Back in 2016, Dr Friederike Otto, Associate Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, put her name to a paper in which the following words can be found:
“The answer to such an open question as have CO2 emissions caused the 2003 European heatwave is thus dramatically affected by (i) how one defines the event 2003 European heatwave and (ii) whether causality is understood in a necessary or sufficient sense. Precise causal answers about climate events thus require precise causal questions.”
Given that the words ‘dramatically’ and ‘precise’ play such an important role in the above statement, one would have thought that Dr Otto would thenceforth be fastidiously careful when publically communicating the causation of heatwaves. Well, maybe she has been or maybe she hasn’t. This is what she recently said regarding the causation of the Pacific Northwest heatwave of 2021:
“The Pacific Northwest 2021 heatwave is still rare in today’s climate, yet would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. As warming continues, it will become a lot less rare.”
Subject to the usual caveats regarding the uncertainties in climate models and the statistically dubious manner in which uncertainty is treated when such models are handled as ensembles, there is nothing wrong with the above statement – but only as far as it goes. The two problems with it are that:
i) It doesn’t adequately define the event.
ii) It understands the heatwave’s causation in a purely necessary sense. Nothing is said regarding sufficiency.
Does this matter? Well it seemed to matter a great deal to Dr Otto when she was talking to other scientists back in 2016, and she had seemed very keen then to emphasise to her colleagues how much it should matter when communicating results to a wider audience. But when it came to doing so herself, it didn’t seem to matter to Friederike all that much.
There may be a number of reasons for this apparent ambivalence regarding the importance of providing precise and complete causal answers. Some seem quite reasonable to me, whilst others reflect less well upon the scientific community. I think it depends upon one’s view regarding the essence of causation and the importance of downplaying uncertainty.
The Humpty-Dumpty syndrome
Firstly, it is indeed very easy to influence the narrative when one enjoys the freedom to define an event as one wishes. For example, it didn’t seem to bother any of the scientists involved in the Pacific Northwest 2021 heatwave attribution study that the duration of the exceptionally high temperatures failed to meet the World Meteorological Organization’s criterion for the definition of a heatwave – at least not for the area covered by the study. Such detail didn’t matter to the attribution team because the actual event they were interested in was the recurrence of such extreme temperatures within a stated period – no matter how transient such a recurrence may be. Furthermore, one can also be very choosey regarding the geographical extent of the ‘heatwave’. The scientists knew where the newsworthiness lay, and so didn’t think it relevant to reference the unusually cold temperatures contemporaneously visiting other areas of the North American content. Fair enough, but it would still be interesting to see attribution studies that demonstrate just how unlikely certain cold snaps are in the light of global warming. Unfortunately, the message doesn’t communicate as well when focusing upon events that are less likely with human-caused climate change, rather than events that are ‘virtually impossible’ without it.
Secondly, what about that failure to mention the sufficiency of human-caused climate change? Dr Otto was very keen to draw attention to the necessity of human-induced climate change in order to understand the heatwave, but where was the equally valid statement to the effect that human-caused climate change was almost certainly insufficient to explain it? Was this fact downplayed because it was giving the public too much to think about? Was it deemed too much off-message? The omission seems even more troubling when one considers the extent to which the records were broken. The freakishness of the event was so obvious that one has to say (from an anthropogenic climate change perspective) that the levels of insufficiency were high enough for everyone to start panicking that the climate models must be wrong. But does such high insufficiency matter when it comes to making a statement of causation?
Well not to the majority of climate scientists. They are more than happy to emphasise the necessity of anthropogenic climate change and leave it at that. However, despite this, they are not lying by omission. Rather, it is a case of most of them simply failing to understand that a causation statement is incomplete without a reference to sufficiency. And even those that do understand this still believe that (when push comes to shove) it is only necessary causation that truly matters. In the very same paper in which Dr Otto and her co-authors bemoan the common failure to offer full disclosure in attribution statements, you will find a simplistic example of how probability of necessity (PN) and probability of sufficiency (PS) work in law, followed by this assertion:
“The probability of sufficient causation PS is thus close to zero here, but this is not important in a legal context, in which it is only PN that matters, while PS does not.”
