This account of the first meeting of the Climate Assembly last weekend is neither complete nor objective. It’s rather long, and I don’t expect it to interest everyone. I was intending to give a summary with a formal list of errors and examples of misleading or incomplete information. It was while transcribing that an idea came to me – no more than a hunch, if you like – which I’ll put in the form of a prediction, which will be falsified or confirmed in the following three weekends (Weekend 2 starts on February 7th.)
My prediction is that this is going to go badly wrong, and there’s nothing the organisers can do about it. My reasoning is that the obvious failings of the experts – the lack of preparedness, the false statements, the failure to answer questions, the poor rapport with the members of the Assembly – are not just due to incompetence or poor planning. They are systemic, inherent in the project since the beginning. My prediction is that the Climate Assembly will be the first large scale revelation of the whole climate change project for what it is: a power play, a parody of a mass movement, a hollow shell of a political process, a gabfest of airheads from academia and bright young ambitious things from the chattering classes. As I say, it’s just a hunch, but a hunch based on what I’ve read and heard, which I’ll try and justify.
I expected a slick PR job presented by cocky professionals, followed by a stage managed Q&A session with the usual banal or incoherent questions, filtered to eliminate anything off message. I was wrong on all counts. The presentations were abysmal, the experts pathetic, and the questions, though filtered and read out on stage (thus sparing us the usual embarrassing longueurs) were generally apposite and intelligent. It was the responses to the questions that led me to a kind of Damascene revelation. They really are worse than we thought. Hooray and thank Gaia.
The fact that the first weekend’s discussions were made available on Youtube here, including the Q&A sessions, subtitled, and with transcripts, made it possible to react swiftly to events, but also made an immediate reaction here less urgent. Everyone can hear and read for themselves what happened. Transcripts were up by Tuesday, all except for the first Q&A session, in which, as Barry Woods noted on Twitter, Professor Haigh had uttered a serious falsehood, in claiming that China had promised to phase out coal-fired power generation. For pointing this out he was banned from the ClimateAssembly account. (So were others, I believe. More information would be welcome.)
The transcript of this session was finally published four days late, with a sort of correction, which itself contains what might be termed“statements liable to misinterpretation”– not actual porkies, but British bangers – i.e. products containing at least 15% porcine material – for example:
“It is difficult to find information on the precise plans for new Chinese coal-fired power plants, but the available evidence shows that their construction continues in China.”
It is not difficult to find evidence that China aims to continue economic growth at a rate of 7% or more before levelling off its use of fossil fuels in 2030. This implies at least doubling its use of coal, so it is not “difficult to find information” that Professor Haigh’s claim that “China has promised to phase out coal-fired power generation” was the opposite of the truth. The correction: “It is difficult to find information on the precise plans…” is itself a misdirection, or cover up, or failure to come clean, which two Expert Leads,“responsible for ensuring that the information provided to Climate Assembly UK assembly is balanced, accurate and comprehensive” laboured four days to concoct.
My first reaction to the presentations was simply that the experts were ill-chosen and ill-prepared, but as I transcribed their responses in the Q&A sessions, it seemed to me that disaster is inevitable, pre-ordained. It’s not difficult to point out statements that were misleading, incomplete, off-topic, badly expressed or just plain wrong, but that’s not the point. It’s not just that they can’t counter the arguments of sceptics. They can’t even express what they mean to themselves, and therefore they can’t interact rationally with the people they’re addressing, even those who agree with them.
The more they insisted that their expertise was of vital importance, because it touches every aspects of everything, from the way we lead our daily lives to the future of life on the planet, the more they tried to engage with the audience, the more we realise that there’s nothing there.
You can’t get there from here. You can’t get from the expert opinion of an atmospheric physicist that the world is warming – that there are fires, droughts, floods, melting glaciers or what not – to a threat to the survival of humanity, however hard you try. The public is aware of the existence of the different pieces of the puzzle; the experts were there to help them to put them together. When they try over the next few weekends, I predict that they will realise that the pieces don’t fit, not because they, the public are too thick, not because the experts are poor communicators, but because the pieces belong to four or five different puzzles.
