What we know

I’ve just found this great interview with Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University, and he is a delight to listen to. If I were making a movie about some impending catastrophic event which included a part for an honest and dedicated scientist whose role was to alert the human population, I would pick Richard Alley. He just really looks and acts the part which I realise is a dumb thing to say because he really is the part! I just think he does a great job.

The interview, which is less than 9 minutes, is a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), What We Know initiative which is to try to communicate to the public that human-caused climate change is happening, that it carries dangerous risks and that the sooner we act the lower the costs will be.

The “What we know” initiative has three key messages they want to communicate:

1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.

2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.

3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do. Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk.

The AAAS has released a full report specifically aimed at a large audience to address the myth that the scientific community is divided on the issue of climate change. It can be read here.

65 thoughts on “What we know

  1. I should have added in my post that we should hope that this story isn’t like the movies where no-one listens to the honest and dedicated scientist until it’s too late.

  2. Reblogged this on And Then There's Physics and commented:
    Interesting video interview with Richard Alley, that I had been tempted to write about but, since Rachel’s already done so, I’m going to be lazy and simply reblog her post. I’m also going to close comments on my re-post so that if anyone wants to comment, they can do so on Rachel’s blog. Of course, if Rachel would rather people didn’t, she can always re-open comments on my re-post 🙂 .

  3. The video wouldn’t play for me so I looked at a few videos on youtube. I can see why you are impressed by RA. He’s an excellent communicator. I hope your movie and real life have a happy ending.

  4. Well, you’re obviously the target audience the “What We Know” PR junket was aimed at Rachel – and clearly it’s had the desired effect.

    Sadly for the AAAS, qualified scientists active in the fields they covered have had rather different reactions:-

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/03/23/the-aaass-lost-climate-integrity/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/03/18/to-aaas-what-we-know-earth-hasnt-warmed-significantly-in-over-a-decade-climate-models-failed-to-predict-this

    At least, everybody, including yourself seems to recognise that this is jus another exercise in “climate communications” – so nothing to take seriously.

    Meanwhile it’s still freezing here in the UK.

    1. Let’s count the basic logical problems:

      – the troposphere isn’t the climate system, only a tiny part of it

      – the models track observations much better when run with updated forcings (Schmidt et al. 2014)

      – the slowdown in the rate of surface warming is the result of a transient increase in ocean heat uptake aka “natural variability” and has been over-blown by pseudosceptics for rhetorical/political purposes

      – Weather anywhere, including the UK is not climate

      What a mess, FG.

    2. “Qualified scientists in the fields they covered”? RP Sr.’s field is mesoscale meteorology. Where is the critique based on that? Jim Steele appears to be no more than a non-PhD field technician who spent most of his working career as a high school teacher. His specialty is, if anything, bird identification and banding.

      Having not seen the latter’s site, I had a look around and noted that cherries were thick upon the ground. This gem popped out since it had an accompanying graphic:

      “He soon discovered maximum temperatures in the Sierra Nevada had declined since the 30s (see graph) as observed at the nearby Tahoe City weather station that is part of the US Historical Climate Network.”

      Srsly, FG?

      1. Here’s some actual science on measuring temperatures in the Sierra Nevada. FG might want to recommend it to Jim Steele to read.

        That paper refers to this one addressing the more general issue of measuring temperatures in alpine regions. It says in the abstract: “Weather stations on valley bottoms were distinguished from those located on slopes, the former group being heavily influenced by a cold-air drainage process.”

        So better not use those valley bottom locations to draw conclusions. Where is Tahoe City, FG? And is there perhaps any other large geographical feature in its immediate vicinity that might tend further to make it a less than reliable indicator of temperature for the whole of the Sierra Nevada?.

        USCHN stations generally are located in valley bottoms (where the towns are located), so even the temperature trend the network shows for the Sierra Nevada may be misleadingly cold.

        However did Expert Scientist Jim miss all this material, one wonders.

  5. My favourite part: his discussion of weather forecasts being (a) imperfect (b) hugely useful (c) neither red-state nor blue-state. Excellent. Easy for anyone to understand, though weather-people do in fact still get stick for not being better predictors, rather than credit for the spectacular job modern models, analysers and presenters do.

    1. Dan,

      Yes, I liked that bit too. I also thought it pertinent for him to compare the climate change warnings to meteorological warnings of things like approaching hurricanes. Meteorologists don’t always get these forecasts right but people still take precautions and rightly so. Only a fool would fail to take heed of warnings that a large hurricane was approaching.

