Thursday, 19 September 2019

European Meteorological Society Meeting highlights on station data quality and communication #EMS2019

Last week I was at the Annual Meeting of the European Meteorological Society in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here are the highlights for station data (quality) and communication.

Warming in Svalbard

Øyvind Nordli and colleagues estimated the warming on the Arctic island of Svalbard/Spitsbergen; see figure below. They use the linear red line to estimate the total warming and claim 3.8°C of warming. I would say it warmed a whooping 6°C (11°F). The graph already mostly shows that such a linear trend based estimate will underestimate the total warming.

The monthly data was already published in 2014. At that time I would have called it 5°C of warming; recent years were very warm.

They put a lot of work in the homogenization; even made modern parallel measurements to estimate the effect of past relocations of the station. The next, almost published, paper is on the daily data, so that we can study changes in the number of growing, freezing or melting days.

Warming in the tropical hot spot

There is a small region high up in the air in the tropics that is dear to many climate "skeptics", the tropical hot spot. It is one of the coldest places on Earth which warms strongly when the world is warming (for any reason). Because some observations do not show as much warming there, climate "skeptics" have declared this region to be the arbiter of climate truth, these observations and satellite estimates to the be best we have and most informative for the changes of our climate.

The warming for a GISS model equilibrium run for a 2% increase in solar forcing showing a maximum around 20N to 20S around 300mb (10 km).

Back to reality, it is really hard to make good measurements of such a cold place starting at such a tropically warm place. The thermometer needs to be reliable over about 100°C of range. That is a lot. It is not that easy to launch a weather balloon up to such heights and colds; the balloon will expand enormously. While the countries making these measurements are among the poorest on Earth.

What I had not realized is how few weather balloon make it to such heights. A poster by Souleymane Sy showed this; see Figure below. For trend estimates the sharp drop off above the pressure level of 300mb is especially very worrying. Changes in this drop off level due to changes in equipment can easily lead to changes in the estimated temperature. There is a part of the tropical hot spot below 300mb; that would be the part I would prioritize in trend estimates.

Number of radiosonde stations recording at least a given percentage of temperature and relative humidity monthly data at mandatory pressure levels since 1978 to present time for the Tropics (20° North to 20° South).

Weather forecasts in America and Europe

Communication at the EMS mostly means presenting the daily TV weather forecasts. There was a lovely difference between American and European presenters. The Americans were explaining how to dumb down your forecast as much as possible. A study found that most high school students in Alabama could not find their county on a map of Alabama; so the advice is to put a city name on every number on the map. The Europeans presented their educational work.

Our Irish friends had made three one-hour shows about the weather on consecutive days between 7 and 8pm when normally the soaps are running; light information in a botanical garden with a a small audience.

German weather presenter Karsten Schwanke got a price for his educational weather forecasts, which add information on climate change; for example in case of Dorian show the increase in the sea surface temperature. For Schwanke providing context is the main task of TV weather, the local numbers are available from a weather app.

Karsten Schwanke explains the relationship between the jet stream, wild fires and the drought in Europe. In German.

An increasing problem is fake weather predictions. Amateurs who can make a decent map are often seen as reliable sources, which can be dangerous in case of severe weather.

American weather caster Jay Trobec reported that it is common to have weather information three times during a news block, before, in the middle and at the end. In Europe you just get weather at the end. In America the weather is live, a presenter explaining everyone should leave the disaster area they went to to make this live broadcast. In Europe typically reported and the weather shown in videos. Trobec stated that during severe weather people watch TV rather than use the internet.

Live hurricane weather. :-)

The difference is likely that there is not that much severe weather in Europe, you normally watch the weather to see if you have to take an umbrella with you, rarely to see whether your house will soon be destroyed. Live weather would be looking at a weather presenter slowly getting wet in the drizzle. In addition, European public media have an educational mandate, they are paid by the public to make society better, while in America media is commercial and will do whatever makes money.

In the harbor of Copenhagen is the famous little mermaid. Tourists ships went to see it, had to keep quite a distance and could only show her back. Typically the boats only waited a few seconds because there was nothing to see. But due to commercial pressure they had to have the little mermaid on their tour schedule. They follow demand, whether the outcome is good or not.

