Energetic young climate scientist Tamsin Edwards, currently in the process of relocating from Bristol to the Open University, gave a TED Talk on How to love uncertainty in climate science a couple of days ago. At the time of writing there are no comments under her blog post, which is probably because she is too busy to moderate them.
There are a lot of good things in the talk.
- Addressing the issue of uncertainty as the main topic, and acknowledging that uncertainty levels in climate science are far higher than in other areas such as experimental physics.
- The explanation of climate models, acknowledging that they are simplifications, with the “All models are wrong” quote, and the statement that “their predictions partly depend on the numbers you plug in” and “we can’t always know what those numbers should be”.
- Discussing the journalistic spin problem – how the same piece of research on sea level rise was reported as both “worse than feared” and “less severe than feared”.
- It’s a well-written, clear and structured piece.
But unfortunately there are a couple of things that are completely wrong, in fact backwards:
“Not everyone knows this, but more and more climate sceptics agree with us too”
Climate sceptics are getting more confident that they are right (that the climate scare has been greatly exaggerated), as each climate prediction fails.
In fact it is the climate scientists who are coming round to agreeing with the sceptics. After years of denying that there was any slow-down or pause in warming, it is now one of their main topics of research. Similarly, after insisting that natural variation of the climate is small compared with man-made “forcing”, they are now acknowledging, as sceptics have been saying for years, that chaotic fluctuations and natural cycles are an important factor. As Tamsin says in her talk, climate scientists have in the past not sufficiently discussed uncertainty, leading them to make over-confident claims. The IPCC, in its latest AR5 report, has climbed down from some of the claims about extreme events made by AR4. The IPCC has slightly reduced its range of values for climate sensitivity, as more papers come out with lower estimates. And on the policy front, while the farcical climate talk circuit continues, more and more people are realising that global agreements on mitigation are not going to happen, and that the logical approach is to adapt to climate change if/when it happens.
“That pause in warming of the atmosphere surprised the media and public, even though scientists always expected this kind of thing could happen in the short term”
- The IPCC AR4 in 2007 projected 0.2C per decade over the next couple of decades.
- The Met Office in 2007 predicted 0.3C of warming from 2004-14.
- Lean & Rind 2009 predicted strong warming in the next 5 years.
- Trenberth said (in 2009) “where the heck is global warming”,
“we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a
travesty that we can’t.”, while Schneider spoke of someone betting a
lot of money on a prompt upward spike, and Jones said they’d be
worried after a 15 year pause.
- James Annan placed a bet on warming with sceptic David Whitehouse, and lost.
The statement is backwards – it was the climate scientists themselves who were most surprised by the pause.
Remember what Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”