  6. i believe that,.for the general public, the statement that – 97% of climate scientists now agree (emphasisng ‘climate’ scientists) – is the the most significant and persausive statement of all. Shout it it loud. o_O

      1. Probably it has more to do with the many problems with the study. If you do things that are very flawed methodological, you’re going to find yourself in hot water among the serious researchers.

        Probably you’ve seen Richard Tol’s response, but here it is:

        http://richardtol.blogspot.com/2013/06/draft-comment-on-97-consensus-paper.html

        Richard has been an IPCC lead author, so the idea he is a contrarian is a bit of a strained position to take.

        Note this isn’t an endorsement of Richard’s criticisms, as much as an observation that it wasn’t just “contrarians” that saw substantive flaws in this paper. One obvious glitch in the reprint of results is the 97% refers to the number of papers, not authors.

        Because this seems to be necessary, I agree the number of researchers (climate and otherwise) who endorse the “weak consensus view” that the “97%” refers to is very high. It may well be closer to 99 + a fraction of a percent.

      2. I’m really going to have to disable auto-correct. I meant to say:

        One obvious glitch in the *reporting* of results is the 97% refers to the number of papers, not authors.

      3. Carrick,

        Yes, point taken. I have seen that post of Richard Tol’s before and I am well aware that he has objections to the Cook paper. He brings them up quite a bit 🙂

        It has still been a good way to communicate to the general public that most climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming and we are to blame. I think it’s because of that paper that people, at least in my acquaintance, have started to think there’s more to climate change than they previously thought.

      4. Was that the comment that got submitted and rejected?

        Tol plays nicely with colleagues enough of the time to be included in the IPCC process but, as his work is frankly not all that impressive, perhaps that has a lot to do with there being not all that many economists to choose from in that particular sub-field.

        And not a contrarian? Give me a break.

        Doesn’t the 97% of scientists refer to the Doran survey rather than the Cook paper?

      5. If you want to test for a stronger consensus view, you have to start vetting for qualifications. For some real alarmism, survey the paleoclimatologists. It’s hedgehogs all the way down.

      6. One obvious glitch in the reprint of results is the 97% refers to the number of papers, not authors.

        Not strictly correct. The analysis by Cook et al. was of the abstracts and they found that 97% of the abstracts that mentioned AGW endorsed AGW. But they also asked the authors and 97% of the authors responded that their papers endorsed AGW. So, in some sense, it’s both. 97% of abstracts/papers endorse AGW and 97% of scientists (unless one’s going to argue that there are scientists publishing papers that endorse AGW but who themselves don’t). To be honest, it all seems a bit pedantic. It’s clear that there is a high level of agreement ans all the fuss people make about how the 97% study is reported seems much more like they don’t like the result and hence want to find some way to criticise it.

  7. I felt transported bavck in time to AIT. I sensed the disembodied spirit of AG.

    Wholly unsupported fear mongering. Reprehensible in fact. Criminally negligent perhaps.

  8. ATPP,

    Did you offer your post as comic relief?

    Tipping points. Please. Greenland ice sheet. WAIS. 23 feet of sea level rise. These are ridiculously remote scenarios (we might better worry about asteroids) that even if happenned would occur over milennia (so are actually much less worrisome than asteroids). They are offered up simply to scare people.

    Linking Katrina to CO2. Please again. No such connection exists. It is, but another, appeal to emotion.

    The only factually correct statement in the video is that CO2 is increasing. Everything else is fiction wrapped in the language of a scary fairy tale.

    What we know? Really. We “know” that scary stuff “might” happen. We are “afraid” that scary stuff “might” happen. This is drivel. And you ought to be calling it for what it is.

    Criminally negligent? From a moral POV, you bet. This man offers himself as an authority then proceeds to tell lie after lie in an explicit attempt to convince folks to implement energy policy that will kill poor people.

    It perfectly antiscience. I am surprised that you would tolerate it.

    —————————————————————–

    (from a legal POV, no I wouldn’t support those kinds of prosecutions – it is too hard to know malice from incompetence and a law like that would be too easily abused)

    1. What we know? Really. We “know” that scary stuff “might” happen. We are “afraid” that scary stuff “might” happen. This is drivel. And you ought to be calling it for what it is.

      Scary stuff *will* happen if we shove surface temperatures up so fast ecosystems and agriculture cannot adapt. Either you know better than all the ecosystems scientists in the world (including marine ecosystems specialists) or this is blustering, unsupported denial.

    2. I don’t think your response is good enough. He made all the caveats perfectly clear. He quite clearly mentioned that it’s long term but pointed out that we don’t know if we are close to, or may have passed, a tipping point. If we are – and we pass one – then we’re essentially guaranteed those sea level rises. It would still take centuries, but passing the tipping point means there’s little we can do about it. What’s the point of having such scientists if we don’t want to allow them to tell us what the evidence is suggesting?

