Thesis: The presentation of sea ice in TAR4 used only a sub-set of the data. It should use a wider range of data with reference both to data which were available at the time of TAR4, and data which have become available since.

The technical summary presents the following set of graphs:

The way the graphs are presented is reminiscent of graphs of return on investment of rivals presented by some of the less honest financial intermediaries. Those for the Arctic are presented as anomalies with a scale set so that the full range fits in the rectangle and it seems as if ice extent has fallen close to zero. For the Antarctic, where the area of ice has been tending to increase, they have used the same scale which conveniently minimises the increasing tendency of Antarctic ice.

The following graph presents the same data, updated to May 2010, but as extent not anomalies.

This very clearly shows that on average there are similar areas of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, that the variation is much larger in the Antarctic than the Arctic and the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is only partially balanced by the gain in the Antarctic. A linear regression through the average values suggests that the Arctic has lost 50,000 km2 per year whereas the Antarctic has gained 14,000 km2 per year. The average total area of sea ice 23.9 million km2 so this loss represents a rate of 0.15% a year.

The Synthesis Report also mentions the break-up of the Larsen B ice shelf. This was an area of ice partly floating and partly resting on land and joined to the main Antarctic ice shelf. It was located on the most northerly (i.e. warmest) point of the Antarctic. The area of the ice shelf was 3250 km2 and its weight was 72 billion tons. The loss of the ice shelf has become iconic and it has been compared to the area of Rhode Island or to the trillions of 20 lb bags which could be filled (though not in the IPCC report). In relation to the area of the Antarctic ice sheet it represents only 0.02% of the area or 0.003% of the volume.

We do recognise that the minimum area of sea ice is a useful metric. The albedo (reflectivity) of ice is high and that of sea water is low. In summer, when ice is at a minimum and sunlight at a maximum, the albedo effect is important and the fears that the low Arctic minimum of 2007 could lead to a progressive reduction in sea ice area were valid.

At the time of the TAR4 there was little information available on ice depth and volume. From October 1998 daily values of ice thickness are available from the US Navy polar ice prediction system(PIPS). The forecast values of ice thickness use weather forecasts, and buoys and ice concentration data from the Special Sensor Microwave Image (SSM/I) are used to initialize the system's forecast. The results are available as GIF images. A typical one is given below.

To derive areas and volumes the graphic images were downloaded analysed. The projection used is not an equal area project so the areas derived were approximate. They were based pro-rata on a scanned image of Greenland. During the analysis it was found that the colours representing thickness range 0.5 to 0.75 were never present. It should also be noted that occasionally there were anomalous values, for example for a few days the Caspian and Aral seas were included.

The following graph shows the area and volume of sea ice from October 1998 to May 2010. These figures only apply for ice greater than 0.75 m thick and consequently the areas are less than those of ice extent in the above graph.

In general the volume and area show similar variation but after the low summer minimum of 2007 the ice area recovered well in 2008 but the volume. This is reflected in the chart on ice thickness.

This shows that minimum ice thickness was less in 2008 than in 2007, giving some support to those who said the ice that year was “rotten”. It is interesting to note that the ice thickness is bi-modal; one maximum occurs in May when the ice area has just passed its maximum and the second in September near to the point when it is at its minimum. This can be seen more clearly in the following graph where compare average thickness with current ice thickness.

The shape of the graph suggests that ice thickness is belatedly reaching its spring maximum. How it will develop in the coming months is something we will follow with interest. What these graphs do show is that Arctic sea ice is recovering in terms of volume, are and thickness.

In these “theses” we generally do not concern ourselves with short term effects so to counter that remember that during the last inter-glacial sea levels were 6 m higher than at present. Although melting sea ice does not affect sea levels we can none-the-less expect more melt independent of any anthropogenic effect.

IPCC TAR5: The presentation of graphs data in TAR5 was biased to give an exaggerated impression of ice loss. In TAR5 the presentation should be more balanced. It should use a wider range of metrics to assess changes in sea ice.


Thesis: That the discussion of sea level rise in IPCC TAR4 has much to recommend as a model for other topics.

Those of you who have already seen our first thesis, on global temperatures, may have got the impression that we were out to ‘get’ the IPCC. This is not the case. We are self-financed and have no agenda. As we say on our Home Page: “We are trying to prove only one thing: rational debate is possible when participants have access to the facts.”

In TAR4 the increase in sea level is presented in the following graph.

This graph appears as Figure 3 in the Summary for Policy Makers and elsewhere (We have extracted the sea levels from a compound graph which also showed Global Average Temperatures and Northern Hemisphere snow cover). It combines levels from tide gauges (circular dots) and satellite measurements (the red line).

