Interrogating climate modelling

Whatever skills and expertise are required for that, Michael Gove thinks they are needed in the civil service and in government:

That same determination to instil and cultivate deep knowledge should apply across Government. Too much current Civil Service training is about vapid abstractions such as ‘Collaborating Better’ rather than about what works in classroom instruction or how to interrogate climate modelling or what really goes on in the preparation of Crown Prosecution cases which leads to so many cracked trials.

It was the phrase that jumped out at me. Why single this out? Yet why, in paragraph 120, among all those radical reassessments based on real-world feedback, was anything to do with decarbonisation completely absent?

I’d already read with interest Boris’s more populist account of the future in the Mail on Sunday. Lots of government spending to dig the UK out of the Covid-19 (and lockdown) trough and get the Tories back to “levelling up” those new Tory (Old Labour) regions in most need. And no mention of climate at all.

And today Mark Sedwill is removed from the centre of government. I don’t know how it fits either. But it suggests to me that Dominic Cummings is not the busted flush many expected post Barnard Castle. I’d already taken that as read from James Kirkup – by no means a Cummings groupie.

It’s only fair to say that other climate sceptics thought that Gove’s speech was vapid. But I think that, taken together with the PM, it’s an indication that Jason Bordoff got it right.


  1. I found para 120 of Gove’s speech. It reads to me like a right wing parody of the worst kind of Orwellian socialist Big Brotherdom, complete with quote from Gramsci.

    120. That is why now we should, as is our intention as a Government, do more to reform. We should reform planning rules to fast track beautiful development, we should pioneer biodiversity net gain to offset any adverse consequences of development, we should better use anonymised NHS data to improve healthcare delivery, we should allow parents and others to compare schools on value added, exam entries and attendance, among other factors. We should also be fearless to compare individual courts, judges and CPS managers on their efficacy on processing cases […] ask what value for money gains the Troubled Families Programme has secured over time…

    Is this Cummings at work? Surely the author has heard of unintended consequences? Schools and courts obsessed with fiddling their output data like a Soviet tractor factory and so on.

    And who gets to decide what is beautiful development? No doubt a highly paid consultant with a degree in development aesthetics.

    And could we have a quote from Kirkup for those of us who aren’t Spectator subscribers?


  2. 19. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which I supported I should add, were widely seen to have been mismanaged – one suffering from endless revision and ending in retreat; the other perceived to be launched in haste and error; and both revealing faults in policy-making and execution.

    ‘perceived to be launched in haste and error’.

    Proven to have been launched by a fraudulent security dossier doesn’t he mean? Whereupon the establishment bumped off the man who proved it? Why no mention of Cameron’s Libya disaster, in cohorts with Sarkozy, Clinton and Obama?

    25. And the Covid epidemic has also, tragically, underlined the racial and ethnic inequalities in many societies, not least our own in the United Kingdom. The disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities is both heartbreaking and a reproach. The reasons for this particular tragedy are various and require further, rigorous, investigation. But there can be no doubt that they reflect structural inequality in our society which has to be addressed.

    Say what? IF Covid-19 does indeed more severely impact non-Caucasians, the reasons should be investigated and it is at least quite likely that the reason is biological/genetic. Gove does not even mention this possibility, real though it is, and after admitting that the reasons are unknown, he goes on to assert (sans evidence) that there ‘can be no doubt that they reflect structural inequality in our society which has to be addressed.’ He has stated a government policy imperative based on no sound evidence whatsoever. Pure lefty socialist inspired virtue-signalling in other words. Can we expect any better on climate policy?

    33. And in speaking of the natural world, the growing loss of biodiversity and the threat of climate change also reinforce how existing inequalities and vulnerabilities risk becoming more pronounced and how we need to understand that complex, adaptive systems like nature demand respectful attention, not glib assertions of mastery.

    75. We need a just transition to a lower carbon world. We need to confront and stamp out racism wherever we find it.

    Probably not. Like the alleged disproportionate and socially unjust impact of Covid upon non-Caucasians, the alleged disproportionate impact of alleged man-made climate change on poorer black people has nothing to do with science, everything to do with racism and social inquality.

    Gove was, and always will be, a snake in the grass, never to be trusted.


