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Standing on the shoulders of pygmies

An extraordinary article at Nature's Great Beyond blog, reporting on a new paper by Judy Allen et al from the University of Durham.

Human hunters off the hook? Climate change caused wooly mammoths' extinction, say scientists.

Uh huh. So how do they know this?

Climate change, rather than human hunters, drove the wooly mammoth to extinction. That’s the claim from scientists who say that the hairy beasts lost their grazing grounds as forests rapidly replaced grasslands after the last ice age, roughly 20,000 years ago. The researchers used palaeoclimate and vegetation models to simulate the plant cover across the mammoths’ habitat around that time.

Yes folks, it's a modelling study. Another one. From the paper's abstract, the researchers took output from the Hadley Centre's Unified Climate Model and pumped it into another model which purports to simulate how a variety of plants react to temperature changes. So even if the vegetation model works it still relies on the Hadley Centre model being something one can rely on. Is it just me that finds this all rather unconvincing. I mean is the Hadley Centre Unified Model something you'd want to bet the house on?

Well, according to this article, the Unified Model is:

"the same model that is used to produce every weather forecast you see on British terrestrial television."

Oh dear.


The climate Cassandra

Climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute is interviewed in Spiegel. The interviewer even tries a few challenging questions:

SPIEGEL: As climate adviser to the chancellor, you have a particularly high profile. Because of your frequently ominous predictions, critics have dubbed you the "Cassandra of Potsdam," after the figure in Greek mythology whose predictions always went unheard. Why do you always have to scare people?

Schellnhuber: Let me answer your provocative question in an objective way. As an expert, it's possible that I tend to point to dangers and risks more than to opportunities and possibilities -- similarly to an engineer who builds a bridge and has to make people aware of everything that could cause it to collapse. Warning against a possible accident is in fact intended to reduce the likelihood of an accident. And a sudden shift in the climate could have truly catastrophic consequences. Besides, in Greek mythology Cassandra was always right -- unfortunately.

SPIEGEL: Does that justify constantly predicting the end of the world?

Schellnhuber: Naturally, we have to be careful not to dramatize things. After all, scientific credibility is our unique selling point. But I do confess that when you have the feeling that people just aren't listening, it becomes very tempting to turn up the volume. Naturally, we have to resist this temptation. 


Did he read it?

My publisher wonders if I am going to write to the Scottish Review of Books and ask to respond to Alastair McIntosh's review. School is back tomorrow and there is something of a backlog of real work to complete. But I thought I would set down a few thoughts and see if I can bring myself to write anything.

Click to read more ...


Josh 31

More cartoons by Josh here.


I've (finally) set up a custom domain for this site - - which should become active over the next few hours. Update your bookmarks accordingly.


Surface temperatures blog

The Met Office's Peter Thorne is running a blog to go alongside the initiative. This project intends to design a new surface temperature dataset. Public views are being sought on the project although time is somewhat short now so if you are interested you need to be quick.

(H/T Oliver Morton)



Plant food

The argument that carbon dioxide is plant food and that we should welcome increased concentrations of the stuff as leading to bumper crop yields is one that is not given much credence by the other side of the global warming debate. Perhaps they should think again, as this article, recently published in the Royal Society's Phil Trans B, suggests that there is much truth in it.

CO2 enrichment is likely to increase yields of most crops by approximately 13 per cent but leave yields of C4 crops unchanged. It will tend to reduce water consumption by all crops, but this effect will be approximately cancelled out by the effect of the increased temperature on evaporation rates. In many places increased temperature will provide opportunities to manipulate agronomy to improve crop performance. Ozone concentration increases will decrease yields by 5 per cent or more.

Plant breeders will probably be able to increase yields considerably in the CO2-enriched environment of the future, and most weeds and airborne pests and diseases should remain controllable, so long as policy changes do not remove too many types of crop-protection chemicals. However, soil-borne pathogens are likely to be an increasing problem when warmer weather will increase their multiplication rates; control is likely to need a transgenic approach to breeding for resistance. There is a large gap between achievable yields and those delivered by farmers, even in the most efficient agricultural systems. A gap is inevitable, but there are large differences between farmers, even between those who have used the same resources. If this gap is closed and accompanied by improvements in potential yields then there is a good prospect that crop production will increase by approximately 50 per cent or more by 2050 without extra land. However, the demands for land to produce bio-energy have not been factored into these calculations.

You could almost get the impression that the biggest threat to the food supply is coming from government.


(H/T Roddy Campbell)


Here come the cavalry...

This thread is for discussion of the McShane and Wyner paper, which looks as though it is going to be a pretty significant contribution to the Hockey Stick debate. Well, it has got Real Climate deleting comments again anyway...


Another cold winter?

Bob Ward has a letter in the Telegraph bemoaning (quite correctly) attempts to link the hot weather in Russia and the Pakistan floods to climate change.

SIR – The recent extreme weather in Pakistan, Russia and China is not “proof of climate change” (report, August 11).

While increases in the intensity and frequency of heatwaves, droughts and heavy rainfall in some parts of the world are consistent with the expected impacts of the rise in average temperature, it is long-term trends in extreme weather that provide evidence for a changing climate.

Researchers must be careful about presenting the evidence for global warming. Every warm or wet event cited as proof may legitimise the erroneous portrayal of outbreaks of cold weather, such as those in northern Europe and eastern North America last winter, as evidence that global warming has stopped or does not exist. Such apparent contradictions increase public confusion.

I read somewhere that we're going to have another cold winter, at least according to some forecasters. I wonder if Bob read the same article.


Big oil day out

Many thanks to the Scottish Oil Club who invited me to attend the talk given by former BP boss, Lord Browne, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Browne has a book to push, with the self-effacing title: Beyond Business: An Inspirational Memoir From a Visionary Leader. The title of the talk itself was equally understated: The Story of a Corporate Superstar.

I can't help feeling I haven't quite got a handle on the self-promotion angle to being a writer yet.


Scottish Review of Books

A critical review of The Hockey Stick Illusion in the Scottish Review of Books. I was interested to see the Huybers and von Storch critiques of McIntyre's GRL paper mentioned without any allusion to the reasons given in my book as to why they were wrong.

You get a lovely warm feeling when this is the best your critics can come up with...



Josh has been designing a new iPhone app...


(View image for full size)

Cartoons by Josh here.


Email problems

I am having severe email problems. Anything addressed to my normal email address is being bounced. I'm getting odd emails suggesting that spammers are using my domain - ie out of office bounces addressed to non-existent people at my domain.

If anyone can offer advice on how to deal with this, I'd be grateful.

In the meantime, contact me through the contact link on the sidebar.



More evidence of a concerted media push on the biodiversity front. The Guardian is asking what actions government should take ahead of what appears to be a concerted campaign.


They get paid for this stuff... 

[Update: I've just noticed that Gardner's article goes back to May, so it predates some of the findings about how the Oxburgh report was put together. I'll leave the post here anyway, because it's still instructive to see what Dan Gardner said in the light of what we know now.]

There's an interesting piece on global warming sceptics in the Ottawa Citizen, by Dan Gardner. I've never heard of Mr Gardner before but the Telegraph's Tom Chivers called him "the wonderful Dan Gardner" so I thought I would take a look at the article, which is called "Weighing the evidence".

It's well worth it because it turned out to be silly enough to get me laughing out loud.

Click to read more ...