Of the four speakers on the first morning, the most lucid and well-prepared was Professor Rebecca Willis, who spoke on “Why tackling climate change has proved difficult.” It was dull stuff, but properly structured and clearly expressed. Then came the Q&A session and her chance to respond to the very first question:
“How much of a minority in the UK am I as someone who knows, understands and talks about climate change [as] a serious matter?”
[My comment: This is an excellent question. Coming from someone who evidently considers him- or herself an informed climate activist, it hints at a point I make here again and again. When the tiny minority of informed activists (or informed critics) are treated as indistinguishable from the vast majority who are of the same opinion, according to opinion polls, the debate is falsified. This climate Pharisee objects to being identified with Greta and the vast majority of her fans, just as you and I might object to being identified with Trump and his fans. This person wants the answer to a question that I too consider vital: How many people are really, truly, and in an informed fashion, persuaded of the impending climate catastrophe? Is it the forty million who are “concerned” about climate change according to the polls, or the forty thousand who might turn out to a climate march on a good day, or the three or four who comment at the average warmist blog?]
Here’s Professor Willis’s response:
OK, great question. If you look at public opinion research there’s quite high levels of concern about climate change depending on how you ask the question. About 70% of people are quite worried about it. A fraction of those are very worried about it. In terms of those taking action that’s a harder thing to measure. You would find that out of those 70-odd percent most people have thought about their actions in some way, so they might think about driving less or flying less or they might think about using more renewable energy by switching to a renewable energy tariff for example. There are a lot of things that individuals have done. Some individuals might choose to act by making their voices heard by talking to politicians or by writing or speaking about climate change. But it’s hard to get a sense of what sort of levels of action there are out there.
It’s not that Professor Willis doesn’t know the answer. She hasn’t understood the question. She hasn’t begun to try to understand the question. She doesn’t realise that she hasn’t begun to understand the question because she basically doesn’t care about the question, or any question, because in her world, such questions have no place. Suddenly she’s projected into a strange other world, that of normal human interaction, and she doesn’t understand what’s happening.
According to the Climate Assembly site, “her work focuses on energy and climate governance.” Whatever that garbage phrase means, it does not include understanding of people, their competence, their experience, and their feelings. Not even – especially not – the feelings of people who are anxious to agree with her and look to her for support. I try to imagine the reaction of the questioner, obviously an ardent supporter of climate action, and I can only imagine Professor Willis’s reply as being experienced as a slap in the face.
The Saturday morning session started with ten-minute presentations by Professor Jo Haigh of Imperial College on What Climate Change Is, and Professor Ed Hawkins on Impacts. Jo was expected to summarise the thousand pages of IPCC AR5 Working Group 1 in ten minutes, and Ed to do the same for WG2. They had the slides, but no written notes, so they blathered.
Professor Haigh gave a quick rundown of the greenhouse gas effect, then, three minutes in, she put up a graph attributed to Imperial College and the Grantham Institute (of which she is a deputy director) showing global temperature anomalies from 1850 to the present, and commented:
We’ve now got forty or fifty odd years of satellite data telling us what the temperature’s been doing over the world. But going back further than that of course there weren’t satellites. The instrumental period, thermometers could be used from about the 1850s, and they’ve been at various weather stations over the globe, and again, the data is collected and analysed, and that’s a very careful subject that needs to be done taking into account all sorts of factors about different thermometers and different places and whether the air is changed in terms of urbanisation and that sort of thing. So very carefully collected data over the world. Going back over longer periods over thousands of years we can tell especially what the temperature and humidity have done using indicators like in tree rings and in corals and in stalagmites and ocean sediments can tell us what the temperature and humidity has done over these very much longer periods.
1) The fifty years of satellite data are referred to but is not used on the graph. Why not?
2) “Very carefully collected data” is an odd description of temperatures taken in a bucket, as used for 70% of the earth’s surface for 60% of the period. Particularly as the data so “carefully collected” a century ago has been revised retrospectively so that the rise in temperature during the 20thcentury is now twice what we thought it was 20 years ago.
