Belated follow up to Fraser Nelson’s agreement that climate change science consensus is valid

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Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, backs climate change science consensus!

Dear Fraser,

First of all, apologies for the huge delay in posting this blog, which is a response to your tweets on Thursday (7.4.11). I was genuinely delighted to read your two tweets.

@frasernels says: “wish we cld fight, but I don’t disagree with you on the science 🙁 My problem is with the efficacy of the proposed solutions.”


@frasernels says: “my humble role as editor is to encourage debate via brilliant writers. My own views on climate change science are boringly orthodox”


A week previously you seemed much less certain about the science and wrote: “I’m not yet persuaded. How much is man’s activity contributing to global warming? Is it 20 percent? 80 percent? I haven’t seen a proper paper that attempts to quantify it — perhaps Simon can find me one.”


I suspect that many of your readers will be surprised by your tweets (“I don’t disagree with you on the science” & “My own views on climate change science are boringly orthodox”). Perhaps it was the links I provided in my previous blogpost that helped you clarify your position. Or perhaps you have taken on board some of the points made by Professor Tim Palmer and Sir David King in the Spectator debate.


Whatever the reason, I am now assuming that you would answer Yes to my five previous questions, which essentially means agreement with the consensus on climate change science:

1. Do you agree that increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gases lead to an increase in the global temperature?

2. Do you agree CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased from 280ppmv to 380ppmv (35%) during period of industrialisation?

3. Do you agree that the Earth’s climate has warmed by 0.6 degrees in the last 50 years?

4. Do you agree human contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a major factor in the warming over the last century?

5. Do you agree best scientific predictions estimate further rise of 1.1 to 6 C over 100 yrs based on good (not perfect) models?

I suspect that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which appears to adopt an anti-consensus attitude, will be disappointed by your acceptance of the scientific consensus. For example, Lord Lawson, one of the GWPF speakers at the Spectator debate, made his anti-consensus views clear in an exchange of letters with the Chief Scientific Advisor Sir John Bedington, which was obtained following a Freedom of Information Request and then published on the Carbon Brief website. This is very much worth reading.


In short, Lord Lawson seems particularly keen to focus on the first decade of the 21st century in order to argue that manmade climate has ended or never happened. He fires off a volley of sub-GCSE criticisms of the climate consensus, which Sir John calmly deals with point by point.


Perhaps Lord Lawson’s obsession with the first decade of the 21st century explains why every page of the GWPF website contains a global temperature graph covering 2001 to 2010. Had the graph been extended to include previous decades then it would have been much more helpful, as pointed out by Sir John: “…in order to assess the impact of greenhouse gases on global temperature, it is necessary to consider the long-term (multi-decadal) trend…. When we consider the record decade by decade…it is clear that even allowing for uncertainties in the observations, that last three decades have each been significantly warmer than the previous one ie the error bars do not overlap.”


Why does the GWPF fixate on just a few years of data when we can look at decades, centuries or millennia of data? GWPF appears to have a “less is more” (or “homeopathic”) approach to data.


Worse still, the GWPF appears to be so ideologically opposed to the climate change consensus that it could not see that the graph that initially peppered its website was, in any case, flawed. Steve Connor in the Independent (3.12.2009) wrote:


But for an organisation set up to expose such data manipulation, it was indeed unfortunate that the logo was itself a travesty of the truth. For a start, it contained at least one obvious error, spotted by Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The original logo depicted 2003 as having the highest global temperature of that highly selective series of years, which was not the case. Benny Peiser, the director of the new foundation and a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, admitted that there had been a “small error by our graphical designer”.

Mr Ward also points out that the data used in the logo comes from a dataset compiled by the Met Office and the very same Climatic Research Unit that the foundation criticises for data manipulation. Even the amended version of the logo appears to show that 2006 and 2007 were warmer years than 2004, which is not the case.

“I am surprised that the members of the foundation’s academic advisory council have not been scrutinising the information on the website to ensure it is correct,” Mr Ward said.

It is also odd that the foundation chose to represent just eight years of data, from 2001 to 2008. If it had included 2000, and the latest data on what is known of 2009, then the shape of the logo would look very different – even more so if the past 150 years of data were included.


Anyway, back to the main point of this blog.


Fraser, you made two other points in your tweets.  The first was point was to declare that “…my humble role as editor is to encourage debate via brilliant writers”. I hope you will also aim to discourage contributions by writers who are ideologically driven and who are ill-equipped to deal with difficult scientific issues. At least one of your bloggers raises the sort of criticisms raised by Lord Lawson, and he shows very little insight into the science of climate change.


Your second point was perhaps the more important one. Having accepted the scientific consensus, you say: “My problem is with the efficacy of the proposed solutions.”


In the same way that it was very helpful to pinpoint where you stand on the science (i.e., alongside over 90% of climate scientists), it would be good to clarify where you stand on the solutions and the need for solutions.


Starting from your position (and the consensus position) that the best scientific predictions estimate further rise of 1.1 to 6 C over the next 100 years based on good (not perfect) models, please can you state which of the following statements you agree with?


1. Do you agree that a potential increase in global average temperature of more than 4C by the end of the century cannot be ruled out, and indeed the probability may be as high as 50 per cent, if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise at current rates?


2. Do you agree that the potential economic and social costs of a warming of more than 4C could be so high that they should be avoided, even assuming cost-effective adaptation to some impacts were possible?


3. Do you agree that taking cost-effective action to avoid a temperature rise of more than 4C means reducing global emissions over the next century by at least 50 per cent so that there is a 50 per cent chance of a warming of less than 2C, and thus only a very small chance of a warming of more than 4C?


4. Do you agree with the economic estimates that such reductions in emissions could be achieved at a social and economic cost that would be much less than the potential impacts of unchecked climate change?


5. Do you agree that the best approach to climate change is through evidence-based risk management?


6. Do you agree that one of the main aims of successfully managing the risks of climate change is to limit the probability of reaching so-called tipping points, beyond which very severe impacts would become extremely difficult to stop or reverse, such as melting of the major land-based ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica?

Originally posted on slsingh’s posterous