IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough

The latest IPCC report has highlighted that it's dead certain that the world has warmed, and that it's extremely likely that humans are the main cause. Credit: IPCC

The latest IPCC report has highlighted that it’s dead certain that the world has warmed, and that it’s extremely likely that humans are the main cause. Credit: IPCC

The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report saw perhaps the most severe conflict between scientists and politicians in the organisation’s existence. As its name suggests, governments take an active part in the IPCC process, whose latest main findings appeared between September 2013 and May 2014. Debate over what information makes the high-profile ‘Summaries for Policymakers’ is usually intense, but this time three graphs were dropped on politicians’ insistence. I show these graphs later in this blog entry.

At the Transformational Climate Science conference in my home town, Exeter, UK, earlier this month, senior IPCC author Ottmar Edenhofer discussed the ‘battle’ with governments on his part of the report. Another scientist who worked on the report highlighted confidentially to me how unusual the omission was.

To me, it’s more surprising that this hasn’t happened more often, especially when you look more closely at the latest report’s findings. There’s concrete certainty that warming is happening, and it’s extremely likely that humans are the dominant cause, it says. Governments have even – in some cases, begrudgingly – already signed up to temperature and CO2 emission targets reflecting this fact.

The inadequacy of those words is becoming ever more starkly obvious. Ottmar stressed that the emissions levels agreed at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, in November 2010, would likely need later emissions cuts the likes of which we’ve never seen before to avoid dangerous climate change. The latest IPCC report shines a floodlight on that inertia, which understandably cranks up the tension between researchers and politicians.

Ottmar was one of two co-chairs who led the ‘working group three’ (WGIII) section of the IPCC report that looks at how to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He stressed that the need to make these cuts comes from a fundamental difference between the risks that come from climate change and the risks of mitigation. We can heal economic damage arising from cutting emissions – reversing sea level rise isn’t so easy.

Our choices are looking increasingly sucky

The three IPCC co-chairs who were at the Exeter conference, from left to right, Chris Field, Ottmar Edenhofer, Thomas Stocker. The IPCC report is split into three main parts, or working groups, each led by two 'co-chairs'. Within each working group there are many chapters, with scientists serving as lead authors or authors on those chapters. Image credit University of Exeter, used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

The three IPCC co-chairs who were at the Exeter conference, from left to right, Chris Field (WGII), Ottmar Edenhofer (WGIII), Thomas Stocker (WGI). The IPCC report is split into three main parts, or working groups, each led by two ‘co-chairs’. Within each working group there are many chapters, with scientists serving as lead authors or authors on those chapters. Image credit University of Exeter, used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

The Exeter conference made it clear that the IPCC is also trying hard to highlight ways to meet these targets. Ottmar pointed to two important steps. One was setting a reasonable price on carbon, which would make using fossil fuels more expensive and shift us towards cleaner energy sources. Another was defining the atmosphere as a ‘global commons’ – something that belongs to all of us, which a legal system could be set up to look after. And while the greenhouse gas reduction agreements now in place are insufficient, WGIII lead author Catherine Mitchell stressed that we can learn from the ones that work well.

Yet the IPCC could only offer one scenario that would keep warming below 2°C from pre-industrial times, the target countries signed up to in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. That scenario advocated an approach that had been barely discussed before: bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. The authors have suggested it because to keep on track for the 2°C target we’re likely to need to suck CO2 out of the air.

While there are hi-tech ideas for how to do that, the only currently-proven method is an ancient one: growing plants. We can and do burn these plants for energy, but to bring warming under control we need to stop their carbon getting back into the atmosphere – we need to capture and store it. This is the essence of BECCS and while it may seem an elegant solution, Ottmar revealed the debates on its inclusion were intense. One issue was the idea’s sheer obscurity – could the IPCC scientists even be confident it can be done? Another is that growing plants for fuel brings competition for land currently used for food.

When would climate change losses become unbearable for you?

The third of the graphs politicians stopped being included in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that a growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes in low and middle income countries has been released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper‐middle income countries to high income countries. Image credit: IPCC

The third of the graphs politicians stopped being included in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that a growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes in low and middle income countries has been released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper‐middle income countries to high income countries. Image credit: IPCC

Another new idea in the latest IPCC report has been discussion of ethical issues, like how BECCS might threaten people’s ability to meet their basic needs. WGIII author Simon Caney highlighted that our moral outlooks can determine how widely technologies like fracking, nuclear power and geoengineering are used. Moral arguments also enter climate negotiations, for example limiting the case for including past emissions because the older generation didn’t know  what burning fossil fuels was doing. Simon stressed that future analyses must include ethical aspects better, bringing in energy justice by looking at whose interest emissions are serving.

But it was such implications for negotiations that politicans objected to in the WGIII SPM. The first excluded graph showed that since the 1970s growth in total greenhouse gas emissions came mostly from developing countries. The second showed emissions per person have grown rapidly in middle-income countries like China and India, but have fallen in both the richest and the poorest countries. However, emissions remain much higher per person in the developed world. The final graph showed that the goods developed countries are importing are producing significant CO2 elsewhere, unbalancing the worldwide effort to cut emissions.

Despite the conflict these graphs and their implications caused, values-guided science still looks set to play a bigger role for the IPCC. For example, one suggestion at the Exeter conference was value-based scenarios for what the future might look like, and how greenhouse gas emissions might be shared. Our values are also important in setting the real limit to climate change – the point at which we are no longer willing to adapt. That was a question highlighted by Frans Berkhout, a lead author on one of the working group two chapters: If we can adapt to everything, why fight global warming? Because some of our values are non-negotiable – I’d be unwilling to give up my home, for example – I’d hate to be forced to adapt by moving. And in fact, Frans noted, there will be damages and losses caused by the changes we can’t stop or adapt to. At what point are these losses intolerable?

WGII’s focus is both adaptation and the impacts of climate change. Chris Field, one of two co-chairs who led this part of the report, underlined that the impacts are felt on all continents, from the coasts to the mountains. But for me the one question about impacts that hit home harder than any other was about the big picture on nutrition and food availability. What happens if we get two or three years that are really bad for farming worldwide?

How can we get real solutions?

IPCC WGII co-chair Chris Field tells the Exeter conference about climate change impacts and adaptation.

Chris also made some refreshingly honest confessions. Even hundreds of scientists, who have together produced a report millions of words long, aren’t enough to make governments take up its suggestions, he admitted. Chris also doesn’t know how to move from producing a ‘massively rich’ document to a dialogue that leads to real solutions. And he also concedes that the report’s very richness may also sometimes be counterproductive. There are so many caveats that people can say fighting climate change is too dear, or dirt cheap, and both be right. And finally, he also admitted to being mystified about how the IPCC process can even work. Why don’t countries that dislike the IPCC oppose everything it tries to put in the Summaries for Policymakers?

As vast as the IPCC reports so far have been, Chris’ comments make an important truth clear. Even our best evidence alone is not enough to resolve a problem caused by the same resources that put our society in a place to reveal that evidence. Fossil fuels have given many of us comfortable lives, and if it weren’t for climate change their full exploitation would be a no-brainer. Giving them up, or even making them more expensive through carbon pricing, is a big step. It’s hardly surprising we’re slow to do it.

But the IPCC report does make a compelling case for why we must. So, where scientists have started others must continue. I use my vote and voice to try to persuade politicians to take the situation seriously – I hope you do too. Yet many people still don’t do this. It’s easy to think that they’re wrong, and perhaps accuse them of not caring about their future or that of their children. However, in a democratic world all such viewpoints should be considered, and so it’s up to us to work together to find a way forward.

