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« Royal Society has lost the argument, cannot be trusted | Main | New BBC policy: right is wrong, wrong is right »

Lord Smith on Owen Paterson

Leo Hickman pointed this morning to an interview with Lord Smith, the head of the Environment Agency, in the Guardian this morning saying that Smith had said that "Owen Paterson does not accept that global warming is due to CO2".

As I have noted in the past, Paterson seems quite clear that carbon dioxide emissions can affect the climate, so this is a bit of a surprise. However, although the article itself repeats the allegation, the words it quotes Smith as saying about Paterson are actually about something slightly different:

He recognises weather patterns are changing and that something is happening to the climate. But he doesn’t necessarily accept that it’s down to the CO2 we are throwing into the atmosphere. I wish he had a better view on that.

Two things occur to me here. Firstly, there is now a measure of agreement - at least among Met Office scientists and the BH community - that we have not detected anthropogenic global warming in the surface temperature records - there are no statistically significant changes to date [or, put better, that no significant change has been demonstrated]. Claims that there is "something happening" therefore rely on computer simulations of the climate. What though, is the situation for "weather patterns"? Have we detected any statistically significant changes in any other feature of the weather? I am unaware of any.

Secondly, has Paterson actually said that he recognises that weather patterns are changing? If so, did he mean in a statistically significant way?

I wonder if anyone at Defra can throw any light on these questions?

[Phrase in brackets above added at a later date]

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Reader Comments (54)

Paterson's views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research.

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterHG54

We have entered a surreal, virtual reality where those who question the science are regarded as mad or evil; the alarmism generated by computer models still drives policy, yet reality continues to refuse to cooperate, at least so far this century.

The scientists cannot explain the pause, yet they cannot grasp that their models are flawed. Meanwhile, the BBC and the establishment pretends that the science is settled, the deniers should be silenced and the message that we are still warming needs to be reinforced.

I think that Owen Paterson is a realist. Most of his colleagues are firmly locked into the fantasy land of groupthink.

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

can 'affect' the climate, please ..[Already done. BH]

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Recent research has proved that the CO2 produced by FF burning is identical isotopically to that from volcanoes. It is impossible to tell the difference so claiming that we put X Gtonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be substantiated. CO2 does not affect climate, if the real science is looked at, relying on models that have been proved totally wrong is counterproductive.

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

I wouldn't get carried away with ideas of statistical significance - it is a concept that was used by warmists when it suited them, but has so many unmet preconditions in this field that it is to all intents and purposes useless.
That said, it is fair to challenge Lord Smith to be explicit about what weather changes he believes are occurring, what evidence there is that these are anything other than natural variation, and what causal mechanism does he believe is responsible, all the way from CO2 emissions to the putative changes in the weather.
I am happy to bet fairly large amounts of money that he could not give a convincing answer to these questions, and it appears the IPCC would be on my side of the bet.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

David S

This is similar to the Met Office's argument, which says that statistical models are not really helpful.

I have no problem with this, but they need to be clear that as a result their arguments are not observationally based but rely on the GCMs instead.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

So we have a new 'third way'? There is weather, and there is climate, and somewhere in-between we have "weather patterns are changing"? I tend to agree with David S.

Not particularly having a go at Paterson, but such terms are rarely defined by those who tend to want to abuse them the most. Just like self-proclaimed 'climate communicators', real communication is the last thing on their minds, and is also a hallmark of those with low understanding.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

