Friday, 30 August 2013

The life scientific revised by me to improve balance & context

Date: 27/08/2013
To give the content more balance and perspective and make it a bit funny / humorous


Jim al-Khalili: My guest today works in one of those areas of research that generate
 considerable heated debate, outside the world of science - climate change. Joanna Haigh 
is Professor of Atmospheric Physics and the Head of the Department of Physics at
 Imperial College London, where she studies the sun and the impact of its radiation 
on our planet's climate. Joanna began her career in meteorology at a time when only
 scientists were talking about how greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could cause
 the world to heat up. She's been part of the IPCC, the international group  
that produce reports on the state of the world's climate. So, inevitably, she's come up 
against people who think the worst case scenarios of the IPCC are unlikely & the advice 
of the IPCC about how to respond to the threat of global warming is mistaken. 
This year she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, one of the highest accolades
 a scientist can receive, and awarded a CBE for services to physics. Jo Haigh, 
welcome to The Life Scientific.

Joanna Haigh: Thank you.

Jim al-Khalili: Jo, it's true, isn't it, that the public today don't seem to be so
 interested in climate change. So, how do scientists engage with society 
in sensible debates about it?

Joanna Haigh: Well, there does seem to have been a sort of slipping-off of
 interest in climate change, perhaps because of changes to the economy of the
country and people feeling the pinch from higher gas and electricity prices due to all
the extra carbon taxes and subsidies to wind & solar industry.  Also perhaps because
 over the last 15 years the global average temperature has only risen by 0.06 Celsius which is close to zero.
 But we do try and remain engaged with the public, trying to convince them that although there are many scientist who point to flaws in our models and reports, and that real time data does not match our predictions , still our projections about the climate are worth bearing in mind. 

Jim al-Khalili: So is climate change still an important issue that we 
need to be concerned about ?

Joanna Haigh: Oh, absolutely, we all need a job. I mean, there is
precious little we can do in practice to  change the emissions of greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere without destroying our economy
. So we just need to monitor the results.
In fact global emissions have increased more than we predicted, coal consumption has
 increased 48% over the last ten years and is set to increase by 35% in the next ten years.
 The temperature was going up  in the 1980s & 1990s but has only
risen by 0.06 C over the last 15 years, but we still think it will go up in future.
 And it really is something that politicians  should be
 thinking about otherwise our funding will slip.
However people might want to read Nigel Lawson's book,
 " An appeal to reason " which gives several different approaches how to respond to the
alleged threat of global warming - including that maybe it is only one of a number of risks
 and it would be better for U.K economy just to carry on with business as usual-
 no carbon taxes, and no wind turbines because they make insignificant difference to CO2 in atmosphere &  just are not worth the money & divert resources from
gas, coal & nuclear power stations which urgently need renewing.
Besides as William Happer says an increase in atmospheric CO2 to 1000 ppm would
be beneficial to plant growth.
 We might not reach 1000ppm even if we burned all the fossil fuel available

Jim al-Khalili: So now let's  talk about when you started your career 30 or more years 
ago - what was known about the climate and how it was changing?

Joanna Haigh: So there had been work on what causes climate change, there'd been
 a big conference in, I think, the mid-1960s, on the causes of climate change and many were worried that we were heading for an ice age. There
 wasn't any real understanding of global warming, in the sense that it's understood today.
 I think the real thing that was going on was advances in computers, and so that we were
 able to develop computer models, to study things that really were too complicated to try
 and do, you know, on the back of a bit of paper. And we were able to create computer
code to understand how the radiation, the chemistry and the winds all interacted.

Jim al-Khalili: It's a very complicated subject - you know, people very naively talk
 about: carbon dioxide raises the temperature. And we're going to  unpack
 it a bit more later on, but this is an early sign that there's so much involved
 in the Earth's atmosphere.

Joanna Haigh: Yes, and I mean, what I've just been describing is really rather a sort
of simple part of it. If you try and put in all the weather and the clouds and the rain
 and everything else, the whole thing becomes too complex to make any long term predictions.

Jim al-Khalili [laughs]: Well, let me try and get some of the basics, sort of foundations 
of the science down, first. The sun's rays hit the Earth and the atmosphere reflects some
 of that radiation - light and heat - back out into space. So it's not surprising that
 the temperature on Earth depends on the composition of the atmosphere.
 So, workings of the greenhouse gases, like water,  carbon dioxide or methane have a very complex effect on the temperature. 