  3. I’m betting my money on the Post Covid British New Deal being virtually indistinguishable from the Green New Deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anyway, slight change of subject, isn’t it about time Mosher came back to educate us on our errant scepticism and our bad habit of mentioning ‘dumb shit theories in passing’?

    For ‘predictions’ read ‘output of dodgy models written in 13 year old code, fed with highly dubious prior assumptions’. In immunology, the model failings are being laid bare, in real time, for all to see (and the government to ignore). That just doesn’t happen in the whacky world of climate modelling.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jaime: On the betting stakes, what were the odds that Dominic Cummings, having helped win the general election in December 2019, could have reformed the government and civil service to all of our satisfaction by 26 May 20 at 12:01 pm having had a new, unknown virus to cope with in between?

    Boris is talking about more shops and businesses opening up in June with stupid, impractical social distancing rules in place. He really is a moron and Cummings is Mr Ordinary who has failed to live up to his much vaunted promise as a government and civil service reformer. I really couldn’t care less whether he goes or stays – I just want my country back to a semblance of what it was before this government wrecked it.

    Calling one person a moron while calling a second person ordinary in the same sentence for this reason was for me delicious. If you were to call yourself by the first word, on reflection, for calling the second person ordinary I’d be happy to discuss it further.

    It was always going to take ten years or more would have been my assumption. Whether a Cummings-influenced Tory regime now has a chance of winning the next election remains the issue for me.

    On the ‘guff about FDR’ I’d always be with Hannan:

    But that’s kind of off-topic. I was interested by that phrase about interrogating climate models.


  6. Geoff, the first part of Kirkup’s piece read like this:

    Power does not corrupt. It reveals. It was once said of Abraham Lincoln:

    ‘Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.’

    Dominic Cummings is rarely compared to Abraham Lincoln. But in one aspect, I think that quote now has relevance to the PM’s chief adviser. After surviving this week, he now has power, real and possibly unprecedented power. It’s borrowed power, of course, lent by Boris Johnson. But it’s real. The PM has demonstrated this week that there is almost nothing that Cummings can do that will cause him to abandon his aide.

    The implications of that are starting to set in around (virtual) Westminster. This week I’ve heard Conservative politicians and neutral officials wondering what lesson Cummings will take from this week. Some worry that having been handed what amounts to a blank cheque drawing on the PM’s account, Cummings will feel no restraint on his conduct and dealings with colleagues. The worry boils down to this: If you can break lockdown and keep the boss’s support, why should you worry about the consequences of doing stuff like treating Cabinet ministers with contempt, deriding officials and ignoring the judiciary?

    On the other hand, more sympathetic observers suggest Cummings isn’t likely to be much changed by this. He always acted like he had absolute authority (and no regard for hierarchy and status) anyway, so why would this make any difference?

    I’m no psychoanalyst so I offer no verdict on that debate. What I think is more interesting and more important is how other people now see – and respond to – Cummings.

    Kirkup went on to say that too little internal debate, arising from the dominance of one man, would be bad for government. But in asking for deep knowledge in the civil service to be able to interrogate climate models I’d say Gove was opening up debate where none has existed for years. I find it unlikely that this phrase had nothing to do with Cummings. But what do I know?


  7. Richard, but the reason I called Boris a moron and Cummings Mr Ordinary in the same sentence was not for the same reason – Boris, because of his insistence on ridiculous social distancing rules, Cummings for his failure to demonstrate any appetite at all for civil service reform. Yes, maybe The Virus has interrupted his Grand Plan and maybe, just maybe the sacking of Sedwill heralds wholescale reform of the civil service, but then giving the joint national security adviser part of his job to David Frost, who is supposed to be heading Brexit negotiations, is a little perplexing. He won’t have time to concentrate on his new role if the government is serious about getting a deal from the EU. To my mind,The Virus is now being wielded as a political weapon to discredit the current US administration and to continue with the absurd imposition of restrictions upon our civil liberties.


  8. Jaime: I knew you had two different reasons for the two descriptions. I can read. I wasn’t taking issue with the first (not that I then agreed or now agree with it either) but with the second. Cummings’s “failure to demonstrate any appetite at all for civil service reform” was I’m sure a sincere belief inside your head but the extreme lack of judgment it betrayed, in such a miniscule timescale since the election with Covid to deal with, made calling Boris a moron in the same sentence for me quite a achievement in the self-awareness stakes.

