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« European justice? | Main | The Stern letter »
Wednesday
Jan292014

Walport responses

Mark Walport's call for a grown up debate on climate change has prompted a couple of responses in the letters pages.

Sir, Sir Mark Walport (“Top scientist tells climate sceptics to grow up”, Jan 27) is right that we need a grown-up debate about what to do about climate change. However, that can only take place if some light is shone on the scientific uncertainties around the matter. Most scientists agree that man is affecting the global climate, but this agreement is insufficient to inform policy as there is no consensus about the degree of man’s contribution to rising temperatures compared with other natural factors beyond our control. Given the expense of many of the proposed climate mitigations, it is right that these uncertainties are discussed openly as part of Sir Mark’s grown-up debate. It may well be that we are best to do nothing for the moment.

Robert Birch

Brompton, N Yorks

Sir, I should remind Sir Mark Walport that there are more Fellows in the Royal Society who are sceptical of the ways of the IPCC than Fellows who work within the fields covered by that organisation. If the climate change case comes to be seen as having been oversold, and billions of pounds misinvested, the credibility of science advice will take a terrible blow.

Professor Michael J. Kelly, FRS

University of Cambridge

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Reader Comments (25)

...If the climate change case comes to be seen as having been oversold, and billions of pounds misinvested..

If it's only 'billions' we will have got off lightly. I fear it is far more...

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Excellent letters. Can't wait for the debate to begin.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:23 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It would be great if there were figures to back up Kelly's assertion about the FRSs.

Unfortunately the modern scientist is a cowardly breed and very unlikely to raise its heads above the parapet.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Bish,

RobB had posted his excellent letter on the "Walport's reverse thinking" thread (pg 3 comments).

Looks like there has been some editing but I will leave any comment on that to RobB.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

"the credibility of science advice will take a terrible blow": wrong tense, alas.

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Mark Walport, etc. will never have a grown-up debate as they are too cowardly. He will quickly backtrack or make it a secret meeting as Sir Paul Nurse/RS seem to have done

The whole of climate astrology has been marked with suppression of sceptical voices. They cannot allow an open debate as their incompetence would be exposed.

Jan 29, 2014 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Has anyone got a copy of Walport's Times article? please

Jan 29, 2014 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Hi Bish

Thanks for posting my letter. The Times slightly edited the original version which also mentioned model divergence and the recent hiatus. However, the gist of it is still intact. I don't expect that a mere farmer will receive a reply from Sir Mark and I wouldn't hold your breath for a wider debate.

In terms of my own views, I am fed up with proponents avoiding a serious debate by framing the argument in terms of those that either accept or deny that warming is occurring and that man is at least partly responsible. I believe most people accept those propositions to some degree but the key questions are how much is man responsible, what does the future hold and then, politically, is it worth doing something about it? Given recent data, the debate over the role of natural variability and the costs involved, it seems to me that we don't need to rush. The problem is that too many scientific and political reputations are now at stake so I expect change to happen only very slowly. In the meantime, billions will be wasted.

Cheers


Rob Birch

Jan 29, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobB

My attempt at grown up debate....

Solar influence on glaciation in Greenland


In the GISP2 ice core, Greenland summit, Dansgaard - Oescheger (D-O) warm events 2 to 8 [1] are all associated with low 10Be events most likely caused by active solar magnetic activity. The simplest explanation is that warm D-O events are caused by an active Sun.

Jan 29, 2014 at 12:49 PM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

It seems from Rob's letter as well as from other straws in the wind that one of this year's arguments (presumably ahead of COP20 and the Paris meeting next year) is going to be the "we must do something" argument.
This is always framed along the lines of what will our grandchildren say if we leave them a dying planet for want of lack of action now.
The bases on which the argument is founded are false for a number of reasons.
1. The history of mankind is one of (virtually) steady progress, initiative, ingenuity, and inventiveness — what might be called the "Three 'Is' of Human Development" (just made it up but it seems good to me!). By attempting now to second-guess our grandchildren and their children by trying to solve a problem which we are pretty certain will not start to have a downside for at least the next 50 years (if then) we are almost certainly depriving them of the wherewithal to solve that problem as and when it needs solving.
2. Like generals always preparing to fight the last war, whatever the circumstances we believe will apply in 50 years and which we plan to address and attempt to address now we can be pretty sure we will get it wrong.
3. There is a reasonable chance that even delaying action by 20 years will give us a) a better insight, and b) better tools to take action that might be needed at that stage. Remember that many of my parents' generation (ie those born before the 1920s) died without having heard of mobile phones and satellite TV and thought, if they thought about computers at all, that a 286 processor and Windows 3 were state-of-the-art. I see no reason to presume that the next 50 years will not be as vibrant with invention and new technology as the last 50.
4. As I said in a reply to HaroldW there appears to be a built-in urge in humanity to "do something" but provided not doing something is the result of looking at a situation and reaching a conclusion then doing nothing may be a rational course of action. One thing that is going to need combating is this assumption that we must do something even when there is no evidence that something needs to be done.