In the climate change debate, where heightened passions can quickly descend into name-calling, for me the key is trust. We must each decide if and exactly why scientists deserve our trust. Having seen the efforts of the IPCC scientists in person has renewed my trust in their work, and I’d recommend that you trust it too. That then leads onto the other levels of trust we need – trust between us as individuals and as nations. If we can get a workable level of trust, then maybe the lessons and suggestions of the IPCC can be fully taken on board.

The first of the graphs that politicians prevented from inclusion in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows developed countries are now responsible for less than half of total human caused (anthropogenic) historical greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently negotiating a climate deal on the basis of historical responsibility for emissions looks like an idea that might backfire on its proponents in the developing world. Image credit: IPCC

The first of the graphs that politicians prevented from inclusion in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows developed countries are now responsible for less than half of total human caused (anthropogenic) historical greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently negotiating a climate deal on the basis of historical responsibility for emissions looks like an idea that might backfire on its proponents in the developing world. Image credit: IPCC

The second of the graphs politicians stopped from being used in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that developed countries still emit the most, but that upper-middle income countries like India and China have gained rapidly. Image credit: IPCC

The second of the graphs politicians stopped from being used in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that developed countries still emit the most, but that upper-middle income countries like India and China have gained rapidly. Image credit: IPCC

  • Videos and slides from the Exeter conference are available here
  • These other blog entries give different viewpoints of the event:

Transformational Climate Science

Transformational Climate Science – meeting report

Transformational Climate Science – approaching the problem of climate change

Transformational Climate Science – the future of climate research

Transformational Climate Science at Exeter University

Journal reference
Kintisch, E. (2014). In New Report, IPCC Gets More Specific About Warming Risks Science, 344 (6179), 21-21 DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6179.21

125 Responses to “IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough”

  1. Richard Mallett Says:

    You make a good point. India and China, and the African countries, are not going to give up cheap fossil fuel for expensive alternatives.

    The other ‘elephant in the room’ is the pause in global warming which has so far lasted for :-

    12 years 6 months (NASA GISS) – Goddard Institute of Space Studies
    13 years 9 months (HadCRUT3) – Hadley Climate Research Institute Version 3
    13 years 4 months (HadCRUT4) – Hadley Climate Research Institute Version 4
    13 years 5 months (HadSST3) – Hadley Sea Surface Temperatures
    9 years 8 months (UAH) – University of Alabama Huntsville (satellite)
    17 years 9 months (RSS) – Remote Sensing Systems (satellite)

    You are not going to persuade the above mentioned countries to spend a LOT more money while they don’t see global warming happening around them.

  2. Jim Hunt Says:

    It was great to meet you at the conference Andy, and thanks for the mention. In all the circumstances I figured you and your readers might also be interested in my latest article, hot off the virtual presses this very morning. The view of Washington DC from Soggy SW England!


  3. andyextance Says:

    As you’re making this argument, you’re likely right that others will. You’ve probably told me elsewhere where these numbers come from but could you please do so again? If you’re just telling me the time since the single warmest year in all these records it’s not hugely convincing. I’ve mentioned to you that chaos and natural cycles do have a part to play in year-to-year variation and that’s a good reason to use five or ten year averages. If you’ve used averages, then fair enough – the hiatus isn’t that much of an elephant in the room anyway, or at least it’s an elephant that everyone has noticed and talked about quite a lot. As I highlighted to you on Twitter it gets a (brief) mention in the WGI SPM and is explored in more detail in chapters 2, 9 and 10. Chapter 9 in particular has a big box on p769-772. The link to that chapter is here: http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter09_FINAL.pdf

    As you probably saw, the box mentions thay it’s ‘very likely’ only a pause/slowdown in SURFACE warming. Here’s a quote:

    “it is very likely that the climate system, including the ocean below 700 m depth, has continued to accumulate energy over the period 1998–2010 (Section 3.2.4, Box 3.1). Consistent with this energy accumulation, global mean sea level has continued to rise during 1998–2012, at a rate only slightly and insignificantly lower than during 1993–2012 (Section 3.7). The
    consistency between observed heat-content and sea level changes yields high confidence in the assessment of continued ocean energy
    accumulation, which is in turn consistent with the positive radiative imbalance of the climate system (Section 8.5.1; Section 13.3, Box

    I’m not denying it would be better if we understood the slowdown better, but perhaps you could focus less on that and consider all the other evidence the IPCC brings together. There’s a lot of fundamental science behind it that’s well understood – the full WGI alone is 1.1 million words. Perhaps we should be discussing the direct satellite measurements of the energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere – we’ll keep on warming until that balances out.

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      Yes, I have discussed the IPCC treatment of the pause with you on Twitter; and of course I have discussed other periods of warming and cooling on here. What I’m mentioning here is what I think the politicians will be considering (especially if they’re being asked to spend a lot of money) which is relatively short term effects that are happening right now, and the fact that the IPCC have admitted that their initial 1990 estimates were too high and have been revised downwards over the years (as I have also discussed with you).

      The pause periods are given at http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/25/can-giss-and-other-data-sets-set-records-in-2014-now-includes-april-data/ – they appear to be the periods for which the trend is flat, so not necessarily the time since the last maximum.

      As I have mentioned to you, the current period is nothing special. Roughly speaking, we can say that there was :-

      cooling 1880-1910 30 years
      warming 1910-1945 35 years
      cooling 1945-1956 11 years
      pause 1956-1976 20 years
      warming 1976-1998 22 years (‘hockey stick’)
      current pause 1998-2013 15 years and counting.

      This is based on the average of land and sea temperatures from GISS, HadCRUT4 and NCDC which seem to agree pretty well.

      The overall trend from 1880 to 2013 is 0.64 C per century (HadCRUT4 0.65, GISS 0.63, NCDC 0.65) – say 2.0 C per 300 years or so. IMO that is the figure the IPCC should be shouting from the roof tops. Then the politicians can make informed decisions.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – Have you seen the Skeptical Science “escalator” before?


        If so what do you make of it? What do you make of Dame Julia’s point that in this Brave New World of ours extremes are in fact far more relevant than averages?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        I don’t see any statistics there on extreme events, so I don’t know if she has demonstrated an increasing trend in extreme events in the UK, or a correlation with human activities (except that I know that the 2013-14 Somerset floods were blamed on a lack of dredging of the rivers, and building houses in flood prone areas)

        Obviously different people are always carefully considering all the available evidence and coming to different conclusions (for example, Chriostopher Moncktomn, who I seem to remember has accused Julia Slingo of alarmism)

        Do you know where she has provided statistics on these two questions ?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        In my previous message, I tried to address both short term warming, cooling and pausing, and long term averages; so in the case of HadCRUT4 / GISS / NCDC, I believe that I have covered all the bases.

        If by extremes, you mean something else, please tell me what different statistics I should be looking at. I truly want to investigate the evidence before saying what I think governments should be spending our money on. This will be particularly relevant coming up to our election next year.

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      Another relevant opinion from a world renowned ecologist :-


      • andyextance Says:

        It’s interesting that the graph on the projections of climate models don’t show any uncertainty ranges. Pretty much every modelling study I’ve seen includes them. I’d like to see what the Botkin/Christy graph looks like with them included.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Indeed. He makes some good points about species adaptation though, for example, which is his main field of expertise.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        That;s one of my pet peeves about graphs (apart from the absence of grid lines) – when I was at school (lo these many years ago) we had it drummed into us to state our margins of error.

