Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

I can change your mind on climate – live blog

with 17 comments

Welcome to the live blog for I Can Change Your Mind About … Climate on ABC1 from 8:30 pm AEST. From the show’s blurb:

Separated by a generation, and divided by their beliefs, two passionate, intelligent and successful Australians go on a journey of mutual discovery to see if they can change each other’s minds about the most divisive issue in Australia today: climate change.

It’s a pity we don’t have cards for climate change bingo to mark off squares for “It hasn’t warmed since 1998”, “scientists are only in it for the grant money”, “the temperature record cannot be believed” and so on. Likewise, I don’t recommend drinking games. You’ll be on your ear by 9.

8:34 Misleading statistics set it up as a 50:50 issue in Australian public opinion. That’s certainly not the case.

8:39 Rose brings up future generations; Minchin brings up Australia’s competitive advantage built on cheap energy

8:47 Codling (Nova) and Evans engage in misdirection of the evidence – all easily disprovable but it sidelines Rose. She hasn’t got the ready answers.

8:50 Up Mauna Loa. Nick plays with the psychology of small numbers, Anna with the psychology of big, scary numbers.

8:53 Matt England makes a good point about feedbacks and says the science on feedbacks is nowhere as debated as some say

8:55 Lindzen maintains that the world can’t have big feedbacks because it doesn’t make sense to have feedbacks that large

8:56 Minchin loses it over 2nd-hand tobacco smoke. Either it’s the science or these views do have an element of cultural construction. Rose runs the line on previous credibility – Minchin gets angry because it’s unrelated to climate science

8:59 Mueller showed that climate scientists knew what they were doing with temperature measurements all along, despite his original doubts. He is now concerned.

9:01 Minchin doubts that anything can be done with the emissions in developing country pipeline. Rose describes it as hope and despair.

9:03 Minchin says there is no empirical evidence that humans are driving climate change. What is this evidence? I have published on this – there is plenty of evidence. This could be pointed  out if Minchin would describe what he meant.

9:06 Minchin introduces Rose to Morano, who challenges Morano’s tactics and credibility. Morano drives together so many rubbish points that if you’re playing a drinking game, you probably need to get your stomach pumped.

9:10 Minchin thinks that Morano should be listened to but glosses over the point that a person is not entitled to their own facts.

9:13 Leiserowitz introduces Rose and Minchin to his cultural construction of climate risk quiz. I fall about where Rose does. Minchin talks about scientists exaggerating – Lieserowitz sidesteps that and say fear is not sustainable. I don’t know any of the top scientists who do exaggerate. He spoke on risk but that is the language used in science communication but it is still not accepted.

9:17 Lomborg wants us to spend $100 billion a year on alternative techs rather than cutting CO2. His is a cornucopian solution and risky in Rose’s eyes. Minchin thinks the market should be free to decide (yep, the one that failed in the first place).

9:20 Zac Goldstein in the UK talks about re-industrialisation. The UK has sidestepped the science. Goldacre, science journo, talks about false balance where both sides of an uneven set of facts are made to look equivalent.

9:23 Rose asks Goldacre whether she’s making a mistake with the show. So they go to meet Mike Hulme who now works with the social side of climate having left the science behind.

9:26 The socialisation of climate change is about trying to solve these problems in a messy way – it goes beyond cost benefit, and calculated risk can’t provide neat enough answers for either certainty or cost-benefit.

9:29 30 tonnes of CO2. Geez, I hope they offset. They visit  Heron Island – where’s Ove?

9:31 Is there common ground to solve the problem, has Rose brought Minchin along a small amount via an appeal to reason?


No-one has yet talked about the full cost of burning fossil fuel, they are talking about the production cost of standing energy supply.

Clive Palmer brought his furphy – anthropogenic CO2 3% and natural 97%. These guys are about price, not value.

Rose brought up the worst case losses to MDB ag production of ~95% by 2100. That was a “worst case” study undertaken by John Quiggin’s  group for the Garnaut Report. I’d rather these types of studies not be quoted in this way.

Minchin believes our current lifestyle is sustainable. Most earth system and global change scientists would disagree.

Megan Clark is making me glad I am no longer with CSIRO.

Rose misquoted the IEA projections on CO2 budgets to avoid 2C. Roughly 80% 0f the budget is committed in existing plant and forward projections for infrastructure – they said that beyond 2017 new commitments would cut into the excess of the budget.

Rebecca Huntly has some wise words on survey and how the debate is being manipulated.

Rose just pwned Palmer on his “care” for the poor and destitute.

Clark describes CSIRO and Bureau state of the climate reports that will come out every two years. These reports are getting better and better.

Minchin has misquoted Phil Jones in saying that warming is stable since 1998, Minchin says the CO2 rises have not been matched by temperature rises. Matt England from the audience says that is not reflected by the scientific evidence.