In the summary the accompanying text says: “Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961 to 2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8] mm per year. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer term trend is unclear.” Similar words appear in the Technical Summary and the Synthesis report. What is commendable in this case is that even in the condensed Summary for Policy Makers there is no attempt to attach a high level of significance to the higher rate of sea level rise for the ten years preceding the preparation of the report.

The Technical Summary also states (Paragraph 3.3.3): “The tide gauge record indicates that faster rates similar to that observed in 1993 to 2003 have occurred in other decades since 1950.” This is supported by the following figure in Chapter 5 of the main report.

This contrasts markedly to the global temperature graph we discussed in the previous ‘thesis’. (http://www.climatedata.info/Discussions/Discussions/opinions.php?id=5404421343497121129 ).

There are two areas where the increase could be presented in a wider context in TAR5.

Firstly since TAR4 was written there is more evidence of sea level changes in the last couple of thousand years.

The blue crosses represent relative sea level rise for Vidarholmi in Iceland as calculated by Gehrels et al. No adjustment has been made for post glacial rebound but this is unlikely to have varied substantially over the period of the estimates. The figure before 100 AD may have been modified by compression in the salt marsh sampling area but even so the levels after that date suggest that recent rates of rise are by no means extraordinary.

The green circles show estimates of sea level on the coast of Israel calculated by Sivan and Toker. They are based on archaeological evidence from different broadly defined time periods (e.g. Hellenic or Crusader). The dating and levels are not given to a high degree of accuracy but also suggest that rapid sea level changes might have occurred in the past.

The red line, provided for comparison, is the increase since 1702 based on tide gauges by Jevrejeva et al. This confirms that the rate of sea level increase accelerated around 200 years ago and is not a recent phenomenon.

The second point is that in the previous interglacial sea levels were about 6 m higher than they are today and in other interglacial periods levels were from 3 m to 20 m higher. It is therefore possible than in coming centuries many coastal locations on earth might experience sea level rises of the same order of magnitude as those estimated by Sivan and Toker. That said there are many coastal cities in the world, such as Marseilles, Akko (Acre) and Naples, which existed well before the start of the present era and which have adapted to sea level changes.

IPCC TAR5: The TAR4 dealt with sea level changes accurately and in a responsible way. However the IPCC TAR5 could be improved by expanding information on the context of the projected level changes.

Gehrels et al., Rapid sea-level rise in the North Atlantic Ocean since the first half of the nineteenth century. The Holocene 2006; 16; 949

Shivan and Toker, The Sea’s ups and downs. http://newmedia-eng.haifa.ac.il/?p=2330

Jevrejeva, S., J.C. Moore, A. Grinsted and P.L. Woodworth. 2008. Recent global sea level acceleration started over 200 years ago?, Geophysical Research Letters, 35


At the start of 2010 the IPCC attracted a lot of criticism for three projected climate change impacts which were poorly supported. These were that Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035, that African agricultural yields could fall by 50% and that 40% of the Amazonian rain-forest could react drastically to changes in precipitation. In each case the source of the claim was speculative and lacking sound evidence. The IPCC’s response was that in such a major series of documents it was well nigh impossible to avoid a few mistakes. To some extent this is true but the fact the errors all erred on the side of exaggerating the effects of climate change says much about the IPCC’s lack of balance.

We believe however that there are more serious criticisms which can be leveled against the IPCC.

Science is only as good as its data and in many cases the data presented by the IPCC tell only part of the story.

Since we are criticising the IPCC we should make out own position clear. So where do we stand? We believe that the science and data show unequivocally that temperatures today are higher than would have been case were it not for greenhouse gases emitted by human activity. On the other hand we do not believe that the more extreme forecasts of increased temperatures and their impact have been proven. We also believe that there are good reasons for reducing use of fossil fuels, of which effect on the climate is but one.

We also believe that climate modelling is important for the future. In the past, design of anything affected by weather, urban drainage or water supply for example, has been based on a statistical analysis of past data. It is now clear that a fundamental assumption of such analysis, that the events analysed are independent of each other, is invalid. To be able to predict natural and anthropogenic changes in climate should become the new paradigm for engineering design.

Our position, and that of those who have studied the science and share our views, is similar to that of Martin Luther, the 15th century reformer. He was, and remained all his life, a Christian but he thought that the activities and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church at that time were acting against the faith he accepted. We believe that there is a powerful analogy with the IPCC at the present time. Its performance is such that far from leading the population to accept their assertion that unless radical and immediate action is taking the world will suffer gravely they, by bias and distortion in their arguments, have left many people refusing to accept that humans have any influence on the climate.

Martin Luther put his case by pinning 95 Theses to the door of a church (today he would probably have been a blogger). What we are going to do is to publish a series of ‘theses’ where we highlight some aspects of the IPCC Technical Assessment Report of 2007 (TAR4) which could be improved in the next report (TAR5).

