August 9, 2014

Bertha Brings Flood Warnings to SW England

We've had quite a nice summer so far here in South West England but it looks as though that is about to change, temporarily at least. Bertha began life as a tropical storm east of the Antilles on August 1st 2014, over the following 2 days she passed over several Caribbean islands before briefly reaching the status of a category 1 hurricane on August 4th. The following day Bertha was downgraded to a tropical storm again, but now her remnants  are bearing down on SW England. According to the Met Office at the moment:

The weather will turn wet and windy in many parts from Sunday morning, with gales perhaps severe, likely along some southern coastal and inland areas.

The Met Office has been assessing the effects of ex hurricane Bertha on the UK by using its own forecast models alongside models from other world-leading forecast centres.

At the moment it looks as though the storm will track across the southern half of the UK on Sunday before heading out into the North Sea and travelling up the eastern coast, bringing some disruption to Scotland on Monday. Much of the UK will see large rainfall totals, however their remains some uncertainty relating to the strength of the winds, which could be locally very disruptive.

We are expecting unseasonable storm force winds in the northern North Sea with the risk of 80 mile per hour plus gusts which could be dangerous for shipping / offshore operations.

We are watching very carefully and the forecast is constantly under review and subject to change.

It seems as though, much like the "St. Jude day storm" last October, the likely effect on various parts of the United Kingdom won't be clear until the last minute. For the moment though, the Met Office has issued a severe weather warning for rain on Sunday covering almost the entire country:

Our "flood widget" over on the right hand side of the page currently reveals a total of four flood alerts for South West England, each covering a long stretch of coast:

As you can see, together they currently include the entire coastline of Devon and Cornwall! The South Devon coast is nearest to us, and that alert states that:

There is potential for stormy coastal conditions starting on Sunday (10/08/2014) and continuing into next week. This coincides with a period of rising spring tides. The storm will create an area of low pressure, high winds and large waves which could lead to flooding for exposed seafronts starting from Sunday evenings high tide. We will continue to monitor the situation and issue updates as the weather system moves across us.

The next obvious question, to us at least, is what will the surf be like over the next couple of days. That all depends on the exact track of the storm, and nobody seems very sure about that the moment unfortunately! Here's what the Magic Seaweed UK swell forecast looks like at the moment for 12:00 tomorrow:

and here's the wind forecast for 06:00

That shows offshore winds on the north coast at first light, so here's the overall surf forecast for Bude tomorrow:

Unfortunately I don't think that is sufficient to temp us to set our alarms for an early start! Of course with all the current uncertainty everything may have changed by the time the sun eventually rises tomorrow morning!

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June 10, 2014

COIN Flooding Workshops in Totnes and Taunton

The Climate Outreach and Information Network has a mission and a vision. COIN is:

A ‘think and do’ tank focused on connecting people to climate change and climate change to people.

We communicate, connect and catalyse action on climate change through our three major areas of work.

Our mission is to ensure climate change and its impacts are understood, accepted and acted upon across the breadth of society in a manner that creates a truly sustainable future.  We will achieve this by using our unique position as a bridge between research and practitioners to:

  • develop meaningful narratives and storylines about climate change that engage a wide range of different people and influence key organisations
  • raise the voices of those most impacted by climate change to ensure they are central in any policy discussions
  • collaborate with others on innovative new climate change projects that fit with our vision

To that end they are holding workshops about the recent flooding in South West England in both Totnes (postponed – see below) and Taunton this coming weekend. According to their news release about the workshops:

Unprecedented flooding this year ruined lives for hundreds in the South of England. As the clear up operation continues many are asking questions about the future.  COIN has organised a set of events to support communities planning for a more unpredictable climate. Events take place in Devon, Somerset, and Oxfordshire.

I shall be attending the event in Totnes Civic Hall on Saturday afternoon at 2 PM. Perhaps I will see you there?

