Extremely Disconnected from Reality – the Public, the Politicians, and the Policymakers


A headline in The Guardian, 27th April 2015:

Headlines like the one above have all been helping to convey a message that extreme weather events are both increasing, and attributable to human intervention.  Note the picture chosen to accompany the article!

A little bit alarming, eh? But wait. A calmer mind has been looking at extreme weather events since 1900, and he finds that there were more extremes in the first half of the 20th century than in the second half. His recent paper on this raises many concerns, but perhaps the main one is that the policymakers are liable to have the view captured by the Guardian headline, rather than be informed about what the empirical data actually supports.

Professor Michael Kelly, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, is the author and his paper can be downloaded from here.  (hat-tip:  notalotofpeopleknowthat). Kelly has clearly been exercised by two reports on the increased frequency of extreme weather events being attributed to ‘man-made global warming’ and purporting to be providing sound advice to governments. He notes that the relevant IPCC working group claims that this warming ‘started in earnest in about 1960’, and also that they have low confidence in being able to attribute recent extreme weather events to this warming. A special IPCC report known as SREX supports this view. Kelly notes that SREX relies heavily on papers that use data beginning in 1950 or 1960, and that they use upper and lower deciles for their analyses rather than more widely used definitions of extremes which use ‘several standard deviations away from the average’ as their guide. Not withstanding this, Kelly has taken his own look at the 20th century data, and he finds ‘the weather in the first half of the 20th century was, if anything, more extreme than in the second half’.

But who else has noticed this? Kelly captures one crucial problem here: ‘The lack of public, political and policymaker appreciation of the disconnect between empirical data and theoretical constructs is profoundly worrying, especially in terms of policy advice being given.’ The ‘two reports’ mentioned above are from the Royal Society of London, the second of them being a joint work with the US National Academy of Science. Kelly notes that the first is ‘without empirical foundation and the second is misleading’.

————–An Aside to Look for Evidence—————————-

I found it easy to find supporting evidence of  ‘The lack of public, political and policymaker appreciation of the disconnect’. Here are some triggered by flooding in England in December 2014:

PUBLIC, January 2015: ‘The results suggest that being hit by an extreme weather event makes climate change more prominent in people’s mind’ from a survey run by a group at Cardiff University 

POLITICIAN, January 2014:  ‘the prime minister said he suspected global warming could be responsible for an increase in extreme weather events

POLICYMAKER, January 2016: Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the UK’s Environmental AgencyHe added: “We face a very big challenge now in an era of more extreme weather, and the way to deal with the challenges is to deal with them together.”

Paul Homewood has challenged talk such as that above in a series of posts in which he actually looks at the data!  See (1), (2), (3), (4).

—————-End of the Aside————————————-

Let us return to the Kelly paper. The data he refers to first are HADCRUT4 for global mean surface temperatures, followed by local data sets from the USA, the UK, and Australia. These are locations of some our best climate records, but he includes a sprinkling of reports (see his Table 1) about conditions elsewhere. He also notes with concern the data adjustments that have been taking place which purport to show ‘an increase in the overall rate of global warming’. He concludes that ‘the data integrity for claiming extreme events needs to be shown to be of the highest order, and that the results claimed do not depend on the data manipulation itself’. He gives an example of NASA adding a 0.35C shift, an adjustment which ‘represents about 40% of the century variation.’

The paper deserves more critical review than I give here, not least because of his stark conclusion: ‘Extreme events play an important role in deciding the safety margins and the point where extra protection is not worth it. The lack of clarity about future extreme weather, after 20 years of intensive analysis of future climates is deeply worrying. There is nothing that emerges from references (1,2) [these are the two Royal Society reports mentioned at the start of his paper – JS] that would require a significant refinement of the margins that have applied over the last half-century, and hyperbole is no substitute for hard facts in the engineering of the physical infrastructure. Over-adaptation that is not needed leaves clients free to sue advisors if the problems have been oversold and the costs of protection prove to have been excessive, even on a 20-year basis.’