3) The reference to “tree rings, corals, stalagmites and ocean sediments” is presumably Professor Haigh’s coy way of referring to MBH1998 without actually mentioning the word “hockeystick.” And these proxy global temperatures “go back thousands of years”? Really?
4) And what about 3000 years of recorded human history? Does what people said count for nothing? Are people less reliable than stalagmites?]
Ten minutes in, Professor Haigh was running two minutes late, so she skipped the discussion of these factors (visible on the screen behind her)
Responses which can reduce the original warming (or cooling)
– changes in humidity, clouds and ice
– heat storage by oceans
– natural variations and “noise”
many of which, by coincidence, were also skated over in AR5 WG1
After having said that water vapour was the principal greenhouse gas, she added: “We can’t add to the water vapour in the atmosphere because as soon as – if we were to try and put more in, it would just rain out again, it’s sort of controlled.”
On the Mauna Loa CO2 measurements she said:“This is a quite incredible picture, and it’s showing that since 1960 the composition has gone in these units from 320 to over 400 units” carefully avoiding mentioning what those units are: – parts per million.
A scientist giving a presentation in an event organised by a Parliamentary Committee is not under oath, as she would be if presenting directly to the Committee, but one expects certain standards of honesty, which involves not cherrypicking, and not omitting important facts. Of course, if you don’t have a script, but just make it up as you go along, you’re going to end up saying things like: “the quantity of water vapour in the atmosphere is ‘sort of controlled,‘”and who but a nit-picking denier would find fault?
Professor Hawkins had an easier time of it, since his subject was impacts, which are largely in the future and therefore speculative. He started and ended with Ed’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamstripe. It starts blue and it ends red. End of story. He continued with the Arctic ice over the past 40 years of satellite observations, though with nothing on the previous two centuries of observations by humans. (Again, why listen to people, boring seafarers with their tedious roaming the ocean in quest of whales or the North East or North West Passage? Why bother with history now we’ve got satellite photography?) Ed continues:
And this, of course, this melting in the Arctic and warming of the Arctic has consequences for those who live in the Arctic, people, and the wildlife who live there and are used to the climate of the past, and we’re pushing them outside the climate of the past and making them live in a new climate in which they may not be adapted to.
I’ve dealt with the subject of the Arctic inhabitants who we are “pushing outside the climate of the past” to “live in a new climate in which they may not be adapted to” here.
(One of them was on French TV the other evening, complaining that, because of the melting ice, he now has to drive his snowmobile 35 kilometres to the supermarket to buy yoghurt. It wan’t like that in the time of Eric the Red. Eric’s Norseman cousins sailed down the Danube and no doubt brought back longboats full of homegrown Bulgarian yoghurt to their Greenland colony weekly.)
Where was I?
Then it was the bushfires (“the reasons for the bushfires in Australia are many and they’re complex”) and heatwaves in the UK (“what we see is that the hot weather caused hot temperatures, but the temperatures were hotter than they would otherwise have been without climate change. We’ve added extra heat to those events”) and floods in the UK (“again, this event has many and varied complex reasons for occurring, but ultimately it comes down to how much rain fell from the sky.”)
And so on to sea levels: (“The sea levels around the globe have already risen by about 25 centimetres or so, and they will continue to rise for centuries as the planet continues to warm.”Yes, but since when? And by how much in the future? He didn’t say.)Thenafter briefly mentioning ocean acidification, coral die off, migration, and the spread of disease, Ed finished by showing his stripes again, which let it be said, are a transparent (or do I mean opaque?) attempt to disguise the nature of global warming. Haigh at least used a temperature graph, which, however doctored, clearly shows the rises and dips which are completely out of sync with CO2 concentrations. Ed’s stripy thingy is the statistical equivalent of an emoji. It shows how Ed feels about his job, about the intelligence of the general public, and possibly about life in general. Red bad, blue good.