Until then here's a short video in which COIN Executive Director Jamie Clarke explains their vision:

and here's the poster for Saturday's workshop in Totnes:

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June 6, 2014

The Two Degree Target Is Close To Impossible

My title today is a quote from John Barrett, who is Professor of Sustainability Research at the University of Leeds. You can listen to him saying those words near the end of this extract from the Paul Hudson Weather Show originally broadcast by BBC Regional Radio across the North of England on May 25th 2014, shortly after John gave a presentation at the Transformational Climate Science conference at the University of Exeter:

Many thanks to Paul Hudson and his producer, Jack Meegan, for their permission to reproduce this extract from the broadcast.

In the final section, starting at 22:00, Paul Hudson asks each of the scientists their views on the two degrees Celsius "global warming limit". When asked by Paul:

Is it a hopeless cause, or can we do it? Personally!

John had this to say:

Personally, the two degree target is close to impossible, but I don't want to just let it go because I still want to feel that we have something decent to aim for. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't still try and achieve as much rapid reduction as quickly as possible.

Paul then asked Mat Collins, Joint Met Office Chair in Climate Change at the University of Exeter:

In the IPCC meetings, is there a sense of despair?

Mat told Paul:

I don't think there's a sense of despair. There's still a sense that we can adapt to some aspects of climate change, and for that we need more detailed science about how the world is going to look at a regional level. I think we will still see a role for the IPCC, and the science that we do, informing the debate.

In conclusion Paul asked Peter Cox, Professor of Climate System Dynamics at the University of Exeter:

Two [degrees] Celsius. Can we stop it?

Peter replied:

I don't think so through conventional mitigation, through reducing our emissions. In fact the IPCC includes in its scenarios so called "negative emissions technology" which is a fancy way of saying "sucking CO2 out of the air". That's not impossible, but if we're going to assume that to avoid two degrees then we have to invest in that technology because it doesn't yet exist.

at which point Paul interjected:

And that's expensive?

Peter replied:

It could be. It's probably cheaper than some of the other alternatives though!

I thoroughly recommend that you listen to the whole conversation and not just the concluding remarks. Should you wish to gain further insight into why those three climate scientists told Paul Hudson what they did, here's a video of Prof. John Barrett's presentation at the Transformational Climate Science conference:

and here is Prof. Mat Collins' presentation:

A video of Prof. Peter Cox's presentation at the Transformational Climate Science conference can be viewed near the end of our recent article about "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change".

In conclusion here's the transcript of what John Barrett had to say at 20:35 into the recording:

[There's] the need for both global and national leadership. We need politicians to actually stand up, to be able to understand the science and to portray the message to individuals that "I'm really sorry but this is extremely serious and we're going to have to make some really tough decisions about this". We need someone to stand up and not carry on questioning the science, not questioning the economics which is getting quite firm on how much this costs and what we need to do, and start taking some real action. Without that we can't expect individuals to be trying to push for a more low carbon lifestyle without the leadership from above.

Quod erat demonstrandum?

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June 5, 2014

Richard Tol Says "Climate Change is Caused by Humans"

Fresh from testifying on Capitol Hill in front of the United States Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Richard Tol, Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex, has just had a new "short communication" published online in the journal Energy Policy. Since energy policy is one of my own specialist subjects I read it with interest, but now I'm rather confused not least because whilst the paper does mention "climate policy" a few times the word "energy" is noticeable only by its absence. At last week's hearing Richard testified that:

It is pretty clear that most of the science agrees that climate change is real and most likely human made.

In his new paper, catchily entitled "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the literature: A re-analysis", he is even more specific, stating in his conclusions that:

There is no doubt in my mind that the literature on climate change over-whelmingly supports the hypothesis that climate change is caused by humans. I have very little reason to doubt that the consensus is indeed correct.

Prof. Tol thus makes it abundantly clear that he is part of "the consensus on anthropogenic global warming", so I'm forced to ask myself what it is that he is quibbling about here, since in his introduction he says that:

A claim has been that 97% of the scientific literature endorses anthropogenic climate change (Cook et al., 2013). This claim, frequently repeated in debates about climate policy, does not stand.

