Who, Bob, Who? Bob Carter on abolishing the IPCC.

I was looking at the transcript of a recent late line interview conducted by Margot O’Neill and was flabbergasted by Bob Carter’s lack of understanding of the IPCC.  Apart from being confused about the IPCC  process, Bob seems to imply that Australia’s most qualified scientists should not be involved in assessing the science and impacts of climate change.  Here is the section of the interview that stunned me.  You can see the complete interview here.

MARGOT O’NEILL: But while welcoming the reforms, climate sceptic Professor Bob Carter believes the IPCC should be abolished.

BOB CARTER, JAMES COOK UNI.: There’s no earthly need for Australia to be going to the United Nations to ask for policy advice on environmental matters.

We have our own scientists and we should consult with them, and CSIRO is clearly one of the cases in point, and CSIRO should certainly be consulted.

However, they’ve been associated closely with the IPCC. They have 40 of their staff advise the IPCC. So, what’s really important is that the policy advice to the Government is contested. It needs due diligence done on it and an independent audit, in a sense.

You must consider many lines of scientific advice. You can’t just take a monopoly advice from one body, be that body the IPCC or CSIRO or the Bureau of Meteorology.

MARGOT O’NEILL: The next IPCC report on the state of climate change is due in three years.

Err um … who should we be getting to look at this report?  The guy at the supermarket?  My local veterinarian?  Geologists who have nothing published in the peer-reviewed literature?  Who, Bob, who?

Wanted: another planet Earth by 2030

Key terms used in the 2010 Living Planet Report (by wordle) © WWF / Wordle

The latest Living Planet Report was released today by WWF and the Global Footprint Network, which finds we are now using resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate 50 percent faster than the Earth can sustain.

It comes in perfect timing with the upcoming COP10 meeting on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan from 18 – 29 October, where the Parties to the Convention will decide upon what actions to take to stem the loss of biodiversity over the next ten years. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, and also the year which the Parties to the CBD had agreed to achieve a significant reduction of the rate of loss of biodiversity. Despite some wins from the conservation movement, overall it is clear that attempts to slow the destruction of nature have failed miserably.

Some of the key findings from the Living Planet Report are:

  • Since 1961, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled
  • We’ll need 2 planets to support humanity’s demand by 2030, and 2.8 by 2050
  • The top 10 countries with the biggest Ecological Footprint per person are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium, United States, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Kuwait and Ireland
  • 31 OECD countries account for 37% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint
  • Brazil, Russia, India and China have the fastest growing Footprints, and are on a trajectory to overtake the OECD bloc if they follow the same development path
  • Countries such as Afghanistan & Bangladesh have Footprints that are too small to provide for basic needs

Amidst all of this doom and gloom, this year’s report has made a point of emphasising the intimate connection between the preservation of biodiversity and human well-being, and a message that the path to sustainability is possible – but we need to make changes to how we live, and how we measure progress, in order to fit within the limits of a finite planet.

“The challenge posed by the Living Planet Report is clear,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International. “Somehow we need to find a way to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous population within the resources of this one planet. All of us have to find a way to make better choices in what we consume and how we produce and use energy.”

Part of this transition to sustainability, I would argue, is to develop an economic system which recognises these limits, and which doesn’t require continuous growth in the consumption of natural resources and production of wastes in order stay affloat.

You can download the full report here, and also check out the many fantastic educational resources that WWF have developed alongside the report – including interactive graphs and maps, plus this cute video.

Why Don’t Republicans Believe in Climate Change?

We recently undertook a survey of Australian politicians and probed their understanding of climate change.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the results indicated strong differences between parties in politicians understanding and source of advice on climate change.  Similar patterns appear to be present on the political landscape of the United States.  Here, Ross Douthat discusses recent opinions of commentators Brownstein and McKibbin over the rise of scepticism/denialism in the Republican Party.

Ron Brownstein and Bill McKibben both have pieces up lamenting the ascendancy of climate change skepticism in the Republican Party. While McKibben ponders the intellectual roots of this phenomenon (a subject I touched on, as he notes, in a column earlier this year), Brownstein points out that the G.O.P. is an outlier among the developed world’s right-of-center parties:

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”

What’s interesting, though, is that if you look at public opinion on climate change, the U.S. isn’t actually that much of an outlier among the wealthier Western nations. In a 2007-2008 Gallup survey on global views of climate change, for instance, just 49 percent of American told pollsters that human beings are responsible for global warming. But the same figure for Britain (where Rush Limbaugh has relatively few listeners, I believe) was 48 percent, and belief in human-caused climate change was only slightly higher across northern Europe: 52 percent in the Czech Republic, 59 percent in Germany, 49 percent in Denmark, 51 percent in Austria, just 44 percent in the Netherlands, with highs of 63 percent in France and 64 percent in Sweden. (Doubts about anthropogenic global warming are considerably rarer, the study found, in southern Europe, Latin America and the wealthier countries of Asia.) There’s a reasonably large Western European constituency, in other words, for some sort of climate change skepticism. (And probably a growing one: In Britain, at least, as in the United States, the economic slump has dampened public enthusiasm for anti-emissions regulation.) But the politicians haven’t been responding. Instead, Europe’s political class, left and right alike, has worked to marginalize a position that it considers intellectually disreputable, even as the American G.O.P. has exploited that same position to win votes. The debate over climate change isn’t unusual in this regard. On issues ranging from the death penalty to (at least until recently) immigration, America’s major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe. Overall, I much prefer the American approach, populist excesses and all. (It helps in this case, of course, that I’m deeply skeptical about the efficacy of climate change legislation anyway.) But there’s no denying that its left the G.O.P. on the wrong side — and increasingly so — of a pretty sturdy scientific consensus.