  4. Jim Hunt Says:

    @Richard – Dame Julia Slingo pointed out a few days after the Transformational Climate Science conference:

    “It’s not about the global mean temperature any more. We need to shape the climate change message much more about ‘what does it mean for me, regionally and locally’, and that’s really around extreme or high impact weather, it’s about extreme seasons, it’s about that intersection between natural variability of the climate and how climate change is often compounding that”


    Perhaps the ‘elephant in the room’ is in fact increasingly “extreme and/or high impact weather”?

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      We need to carefully examine (a) whether extreme and / or high impact weather is in fact increasing, and (b) if it is, is it due to human activities, or is it something that always happens from time to time (like the 1929-1930 UK winter floods) ?

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        It seems that Dame Julia has carefully examined all the available evidence and concluded that the answers to your questions are (a) Yes, and (b) Yes. Do you disagree with her conclusion for some reason?

      • andyextance Says:

        See WGI SPM, p5 for a summary table on the latest state of science on this http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        So for the early 21st. century, the forecast is :-

        Likely – warmer and / or fewer cold days and nights
        (I have heard that the warming is mostly at night)
        Likely – warmer and / or more hot days and nights (ditto)
        Likely – heavy precipitation events
        Likely – extreme high sea level

        Apart from temperature, I haven’t seen any graphs on rainfall. Are there any UK / USA / World data sets ?

        Sea level is problematic, since some rise in sea level is due to land subsidence, so that has to be separated out.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Many thanks Jim. Just what I need.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        OK, I have now plotted the rainfall since 1766 from HadUKP data. The overall trend is +17.23mm. per century.

        The years with most rainfall (> 1200 mm.) were 1247.3 mm. in 1768, 1213mm. in 1852, 1284.9mm. in 1872, 1232.5mm. in 2000, and 1244.4mm. in 2012.

        The years with least rainfall (< 700 mm.) were 612mm. in 1788, 672.9mm. in 1854, and 629mm. in 1921.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Have you tried a seasonal and/or regional analysis. By way of example, according to the Met Office at the end of February:

        “As February comes to an end provisional rainfall figures (from 1 December 2013 to 25 February 2014) confirm the UK has had its wettest winter since the national series records began in 1910.

        It has also been the wettest winter in the long running England and Wales Precipitation (EWP) series going back to 1766,”


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        No, I have only had time so far to plot the annual rainfall over the whole country, as my main activity is to plot long term temperature records (for those stations that started recording before 1850)

        Plotting the annual rainfall, it quickly becomes apparent that we often have years that are much drier than average interspersed with years that are much wetter than average.

        The annual rainfall ranges from 600-1300 mm. (612mm. in 1788 to 1284.9mm. in 1872) – as I said, two of the five wettest years have occurred this century (when they were warning us of severe droughts) but all the four driest years were in previous centuries.

        So, on (so far) limited evidence, perhaps we can say that we are getting more years with higher rainfall (and we probably won’t have to worry about severe droughts after all) – now the question becomes ‘What is the mechanism by which AGW causes excess rainfall (but not severe droughts) in the UK ?’

        For the UK, excess rainfall is something that we can probably mitigate by building flood barriers, dredging the rivers, not building on flood plains, etc. so it would pose less of a problem than severe droughts would.

  5. Jim Hunt Says:

    @Richard – I seem to be unable to comment in direct reply to your points. By way of a couple of examples, the IPCC WG I Summary for Policymakers states that:

    “It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales as global mean temperatures increase.”

    and that:

    “Extreme precipitation events over most of the mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will
    very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century, as global mean surface temperature increases.”

    See: http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

    I note that you have yet to address Andy’s point about “the energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere”.

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      Those are forecasts, not statistics. Obviously, the IPCC have revised their temperature forecasts downwards over time, and admitted that their climate models over estimated the temperature changes from 1990 to 2013, which is part of the problem.

      I don’t know what the energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere is, or how it has changed over time. Andy says it’s based on satellite measurements, which suggests that it’s (so far, at least) a short term effect.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        If you “don’t know what the energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere is” it sounds like you need to study Climate Science 101. This course still seems to be open to all and sundry for example:


        I haven’t looked at it before today, but it does at least appear to include the relevant physics.

        Regarding forecasts, I understood you were interested in what “governments should be spending our money on” in the future, not the past?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Sorry, I really don’t have time to take a course, nor will the vast majority of voters / tax payers.

        I’m interested in what governments should be spending our money on based on facts and figures, not on predictions by those whose predictions have failed in the past.

      • andyextance Says:

        For some background on the energy imbalance, see this post: https://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/scientists-move-closer-to-resolving-missing-heat-travesty/

        Also if you remember the climate sensitivity posting that you commented on in March, Richard, the analogy in the third paragraph refers to how the energy imbalance arises:

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Got that, thanks. Roy Spencer talks about a kettle on a stove with a valve that’s open or closed; or a car in the sunshine with windows that are open or closed.

        Incidentally, Spencer also came under pressure from NASA at the same time as Hansen; but he chose to leave NASA rather than fight, because he wasn’t such a high profile figure as Hansen.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        I just stumbled across this extract from “Thin Ice” the movie, in which Ray Pierrehumbert explains “How carbon dioxide warms the climate”

        Check out Myles Allen on the same sort of thing also.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        I’m fine with all of that. Obviously, the next question is how much CO2 increase is required to achieve that two degree increase that is so much talked about (and was mentioned in the video) bearing in mind that there are other factors at work such as solar variability, ocean cycles, etc. ?

        We can get some idea of this by examining the global temperature record since 1880 compared to CO2, which is a long enough period to encompass all those effects (though not in equal amounts of course, since solar and ocean effects are essentially cyclic, while CO2 has been increasing steadily)

        In 1880, the CO2 level was 289.8 ppm (Law Dome ice core) and the global temperature (GISS annual mean) was 13.79 C.

        In 2004, the CO2 level was 374.6 ppm (Law Dome ice core) and the global temperature (GISS annual mean) was 14.51 C.

        So we can say that an increase in CO2 of 84.8 ppm (among other, mainly cyclic, factors) caused an increase in temperature of 0.72 C in 124 years.

        So to cause an increase of two degrees, the CO2 would have to increase by 84.8 * 2/0.72 = 235.56 ppm (this is an under estimate, since the effect on temperature decreases with increasing CO2) which would take 124 * 235.56/84.8 = 344 years (this under estimates the rate of increase of CO2, so roughly compensates for the over estimate in its warming effect)

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        What does the “dismal science” have to say about the physics of “global warming”?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        I don’t understand your question about ‘dismal science’ – I agree with you about the physics, I just don’t see the need for alarm. Solar activity and ocean cycles will probably trend downwards over the next few years, while CO2 will keep going up, especially in India and China (and Africa)

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        #1 on the Great God Google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_dismal_science

        What is the relevance of economics and/or professional or amateur economists to the energy (im)balance at the top of the atmosphere?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Nothing, which is why I try to stick to temperature and its causes.

        We now have global temperature records over land and sea since 1880, when CO2 has been increasing and solar and ocean cycles have been – well – cycling, so we have a pretty good idea of how temperatures have changed over that time, and the trend is 0.65 C per century.

        We only have RSS and UAH satellite measurements of the atmosphere since 1979, but these will become increasingly important over the next decades.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Do you ever look into the ocean Richard?


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Thanks, that’s very interesting. Can you please explain to me how the ocean heat content affects (or will affect) the global climate ? Have the warming / cooling / hiatus periods been explained, or are they put down to natural variability, and should we just be looking at the overall trend ?

  6. uknowispeaksense Says:

    Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense and commented:
    Very thorough. A shame that there are still people willing to try and sound knowledgeable while referencing Watts.

