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Walport's Walker words

Mark Walport gave the annual Walker lecture at the University of Reading a couple of weeks ago, taking as his theme climate change communication.

H/T Barry Woods

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Reader Comments (30)

”…climate change and its consequences…” (repeated several times)
Please tell me how “climate change” is measured. Please tell me how its consequences are assessed.


Climates in limited locales might change – whether for the better or otherwise might be difficult to ascertain; certainly better for some species and worse for others, but generally…? I argue that it would be nigh-on impossible for there to be proof of the British climate changing, but would be interested to view anything that is claimed to be such proof (though suspect that none will never be forthcoming). As for “global” climate change… meh…

BTW, do I have to listen to the full monologue? And why should it be of such concern to "The Government"? And what does "cyber-security" have to do with climate or climate change?

Jun 18, 2014 at 5:58 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Walport, like Monbiot and many others, is still repeating the Green lament: "How can we lose when we're so sincere?"

Jun 18, 2014 at 5:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

After the talk there are questions from Barry Woods, about science/policy, with some good follow-ups and Danny Weston about what he meant by there being scientific agreement about climate change being "bad". They weren't very well answered.

RR if you don't want to listen to the whole talk you can just view the slides.

Stew, below, I think Barry and Danny asked some fairly tough questions. Listen from about 46:00 and see what you think!

Jun 18, 2014 at 6:11 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

@PM If there were skeptics there, why didn´t they give Walport some difficult questions ? .. were questions policed ?

Jun 18, 2014 at 6:11 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

It is an hour long, an hour I do not have.
But his second slide is telling:
"Communication is to Inform.... and to counter misinformation."

Ok, I can live with that.
However, the examples of misinformation he used were:
"100 reasons why global warming is natural" (Daily Express)
"Relax, Global Warming is all a Myth" (Spectator)
"The Great Green Con no. 1: The hard proof that finally shows that global warming forecasts that are costing you billions were WRONG all along." (Mail Online).

Now, I won't argue that these articles contain no misinformation. But I will argue, even reading just their headlines, each of them have less misinformation than statements saying "the arctic will be ice-free by 2013", that Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035, or even the cover of AR3 showing the Mann hockey stick.

If he honestly wanted to discuss MISinformation, the CAGW communication is a target rich environment.

Jun 18, 2014 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

Paul Matthews (6:11 PM): Okay, you’ve got me there; I did like the revelatory bullet point: “People are concerned about climate change, believe it is happening, but some still think it is natural variation”; a loudly implied “some are still idiots”!

Interesting to note that, as the argument progresses, fewer agree with it!

Overall, though, I feel he was talking a load of billiards (as were many of the questioners; could have been very interesting to be there and argue with them).

Jun 18, 2014 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I need to know, is Mark Walport to CC communications what Phil Neville is to football commentary?

Jun 18, 2014 at 6:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Some skeptical views towards the CAGW theory are expressed in the June 14th 2014 " Scottish Farmer " magazine p 56 by Dr Keith Dawson: The article is headed, " WHAT'S ALL THIS TOSH ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE ? "

" On the subject of climate, rather than weather - there's a big difference between these two - there has been much hullabaloo around the recently published IPCC report. They postulate from their model predictions, a serious drop in global crop yields.
However, when looking at the evidence, this is all based on global climate models that are unable to make accurate projections of climate even two years ahead, let alone the longer period that has been adopted by policy planners.
These same models have spectacularly failed to predict the global temperature plateau of the last 18 years, so why should we believe these predictions, just because they are shouted loudly ?
...It is the very nature of science that it is never settled.
This is the debate on observation versus predictive models, which have already proved flawed. Neither the rate nor magnitude of current climate changes are outwith natural variability.
No unambiguous evidence exists of dangerous interference in the global climate caused by human related CO2 emissions. In particular, despite what you read, the cryosphere is not melting at an enhanced rate; sea-level rise is not accelerating; and no systematic changes have been documented in evaporation or rainfall or in the magnitude or intensity of extreme meteorological events.
Any human global climate signal is so small as to be nearly indiscernIble against the background variability of the natural climate system. In fact crop yields have increased by 10% due to raised carbon dioxide levels.
Humanity can and will adapt to these changes- which essentially means capturing the benefits and minimizing the harms. Climate change will be a nett positive for the rest of this century.
Satellites have recorded a 14% increase in greenery on our planet over 30 years, in all types of ecosystems, partly as a result of man-made CO2 emissions, which enable plants to grow faster and utilise water more efficiently.
A useful antidote to despondency is to be found in the latest reports from the NIPCC, the Non Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change at ( Full-Report.pdf) The debate is not between deny-ers and global warmers but between luke-warmers and alarmists.
As Matt Ridley has eloquently stated: " Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved to be exaggerated including, the population bomb, pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees "
" In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued "
To that I'd add global cooling, SARS and BSE. Climate change scares will prove to be little different