Huntly gives a good nuanced answer on science communication and getting the point across. When people have a hard time understanding scientific nuance they fall back on their values for understanding.

Clive Palmer doesn’t credit that CO2 contributes to climate change and confuses flux with burden.

A question about the carbon price and Australia’s tax burden on families. Australia pays one of the lower rates of tax in the OECD and there is a compensation package. Huntly says this is not well understood.

Rose almost gets the last word. She doesn’t always get the science as risk stuff right, but she is a very articulate speaker. Minchin was surprisingly nuanced later on in the doco but reverted to politics in Q&A. Clive Palmer was populist and applauded for it.

What’s the wrap? I think this doco showed how important people’s values and prior assumptions are in influencing the way we view evidence. I don’t think Q&A achieved all that much but I was glad Matt England was there to clarify a few things.

Thanks for following the debate here.


17 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for that Roger. Kind of curious about your inside information, what you mean about the program being ‘interesting’?


    April 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    • It’s almost been signalled – where Minchin has to confront the science and he has to fall back on his values

      Roger Jones

      April 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  2. What concerns me is that no one brought up the estimated timeframe available to avoid serious risk thresholds, while for short term political and commercial reasons, Minchin and Palmer beamingly blurted crap, though populist, scientific and economic opinions. Like drug peddlers, they were constantly and knowingly fogging the issues in order to stall progress towards a less carbon dependent society. Nor has anyone mentioned the consequences of burning all the coal resources in the pipeline by 2050.


    April 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    • Yes, Ootz. That was the pachyderm on the porch. Minchin and Rose were able to meet partway, but would have lost it again on the timing issue. Lomborg was about a slow transition. That was my frustration with Megan Clark, as she seemed to be endorsing “safe” transition and following the full R&D path where one does concept, pilot, small scale commercial before rolling out.

      I’d like to see CSIRO use its resources to develop and test a bunch of scenarios including fast transition and transformation pathways. There is a project coming later this year that suggests something like that.

      As to the fossil fuel pipeline in Australia, 75 Gigatonnes of CO2 according to Guy Pearse and 86 Gt a few years earlier from Barney Foran. When the global budget 2000-2050 is somewhere between 860 and 1,440 Gt CO2 depending on how lucky y’ feel, punk – that’s not small beer.

      Mike Hulme’s insinuation that you couldn’t nail down the science well enough to do a cost-benefit that would satisfy Minchin’s precautionary approach to disrupting Australia’s “natural advantage” was spot on. It’s a social, not an economic issue.

      Roger Jones

      April 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm

  3. I thought the program artificially boosted the denialist case, especially in the early segments. According to the SMH they didn’t use all Rose’s nominated experts and in particular one that would have set the sea rise issue to rights.

    Rose’s reflections about the whole process and the outcome in her forthcoming book should be interesting.


    April 27, 2012 at 1:34 am

    • Quite right Brian, it shows that the ABC is more interested in participating in the populist race to the bottom rather than ask incisive questions and inform on the stark choices we as a nation and indeed as global citizen are facing. At least there were no “ditch the witch” and “great new big tax” signs in the audience. The econo/polit-hooligan sloganeering by Minchin and Palmer was an obvious tactic to shore up populist ‘balance’. Their gloating towards the end were telling. One can now legitimately ask, is the the ABC still relevant as a public broadcaster?


      April 27, 2012 at 8:34 am

  4. Brian – that’s right. Goldacre’s comment that he’d rather get his dick caught in a door than watch false balance was the case here because we had 50/50 protagonists. All of the quality survey I’ve seen (to paraphrase) Huntly is that it’s closer to 75% on the planet is warming and less certainty on the contribution of humans. The latest science suggests it’s >100% because of the cooling effect of aerosols and slight reductions in solar. My work on non-linear climate change also suggests the oceans are actively delaying warming as they store energy and release it in bursts.

    Matt England spoke for 40 minutes on camera for instance. So there’s a lot of footage that didn’t make it up – on the other hand there’s probably a lot of Evans, Nova and Morano. I thought Lindzen’s take on climate sensitivity was completely illogical and unscientific – fairies at the bottom of the garden stuff.

    A lot of the statements that were made unchallenged last night can be tested. In 2005 we built a simple integrated model and ran it at a climate change conference when we asked people what damage they would wear and what they thought was a tolerable level of warming and stabilisation target. We then tested everyone’s priors in the break (about 250 people) and showed whether their risk tolerance was met or exceeded. We than asked everyone whether they wanted to change their policy targets. Pretty much all came down. When you make the numbers explicit people’s prior assumptions are tested and often busted.

