I’ve written before about sea-level rise, and it continues to interest me, as it does very many, from politicians to coastal dwellers. Judith Curry’s Climate etc website ran a most detailed post, by an inventor and author called Rud Istvan, on what might be happening with respect to glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica. It is really worth reading, plus the Comments, which run to more than 200, because the sheer uncertainty of it all cannot fail to get to you.
Like so much in ‘climate science’, measurements so often come with errors that are larger than the differences reported, and those are the errors that we know about. How sure can we be that Antarctic is losing ice? Satellites tell us that a lot of ice is going every year. What exactly is it that the GRACE system is measuring? It is, after all, well below freezing pretty well all the time in most of Antarctic. I wrote about the ‘collapse’ of an aspect of the Antarctic ice shelf the other day.
My view is that we simply don’t know enough about almost any of it to be confident. Yet the orthodox remain supremely confident. In the Comments I came across a short summary of ‘the game’ by Steven Mosher, who appears regularly on both Climate etc and WUWT. Mosher is his own man, and gets criticised by both sides, which probably makes him pretty happy. He wrote an excellent book with Thomas W. Fuller about the Climategate emails (Climategate. The CRUtape Letters) which appeared in 2010.
Mosher joined a discussion about how university media and other PR entities make more out of a scientific paper than is really there. His comment (slightly edited by me) went like this.
The game is pretty simple. The scientist says 97% agree (which is pretty close to the truth, depending on the subject). The media and message pushers say the science is settled.
It goes like this:
Scientist: Nearly all of us agree that humans cause warming.
Message Pusher: The science is settled.
Skeptic: Science is never settled.
Scientist: We never said the science was settled.
Scientist: There is a possibility that the WAIS [West Antarctic Ice Sheet] will increase its melt to 1mm per year in 200 to 900 years, and eventually lead to 12 feet of SLR [sea-level rise].
Message Pusher: Collapse in 200 years, we will have to move LAX [Los Angeles Airport].
Scientist: We never said 12 feet in 200 years.
There is an asymmetry of concern. Read the Climategate mails. The concern is always about a message being misread in one direction. Concern that a message will lead to less alarm. There is never any concern that the message will lead to more alarm. In behavior there is always a proactive effort when the press gets it wrong on the “less alarm” side and no proactive effort when the mistake is on the more alarm, side. There is one exception, when somebody argues that we have gone too far, and that there is no hope.
You want just the right amount of alarm. Not too much to make the situation hopeless, not too little to justify delay… Just the right amount, [as with] Goldilocks.
I think there is a lot in this pithy précis. I have noticed myself how the media ‘sex up’ the scientific material, and the same seems to be true of university PR people. They want the media to take notice of the paper, because it’s good for the university. They know that anything that says that ‘things are bad’, or that ‘it’s worse than we thought’, will get attention.
A published paper that says, on the contrary, that sea level doesn’t seem to be rising faster, or that Greenland ice seems pretty solid, will get little media attention. I can’t speak confidently about the university PR people, who should be trying to get attention whatever the paper says, but they may well feel that there’s not much use — the media won’t take any notice. And no one ever comes out of the scientific establishment to complain that the news report overstates the reality. Indeed, some scientists do their own inflation of the importance of their paper, as in the case of the paper about bees.
What can anyone do about this? As I’ve argued before, Nature is in charge here. In two or three years we will see whether or not warming has ‘resumed’. If it hasn’t it will get progressively harder for the orthodox position to be defended, and the media will begin to shift, as will the scientific journals. There seems to be a bit of a shift already, with more dissenting papers being published. If warming starts again, things will go on as before.
We should remember there has been a shift by governments too. The Ukraine situation is making the EU think again about where it gets its energy, and greenhouse gas emissions aren’t as important as they were. The Abbott Government is not talking much about ‘climate change’, and where it does it intones the orthodoxy, but it is cutting out funding for mitigation about as fast as it can.
Nonetheless, I think we’ll see more scary stuff over the next few month, especially if an el Nino develops in the Pacific. All one can do is to read the papers, monitor the data and make what sense of it one can.