Jan 29, 2014 at 1:18 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Most people pushing climate alarmism do not even have high school level science. They accept everything on the basis of their faith in Science, with a big "S" and understand nothing. The movement is like a Cargo Cult.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult

The world-view of most alarmists is like a religion and the scientists are like the Cardinals and Popes before the Reformation who explicate and enforce the dogmas. My first degree was from a Catholic college attached to a seminary. Yet one of my heroes is Martin Luther, the original from Augsburg. (Martin Luther King too, but that's a different story.)

Doing an M.S. in Earth science confirmed me in my climate skepticism. I came to see that Hubert Lamb had no scientific basis for abandoning his view earlier view that climate change is mostly driven by natural variability of the climate system.

In my opinion, climate science as we know it is not science, but a parody of science staged by second rate scientists.

Jan 29, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred Colbourne

Mike Jackson: "It seems from Rob's letter as well as from other straws in the wind that one of this year's arguments (presumably ahead of COP20 and the Paris meeting next year) is going to be the "we must do something" argument."

Perhaps I have misunderstood your post or maybe my position is unclear, but I was actually proposing that we do nothing.

Cheers

Rob

Jan 29, 2014 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobB

Stuck-Record says: "It would be great if there were figures to back up Kelly's assertion about the FRSs."

Knowing there are FRSs who are sceptic is probably why Myles Allen was begging greasing his co-panel members (in yesterday's AR5 meeting) for membership - so he could add to the alarmist side.

Jan 29, 2014 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Michael Kelly's claim is presumably based on the fact that 43 FRSs 'rebelled' against the Royal Society's positions on climate change (see e.g. here for a discussion). I'm guessing that there are fewer than 43 FRSs who "work within the fields covered by [the IPCC]" though the latter number is probably a little hard to evaluate.

Jan 29, 2014 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterJeremy Harvey

Good to see such letters getting published. Well done the authors.

Jo Nova has a good post up about one of Australia's leading climate buffoons commentators, a chap called Clive Hamilton whose apparent intellect is way up there with the likes of Flannery's and Lewandowsky's and who has recently been engaging in a kind of debate with a much more sensible fellow called Maurice Newman. Jo sums it initially as follows:

Maurice Newman talked about the IPCC, the satellites, Climategate, Renewable Schemes and $100 billion dollar funds. Clive responds:

“Now unleashed, Newman is in full flight mimicking the anti-vaccinators.”

Clive does not refute a single point that Newman makes. He calls him names and merely declares what Newman said was “bizarre”. Clive obviously has no answer and no evidence — he can’t point to models that work, or predictions that were correct, the best he can do is a pop-psychology analysis of “tactics”. It amounts to smear by association. Like saying that Attilla the Hun rode horses, so if you ride a horse you are mimicking Attila.

She has more to say later, and none of it is flattering to poor old Clive. I hope our Mark will aim a little higher than the hapless Clive if and when he ever tries to engage in "grown-up" debate about climate variation and its possible causes.

Jan 29, 2014 at 3:22 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

A day or two back there was a comment on the radio (R5, I think) to the effect that Sir Mark will be giving a series of presentations around the country to push the CAGW message.
I have not been able to find any programme for this "roadshow" but I did pick up one event on the Climate South West website http://climatesouthwest.org/events:
"4th Feb 2014, Sir Mark Walport: The Planet in Our Hands - Responding to Climate Change Talk, Bristol
Sir Mark Walport is the new Chief Science Adviser to the UK Government. From a background in immunology, he now turns his attentions to the most pressing issue we face as a global society: our climate. In this talk he explores what the science tells us, and asks what should we, as a developed nation, do in response?
Join the event from 6.30pm for a chance to mingle with people involved in climate and sustainability from across Bristol. To be held at Rosalind Franklin Room, At-Bristol (main talk 7-8pm). For further information and to book your space click here."
Without knowing the format, it would be very good if a few sceptics could get to these events and, hopefully, ask some pertinent questions.
Knowing how such folk can dissemble and digress, any questions would have to include a strong point for him to try and refute. For example:
" Meeting climate targets will cost this country many billions of pounds but it will have no discernible effect on global temperatures because our emissions are trivial compared to China and others so why should we impoverish ourselves and cripple our industry?"