    Now we have a bit more of an idea what Cummings, Gove and Johnson are after. There’s lots to find fault with. The phrase about interrogating climate modelling wasn’t one of them though. It’s interesting how it strikes at the foundations of the climate crisis myth, rather than quibble about the numbers involved in offshore wind power, say. Well, it may do. After speech comes interpretation, then action. But we might as well pick up on the molecule of water found in the glass rather than declare it empty.


  9. Richard, Boris was a moron, unfit to govern the country he was elected to lead, before this crisis blew up and, notwithstanding any cognitive problems he may still be experiencing as per Bill’s link, he is still, sadly, a moron unfit to govern the country. Re. Cummings, no, he hasn’t been a Downing Street adviser for long but he had the chance to prove his mettle outside of his avowed mission to reform government and the civil service with the arrival of Covid-19 itself. He attended Sage meetings where, at no time was it advised, according to the minutes, that the government should lock down the entire country. So why did he not advise the PM NOT to make that political decision, leading directly to the mess we are now in and why, if he’s Mr Extraordinary, did he manage to get caught infringing the lockdown rules which the government he advises had put in place? On the balance of evidence thus far, he was Mr Extraordinary re. Brexit, but since the government was elected to power on a large majority, he has only given us evidence that he is Mr Ordinary, seemingly having lost his superhuman powers somewhere along the line. There must be a hidden stash of kryptonite hidden somewhere in Downing Street.


  10. Bill I couldn’t possibly refute the conclusions of a practicing intensive care doctor. Especially since I never went into intensive care. I did find one of his comments of interest – that patients are assessed as to whether treatment in intensive care would be beneficial, even if it would usually be prescribed. I wonder if I was assessed in this way, because I was given oxygen for three days in a normal ward.

    Regarding Boris, I was greatly surprised how shortly after being admitted into intensive care Boris was discharged from hospital. I was even more surprised by how well he appeared to be the first time he spoke before the camera, to the press. But then he took a week off, which confounded my initial impression, or seemed his time away from office was too short a respite.

    As to whether Boris is fully fit, I am probably a poor judge (see above). Everyone I have spoken to about their recovery still has health problems and my doctors tell me to expect mine to persist for many more months. As to mental ability, I now feel fully recovered, but initially had some real problems. Is Boris impaired? I cannot tell. I’m biased anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I believe that doctor is saying that the shock to the body from being under ICU procedures itself is the cause of mental and physical problems for some time afterwards. Recall that Boris was admitted to ICU as a ‘precautionary measure’ and never put on a ventilator, only given oxygen and he remained conscious and alert throughout his stay. It seems that his treatment in an ICU ward was very similar to that of Alan who remained in a conventional ward. Only yesterday was he keen to prove his fitness by doing press up for the press outside Downing Street, so I think we can assume that he is back to his old, bumbling self, unless he’s putting on a brave show.


  12. Jaime: You didn’t give those reasons for your judgment of Cummings on 26th May. It was crass at best to have expected him to have made a major difference to the reform of the civil service and government generally in a mere five months during which Covid hit and damaged both the PM and his adviser directly. I’ve got to know you well enough by now not to expect you to admit you were wrong. So out come the post-facto justifications. Making you rather like you say Boris is. Funny old world, as Mrs T once said.

    Alan: As John Ridgway said very early in our discussions of covid, we all are biased, based on our circumstances, risk profile and experiences. Your experience has now unfortunately included that spell in hospital and we are much the richer for it. Cognitively you seem ahead of me 🙂


  13. Bill: Thank you very much for pointing us to that extremely interesting spiked article by the ICU doctor. I was also struck by how open the Mail on Sunday’s Political Editor Glen Owen was yesterday about the obvious diminution in the powers of the PM in the paper’s front page story. This can cut so many ways, of course. But I still take quite a bit of comfort from the fact that Boris didn’t mention climate or decarbonisation once. He knows, and the cabinet knows, that rising energy prices will be anathema to the regions that the Tories are meant to be ‘levelling up’ in the midst of a lockdown-created recession. (And most people, according to Opinium, think the PM is now coming out of lockdown too fast.)

    This situation needs someone at the top of their game in the buck-stops-here position. But I also hear that James Kirkup emphasis on Abraham Lincoln and how he used ultimate power for mercy. Far from easy in all available dimensions.