Frankly, particularly given the facile nature of the example the authors use, I think they are well out of their depth here in discussing the legal angle. Many natural disasters are man-made in the sense that the necessary weather conditions were far from sufficient in causing the damage or loss of life. Poor forest management, delinquent flood protection, poor drainage, arson, bad building design and inappropriate siting of buildings are all acts and omissions that bear upon matters of sufficiency from the AGW perspective, and yet they all add to the culpability; it is certainly not a case of being able to ignore low PS values. But that does not matter here. All that matters is that Dr Otto, along with the remainder of the climate scientists and activists, are fully signed up to their view and so cannot be accused of hiding a factor (low sufficiency) when they secretly know it to be very important. They are not hiding it – they are either ignorant of the issue or just convinced it can be ignored. Furthermore, there is once again the relevance of event definition. According to Dr Otto and her fellow authors back in 2016:
“Even in the few such cases where evidence supporting necessary causation is strong, assertive causal statements appear to have been shied away from, possibly by the perception that sufficiency was lacking. A statement such as “CO2 emissions have not caused the particular event Y: they have only caused the probability of occurrence of Y-like events to increase” may actually often be too conservative and even wrong; as in the above example, it may indeed be the case that CO2 emissions did cause event Y, although in a restrictively necessary causation sense. Further, by defining the event to mean not just occurrence in a particular year but during the entire industrial era, it may be possible to establish that event Y was in fact caused by increased CO2 emissions—this time wrt both necessity and sufficiency.”
So it seems that a lack of sufficiency need not be a problem. One can always convince oneself it isn’t really relevant if one takes a judiciously long term view. That certainly seems to be the position taken by Dr Otto in the Northwest Pacific heatwave attribution study. When she said in 2016 that a different definition of ‘event’ can dramatically affect the answers to attribution questions, I took that as a warning. I didn’t appreciate that she meant it to be taken as a glorious opportunity.
Staying on message
However, there is another way of looking at this issue, in which the lack of attention to matters of sufficiency appears far less benign. The problem, it seems, is a concern that any allusion to sufficiency could be construed as an exaggeration of the uncertainties – and we can’t have that. As Dr Peter Stott of the Hadley Centre puts it:
“If the public hears that a particular weather event is consistent with climate change they may conclude that it is further proof of the immediate consequences of human-induced global warming. On the other hand, if the public hears that it is not possible to attribute an individual event, they may conclude that the uncertainties are such that nothing can be said authoritatively about the effects of climate change as actually experienced.”
In other words, a leading climate scientist is saying that one cannot overestimate the importance of ensuring confirmation bias when it comes to extreme weather event attribution, and this objective is reason enough to expunge any talk of sufficiency from the debate. Furthermore, there are plenty of others who are willing to take this cause seriously. For some time now, the BBC has used the following standard statement whenever reporting upon weather event attribution:
“Experts say climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, linking any single event to global warming is complicated.”
Be it ever so glib, there is, at least, an obscure hint at insufficiency in there. But climate scientist Ed Hawkins is not happy with such ‘excess caution’, suggesting that the journalists replace that statement with:
“Experts say that climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and many single events have been shown to have been made worse by global warming.”
So that’s fine. Keep it simple, keep it on message, and don’t give the public a chance to think about anything that might cast the seeds of doubt.
In science we can trust – just keep your eye on the scientists
Censorship takes many forms. One of them is when well-intended but uncomprehending climate scientists step in to tell journalists how to do their job. It is well known that state control of the media sounds the death knell for objective journalism, but one does not expect that sort of jackboot intolerance to be coming from the scientific community — of all places. And one certainly doesn’t expect it to come in the form of a seemingly innocent attempt to ‘correct’ an inexactitude.
I’d like to make a confident statement as to whether Dr Friederike Otto is playing the same game with her own handling of the press, but I can’t be sure. With so much hocus-pocus going on, what is a poor denier supposed to think? She tells her colleagues one thing, then she acts as if she doesn’t care about her own advice. This may be a justified ambivalence, but it’s difficult to say. And so I’ll finish as a I started, by simply asking the question: Friederike Otto, just what is your game?