It's not obvious to me why a fool like Smith wasn't kicked out years ago. Unfortunately I doubt they'll find anybody sensible to replace him.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Someone please correct me if I have any of this wrong but this is my understanding of the CO2 issue. There is a natural cycle by which CO2 enters and is removed from the atmosphere that is not completely understood. Currently the burning of fossil fuels is adding an extre 3% to one side of the cycle which, all things being equal, is likely to cause CO2 levels to rise. CO2 levels are rising and it is possible, maybe even likely that the burning of fossil fuels is the cause. This however is not totally proven. The actual difference between levels of CO2 as it was prior to industrialisation and current CO2 levels is very small but measurable. The actual effect that this tiny difference has on temperature is miniscule and certainly too small to measure. The only way that significant temperature rises can be predicted is by positing a positive feedback loop involving water vapour. This feedback loop is unsupported by evidence. It also defies common sense in that it deliberately ignores the fact that water vapour tends to turn into water droplets that form clouds, which have a cooling effect which suggests a negative feedback loop. It also ignores the fact that if a positive feedback loop the temperature would be highly unstable which it isn't, so a negative feedback loop is more consistent with actual reality. The temperature has been rising steadily since 1700 and there has been no acceletation that could be attributed to rises in CO2 levels. So claims that CO2 causes temperature rises are far from proven.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Lord Smith is like many believers, he will say anything to try and undermine anyone who critises the AGW religion (e.g. Maria Eagle has said similar things about Owen Paterson).

Given the mess that he presides over at the Environment Agency, why would anyone listen to him?

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

If flooding is due to reduced funding then perhaps a couple good questions for Smith would be;

1. Over your 6 year stint what did you do to highlight funding issues and the impact if that on people in at risk areas?
2. If funding was such an issue why was the EA so enamoured with implementing EU directives that made the eventual flooding so much worse than it was prior to your agency shutting down dredging activities?

Of course we will never get answers to such obvious questions.


Jun 27, 2014 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Doesn't "statistical significance" simply mean that an event is outside the normal range of a statistical model? Whatever it means for something to be a problem, or different, there must be something significant about it. Doug McNeall has a concept of "scientific significance" but didn't define what that meant, although I believe it could give the kind of scope for scientists to define "significance" as they choose. A bit like the 95% confidence that humans caused most of the warming since the industrial revolution.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Registered Commentergeronimo

1. per David S: Smith knows no more about the science of global warming or anything else (educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh and Pembroke College, Cambridge. First in English; PhD with a thesis on Coleridge and Wordsworth.) than Sir Paul Nurse or, with the BBC post below in mind, Fraser Steel. His officials feed him his lines and he dutifully repeats them.
2. per Stonyground: look at this in the light of my oft-repeated claim that "this has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics". The only point where I might differ from you is your statement that the temperature has been "rising steadily since 1700". All the rest is fairly non-controversial; also unprofitable and not conducive to a comfortable academic existence.

Jun 27, 2014 at 10:58 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

More myths promulgated by Chris Smith in his interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News on Thursday night. Under the heading 'Politicians don't get climate change' he allows that not even Ed Davey at DECC gets it.
See - the chat with Snow is within the 06:42 segment, starting 3:29 in.
Snow, of course, is a committed AGW man, so he appears largely in sympathy with Smith.

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterQuercus

Those who deliberately ignore, or try to cover up, what nature is telling them are merely increasing the height from which they will subsequently fall.
The truth will always out, sometimes it just takes a while. The good thing is that the web never forgets. In the future we will be able to enjoy constantly throwing this stupidity back in the faces of the zealots.

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

"the Met Office's argument, which says that statistical models are not really helpful."

But aren't their forecasts largely based on them? They seem about as accurate.

Stonyground - nicely summarised. My view exactly.

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:42 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Well done for producing an excellent paragraph that accurately sums up the current level of knowledge. The warmist zealots cannot allow a sensible discussion with what you have written as the baseline. This is because in order to progress their various agendas, for which climate change is merely a useful tool, they require a man-made catastrophe to be just around the corner. As each prediction fails to meet the deadline the facile excuse is that the timing was miscalculated not that the prediction itself is nonsense.

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Chris Smith, is a wrong un.

Not only that, he couldn't even calculate the wind chill factor of a fart

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

@Mike Jackson
"The only point where I might differ from you is your statement that the temperature has been "rising steadily since 1700". "

Would you say that the statement is factually incorrect or just in need of the odd caveat? I was trying to be as concise as possible but should I maybe have said something about the unevenness of the rise? If we were looking at the temperature graph around 2000 it would have given the impression of rapid acceleration. To me the main significance of the recent levelling off is that the temperature graph now gives the impression of business as usual since 1700.