      His point about Katrine – if I remember correctly (I don’t have time to listen again) – was about sea level rise. That is very clearly attributable to warming. His point was also – I think – simply to illustrate tipping points. If you’re 1 cm below the sea wall, you’re fine. If you’re 1 cm above the sea wall, you flood.

      What we know? Really. We “know” that scary stuff “might” happen. We are “afraid” that scary stuff “might” happen. This is drivel. And you ought to be calling it for what it is.

      Nonsense, this is a top notch scientist and science communicator telling us something about what may happen in the future. He’s doing precisely – in my opinion – what he should be doing. Your attitude – in my view – is of someone who just doesn’t want to hear the message and also doesn’t listen carefully enough to realise that he is presenting this information carefully and clearly. That’s well within your rights, but arguing that Richard Alley’s presentation is perfectly anti-science is completely absurd.

    3. This applies perfectly to you, Kdk33-of-the-Armchair:

      This man offers himself as an authority then proceeds to tell lie after lie in an explicit attempt to convince folks to implement energy policy that will kill poor people.

  9. ATTP,

    I’m somewhat taken aback at your reply, because you seem to readily acknowledge my complaint, but find it acceptable.

    The video is “what we know”. But what he actually says is that we “know” scary things “might” happen. Which means “we don’t know”. So (aside from CO2 increase) the video literally says “what we know is that we don’t know”. It is a collection of unsupported scary stories and writing utensil metaphors – empty rhetoric, as you say – to drive a political obejective of adopting an energy policy that will kill poor people.

    I’m not sure if you think this is OK because he is a scientist (which I would find bizarre) or because he is driving a political objective with which you agree (which I think is fairly likely) or maybe you just don’t like the poor (which is snark).

    Either way, there is no evidence to suggest collapsing ice sheets. Sea level has always been rising and it is not accelerating. Tipping points are amorphous speculations and we have no idea if CO2 is driving to or away from one and no idea if we are close to one and no idea if they even actually exist.

    OTOH. This kind of “communication” is a skeptics best friend; so, in a way, I support putting it to the public. I guess we agree on some things after all.

    And I’ll leave Rachel’s blog alone now.

    1. I’m somewhat taken aback at your reply, because you seem to readily acknowledge my complaint, but find it acceptable.

      No, how do you possibly get this? I think your argument is absurd, so please don’t suggest that I agree with you.

    2. I tried to reply, but it disappeared. I’ll try again.

      I’m somewhat taken aback at your reply, because you seem to readily acknowledge my complaint, but find it acceptable.

      No, how do you possible conclude this? I think what you suggest is ridiculous, so please don’t suggest that I somehow agree.

    3. Repeating the same junk that was deconstructed above and refusing even to acknowledge my comments. Par for the course intellectual dishonesty from kdk33.

    4. Either way, there is no evidence to suggest collapsing ice sheets. Sea level has always been rising and it is not accelerating.

      Rubbish, rubbish and rubbish: the Eemian, no it hasn’t and yes it is.

    5. kdk33,

      It is a collection of unsupported scary stories…

      If you investigate Richard Alley’s background, you will see he has published quite a bit about abrupt climate change. This is because he pulled out an ice core in Greenland in the 1990s and discovered that the temperature there changed by about 15F over a period of about 10 years some 11,500 years ago. This is scary and contrary to what you said, it is supported by evidence. Here are some sources of information:

      *A paper in Science: Abrupt Climate Change.
      *A podcast of Alley explaining what he found in the Greenland ice core Earth’s tipping points and Abrupt climate change
      *A paper in PNAS: Ice-core evidence of abrupt climate changes.
      *Another podcast with Alley as well an article about his research: Richard Alley on abrupt climate change.

      I don’t know why you think it is OK to come here and make strong and unsupported statements yourself while dismissing all of this evidence outright. It’s possible that the climate will behave itself and the changes will be slow but it’s also possible that it won’t and if there is evidence that is has changed abruptly in the past – which there is – then we would be foolish to ignore it.

  10. Rachel,

    Climate has changed in the past. It will change in the future. We should be prepared. I’m fully on board with that.

    Alley may be a scientist, but what he is communicating is not science. His thesis is that CO2 might be driving us to undefined but scary tipping points. This is not-falsifiable. It is not data supported (and ATTP agrees in his 12:46). It is a scary story meant to influence a political debate. It is the opposite of science. It is anti-science.

