April 20th 2013
Press Complaints Commission
Thank you for your email of 15 April. There is no need to apologise for the delay. I was not expecting an instant turnaround. My response here is slightly constrained by time available to me, which is perhaps not a bad thing, as this response would otherwise be in danger of running on too long.
In reply to the points in John Wellington’s letter of 11th April:
1 He is strictly incorrect to assert that hindcasts are not predictions. In fact, they are, in that the model is started up at some point in the past and once they are running forward in time, they are predicting the evolution of the temperature signal ahead of the given start date. Therefore, they are predicting relative to the start date.
In the course of their temporal unfolding, the models will be presented with real historical external data such as volcanoes and El Nino/La Nina (ocean current ) episodes. Once the model is past the present time (represented by the white line on the original graph in the Mail on Sunday) it is of course no longer possible to add this external data. The models are unable to include the recent unusually cold phase of the Pacific ocean current oscillations, nor did they predict the large amounts of atmospheric aerosols from China’s industry. However, the oscillations will, by definition, continue and the current cold phase will inevitably, and unfortunately, be followed by a warm phase. The very warm year of 1998 was due to an unusually strong El Nino.
I recommend that the PCC looks at this video to view dynamically the effect on the global temperature record of removing volcanoes, solar influences and Pacific ocean oscillations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u_0JZRIHFtk
It is still the case that the Mail article is misleading in respect of the nature of climate models. I would suggest that by way of restitution, the Mail should carry a full feature – written by a climatologist with professional expertise - on the nature, complexity and accomplishments – as well as the limitations - of these models. It would be of great interest to Mail readers.
2. My original point has not been addressed. It was this: The Mail said: “The forecasts have also forced jobs abroad as manufacturers relocate to places with no emissions targets" The Mail on Sunday and Mail Online must supply instances where more than one manufacturer has relocated to places with no emissions targets where the motivation of "no emission targets" was the sole, or the primary driving factor, as opposed to a subsidiary factor, with, for instance, lower wage costs being the main factor.
If the Mail cannot supply these instances, the sentence is inaccurate and misleading”.
The reference to Dieter Helm’s work is a red herring, but an interesting red herring. He is actually calling for a universal carbon tax in order to prevent global warming. He is arguing that if China does not impose a carbon tax, we should impose such a tax on their imports. This is far from – indeed, the opposite of – what David Rose is trying to argue in his article.
3. Myles Allen has responded to the David Rose article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/20/response-mail-on-sunday-great-green-con-climate-change
The sub-heading to his response reads: “I have been grossly misrepresented”.
His whole article is worth reading, but one key section reads “But I also explained that doubling pre-industrial carbon dioxide concentrations, which we are almost certain to do now, was just the beginning. Increasing use of fossil carbon at the current rate would drive atmospheric concentrations towards four times pre-industrial figures by 2100. So even if the "climate sensitivity" is as low as 2C, as some lines of evidence now suggest, we would still be looking at 4C plus by the early 22nd century.”
This is very important. Even if the climatology community uses the muted figures preferred by leading climate change “sceptics”, humanity still would still be facing a major and universal crisis by the end of the century. This point needs stressing. An important development in recent years is the emergence of sceptics calling themselves “lukewarmers”. They have given up on trying to deny that man-made CO2 has no effect on the atmosphere, but instead they are arguing that it has only a minor effect. Their own estimates cover a Climate Sensitivity figure of 2°C. But even this value generates serious global climate impacts.
It is misleading to represent a climatologist’s opinions in this way. The charge of misleading statements remains.
John Wellington has said that Prof Allen has not complained, but it is the case he has now done so.
The Mail should apologise publicly to Prof Allen for distorting his words.
4 John Wellington asserts that there is no reliable data to establish that the deep oceans have warmed. This is not so.
Guemas et al Nature Climate Change (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1863 have shown that changes in the top 700 metres of ocean can account for the pause in increase in the global surface temperatures.
Their methodology is explained in simple terms here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/guemas-attribute-slowed-surface-warming-to-oceans.html
Moreover, when the 700-2000 metre layer of ocean is included, it becomes quite clear that the whole globe is continuing to warm, but that at present, the warming is being drawn into the oceans.