    It would be possible to build a model that does specific policy and energy numbers for the globe including China, India, US and Australia and test that on temperature rises timing and major impacts. We have all the raw materials at VU and could put it together in about 6 months with specific funding. We have plans to do it anyway, but that plan a bit slower in its timing at the moment. One could then take all of these different assertions that were made last night and test them pretty much on the fly. That is, you could take someone’s general points on how fast the technology transitions and fossil fuel reductions are, put it through a simple climate model and compare that against impact response functions to say we’ll this is what that policy is likely to produce. It’s doable.

    And Minchin’s blather on “empirical” evidence needs to be put under the blowtorch. This is merely a denialist talking point and again doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. We can’t forget his role in Turnbull’s demise which was a big part of where we are now politically. There was political incompetence on the other side, for sure, but Minchin has had a huge negative influence on climate policy in Australia already.

    Roger Jones

    April 27, 2012 at 7:45 am

  5. […] Jones of Understanding Climate Risk is aware that it’s easy to see what you believe: What’s the wrap? I think this doco showed how […]

  6. […] Jones of Understanding Climate Risk is aware that it’s easy to see what you believe: What’s the wrap? I think this doco showed how […]

  7. IF ever I have ever seen people get so wrapped up in beleif and amiguity, the climate “debate” is it.

    What a crock of juvenile double speak and personal point scoring. It’s turned into a bitchy, sniping gossip session found down at the “local” after a few mind numbing and cognitive sense altering alchoholic beverages have been consumed.

    So much of the debate is surrounded by “beleif”, leaps of faith and calls to authority and experts it’s incredible, anyone takes any of this seriously.

    The problem is those in power are!.

    The Vostok and Greendland ice cores show temperature rises then Co2 follows. OK, something else must be driving temperature, either up or down. So, lets go find that. Simple and efficient.

    The main symptoms used over the years of proof of “Global Warming” or “Climate change”, Sea Level rises, Ice cap melts, De-Glaciation are falling over, mainly cause they aren’t happening. This doen’t matter a cracker. What drives temperature? is the question.

    Once the driver of temperature is established, we can then detirmine if human activity is invloved.

    By the way, people, we’re talking about .5-.7 of degree over the last 150 years or so. Of course it’s going to warm after coming out of a Soalr Cycle induced little ice age. Hardly a problem.

    The world is not going end, the sky is not falling, your baby’s wont be born with 2 heads, we don’t need to burn “Climate deniers” for gawds sake. Grow a brain and grow the F^%k up!

    Now,, if you were serious about understanding what happening. You’d have alook at Piers Corbyn’s record of forecasting, Henrik Svensmark work, Maybe Joe Bastardo’s forecasting work, The cloud project from CERN. Investigate how rediculous the IPPC models are, in particular the assumptions used. Have a look at the correlation between solar cycles, sunspots and claimte cycles etc. etc.

    Climate Changes, people, get used to it. Finding the main climate drivers is the issue. Not wether or not someone is being funded by one or the other self interested group, not weather or not someone has anything to gain from the economics. But, alas, we have become all juvenile about it, which means these elements are now innevitable, and corrupts logical argument and discourse.

    Such a shame, we had such a good system of wealth generation and protection from poverty. We really could have shown the word how to do it, while maintaining freedoms and personal liberty.

    Never mind, better luck next time.


    April 28, 2012 at 8:46 am

    • Nick, obviously the subject matters to you.

      Given the people you mention, who don’t seem to be able to get their research into the peer-reviewed literature because of the global scientific conspiracy that I’m a part of, you’re not going to accept that climate models are physically based. And that they are a reasonably reliable guide for where climate is heading.

      The lead-lag controversy is a non-starter. There are examples of greenhouse gases leading albedo-induced changes in global temperature (which is the major mechanism of orbital cycle climate changes) in the palaeoclimatic record. Adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is like making a cup of tea – it doesn’t matter whether you put the milk in before or after the tea, it tastes the same.

      Science knows what drives atmospheric temperature. Amongst the drivers are albedo-induced changes on the planetary surface, changes in solar forcing at both the solar and orbital scale, internally-induced interactions between ocean and atmosphere, changes in the radiative balance of the atmosphere, naturally- and human-driven changes in the carbon cycle, changes in aerosols both natural and human. None of these act independently, and climate modelling is the best way to explore these interactions.

      Your non-acceptance of that is your problem. You have chosen to share that with us.

      Roger Jones

      April 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

  8. The thing that gives this away as reality entertainment rather than a search for the truth was the way the narrator continually boasted about the way each of the contestants was about to be surprised by the next witness for the other contestant. If the producer was genuinely interested in a reasoned discussion they would each have known who the next witness was to be and have had some time to prepare.

    Sceptical Wombat

    April 28, 2012 at 10:22 am

  9. I don’t think Anna Rose’s article has been mentioned yet:

    To sum it up: Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, humans have increased them 40 per cent since the industrial revolution – and the world has warmed.