Joanna Haigh: That's right. So, essentially, most of the solar radiation heats the
surface of the Earth - it gets through the atmosphere, so the atmosphere's fairly
transparent to visible radiation. And the surface gets hot and emits heat radiation,
 but because of the greenhouse gases, that heat gets absorbed and so traps, like a
blanket, into the atmosphere.  One theory says as there are more and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this thickens the duvet and keeps the surface of the Earth warmer.
 However, those gases don't affect the transmission of solar radiation, which carries
on warming the surface of the Earth.

Jim al-Khalili: And that solar radiation isn't constant, is it? The heat and 
light from the sun is variable as well.

Joanna Haigh: That's right. We know now that actually the amount of energy
 coming out of the sun does vary.

Jim al-Khalili: So this variation - is this what we refer to as solar cycles? 

Joanna Haigh: Indeed, so the one that's most commonly known is the 11-year sunspot cycle.
And we now know that the radiation varies by perhaps a tenth of 1% over the solar cycle.
 But that's enough energy to, potentially, have a small influence on surface temperatures
of the Earth. There are also the Milankovitch  cycles - wobbles in Earth's orbit round the sun & changes in Earth's axis.
 So after the past decades of near zero increase in temperature it made people who were
doing the big climate models think "Oh, perhaps we should start taking things like Milankovitch cycles, Pacific Decadal Oscillations & the UV into account, they would be really handy excuses for why our models haven't worked",
 which they'd never done before.  

Jim al-Khalili: Well, that's an interesting point, because I was going to ask you:
 why is this work important, in terms of understanding climate?

Joanna Haigh: Until now I would never  have said that the sun is more important than the greenhouse
 gases in affecting the surface temperature on the sort of decadal timescales. But there
 are perceptible differences, and only by understanding those can we sort of extract them
 out and understand what the greenhouse gases are doing. 

Jim al-Khalili: And presumably it's also useful for meteorologists, so that they can
 make accurate forecasts of the weather next week or next month.

Joanna Haigh [laughs]: Um, are you sure they can even manage tomorrow & the day after's weather, that's also, um, quite controversial - so there's a lot of
 discussion now on weather, how good the stratosphere needs to be in weather
 forecasting models, and I think the jury's out, on that one. I mean, all the work
I've done is more on, sort of longer than yearly, more like decadal timescales.
 Of course, the problem with weather is that it's so noisy and variable and -
 climate isn't really any easier to understand.

Jim al-Khalili:  Can it really be that predicting
 what the global climate's going to be like, 20, 30, 50 years from now can
 somehow be any more reliable than predicting next week's weather ?

Joanna Haigh: I don't think so. 

Jim al-Khalili: When we hear about climate scientists having to improve their
 computer models, what they're doing is adding extra bits and pieces into a pre-existing 
calculation. And how reliable can you get with these models? Can you ever really
 have a realistic mathematical computational model of something as complicated
 as the Earth's climate or is it a bit like astrology or palm reading?

Joanna Haigh: Well, I have my doubts.

Jim al-Khalili: Now, you've been part of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel 
on Climate Change, which is the organisation that produces the highly-politicized 
 climate reports every few years. Do you think the IPCC, on the whole, is doing a good job?

Joanna Haigh: I think it's doing a fantastic job of getting the western world to sign up to letting the U.N. have more power, destroying industry in developed nations and ruining their economy further with carbon taxes,  [Laughs.] There's several misconceptions about the IPCC. One is that it sort of does work and reports on it. That's not the case, it's there to review work that has
been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and cherry pick out the worst scenarios to scare folk into action. So it's not doing any of its own work.
 And then you have the panel, and it meets intermittently over a period of perhaps two or
 three years, collating all the information, discussing it, digesting it, assessing it and
 producing this report. Which is then reviewed very thoroughly. In fact we had to drop the hockey stick graph because Steve Mcintyre, Ross McKitrick, Pete Holzmann, David Holland, Edward Wegman, Craig Lochle & others proved it was so flawed.
  The summary for policy makers goes out for three or
 four stages of review
and at each stage the panel - has to provide a response to every
notable comment that's made, even something that's completely stupid,
they can't say, "That's stupid", other wise we'd all be out of a job, 
 they have to say "I think this person has missed the point, because...".
 it keeps us in a job and gives the summary report more political clout.
And you can imagine hundreds and hundreds of referees' comments - it is a huge amount of work.