“Friederike (Fredi) is the Acting Director of the Environmental Change institute and an Associate Professor in the Global Climate Science Programme where she leads several projects understanding the impacts of man-made climate change on natural and social systems with a particular focus on Africa and India.
Her main research interest is on extreme weather events (droughts, heat waves, extreme precipitation), improving and developing methodologies to answer the question ‘whether and to what extent external climate drivers alter the likelihood of extreme weather’. She furthermore investigates the policy implication of this emerging scientific field.
Fredi is co-investigator on the international project World Weather Attribution which aims to provide an assessment of the human-influence on extreme weather in the immediate aftermath of the event occurring.”
According to which:
“Western North American extreme heat virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”
“Human-caused climate change increased the likelihood of early growing period frost in France”
“Siberian heatwave of 2020 almost impossible without climate change”
Make of that what you will. Then there’s this:
“Experiences from the World Weather Attribution collaboration: We attempt to answer the question whether and to what extent the likelihood and intensity of an observed event changed due to the anthropogenic modification of the Earth’s climate using a method called extreme event attribution.”
In a welcome display of openness, Friederike Otto’s email address is made available on the first website linked to above. Maybe she would respond to an email seeking clarification of her views?
Thanks for highlighting these attribution studies and organizations John.
Out here in normally sunny Ca we are flooded with similar studies. Luckily for my area, Sierra foothills, our representatives to the state level Office of Emergency Services focus their efforts on mitigating risks that they can impact in the near to mid term vs what might happen in 50 to 80 years.
The focus of folks responsible for addressing risks out here that I have talked to pretty much agree with Sharon-
“Given that today we have what we have, and no one also understands exactly what will happen, in what timeframe, if we change greenhouse gases or other forcing agents according to what kind of timeline, how would the proportion attributed to AGW change our adaptation response to the situation we’re presented with today?”
“My view, based on exploring the models used in attribution studies, and having some idea about all the factors involved in big fires besides weather, is that no one really has a clue and it might not be all that helpful to pursue it because some of the uncertainty would be extraordinarily difficult to reduce, and possibly not worth the investment, when there are other questions that are more likely and more needed to be answered.”…..
I can’t see myself wanting to contact Friederike Otto directly, to be honest. However, the next time she posts an article at The Conversation, she might give me cause to comment there. For example, had I been on the ball, there are one or two things I might have asked regarding the following:
In particular, the following statements may have been worth commenting upon:
“The role played by climate change compared to other drivers of extremes – whether natural variability in weather systems, or man-made drivers such as deforestation – strongly depends on the type of extreme event and the part of the world and season they are happening in.”
She says this and yet the resulting lack of sufficient causation never gets a mention in her press releases.
“This branch of science remains relatively new, and far from perfect. Attribution studies, rapid and traditional alike, have been criticised by some scientists for both being too conservative and underestimating the role of climate change. They also get accused of not being cautious enough in communicating uncertainty and therefore overstating the impact of burning fossil fuels on extreme weather events. Underlying both arguments is the fact that the climate models needed for attribution studies are often not as good as one would like.”
More to the point, are they as good as they need to be?
“If models do not represent the full warming seen in the real world, then attribution studies can only give conservative, and arguably too conservative, estimates of the role of climate change.”
And what if they overestimate in their representation? Why is such a possibility not even considered? How can she be so sure that the uncertainty only works in one direction?
“Overall, while climate models are very good at representing how increases in greenhouse gases affect average temperatures, they are less good at representing more local extreme events.”
And yet her attribution statements regarding average temperatures, and those regarding ‘more local extreme events’, are stated with equal confidence. For example, there is nothing in her press release relating to the Northwest Pacific attribution study to suggest that the methods used in that study were not particularly suited for purpose.
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Attributing human induced climate change to the causation of bush fires is very difficult since it has to end at the rising of temperatures. The rest is down to non-meteorological factors, of which there are many. The modelling techniques used to attribute temperature rise just do not apply to these other factors. As you have said, one is left with just too much conjecture to deal with. Where it matters (i.e. regarding the extent to which blame may be placed) the sufficiency is just too low and, contrary to what Friederike Otto maintains, this does matter in the courts.