Testimony wasn’t about science – good point!

Journal Sentinel, Oct. 9, 2010 4:10 p.m.

Recently, 26 highly respected scientists submitted a document to Congress that responded to the testimony of Christopher Monckton before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is a member of the committee. The report reaffirmed that humans are causing substantial changes to the Earth’s climate.

Why would these scientists take the time to submit a lengthy report in response to a single congressional witness? The answer is that by inviting Monckton to testify, Sensenbrenner – making the invitation on behalf of the minority party on the committee – made a mockery of the time-honored tradition of inviting expert testimony to inform legislative decisions. Monckton is not distinguished by his scientific credentials (he has none), nor by the many peer-reviewed articles he has written on the subject (he has written none). Nevertheless, he was invited to testify to Congress as an “expert.”

Monckton’s testimony was in sharp disagreement with many major scientific organizations and the vast majority (more than 95%) of climate scientists. What does Monckton know that climate scientists don’t? The answer is not much. In fact, the report outlined nine key errors of Monckton’s testimony in stark detail. From start to finish, Monckton’s misunderstanding of even basic scientific principles was evident.

Witnesses should not be invited based on ideology; invitations should be based on the quality of their scientific work. Monckton’s appearance in the halls of Congress is an embarrassment to our Congress and our nation.

Unfortunately, Sensenbrenner and a number of his colleagues have a history of ignoring scientists with relevant backgrounds in favor of easily debunked pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. On Dec. 4, 2009, for example, Sensenbrenner stated that scientists “found a trick to hide the decline in temperature data.”

Later, Sensenbrenner read the text from the supposed “offending” e-mail. The text did not indicate that scientists hid a “decline in temperature data” as Sensenbrenner suggested. In fact, the e-mail was written in 1999, on the heels of the warmest temperatures on record. The author of the e-mail was referring to a well-known problem that had been described more than a year earlier – that certain tree-ring records do not provide reliable information about temperatures in recent decades.

The e-mail was discussing the fact that recent temperatures were rising faster than those tree rings suggested.

There is a larger point that goes to the heart of what it means to have a truly honest discussion of the science. By focusing on, and misrepresenting, a single phrase cherry-picked from one of thousands of stolen e-mails, Sensenbrenner conveniently avoided acknowledging the subsequent body of work by the scientific community over the past decade, including a thorough review of climate research that allow temperatures to be known many centuries back in time.

That review, conducted by a board of the National Academy of Sciences, completely vindicated the work alluded to in the aforementioned 10-year-old e-mail. It establishes that the rise in global temperatures over the past century is unprecedented for at least the past thousand years and likely far longer. Such findings are just one small part of a much larger and compelling body of evidence that humans are causing the climate to change in ways that are dangerous to future generations.

The issue of climate change has become so politicized that no substantial action has been possible. Meanwhile, the Earth is rushing toward a point of no return.

We believe that people on both sides of the political spectrum need to act quickly, and together, in order to take effective action. Conservatives must realize that denial of scientific results that do not conform to ideological or political positions should not be a litmus test for their representatives. They also need to realize that the science behind climate change is well-established among the real scientists. Continued denial of climate science likely will become a political liability in the near future.

Liberals must recognize that many of their conservative counterparts have deep-seated, and in many cases, well-reasoned fears about regulation-based solutions. They also must realize that not all conservatives are anti-science and anti-environment. The discussion we need to have is, “What is the best way to move forward?”

Ray Weymann is from Carnegie Observatory and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. John Abraham is from University of St. Thomas. Barry Bickmore is from Brigham Young University. Michael Mann is from Penn State University. Winslow Briggs is from Carnegie Institute for Science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

POAMA seasonal forecasts in Google Earth: Following thermal stress real-time!

The Climate Variability and Change Group at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR) has released a series of important tools for tracking and projecting thermal stress and coral bleaching months ahead of their appearance on coral reefs.  After receiving an e-mail from Dr Claire Spillman, I immediately downloaded into my Google Earth and was impressed by the depth of information available on a geographic basis through these tools.  To view please see:  http://poama.bom.gov.au/experimental/poama15/sp_gbr.htm

Experimental real-time products available for the tropical oceans (30N-30S) include:

  • SST anomalies for leads 0-5 months (e.g. see the decay of the La Nina in the Pacific Ocean)
  • Probability of SSTA >= 0.6C
  • Degree Heating Months (DHM) – a measure of thermal stress
  • Probability of DHM >= 2.0
  • SSTA Skill for leads 0-5 months

Hindcasts of SSTA and DHM, together with skill, are also available for viewing in Google Earth. This capability was developed at the request of the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), who are one of the primary users of our seasonal ocean forecasts. These forecasts form an important component of the Early Warning System in the GBRMPA Coral Bleaching Response Plan. Some of these products are already available externally as operational products (via Ocean Services) and others as experimental products (via POAMA web pages) and have been published/accepted in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.