Friday, June 12, 2009

Drowning in Hyperbole

I'm thinking of having a barbecue weekend after next. I went to the Met Eireann website for the weather forecast for eight days hence. There isn't one.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read in yesterday's Irish Times that Prof John Sweeney from NUI Maynooth is predicting that (in the absence of a climate change plan) "If we do not implement a plan over the next decade or two, we will run out of water". Met Eireann can't tell me what the weather will be like in seven days' time but John is predicting the weather with complete certainty for twenty, forty and even one hundred years time.

Upping the hyperbole stakes even further, Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth is quoted in the same article as saying that the summit on climate change in Copenhagen this December will be the “most important meeting of world leaders since World War II”. All if which is a bit odd because the EPA's recent report on climate change and its impact on Ireland paints a far, far less alarming and more manageable picture.

But I guess that doesn't make for interesting headlines, does it? Still, here's one forecast I am certain of: expect a disturbing rise in the level of alarming claims about climate change over the next six months - far in excess of any rise in sea levels over the next sixty years.

And for a more sober and sensible read on the climate challenges we face (and the far more pressing energy challenges) check out this fascinating interview with Prof Ian Plimer. He brings an earthy, Australian perspective to the climate debate.


  1. I think you are confusing weather and climate.

    It is pretty much accepted that if we stay on the present course we are in trouble.

  2. One of the long-range [succesful] forecasts made on global warming is published in Nature (1972):

    "The scientific consensus on the amount of global warming expected from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has changed little from that in Sawyer's time."

    Nature 448, 992 (30 August 2007)

  3. Gerard,
    Oisin is right, even if the physical effects of climate change turn out to be benign in Ireland. Our international and regional obligations to de-carbonise our society and economy will indeed prove as profound as Oisin makes it out be.

    Also at a recent post IPCC AR4 update in Copenhagen, observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario projections (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events.

    I would schedule your bbq before all that gets too much!

  4. The problem I have with so many pronouncements on climate change is their air of utter certainty. The science of climate science is still developing, and has many holes in it with very serious consequences for the likely accuracy of any forecast models.

    The failure of financial models in the past 18 months should teach us a thing or two about the limits to our ability to forecast anything, especially in 20/50/100 years from now.

    And especially when most climate models failed to predict the peaking in global temperatures 11 years ago ...

  5. Gerard,
    Regarding the economic modelling and forecasts, there was enough factual data to tell us and the rest of the world that we were drowning in debt and enough commentators telling us that it was no longer sustainable.

    Sometimes we need to use intuition and facts to arrive at a conclusion, the same can be applied to climate change.

  6. And especially when most climate models failed to predict the peaking in global temperatures 11 years ago ...

    That could be read a number of ways. One, that models failed to predict the transient spike in 1998, where Feb was massively and a number of other months substantially above trend. Two, that the trend peaked then and temperatures are now declining.

    As a professional data analyst you will of course see the problem with the first: models predict central tendencies, not outliers.

    For the second, it is true that for some years after the spike, sceptics were claiming that since it was now cooler, GW was over. However as time has continued to pass, only the more clueless (or disingenuous) can persist in that line -- if you look at the past 10 years of monthly data you see a significant linear upward trend of about 1.9C per century.

  7. @Anonymous
    I'm not sure about the value of intuition when it comes to forecasts 20-50 years out. Certainly useful in the short term (agreed about financial models) - though I think we're better at intuiting human behaviour than climate behaviour don't you think?

    Agreed about the need to differentiate data outliers from data trends. I would just add we need to look at all the trends: the past ten years, past thirty years ... past 900 years. I am sympathetic to those who suggest we may be experiencing 'over-lapping' trends - which means it could be 2030 before we can 'call it' definitely (in terms of either warming or cooling).

    As argued here:

  8. political understanding is that global warming is caused by man-made activity well it is not, it is in fact the sun that is responsible for the current changes in the Earth’s temperature. the testimony of many scientists and climate experts, furthering a growing dissent to the man-made theory. After all, that’s all it is, a theory. As soon as people start to state that “the debate is over”, beware, because the fundamental basis of all sciences is that debate is never over, that questions must be asked and answered and issues raised in order for the science to be accurate. I cannot believe that so many people believe that man is causing this climate change, it is insane. the climate has being changing for millions of years on it's own without any help from man. it just looks to me that some of these scientists are just looking for more funding for a fake theory. many many world scientists are stating that it is not man that is causing global warming and for the ice breakup or melting that all these idiots are talking about, well thats just the summer breakup and it happens every year and has being happening for a long long time. it is time for most people to educate themselfs on the facts not lies.


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