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      I have repeatedly asked several people to refute the posts that I have found on WUWT but have found very few takers.

      Care to refute the claims of a pause in HadCRUT4 / GISS / NCDC, or to claim that it’s irrelevant, like the previous pause in 1956-1976 (which started people raising the alarm about another Ice Age) or the cooling in 1880-1910 and 1945-1956 that I mentioned?

      • uknowispeaksense Says:

        Dude, there are three things in life that I find to be utterly pointless.

        1. Apricot chicken
        2. Religion
        3. Engaging in faux scientific debates with unscientific people

        Now, feel free to claim my non – engagement as a win if you like as others of your ilk like to do. In the face of AGW you are irrelevant.

      • andyextance Says:

        Thanks for your comment. I’m not quite sure what you think Richard’s ilk is, but to me he seems very reasonable, and as a polite and non-aggressive commenter is very welcome on this blog. I know we all only have so much time but I do feel that we might do well if only we listened properly to each other. I have tried to discuss things with Richard as much as time allows and have learned a lot in the process. Although I have a degree in chemistry, I am not a professional climate scientist, I’m a science writer. On that basis I may well be unscientific too – perhaps it’s pointless for Richard to engage with conversation with me.

      • uknowispeaksense Says:

        With all due respect but as a degree qualified scientist you should have an excellent understanding of scientific convention and as such you should expect that people making scientific assertions should be able to back up their claims with actual science. You do not need to be a climatologist to recognize that WUWT is the last place one should go for verification. As a science writer it is important to communicate actual science. Allowing and giving a voice to pseudoscientific feelpinions is irresponsible. You may as well promote antivaccination, antifluoridation or any number of antiscientific memes. AGW denial is in the same boat. If I have come across as being impolite to your AGW denying commentator I can assure you that it was entirely intentional. I did not go through many years of university and work for many years as a publishing research scientist to be polite to laypeople pretending to know what they are talking about, peddling endlessly debunked canards demonstrating their severe lack of scientific understanding. Dont worry though, I wont be visiting your comments section in future.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Thank you much for that Andy ! That is much appreciated. As I have told you, I receive flak from both sides, so I must be asking some of the right questions 🙂 Thank you also to Bernard.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Again, thank you for that. So often the personal attacks come from pseudonyms.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        The only ‘win’ will be if we vote for those politicians who make sensible decisions based on the evidence.

      • Sir Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Lord Dingittover-Hugh Says:


        Sou at HotWhopper is a consistent and effective lay voice against WUWT.

        Highly recommended.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Many thanks for that, just what I need, to see ‘the other side’ – I know she mixed up her longitudes recently, but she was ‘man enough’ to admit her mistake.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        See http://wattsupwiththat.com/about-wuwt/my-blog-spawn/ for a (probably partial) list of his detractors.

      • andyextance Says:

        @uknowispeaksense I’m not sure how you suggest laypeople go about acquiring knowledge, but I think having a reasoned discussion is the best way to build trust. As a scientist, you might find this paper on how and why skeptical blogs serve as an ‘educational’ resource interesting. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378014000405?np=y

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Yes, I saw that, and of course I agree that, in particular, dismissal of WUWT doesn’t help to advance the discussion (and many of their posts do warrant discussion)

        Anthony Watts is a meteorologist, so he does know something of what he speaks 🙂 And so do people like Judith Curry, who do feel it worthwhile to engage in the debate.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        It’s also worth bearing in mind that scientists receive much (most ?) of their funding from tax payers who are mostly lay people.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – Anthony Watts is a meteorologist who regularly spouts a load of old nonsense about Arctic sea ice, one of my specialist subjects. He and his band of merry moderators also suppress fair comment that doesn’t toe the party line. Much the same can be said for Judy Curry. Go figure!

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Arctic sea ice is undoubtedly decreasing, while Antarctic sea ice seems to be increasing.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        I agree with what Curry says at http://judithcurry.com/2014/06/01/global-warming-versus-climate-change/ – ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ is non-controversial. The climate has always changed, and the globe has always warmed, or cooled, or paused. AGW or CAGW should be the terms for discussion; otherwise, it’s easy to say ‘ha – you’re just a denier !’

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – I’m afraid I’m now quite unable to read anything Judy writes with a straight face. That’s because for some reason known only to herself she chose to reproduce an evidently erroneous assertion about the Arctic first printed in that paragon of Great British investigative journalism, The Daily Mail:


        I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one, and on WUWT for that matter.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Thanks, that link is just the sort of thing that I’m always looking for. As you probably know by now, there is nothing like a good graph to put the point across to me 🙂

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Re: Richard Mallett Says: June 18, 2014 at 7:18 pm

        The threads are getting ludicrously convoluted in here! However this all does rather seem to prove uknowispeaksense’s point 3 – Engaging in faux scientific debates with unscientific people is utterly pointless?

        Particularly when the “unscientific people” in question are PPE graduates from Oxbridge who happen to be running the country?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Sorry, I don’t see what your reply has to do with my comment about sea level rising at 3.22mm. (or 3.2 +/- 0.4) mm. per year (according to the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group) which is a valid scientific point, is it not ?

        I have a degree in mathematics from Reading, and I certainly do not run the country – I’m just an ordinary taxpayer / voter, who is trying to determine the facts about climate change.

        So far, the facts seem to be :-

        1. Global temperatures have been rising since 1880 at 0.65 C per century (NCDC and GISS) or since 1850 at 0.47 C per century (HadCRUT4)

        2. (a) Hadley Centre Central England Temperatures have been rising since 1850 at 0.62 C per century.

        (b) From 1659-1850, Central England Temperatures rose by 0.18 C per century.

        (c) From 1772-1850, Central England Temperatures rose by 0.37 C per century.

        (d) Therefore, since 1850, the rate has increased by 0.25 to 0.44 C per century.

        (e) All of the above have included warming / cooling / stasis periods.

        3. Since 1992 (according to the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group) sea level has risen by 3.22 (or 3.2 +/- 0.4) mm. per year.

        Those are the facts that I have been able to glean so far. How one interprets those facts, and how relevant those facts are, are things that maybe we can talk about. Isn’t that what the scientific method is all about ?

        Wherever I have looked so far, I keep seeing small rates of change. Have I been looking in the wrong places, and / or making the wrong interpretations about what the climate has been doing ? If so, what should I be doing ?

        Should I be looking at these data in a different way ? Are there any more / different data that I should be looking at ? I’m always willing to look at relevant data. Please help me to determine the facts, to help me to make informed choices. That’s all I ask.

        It’s only because I respect you that I ask these questions.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – As I was endeavouring to point out in my introduction, my comment was not in direct response to your comment of June 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm but rather on the meandering nature of the variety of threads Andy’s original article has spawned. Politicians that have studied economics but don’t understand science and/or engineering is another one of my numerous hobby horses.

        You ask “what should I be doing”? Several weeks ago now I made the point that unless you get to grips with the underlying physics (which does involve a bit of mathematics) the various “statistics” you quote will be largely devoid of meaning for all concerned. If undertaking a “Climate Science 101” course will take up too much of your time then how about a bit of GCSE science revision?


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        OK, I will go through the BBC reference and comment as I see fit.

        1. CO2 has risen from 0.028% in 1700 to 0.035% today, so an increase of 25% in 300 years or so. Say an increase of about 0.08% per year on average, but at an increasing rate. Do you know where I can find the underlying data ?

        2. Global average temperatures have risen from about 13.5 C in 1884 to 14.4 C in about 1994. This is about 0.9 C in 110 years or about 0.8 C per century.