Short hits communication

  • When asked what 30% probability of rain means for a weather prediction most people gave the wrong answer: that 30% of the region would experience rain. The formally correct answer is that 30% of the cases this prediction is made you will experience rain. To be fair to the people, I often explain the need to give such a percentage by saying that in case of showers we cannot tell whether it rains in Bonn or Cologne. I feel this is quite common explanation and the main effect. The German weather service is working on providing more detailed probabilistic information to weather brigades. That seems to be appreciated (and they answered the question mostly right).
  • Amanda Ruggeri won the journalism award for her story on sea level rise in Miami, which was reviewed by ClimateFeedback who found its scientific credibility to be "very high". Recommended read.
  • EUMETSAT operates the European satellites once in space. They also make MOOCs ([[Massive Open Online  Courses]]). They have one on the oceans and one on the atmosphere. They are a great way to introduce these topics to new people and in future they plan to do more live. 
  • Climate change is seen as the Top Global Threat according to global polling by the Pew Institute. In 2018 67 percent of the world sees climate change as a major threat to their country.  
  • During a Q&A someone remarked that it would be good to talk about the history of climatology more because people are spreading the rumor that climatology is a new field of science trying to make it sound less solid.
  • In case I have any Finnish speaking readers, Finland has a two-yearly bulletin on weather and climate, recently revamped.
  • Copernicus has a "new" journal on statistical climatology, ideally suited for homogenization studies: Advances in Statistical Climatology, Meteorology and Oceanography (ASCMO). It does not have an Impact Factor yet, but seeing the editorial team and reading a few articles it is clearly a serious journal and likely will get one soon. It is worth building up such a journal to have an outlet for statistical/methodological studies on climate. We already published there once; post upcoming.
  • Did you know about STATMOS, an American Research Network for Statistical Methods for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences?

Short hits observations

  • I had seen people use measurements of cosmic rays to estimate the soil moisture between the surface and the probe, but it was new to me to use it to measure the amount of snow on top of a glacier.
  • Michal Zak of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and colleagues had an interesting way to estimate how urban a station is. They computed the absolute day to day differences of the maximum and of the minimum temperature and subtracted them from each other. If the maximum temperature varies more a station is likely urban, if the minimum varies more it is likely rural. For Prague and its surrounding the differences between stations were not particularly large and smaller than its seasonal cycle, but it could be a useful check. This could also be a measure that could help one to selected climatologically similar pairs of stations in relative statistical homogenization.
  • The Homogenization Seminar in Budapest will be from 18 to 21 of May 2020. Announcements will follow, e.g., on the homogenization list. (I should write less mails to the homogenization list; at EMS someone asked to be added to the homogenization newsletter.) 
  • Carla Mateus studied Data Rescue (DARE) as a scientific problem. By creating one really high quality transcribed dataset as a benchmark, she studied how accurately various groups transcribed historical observations. Volunteers of the Irish meteorological society were an order of magnitude more accurate (0.3% errors) than students (3.3%). Great talk.
  • Our colleagues from Catalonia studied the influence of the time of observation. Manual observations tend to be made at 8am, while automatic measurements often use a normal calendar day. This naturally mattered most for the minimum temperature. With statistical homogenization the small breaks are hard to find, to formulate it diplomatically.
  • Monika Lakato has ambitious plans to study changes in hourly precipitation in Hungary motivated by increases in rain intensity (precipitation amount on rainy days).
  • Peter Domonkos studied how well network-wide trends are corrected in the new MULTITEST benchmark dataset (the presentation as pptx file). He found that his method (ACMANTv4) was able to reduce this error by about 30% and others were worse. It would be interesting to study what is different in the MULTITEST dataset or this analysis because the results of Williams et al. (2012) are much more optimistic; here 50 to 90% of the trend error is removed for similarly dense networks.
  • ACMANTv4 is on GitHub and about to be published. Some colleagues already used it. 

Meteorological Glossaries

Miloslav Müller gave a talk on the new Slovak meteorological glossary, listing many other glossaries. So I now have a bookmark folder full of glossaries.
To finish with a great audience comment on the last day, not directly weather related: "In Russian education everything is explained, you do not have to remember or study." I loved that expression. That is the reason I studied physics, I also loved biology, but you have to remember so much and my memory is very poor for random stuff like names of organisms. When you understand something, you (I?) automatically remember it, it does not even feel like learning.