John Wellington asserts that “tracking the increase in surface temperatures …are the only method scientists have to establish their claim that anthropogenic carbon dioxide has actually warmed the planet.”
This is simply not acceptable. It is an attempt to set physics aside in favour of a single set of numbers. The inescapable fact is that climatology studies the energy budget of the whole planet. It is quite simple: energy comes in from the sun, and is radiated out again through the top of the atmosphere. If there were no greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature of the planet would be about -15°C instead of +15°C. By increasing the greenhouse effect, we will inevitably increase the temperature of the planet. However, this simple picture is clearly influenced by several processes on the planet. It is undeniable that ocean currents – not only in the Pacific, but also in the Atlantic – have a demonstrable effect. Heating occurred in 1998 with El Nino. A pause in the heating trend has occurred since 1998 due mainly to a run of La Nina events. Inevitably, further El Nino warming events will take place in the future. The effect of these oscillations cannot be set aside. To attempt to do so is simply to attempt to set aside a whole section of planetary physics.
It is true that the global surface temperature warming is generally used as a simple indicator of the long term warming trends, because to include the ocean effect in all representations would simply be too cumbersome.
To correct this matter, the Mail should state that the March 16th article confused the surface temperature and the total global heat content, including the oceans. The Mail Online might like to display the fascinating video referred to above: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u_0JZRIHFtk since it is very simple and straightforward.
5. In the matter of David Whitehouse’s expertise, let me just make a personal comparison. I am a medical practitioner and psychiatrist, now retired, but I would not claim to be an “expert” even in my own field, though I do have expertise in a few areas of medical practice. I have engaged in the controversy of climate science for the past three and a half years, but would never claim to be an “expert” in climate science.
6. Regarding global cooling, John Wellington reiterates the original claim that some scientists were warning about possible global cooling. He has not addressed my point that seven papers in the 60s and 70s speculated on cooling, while six (6) times that number of papers suggested warming. To put it another way, a small minority of papers were talking about cooling some 40 years ago. This fact may be of interest to students of the history of science. It is very difficult to see how it can be claimed that it should be of interest to the readers of a popular daily newspaper in 2013. The article says “In the Seventies, scientists and policymakers were just as concerned about a looming ‘ice age’ as they have been lately about global warming”. This is just not true. There were a small number of papers, which were seized upon by some sections of the media of the time. That cannot be in any way compared with the present global concern among professional climatologists about anthropogenic global warming. The statement is inaccurate, misleading and a distortion of the truth.
The Mail should set out these facts above in its apology.
I am aware that the PCC may be finding this argument overly complex, so I would like to take a step back and help the Commission to get an overview on the situation.
1. We start with the simple physical reality of the greenhouse effect, without which the planet would be 30°C colder than it is.
2. Next, it is agreed by all parties – all climatologists, including the small number of qualified climatologists who would classify themselves as skeptical of catastrophic global warming – that a doubling of the CO2 in the atmosphere will, in and of itself, increase the global temperature by about 1.2°C. Note there is true consensus about the effect of doubled CO2 on both sides of the debate.
3. The debate at present is about the effect that this initial 1.2°C increase will have on the rest of the planetary systems, in terms of positive feedback.
4. The vast majority of work on this suggests that the initial rise will provoke a final rise in the region of 2-4°C. The lukewarmer sceptics prefer a value of 1.5-2°C, based on a smaller number of studies.
5. The key point is that both sides cover the final value of a 2°C rise, and that this increase is enough to make policymakers look very seriously at averting such a change.
Therefore, to some extent, the argument is over. Opinion makers (of which the Daily Mail is one very important member) have a human and journalistic responsibility to communicate the facts of anthropogenic climate change to the people. To publish articles that contain inaccuracies, misleading and distorted arguments about a matter as serious as climate change is a serious deviation from the standards of journalism that are expected in a democracy, as I am sure the Press Complaints Commission will agree.
Overall, as well as an apology and correction, I feel that an article of similar length and prominence to the March 16th article written by a climatologist with assistance from a journalist (to ensure comprehensibility) should be published in the Mail on Sunday and the Mail Online.
Many thanks for giving this important matter your attention
MB BS, MRCPsych