After Professor Rebecca Willis, expert on energy and climate governance, whom I discussed above, came Chris Stark, CEO of the Committee on Climate Change, the first non-academic. He spent longer explaining what the Assembly was going to do than Professor Haigh had on explaining the climate of the past million years. A civil servant who has previously worked in Customs and Excise, the Treasury, and the Scottish Parliament, he gives the impression of having been born and raised in a power point presentation, the offspring of a rising emission and a pie chart.
As a sample, after describing the meaning of “net zero” at some length Stark says:
There is a bigger story here going on which you will hear about, about what’s sometimes called our carbon footprint. And we have a bigger carbon footprint than just those emissions that we produce here in the UK. So think about the things that we import in particular. Think about something like steel for example. So steel is a thing that is produced by an industrial process, and a lot of the steel that we use is imported from another place. And that industrial process has emissions associated with it, and what we import therefore means that we are responsible for something that happens outside of the UK. Now if you look at that question, that’s sometimes called consumption emissions because we’re consuming that product. There is a bigger number associated with that than the emissions we produce here. So it’s a bit.. but 50% or so bigger than the emissions we actually produce here, so we are responsible for something a bit more than just the emissions that we produce here in the UK, but the emissions produced in the UK are still the biggest part of our impact on the climate, so it’s the biggest, it’s the biggest thing that we are responsible for, those things that happen in the UK. I’m going to talk you through very quickly those production emissions overall….
This is not how you’re supposed to talk to adults. Chris Stark is running the official agency which is charged by parliament with telling governments for the next thirty years or so how many trillions they should spend on changing utterly our way of life. Until last weekend he was unknown to the general public. Since last weekend he is at least well-known to the 110 members of the Climate Assembly who are charged with finding solutions to the government’s impossible conundrum on our behalf, and to the 400 Youtube viewers of his presentation. Let’s hope his fame spreads.
More from Chris:
Question: Surface transport was 23% in your pie chart, so why has government spectacularly failed to invest in rail transport, especially in Northern England over the last thirty years?
Chris Stark: I can’t answer that question because it’s a political one really, but hidden in that question is a really good point, that there are alternatives to using cars in particular, and some of those things we can switch to without government support. Becky mentioned cycling for example, some of them we can’t. So the surface transport question is indeed linked to how much real provision there is and that is something I’m sure you’ll want to talk about when it comes to how we travel over the next few weekends.
[He can’t answer because it’s political. So the Citizen’s Assembly can’t be informed of anything that’s political, but is expected to make decisions that are – what? What he cando is accuse his colleague Professor Willis of saying in effect: if there aren’t enough trains in the North of England – get on your bike.]
Question: Public transport is more expensive and less convenient than private. How can we make it more affordable and convenient?
Chris Stark: Again, such an important question, because it points to the need for the government to make a decision on that. One thing the government could do is make public transport provision cheaper. But there are never any easy answers here, so the question is how would that be paid for? And I’m sure that’s something you’re going to want to talk about when we come to the transport discussion.
[Translation. “I don’t know. You tell me.]
Question: Is there an argument for letting climate change happen?
I won’t bother with Chris’s answer. Look it up if you like. The point is this: the parliamentary committees set up what seems to be a pretty fair system for letting a sample of the population spend eight days of their lives listen to government propaganda in a conference hall in Birmingham, and then express themselves; the questions posed on the first day were intelligent and to the point, and some demonstrated a certain scepticism; and the so-called experts revealed themselves as being utterly unprepared. Not only unprepared to meet counter-arguments, but unprepared to engage with people apparently well-disposed and eager to be informed.
Barry Woods, who has watched the videos, describes in a comment somewhere the expert participants as resembling startled rabbits caught in the headlights. It’s not the sceptic nature of the questions that fazes them; it’s the idea that there could be any questions at all about their policy. They have never had to confront alternative points of view, and so they come completely unprepared for the task of confronting other human beings who need to be persuaded, or at least treated as equals.
We sceptics are used to being treated as stubborn, errant children with learning difficulties and psychological problems. The general public is not. 110 members of the public are going to have to get used to it over the next three weekends. I hope they learn something from the experience.