And the idea that the IPCC is some sort of consensus body of mad green scientists,
who are all trying to have their own agenda, work through government, or something
 like that, is something to investigate & be on guard against. I mean, you know what it's like when you put a load of
scientists together in a room, they're not going to decide to agree with each other,
 in fact they're each going to try and be clever and disagree with each other.
 So consensus is very, very hard to achieve. However we get round that by just calling all
the scientists who have disagreed with parts of the report, " Deniers " and condemn their comments as not worthy of the title " peer review ". 
 And the fact that we've come up with
some sort of general agreement means you can be pretty sure that that's been
well worked over.

Jim al-Khalili: Because, of course, a climate change sceptic will say that 
those who review the IPCC reports are -

Joanna Haigh: Part of the club.

Jim al-Khalili: - part of the club.  

Joanna HaighYes. Have to say, I slightly object to the use of the term "sceptic", 
because there's absolutely nothing wrong with being sceptical - all good scientists
 are sceptical. So I tend to refer to those people who say we have been involved in
spin or data presentation fraud or junk science as "climate change deniers".
 Because they just deny  that the IPCC model is perfect and give lots of reasons why we shouldn't place any reliance on it and many more reasons why " renewable " energy is not economically viable nor worthwhile since there are still hundreds of years of fossil fuel extractable and it might do more good for life on Earth to liberate all the fossil hydrocarbons - providing CO2 for millions or years of plant life & whatever evolves - rather than have it locked up down there waiting for plate techtonics to free it ( if ever, since most of the coal is on stable cratons )

Jim al-Khalili: What is the current consensus, then, amongst scientists about how
 our climate is changing? Are we doing enough to avert a potential disaster in years to come? 

Joanna Haigh: Well there are a wide range of views about what the climate will
 do in future & how the many influences combine,
 but the consensus is that there is likely to be some changes -
 either warmer or colder, wetter or drier, calmer or stormier, or a mixture. 
 I don't think there will be any major disaster from climate change this century. [Laughs.] 
I hope that everyone is aware that some politicians have been looking at worse case
 scenarios and in fact exaggerating even more than the IPCC report. For instance I hope people know that Al Gore's fantasy fiction film "An inconvenient truth " was taken 
to the UK high court where they pointed out 9 significant errors / exaggerations and
ordered that teachers must point out those errors and explain why those predictions
 are very unlikely to happen before 2100.
   The signs of real data over the past 15 years 
show that we are on course to only increase global average temperature 
between 1 -2C and a sea level rise of between 18cm-30cm by 2100 even
 if we do nothing radical, the temperature hopefully will only increase a little
 - nothing to worry about. It would be more worrying if there was a 2C drop. 

Jim al-Khalili: And many politicians after listening to Jim Hansen thought temperature would go up by 6 degrees, and now you're saying no: only up by 1 or 2 degrees ? 

Joanna Haigh: Um...

Jim al-Khalili: Suddenly that's not so bad.

Joanna Haigh: Well, there was always large error bars. In the future,
 of course, as we've already discussed, it's a complex system and 
you're not going to get, sort of, one particular value, so there's uncertainties and
 there's always a range of temperature around which it might go up. But you can see,
if you look at the temperature record over the past, sort of, 150 years, it wobbles,
 & goes up and down, it doesn't just go smoothly up with carbon dioxide, 
in fact antarctic ice records over the last 650,000 years indicate that if anything CO2
 is led by temperature rather than temperature following rises in CO2 
So there's a hiatus in our model  now,
 and I don't think everybody should be getting very excited about it. Better to say
"Oh, it's all right. We don't have to worry about climate change after all". 

Jim al-Khalili: Well, one of your colleagues at Imperial College, Dr. Yvonne Untruth,
 admires the way you've engaged with climate sceptics.

Joanna Haigh: Oh, thanks, Yvonne. [Laughs.]