There remains one important question: Why should you believe us? The answer is you won’t have to. For reach of our theses we will give chapter and verse on the section of IPCC TAR4 we are commenting on and the source of the data we use to propose improvements.


This book has two features which differentiate it from the other books reviewed here: it is a novel and relatively unbiased on the topic of climate change.

Ian McEwan is one of Britain’s leading novelists. In interviews he says that he accepts the scientific view that climate change is taking place as a result of human activity. Some newspapers also reported that he had delayed publication of ‘Solar’ until after the Framework Convention on Climate Change Meeting in Copenhagen. From what I had read of his earlier novels I was expecting this novel to contain much wailing and gnashing of teeth but I was wrong. On the author’s web site the novel is described as “an engrossing and satirical novel which focuses on climate change”. I agree with that.

The main character, Michael Beard, won a Nobel Prize in Physics as a young man but he is now in his 50s treading water intellectually and trading on his reputation. He gives lectures and decorates various committees. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, baldness and excessive girth he is a serial husband and philanderer.

One of his appointments is as the one-day-week, figure-head, chief of a government initiative to tackle global warming. Initially showing only lukewarm interest in his sinecure, a combination of circumstances leads him to an awareness that photo-electrical interactions, his own area of expertise, could provide the ideal solution to clean, cheap, carbon-free energy. The book has a few factoids, which I have not checked, which underline his idea. A kilogram of gasoline contains 13,000 watt hours of electricity but the best batteries only store 300 watts hours per kilo. In other words, alternative energy sources have to compete with gasoline’s weight/energy ratio and avoid electrical storage. The third factoid is that the hydrogen in one litre of water has three times the energy of a litre of gasoline. Since hydrogen can be stored, unlocking it from water could provide the ideal clean source.

His route to this realisation is not straightforward. He is invited to join a group of artists concerned with climate change in a ship north (but only just) of the Arctic Circle which he is assured will be “toastily-heated”. One of the book’s great comic moments is when outside of the ship he stops to satisfy the needs of nature and discovers that at very low temperatures flesh sticks to metal zips. The irony of living in comfort, building ice-sculptures and riding snowmobiles to see vanishing glaciers as a protest against climate change is not lost on him.

While head of the government alternative energy centre, Beard decides to back a helical wind turbine for use on the roofs of private homes. The initial enthusiasm is soon worn down by health-and-safety concerns, current conversion and other problems which take teams of well-meaning but unproductive experts to examine in long and expensive detail.

As Beard's disorganised personal life impacts on his professional life, the invitations to lecture and to sit on boards become fewer and fewer. He starts to develop the idea of clean energy from water. To get development money he delivers a speech that Al Gore would be proud to a convention of investment bankers.

When the idea is getting closer to realisation, his business partner, whose seen a woman professor of atmospheric studies on television saying it is getting cooler, starts to wonder if people will still be willing to pay for alternative energy sources. Beard reassures his partner by saying :

'Here’s the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. There’s drought in the Amazonian rainforest. Methane is pouring out of the Siberian permafrost. There’s a meltdown under the Greenland ice sheet that no one really wants to talk about. Amateur yachtsmen have been sailing the North-West Passage. Two years ago we lost forty per cent of the Arctic summer ice. Now the eastern Antarctic is going… It’s a catastrophe. Relax!’

Remember, the author accepts that anthropogenic climate change is taking place yet here he is lampooning the tendency of ‘warmists’, to revel in bad news. The ‘deniers’ are no better; they are never happier than when airports are closed by snow storms and motorists are trapped by blizzards.

Despite the author’s beliefs he has the perspicacity to see participants from both sides, warts and all, in a clear objective way; if only those who write technical books on climate change were as perceptive about the science.

Author: Ian McEwan

Publisher: Jonathon Cape, 2010
ISBN: 9780224090490
Comments (1)


If you’ve found this review you probably know the story but basically it is this. Temperatures before the middle of the 19th century can only be estimated indirectly from proxies: physically measurable characteristics of plants or animals which lived at earlier times and which respond to temperature changes. In 1999 a young climate researcher, Michael Mann, and colleagues published a paper in Nature which suggested that temperatures at the end of the 20th century were higher than at any time in the previous 600 years. The graph of this, shaped like an ice-hockey stick, became iconic and appeared several times in the IPCC 2001 technical assessment report and elsewhere. In 2002 a retired mining engineer, Steve McIntyre, became suspicious of the fact that the paper both contradicted conventional wisdom and gave an ideal message for climate change activists that he started to investigate. His findings led to Congress setting up to two high level technical enquiries and a congressional committee held hearings.

