This is not so much an article as a hastily thrown together note that provides the flimsy pretext for starting a discussion regarding the role of the Met Office in the climate debate. It started as a comment posted by myself on Open Mic, drawing attention to a Daily Mail article that leads with the headline: “The Met Office warns of armed militias roaming a UK ravaged by climate change in doomsday report.”
According to the Daily Mail, the Met Office study predicts:
“… a surge in ‘Right-wing populism’, resulting in the collapse of ‘political and governance systems’. After that ‘a tipping point is reached when the police and justice system (as known in the past) cease to exist’.”
The newspaper says of the same study that:
“It advances the thesis that the most ‘sustainable’ scenario for surviving global warming would be the ‘establishment of a federal UK, with citizens’ assemblies becoming the “primary” decision-making mode’ and the UK re-entering ‘a progressive and expanded European Union’.”
It should be obvious to all that an agency tasked with a primary role of providing weather forecasts should not be in the business of offering socio-political or socio-economic predictions.
Thanks to some sterling work from dfhunter (alias Dougie, alias dfhunter) the source of the Daily Mail report was identified and brought to my attention. It is actually a study produced by UK-SCAPE as part of their Project SPEED (Spatially explicit Projections of EnvironmEntal Drivers). The output comprises five sub-studies, each speculating upon a so-called Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP). On its website, UK-SCAPE explains that:
“The UK-SSPs products have been jointly developed with Cambridge Econometrics, University of Edinburgh and University of Exeter through co-funding from the Met Office as part of the UK Climate Resilience Programme (DN420214 – CR19-3).”
If anything, this makes the Met Office’s involvement look all the more inappropriate. The real concerns, however, materialize upon reading the detail in the study. As explained:
“Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) describe a set of alternative plausible trajectories of societal development, which are based on hypotheses about which societal elements are the most important determinants of challenges to climate change mitigation and adaptation.”
The five supposedly ‘plausible’ developments are:
- SSP 1 Sustainability: “Taking the Green Road” (in which the UK chooses to fully adopt green politics)
- SSP 2 Middle of the road (in which there are intermediate levels of challenge for both mitigation and adaptation)
- SSP 3 Regional Rivalry: “A Rocky Road” (for which climate change is not taken seriously and many nightmare outcomes are duly predicted)
- SSP 4 Inequality: “A Road Divided” (for which adaption challenges dominate)
- SSP 5 Fossil-fuelled Development: “Taking the Highway” (for which mitigation challenges dominate)
You need to look at the scenario reports yourself to fully appreciate them. Suffice it to say that the words ‘plausible’ and ‘hypotheses’ are being egregiously abused here by the architects of the SSPs, and that only by taking the ‘Green Road’ do things turn out well for society come 2100.
So rather than a serious study undertaken by serious academics, the whole thing comes across as a puerile, political exercise – nothing more than fanciful contrivances created on behalf of the Green Party and dressed up to look like serious futurology. However, I don’t want to say much more for fear of putting you off reading the study for yourself. What I actually want is for as many people as possible to do so and to comment below. The more that this sort of naked and simplistic politicking is exposed for what it is, the better.
I’m sure that the Met Office believes it is flying a high kite on this one but, from where I am standing, it looks more like what an aviation accident expert would refer to as ‘CFIT’ – Controlled Flight Into Terrain.
What is there to be surprised about? This Met Office network of ever extending tendrils, now invading social science, has now to be considered as par for the course. I also suspect that the Met Office would call into question the assertion that its prime function is to provide weather forecasts, I’m sure it would claim that climate forecasts now are at least as important. Meteorology is now so very dull, you can see it coming from satellites and forecasting is mostly a matter of pattern matching with the past using computers. Since they have lost the contract to supply the BBC with forecasts, there cannot be much fun anymore in the discipline and everyone of any note is probably finding their joy in creating climate scenarios- rather like creating new versions of Game of Thrones with plots of future civil disturbances caused by CO2.
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Ben Pile has done a Twitter thread on this. Willis and Rupert think it’s worth a read.
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Sadly, everything you say is true. With every charity worthy of the title engaging in climate science politics, one should not be surprised to learn that the same is true of most scientific organisations. However, concerning what I said about the Met Office, I think it is only fair to note that I referred to ‘a primary role’ rather than ‘the primary role’. Even when writing off-the-cuff I still try to be careful with my words. 🙂
Parts of the ‘SSP 3 Regional Rivalry’ pathway remind me of several post-2016 Radio 4 dramas that were set in a UK that had collapsed into anarchy because of Brexit and/or climate change. My notes about such dramas are somewhat dishevelled but I think this was one of them:
(The note for that play said that its most entertaining character was someone with Down’s Syndrome. The actor who played that character has Down’s Syndrome in real life. Does that forgive my laughter? Difficult times.)
IIRC, McDermid’s The Kraken Wakes also fits the bill:
A dystopian drama that starts with a politician blaming societal collapse on climate change. It was supposed to have been broadcast in April 2016 but its first broadcast was delayed until after the Brexit referendum because, says its author, it was ‘too controversial’.
“Why do we need to map future environmental change scenarios?
