Understanding Climate Risk

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Trolling. It’s more important now than ever.

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When contrarian commentator Bret Stephens was hired by the New York Times as a columnist, there was an immediate outcry from climate scientists and the pro-climate policy community. Some cancelled their subscriptions:

Stephens had been on record as describing climate change as an ‘imaginary enemy’. The timing was odd. NYT has just hired a high-profile climate team and was selling itself with the slogan “Truth. It’s now more important than ever.”

Credit: Think Progress for the link. Ad from The New York Times’ marketing campaign. Credit: The New York Times via AdAge

The hire was defended by James Bennet, editorial page editor: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

April 29, 2017 at 8:53 pm

McLean follow up

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Elaine McKewon book-ended my letter to the editors of Fairfax papers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald regarding the publishing of John McLean’s error-ridden piece on the IPCC (the editors, by the way, have not responded) with a terrific take down of McLean in Crikey.

She questioned McLean’s byline on the original article, to whit:

John McLean is the author of three peer-reviewed papers on climate and an expert reviewer for the latest IPCC report. He is also a climate data analyst and a member of the International Climate Science Coalition.”

asking “But is that accurate? Who is John McLean? What qualifications entitle him to speak as an expert on climate science? What is the ICSC, and which groups, interests and agendas do McLean and the ICSC represent? What exactly does it mean to be an “expert reviewer” of IPCC reports?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to SMH/The Age editors on McLean’s Op-ed

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Readers of the Australian press over the holiday period would have seen the spray from Maurice Newman the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council in The Australian on December 31 where he claimed Australia’s climate policies were being driven by scientific delusion. That was followed by an article by David Karoly in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on January 1 correcting Newman’s take on the science. Then on January 3, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald printed a response to Karoly and Newman from John McLean. Following is a letter I have sent to the editors of both papers.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express my great disappointment at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s decision to publish John McLean’s opinion piece Lack of accountability clouds the climate change debate on Friday January 3. After the recent statement by SMH letters editors Julie Lewis and Marc McEvoy that (October 13, 2013) “climate change deniers or skeptics are free to express opinions and political views on our page but not to misrepresent facts”, we in the scientific community were hopeful this would be the case. Alas, it is not.

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

By Roger Jones, Victoria University

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, has reportedly acknowledged to Graham Lloyd of The Australian, that there is a “17-year pause in global temperature rises”, a fact that apparently has been suppressed in Australia. Dr Pauchauri endorses debate, saying that people had a right to question the science, whatever their motivations.

But according to Lloyd, Pachauri’s views contrast with arguments in Australia that views outside the orthodox position of approved climate scientists should be left unreported.

Am I an “approved” climate scientist? because I don’t hold that view, nor do I know any who does. What we would like, though, is for science to be reported as science and for opinion to be reported as opinion. And for all reporting to be accurate.

Lloyd makes this claim: unlike in Britain, there has been little publicity in Australia given to recent acknowledgement by peak climate-science bodies in Britain and the US of what has been a 17-year pause in global warming. Britain’s Met Office has revised down its forecast for a global temperature rise, predicting no further increase to 2017, which would extend the pause to 21 years.

This is the Met Office’s latest five-year forecast shown below. Skeptical Science reports the Met Office saying: the latest decadal prediction suggests that global temperatures over the next five years are likely to be a little lower than predicted from the previous prediction issued in December 2011. We’re in the midst of a period of La Niñas, which have a slight cooling effect, as do rising sulphate emissions in Asia. But look at the blue line – do my eyes deceive me? Is it level with the previous black line? It’s warmer? Perhaps Lloyd’s computer has a tilt to the right that makes increases look level.

Observed (black, from Hadley Centre, GISS and NCDC) and predicted global average annual surface temperature difference relative to 1971-2000. Retrospective predictions starting from June 1960, 1965, …, 2005 are shown as white curves, with red shading representing their probable range, such that the observations are expected to lie within the shading 90% of the time. The most recent forecast (thick blue curve with thin blue curves showing range) starts from November 2012. All data are rolling annual mean values. The gap between the black and blue curves arises because the last observed value represents the period November 2011 to October 2012 whereas the first forecast period is November 2012 to October 2013. UK Met Office

The Met Office predicts record global mean temperature over the next five years – now that’s news.

News Corporation sells roughly 70% of the newspapers in metropolitan Australia, and its readers are subject to this kind of fudging on a regular basis. It’s no wonder some “approved” scientists are frustrated.

But that’s not the only thing that frustrates me. It is also time to challenge what Lloyd calls the orthodox position of climate science.

Climatology needs to stop hiding behind long-term trends and explain what is in plain sight, and why variations in the rate of warming might be important. I’m working with colleagues at the moment on a National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility project called Valuing Adaptation to Rapid Change and we’re looking at the economics of rapid change. Non-linear behaviour in climate driving extreme events has the potential to really hurt us.