        3. As we have seen, droughts and floods are difficult to quantify, and some glaciers have advanced while others have receded; but we know that sea levels have increased by 3.22 mm. per year since 1992.

        Nothing too alarming there.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Please forget about the numbers for the moment. What do you make of the “Greenhouse Effect” graphic? Physics not mathematics, remember?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        The graphic is true enough, which is no doubt where the increase of 0.25 to 0.44 C per century since 1850 (compared to the increase before 1850) has come from. Global warming? Yes.
        Anthropogenic? Yes.
        Catastrophic? Not proven (yet)
        Worth spending billions on wind and solar (see below)? Not proven (yet)
        Do we still need conventional / nuclear power stations when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? Yes.
        Do we need hydraulic fracturing? Yes, if safe.
        Should we convert our coal fired power stations to burn wood chips? Not proven.
        Should China and India continue to build coal fired power stations, if they’re the most cost effective? Yes.
        Should we give money to China and India not to build coal fired power stations, when we have a national debt (in March 2014) of £1,268.7 billion (Office of National Statistics)? No.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Ludicrous political policies don’t invalidate the physics.

        If you’re basically happy with the graphic, and are happy to tag an “A” on in front of “GW” then that brings us back to Andy’s comment on June 1, 2014 at 9:43 am.

        Bear in mind also the subject of Andy’s original article. In recent months there’s been a long list of eminent scientists queuing up to say things like “the two degree target is close to impossible”. How and why do you suppose that your spreadsheets invalidate their conclusions, when you have yet to study “Climate Science 101”?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        What do you mean by ‘the two degree target’?
        When does it start, and when does it end?
        Why is two degrees important?
        What happens if the target is not met?
        Who are these eminent scientists who say that it is close to impossible?
        Where can I find this long list?
        Where do they make these claims?
        What is the scientific basis on which they make these claims?
        Where is the physics that means the ‘two degree target is close to impossible’?
        It shouldn’t be necessary for the educated man in the street to take a course to understand that.
        Please help me out here.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – If the “educated person in the street” won’t study the physics, and won’t listen to the scientists that have, what other options are there? In partial answer to your questions, here’s a bit more background reading for you:




      • Richard Mallett Says:

        http://econnexus.org/can-global-warming-be-limited-to-two-degrees/ seems to imply that the two degrees rise is expected between now and 2100, which would be 2.3 C per century, instead of the current 0.65 C per century globally, or 0.62 C per century in Central England.

        No explanation is given at that link for why Ridley believes that, or why he believes that it would be catastrophic, though I will follow the links to investigate further. I really want to get to the bottom of this.

        http://econnexus.org/the-two-degree-target-is-close-to-impossible/ seems to assume some undefined period for the two degrees, and to assume that it would be catastrophic. No physics there that I could detect.

        It should be possible for somebody (like me) who has studied physics up to first year degree level to be able to read an explanation of why two degrees in some time period (87 years ?) will happen, and why it would be catastrophic, when Ridley, Barrett and Collins seem so sure, but perhaps it’s buried in the links from the first article.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        The ‘glossy brochure’ from AVOID says the target is 2 C above pre-industrial levels (which I take to be pre-1850) – the 1850 HadCRUT4 anomaly was -0.374 C so that would make the 2100 target +1.626 C.

        We’re currently at +0.45 C anomaly, so that would mean an increase of +1.176 C in 86 years = +1.36 C per century, compared to +0.47 C per century from 1850 so far.

        They also consider a possible increase of 4 C above pre-industrial levels, which would mean an increase of +3.176 C in 86 years = +3.69 C per century.

        They don’t say why they consider either of those figures to be likely.

        The 2012 Risk Assessment Report talks about warmer summers and milder winters, with more floods and ‘extreme events’ but without explicit figures. It refers to the UK Climate Projections 2009, which may give more detail, but these only seem to start in 1960, which was also in the middle of a pause. Nevertheless, I will take a look.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Disappointing that, after three hours, I couldn’t find any physics there. I really thought I might be onto something there; but alas, another wild goose chase.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – How about this from “Physics Today”?

        Click to access PhysTodayRT2011.pdf

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        That tells me (as I understand it) that increasing CO2 increases both temperature and water vapour in the atmosphere; so, in general terms, that would explain a general trend towards warmer, cloudier and wetter conditions. More floods than droughts, right ? That would explain fewer droughts in the USA recently than during the ‘dust bowl’ years, for example.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        And, for what it’s worth, I have been defending Obama’s political policies on climate against those who think they’re ludicrous. Far better to cover America with wind and solar farms (they have more room, and more sunshine) than to use the money to fight foreign wars.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        No doubt you are aware of the recent survey of members of the American Meteorological Society which found that :-

        52% believed that global warming was mostly human caused.
        10% believed that global warming was equally human caused and natural.
        5% believed that global warming was mostly natural.
        1% believed that the cause was unknown.
        7% didn’t know if global warming was happening.
        4% said global warming was not happening.
        20% said there was insufficient evidence to determine the cause, of which :-
        11% said there was some human influence.
        3% were unsure whether there was any human influence.
        0% said there was no human influence.
        6% didn’t know.

        So even the anthropogenic part is by no means settled, let alone the catastrophic part.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Meteorologists aren’t physicists or climate scientists. Are you aware that the American Physical Society stated in 2007 (http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm) that:

        “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now”?

        Are you aware that emissions of greenhouse gases have kept on rising since then?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        All you have to do is answer the questions :-

        1. What do you mean by ‘the two degree target’? When does it start, and when does it end? 1850-1900, 1950-2100, 2000-2100 or something else ?

        2. Why is two degrees important ? What happens to the Earth if the ‘target’ is not met ? Is the ‘tipping point’ some specified global average temperature, or some specified rate of annual increase in global average temperature ?

        3. Who are these eminent scientists who say that it is close to impossible to meet this ‘target’ ? Where can I find this long list of eminent scientists (who are presumably not members of the American Meteorological Society) ?

        3. Where do they make these claims ? What is the scientific basis on which they make these claims ?

        4. Where is the physics that means the ‘two degree target is close to impossible’ (presumably meaning that they expect the temperature to rise by more than two degrees during the period specified in question 1) ?

        Should be simple enough to post the answers (or references to the answers) on Simple Climate, right ?

  7. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27 and commented:
    We must win the climate war..

  8. Bernard J. Says:


    This post is a detailed and long-overdue observation on this aspect of global response to climate change. A heart-felt thanks for posting it.

    One point I would like to make is on the assumption from many sides that it is the job of scientists to communicate to the world at large the implications of their science. I would argue that this is in fact not the job of scientists, but of politicians properly informed by (gag) effectively-trained bureaucrats, with media and teaching professions closely behind. Certainly, scientists communicate to each other and to their students, but it’s a big ask – and morally risky – to expect scientists themselves to span the broad cultural canvas from hypothesis to discovery to knowledge to broad social comprehension.

    We might as well say that scientists should also be responsible for executing the social decisions that necessarily arise from their work.


    • Jim Hunt Says:

      Were you at the conference Bernard? I ask because I took away a strong impression that the scientists at the front felt the politicians and bureaucrats haven’t done a very good job up to now. Quoting Dame Julia Slingo, speaking to a room full of business people a couple of days later:

      “The science continues apace, and I think will accelerate in the next few years as we really get to grips with these key problems about regional climate, and we need to make sure that you as a community that acts on that science, hears about it, can shape it and work with us to translate it into action.”


      Morally risky?