What on Earth is the problem then? That "over-whelmingly" is not precisely the same thing as "97%"? Prof. Tol continues:

A trend in composition is mistaken for a trend in endorsement. Reported results are inconsistent and biased. The sample is not representative and contains many irrelevant papers. Overall, data quality is low. Cook's validation test shows that the data are invalid. Data disclosure is incomplete so that key results cannot be reproduced or tested.

It all sounds to me a lot like one of the academic "cat fights" that Prof. Peter Cox was referring to in the presentation he gave at the Transformational Climate Science conference that I attended in Exeter a couple of weeks ago!

The Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control thought experiment

The Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control thought experiment, courtesy of Prof. Peter Cox

Needless to say the authors of the paper Richard Tol is criticising aren't taking all this lying down. In a post on the Skeptical Science web site Dana Nuccitelli, a member of the "et al." section of the paper in question, responds as follows:

The crux of Tol's paper is that he would have conducted a survey of the climate literature in a slightly different way than our approach. He's certainly welcome to do just that – as soon as we published our paper, we also launched a webpage to make it as easy as possible for anyone to read the same scientific abstracts that we looked at and test the consensus for themselves.

Tol chose instead to look for faults in our study's methods in what he described as a "destructive" approach. Ultimately he concluded that because those who were categorizing the abstracts based on their position on the cause of global warming were human, our ratings were imperfect (this is certainly true), and that accounting for these imperfections brings the consensus value down to about 91%. That's where Tol made his big mistake.

That's followed by a long section explaining what it describes as "Tol's big mistake", going on to ask:

One might wonder how Tol's critique made it through the peer-review process with so many serious flaws. It took five tries, as the paper was first rejected four times by three other journals. He received some harsh but fair criticism from the Environmental Research Letters reviewers, who listed 24 problems and ways the paper could be improved.

I guess that helps explain why this particular paper hasn't been published in a more obvious journal for such subject matter, but it doesn't explain why Richard Tol has jumped through so many hoops to get his views published in a peer reviewed journal. Perhaps some indication can be gleaned from the final paragraph of Prof Tol's conclusions, which reads as follows:

It will take decades or longer to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero—the only way to stabilize its atmospheric concentration. During that time, electoral fortunes will turn. Climate policy will not succeed unless it has broad societal support, at levels comparable to other public policies such as universal education or old-age support. Well-publicized but faulty analyses like the one by Cook et al. only help to further polarize the climate debate.

Whilst I agree with the first two sentences, what about the third? What's the point of "further polariz[ing] the climate debate" by publicly picking holes in the methodology of a paper when you broadly agree with its conclusions and you yourself imply that you are concerned about said polarization, particularly when your critique has itself been criticised by a number of independent referees? If your answer isn't simply "academic cat fight" pop it on a virtual postcard to me please, because I'm afraid I can't see any sense in it.

P.S. For numerous alternative viewpoints on this controversial topic please note that this article is now (recursively?) featured near the top in both Richard Tol's list of "Apologists of pseudoscience" and the Skeptical Science "Resources and links documenting Tol's 24 errors"!

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June 2, 2014

A Conversation Between Sceptics

I've recently become engaged in a conversation over at Andy Extance's "Simple Climate" blog on the subject of "IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough", which is rather clogging up the conversation over there. Here are some edited highlights (with the odd typo fixed, and the odd link added):

Jim

@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”

http://econnexus.org/climate-change-the-latest-evidence-and-implications/

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

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

http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

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

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

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?

Richard

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, Christopher Monckton, who I seem to remember has accused Julia Slingo of alarmism)

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

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.

Jim

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

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

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:

https://class.coursera.org/globalwarming-002

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

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.

Andy

For some background on the energy imbalance, see this post: http://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:
http://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/climate-sensitivity-wrangles-dont-change-the-big-picture-on-emissions/

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

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.