Related reading

The IPCC underestimates global warming. This post explains why using linear regression underestimates total warming

Annual Meeting of the European Meteorological Society

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The World Meteorological Organisation will build the greatest global climate change network

“Having left a legacy of a changing climate, this [reference climate network] is the very least successive generations can expect from us in order to enable them to more precisely determine how the climate has changed.”

Never trust a headline. The WMO cannot build the network. But the highest body of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has approved our plans for a Global Climate Reference Station Network. Its Congress with the leaders of all member organisations meets every two years in neutral Geneva, Switzerland, and has approved the report on a Global Surface Reference Network of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Task Team on a reference network. The WMO is the oldest international organisation and coordinates the works of its members, mostly national weather services. So the WMO will not build the network itself; we are now looking for volunteers.

(Disclosure: I am a member of the Task Team.* Funny: in a team with big name climatologists I am somehow the "Climate scientist representative".)

Humanity is performing the greatest experiment in its history. We better measure it accurately. For humanity and for science.

Never trust a headline. What the heck does “greatest” mean? As someone trying to estimate how much the climate has changed, I would have been so happy if people had continued the really poor measurement methods they used in the 19th century. Mercury thermometers were placed in the North (pole) facing window of an unheated room. Being so close to the building is not good for ventilation, the sun could get on the sensor or heat the wall beneath. I would have lost that fight. Mercury thermometers are now forbidden. Weather prediction models would be better than this observation. The finance minister would have forced us to switch to automatic measurements. We may think that how we measure today is good enough, but people in 2100 will likely disagree.

At least following the biggest technological steps will be unavoidable. If that happens we will make long comparisons with the old and new set-up; estimating differences in the averages is not enough, also the variability is affected, which is hard to estimate. The reasons for measurement errors will change and thus its dependence on the weather.

Any data processing, if only averaging or applying a calibration factor, that is performed today, will be performed on hardware and software that is not available in 2100. Any instrument we would buy off the shelf will not be available in 2100; the upper air reference network is being forced to change their instruments because Vaisala will soon no longer sell them. So best means that we have open hardware and open software so that we can keep on building the instrument, can redo the data processing from scratch and can recreate the exact same processing on newer computers or whatever we use after the Butlerian Jihad.

Photo of a station of the US Climate Reference Network with a prominent wind shield for the rain gauges.
A station of the US Climate Reference Network.

Never trust a headline. What does measuring climate mean? I work on improving trend estimates based on historical measurements made in many different ways by comparing neighbouring stations with each other (statistical homogenisation). This makes me acutely aware that there is only so much you can do with statistical homogenisation, a considerable error remains. It works relatively well for annual average temperatures because the correlations between stations are high. Much harder are estimates of the changes of the variability around the means, which are important for changes in extreme weather. Especially estimates of changes in precipitation, humidity, insolation, cloud cover, snow depth, etc. have wide confidence intervals because statistical homogenisation is very hard. For these other observations having reference data that does not need to be statistically homogenised is crucial. These other variables are very important for climate change impacts and understanding how the climate is changing. Reference networks can not only help in quantifying these confidence intervals, but as an independent line of evidence also provide confidence the confidence intervals are right.

The preliminary proposal for variables to observe in reference quality is:
  • Air temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Pressure
  • Wind speed and direction (10 m)
  • Relative humidity
  • Surface radiation (down and up)
  • Land Surface Temperature
  • Soil moisture
  • Soil temperature
  • Snow/ice (Snow Water Equivalent)
  • Albedo
If you disagree or have additional ideas please contact us.

Tiered system of systems approach.

Never trust a headline. By itself this network will not be the best to study climate change. We also need the other stations. The reference network will be the stable backbone of the entire climate observation system. The part which is best at estimating the long term trends, while we need the other stations to reduce sampling errors and study spatial patterns.

Maintaining a reference station will be clearly more expensive than a standard climate station. Thus the number of stations will be limited. For the long term warming we expect to need about 200 stations well spread over the world. This takes into account that even if we select locations where we expect nothing will happen in the next century, we will still loose some stations due to conflict or "progress".