Well it didn’t take long before the BBC had the chance to try out its new standard precis describing what weather attribution is telling us. Under the headline, “Met Office issues first UK extreme heat warning”:
“Heatwaves are becoming more likely and more extreme because of human-induced climate change.”
It seems that Ed Hawkins has had his way. I wouldn’t mind but the BBC also said:
“Many areas will continue to reach heatwave thresholds but the amber extreme heat warning focuses on western areas where the most unusually high temperatures are likely to persist.”
What? You mean ‘unusually high temperatures’ such as 30.2C in Cardiff and 28.2C in Dumfries and Galloway? And all this in the height of summer?
Well, since the Met now deems these perfectly normal summer temperatures to be ‘extreme’, I think we can all look forward to Friederike’s attribution study proclaiming that summer would be almost impossible without global warming.
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John, on a very hot summer’s day in Weston-super-Mare I came across a demo by XR. I didn’t stop to shout. But on returning to my car after doing this and that, sans-mask, two ladies carrying a banner, now dispersed from the rest, asked me what I thought about the plans to extend Bristol airport and the climate crisis generally. They were very polite as I stuggled to find words but you may not be surprised to hear that we didn’t entirely agree. “You don’t believe recent extreme events – example 1, example 2, … – were caused by man?” they asked with incredulity. One, who admitted to being 75, said she couldn’t but notice how extremes have been increasing during her lifetime, extremely. Deaths caused are massively down though, I countered, and that’s because of increasing wealth. So that’s what we should be going for. They did seem to accept some of that. And then it was time to say farewell. I’m back on Cliscep and this happens. But the attribution area is crucial, at all levels. This is a very useful thread.
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Enter the floods in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. Rinse and repeat.
Many years ago I took a statistics course as part of my first year university degree. I have forgotten most of what I was taught but one thing stands out in my memory. As part of the end of year assessment, I was given a dataset to take home and analyse. No two students were given the same dataset and the results were to be submitted the following day. In my case the data purported to be measurements taken from a given population of a species of plant. The statistical analysis was supposed to characterise that species. When I got the data home, I discovered, to my horror, that one of the plants seemed to have highly unusual growth statistics compared to the rest of the group. I calculated that the chances of this happening randomly were slim. There was therefore a good chance that this was not a plant from the same species.
I had a quandary. Do the examiners expect me to include the outlier in my calculations or not? Since my end of term assessment depended upon me getting this answer right I thought long and hard about it. In the end I explained the problem in my answer before performing the full set of required calculations both with and without the outlier, thereby demonstrating the extent to which results were affected by inclusion of the dubious plant. I concluded my report by suggesting that the double-analysis provided an excellent example of the importance of getting the science right before embarking upon a statistical analysis. I was very worried that I may have overthought the question, but I needn’t have been. When presented with the exam results I was also asked to consider changing my degree from physics to applied statistics.
I am recounting this anecdote because I was reminded of it when Friederike Otto et al published their analysis of the recent Northwest Pacific heatwave. As weather events go, it was so outlandish that it could be argued that it should not have been considered as an outlier within a normal distribution of weather patterns but, instead, an event of a totally different ‘species’ having its own statistical properties. The lesson I applied many years ago seemed to be applying again: Sometimes one needs a far better understanding of the science before one can draw confident conclusions from a statistical analysis.
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There was one other part of my encounter with the Bristol arm of XR a week ago that I think is worth highlighting, partly because what I said may well have been influenced by this post, which I’d just read, as well as earlier, Climategate-email reflections of over ten years ago.
First, though, on the generational front. This was three people over sixty debating the climate issue and holding radically different views on the subject. Young people meanwhile are watching Jordan Peterson interviewing Bjorn Lomborg in their droves. Peterson’s friend Bret Weinstein and his wife pick the best question of the week from groups of supportive, anti-woke young people on Discord, I only just noticed. (More of the Weinsteins anon.) Let’s not assume that we know exactly how the generations fall into neat camps. There is much we don’t know on that, as Socrates said. In effect.