Because more accurate projections of the future will enable researchers and others to manage the environment better and to avoid unintended consequences.”
Funny way of going about it.
Indeed. They can call them what they like, but the UK-SCAPE scenarios are just flights of imagination on a par with any other fantastical tale of dystopia. The difference is that the purpose is not just to scare but to endorse a specific political strategy at the expense of the viable alternatives. They can’t inform because they carry no information.
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tried to get the cost for this research – “SPEED aims to produce spatially-explicit projections — i.e. maps — of how key environmental drivers are predicted to change under alternative plausible scenarios of socioeconomic change over the next 80 years.”
found this on the web page – This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council award number NE/R016429/1 as part of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s UK-SCAPE programme delivering National Capability.
anybody know how to find funding from that NE/R016429/1 number ?
ps – note they say “supported by” mmm – wonder what that means.cash from elsewhere !!!
It’s all trash, of course, but some of it is ludicrously wrong.
Cities expand very fast, driven by the strong economic development in the technology, manufacturing and energy sectors
Populations in the West are largely stagnant. Cities are barely growing at all in most of it, and in many places they are emptying out. The only way our cities are going to grow fast is by importing a LOT of people.
Social structures are strongly influenced by the importance attached to the individual rather than the collective good. Consequently, whilst individual wealth and investment in education and the health system are at relatively high levels, there is little sense of community.
How does that wasteland of individualism, Switzerland, manage to be one of the nicest places to live then?
Environmental health continues to deteriorate, with soils and water bodies being critically affected across the UK lowlands.
The best protection for soil is private ownership, because the owner has a massive stake in ensuring his asset is protected. The worst protection for land is communal ownership. That’s how you get the appalling environmental errors of the Soviet Union, because the people doing the damage don’t have to answer for the bill.
60 years ago the Thames was dead. Now it has seals. The idea that the environment is steadily degrading is weapons-grade bullshit.
What they have done is assume that collectivism is the answer to everything. From that they have argued backwards that free markets, individualism, profit etc must destroy things — despite all evidence to the contrary.
It’s all complete hand-waving. Last year my school set our 14-year old students a project, where they had to design a country. Most of them came up with something rather more coherent than SPEED.
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Even a flight of fantasy still needs a flight plan, and you don’t need a pilot’s licence to understand where the Met Office is trying to take us. I spoke of contrivances, and they begin, of course, with the acronym SPEED. The message is that speed is of the essence and only the Green Road will get you there fast enough (SSP 1). But let’s get real here. Any study that advocates a scenario of rapid societal change, but fails to acknowledge how the rapidity must increase transition risk, is not worth taking seriously.
As for your Switzerland question, I have only one word to offer: Chocolate.
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According to the following site, NERC funding of UK-SCAPE amounts to £29,316,000:
How much of this is allocated to project SPEED, and just what the financial involvement of the Met Office is, remains unclear. Perhaps a FOI request would be needed.
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This says that the project got £500k:
I don’t know if that was all of it. That grant announcement is from early 2020 and I think the project had been going for a couple of years by then.
I’d like to know more about the ‘stakeholders’ whose opinions shaped the five UK-SSP scenarios. The UK-SSP User Manual says that the scenario-shaping online workshops in May 2020 involved ’37 stakeholders from academia, policy, practice and business’. 120 had been invited. Those 120 had been ‘selected [from a provisional list of 200] to ensure representative coverage of a broad range of expertise and viewpoints across the UK climate resilience community’. But only 37 turned up. Representative? Perhaps, but of what?
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Viiny: the “UK climate resilience community”. I can’t think of a better term for almost all regular contributors to Cliscep (our antipodian friends and other non-locals excluded). Yet I don’t remember getting the invite. How strange life is.
>”I’d like to know more about the ‘stakeholders’ whose opinions shaped the five UK-SSP scenarios.”
That’s a very good question. I have been looking at some of the academic work of the lady who presents the SSP 1 video on the project SPEED website (Dr Simona Pedde). In particular, the following paper has caught my eye:
It is of personal interest to me because it addresses the generic subject of scenario plausibility from an uncertainty analysis viewpoint. Specifically, it provides a theoretical basis for converting between the linguistic vagueness of the narrative components of a scenario and the epistemic and aleatoric uncertainties lurking within its quantified elements. This is of interest to me on an academic level but I have to say that my practical interest in this problem is limited given the extent to which cognitive and ideological biases can so severely undermine the whole logical and conceptual integrity of said scenarios. It seems typical of academics to delve into such a problem with such enthusiasm and competence whilst failing to see the elephant in the room.
from UK-SSP3: Regional Rivalry – 2040 to 2070
“The trends in public spending from previous decades
continue and strengthen, with governments in all
four UK countries prioritising the defence sector at
the expense of social, education, health and public
infrastructure spending. In some of the countries,
national service is re-introduced. Roads and public
transport are not maintained, and by the 2050s the
railway system collapses. The underfunded universities
are forced to further cut down their curricula and
you have to tip your hat to the “underfunded universities” – what “cut down their curricula” means is open to question (social study is last ?)
ps – @John – to many quotes to pick from, but buy a gun seems to be the takeaway message !!!