    Indeed, Nick even admitted as much in London when we met conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. The world has warmed, Nick agreed, and in his exact words: “Human emissions of CO2 probably made some contribution to that.”

    I was stunned that this admission didn’t make the final documentary…

    The question, of course, is how much humans have contributed, and there I suspect Rose and Minchin would part company. But it is clear that the program was selectively edited to boost the denialist case.


    May 3, 2012 at 12:26 am

  10. Simon Nasht gave Graham Readfearn an extended explanation about why he made the show which Readfearn quotes extensively here.

    I wouldn’t try to summarise what Nasht thought he was doing, it’s best you read the article, but he starts from the base that scientific argument won’t shift the denialist position. What I would say is that he seemed to have multiple purposes which created confusion in making the show. In terms of creating a “circuit breaker” he seems clearly to have failed.


    May 3, 2012 at 1:08 am

    • No Brian, Nasht’s intentions are clear, it is Redfearn who given it multiple messages with a range of quotes no doubt garnered from a much longer interview. The starting point cannot be really denied: despite the convincing scientific evidence, large numbers, perhaps even a majority of Australians, are not convinced by the AGW argument or its urgency. How can that be? The program set out to explore that vital question, and I think it became quickly apparent that this is a debate about values, not science. People bring all their baggage to the question. MInchin is not a bad person, or even an unintelligent one. And this raises serious issues.

      The environment movement must seek to understand why a former Science Minister can’t accept the science. How do we go about shifting that position It starts with a civilised, non-judgmental discussion, and that was what all this was about. Keep shouting, and you will make things worse. Keep shouting ‘it’s all about the science’ and you will still make things worse. We need to completely re-evaluate the way the urgency of the problem is communicated, and concentrate on solutions rather than blame.


      May 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

  11. There are so many layers to this, I’m not sure it’s possible to deal with it in a blog comment. Since I wrote the above I’ve had a look at Nasht’s own statement of what he was about, which from the comments, Roger, I see you’ve read.

    After watching the program, my impression is that Nasht was in the mode of seeking to present ‘balance’ in the science, but was mainly interested in the entertainment value of a young idealistic woman and an older conservative male trying to change each other’s mind. The main thing Readfearn’s piece told me was that Nasht was on the side of the angels, as it were, in relation to the science. It wasn’t that I missed the emphasis on values. I’ve always dealt them in, at least since 1979 when I discovered a piece by the anthropologist Florence Kluckhohn which told me that we have very fundamental value orientations which condition how the relate to the world and each other, as well as how we perceive reality.

    In fact when we make decisions or take positions on things like climate change there is a triad of values/emotions/reason involved. Reason can in effect be rationalisation, and when you say it’s values not science, and Nasht says “Positions on climate are largely dictated by one’s values, not by one’s understanding of the science” that’s what we have. Reason is meant to act as a filter, or to put it in this context, people are not entitled to choose their science according to their heart’s desire.

    Looking at Nasht’s piece, he enunciates four purposes.

    1. Given that the debate has turned nasty where “the substance of the science was being lost in a shouting match of ‘truthiness'” he wants to “kick-start a new national discussion on this most vital of issues”.

    I’d take that as his main purpose.

    2. He wants to “show that it is possible to have a constructive discussion without the venom that has so poisoned the debate in Australia”.

    3. He wants to explore why people believe what they do,

    4. And in doing so, give “viewers an opportunity consider their firmly held positions in a new light.”

    I’d relate the first to what he apparently termed in speaking to Readfearn as a circuit breaker. That was always over-ambitious.

    He gets a tick for the second.

    For the third, a tick too, but limited to two instances.

    In the fourth, the opportunity was there, but looking at the comments thread at Crikey, I’m not sure many took up the opportunity. Presumably he was hoping people would consider what values might underlie their position. I think the interest of viewers would tend to stay with the story and the two protagonists, rather than turn to self-reflection.

    The program does make us think about what it would take to change Minchin’s mind. I do think that eventually you’d need to unpick his ideas about the science. You’d need identify all that values stuff and put it on the table for examination as well as bore into the central issue of climate sensitivity, dealing with uncertainty, possible impacts, risk, urgency, economic implications and possible solutions.

    But the first principle of adult education, as I understand it, is to start with where people are and where they want to go. On the other hand we can’t let it drift. I think your last sentence is valid:

    We need to completely re-evaluate the way the urgency of the problem is communicated, and concentrate on solutions rather than blame.

    There are two things that would help: journalists who are engaged and seeking the truth rather than reflecting ‘balance’, and a climate minister who is not missing in action in the public sphere.


    May 11, 2012 at 2:20 am

  12. […] Understanding Climate Risk has a live blog about I Can Change Your Mind About . . . Climate.  This caught my eye: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: