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A shameful lecture in St Andrews

Anthony leads this morning with a report about a new study from the University of Minnesota, which shows that a third of crop yield variability is down to changes in climate, although it's not clear to me if they really mean climate or if they actually mean weather.

By coincidence I was in St Andrews last night for a lecture on the subject of climate change and food security given by David Battisti of the University of Washington, currently on a sabbatical in Scotland funded by the Carnegie Trust. A part of his duties appears to be to travel around Scottish universities doing public relations for the green movement by talking about food security. As far as I can see from his publications, this is not actually Prof Battisti's specialism, so the description as PR is not unwarranted.

There was a good turnout for the event last night - with the lecture theatre almost all full with a mixture of green-minded students and green-minded townsfolk. The principal did the introduction, suggesting a degree of importance was attached to the occasion.

The content was, to be frank, amongst the most blatant cases of climate spivvery I've ever come across. We were welcomed with a slide that claimed that a quarter of the world's arable land was degraded, so you kind of knew what was coming before Battisti opened his mouth. We heard that farmland is being lost at 1% per year and that we could run out of phosphorus for fertiliser in as little as 50 years' time.

The section on climate change was astonishing. Prof Battisti seemed not to have bothered updating his slides for several years, and much of the discussion was of emissions scenarios rather than concentration pathways, although we were told that RCP8.5 was a "business as usual" scenario, which of course is completely untrue. We learned that it takes 5000 years to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

There was an astonishing section on future temperature changes, in which we learned that under the middle-of-the-road scenarios it was going to be really hot. We were shown the spread of model predictions and the spread of current temperatures for the Sahel and were invited to conclude from the lack of overlap that there was "100%" certainty that temperatures in 2090 would be break all records. This is the same spivvery technique exhibited by Lord Krebs and his team at the Committee on Climate Change.

On the subject of precipitation, it was similar. Although we were told that it was much harder to predict rainfall we were told that there were "robust" predictions of drying in the subtropics and this was followed up with a gory discussion of 20-40% reduction of rainfall in southern Europe and central Asia.

On crop yields we had predictions of a 25% loss in 30 years' time with essentially zero yield in some years towards the end of the century.

This is almost as bad as it gets. If you are interested, you can see via YouTube the same lecture as delivered in Edinburgh last month (and when I say identical, I mean identical, right down to the little jokes the pauses and the mannerisms - this was a well-rehearsed routine). But you may want to put breakables out of reach first.

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Reader Comments (32)

If we have been Global Warming for the last 150 years because of industrialisation, & ALL is doom & gloom, & it will only get worse, how is it that crop yields have pretty much gone from strength to strength in that time. Grain productions is at an all time high. Do they seriously expect no technological advances over the next 100 years either?

Jan 23, 2015 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Just as well you were there, Bish. Did you get a chance to ask any questions?

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I could not give a better example cognitive dissonance.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

I wonder how much of climate change propaganda is just preaching to the converted, and therefore mostly pointless. My blood pressure subsided somewhat when the penny dropped that the only people that read The Guardian are Guardian Readers.

I almost feel sorry for the alarmist movement, many of their True Believers thinking that those funny windmills are saving the planet, so that they can continue driving the 4x4 and flying around the world with a clear conscience.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

One has to question the suitability of the "Principal" who introduced the speaker. Surely something of a higher standard is expected of a leader in a Universaity, I am almost glad I did not go.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Buxton

I used to walk past the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington every day, on my way to the adjoining building. For a while, around the turn of the millenium, they hung a poster out side which proclaimed that

"The coast is toast".
It took me quite a while to figure out what that might mean.

Needless to say, and in the absence of any evidence of the coast toasting, the Dept of Oceanography has since erected some very fine new buildings close to sea level down on Portage Bay.

There are still plenty of excellent scientists at UW.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Was there a Q&A, Bish? Did you or anyone else question any of the points made? Was the audience concerned or cynical?

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:38 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

An extremist using the Academy to make an argument from authority that is demonstrably untrue. How unsurprising.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Polishing his noble Green credentials, seemingly.

A large proportion of this climate agit-prop appears to be vanity-based.

Jan 23, 2015 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Clearly an alarmist preaching to the converted - so it makes no difference to normal people who aren't of the religion.

Jan 23, 2015 at 12:11 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Make a formal complaint to the university's authorities, e.g. the Dean, the Chancellor and point out that St Andrews should not be allowing people onto its premises to tell lies.

Jan 23, 2015 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterGladiatrix

"flying around the world with a clear conscience." Jan 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Mikky

As is Al Gore,

"Al Gore launched an initiative to get the world’s population behind climate change ahead of crucial United Nation talks scheduled to begin in November by teaming up with pop star Pharrell Williams. A 24-hour-long live music extravaganza is to be held in June – with concerts involving more than 100 as yet unannounced acts on seven continents....."

"Gore said the 18 June event will take place on seven continents, including Antarctica where climate change scientists are based. The other venues are China, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, New York and Paris."

So much for keeping the Antarctic pristine....carbon offsets anyone?

"Launching the Live Earth: Road to Paris concert in front of business leaders, politicians and policymakers assembled in the Swiss mountain tops, Gore said: “The purpose is to have a billion voices with one message, to demand climate change now.”

So the CO2 isn't working then?

Jan 23, 2015 at 2:07 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

It must be so frustrating being a lecturing GreenLuvvie, when actual real world events keep proving that Real Climate Science, is not quite what it says on the tin. It is not surprising that they take the Paul Erhlich approach and keep spouting the same rubbish for years and years.