  14. Richard, you picked up on a comment I made a month ago and decided to criticise it. I did not know a month ago that Cummings had attended Sage meetings. It merely reinforces the opinion I had back then that Cummings is Mr Ordinary. You now accuse me of habitually avoiding admitting that I am wrong, on any issue, but if you were to examine my many comments on this blog and elsewhere you would have noted that I am very willing to admit to being wrong when it is demonstrated that I am wrong. You haven’t demonstrated that my opinion of Cummings was wrong, merely suggested a good reason for why I might be misjudging him. When (and if) he proves that he is the genuine reformer and brilliant strategist that he’s been cracked up to be, I’ll readily admit I was wrong. So far, he’s a bit of a damp squib and his failure to get a grip on Covid policy just confirms that.


  15. Jaime: not quite. I thought the reason you gave was dumb. I agree that Cummings (and Gove, and Boris) can only be judged by results and in the case of civil service reform that is going to take years to assess. It felt relevant because now, for the first time, we see the drive for reform unveiled. Cummings may not last in his key role as adviser in chief but I hope he does and I hope he influences Gove further – to take a far more discerning look at climate modelling. And a whole lot else downstream from there.


  16. Is this one and a half cheers from Ben?

    That’s profoundly important. Nobody’s interested in climate change and decarbonisation any more. And rightly so. This Cliscep thread was about the government, just maybe, realising that. Other semi-positive hints?

    Not as bad as it could have been?

    And retweeted by Ben, with a link to the press release

    A lot fudged. The green blob still entrenched. But some glimmers of hope?


  17. Image of yesterday’s FT from Paul Homewood:

    And a couple of sceptical voices on Twitter you may more or less recognise:

    My heart bleeds for the crony capitalists for whom fate has taken such a devastating turn. I hope.


  18. John Rentoul talking sense in The Independent today:

    It is one thing on which everyone is agreed, which means it is probably either meaningless or wrong. When Boris Johnson declared in his “build, build, build” speech in Dudley that we are going to “build back greener”, he was expressing the consensus view.

    The coronavirus-induced recession is a chance to reset the economy to take the climate crisis seriously, say the Conservatives and all the opposition parties in parliament.

    They are right about one thing. The lockdown showed how it is possible for governments, if they have public support, to manage dramatic changes in the way people live and work. One of the obstacles to radical green policies has long been that they require changes that seemed impossible unless they were to be long term and gradual: replacing every gas boiler in the country; ending the generation of electricity by fossil fuels; abolishing the internal combustion engine; stopping planes.

    Well, we have done without air travel for four months now, and for some of us it has been no loss and only gain. The peace of the clear blue London skies has “enchanted the soul”, to quote the prime minister’s speech again (he was talking about planting trees to create a “new patchwork of woodlands”, but the principle is the same).

    Yet even Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, who once suggested banning domestic flights in the UK, wants to fill our skies with pressurised metal containers again. Labour’s green rhetoric lasted for as long as it took to criticise the government for doing too little to save jobs in the aviation industry – that is, no time at all.

    That is the trouble with building back greener. We have been cushioned from the costs of the radical lifestyle changes of the lockdown by the furlough scheme, paid for by unimaginable sums of borrowed money, but that is coming to an end. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will talk about what will happen next in his “summer economic update” on Wednesday. But he cannot avoid the contradictory political pressures any more than Labour can.

    Rentoul then picks up what is for me an emblematic story of Zion Lights – see Cliscep here and here – moving from XR to the UK branch of Michael Shellenberger’s Environmental Progress. Though without mentioning Shellenberger by name:

    Our pre-lockdown assumption about green progress is right: the changes needed are likely to be long-term and gradual, and to require difficult decisions. One of them, for example, is probably nuclear power. It was striking to see that Zion Lights, a former Extinction Rebellion activist, is now campaigning for nuclear energy. That is a really long-term policy choice, which seems unavoidable to me – as long as we build the power stations ourselves rather than getting Chinese companies to do it.

    So, the virus and lockdown has made the opposition forget all about green aims and targets, let alone the alarmism that used to drive them. It’s an ideal time for everyone to consider options like nuclear. And the ruling party, though mouthing platitudes like “build back greener” is giving plenty of signals that it’s also hearing the same messages and won’t be outflanked by new fossil-fuel loving Labour. All very nice for climate scepticism UK.


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