Those of you who have seen my review of ‘Dire Predictions’ by Mann and Kump might imagine that I would automatically give a favourable review to this book. After all it is the very antithesis of the view of climate by IPCC insiders like Mann and Kump. But that is not how we work at climatedata.info. We try, as far as possible, to avoid polemics for polemics sake and let the data speak for themselves.

The author of this book, Andrew Montford, is a blogger who uses the pseudonym ‘Bishop Hill’. He started off as a political blogger and has a Bill of Rights for the UK on his site. The Bill of Rights shows that he is of a libertarian disposition and is therefore not predisposed to accept the restrictions which would be necessary to bring about a major reduction in carbon emissions. He admits in the book that his site only took off when he started blogging on climate the ‘Hockey Stick’.

The book reads well, is well referenced, and appears to be a crushing indictment of the IPCC and the paleoclimatologists who developed the ‘Hockey Stick’. To the author, Steve McIntyre is definitely one of the ‘good guys’ and beyond reproach. Whilst it tries to present arguments from both sides there is no doubt that the book is very partisan.

In referring to the meeting to discuss the ‘Hockey Stick’ by the National Academy of Sciences in the USA he discusses the response of Michel Mann to a question concerning verification of the calculations. In a published paper Mann had reported that he had calculated a particular statistic (r squared). In the book he is quoted as telling the meeting “We didn’t calculate it. That would be silly and incorrect reasoning.” I have Googled those phrases and the only source I can find is Steve McIntyre’s blog at climateaudit.org which is the source referenced by the author. There appears to be no transcript of the NAS meeting, at least I could not find one online. I have also studied the transcript, and listened to much of the recording, of the subsequent congressional hearing and can find no evidence to support what is claimed to have been said at the NAS meeting. My attempts to get to the bottom of this do not prove or disprove what has been claimed but to make such a serious charge without independent verification is a clear example of bias.

Throughout the book frequent reference is made to scientists withholding data and there is always the assumption that if data is withheld there are nefarious reasons for it. One of McIntyre’s complaints was that Bristlecone Pine trees were central to calculation of the ‘hockey stick’ but that the data from the trees stopped in 1980, just as the main warming started. He therefore set about visiting the site to resample the trees. This was done and the cores were re-analysed. I have tried to access the data using the links on his site including
http://climateaudit.org/data/colorado/SMCD.dat but the links are dead. In a footnote in the book the author says [McIntyre] “has yet to publish the findings in a journal.” I am not assuming there is anything sinister in this but the fact that the author so glibly accepts the lack of openness from McIntyre but assumes ill-intent from others is a further demonstration of his bias.

Enough of the polemics: where does this leave the science?

Climate scientists are under pressure from politicians to present a clear picture. There is no dispute about the fact that many climate scientists felt that if temperatures had been warmer in the historic past than the present this would dilute the message they could deliver to the politicians. When a climate scientist appeared to be able to prove that current temperatures were indeed higher than in the past millennium they jumped at it as way of getting their message across. The ‘Hockey Stick’ became the star of the 2001 IPCC report. However my feeling is that on balance the climate science community regrets the prominence given to the hockey stick. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly the aim of the IPCC is to convince the public of the necessity to take action on climate change. The use of temperature proxies has been so well discussed that many well informed citizens are aware of the need to ‘hide the decline’ or believe that everything is based on a few trees in Siberia. The ‘decline’ refers to the fact that in recent decades trees in the northern hemisphere are not responding to temperature increases in the way they were assumed to; this brings into question the accuracy of long-term temperature estimate based on tree rings. Many people also believe that scientists have ‘cherry-picked’ the trees, the Yamal series from Siberia, that give the answer they want. This was one of McIntyre’s first criticisms of Mann, that his method selected proxies that gave a ‘hockey stick’. Many scientists now would agree that temperatures in the medieval period were similar today but the science is not accurate enough to be able to say whether they were slightly warmer or cooler.

In an attempt to support the ‘hockey stick’ some climate scientists, including Mann and Kump in their book, say they accept that in parts of the world the medieval period was warm but the warming was less general than today. This argument is a bit disingenuous. In those parts of the world where written records of the medieval period exist there is evidence that medieval temperatures were high but of course not all parts of the world have written records of that period. So the argument comes down this; one side says “warming only occurred in parts of the world with written records”, and implies it did not elsewhere and the other side says “warming occurred in all parts of the world with written records” and implies that it did elsewhere.

Secondly, the question of past temperatures does not of itself determine whether or not anthropogenic warming is taking place. The temperature could be rising as a result of human action now even if temperature in the past were higher than today. Where it is critical is in discussing the impacts. If temperatures had been 2 °C higher in the past it is difficult to argue that a rise of that order of magnitude would be catastrophic.

