim is to stop the "liberals" from forcing their agenda on the rest of us. Repealing the Climate Change Act (as we know it is built on foundations of quicksand) would be a good start in dismantling the climate change industry and letting people get on with their lives.

May 12, 2011 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Fay, that is something new (at least for me, on this blog) and encouraging. Well done for taking the initiative. The pressure on politicans and the media elite must, as always, come from the bottom. It's a reason that instinctively I've felt that those of the left culturally have a vital role to play in ending climate policy madness. I say culturally because in the UK especially there's always been much more to it than Marx and Engels. Although today I'd much prefer a libertarian - big government spectrum as the primary way we classify people, the history won't go away overnight. But anyway, there's talking about it and there's doing it. You've learned something that I couldn't know - because I never tried. Thank you.

May 12, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

"I was struck by the stony faces from the AGW subscriber side when Vaclav Klaus made some jokes in his talk. I think that, despite what they say, they are very much of the left. Perhaps they just don't realise it."

I still think of myself as "of the left" - if only they were a bit more critical about causes such as AGW - I mean, the left, of all people know there are huge greedy institutions of various sorts, but they turn a blind eye to fact that some of those bodies are pushing AGW. Basically they are ignoring the fact that they are being used.

May 12, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bailey

@ David

I think the left imagines it can use AGW in much the same way that the other parties in 1933 thought they could use Chancellor Hitler.

May 12, 2011 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

May 11, 2011 at 11:59 PM Fay Kelly-Tuncay

Well done on starting your petition, although since sending petitions to the Government took off a few years ago, there seems to be a track record of Prime Ministers' just ignoring them.

Last week I put forward an alternative strategy of voters writing directly to their MP.

This can be found under the Bishop's post on May 3, 2011 Exit stage left, Huhne...?

"MPs and voters alike in the UK have to obey the law of the land, namely the Climate Change Act 2008.

Until such time that CCA 2008 is repealed, then the current madness will continue.

However, for this to happen, more than 326 MPs (current HoC has 650 seats) will have to vote in such a way as to show the voters that a mistake was made by 463 MPs who voted "aye" in October 2008.

MPs do not readily admit mistakes.

Of the 463 deluded loons who voted "aye" in 2008, 347 of them were re-elected in May 2010 so there is a mountain to climb there!

The only way that voters can help to scale this mountain is to send a copy of the recent RAE Report to their MP pointing out the folly of their actions in October 2008, and asking them to recant, and telling them if they do not recant they will lose a vote.

The report is here:

http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/releases/shownews.htm?NewsID=553

and you can get details of your MP by putting your post code in the box here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics"

Good luck.

May 12, 2011 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

@David Bailey: You said:

"I still think of myself as "of the left" - if only they were a bit more critical about causes such as AGW - I mean, the left, of all people know there are huge greedy institutions of various sorts...."

That's the trouble with 'the left', they seem to think that only right-wing private institutions are 'greedy' and capable of ripping off the poor of this world. Well, David, I would say that the last Labour government spent a good part of its 13 years in power showing just how 'greedy' the state can be and just how much it can rip off the hard-earned money from its citizens. This is to be continued by the champagne-socialist, Huhne, who wants to accrete huge amounts of tax from us for his imaginary friend, AGW.

May 12, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Fay,
I've been hammering on about this very subject for well over a year. (One still small voice, unfortunately)
I hope your petition and the demonstration has an effect but there is a psychological disconnect here. The "reason" why people are in fuel poverty is because the evil energy companies insist on hiking their prices every chance they get. See how quickly they go up when gas and oil prices rise and how slowly they come down when .... and so on, and so on
Though there may be some truth in this, as long as that attitude prevails there will be no move to change the situation and since government is deliberately distorting fuel prices by subsidies and taxes and refusing to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "pensioner inflation" fuel poverty rates will continue to escalate.
The trouble is that people do not understand the part that government plays in this and an itemised electricity or gas bill showing how much is renewals subsidy and other eco-charges is not in the interests of either the supplier or the government.
A return to simple honesty in the dealings between government and governed is what is needed. I was naive enough to believe that Cameron might just be the man to do that. Shame I was wrong.

May 12, 2011 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I've jusy signed the petition and was surprised and disappointed that I was only the 832nd! I've written to the Taxpayers Alliance to see if they'll spread the word.

May 12, 2011 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan UK

Bish
I'm not sure if you heard the coverage given the event by BBC Scotland. Unusually for the BBC they were quite balanced and ran brief interviews with Alan Howard, Ian Plimer and Andrew Watson from CRU. Alan Howard even managed to fit in that the global temperatures had not risen for 10 - 12 years (Sic) which is remarkable on the BBC. The article starts around 1hour 49 minutes in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b010y7fn


Ed

May 13, 2011 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddieO

Hi Bish

Can you recall the context of the guys remark that observations weren't all the useful and he preferred models? In which connection were his remarks made?

May 24, 2011 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

GREEN ISN'T WORKING. The Greens are in crisis - over nuclear, rural communities hate them for the wind farms and higher energy costs, fuel poverty not a vote winner. Carbon leakage Tata job loses - the negative list is growing. The "left" bureaucrats have no real alternative policy to the Green Jobs Growth, which isn't working. Something will have to give.

May 24, 2011 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterFay Kelly-Tuncay

Latimer

Sorry, give me the context to your question. Where did I say this?

May 24, 2011 at 3:21 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

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