  1. “Here we apply a similar framework but estimate what fraction of all globally occurring heavy precipitation and hot extremes is attributable to warming. We show that at the present-day warming of 0.85 °C about 18% of the moderate daily precipitation extremes over land are attributable to the observed temperature increase since pre-industrial times, which in turn primarily results from human influence. . . . .
    Likewise, today about 75% of the moderate daily hot extremes over land are attributable to warming. It is the most rare and extreme events for which the largest fraction is anthropogenic, and that contribution increases nonlinearly with further warming. The approach introduced here is robust owing to its global perspective, less sensitive to model biases than alternative methods and informative for mitigation policy, and thereby complementary to single-event attribution.”

    Shame the paper isn’t open access, but the abstract alone reveals the type of scientific mumbo jumbo hocus pocus that this study appears to rely upon.

    Extreme weather attribution was ‘pioneered’ by Peter Stott – among others – to identify how the European heatwave of 2003 was probably our fault and is based on what is known as the Fraction of Attributable Risk (FAR). Put very simply, they used the HadCM3 model to assess the likelihood of temperature extremes in Europe exceeding a certain value with anthro forcings (P1) and without (P0) anthro CO2 forcings and measured the resultant FAR = 1-P0/P1. Hey presto, burning coal and driving around in gas-guzzling 4x4s more than doubled the probability of the 2003 European heatwave happening!

    Nic Lewis identified problems with the HadCM3 models here:

    Click to access Montford-Climate-Model.pdf

    I quote:

    “The estimates of future warming generated by the HadCM3 model are much higher than those implied by several recent studies based on observations.”

    The HadCM3 family of models have ECS = 3.3 and TCR = 2.0, which are considerably in excess of the sensitivities derived more recently from empirical methods. Hence the anthro forcing associated with the use of HadCM3 is going to be significant and it is therefore perhaps no surprise that the probability of an extreme heatwave being due to fossil fuel emissions increases proportionately. But it’s just a number, theoretically derived. To use that number to make policy decisions is sheer madness.

    This new paper goes one better and claims to miraculously divine the likelihood of extreme weather events on a global scale being due to anthropogenic influence. But note the sleight of hand:

    “. . . is attributable to warming [it has warmed, no dispute about that] . . . .
    [the 0.85c rise in global temperature since industrial times] primarily results from human influence.”

    So basically, they calculated the increasing likelihood of extreme heatwaves and precipitation based on the total warming since pre-industrial times and assumed that most of that warming was due to man-made CO2 (as per IPCC AR5 attribution statement and probably then some)!

    Junk science masquerading as the real thing and purporting to be authoritative enough to inform policy making. [Yes, that was an insult ATTP & Geoff Price – richly earned I feel].


  2. John, thanks, yes, that’s interesting:
    “The story of getting it published is worth a paper on its own – I tried the usual suspects but they were not interested in anything challenging. In one journal they tried 12 regional editors, none of whom would touch it, and I was told that I had to find an editor to take it any further. They would not reject it, nor would they process it – it is in limbo. In another it languished without comment for 3 months, so I resubmitted and another three months later nothing had happened to either submission! I gave up and went to an on-line journal.”


  3. PM, you note his difficulty in getting it published, but have you read the thing? Do you think he did any analysis himself, beyond trawling the web for other people’s analysis. His first graph is from http://www.c3headlines.com/2014/12/alarmist-propaganda-those-stubborn-facts-warmest-year-climate-change-co2-hiatus.html The unnamed author says he, “Utilized Excel to calculate 12-month and 180-month (moving) slopes (ie. trends), then multiplied by 1200 to produce per century trends. Then used Excel to plot per century trends.” And the early years where the error margins in the source data are largest show the greatest variation (surprise!) – worth a note perhaps. Even you must be unimpressed by that. Or maybe you’d think that worthy of publication in “the usual suspects”.

    Are his other sources less dubious? He has a blog post from Euan Mearns so I doubt it. And it is hardly worth checking on the evidence of the first. Really if you think this is worth anything, I’d hate to see the quality of students who fail in your courses.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I investigated every category of US climate extreme claimed to be increasing in the 2014 US National Climate Assessment. In every single case, the claim proved untrue. Used newspaper reports and state records going back to the 1920’s. The whole thing was recent weather cherrypicks without reference to historical equivalents. Essay Credibility Conundrums in my 2014 ebook.
    So imdependent of the quality of Kelly’s paper, the same conclusion is reached for the US.