From reading his blog I have always felt that Steve McIntyre viewed his role as scientific and he has made many attempts to reach out to the scientific community. Andrew Montford definitely has a political agenda and would probably be sceptical about climate change whatever the science said. I am not sure that McIntyre is well served by this book.

Author: A. W. Montford
Publisher: Stacy International, 2010
ISBN: 978 1 906768 35 5


The Reader’s Digest magazine used to publish what they referred to as “unexpurgated abridgements.” By this they meant that they had left in the exiting bits and cut out the boring bits. This book could be considered an “unexpurgated abridgement” of the IPCC 2004 Technical Assessment Report. A lot of the detailed science has been left out but the elevated temperatures and other symptoms associated with an attack of ‘dire era’ are given lurid prominence.

The book does give a clear and approachable synopsis of how our climate operates and how human activity can lead to changes. As an introduction to the science, the book is quite good. It is clearly written and has good supporting material. It also tackles some of the issues raised by sceptics.

In a recent double interview in Discover magazine with Judith Curry and Michael Mann, Judith Curry drew a nice distinction between ‘political sceptics’, who do not want climate change to be true, and ‘scientific sceptics’, whose opinions are based on the evidence. I would suggest that there is a third type of sceptic: the ‘bar-room’ sceptic, who’s not reticent about sharing his knowledge over the internet. You know the type “Why does the IPCC ignore the book ‘The incredible lightness of being’ by the Russian Milan Kovich which proves CATEGORICALLY that the recent so-called warming has all been due to fluctuations in the earth’s orbit?” Unfortunately the authors tend to engage with this level of sceptic rather than the scientific sceptics. The issues where there is real scientific debate, the ‘hockey-stick’ and the urban heat island effect are either ignored or glossed over. Instead they rebut claims that the increase in CO2 is due to natural fluctuations, which scientific sceptics generally accept, or raise the hoary chestnut of “In the 70s the scientists said we were in for global cooling so why should we believe them now?”

The way they tackle the cooling/warming issue says a lot about the authors’ scientific credibility. They present a pair of graphs (page 45 in my edition) which show that the northern hemisphere temperature fell from 1940 to 1970, which explained the then current belief in cooling, and then again increased. Like the rest of their graphs there is no reference to the source but as it starts in 1850, and only the CRU record started in that year, it is reasonable to assume that that was the source. Yet their graph is very different to the CRU one: they show temperatures rising from 1970 to the present by 1.8 °C but the CRU data shows a rise of less than half of that. Elsewhere (pages 20 and 88 in my edition) they show graphs of ‘past observed surface temperature changes’ with an almost constant rate of temperature rise and no sign of the 1940 to 1970 fall. This is very different to the above graph. Since the observed global temperature record shows similar variation to the northern hemisphere record that does not explain the anomaly. Once again without references it is difficult to be definitive but it is almost certainly the ‘modelled’ temperature increase which they have presented as ‘observed’. This gives the false impression that the temperature increases projected by the models follow on naturally from steadily rising observed temperatures.

The book is in fact heavy on dire predictions, based on model projections, but very light on evidence that the models were able to represent past changes accurately. For example, they talk of precipitation changes as being probably of ‘more importance than temperature changes’ but present not a shred of evidence of how well models simulated precipitation. At least the IPCC report does have a shred of evidence: a graph which occupies 1/8 of a page!

What is most frustrating is the fact that this biased, one-sided, presentation of the facts is counter-productive. I fully accept that people are in part responsible for the recent temperature increase. I fully accept that there are many reasons, one of which is CO2 emissions, for reducing fossil fuel consumption. I fully accept that climate projections should play a major role in how we plan for the future. Yet, largely because the IPCC and scientists chose to ignore Abraham Lincoln’s dictum and think that in this ‘information age’ they can ‘fool all of the people all of the time’, the number of climate change sceptics is currently growing.

To give a final example: in his book “Cool It” Bjorn Lomborg mentions the 35,000 people killed in a heat wave in Europe. He also mentions that many more people die of cold in winter and follows it with a nuanced discussion of age profiles and the difficult moral question of how you balance the deaths of old people and of children. In this book only the heat deaths are mentioned. If you are an intelligent, thoughtful, person which approach is most likely to help form your opinion?

I also noticed a typo on the back cover where the book is described as being a scientifically ‘based’ overview. And where, you might ask, is the typo? It’s the missing “i” of course?

Authors: Michael Mann and Lee Kump
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7566-3995-2


“I feel that it is important to not let bad, politically motivated science stand unchallenged.“ This is a quote we could all agree with and is part of the motivation behind our site. Only too often both ‘deniers’ and ‘warmists’ select a sub-set of the available science and then push it beyond reasonable limits to further their cause. Our mission is to sort out the justifiable from the bogus.