I also wish that I had time to proof read my previous post but I had already stretched by tea break by quite a bit.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

'at least among Met Office scientists and the BH community - that we have not detected anthropogenic global warming in the surface temperature records - there are no statistically significant changes to date. '

Have you check that we the head of the MET who seesm to have no issues with making claims in public there has been ?

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

"The scientists cannot explain the pause, yet they cannot grasp that their models are flawed. Meanwhile, the BBC and the establishment pretends that the science is settled, the deniers should be silenced and the message that we are still warming needs to be reinforced."

They know full well their models are flawed. Whatever else these people are they're not dim. Their refusal to acknowledge 2 decades of disastrously wrong climate calls is rooted in hubris, precisely because they're 'very clever people' and cannot bring themselves to admit being incorrect. Especially so regarding the single biggest policy-driving scientific call of all time.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

"I wish he had a better view on that."

Patronising git.*

*The first thought would have got snipped.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

They know full well their models are flawed. Whatever else these people are they're not dim. Their refusal to acknowledge 2 decades of disastrously wrong climate calls is rooted in hubris, precisely because they're 'very clever people' and cannot bring themselves to admit being incorrect. Especially so regarding the single biggest policy-driving scientific call of all time.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

Abso-blooming- correct. That's why I express deep anger when their morons appear on the web to protect their mistress and their pensions.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

There was a very good programme about 'Britains Wild Weather' where they clearly explained that the recent floods were due to a meandering jetstream and that nobody really knew why it had meandered so far from it's usual path. They also explained that there was nothing unusual about this flooding because it has happened many times before.

However it was then noted that there is a flooding peak in the UK roughly every 60 years and that recent research had indicated this tied in with the Atlantic Oscillation being in a warm phase. So far so plausible but then came the speculative scare: If manmade global warming causes the Atlantic to remain warmer we may experience further floods. They didn't comment on what this meant for snow and ice, nor if heating bills may then be overall down, nor was there any reference to the main amplifier of the problem which was the lack of river dredging.

Nevertheless that is the somewhat speculative case for saying that weather patterns are changing albeit cyclically and natural, which Owen Peterson might accept and also there is a plausible case for CO2 alarmism making the natural cycle worse in the future, which Chris Smith would prefer. Either way though Julia Slingo has no justification for making a direct link to CO2 warming as there is no data, theory or even model simulations that even remotely support her. If any link exists then it is somewhat indirect via amplification of natural cycles but it must, in any event, have stopped 17 years ago along with the global warming and so cannot be anything to do with the winter floods.

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Isn't a lot of this to do with the fact that the IPCC was set up SPECIFICALLY to prove that man-made CO2, and man-made CO2 alone, was causing global warming..?
So - feed-back loops; water vapour; solar cycles etc etc were not even in the equation...

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I get a bit pedantic on this now and again.
The net result may be that temperatures have increased over the last 300 years but since that is what the warmists claim why are we arguing? In fact there have been well recognised warming and cooling periods since then, none of them attributable to CO2 except (mebbe!) the recently ended one.
Don't give them an inch! But, as I say, I agree with what you are saying.

Jun 27, 2014 at 1:32 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Jun 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

As you the meteorologists aren't stupid and they clearly know their models are wrong. I would have thought they would also know it isn't possible to effectively model what they attempting to.

Jun 27, 2014 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

With current technology, it is highly unlikely that human beings will ever be able to make useful predictions about the future state of the climate. Neither will they ever be able to make accurate models of the past climate.

Jun 27, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Yes, Stonyground, that's fairly close to my view in such a short statement.

Jun 27, 2014 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"The only point where I might differ from you is your statement that the temperature has been "rising steadily since 1700". "

Me too.

I'd have said "rising off and on since 1700" (there have been decades where the temperature has fallen although, overall, temperatures have increased as we have left the little ice age).

Jun 27, 2014 at 2:44 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Statistical significance is based on a magic number that a normally distributed variable is different if it falls outside the 95% range expected of random distribution. That is 1 case in 20. So, if you measure 40 different variables (and know that they are all normally distributed) you would actually expect to find two of them statistically significantly different - simply by your own definition of statistical significance. If you are doing this kind of thing, you are supposed to correct for this by introducing other factors (degrees of freedom for example, if you have multiple classes into which you can place your variable) and considering the scientific significance of any result which produces a statistical significance.

This is why statistical significance is such a misused term and is pretty much the basis of the old chestnut that figures don't lie, but liars figure: if you want to find something with a p value of 0.05 or lower, you just have to look at a lot of things, or change the way you classify the results etc.

What can be said with some validity, is that when there is NO statistical significance (at the magic number) there really is very very little reason to expect any scientific significance, and this is where the various alarmist groups are now trying to shift the argument by altering the whole argument as to what significance really means. We had the changing of the null hypothesis (prove that it isn't CO2 instead of proving that it is) and now we have the met office working along the lines that you can't measure this using frequentist statistics, so we will make up our own methods to say that we are all doomed. Either way, it is policy-driven evidence as opposed to evidence-driven policy and has pretty much been exposed as such. It just seems that no-one in power seems to case because they just want these policies regardless.

Jun 27, 2014 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

Good analysis, Rob.
I find it hard to decide whether the problem is that they don't understand statistics or that they do understand statistics and reckon the rest of us don't.
Meanwhile I have finally changed the heading on my blog from 'how common is common sense' to 'never mind the science; feel the politics" which in my view is what this is all about and has been for years.

Jun 27, 2014 at 3:55 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Owen Paterson is Matt Ridley's brother-in-law. He will thus be hyper well-informed, but probably unable to be clear as to what he really thinks due to the risk of saying the "wrong" thing.

Jun 27, 2014 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrenville

Shouldn't that be the ex chairman of the EA? - I thought this pompous ignorant oxygen thief's tenure had expired ... and he's off to squander his no doubt fat pensions an whatever pecadillos take his fancy?

That Baron "wrong type of rain" Smiff is still being wheeled out to pontificate on stuff yet again just goes to show how bankrupt both the EA and the establishment warmist cabal are - indulging him with a pulpit / platform just reinforces the perception that we're being told "we can lie and actually do anything we like and there's nothing you can do about it".

Who's going to step into his undemanding and well remunerated sinecure? - that's the question....There's a really expensive tiny par of shoes to fill.

Jun 27, 2014 at 5:19 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I'd add that Mr. Paterson likely gets to generate the shortlist for Smiffy's replacement and that any prattlings from the great lord are seeking to influence the choice of his replacement at the behest of his EA cronies who are looking to protect their reign of corruption and incompetence as documented at Inside The EA and one of my places.

Yep - "they" are looking to get one of their own into the EA chairmanship and this is simply maneuvering in an attempt to attenuate Owen Paterson's influence. The EA is an Augean Stables and a Herculean task lies ahead for anybody seeking to actually sort that organisation out. Some say it's beyond reform and should be dismantled - are we seeing the opening shots in a "Save the EA" skirmish?

Jun 27, 2014 at 6:50 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Anoneumouse (11:52 AM): how is wind chill factor calculated? (Please do not respond as everyone has when I have asked that, and explain what wind chill is – I want to know how it is calculated, and no-one has even attempted to answer that.)

Jun 27, 2014 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Wind Chill = 35.74 + 0.6215T – 35.75(V^0.16) + 0.4275T(V^0.16)

T is the air temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, and V is the wind speed in miles per hour.

Jun 27, 2014 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnything is possible

Radical Rodent
That was an interesting question, and I have to confess I didn't know the answer.
NOAA have a New Wind Chill Index, with charts and explanations.

Jun 27, 2014 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Anything is Possible

Many thanks. I have pondered the derivation of wind chill but never found (before now) an accurate equation.