Yvonne Untruth: When I first started working in the field, I was quite shocked by

the acrimonious comments we got on some of our work where we had taken things out of  context. While we're very used to defending our work

to other scientists in the same field where  we are all speaking the same language,

[ if you know what I mean ] 

dealing with scientists from other fields  was quite a shift for me,

and so it was interesting to see  how Joanna deals with it.

I quite admire her oomph and, yeah, her willingness to put her neck out.

Jim al-Khalili: How acrimonious has it been, then?

Joanna Haigh: Um... well, of course, much of this stuff is done on the internet,
so - I do get some personal letters where people say they are annoyed that
 we didn't publish their critiques of our work & how they think our models don't
 match real world data and how
present level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the lowest in the last 500 million years,
 pre industrial revolution it wasn't much above the 150 ppm at which plants would die,
 how there was 6-9 times as much CO2 when the dinosaurs were around & how 1000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere would be more beneficial to plants and do no harm to animals,
 all things being equal but most mostly I just ignored it.
 When people wrote to me personally, I always replied and I tried to explain that
 I think they just don't understand that we would be in great trouble if the world
 realized the IPCC had misled them and made them waste trillions of $ 
and we might even lose our job so they need to 
get real..
People are quite surprised  - quite often surprised that I've written a polite reply. 
And quite a few times I've had replies that say "Well thank you very much for your", 
you know, "You've taken the time and the care to reply to me, but I still don't think you are presenting an honest, balanced story and rather you are blowing the thing out of all proportion & context ". 
So, you know, you lose, but you try and engage.

Jim al-Khalili: And it is difficult for the wider public to know what to believe. 
As you say, so many people like Anthony Watts are writing blogs, there's so much out there. 
You know, who do they listen to? Who do they - who can they trust?  Do they go by real world data or by IPCC computer models and projections from those, by people who, going on past records, look like they can't be trusted?
And when it comes to education, there's recently been changes to the English 
school curriculum. Do you think school governors have wised up to the  climate change scam?

Joanna Haigh: Well, there's considerable controversy about that, because 
there was a suggestion that climate change was going to be dropped from
 the Key Stage 3 Geography syllabus, which we - I say "we", as in the 
Royal Meteorological Society - tried to argue against. I don't know what
 decision they'll come to, but to, sort of, present climate in separation from 
any discussion of what is actually going on on the ground, seems quite silly. 

Jim al-Khalili: Of course it's one thing developing these computer models to predict 
how the climate is changing, but satellites have really transformed the nature of 
research in this area. How have they helped your work?

Joanna Haigh: Absolutely, well we are very lucky to have the satellites recording atmospheric temperature because they give a more accurate reading than Stevenson screens - in fact they give lower temperature values than  from the Stevenson screens. 

Jim al-Khalili: And being involved, over your career and research that impacts on 
climate change, means, as we've discussed, that you're used to engaging with the 
public, with the media, with politicians, about your science. But given it's such a
 politically charged - um, and still controversial - topic, is there anything else you would like to say to them today ? 
Joanna Haigh:  Well I would recommend that they survey all the competing theories on climate, the history of IPCC reports, the books of Andrew Montford, Christopher Booker, Roy Spencer, Bob Carter, Peter Sullivan, JoNova, Heartland, James Delingpole. Get to know the subject really well and make up your own mind whether you think the IPCC models are the best means we have for predicting future events and whether their recommendations for how to manage the mining & combustion of fossil fuels is the best one. I would also like to say that I personally don't support building any more wind farms, they are not worth the money , same goes for solar panels and all those renewable subsidies, that was just gesture politics of the worst sort, not grounded in physics.

Jim al-Khalili: I think it's a sure sign that The Life Scientific is good at picking winners,
 because you've come clean now, I should say. Certainly
 before this exciting year that you've had - because you were elected as a Fellow 
of the Royal Society and honoured with a CBE in recent months. You know, we sort
 of almost knew that was coming. That must have been very exciting for you.

Joanna Haigh: Well, it was, I was completely amazed that we got it despite the data presentation fraud. 
And, you know, I think perhaps
 I should just retire now, because it isn't going to get any better! [They laugh.] 

Jim al-Khalili: Jo Haigh, thank you very much for sharing your Life Scientific.

Joanna Haigh: I've enjoyed it. Thank you.

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