Jim

@Richard – Re UK rainfall (and wind) see: http://econnexus.org/stormy-winter-weather-moves-south/, which will ultimately point you at: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadukp/data/download.html

Richard

Many thanks Jim. Just what I need.

Jim

(This bit is new, old news. Five pictures instead of "millions of words"!)

Jim's garden on February 14th 2014

Jim's garden on February 14th 2014

The fields by Jim's lane on February 24th 2014

The fields by Jim's lane on February 24th 2014

The top the hill above Jim's house on March 8th 2014

The top of the hill above Jim's house on March 8th 2014

The generator supplying electricity to Jim's house on April 12th 2014

The generator supplying electricity to Jim's house on April 12th 2014

Fresh water seeping from the fresh tarmac covering the road up to Willhayes Cross on June 6th 2014

Fresh water seeping from the fresh tarmac covering the road up to Willhayes Cross on June 6th 2014

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May 31, 2014

The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

There's a lot of shopping days left until Christmas comes around again, but nonetheless I've been watching a pantomime. You can watch it too if you like. Here's a video recording of Thursday's United States Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing that purportedly examined "The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process". I don't usually spend my time avidly watching committee meetings on the other side of the Atlantic, but this one was of great interest to me because a fortnight ago I spent a couple of days at Exeter University listening to a long list of scientists expounding about how they took part in the "IPCC process", and their resulting conclusions.

Thursday's proceedings in Washington DC started with committee chairman Representative Lamar Smith (R. Texas) reading a pre-prepared statement which began as follows:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released three working group reports on climate science – focused on physical sciences, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation. These documents make up the Fifth Assessment Report.

Similarly, the White House recently rolled out its National Climate Assessment, which takes a closer look at climate change and policy in the U.S. Both the IPCC and the White House’s documents appear to be designed to spread fear and alarm and provide cover for previously determined government policies. The reports give the Obama Administration an excuse to control more of the lives of the American people.

The IPCC’s goal is an international climate treaty that redistributes wealth among nations. The Administration’s goal is to impose greenhouse gas regulations, which will stifle economic growth and lead to hundreds of thousands of fewer jobs each year.

On the heels of these catastrophic predictions, the President plans to announce next Monday his most costly climate regulations – new climate standards for power plants.

Can I take it that you get the general drift by now? Nearing the end of his presentation Representative Smith went on to say that:

The President and others often claim that 97 percent of scientists believe that global warming is primarily driven by human activity. However, the study they cite has been debunked.

While the majority of scientists surveyed may think humans contribute something to climate change, and I would agree, only 1 percent said that humans cause most of the warming. So the President has misrepresented the study’s results.

We should focus on good science, rather than politically correct science. The facts should determine which climate policy options the U.S. and world considers.

After the hearing a press release reiterated Lamar Smith's comments reproduced above, and added:

A distinguished panel of experts involved in the IPCC and National Climate Assessment process unanimously stated that the science of climate change is “not settled,” as the President and others often state unequivocally.

To begin our own forensic analysis of what was actually said, here are all four of the distinguished expert witnesses, sat in their respective hot seats:

The expert witnesses during their "IPCC interrogation" in Washington DC

The expert witnesses during their "IPCC interrogation" in Washington DC

Now I do agree with Lamar that "humans contribute something to climate change" and that "facts should determine which climate policy options the U.S. and world considers" so let us examine some facts together. One of the witnesses called to present evidence to the committee was Richard Tol, Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex. During the question and answer session after all the pre-prepared statements had been read out Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R. California) asked:

Is this 97% of all scientists believe that global warming, global climate change, is a result of human activity – Is that accurate or inaccurate, from what you see from other scientists, and from what you know?

In his reply Prof. Tol said, amongst other things, that:

It is pretty clear that most of the science agrees that climate change is real and most likely human made, but this 97 per cent is essentially pulled from thin air – it’s not based on any credible research whatsoever.