The authors of this book are, to use the current term, ‘warmists’. Their book is based largely on the IPCC 2007 assessment report which both of them contributed to. To their credit the authors have managed to avoid some of the recent brick-bats thrown at the IPCC. They do not repeat the scientifically dubious claims regarding Himalayan glaciers, African agriculture or the Amazonian rain forest. What is more they found no space in their book for any reference to Dr Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, whose commercialisation of the IPCC in the interest of organisations he is associated with has attracted much opprobrium. That said, there is a lot of politically motivated science in their book.

One of the most egregious examples of trying to gull the gullible is in their figure 3.1, reproduced below:

This purports to show that the linear trend of temperature increase is accelerating but is completely spurious for two reasons. Firstly, given that temperatures have been both rising and falling, there will always be short periods when the rate of rise is higher than the long-term average. Secondly, the 25-year rate of rise around the period 1910 to 1945 is almost the same as the 25-year period they show at the end of the record. The authors repeat their claim in the chapter summary: “Measurements unequivocally show that we are in are in the midst of an accelerating global warming”. They are wrong: there is no evidence that the rate of temperature increase is accelerating. [Postscript. The authors attribute this figure to the IPCC TAR4 Summary for Policy Makers figure 3, which does have a plot of temperatures, and I assumed they had added the rate of temperature rise. In fact the figure comes directly from the IPCC Technical Summary figure 6. So, I apologise to the authors for trying to hoodwink the public; they themselves had been hoodwinked by the IPCC.]

The authors do something similar with sea level rise. They state (correctly) that the rate of rise over the 20th century estimated from tide gauges averaged 1.7 mm/year. They also state that, in 2003 when the IPCC report was prepared, satellites had been showing a rate of increase since 1993 of 3.4 mm/year (also correct). They conclude that this indicates ‘the sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades.’ What they do not tell us, though Rahmstorf as a Professor of the Physics of the Oceans must have known, is that the rate of level rise has fluctuated and a rate of 3.4 mm/year was not unknown in the past. What they also should also have known, since their book was published in 2010, is that for the last few years the rate of rise estimated by the satellites has hovered around the long term rate of 1.7 mm/year. Again the facts show their science is politically motivated.

The book is well produced with colour photos and graphs. The use of colour seems sometimes to be at the expense of the science. The statement “in many parts of the world, the fraction of the total annual rainfall that comes down on just a few very wet ways has increased” refers to figure 3.6. Rather than a graph supporting this assertion we get a photo of bus driving through about 20 cm of water. Another example of a disconnect between the text and the cited figure relates to tropical cyclones. They quote the IPCC report as saying there is “no trend in the total number [of tropical cyclones] that occur each year” then show a graph of Tropical Cyclone counts. This graph incidentally has 4 lines, only 3 of which are referenced in the key. In relation to hurricanes the other claim they make, that ‘trends since the 1970s [are] towards more intense and longer-lasting cyclones’, may be true but ignores the fact the estimates of cyclone energy since 1851 show periods of rising energy, 1860 to 1890 and 1920 to 1950, similar to that from 1970 to 2005. The Energy Index for 2009 was actually below the average in the 1970s. The authors could not, of course have known that particular fact at the time of writing, but quoting short-term trends as evidence of long-term climate change carries the risk that a reversal of the short-term trend appears to invalidate the argument. I use the word “appears” advisably; in reality short-term trends in a system with as many “random jitters” (their phrase) as our climate say next to nothing either away about long-term changes.

One might expect the author of the quote at the head of my review to applaud my efforts to debunk politically motivated science. It won’t happen. The quote is from an email sent by Stefan Rahmstorf himself.

Authors: David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf
Cambridge University Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-521-73255-0


Over the last few months there has been a remarkable change of tone among the climate science community. Until recently sceptics were treated as barely worth the consideration of ‘real’ climate scientists. The CRU emails showed clearly how attempts were made to prevent the publication of any paper questioning climate orthodoxy or, should such a paper have been published, to prevent it appearing in any IPCC publication. That has now changed; or at least the rhetoric has changed; only time will tell if the underlying philosophy has changed.

One sign of this was a recent article in a national newspaper by the UK government’s Chief Scientist, John Beddington. In the article he says “The impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change.” Not to be outdone his predecessor, David King, has weighed in with an article which makes a similar point.

This is in marked contrast to a statement by the same David King in 2004, who was still at the time in post, that climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism. Not much sign of scientific openness there.

The discussion of the CRU emails, when they got through to the main stream media, was probably the first time many of the public were aware of any dissention regarding the inevitability and magnitude of climate change. In this atmosphere of heightened awareness we have had ‘Glaciergate’, ‘Amazongate’ and now “Africagate”.