    • andyextance Says:

      I think that there’s a whole range of positions on how much scientists should communicate. Steve Schneider tried to get it across, but has been widely misunderstood in doing so:


      Simon Donner has recently provided an updated look at this question – unfortunately it’s not open access


      Though he does blog about it here:

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        ‘How scientists should communicate’ – ‘but it’s not open access’ – doesn’t that say it all 🙂

      • andyextance Says:

        It’s largely not scientists’ fault – the publishers who organise the peer review quality control process need a way to cover their costs (& in many cases their large profit margins). Either the readers have to pay, or the authors and research funders in the case of open access.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Yes, I have been very grateful to those such as Craig Loehle who have sent me copies of their papers and data. He was probably responsible for reviving my interest in all this 🙂

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        We’re you at the “Public Forum” session on the Thursday evening Andy? What with one thing and another I’ve still not got around to writing at length about it. Catherine Mitchell certainly seemed to me to be suggesting cutting out the “political middle men”. She now says as much in a new article of her own:


        “We as individuals and communities in civil society have to do all we can to get our politicians, neighbours, businesses, energy suppliers and so on to take climate change seriously. Climate and energy policy must take note of the IPCC warning and act now.”

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Getting people to take climate change seriously involves using language that will not risk the public becoming ‘alarm weary’ which I feel that the IPCC has done with their projections, when the real increase has been 0.65 C / century since 1880, and when there is no current trend in global temperatures.

        People (especially in the UK, but even in the USA, which suffers more extremes than we do) are not associating all weather extremes with AGW.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – I suggest you do a bit more reading before putting virtual pen to paper. Have you see Cowtan and Way 2013 for example? If not, here it is:


        By all means speak for yourself, but if you claim to speak for other people as well please provide some evidence for your assertions.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        As I said :-

        “The overall trend from 1880 to 2013 is 0.64 C per century (HadCRUT4 0.65, GISS 0.63, NCDC 0.65) – say 2.0 C per 300 years or so. IMO that is the figure the IPCC should be shouting from the roof tops.”

        Is that what you are objecting to ? Are they all unreliable ? Are there any other temperature data sets I should be looking at ? I do want to get my facts right. That’s why I downloaded the data sets, and plotted them in Excel.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – As I mentioned previously, if you really want to get to the bottom of all this you should be starting at the top of the atmosphere. Sticking with the bottom of the troposphere for the moment, here’s the first paragraph at my most recent link:

        “Incomplete global coverage is a potential source of bias in global temperature reconstructions if the unsampled regions are not uniformly distributed over the planet’s surface. The widely used Hadley Centre–Climatic Reseach Unit Version 4 (HadCRUT4) dataset covers on average about 84% of the globe over recent decades, with the unsampled regions being concentrated at the poles and over Africa. Three existing reconstructions with near-global coverage are examined, each suggesting that HadCRUT4 is subject to bias due to its treatment of unobserved regions.”

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Yes, I saw that, which is why I mentioned the other data sets that cover land and sea temperatures. Obviously (?) upper atmosphere temperatures have only come from satellites, so that the time covered is much smaller. What am I missing here ? What other data sets can we look at that are long enough to determine long term trends ? Obviously (?) it needs to include ocean cycles, for example; so it needs to go back to something like 1880, no ?

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      I would prefer that scientists advise politicians, rather than scientists advise ‘Sir Humphreys’ who then put their own spin on things when advising politicians. That’s why I was encouraged by the May 29th. Hearing of the US House Committee on Science, Space & Technology : Examining the IPCC Process.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        I take it you weren’t impressed by my comments over at WUWT then? I characterise that hearing as “a pantomime”. See my first link for further details.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        If I read the comments at WUWT then I definitely wouldn’t have time for anything else 🙂

  9. Jim Hunt Says:

    @Richard – I wasn’t party to the prior conversation on Twitter, but I’m starting to get the picture. Have you seen the graphic at the top of this article? Please note the bit where it says “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”.

    Personally I think our glorious government should be rewriting their energy policy and beefing up our infrastructure. Our lights are starting to go out:


    • Richard Mallett Says:

      Yes, as I say, the average of HadCRUT4 / NCDC / GISS show a warming trend since 1880 of 0.64 C per century, so of course warming is unequivocal. The question is ‘how worried should we be about 0.64 C per century ?’ then the politicians can convert that ‘worry’ into ‘how many billions / trillions of pounds do we need to spend ?’

      Regarding ‘lights going out’ the French have been building nuclear power stations like there’s no tomorrow, which is rather sad, since we built the first at Dounreay, as I recall.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        And now we find ourselves in the position of undertaking to pay vast sums of taxpayers’ money to the French and Chinese for Gen III technology at Hinkley Point C!

        Actually the question is more like “How worried should we be about future extreme weather events?” not to mention “how close are we to major ‘tipping points’?”

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        “How worried should we be about future extreme weather events ?”

        To answer that, we need to know quantitatively how frequent and how extreme they have been in the past, and has there been a trend (increase or decrease) in frequency and / or extremity – where is the data ? For example, hurricanes in the USA have been becoming less frequent lately.

        “How close are we to major tipping points ? ”

        To answer that, we need to know what the major tipping points are, and how they are determined – are the assumptions valid on which they are determined ?

        Is it just a question of 2.0 C increase in temperature (from what year ?) based on what – a doubling of CO2 causing an increase of 2.0 C ? We have temperatures in the UK going back to 1659 or 1772, and in the world going back to 1850 or 1880. Do we have historic CO2 levels going back that far ?

        To me, another ‘elephant in the room’ is that MWP temperatures were at least as high (and probably higher – e.g. vineyards at higher altitude and higher latitude) than today, and arguably that was a more prosperous period.

        Any other ‘tipping points’ to consider ?

        If you Google ‘UK national debt’ the first thing that comes up (Wikipedia) says in Q1 2013 (so a year ago) it was £1,377 billion or 88.1% of GDP; so our government has to spend wisely on any solutions.

  10. Jim Hunt Says:

    @Richard and @Andy – From my perspective this conversation is rapidly losing focus. I have taken the liberty of reproducing part of it over at:


    where hopefully a few pictures tell the story better than a million words or more. Please let me know ASAP if you are in any way unhappy about my somewhat sceptical behaviour!

  11. Another Week in the Ecological Crisis, June 1, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette Says:

    […] 2014/05/31: SimpleC: IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough […]

  12. Jim Hunt Says:

    @Richard – Since you have mentioned the “Watts Up With That” blog a few times, with apparent approval, I wondered if you might be interested in reading about my recent experiences over there? First of all I was covertly “gish galloped” and then I was overtly censored:


    Since Anthony Watts is evidently unwilling and/or unable to do so, perhaps you can explain to me “What’s up with my ‘commenting style’? What’s up with my ‘own self’?”

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      Let me first say that I quote from WUWT because it’s the most popular sceptic blog, and I ask for people to refute the claims there.

      I have just today plotted the graphs of sea ice extent from ftp://stdads.colorado.edu/DATASETS/north/daily/data and ftp://stdads.colorado.edu/DATASETS/south/daily/data which show that from 1979-9-29 to 2013-9-29 (the longest period between the same calendar dates) the NH sea ice extent decreased from 7.15522 to 5.57208 million square kilometres, and the SH sea ice extent increased from 18.25623 to 19.5039 million square kilometres.

      So the total has gone down from 25.41145 to 25.07598 million square kilometres, or -335,470 square kilometres (-1.32%) in 34 years, or 9,867 square kilometres (-0.03%) per year.

      Obviously, if you have any other long records of NH and SH ice, I would be interested to see them. I suggested to Andy that perhaps NH ice was more affected by AGW since that’s where most of the people live, so it’s important to me to do a comparison between the two hemispheres.