  5. There’s plenty to criticise in the paper. It could have done with careful reviewing. The figures are not very legible, and the references aren’t formatted properly or very clearly, and saying that hurricanes show a “steady decline” isn’t really right. Some of it could be seen as cherry-picking (rainfall in Boston). There’s a typo in the caption of fig 4.

    But as he says in the paper, much of the data is “official in origin”, so whether the graph is plotted by Euan Mearns or anyone else shouldn’t matter.


  6. Here is a handy refrain, to be sung to the tune of the Garden Song:

    Inch by inch, row by row
    We can make the rascals go
    All it takes is to look don’t you know
    For their case is so unsound.

    Those who have time to take a look at the data on extreme weather, can find many useful links in the Kelly paper, and Rud Istvan’s book Blowing Smoke provides more, as per his comment.

    I would also direct my hoped-for investigators to take a look at the NIPCC report ‘Climate Change Reconsidered II’. Chapter 7 is entitled ‘Observations: Extreme Weather’. For region after region of the world, peer-reviewed papers are cited that back-up Prof Kelly’s general thrust, organised under these headings: temperature, heat waves, fire, drought, floods, precipitation, storms, and hurricanes.


  7. …whether the graph is plotted by Euan Mearns or anyone else shouldn’t matter.

    This is a paper from a Cambridge professor. Both he, another professor (PM) and John Shade (is he a prof?) seem to think the paper is fit for a journal of higher standing (“the usual suspects”) than it ended up in. They may have faith in ‘C3headlines’, Euan Mearns and ‘kenskingdom’ amongst others (including JoNova of Force X from outer space fame) to faithfully and competently source, select and plot data that is “official in origin” and if it were a 6th-former’s project I’d agree that is enough for a B grade. But at this academic level, I’d expect the author to have plotted the data himself to check that it was correctly represented. And if he did that he wouldn’t need to use graphs plotted by someone else.


  8. This is an interesting area, and it is pleasing to be able to give it a little more promotion.

    Here Is the US NOAA quietly contradicting their president on weather extremes in California: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2014/10/09/noaa-destroys-global-warming-link-to-extreme-weather/#273be11f6bad

    Here is another collection of references to refute the facile self-seeking mass-media feeding shallow opportunism of the hardcore climatists as they seek to exploit newsworthy weather events: http://www.friendsofscience.org/index.php?id=224


  9. Insurance losses are perhaps a useful metric for assessing the effects of extreme weather events, as they are entirely free of the type of biases associated with peer reviewed publications.

    Here is what the one of the World’s biggest reinsurance companies has to say about 2015.

    Losses from natural catastrophes in 2015 were again lower than in the previous year. The natural climate phenomenon El Niño reduced hurricane activity in the North Atlantic, while it brought major floods and heatwaves to many developing and emerging countries. The deadliest catastrophe, and also the costliest in terms of overall losses, was the Nepal earthquake in April, where some 9,000 people lost their lives and overall losses totalled US$ 4.8bn.


    It is also worth noting the lack of major hurricane landfalls on the mainland of the USA since Katrina.

    Here is a graph of global hurricane frequency 1960-2015.

    Here is a Nature paper on global drought over the last 60 years, exhibiting little change.


    Wildfires in the USA 2004 – 2014

    Little evidence then of serious escalation of extreme weather events.


  10. To John Shade – can you please explain to me why my generally informative comments, generally from scientific publications and recognised scientific authorities which as far as I can see contain nothing offensive to anyone except Global Warming hysterics invariably end up being moderated out of existence – even when – unlike a number of other posters’ efforts – they are in agreement with whatever point you are attempting to make?

    It seems there is little or no point in attempting to back up your researches if you insist in treating me as a troll.

    If you continue to delete my contributions in this fashion I will cease to bother in the future.

    [Hi Catweazle, calm down mate! WordPress puts comments with more than one link into moderation. Thanks for those graphs and links. Paul M.]


  11. If, as a result of human emissions, the weather was getting more extreme then it would be very important to determine what type of extreme, the magnitude and the geographical location of the type of extreme weather. There would inevitably be uncertainties, but something better than nothing would be nice. However, with the desperation to attribute any extreme event to climate change for policy purposes it would probably be better to assume that extreme events were random, with insurance to cover the risks. A competitive insurance industry would mean those who best understood risks would be be the ones to make the biggest profits. the greatest danger would be propagandists who would profit from false alarm.