In passing,

does anybody else, like me, have great pride and admiration in the RS and its achievements since Newton's time, but is thoroughly sick of some of the present membership acting apparently without intelect or integrity or both. I think it was Brian Cox MRS who recently repeated the notorious 97% quote. Ahhgggg...

Jun 27, 2014 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Interesting that wind chill was originally expressed as watts per square meter, which makes a lot of sense, but was then 'translated' into a formula that purports to produce a single temperature, which really doesn't and isn't. Can anyone think of another purported temperature derived from a very complex formula which might be equally misleading?

Jun 28, 2014 at 2:09 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

RR, I don't think there is a single way of calculating wind-chill.

I know in the states that some TV companies do their own particular calculations and trademark/copyright it.
(Or claim to. "Real Feel" is one that comes to mind.)

Jun 28, 2014 at 6:24 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

michael hart:

I don't think there is a single way of calculating wind-chill.

In which case the similarities with the idea of Global Temperature increase.

Jun 28, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

David S,

I know this is a bit finnacky and I don't mean to single you out (ie don't feel 'picked on'!) and I'm sure this may have allready been said - but the op ed doesn't imply or say that 'Lord' Smith (do we really have to give this tripple chinned walrus his title!) believes weather changes are occuring but that, according to him, Owen Patterson 'recognises weather patterns are changing' etc and with our host, I would like to know what quote, what evidence, Citizen Smith has for stating this. Is he refering to some private conversation when, perhaps, Owen, for the sake of politeness and sheer weariness might have conceded as such?

The reason I point out this subtle difference of 'reading' of Bishop is because it's very important that one is absolutely clear in ones reading, and, hence, argumentation. I see sloppy mis-reading, and therefore useless discussions, to often. Ok, now I'll get my coat!

Jun 28, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

There was a similar interview on BBC R4 "today" programme in which Lord Smith "put words in the mouth" of Owen Paterson but I would prefer to hear what Paterson thinks from the man himself.
I think the exact quote was:

"Owen Paterson believes that climate change is happening he sees, absolutely rightly that there is extreme weather now happening much more frequently than it used to. I would have a serious debate with him about the human activity which gives rise to that because I believe that "climate change" is down the things that we all do as human beings and we need to deal with that seriously over the coming decades."
I asked Lord Smith what the "things" were that we were doing and what evidence he had for saying that "extreme weather now happening much more frequently than it used to" but as yet I have had no reply.

Jun 28, 2014 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterQV

The full interview can be heard here:
At approx. 1 hr 17 minutes in.

Jun 28, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterQV

I wonder if a response in kind is beneath Owen Paterson ... it does seem like Smiffy is trying to provoke - heaven knows there's a large pile of ammo available to Mr. Paterson..

I also wonder if there's going to be a Fracking Regulation Office that needs a high profile public figure to suck £100K+ a year for a few days a month?

Jun 28, 2014 at 1:44 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Of course, QV, we cognoscenti know there is no 'statistical sig' in the weather because we've read our Pielke etc. Or the latest IPPC. Even Munich Re, Pielkes bugbear, in there small print, sais so. Accept a slight increase in rainfall (which, I have a suspicion, is more about detection than actuality). Just to state it as it is, plain and for all to see.

Jun 28, 2014 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

But poor Pielke jnr - I do feel for him - he has been attacked so much, recently, especially after Krugman, a Keynsian, the most disproved economic theory in history (and derivative) - I worry about him - I think he went silent after that because he might have felt the pressure from Boulder itself - maybe I'm wrong - but his kind of honesty and integrity is not welcome - he needs support and we don't give it - the 'honest broker', he

Jun 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Lewis Deane

Couldn't agree more. However we live in a vile bullying culture that has got steadily got worse over the last 20 years. Sneering PC liberals are some of the nastiest.

Jun 28, 2014 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

He's just doing whatever he can to help Labour next year and to save the EA from further reprisals. If is anything to go by, it seems this moron should keep his mouth shut considering he knows very little outside his tiny bubble

Jun 28, 2014 at 6:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterPete

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