A bit later one of the other witnesses, Dr. Daniel Botkin, interjected to add that:

What a scientist finds out is science. What a scientist says is opinion. Science is not a consensus activity. Science is innovative and invention and discovery.

All of which may help to explain why Professor Peter Cox had this to say in Exeter recently, in a presentation to the general public entitled "IPCC: building on the 'miracle' of consensus.":

You can see the slides associated with Peter's talk by starting the video of the complete session at around 21:35, or you can download them here.

To quote Prof. Cox:

Some people are concerned about this. How could we possibly come to a consensus? Is it that we are all kind of "herded" by Thomas [Stocker]? Scientists are like cats, we are not herdable, ask any University! We don't like to agree, in fact we are motivated by not agreeing, so how could we possibly get to the point where we can agree? Is it the Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control?

The Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control thought experiment

The Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control thought experiment

No it's not! Part of the reason we agree is because some of it's obvious. It's been obvious for a long time… We are more and more sure about the obvious.

Quod erat demonstrandum?

P.S. Some alternative interpretations of last week's United States Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing are now available at:

Motherboard – The House Science Committee Spent Today in a Climate Change Denial Echo Chamber

io9 – The House Science Committee Declares The IPCC Report Is Not Science

DeSmogBlog – Richard Tol's Attack On 97 Percent Climate Change Consensus Study Has 'Critical Errors'

HotWhopper – Daniel Botkin obediently tells denier Republicans what they want to hear, but who is he?

Skeptical Science – Republican witness admits the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is real

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May 26, 2014

South West England Elects a Green MEP

I watched the BBC's coverage of the 2014 European Elections last night until the results for South West England had been announced in Poole. This is how they looked:

Party Votes % MEPs change +/-
UK Independence Party 484,184 32.29 (+10.23) 2 0
Conservative 433,151 28.89 (-1.36) 2 -1
Labour 206,124 13.75 (+6.09) 1 +1
Green 166,447 11.10 (+1.80) 1 +1
Liberal Democrat 160,376 10.70 (-6.49) 0 -1
An Independence From Europe 23,169 1.55 (0.00) 0 0
English Democrats 15,081 1.01 (-0.63) 0 0
British National Party 10,910 0.73 (-3.20) 0 0

As you can see, the parties that currently comprise our coalition government here in the United Kingdom each lost one seat, to be replaced by Clare Moody of Labour and Molly Scott Cato from the Green Party. The South West's representation in Europe is therefore now more female than male, and the Green Party now have three representatives in Europe, a 50% increase from yesterday. On waking this morning I wondered how the mass media had been reporting these momentous events, so I've been scouring the web for evidence. Here's what I've come up with so far. According to an article in the Exeter Express and Echo, which I reproduce in full:

Dr Molly Scott Cato has made history by becoming the first Green Party MEP for the South West. The Green Party gained 11.2% of the vote in the European Election, taking the 6th seat out of six.

Speaking shortly after the results were announced, Molly Scott Cato said: “It is fantastic that the South West now has a Green voice in Europe. I would like to thank everyone who voted Green on Thursday, and I am looking forward to representing the South West in Brussels.

“The Greens are the only party with a clear and positive message on EU reform, which I think was attractive to voters and translated into the result we see today. Our ‘people before profit’ policies have really resonated with voters who have been looking for a viable alternative party which truly represents their values.”

Greens across the region celebrated as they saw their vote share rise from 9.3% in 2009 to 11.2% in 2014.

Here's a picture of Greens from across the region celebrating!

The BBC has a couple of articles on their web site. The first one mentions the Greens' gains, and states that:

The Green Party of England and Wales has beaten the Liberal Democrats into fourth place in the European elections for the first time.

It got nearly 8% of the vote nationally, and three MEPs, ahead of the Lib Dems which got less than 7%.

The Greens won one new seat in the South West of England and also retained their two existing seats in London and the South East of England.

Party leader Natalie Bennett hailed it as a "good night" for the Greens.