    I am reminded of the Michael Tobis theory that CO2 is causing weather to change in ways that are simultaneously dangerous but not detectable. Just drivel.

    Don’t confuse science with stuff scientists say. It is not the same thing. I encourage you to think critically and for yourself.

    Cheers!

    1. kdk33,

      It is not data supported (and ATTP agrees in his 12:46).

      No, I do not. Stop claiming that I do. It is extremely annoying. I said we don’t know if we are close to or past a tipping point in those ice sheets. I did not say that there is no evidence to support the idea of tipping points and no evidence to support that we may be close to one. We don’t know is not the same as we know nothing. Maybe I should “for certain” after “know”.

      BBD has provided evidence for the existence of tipping points. Both the WAI and Greenland are losing ice mass at an increasing rate. And let me make something quite clear; even if you can semantically interpret what I said as you have, it is not what I was meaning to say. As far as I’m concerned what I was meaning to say is much more relevant than what you’ve chosen to interpret me as saying. This standard tactic of interpreting what you think someone has said and then insisting that they stick with it (despite clarifications) is a standard ClimateballTM tactic.

      I’ll quote something that I read on Stoat’s blog that may be apt

      If you find yourself arguing by putting words into other people’s mouths, that’s a sign that you’ve gone wrong

    2. Climate has changed in the past.

      Eemian interglacial: ~1C- 2C warmer than the Holocene, MSL ~6m higher than Holocene.

      Cenozoic hyperthermals, eg PETM, ETM-2, MECO.

      End-Permian extinction.

      It will change in the future.

      Which is the point. You behave as though S is tiny. You have denied this in the past and were caught in a lie as you explicitly stated that this was in fact your belief. But paleoclimate behaviour essentially rules out low S and reveals lukewarmerist fantasies as simply sciency-sounding denialism.

  11. ATTP,

    I agree “we don’t know if we are close to or past a tipping point”. It immediately follows that “we don’t know if we are moving towards or away from one”. It also follows that “we don’t know if CO2 increases or decreases the risk of crossing a tipping point”. If you would like to draw the logic tree where the last 2 don’t follow from the first, I’d be delighted to see that.

    Please note that you are sidestepping the issue. Whether or not there is evidence of abrupt climate change in the past is a very different question than how CO2 might change our risk of crossing one. And as you say: we don’t know. Ergo, it is not supported by data.

    The hypothesis in the video: that CO2 increases our risk of crossing tipping points. I claim this is non-falsifiable. And not supported by data. And therefore anti science.

    I”m sure you disagree. I’m sure you will argue that because there is evidence of abrupt change in the past, then any human induced change runs the risk or causing an abrupt change. This is a logical fallacy. The more general version is: bad things happen therefore we should do no things.

    BTW, what is climateballTM?

    The thesis in the

    1. kdk33,
      And as you say: we don’t know. Ergo, it is not supported by data.
      This is a huge leap and, again, don’t try and put words into my mouth. The data tells us that the WAI and Greenland are losing is mass at an increasing rate. Both basic physics and past climate history tell us that we would expect there to be tipping points beyond which it is virtually impossible to reverse continued ice mass loss. Suggesting that we shouldn’t discuss this because the data isn’t definitive is anti-science.

      The hypothesis in the video: that CO2 increases our risk of crossing tipping points. I claim this is non-falsifiable. And not supported by data. And therefore anti science.
      Rubbish.

      The more general version is: bad things happen therefore we should do no things.
      What are you actually arguing here? Sounds like you’re saying, “oh well, we don’t really know anything for certain about the future, anything that can happen in the future has probably happened in the past, let’s not do anything”. Of course, by do nothing, you really mean “do nothing that I don’t want to do”. We always do things. Everything we do is a choice. We can not “do no things”.

      what is climateball(TM)
      You’re playing it, whether you realise it or not.

  12. “I”m sure you disagree. I’m sure you will argue that because there is evidence of abrupt change in the past, then any human induced change runs the risk or causing an abrupt change. This is a logical fallacy.”

    Why?

    What’s different about GHG forcing in the past and GHG forcing now (except the fact that the rate of increase now is vastly greater than any known paleoclimate event)? If GHG forcing in the past caused hyperthermals, why will it not do so now?

    If Eemian GAT just 1C – 2C warmer that the Holocene resulted in WAIS collapse and ~6m higher MSL why won’t that happen again if GAT increases to Eemian levels?

    You are assertively spouting crap again.

  13. hmmm…..

    (Scary data from, you know, scientists –)
    Rate of sea level rise tidal gauge: 1.5 mm/yr
    Rate of sea level rise satellite: 3.0 mm/yr
    Greenland contribution to SLR: 0.3 mm/yr/C

    I leave the algebra as a pedagogical exercise.