      Regarding your dispute on WUWT, I would agree that your comments (as worded) were misplaced in a page referring to a contest to forecast Arctic sea ice area, if your comments referred to Arctic sea ice thickness and volume. Perhaps you should have made it clearer that you covered sea ice area as well as volume, or else posted your comment on the sea ice page at WUWT (if that’s allowed)

      Personally, I don’t like the way that comments on WUWT are disjointed from the post that they’re a reply to; so I’m probably not the best person to comment on their comments.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – Perhaps we’re getting overly technical here, but the “contest” was concerned with forecasting Arctic sea ice “extent” and not “area”. If I may, I’ll ask you the same question I asked Anthony, although it’s currently invisible over there.

        “Do you honestly believe that Arctic sea ice thickness in June has no bearing whatsoever on Arctic sea ice extent in September?”

        If the difference in the meaning of the technical terms is still unclear to you there is a detailed explained here:


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        OK, so NSIDC has been providing figures for, and I have been plotting, sea ice extent, rather than area. So long as it’s consistent, that’s still meaningful, and (incidentally) would be relevant to the contest (though I’m not generally in favour of making predictions) – sorry if I used the wrong terminology.

        The point I was trying to make with the graphs was perhaps directed more at Andy (after he said to me that sea ice was more important than temperature or rainfall) – that there is an decrease in total sea ice over 34 years, but it’s only 0.03% per year.

        I’m sure that thickness in June is related to extent in September in some way, though thickness of sea ice would vary from place to place, and would possibly be difficult to measure to high resolution every day, whereas extent is apparently measured every day, though I don’t know why there is no data after September.

        If I were to enter their contest, I would be plotting the graphs that I have plotted, and drawing conclusions from that. But as I said above, all regularly updated sea ice data should be linked to from the WUWT sea ice page, irrespective of the contest.

      • andyextance Says:

        Hi Richard, nice to see you and Jim having a seemingly productive and useful interaction. Going back over our Twitter conversation I can see why you think I said that, but it’s not quite what I meant. You raised the topic of sea ice, and I mentioned the link to *ice sheet loss and sea level*. I then said sea level rise is more important than weather extremes because it’s least readily adapted to, highlighting that it is a symptom of temperature rise. Looking at sea ice alone won’t tell you about sea level rise in total. A good chunk (I think around 40% but could be wrong) of sea level rise comes from simple expansion of the oceans as they warm. Have you come across this concept before? You also need to look at loss of ice from glaciers on land. As I understand it, some of the increase in sea ice around the Antarctic comes from loss of glacial ice. I’m not hot on the details – I expect they’re in the IPCC report, or maybe Jim can help here – Jim? Richard, in our Twitter conversation I linked to these blog entries, I don’t know if you read them but you may find them useful:

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Yes, sea level rise is important, that’s why I said I have been looking at sea levels in different locations, some of which have changed due to subsidence.

        Glaciers are also problematic, because they can move / slide / collapse due to different factors. I’m in the middle of reading about glaciers (and ice in general) at the moment, and have yet to read up on Alpine valley glaciers, but so far I can say that the melting of glaciers will lag increase of temperature by some way; and they will tend to sublimate rather than melt.

        Glaciers advance and retreat because of creep, temperature, humidity, water flow beneath the ice, changes in land slope, sub-glacial volcanoes, lubrication by transfer of surface melt water, etc. so they are not in agreement with models.

        In Greenland, the rate of glacier melting doubled in 2004 and then slowed down again. Surging and retreat do not relate to air temperature, melt water or sea temperature.

        There was glacial maximum in 1850-90, shrinkage in 1930-50, and expansion in 1950-90, not necessarily related to temperature, but more probably to precipitation (snowfall).

        There is a huge amount of information on ice (with all the scholarly references you could want) in Chapter 5 of Heaven and Earth by Ian Plimer, which I’m slowly working my way through at the moment.

        I hope I have addressed the article on the polar ice sheets by my plotting of the graphs from NSIDC showing that polar sea ice has decreased by 0.03% per year over the past 34 years.

        I also hope I have addressed the concerns expressed in the historic sea voyage article by plotting the land and sea temperatures from NCDC (+0.65 C / century from 1880), GISS (also +0.65 C / century from 1880), and HadCRUT4 (+0.47 C / century from 1850).

        We are talking very small numbers here (and yes, as you know, I have also pointed out the increases, decreases and pauses in temperatures within that overall trend, for those who like to look at ‘staircases’ or ‘escalators’) so I’m trying to cover all the bases.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – Whoops! Just spotted a typo in my previous comment.

        Sea ice thickness is indeed difficult to measure accurately on a daily basis, but is nonetheless an essential metric to try and get a handle on. Sea ice that’s 50 cm thick melts away much faster than ice that’s 5 m thick!

        We seem to be agreed that visitors to the WUWT sea ice reference page should be able to see all the available information. That being the case, why do you suppose Anthony Watts would choose NOT to display a wide range of such information? By way of example, why did you have to construct your own graphs of long term NSIDC Arctic sea ice extent changes? That would seem a priori to be a highly relevant piece of information for anybody attempting to forecast NSIDC Arctic sea ice extent in September 2014, would it not? It’s not as though nobody has ever tried to bring that deficiency in his “reference page” to Anthony’s attention!


        @Andy – In the first instance I suggest taking a look at the Skeptical Science “intermediate” explanation of Increasing Antarctic sea ice extent:


        “Not only is the Southern Ocean warming, it is warming faster than the global trend. If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is Antarctic sea ice increasing?

        There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation.”

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        http://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/sea-ice-page/ gives graphs of Global, Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice Area; NSIDC monthly values and 13 month running average from Climate4you, plus links to the FTP data for those like me who prefer to plot our own graphs in Excel.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        @Richard – I fear both you and Anthony have a lot more reading to do about polar ice before you get to the bottom of all this. First of all, do you notice any difference between the WUWT “Sea ice reference page” before my recent “heads up” to Anthony:


        after my recent “heads up”:


        and the resources I recommend instead?


        If you are particularly interested in creating your own spreadsheets rather than letting other people do all the hard work for you why not use the data available here?


        Regarding Prof. Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth”, have you by any chance read this document from the University of Melbourne?


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        All those resources that you recommend are useful of course; in addition to, not instead of, the NSIDC data that I used, which gives data for both the NH and SH.

        I only quoted Plimer to indicate that one cannot use glacier increase and decrease as a simple indicator of cooling and warming. I will of course read your reference with interest.

        Of course, none of this negates the graphs of temperature from NCDC / GISS / HadCRUT4 and sea ice from NSIDC, which was my main point, that all these indicate that we are dealing with very small changes.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        The difference in the two pages is that Arctic sea ice volume has been added, so I guess you have been listened to.

  13. Jim Hunt Says:

    Richard – Here’s some elementary physics for you.


    The “amount” of a solid is usually taken (in scientific circles at least) to be its “mass”, which is related to its “volume” via a “constant of proportionality” known as the “density”.

    I first suggested to Anthony Watts that sea ice volume was conspicuous only by it’s absence from his “sea ice reference page” back in April. He didn’t get around to adding that particular graph until after he’d deleted my comment reminding him of that fact in the middle of June.

    It’s rather difficult to tell from the graph Anthony has ultimately chosen to display that the estimated Arctic sea ice volume has reduced from an annual minimum of 16855 km³ on September 21st 1979 to a mere 5392 km³ on September 14th 2013, is it not? I wouldn’t describe that as a “very small change” either. Would you?