Jan 29, 2014 at 4:49 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

The shouts for doing something 'now' are getting louder because AGW proponents can feel the ground slipping from under them , from their high a few years ago when all their dreams seemed possible. Now with political will and public interest drifting away they know that they stand a good chance of finding the full thing kicked into the 'long grass' with an endless cycle of review but no actual action.
Its actual because they got close that the feel so let down , if as normal with green madness they been told that they needed less fruit in their cake , they would have moved onto the next 'big thing ' already but that this time did not happen. So they lash out with 'conspiracy' claims and resort to even higher pitched screams of chicken little 'the sky if falling.

Jan 29, 2014 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

"Most scientists agree that man is affecting the global climate, but this agreement is insufficient to inform policy as there is no consensus about the degree of man’s contribution to rising temperatures compared with other natural factors beyond our control."

Right on the money. If there is to be scientific consensus about some claim then that consensus must be about some rigorously formulated scientific hypothesis. Climate science has no such hypothesis to offer.

Jan 29, 2014 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Not just "academic"(institutional) science will take a blow , but also politicians.
This all calls for an independent institute (like a national bank) that overlooks and funds research.

The money must be taken out of the claws an tentacles of career politicians.

Comes to think, could we not outsource 90% of Westminster to a call centre in India? This to guarantee
value for money, and reduce risk.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

They accept everything on the basis of their faith in Science, with a big "S" and understand nothing. (...)

In my opinion, climate science as we know it is not science, but a parody of science staged by second rate scientists.
Jan 29, 2014 at 1:22 PM Fred Colbourne

How true.

It's telling that a retort often made in reponse to a sceptical comment is "Go and read some science". I always assume that anyone who makes that comment has learned their 'science' by rote, not by understanding.

Jan 29, 2014 at 9:58 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"Not just "academic"(institutional) science will take a blow , but also politicians." That latter job was done pretty thoroughly by the Blair government. That's just a burden to be carried by Brown, Cameron, and whoever comes next.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Apart from the rascals who are in it for the money, the power, or the career progression, I suspect most people claiming to be alarmed about co2 are in a kind of chronic panic. I've seen acute panic in the mountains and at sea, and each time the thing that helped the folks was to calm them by stopping their rush to floundering or would-be dramatic and instant action. They needed to have others assure them that there was time to pause and think things through a bit, or in some cases just to wait things out. Doing nothing is sometimes the best thing but inexperienced people need to be assured about that. Some such pastoral care may well be required with regard to the climate panic. In the longer term, there is an awful mess to be cleared up in science, education,and politics. But first we could do with seeing the panic subside.

Jan 29, 2014 at 10:38 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

mikeh - at 4:49 PM

from your comment I thought I would check on the role/mandate of the UK “Top scientist"

from - http://www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/chief-scientific-adviser

"The Government Chief Scientific Adviser

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A key function of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser is the responsibility towards the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to ensure that the best science and engineering advice is brought to bear effectively on Government policy and decision-making.

The office is supported in this by the Government Office for Science and by the network of Chief Scientific Advisers now in place in all major science-using departments. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser also work closely with the economic, statistical, social research and operational research professions.

Another crucial part of the role is to work with Ministers, the scientific community and the media to ensure that the scientific method, risk and uncertainty are understood by the public. This is especially important at present given the misunderstandings around climate change.

Sir Mark has outlined five high level priorities for his term in office:

Promoting the contribution of science, engineering, technology and the social sciences to economic growth by linking industry, academia and government
Developing the capabilities that are vital to the infrastructure that underpins our security, well-being and resilience
Providing the best scientific advice in the case of emergencies
Ensuring the best use of quantitative and qualitative analysis across government
Providing advocacy and strong leadership for science inside and outside government
- See more at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/chief-scientific-adviser#sthash.R5YS3yGT.dpuf"

the misunderstandings around climate change might be resolved if dangerous man made warming (AKA climate change) due to CO2 against natural climate change were separated.

or is man made warming (AKA climate change) due to CO2 no longer the buzz word/phrase ?

Jan 29, 2014 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Sir, Sir Mark Walport (“Top scientist tells climate sceptics to grow up”, Jan 27) calls for a grown-up debate about what to do about climate change.

Such a debate is precisely what those skeptical of catastrophic climate change have been asking for for many years, only to be told that "the debate is over; the science is settled" and being derided as "flat-earthers" by people in positions of influence in the scientific and government bureaucracies.

Skeptics would be only too happy to have the debate they have been denied for so long.

RB.

(Just a thought; I don't have access to The Times)

Jan 30, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

"..the credibility of science advice will take a terrible blow."

Or as Lord Monckton once said, "At the end of this, people will be in prison."

Jan 30, 2014 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRightwinggit

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