I announced myself as a climate sceptic in my first statement to the two polite XR ladies. That seemed to be a novelty for them on the streets of the Bristol area (the city I assumed they were from, which they were happy to confirm). But the patience with the unlikely specimen in front of them only went so far. I’d done Maths at Cambridge, they knew that, but how did I think I knew better than “99.9% of scientists”. That was the percentage I was up against. Inflation from the industry standard 97% was bound to occur but I confess I was amused, not impressed. Not that I showed it. I didn’t question the stat. Instead I called such scientists two-faced: they said things differently in private, among themselves, than they did publicly. The “missing heat” being a “travesty” in the Climategate emails being the key email I cited (without mentioning Kevin Trenberth). That wasn’t the message the public was getting prior to November 2009.
And isn’t it the same with Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford so many years later? Not that I mentioned her. (Sorry John.) By now it’s fair to call the messaging on extreme events nonsense on stilts. It’s been that long in the faking. But, as my earlier report indicated, the two polite ladies had bought the public face of the message hook, line and sinker. The other face might as well not exist.
Yeh, these are the questions, folks.
I’m not sure I would go so far as to call attribution studies ‘nonsense on stilts’ since they are, after all, a laudable attempt to quantify something that almost certainly exists, i.e. an increased risk of occurrence of extreme weather events. The problem comes when a science that is, at its best, still subject to significant uncertainties and, at its worst, pretty hopeless, is nevertheless presented and accepted as one that has a rock solid foundation. I’m also concerned when experts who know it provides an incomplete picture of causation forget to mention this when talking to the public, and even go so far as to deride those who try to introduce the fuller picture (you know who I am talking to Gavin).
The reasons for the discrepancy between the private and public face of science have been a subject of discussion for this blog for some years now. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to address the subject of science and its communication without running the risk of being denounced as being anti-science. Any nuances you or I might detect are unlikely to be appreciated by XR sympathisers – of any generation.
Nor do I think I would go so far as to accuse scientists of being two-faced, even though they will often (as Friedericke Otto has demonstrated) adopt different positions depending upon the role they are currently undertaking. It’s not for me to suggest that they are being knowingly deceitful – I think a perceived good cause can provide an individual with a lot of latitude when it comes to flexing a message. One of my favourite quotes (I think I may have used it before now in these discussions) comes from Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State for Harry S. Truman, when he was commenting upon the reliability of the expert advice Truman had been given regarding the Soviet risk to US security:
“If we made our points clearer than the truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise”.
I strongly suspect that this is a view to which many of the supposed 99.9% would subscribe. Sometimes they just want to make the points clearer than the truth. They may think that they could hardly do otherwise, but that doesn’t alter the fact that, in so doing, they overstep their role as scientists.
“The reasons for the discrepancy between the private and public face of science have been a subject of discussion for this blog for some years now.”
As Richard Lindzen has pointed out for years, and has a handy video on it somewhere (lost the link), regarding the dominant narrative in the public space (which is a certainty of imminent global catastrophe), there isn’t any difference between the vast majority of mainstream scientists, and skeptic scientists. They both agree that this is wrong. And hence for that vast majority there shouldn’t in theory be any significant issue which would cause a discrepancy between their public and private faces.
The number of genuinely ‘catastrophist’ climate-scientists, who claim the IPCC is hugely and inappropriately conservative for political reasons, or possibly even corrupt and is hiding the true nature of apocalypse, is really very small. Despite their very oversized voice / media-presence. Maybe even smaller than skeptical scientists. And the press don’t know that they’re *not* mainstream either.
But back to that vast majority of the mainstream scientists: I think it likely that the only difference between their public and private faces is that they cower (seems to be a popular word right now) before the might of the culture that is based upon the narrative of certain imminent catastrophe. Because it could cancel them in a flash. So, not only do they (with odd exceptions) fail to vigorously challenge the narrative in the media, they probably don’t even challenge it when their daughter comes home from school with climate-anxiety or their dinner companion claims all is nearly lost and it’s time to join XR. Because not only would they rapidly end up with no friends and children who don’t talk to them and a partner who thinks they must have lost the plot, they may well lose their university position too. Or at least come in for endless ‘denier’ flak from all parts of the Uni that possess not a shred of climate-science knowledge, which is essentially all of it. This position is not really deceitful, and I can sympathise with it. But in the end, I guess it’s still cowardly.