Jun 18, 2014 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Harry Passfield,
on purpose
I was thinking a similar thing. This man Walport is such a monumental dullard you would almost think he was doing it on purpose. As a kind of "existentialiist" joke. Somebody should have run behind and ripped his pants off with a merry cackle.

To those who think I do not take these scientists seriously. Well spotted.

Jun 18, 2014 at 7:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Crawford

His real message should have been: How can we communicate when we have nothing to say?

His answer to Danny Weston and the moderators swift move to the next person just shows that if someone had stood up and said: " I am a climate change denier and the data shows no increase in world average temperature for 17 years, Arctic sea ice levels within 2Sd's of the satellite era norm, Antarctic sea ice at a record high, a zero trend in Hurricane activity, zero trend in tornado activity, zero trend in rainfall and in atmospheric humidity. Would you care to tell me why I should be worried about climate change?

The last thing he and his ilk want is to actually have to communicate with anyone other than the chosen ones.

Jun 18, 2014 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

RR wrote: "I argue that it would be nigh-on impossible for there to be proof of the British climate changing"

I suppose it depends on what time scales you're looking at and how you define what "British climate" is ie what are the boundaries of a supposed change, and the most important question, what is man's contribution to them?

Without specifically nailing down these points, simply asking for proof that the climate is not changing is asking for a world of hurt. "Climate communication" is at it's best when it's given no frame of reference to work from because there is plenty of stuff from year to year, decade to decade, century to century etc, to show that climate changes. "Climate change" was business as usual until the "A" was put in front of it.

Attribution is where it all falls down. We do not have two identical planets, one with increased CO2 and one without. All we have are imperfect models, which are looking more imperfect year on year.

Jun 18, 2014 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveJR

This isn’t the first time, but I’m struck that they don’t know what they’re expecting from the public. They keep trying to reframe the same information in the hopes the public will tick the right boxes but, of all the things that we might have to do to ward off CAGW, ticking boxes would seem to be the easiest goal. A goal that is sliding further away, not getting closer. The likes of Richard Betts frantically mutter, ‘can we please move on from the science onto what we’re going to do about it?’ Well newsflash, the public have moved on and their preferred action is nothing. Thanks for coming, goodbye.

I think a lot of people would be interested where ‘bad’ stops and ‘catastrophic’ starts especially if they knew how impossible reducing CO2 was going to be. Maybe they’d say ‘ahh, I’ll risk it’. Especially if very bad means a lot of flooding in the Thames valley but less cold related deaths in Scotland. Losing a few nervous species to climate change might be worth driving a petrol car as opposed to an unreliable electric version. How should people know what they might accept if people like Walport can’t tell them what to expect? One thing is for certain, they won’t write the government a blank cheque to fritter on vanity CO2 reduction activities. They won’t pauper themselves to reduce their own emission while more than half the global population is saying ‘not me’.

Jun 18, 2014 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Shame I was not there I would loved to have asked it 'why there is so much smoke and mirrors used in a area which is claimed to 'settled ' and did he think their use along with the poor scientific practice they imply had a negative effect on the message he and the team was trying to sell.

Jun 18, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

"did he think their use along with the poor scientific practice they imply had a negative effect on the message he and the team was trying to sell." KNR

Din't you hear the bit where he praised climate science as one of the best? Makes me worry about the rest.