The first of these, Glaciergate, related to claims in an official IPCC report that glaciers in the Himalayas could disappear by the year 2035. The claim was based on speculation by an Indian scientist in an interview with the New Scientist, a British popular science magazine. This claim was included in a report by the WWF which was quoted by the IPCC as a reference. Although a number of comments were made during the draft stage of the IPCC report it was not removed. Initially the IPCC tried to defend the claim. Dr Pachauri the chairman of the IPCC said criticism was based on ‘voodoo science’. However the IPCC has now accepted that the claim was without justification.

Amazongate refers to a claim in another IPCC report that “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation". As a source the IPCC again referred to a WWF/IUCN publication on forest fires. This time the WWF publication did give a reference – to a publication in the highly respected science journal “Nature.” That article was titled “Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire”. In it there is a reference to 40% but it is to selective logging which leaves the remaining forest vulnerable to fire. There is a separate reference to sensitivity to drought during El Nino events. So again, the IPCC claim is not substantiated.

The third of these claims relates to African agriculture. IPCC has claimed that in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020. Whereas the other two claims in were in specific sections of the main body of the report, this claim appears in the synthesis report which highlights the most important issues. Dr Pachauri was himself a contributor to this report and has quoted the claim on many occasions. As with the other claims a report from an advocacy group is given as source and tracing the references back reveals a different picture to that presented in the IPCC report. The report was based on submissions to the IPCC from three countries: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Only one of these uses the figure of 50% relating it specifically to grain yields in drought years with a lesser reduction in other years. So from a statement relating to one country and one crop under specific conditions the IPCC has produced a statement which appears to have implications for all rain-fed crops for the whole of Africa. 

These three specious claims were revealed by sceptics not by the IPCCS internal review system. No wonder sceptics were not welcome in the past.

The defence of the IPCC to these errors has been to say that in a series of reports totalling 1,000s of pages a few errors are not unsurprising, true, and that they do not call into question the underlying science of climate change, also true. That misses the main point. At the highest level the IPCC was using unsubstantiated claims regarding the impact of climate change to further its case and scientists who were aware of the fallacies in these claims felt cowed and failed to speak out.

The IPCC is part of the United Nations system which has the delicate task of according equal status to all its members whilst also acting as a conduit for development aid to some of them. In Africa, Asia and South America (regions where these problems occurred) there are UN member countries in receipt of development assistance. Some of these do not have adequate budgets for their national meteorological services let alone the super computers, free access to the scientific literature and funds for conference attendance that ‘western’ climate scientists expect. One telling comment from one of the IPCC draft report reviewers was that he could not assess a comment as he was not able to access a copy of the Nature article which someone had mentioned in that comment.

So what for the future?

There have been suggestions that the IPCC has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced. This won’t happen. As Copenhagen showed, future action will depend on interaction between high carbon and low carbon emitting countries and this is only possible within the context of the UN. There have also been calls for the replacement of Dr Pachauri as Chairman of the IPCC. If this happens it will done following UN established procedures. Dr Pachauri was appointed to replace the previous chairman who was seen by the US to be too ‘warmist’; it was political move and political considerations will predominate in any replacement. The only debate will be whether he should be replaced by someone from another Asian country or whether it is now the turn of South America or Africa.

It is significant that the most articulate scepticism has come from a class which could be described as ‘technical non-academic professionals’. This describes people like Steve McIntyre (minerals exploitation), Anthony Watts (meteorologist) and David Holland (engineer). The leading sceptical blogs often have article-length postings from people, probably from a similar background, who have examined climate records in detail and raised serious questions about the way they have been processed. The scrutiny these people provide is more intensive and searching than that provided by peer review (aptly renamed ‘pal review’ by one blogger).

This suggests a way forward. There is a large group of technically qualified people who, whilst not climate scientists in the strict sense of the term, have spent their lives working with climate data: in areas such as water resources, urban drainage, irrigation, dam spillway design, etc. It is such people who have identified the weakness of the academic approach; they should be given a chance to see if they can do better.


This book could have equally have been called “A Blueprint for Copenhagen 2010”. Now, it might seem a bit unfair to comment on a book written before December 2010 in relation to what happened in that month. In Nicholas Stern’s case it is fully justified. As a former Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and of the World Bank and as the author of the UK government’s, globally influential, review of the Economics of Climate Change the author has been deeply involved in shaping policy.

The book is well written and the author has the ability to clarify complex issues. One of these is the relative merits and disadvantages of controlling CO2 emissions by a Carbon Tax or by Carbon Trading. With a Carbon Tax you know what it will cost but not how much it will reduce emissions; with Carbon Trading (Cap-and-Trade in the US) you know by how much it will reduce emissions but not what the financial implications are.