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Andy: “the dominant narrative in the public space (which is a certainty of imminent global catastrophe)”
Yeah that’s what I had in mind. Just the narrative from the BBC will do, including the lamentable Attenbollocks in early 2019, with Michael Mann the key ‘adviser’ ie enforcer. Of course attribution studies are a cool thing to try. But all uncertainty is lost in the public space. That was true with Trenberth’s missing heat and surely is now.
I’d be concerned about the corruption spreading inside the science, though, with Mann ascendant rather than the greats of old, of whom you mention my favourite.
I didn’t actually say to the leading lady I was speaking to that all 99.9% of the scientists that were against me – and this was a known fact – were two-faced. I mentioned one example from November 2009 and said there were others. How many are needed until the whole field can be considered corrupt? Lindzen said they’d reached that point by 2010. He probably said it before that.
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Never knowingly undersold…..
“Europe fries in a heat wave made ‘more intense by climate change’
Fires, floods and roasting temperatures hit Europe from Finland to Sicily.”
“Europe roasted under one of its worst heat waves in decades on Monday, as scientists and governments prepared to sign off on a major new warning about the severity of climate change.
Temperatures in Greece were forecast to approach Europe’s all-time record of 48 degrees and wildfires raged in Turkey, Greece, Italy and Finland.
While parts of Europe burned, negotiations between governments and scientists over the final wording of a major compilation of the last seven years of climate science were taking place online.
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth Assessment Report, to be released on August 9, is expected to draw clearer conclusions than ever before about the links between climate change and extreme weather, such as heat waves.
The IPCC produces major summaries of the state of climate science roughly every six or seven years. The first section of the sixth edition comes amid a barrage of extreme weather events across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, which have been linked to climate change.
Ed Hawkins, a climatologist and lead author of the report, said recent events would “hopefully provide some context for the world that we are moving towards.”…”.
That last sentence sounds suspiciously to me like politics, not science.
As for “one of its worst heat waves in decades”, that means there have been others worse both in recent years and decades ago. Temperatures forecast to approach a record, as a statement has 2 qualifications – firstly it’s only a forecast, it hasn’t happened; secondly even the forecast is only for it to approach the record, not even to equal it, let alone break it.
Then, relevant to commenting about this here, we get this:
“On Friday, the panel signed off on a section that draws on the emerging field of attribution science, which allows scientists to identify the human fingerprint in heat waves, floods and other extreme events. It represents a profound shift in the level of certainty and detail for single destructive events.
“Every heat wave that is happening today is made more likely and more intense by climate change,” said Friederike Otto, associate director of the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, and the lead author on the IPCC report who has pioneered research in the attribution field.”
“Recent scientific advances and leaked drafts of the IPCC report indicate scientists will deliver a stark message next week about the role of climate change in worsening heat waves, floods and other disasters.
“That side of the science has moved on a lot. And that will be reflected I’m sure in the IPCC report,” said Hawkins. ”
By the way, the temperature reached 17C here today.
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Me on Cliscep on 21 Feb 2021:
“A lot has happened since AR5, and it will be interesting to see just how much of it is assimilated within the pages of AR6. One can expect a greater emphasis on extreme weather events, with a lot of effort expended in demonstrating their novelty and frequency.”
Ed Hawkins on 02 August 2021:
“Recent scientific advances and leaked drafts of the IPCC report indicate scientists will deliver a stark message next week about the role of climate change in worsening heat waves, floods and other disasters.”
Me on Cliscep on 21 Feb 2021:
“One thing for sure is that the days of arguing for action now, in order to avert a distant, though uncertain, catastrophe are long gone. And none of this transformation is the result of advances in science.”
Ed Hawkins on 02 August 2021:
“That side of the science has moved on a lot. And that will be reflected I’m sure in the IPCC report.”
Some of this crap is just too easy to predict.
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“The climatologist who put climate science ‘on the offensive’
Friederike Otto has tailored her research to beat back doubt about the link between extreme events and climate change.”
“…A vanishingly small number of scientists have the skills and know-how to respond in detail and quickly enough for journalists on deadline.
One of them is German climatologist Friederike Otto. Along with her colleagues at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) service, she is using what’s called attribution science to help answer the question of whether climate change made a heat wave, hurricane or drought more likely.