Jun 18, 2014 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

[Snip - venting]

Jun 18, 2014 at 8:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

Walport appears to not understand the science. He'll never debate anyone, for that reason. He's a political operator, trying to protect the scientists from having the gaping holes in their work pointed out. That's what he was hired to do.

Jun 18, 2014 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterSara Chan

Attended his lecture at Bristol last year - so he's still at it. 'Bowl of Petunias' I think.

Jun 18, 2014 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

Slightly off topic but I attended a supposed 'Panel Discussion' "Extreme Weather: climate change in Action?" at the British Library 17/06/14

The panel was chaired by James Randerson (Guardian of course)
and had Prof Stephen Belcher of Met Office Hadley Centre
George Marshall, founder of the 'charity' 'The Climate Outreach and Information Network'
our old friend Bob Ward who needs no introduction. No real chance to ask questions or even make a point as Bob Ward did most of the talking. So I wrote to the British Library subsequently as follows:

Dear Sir,

I attended yesterday evening's event and must comment on it.

I had assumed there would be some science presented. There was none.
Also that the ? in the title would mean genuine debate on the issue. There was none.

We were treated to psycho-babble from Mr George Marshall who seems to spend other people's money on trying to work out why people won't believe in 'man-made climate change'. It didn't seem to occur to him to ask a fundamental question: is the thing he wants us to believe in true or false?

Prof Stephen Belcher gave us very little except the usual mantras we now expect from the Met Office/Hadley centre.

Bob Ward is, in effect, a paid promoter of Jeremy Grantham's investment company ($90 billion) which seeks to profit from 'green' investments.
He perhaps was the worst speaker (and didn't he go on speaking?). Little of what he said was true. Thus he claimed that the winter floods were caused by the 'worst on record' rainfall.

I happened to have had in front of me, as he was speaking, the latest Met Office charts of winter rainfall from 1910 (which I attach) showing that this was simply not the case.

I was particularly annoyed by his silly analogy about a smoker going to the doctor.

If we drop the deliberately skewed choice of problem (smoking) I would put it rather that, "would I take the advice of, say, Galen or Hypocrites, when presenting a troubling symptom?"

Modern climate science regarding understanding of climate is about where Galen is on the spectrum of medical understanding regarding the human body. The mistaken assumption that climate is driven by CO2 is not unlike the belief in the four humours - clung to by doctors up to the 19th cent.

Worse was the statement that dependence on fossil fuels was like addiction to heroin. As if to suggest how terrible it is that humans are addicted to food and water (ie we can't do without them).

All in all it was a depressing display of group think. I was sitting next to someone whose long range forecasts are now relied on by farmers who long since despaired of the Met Office's so called long range forecasts. So I'd guess that the audience was likely to have contained better informed people than those on the platform.

Clearly since no one who didn't support the 'doctrine' was allowed to ask/comment, I duly make my comments here.

Yours faithfully,

Philip Foster

Jun 18, 2014 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

TinyCO2 we can take some comfort in that being constantly wrong Walport claim that climate 'science' as one of the best is has far from reality has you can get . Hear is a 'science; where its professionals work at a lower academic standard than would be expected for an undergraduate in any other area handing in an essay.

Jun 18, 2014 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

Thank for posting your letter here, Philip Foster (9:38 PM). It gives me a vivid, and sadly all too plausible notion of how dire that meeting must have been. I think it very likely that several, perhaps even most in the audience would have been not only better informed on the topics, as you note, but also more admirable in character than those who presumed to lecture them. The poor quality of climate alarm promoters and sundry apologists never ceases to cause me a sort of puzzled dismay mixed with distaste.

Jun 18, 2014 at 11:04 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

For someone in charge of "science communication" I thought Walport was somewhat offhand with Barry Woods and Danny Weston, in particular referring to them as "the previous gentleman"

Then of course there is Emily, with whom one is on first name terms with.