    • Richard Mallett Says:

      As I said, I’m looking at world wide changes, so both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. I personally see no reason to only look at the Antarctic or the Arctic in isolation.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Are you aware that the ice at the North Pole is currently less than 2 m thick, whereas the ice at the South Pole is over 2 km thick? Which is the chalk, and which is the cheese?

        If you insist on only looking at sea ice, why not look at a metric that gives you a handle on interseting things such as the “amount” of that sea ice, instead of one of interest to those anxious that their vessels don’t bump into any of said sea ice?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        I’m always interested in looking at data that shows how the total amount of sea ice has changed over decades of time.

        Andy says he’s interested in sea level change, because it could affect coastal communities, and one of the things that affects sea level change (along with global temperatures) is the total amount of sea ice. So I’m not only interested in sea ice for its own sake.

        The ice at the South Pole is not likely to contribute to sea level rise any time soon, but the gain of Antarctic sea ice does reduce the amount of sea level rise, so it has potential world wide effects. That’s what makes it interesting.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – The total mass/volume of sea ice has a negligible direct effect on sea level. How and why do you suppose that “the gain of Antarctic sea ice does reduce the amount of sea level rise”?

        If the effect of “world wide changes” in ice mass/volume on sea level is of interest to you then perhaps you might like to take a look at the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of Chapter 13 of the IPCC AR5 working group one report?

        Click to access WG1AR5_Chapter13_FINAL.pdf

        “Estimates of the contribution of the Antarctic ice sheets to sea level over the last few decades vary widely, but great strides have recently been made in reconciling the observations. There are strong indications that enhanced outflow (primarily in West Antarctica) currently outweighs any increase in snow accumulation (mainly in East Antarctica), implying a tendency towards sea level rise.

        In Greenland, mass loss through more surface ablation and outflow dominates a possible recent trend towards
        increased accumulation in the interior. Estimated mass loss due to surface ablation has doubled since the early
        1990s. This trend is expected to continue over the next century as more of the ice sheet experiences surface ablation
        for longer periods.”

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Thanks, I’m sure it will be of interest to Andy. As only a small proportion of the population lives by the sea (probably more lives by rivers), I’m not so interested in it myself. Personally, I’m more interested in temperature, but Andy said he felt that sea level rise was more important than weather, so I started looking into it more.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        We seem to be going around in ever decreasing circled here Richard?

        If all you’re really interested in is temperature, then on that front the latest figures from the Japan Meteorological Agency reveal the warmest global average surface spring temperature in their records, which began in 1891:


      • Richard Mallett Says:

        The annual trend is still flat in recent years, so we will have to wait and see. The annual trend is 0.69 C per century, so about the same as NCDC / GISS / HadCRUT4.

      • andyextance Says:

        It’s a slippery move to have spent all this time discussing sea ice, then throw up your hands and say ‘You know what, I don’t care about sea level rise’, Richard, so before you move on to temperatures I’d like to reflect on that. You may live inland, but you live on an island nation. This article says 30 million in the UK live near the coast:


        A bit of searching shows similar statistics around the world – around half the population lives near the sea. As the recent damage to the train line sea wall near me in Dawlish showed, trying to fight damage caused by the sea can be very costly to the taxpayer. If people have to move, if farmland is lost to the sea, that raises space and food supply pressures for everyone else. I can accept that you might be more interested in temperature alone – I have been thinking about that myself – but I don’t want you to think sea level rise wouldn’t affect you.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Well, sea wall damage has happened before, and will happen again. I lived from 1947-1966 in Guernsey, and there was sea wall damage then, and they spent a lot of money on groynes as I recall.

        I don’t ‘not care’ about sea level rise, which is why I was pleased that climate4you plots it; but if temperature is rising by 0.,65 C per century, and the polar ice is shrinking by 0.03% per year over 34 years, we need not worry too much on that score; certainly nowhere near as much as the ‘scary maps’ they have shown over the years (like those at http://www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/lostlandscapes/future.html and http://u3aclimatestudy.pbworks.com/w/page/5216242/Eventual%20Sea%20Level and http://jaysimons.deviantart.com/art/British-Isles-in-2100-315945336 and http://ecosteward-at.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/13-is-managed-retreat-possible.html for example) would have us believe.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Pardon me for labouring the point, but am I talking to myself here? Here’s some elementary mathematics for you. 1 – 5392/16855 = 0.68. A 68% loss over 34 years = 2% per annum. In addition many would argue linear regression is not the best way of fitting a line to the data.

        At the risk of repeating myself, the total mass/volume of sea ice has a negligible direct effect on sea level. Try looking at the thermal expansion of water and the total mass/volume of land ice instead.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        OK let’s do this again, slowly. The total sea ice extent (NH + SH) on 2013 September 29 was 5.67208 + 19.5039 = 25.17598 million square kilometres. On 1979 September 30 it was 7.15522 + 18.25623 = 25.41145 million square kilometres. Elementary mathematics gives 1 – 25.17598 / 25.41145 = 0.0093 = 0.93%. Divide by 34 years = 0.0002725 = 0.02725% correct ?

        Is this a valid measure of the total sea ice loss from both poles (bearing in mind your caveat about linear regression) ?

        As I mentioned to Andy, we can also go directly to sea level rise data at http://www.climate4you.com then menu item ‘Oceans’ last item ‘Global sea level’. I have not yet had time to download and plot the data for myself, but the rate of sea level rise appears to be declining on several graphs (albeit from only one source, and only over 21 years; but once again, we have to work with what we have)

        If you have long period data on the total mass / volume of land ice, please let me know.

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Why do you insist on calculating physically meaningless metrics? At the risk of repeating myself yet again, the Arctic and the Antarctic are like chalk and cheese. The former is an ocean surrounded by land, whereas the latter is land surrounded by ocean.

        Whether sea ice is in the northern or southern hemispheres the “extent” is a remarkably poor measure of the “amount” of ice. You cannot tell the weight of a book merely by careful examination of its front cover.

        Watts also appears to be unaware of that, and “censors” anyone who points out the error of his ways to him on his own site. No doubt that has some bearing on the number of “alternatives” that have sprung up.

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Because (until I found the graphs of sea level, which cover a shorter period) the only measure I could find which could affect sea level was the total extent of sea ice in both hemispheres. I’m sure you would not deny that Antarctic sea ice also affects sea level.

        As I said before, if you can point me to data showing how the total volume of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic (not just for the Arctic only) has actually changed over decades, I would be very grateful.

        If such data don’t exist, then we have to work with what we have, which is what I believe I have done, and which shows an average decrease in extent of 0.02725% per year over 34 years. I would describe that as a very small change (one part in 3670 per year)

      • Jim Hunt Says:

        Richard – Regarding the data you repeatedly cite:

        1) They’re physically irrelevant in the context of measuring the “amount” of sea ice, and
        2) Even if you were to use relevant data the numbers would be physically insignificant in the context of sea level rise

        What is it that you repeatedly fail to understand?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        So should I be looking at the data at http://sealevel.colorado.edu/files/current/sl_global.txt or something else ?

      • Richard Mallett Says:

        Over the last 21 years, the global sea level rise (according to the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group) has gone from -4.024 mm. at 1992.9595 to 64.31 mm. at 2014.1893; so 68.334 mm. in 21.2298 years, or 3.22 mm. per year.

        http://sealevel.colorado.edu/ says 3.2 +/- 0.4 mm. per year.

  14. Who can afford to hold back rising seas? | Simple Climate Says:

    […] that question was emphasised by Chris Field from Stanford University in California, when I saw him talk recently. Highlighting that all parts of the world are vulnerable to climate change, Chris showed the below […]

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