“It’s extremely powerful to communicate just what climate change means, here and now. To really bring climate change home,” Otto said in a phone call while walking her dog near her home in Oxford, England.
North America was still trapped in the heat wave when Otto and her team declared on July 7 that the extremes of temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, would have been “virtually impossible” without the extra greenhouse gases humans have loaded into the atmosphere.
No scientist would have been secure in making such a rapid and decisive statement until a few years ago. Normally, it would take months or years to research, peer review and publish findings. Instead, WWA runs hundreds of computer simulations to compare the probability of an event occurring in the world as it exists and one in which there are no greenhouse gases added by humans. That has brought a new speed and certainty to the slow-moving and tentative world of climate science.
On Monday, the approach was prominently enshrined in the bible of climate science: the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth Assessment Report. The last time climate scientists pooled their collective research in 2014, attribution was treated as a promising, but exploratory field. Now, the IPCC says: “On a case-by-case basis, scientists can now quantify the contribution of human influences to the magnitude and probability of many extreme events.”
Otto, a lead author on the report, said that recognition was a “very, very proud” moment….”.
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>”…she is using what’s called attribution science to help answer the question of whether climate change made a heat wave, hurricane or drought more likely.”
This is the sort of bar-lowering that I was referring to in ‘Hold the Front Page’. Extra heat cannot help but make a thermal event more likely. Is that really what all those supercomputers are telling us?
>”It’s extremely powerful to communicate just what climate change means, here and now.”
You’re damned right it is. Now we are getting to the nub of it. Ref. AR5, Chapter 2.
>“North America was still trapped in the heat wave when Otto and her team declared on July 7 that the extremes of temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, would have been “virtually impossible” without the extra greenhouse gases humans have loaded into the atmosphere.”
Yes, but that’s just a statement of the probability of necessity. What is the probability of sufficiency Friederike? After all, wasn’t it you who was emphasizing the importance of stating both when making a public argument for causation?
>”That has brought a new speed and certainty to the slow-moving and tentative world of climate science.”
New speed, maybe, but I’m afraid it takes a lot more than both faster and higher levels of number-crunching to enable more certainty. That only really comes from improvements in the models and the uncertainties that undermine them.
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There is another statement in the Politico article that I should have homed in on:
“A vanishingly small number of scientists have the skills and know-how to respond in detail and quickly enough for journalists on deadline.”
That’s a far cry from all the world’s scientists being in agreement. I wonder if most of the journalists understand that they are being briefed by a ‘vanishingly small’ number of scientists. Is it safe that the world’s media should be taking its cue on such an important matter from a ‘vanishingly small’ group? Is there any other field of learning of such importance in which we would be so ready to cede expert authority to a ‘vanishingly small’ group? The scientific method is founded upon the principle of mutual and independent corroboration. So is this even science anymore?
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Interesting point. I have noticed that the MSM (led by the Guardian and the BBC) do seem to have their regular “go-tos” for comments on each and every climate alarmism story. That, it seems to me, leads to an echo chamber of reporting, since the usual suspects are always good for a suitably alarmist quote.
By and large the people in question are spokespersons for alarmist organisations – XR, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF etc. However, if there is a clique of suitably alarmed climate scientists who are always available to give a quote, then it does indeed create the possibility – maybe even probability- that the debate will be skewed, and that a small number of more concerned, and therefore more activist, noisier scientists will dominate the debate. If so, then it certainly feeds in to the increasing mania, while calmer, quieter, less-concerned scientific voices are effectively side-lined. That shouldn’t be how science works.
So, how do we break the symbiotic chain of alarmist media organisations, who like alarmism because alarmism sells, turning to alarmist scientists who like alarmist media because they’re good for getting their alarmist message across? It would help if the BBC did its job, and didn’t try to compete with the Sun for headlines, but regrettably I don’t see anything changing there any time soon. Indeed, for so long as I’ve been interested in this stuff, the BBC’s approach has steadily deteriorated, and continues to do so.
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Are you trying to suggest that the BBC is resorting to alarmist headlines? Do you mean like this one?
“Climate Change: July world’s hottest month ever – US agency”
Which, when one starts reading the article, morphs into “July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded.”