Not good communication skills shown, in my view

Jun 19, 2014 at 12:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Scrase

The biggest porky that he told was when he said that the prime minister hired him --
not to tell the prime minister what the prime minister wanted to hear --
but to tell the prime minister what the science said.

No, he got hired to justify government policy to the public by claiming that policy is science inspired.

The government makes policy for political reason and then the job of this man is to provide cover. His entire talk was about communicating with the public -- justifying government policy to the public. There was nothing about how he communicates science to the government.

Eugene WR Gallun

Jun 19, 2014 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterEugene WR Gallun

1) "Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser talks about climate change communication and whether it can be considered a success or failure."

I would say it's been a success. It's successfully convinced 25% of the population that we're doomed, another 25% have been successfully convinced that the science is complete nonsense and the other 50% are successfully convinced that they couldn't care less.

2) Look at the 5 videos on the "University of Reading Walker Institute" YouTube channel:

"Sir Mark Walport presents the Walker Institute Annual Lecture 2014" 239 views

"Sir Mark Walport talks about climate change communication" 28 views

"Walker Institute Annual Lecture 2013" 157 views

"Climate change and development in Africa by Prof Chris Whitty, DFID" 421 views

"Climate change and development in Africa by Prof Chris Whitty, DFID" (seems to be a duplicate of the above) 63 views

It's increasingly hard to see evidence that many people care about the "failure to communicate".

Jun 19, 2014 at 8:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterredc

There is a black hole at the centre of Walport's argument. He seems to think that it is sufficient just to convince the public that climate change is real and will be very bad. He has no constructive suggestion as to what to do about it. He has no scientific or technical proposal as to how the UK can protect itself from this 'serious' threat of global warming. This is the root problem at the heart of all such green lobbying. They have no real positive proposals which actually add up. Instead they merely fall back on trying to scare the shit out of school children and their parents so that they can then pontificate in their retirement that they did warn us.

BP global energy survey for 2013 has just been published. In 2003 fossil fuels provided 87% of global primary energy needs? In 2013 after 10 years of IPCC alarmism and 100s of billions spent on renewable energy fossil fuels still supply 87% of primary energy. The only thing that has changed is that total energy consumption has gone up 25%.

If Walport's was serious then he should be lobbying instead for research funding into future nuclear energy, which like it or not is the only realistic zero carbon energy source. Wind power globally is still less than 1% of energy demand and just about offsets the closure of a couple of ageing nuclear plants. The government chief scientist should stick to hard facts. Energy policy should not be decided by opinion poll.

Jun 19, 2014 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

The Walker Institute is definitely one to AVOID:

"AVOID is a research programme led by the Met Office in a consortium with the Walker Institute, Tyndall Centre, and Grantham Institute. AVOID aims to provide policy relevant evidence and research needed to inform international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, core research for understanding dangerous climate change and its implications, and a framework that will encourage the integration and communication of scientific and socio-economic research on climate change."

Director at the Walker Institute is Nigel Arnell, IPCC, Stern Review, former Head of Geography at Southampton, a part of the Tyndall Consortium. - "Eliciting Information from Experts on the Likelihood of Rapid Climate Change" 2005.

Jun 19, 2014 at 9:22 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

I can't watch the video right now I'm at work but even in the front screen the highest percentage of concern (83%) is about affordability of energy . Surely that should be top priority.

Get rid of green taxes and subsidies to uneconomic generation and suddenly energy becomes affordable again.

Jun 19, 2014 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

Jun 18, 2014 at 9:38 PM Philip Foster

I think you mean Hippocrates. Excellent letter none the less.

Jun 19, 2014 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

clovis Marcus:

Yup, you're right!! Hypocrates of course. duh.

Jun 19, 2014 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

Oh dear it's getting worse: Hippocrates for crying out loud. Now where is that brochure my wife left out about that care home for the terminally stupid.

Jun 19, 2014 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

There is an established truth and the reason many people don’t believe in it is because they have not been exposed to the right form of communication on that subject often enough.
Next time this science advisor should instead make a talk about “The role of scientific arrogance in science”. Walport seems to be well qualified.

Jun 19, 2014 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterPer Strandberg

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