  14. BBD,

    I’m genuinely flattered that I mean so much to you. Sadly, I must report that the feeling is not mutual.

    In these arenas the moderators will tolerate your insults and name calling because you are on their side. I will not be offered the same lattitude. Given that this constitues the bulk of your content and contaminates all of it; I find it better to let you reveal yourself on your own. You do a good job.

    It’s probably better that we leave poor Rachel’s blog alone. She didn’t ask for the likes of an evil denier like kdk33 to invade her personal space (and I do apologize).

    Climateball. I see now. I like the concept, and I do sometimes play. But I do take the issue seriously. All work and no play… Perhaps on another occasion you can invite Willard (but not Joshua as he is tiresome) and it can be 3 against 1 and we can have a fair fight.

    It will take the GIS 10,000 years to melt at the current rate. Even the accelerration on temperature is astonishly not alarming. Sea level has been rising as long we know and it isn’t accelerating. There simply isn’t evidence that we are approaching a tipping point of any kind.

    The claim (or the worry or the fear or whatever) that we are is not falsifiable. There is no way to test it. And we don’t know… well, all of the things I said above. It simply isn’t science.

    What are we to do with this information. Sure, lots of scary things might happen. We will (not might) suffer an extinction threatening asteroid impact – we only don’t know when.

    Perhaps this analogy holds. I have a new job and commute to work on a lightly traveled highway. It takes 45 minutes each way. One day I see two wrecked cars beside the road. I conclude someone might have been hurt. Therefore the highway is dangerous and I should travel the surface roads. But the surface roads double my commute. I lose 90 minutes of every day. The traffic isn’t predictable; sometimes I am late for work, sometimes I am late for dinner. The start and stop is hard on my vehicle; bad gas mileage; more maintenance. There is a very real cost for my change. One day I accidently run a red light. Suddenly I realize that I’ve no data on the frequency and severity of accidents on the surface roads. I have no idea if I am more safe or less. I then acknowledge that I don’t have similar data for the hwy. What was my real risk in the first place. I reluctantly confess that I really don’t know the histories of the crashed cars the underlie my decision in the first place.

    I take the hwy.

    Apoologies again to Rachel.

  15. Research topics for you:

    Basal melt of embayed ice shelves

    Increase in Antarctic coastal upwelling driven by zonal windspeeds (see increased basal melt; ice shelves)

    Effects of same on glacier flow rate

    Gravity-driven glacial drainage of terrestrial ice sheets; ‘tipping points’ and irreversible change

    Inherent instability of marine ice sheets (see retrograde grounding slope)

    Surface melt, seasonal albedo-flip, vertical transport of meltwater, basal lubrication, flow rate, fracture dynamics, ice sheet collapse

    Etc.

    I don’t know why I bother. I don’t know why you are allowed to post here.

  16. I did put kdk33 on moderation last night before going to bed but he/she uses two different email addresses and I mistakenly only moderated on one of them. Then this morning I have been a bit preoccupied.

    kdk33,

    You imply that you have sympathy for me and don’t wish to impose yourself on my blog, but then – when you say you will “not be offered the same lattitude” – you accuse me of moderating inappropriately and of being unfair to you. I presume you realise that I am the moderator of my own blog.

    I think your comments are unreasonable. We have presented you with evidence and in response you dismiss this evidence without providing any yourself. I am the first to confess however that I don’t possess the powers of argumentation to deal with you, so I respectfully ask that you don’t comment here anymore.

    With regards to your highway analogy, the risk of a car crash may very well be low, but it doesn’t stop us from taking precautions anyway: seat belts, speed limits, air-bags. The risk of abrupt climate change may also be low – and I completely disagree with your assertion that what he is communicating is not science – but we ought still take precautions.

    If Richard Alley goes out in the field, conducts experiments, takes observations and publishes his results, then surely this is science. I think it’s condescending for someone who does not do these things themselves – do let me know if you’ve visited Greenland and pulled out ice cores there – to sit in front of their computer accusing the people who do spend time doing this of *not* communicating science when this is exactly what Alley is doing.

  17. kdk33,

    “Whether or not there is evidence of abrupt climate change in the past is a very different question than how CO2 might change our risk of crossing one. And as you say: we don’t know. Ergo, it is not supported by data.”

    We don’t know, ergo it is a risk. It is the conclusion that it is safe which is not supported by data.

    More generally, if you know you have a problem but you don’t know if it is a big problem or a small problem, you have a big problem.

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