Spot the difference.
Yes, that’s the kind of thing. By the way, it’s a record by 0.01C, which I should have thought is well within the margin of error. We get the (first, inaccurate) headline, but not the caveat. It’s funny how BBC Reality Checking extends only to stories it doesn’t like, and never to its own alarmism.
“South Africa’s April floods made twice as likely by climate crisis, scientists say”
“…Dr Friederike Otto, at Imperial College London and also part of the team, said: “Most people who died in the floods lived in informal settlements, so again we are seeing how climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people. However, the flooding of the port of Durban is also a reminder that there are no borders for climate impacts. What happens in one place can have substantial consequences elsewhere.”…”.
“Breaking climate vows would be ‘monstrous self-harm’, warns Cop26 president”
“…Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, who studied the 2018 drought in Cape Town, warned: “Changing rainfall and higher temperatures – the result of greenhouse gas emissions – are making drought more common and more severe in parts of the world. As we saw in Cape Town, this can add up to catastrophic water shortages even for some major cities.”…”.
OK, the Eastern Cape and Western Cape are hundreds of miles apart, and it’s possible for one area to become more susceptible to flooding while the other becomes more susceptible to droughts. It’s even possible for prolonged droughts to become more common, but interspersed by more severe flooding incidents. Still, neither combination of circumstances is inherently likely, IMO, and so it would be nice to have a detailed explanation of how this can be so. Instead, we are simply told that where there are droughts, climate change has made it more likely, and where there are floods, climate change has also made that more likely. It’s a nice, simple narrative, I’ll give you that.
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As I’m sure you fully appreciate, it is perfectly plausible for climate change to be responsible for an increase in rainfall in one region whilst also being responsible for an increase in drought in another. See, for example, this analysis regarding trends, both observed and predicted, within Europe:
However, as you point out, for Otto’s proclamations to carry any weight, one would need to see a convincing argument for why this should be the case with respect to the Western and Eastern Cape. Perhaps one is a more maritime climate, for example. The bottom line is that Otto’s techniques are very good for analysing the probability of necessity on a global scale and not very good at all for explaining, or calculating, the probability of sufficiency on a regional scale. Besides which, the IPCC now seems to be pushing the ‘just so’ story-telling approach:
The cynic in me suspects that the technique used on a given occasion is decided by which offers the most alarming conclusions. In fact, come to think of it, that is exactly the openly advocated approach, justified because it promotes the ‘right’, i.e. precautionary, values.
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“Climate change role clear in many extreme events but social factors also key, study finds
Professor says link to extreme weather sometimes overestimated but climate costs underestimated”
This article is mostly full of alarmist stuff, as one might expect, but it contains some surprises:
“Climate change is to blame for the majority of the heatwaves being recorded around the planet but the relation to other extreme events impacts on society is less clear, according to a study….
…For other events such as droughts, floods and tropical cyclones, there is a more nuanced link to climate change. For example, there are some regions of the world where droughts are becoming worse because of human-caused climate change, such as southern Africa, Otto notes, while in other droughts the climate change signal is either not there or very small.
“By focusing too much on climate change, it really takes the responsibility, but also the agency, away to address these local drivers of disasters such as high poverty rates, missing infrastructure, investment, missing healthcare system … all these aspects of exposure and vulnerability that make every drought a catastrophe,” Otto said.
“That will not go away even if we stop burning fossil fuels today. I think that that is why the overestimation of climate change – by basically blaming this all on climate change – is not very helpful for actually dealing [with] and for actually improving resilience to these threats.”
Much of the problem in figuring out exactly to what extent climate change was responsible for the impact of extreme weather events, Otto said, lay in the lack of reliable data around the globe….”.
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Yes, that’s two good quotes I’ve read from Otto today, thanks to Mark. Please surprise me more. I might even start to attribute this line of thinking to the Professor’s integrity. (Attribution – geddit? Oh, never mind.)
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Ah, integrity is necessary for such comments to be made, but is it sufficient?
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Hmm, where does clarity come from? Or indeed understanding? I follow Roger Penrose in thinking that the brain-as-complex-Turing-machine won’t cut the mustard of the latter. But what reliably will?