  12. Raff, I liked your suggestions before you made them. So did all that before my last book published. Guess what? You are fact wrong, at least with respect to purported US regional climate extremes. End discussion.


  13. Catweazle, you have my sympathy. I gave up commenting at WUWT for a long spell because my comments, civil, supportive, and inspired as they were, just never appeared, or only did so days after my attempt to post them. I hope Paul’s note has put your mind at rest.


  14. Roger Pielke wrote a useful summary of what the IPCC said about extreme weather events in its latest report AR5:

    “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century”

    “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale”


  15. Having done a stroll into the scientific literature about weather extremes and their trends, I decided this morning to set off for a wander again through the ‘people, politicians, and policymakers’ aspect of Prof Kelly’s paper. Here are a few things I spotted before noticing there was still some coffee left in the pot:

    2014. di Caprio, a well-known actor invited to address the UN: ‘But I think we know better than that. Every week, we’re seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here now. We know that droughts are intensifying, our oceans are warming and acidifying, with methane plumes rising up from beneath the ocean floor. We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures, and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections. ‘
    2016. And here’s a professor at an English university exploiting the opportunity such a film star’s emoting presents: https://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/exeterblog/blog/2016/03/07/leonardo-dicaprio-oscars-speech-gets-good-marks-for-climate-science/

    2016. Bernie Sanders, presidential nomination hopeful in the USA: ‘But this isn’t just a problem for the future – the impacts of climate change are apparent here and now. Whether it’s more intense forest fires on the West Coast, or more frequent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, or damaging flash floods in California, climate change is here and it’s already causing devastating human suffering. The worst part is this: people who live in low-income and minority communities will bear the most severe consequences of society’s addiction to fossil fuels. ‘

    2016. A retired US admiral chairing a ‘think tank’: ‘David Titley, a retired Navy admiral and chairman of the panel stated, “While we plan for climate, we live in weather.” Titley underscored that scientists need to reckon the impact of extreme weather events like droughts, heat waves, and heavy rain due to global warming. He added that, “These extremes are making climate real when in fact they are attributable to climate change.”

    It was not hard to find such examples. Ah me, what are we like, we poor mortals? The appeal of all this to climate agitation campaigners has been neatly summarised in this extract from a blog post by Marlo Lewis who also refers to work by Roger Pielke Jr:

    2013. ”Although always a staple of global warming advocacy, climate activists have turned up the rhetorical heat on extreme weather in recent years. The reasons aren’t hard to fathom. The 15-year pause in global warming makes it harder to scare people about warming itself. The two greatest terrors featured in An Inconvenient Truth—rapid ice sheet disintegration leading to catastrophic sea-level rise and ocean circulation shutdown precipitating a new ice age – have no credibility. Nobody takes seriously the prospect of warming-induced malaria epidemics either. If you want to scare people, extreme weather is the only card left in the climate alarm deck.
    In addition, a rationally-ignorant public can easily be fooled into confusing climate change risk with plain old climate risk (the nasty surprises Mother Nature generates all on her own). Part of the reason is psychological. Due to their sheer magnitude and terror, natural catastrophes have an almost supernatural aspect. People are naturally inclined to imagine that natural disasters have non-natural causes. Thus, each time disaster strikes, pundits, especially those with scientific credentials, can plausibly blame fossil fuels — just as in earlier ages political or religious authorities blamed “sinners” (i.e., their adversaries) for floods, plagues, crop failures, and the like.” [see original for supportive links on key points made in this quote]

    So, from both the scientific and the popular perspectives, it still seems to me that Prof Kelly is on some mighty solid ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Further to Tom Fuller’s Comment 23 Mar 16 at 5:43 am, ATTP starts the comments thread with

    Since Michael Kelly is a physicist, I thought I might make a further comment. It’s hard to see this paper as simply a consequence of an arrogant physicist who knows better than others, because it is so obviously poor that you’d think that even hubris would not be enough to put one’s name to this.

    Another one for Paul Matthews to add to his examples?

    [PM: Well, yes, it’s hard to keep up. As Richard Tol comments there, the lack of self-awareness is remarkable]


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