The second one concentrates on the Lib Dems loss. In a sidebar Tristan Pascoe reports that:

Despite UKIP topping the poll, the demise of the Lib Dems in their traditional power-base was the big story of the night in the South West.

Sir Graham Watson has been a Lib Dem MEP for 20 years and before last night, few would have predicted his rejection at the ballot box.

Speaking without rancour or bitterness he said it had been "an honour and a privilege to serve the South West".

UKIP's victorious William Dartmouth led the tributes, saying Sir Graham had given "distinguished, competent, able and professional service for 20 years".

The Conservatives lost one seat and now have two MEPs in the region, while Labour say their recovery in the South West is well on the way

But the biggest cheer of the night went to Molly Scott Cato. The keen apiarist (bee keeper) created a buzz of her own as she became the Green Party's first South West MEP.

The Guardian has had a dedicated "Environment" section for quite some time, but at the moment the only report I can find about Molly's move to Brussels is a small section of their "10 key lessons from the European election results":

The Greens got another MEP, Molly Scott Cato, in the south-west and triumphed over the Lib Dems in many areas. This was despite their overall share of the vote dropping very slightly by 1 percentage point.

Then I scoured Environment Guardian for recent news from South West England concerning the views of a long list of eminent scientists about our rapidly changing environment, but I found none. I also scoured the BBC web site for a report about what Alex Salmond said to David Dimbleby on air last night. This was the best I could come up with:

UKIP's performance has shown the real and increasing threat to Scotland's place in the EU that comes from being part of the Westminster system, but in Scotland, UKIP have come fourth with only around a third of the vote they got in the rest of the UK, where they won the election, and only around 3% of Scotland's electorate backing them – despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of UKIP that has been beamed into Scotland.

I recall Mr. Salmond saying a lot more than that about the BBC's "wall-to-wall coverage of UKIP", all of which brought to mind Ros Donald's recent article for Carbon Brief, in which she reported on Dr. Saffron O'Neill's presentation at the Transformational Climate Science conference, hosted by Exeter University the week before last. According to Ros:

BBC television coverage of the UN's latest climate science reports was the most likely to portray climate science as not 'settled', according to emerging research. Meanwhile, UK tweeters are the most likely in the world to have debates about climate change.

Hopefully the above is more than sufficient explanation for this "Tweet" of mine this morning:

P.S. At least ITV West Country managed to interview Molly. Here's Bob Constantine's report on what she had to say:

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May 24, 2014

Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications

The videos from the Transformational Climate Science conference at Exeter University are still not yet available, but on Monday May 19th the Met Office hosted another climate change conference, this time in London. This one was held in conjunction with the Walker Institute at the University of Reading and the Grantham Institute for Climate change at Imperial College London, and was entitled "Climate change – the latest evidence and implications for business". As the title suggests, the audience this time around consisted of businesspeople instead of climate scientists. Some of the speakers from Exeter had headed up to London to speak about all things IPCC for the second time in a week, and those proceedings are already available on video at the Climasphere web site.

That page takes a while to load, but persevere and you will be rewarded with a total of almost four and half hours of information on the latest scientific findings about climate change, interspersed with a couple of breaks and introduced by the Director of the Walker Institute, Professor Nigel Arnell. If that seems overly daunting then I suggest you pick and choose from the following presentations from those who were also present in Exeter. From session 1 on "Climate change – the latest evidence" there's:

  • Prof. Chris Field (Stanford University and IPCC WG II co-chair) on "Impacts and adaptation" – 00:20:00
  • Prof. Jim Skea (Imperial College and IPCC WG III vice-chair) on "Mitigation of climate change" – 00:42:00

Session 2 on "What will climate change mean for the UK?" was started off by:

  • Prof. Stephen Belcher (Head of the Met Office's Hadley Centre) on "Climate extremes" – 01:54:45
Prof. Dame Julia Slingo summing up at the Met Office's "Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications" conference

Dame Julia Slingo summing up at the "Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications" conference