Michael Mann speaks highly of him.

Jan 23, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

FYI - the Scripps Institute of Oceanography is constructing a very large concrete and glass building by next to the Pacific (some details here).

Ocean level increases, and the huge volume of CO2 expended in construction, seem to be unimportant to this august seat of learning & propaganda.

Jan 23, 2015 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

They now call the scientists, "climate change scientists". What in the heck does "climate change scientist" actually mean?

Jan 23, 2015 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Let Eli help you with that.

Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat 676 cites
DS Battisti, RL Naylor
Science 323 (5911), 240-244 2009

Radically rethinking agriculture for the 21st century 247 cites
NV Fedoroff, DS Battisti, RN Beachy, PJM Cooper, DA Fischhoff, ...
Science (New York, NY) 327 (5967), 833 2010

Assessing risks of climate variability and climate change for Indonesian rice agriculture 117 cites
RL Naylor, DS Battisti, DJ Vimont, WP Falcon, MB Burke
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (19), 7752-7757 2007

Clearly Prof. Battisti knows more of what he speaks.

Jan 23, 2015 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

Thanks Eli, Dawson and Woodward (FRS) who published on Plitdown Man are widely cited too.

Jan 23, 2015 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

The CIA made a similarly pessimistic forecast:

The western world's leading climatologists have confirmed recent reports of a detrimental global climatic change. The stability of most nations is based upon a dependable source of food, but this stability will not be possible under the new climatic era.

Of course, that was 1974 and the concern was cooling.

Apparently Dr Pangloss was correct, since both cooling and warming are disastrous.

Jan 23, 2015 at 9:59 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

It means someone who writes a load of green bollocks, gets it published in journals controlled by his greenie mates, which is then quoted all over the place by more of his greenie mates as "proof" that they are right.

But we knew that. We just had it confirmed when we got to see some of the emails involved in the process.

As long as it rakes in the grant money and pays for the first class flights, eh?

Jan 23, 2015 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

So sad that you had to suffer that presentation Bishop.

Your suffering has a minor benefit; it causes us readers to wonder if the batty Battisti and the manniacal Manny worked on their presentations together...

...back during the medieval warm period, when they were cutting classes together.

Jan 24, 2015 at 1:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

He's just emulating Al Gore in exploiting the market for Hardcore ClimatePorn
... fantasy sells much better than reality.

Jan 24, 2015 at 3:50 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Was the atmosphere too toxic for skeptical questions ?
You said the prezzy was the same, but the reason for going live is the opportunity for questions.

Jan 24, 2015 at 3:53 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

There was only 5 mins for questions. It was such nonsense I hardly knew where to start.

Jan 24, 2015 at 9:16 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

As I have said before: it is charlatans such as this who are believed by most of our politicians.

Jan 24, 2015 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

It takes a sublime intellect to ignore the history of food production during the nearly 50 years that Ehrlich and colleagues have been predicting the imminent collapse of world food production and massive global famine and still claim that the doom predictions are accurate.

Jan 24, 2015 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

"Key to Prof Battisti’s talk will be the projection that by the end of the century, the season-averaged growing temperature will very likely exceed the highest temperature ever recorded throughout the tropics and subtropics". Oh Wow!

David Battisti is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, .... and he regularly advises top level politicians on climate science. OMG!!,253250,en.php

Jan 24, 2015 at 6:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

"David Battisti of the University of Washington, currently on a sabbatical in Scotland funded by the Carnegie Trust."

Carnegie funded my PhD at Edinburgh and I have them in high esteem ever since. Pitty they are misled in this way.

Jan 24, 2015 at 10:58 PM | Registered CommenterPatagon

Ding-a-ling No free & fair questioning allowed means something fishy going on.
Bish said "There was only 5 mins for questions. It was such nonsense I hardly knew where to start."
- You don't have to have a deep understanding of the issues to realise that something is wrong when questioning is restricted and controlled as if someone has something to hide.
- Normally when such super complex issues are presented the presenter allocates a large amount of time to questioning and is happy to stay longer cos he really wants to satisfy peoples curiosities.

@Betapug's link to to the announcement in the Uni newspaper shows unbelievable hyperbole.

[BH adds: My point was that food security is not his specialism]

Jan 25, 2015 at 12:17 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

He has about 50 papers on Climate and Atmospherics
But that doesn't stop his predictions being crazy. It's that can't see the woods for the trees mentality that spme sci-activists get.
- So the Bishes assumption is wrong "As far as I can see from his publications, this is not actually Prof Battisti's specialism, so the description as PR is not unwarranted."
And the link just goes to Youtube whereas above I provide the Google Scholar publicatiom list.

Jan 25, 2015 at 12:40 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

So the good Professor is not merely a climate kook, but he is a prolific climate kook.

Jan 25, 2015 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

On a tangent....

I was wondering if the isotopic output of outgassing from subduction varies depending on what rocks are being gobbled up -- for example, if a big wodge of limestone was being cooked then the CO2 given off would have a light C 'signal' which could be interpreted as from fossil fuel burning. It makes sense to expect variations in output and isotopic composition.

I found which seems to confirm the likelihood that we have a problem. May have a problem.Too many unknowns to make scientific sense?


Jan 26, 2015 at 6:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

Speaking as a St. Andrews graduate I can promise you this would not have happened in Struther Arnott's day, or J. Steven Watson's.

Or at least, I certainly hope not.

Sic transit...

Jan 26, 2015 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

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