The first thing to bear in mind is that a trend line is a model. A warming trend is not a theory of how climate changes. If a complex, non-linear system fails to follow a trend, look at the model to see whether it represents the theory sufficiently well.

In a nutshell, the theory says greenhouse gases act like a blanket, trapping heat near the surface. This creates a radiation imbalance at the top of the atmosphere. The earth system warms to return this balance by increasing the heat escaping from the top of the atmosphere so that energy out equals energy in. This is a slow process, taking centuries, because the ocean has to warm sufficiently to support a hotter atmosphere. The scientific confidence in this aspect of climatology is extremely high. A simple trend line is sufficient to measure this process.

But on decadal time scales, the trend-line model fails. Most of the heat trapped in the earth system goes into the oceans. The top 700m of ocean increased in heat content from 3 x 1022 Joules in 1997 to 10 x 1022 Joules in 2010, in a highly non-linear manner, due to mixing rates between the surface and deep ocean. The atmosphere holds as much heat as the top 3m of ocean, about 0.4% of the heat content above. Why on earth then, with highly non-linear processes in the ocean, would we expect a gradual warming trend in the atmosphere?

A paper I published last year shows that most of Australia’s warming occurred in two episodes, one in the late 1960s to early 1970s, when south west WA rainfall also decreased, and the other in 1997-98. The other finding was that most of this warming was anthropogenic. On decadal timescales, step and trend is a much better model for explaining warming than simple trends.

To me, the graph above makes perfect sense: mild trends separated by an instantaneous rise of about 0.3°C. By ignoring non-linearity and projecting future climate change as simple trends, orthodox science is doing us a great disservice. We have not yet woken up to the recent non-linear increases in heatwaves and fire danger in Australia let alone planning for more such changes in the future. The same goes for floods.

Observed and projected percentage area experiencing an exceptionally hot year: Queensland as an example. Note the recent rapid increase (source: K. Braganza, Bureau of Meteorology)

Days above high fire danger, average of 9 Victorian sites, showing statistically significant rapid increase (site data from Bureau of Meteorology)

It’s time to stop defending orthodox science by hiding behind simple trends and come to grips with the fundamental non-linearity of climate change. That’s the risk we need to mitigate, adapting to changes that can’t be avoided.

Roger Jones receives funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. He is affiliated with Climate Scientists Australia and the IPCC.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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Antarctic Peninsula warms – The Australian spins

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Interesting ice-core temperature results from James Ross Island on the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) that points to recent and rapid warming that is unusual and of concern (sourced from Crikey who find its unusual nature alarming). The Australian reports (via Graeme Lloyd) that while unusual, the warming is not unprecedented relative to natural variation. Lloyd also includes a quote that is neither in the paper or the press release, and a bogus assertion arising from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the research. I have enquired from the authors if they were the source of Lloyd’s quote. Update – they have replied: see below.

So, how concerned should we be about the results? From the press release:

Results published this week (Nature paywall) by a team of polar scientists from Britain, Australia and France adds a new dimension to our understanding of Antarctic Peninsula climate change and the likely causes of the break-up of its ice shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Spooner again

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The Age cartoonist John Spooner returned to climate policy this weekend. I won’t have go at Spooner as I did after last weekend’s effort but I will discuss his theme. Spooner maintains that the carbon tax and GST double up, giving the example of a little boy with his lawyer trying to avoid a shopkeeper double taxing his chocolate. What Spooner is doing here – to put a generous point on it – is to reflect what many people are thinking.

Illustration: John Spooner

So how realistic is this scenario? On Friday, the Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet and the assistant treasurer David Bradbury issued a joint statement that GST does not apply to the $23 per tonne price of permits. This avoids double taxation where GST is charged on GST (which they shouldn’t be anyway). Where permits are given free, the prices will not be carried through, limiting its effect. I can’t see however, that GST won’t be levied on general goods and services as reported here. But these numbers will be comparatively small. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

July 15, 2012 at 3:05 am

Spooner’s war on climate policy

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John Spooner, cartoonist for The Age has fired his latest salvo in his war on climate policy in yesterday’s (7-7-2012) paper. It mentions me so I feel obliged to provide a response. J’accuse Spooner of being a propagandist.

Illustration: John Spooner

Yep, that’s me down by the *. Quoted as measuring Australia’s policy impact as being 0.0038°C in 2100. Which would happen if Australia was to reduce its emissions by 5% from 2000 by 2020 and maintain that until 2100. But is this cartoon an accurate and amusing reflection of the conversation Gillard would have with her imaginary friend? Well yes, until the fourth panel. Then it falls away — and that’s worth a bit of scrutiny. And he gets IPCC wrong. What is the IPPC? Read the rest of this entry »