Since I'm from the UK I was interested in the rest of that session too, but wherever you hail from I also suggest you watch Dame Julia Slingo's summing up starting at 4:17:00. Amongst one or two other things Dame Julia had this to say:

What really struck me when I read the [IPCC AR5] reports was really that the highlights were WG II and WG III and I can say that without any shame, I'm a WG I scientist, because what was coming out of those was seriously now, as Chris said,  wide ranging and consequential evidence of the impacts of climate change across many systems, and that's the first time we've been able to say that about the impacts. Just the scientific evidence for a changing climate from the physical evidence. Then we saw from Jim's talk really much, much more detail about our options, about the challenge we face. The phrase that comes to mind now is that at last we're into the phase of what I call "actionable science". This means we are in a place where science is mature enough, it's still not there in many respects but we as a global society must start to take action on the basis of that science. Of course it is uncertain, but that doesn't mean that we can't make risk based assessments and start talking about risk based actions, and accepting we don't all need to have the final decimal point, we just need to know what the scale of the challenge often is.

That being said I think the other thing that comes through time and time again in the discussions is that it's not about the global mean temperature any more, that 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, and actually the key message from many of us now in the science community is that our climate will become more volatile and more challenging because of climate change.

That means a new science agenda. It means taking us way beyond what was in UKCP09. That was a fantastic start, but it was only a start. 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. The IPCC has an inter-governmental role, and that should continue, but we have to more and more find ways to work at the national or even international level, across sectors, to find how to translate what the new science on climate change is telling us into what we should do.

All of which leads me nicely into my next article, which will be about some of the things Julia had to say about "dialogue" whilst she was in Exeter three days earlier!

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May 19, 2014

Transformational Climate Science at Exeter University

Last week the University of Exeter hosted a two day conference organised in partnership with the Met Office and the University of Leeds, under the banner of  "Transformational Climate Science". According to the conference's "About" page:

The world’s top climate change experts [met] in Exeter to present and critically reflect on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The Transformational Climate Science conference [saw] world-leading researchers using the IPCC report’s findings to explore the next steps for climate science research.

The report assesses scientific, technical, and socio-economic factors concerning climate change, its potential effects and the options for adaptation and mitigation.

Conference participants included leading UK and international contributors to the IPCC report, who [gave] policy and scientific perspectives on the cutting edge of science, social science, and science-policy interface.

All this was far too much for me to resist, so I attended the public forum on Thursday evening and the whole of the Friday session which covered the work of IPCC Working Group III on "the challenge of mitigation". I was wearing the hat (and badge) of a member of the local press:

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

Since I have a great professional interest in energy security and hence energy policy I was delighted to discover that Catherine Mitchell, who is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Exeter, was on both panels. When I arrived on Thursday evening there was still time to look around some of the assorted exhibits outside the conference room itself. There I spotted Professor Tim Lenton who was in charge of the Exeter climate change MOOC that I signed up for earlier this year:

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tim was wearing a badge that said "I'm a climate researcher. Ask me anything!", so I asked him something!

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim told me that the Exeter MOOC had gone even better than expected, with over 16,000 people signing up for the course out of which over 10% managed to complete it. Apparently this is well above the "industry average", so Tim was very pleased with how things had turned out.

Next I bumped into three more people wearing "Ask me anything!" badges. They were Tom, Steve and Chris, and I asked them about their own research:

Tom Powell, Steve Beckett and Chris Boulton at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tom, Steve and Chris at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

We'd never met before but their faces were familiar to me since they were the ones asking Tim Lenton questions in many of the videos that constitute a large part of the Exeter climate change MOOC course materials. It turns out that Tom is researching "humans as a newly evolved but very significant element in the relationship between life and the Earth", Steve is looking at "the ecology and evolution of marine microbial systems, in particular the interactions and coevolution of bacteria and their viruses", whereas Chris is using computer modelling to investigate how to potentially get "early warning of environmental tipping points".