He also deals with one of the main criticisms of the Stern Review. Some economists argued that his conclusions were, in part, an outcome of his choice of discount rate. This is an important issue and it is worth looking briefly at what the “discount rate” is. The discount rate is used by economists for comparing alternative investments. For example when building a bridge how do you decide whether to build a 4-lane or a 6-lane bridge? If you build the 6-lane bridge part of the capacity will be unused for many years; if you build the 4-lane bridge you will have to face the cost and complication of widening it at some date in the future. The answer is to work out how much money you would have to invest now to pay for the bridge to be widened in the future. The rate of interest used for this calculation is called the discount rate and is typically around 6%. If the amount you have to invest now more than than the cost difference between a 6-lane and a 4-lane bridge you build a 4-lane bridge; if it is the other way around you build a 6-lane bridge now.

In his review Nicholas Stern used a much lower discount rate than the 6% mentioned above. He justifies his choice on two grounds. The first is that conventional economics assumes that whatever is being considered will not alter the ground rules; the type of bridge you build will not alter the economic assumptions underlying the comparison. With climate change, which could have major impacts globally, the assumptions of conventional economic are no longer valid. The second justification is that the real rate of return on safe long-term investments, such as government bonds, is also much lower, around 1.5%.

The crux of his argument is that mitigation, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, makes more economic sense than adaptation, waiting for it happen and adjusting our life styles as a consequence.

No one can question Stern’s economic credentials and, wisely, he simply accepts the science. In a paragraph on adaption he shows a lack of understanding of why people quote the fact that the Romans made wine in Northern England. He suggests this is used as an example of adaptation. It is not. It used to demonstrate that at the time when Roman civilisations was spreading over Europe and North Africa temperatures were higher than they are today.

I started by saying the title of this book could have included “Copenhagen”. There is actually a chapter in the book called “The structure of a global deal.” The key elements identified are: a 50% cut in world emissions by 2050, developing countries to start reductions from 2020, carbon trading to be introduced world-wide, funding to reduce deforestation, investment in current and new low carbon energy and financial help to reduce the impact of climate change in developing countries. None of this was agreed.

The impasse at Copenhagen could be considered as a failure of the world’s governments to accept the arguments of this book. Despite that it is well worth reading as whatever the outcome economics will play a large part in decision that have to be taken.

Publisher: The Bodley Head, 2009
ISBN 9781847920386


“There is no plan B” was the mantra of the climate activists and politicians who gathered in Copenhagen in December 2009 to hammer out a new agreement to limit carbon emissions. They were wrong. There is a plan B and this book describes it.

Although often called a ‘sceptic’ the appellation does not really apply to Bjorn Lomborg. He doesn’t dispute that global warming is real and is caused by humans. What he does question is the assumption that reducing CO2 emissions is the best or only way of dealing with its effects.

The author set up the “Copenhagen Consensus” which brought together a group of eminent economists to examine ways in which, with a limited amount of money, it would be possible to do most good to most people. The top three were: control of HIV/AIDS, providing micronutrients to tackle malnutrition and trade liberalisation. The last of these three has the double benefit of providing agriculturalists in the developing world with higher incomes and lower food costs to people in the developed world. The three options relating to CO2 emissions came in last.

He also suggests that the benefits of reducing CO2, even if Kyoto had achieved its targets, would have been minimal and delayed the effects of global warming in 2100 by only a few years

His book starts with the iconic polar bears. He points out that in the few areas where bear populations are falling most of the reduction is due to hunting. Other topics he covers and his assertions include:

• Heat deaths. More people die of cold in winter than die of heat in summer. Global warming would reduce weather related deaths.

• Rising sea levels. The rate of rise predicted by the IPCC is not markedly higher than the rise observed during the past century and better sea defences are a cheaper solution. He accepts that the gates designed to protect London from flooding have indeed been closed more frequently in recent years but points out that this was to keep water in during low flow periods not to keep it out during floods.

• Water stress. In most of the world, the increase in rainfall will more than compensate for the extra evaporation caused by higher temperatures.

• Tropical storms. Whilst there had been an apparent increase in storms as monitored by satellites over the last 30 years, longer term data shows no upward trend. The storm which flooded New Orleans did so because of inadequate flood defences not because it was an extraordinary storm.

• Malaria. This is not a disease limited to hot countries, one of the worst epidemics was in Russia in the 1920s, and increased temperature will not necessarily lead to an increase.

In each of these cases, and others that he examines, he compares the costs of a targeted response to the cost of controlling CO2 emissions. However what he compares is the low cost of each specific solution to the total cost of reducing CO2. This is false. The cost of reducing CO2 will be shared between all the problems that will be alleviated by CO2 reduction. Whether adopting this approach would have changed his conclusions is a moot point but he should have examined it.

Despite this reservation I recommend this book.


Publisher: : Marshall Cavendish (2007)
ISBN 978-0-462-09912-5
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