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may as well quote the Abstract from UK-SSP3 in it’s full unbiased glory –
“With growing international tensions leading to barriers to trade and
job losses, the UK government lifts environmental regulations to
allow access to and exploitation of a wider supply of domestic natural
resources. The UK increases its border controls and invests in the
manufacturing and defence sectors. Immigration from European and
non-European countries decreases, but internal migration increases
because people move around the UK in search of job opportunities.
The high competition for jobs leads to an exploited workforce with
low salaries. With a reduction in personal income and the redistribution
of public spending towards the defence sector, investment in social
support, education, health and public infrastructure all significantly
decline. Around 2040, Scotland becomes independent from the UK,
with the other nations following quickly and the UK ceases to exist.
With increasing socio-economic barriers, conflicts arise, markets shrink
and informal economies increase. Decreases in working and living
conditions lead to social unrest within communities and wider society.
Towards the end of the century, a return to subsistence lifestyles is
widespread across the (former) UK”
We need an emoji to express anger, aggravation, or whatever, at the nonsense that is sometimes written (not dfhunter’s comment, the stuff he’s quoting to show it up in all its “glory”). In these circumstances, a simple “like” is inadequate!
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Dfhunter is quite right when he says that it is so difficult to pick out a highlight from this unadulterated rubbish. And for every apocalyptic demise described in SSPs 2 to 5 there is a tale of unbelievable achiement in SSP 1. For example, if we follow the Green Road, apparently by 2040 roads will have been ‘repurposed for public transport modes such as high-speed train lines’.
Hoverboards — they forgot the hoverboards.
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Hoverboards, nah! They will be repurposed for huge herds of Shank’s ponies.
Whether it be a matter of hoverboard, high-speed train or pony express, one would not expect tomorrow’s favoured mode of transport to be within the remit of the Met Office to predict. Even less would one expect to see a Met Office report predicting that:
“Enhanced societal collaboration, engagement and empowerment leads to increasing appreciation that sharing and redistribution of resources is beneficial for both individual and societal wellbeing. Society becomes more egalitarian, with the sustainability agenda being pushed forward by the whole of society, not just the privileged few.”
But only if you follow the Green Road, mind you. It’s almost evangelical in tone.
The question of how much public money was spent in the preparation of this manifesto-come-gospel is a very pertinent one.
There are some blogs I could mention where a great deal of attention is given to the demarcation of responsibilities at the interface between science and policy. The argument is given that scientists are responsible for providing the reliable information upon which decisions can then be made and policies established; however, they cannot be held to account if the decision-makers and politicians fail to ‘follow the science’. This is a reasonable line to take but I think it is overly concerned with a false dichotomy. In practice, there is much that can be done to fudge the boundary. Much of this fudging is done by the scientists themselves in the way they choose to evaluate and communicate uncertainties. For this reason alone, it is naïve to suggest that the presentation of scientific results is necessarily a policy-neutral undertaking.
However, what we are seeing here with the Met Office goes a lot further than that. Instead of taking steps to ensure that its reputation for scientific integrity is protected by steering clear of politicking, it has unequivocally entered into the political arena by funding and promoting an obviously politically motivated set of studies and by offering a pseudo-scientific endorsement of a particular political position. Having declared its political affiliation, it will now be very difficult for the Met Office to dismiss future accusations that its scientific output is suspect. Knowing that it has a political motivation for wanting a particular scientific prediction to be true severely undermines its credibility when it then makes a claim for its verification.
So yes, a little bit more science denial might very well be a good thing.
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John: ‘…it addresses the generic subject of scenario plausibility from an uncertainty analysis viewpoint,’
IANASQSASSDS but the whole field of semi-quantitative story-and-simulation scenario development seems to rely on the daftest of bafflegab flowcharts. Stick Post-It notes about foo on a whiteboard and draw arrows linking them all in dozens of ways and – kaboom! – you’ve got science.
Here’s a flowchart by Kasper Kok, whose work on SQSASSD informed both of the UK-SSP projects (the 2018-2019 UK-SCAPE one and the £500k 2020-2021 Met Office-commissioned one that was, according to various official reports, part of UK-SCAPE or independent of it but co-funded by it, or… a flowchart would help):
(IIRC, the beavers at top left were released illegally by [xxx], who continues to have a mysteriously large say in all things pro-beaver rewilding in Devon.)
Yes, that’s exactly what I was referring to when I said ‘the elephant in the room’. The Pedde paper refers to the scenario frameworks as being ‘conceptually strong’ but I fail to see where that confidence is coming from. Pedde et al have put a great deal of thought into how fuzzy sets can be used to convert linguistic vagueness into a form that can be combined with epistemic uncertainty, and yet they completely overlook the fact that the greatest uncertainty lies not in the linguistic vagueness attributed to elements of the scenario but the validity of the framework provided by the scenario. In other words, you can’t polish a turd.
Not that it matters much, but I referred in my article to ‘socio-political predictions’. I should point out, however, that those involved were anxious to clarify that the products of the studies are just scenarios and not predictions. As such they are simply what-if speculations based upon ‘plausible’ lines of development.
As I said, predictions — Conditional and contrived predictions.