By now it was time for the evening's main event to start. I always try to sit at the front on such occasions, where this time I found myself sitting next to Professor Neil Adger. I was having a quick chat to him when he apologised for the fact that he had to go and stand at the front and introduce the forthcoming proceedings! Here's what the panel for the public forum looked like, and it seemed they would each have 7 minutes to present an overview of their specialist subject:

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

A video of the complete session should be available shortly is now available, so for now I'll concentrate on the question and answer session at the end. I had a couple of energy policy questions I wanted to ask Catherine, so I kept waving my arm in the air, but somehow I never managed to catch Peter Gibbs' eye. Somebody else did manage that tricky feat, and Peter described her as "the lady in the Green cardigan" when directing the microphone in her direction. She turned out to be Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party's lead candidate for the South West of England in the forthcoming European elections, who effectively asked one of my questions for me by suggesting that "if politicians aren't dealing with climate change perhaps we have the wrong politicians" and garnering a round of applause from the assembled throng as a result. Catherine didn't seem any keener on those politicians than Molly, saying that she had "very little faith in any governments" and "we really need a completely new way of thinking about [UK energy policy]".

The message was very clear that things are not moving fast enough if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. According to an article about the conference in The Western Morning News, Prof. Mitchell told them that:

Personally, I think the IPCC report shows how much mitigation we have to undertake if we are to meet the 2C target – in Britain we are nowhere near and we have to up our game.

The report shows that by 2030 globally we should be getting about 25% of our energy – for electricity, heat and transport – from low carbon sources but we have had a process in place since 1990 and we have only managed 3 to 4% so we are way off target.

The Government really has to start explaining, not in a scary way, what climate change means to people’s daily lives and manage that change.

There will be winners and losers – I would argue the Government spends too much time looking after the losers – the fossil fuel companies – rather than innovative new businesses.

Soon the Q&A session was over. Neil apologised for the fact that I hadn't got to pose a question to the panel. I thanked him but told him not to worry. I headed over to the table and asked Catherine some questions in person! More on that and Friday's events in my next post. Until then though, lots of the slides from the presentations on both days have already been made available.They should be required reading for every politician (and prospective politician) on the planet!

View the slides from Thursday's presentations.
View the slides from the public forum on Thursday evening.
View the slides from Friday's presentations.

Should said politicians prefer watching videos to reading IPCC reports they could always try starting here instead:

P.S. Some alternative interpretations of the Transformational Climate Science conference are now available at:

Simple Climate – IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough

The Exeter Blog – Transformational Climate Science

Angus Ferraro – Transformational Climate Science – meeting report et seq.

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May 13, 2014

Ann Daniels on "How to Become a Polar Explorer"

Ann Daniels was born in Bradford, but now lives near Exeter. In this video recorded at TEDxExeter 2014 she explains how her first visit to Dartmoor led her from being a mother of triplets to becoming a leader of Polar exploration expeditions as well:

Apart from that Ann also enquires:

What's the point in finding out this [scientific] information… if we don't do anything with it, if we don't change the world, if we don't tell the people that are not scientists?

She also explains that she first learned about ocean acidification from Pen Hadow on the 2010 Catlin Arctic Survey expedition:

Of the carbon dioxide we emit, around 30% goes into the oceans. It's always happened… and the oceans have been able to act as a buffer, but at a cost. Since the industrial revolution this has been changing the chemistry of our oceans. In the Arctic Ocean already they're becoming more corrosive, and it's already causing problems with the minutiae of the ocean. As the carbon dioxide goes into the salt water it forms a weak acid called carbonic acid and this is what's causing the problem, and it's a huge problem. What we can do about it?

Answering her own rhetorical question Ann suggest 5 small things that can make a difference:

  1. Use your car less
  2. Make your home energy efficient
  3. Use green energy
  4. Buy locally, and plan your meals so you don't waste food
  5. Don't use bottled water

Make the small changes, for the world you live in.

Hear, hear!

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