At a reference station (or nearby) preferably also measurements with the locally standard set-up are made, so that they can be compared with each other and provide information on any measurement problems. This will improve the quality of the entire network. A network with 200 reference stations would on average have about 1 station per country. For the comparison with the national networks having at least one station per country would also be desirable, but large countries will need multiple stations and it is also more efficient when countries with a reference station have multiple stations because a large part of the costs are overheads (well-trained operators and well-instrumented laboratories).

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in - Greek proverb (I did not check the provenance, experience tells me, the source of such quotes is always wrong, but do leave a comment).

Never trust a headline. The reference network is not only interesting for studying climate change. If it were we would need to wait many decades before it becomes useful. In this age that would likely mean that it would not be funded. Due to the metrological [sic] standards for computing confidence intervals and the traceability back to SI standards, the measurements will be comparable all over the world within specific confidence intervals for the absolute values, not just the (e.g., temperature) anomalies mostly used to study climate change. Together with the representativeness of the stations for the region this makes the network useful for the validation of absolute estimates from satellites or atmospheric models.

Also the comparison of the reference measurements with the national networks will produce valuable information within the first decade. For example, the American Climate Reference Network shows that the warming estimates of the national network are reliable and if anything underestimates the warming in America; the reference network has the larger trend.

Graph showing the US climate reference network (USCRN) and the normal US network (ClimDiv)
The US Climate Reference Network (USCRN; red line) is below the normal national station network (ClimDiv; green line) in beginning and above it at the end. The trend of the reference network is thus larger. (The values themselves are quite noisy because America is just a small part of the Earth and trends over such short periods do not contain information on long-term warming.)

Never trust a headline. We are land animals and it is thus come natural to us to see climate stations as prototypical for climate observations, but the climate system is much richer. There is already a network for reference upper air measurements (GRUAN) made with weather balloons (radiosondes). The high metrological quality of the ARGO network probably also makes them a reference network. They measure ocean temperature profiles to estimate the ocean heat content.

Both the upper air and the oceans are wonderfully uniform media to measure; characterising the influence of the surroundings and preventing changes therein will be the main additional challenge of a land station network.

Studying climatic changes in urban regions is also important. Here it would be even more important to accurately describe the surrounding because changes will happen. Thus urban regions would need their own reference network.

We hope that our reference network will stimulate the founding of further reference networks. The cryosphere (the part of the Earth which is frozen) needs specialised observations. Hydrological and marine surface observations in reference quality would be very valuable; we should never forget that 70% of the Earth is water. Observations of tiny airborne particles (aerosols) and clouds could be made in reference quality.

In other news. The WMO Congress has also decided to make & share more real-time observations for weather predictions. The norms for quality & quantity will become more strict & are monitored.

20-25% of WMO members is already compliant.

25-30% would be compliant if they would share their data internationally. Many of these countries are big, so they represent a larger part of the world.

The rest will need international support to build the capacity to extend their measurement program and share the data.

Hopefully, the Green Climate Fund can help. The 24/7 monitoring by the WMO will give feedback to the funders on the value of their investment.
Climatology has the advantage that national weather services perform observations operationally. This institutional support has produced the long series we can use to study climate change. We currently see huge changes in the biosphere. Insects seem to be vanishing, but this is really hard to study without long-term observations. The ecological long-term observational programs need institutional support.

Where possible these reference networks should aim to use the same locations, so that the observations can support each other, as well as to reduce costs. It may be easier to obtain funding for reference networks in a large coalition than for every network separately. So I hope that these other communities will develop similar plans. If you know of anyone in these communities, please point them to this post or our report.

We estimate that this reference land station network will cost a few million dollars per year. Thus running this network for a decade would still cost much less than a single satellite missions, which measures far fewer climate variances and has much less accuracy and less confidence in its accuracy. If you know someone at Lockheed Martin or Airbus who may be interested in building a space-grade reference network and has the right lobbyists, please tell them of this initiative.

Coming back the first paragraph: we need volunteers. We need weather services interested in setting up reference stations and we need ones interested in becoming a Lead Centre. A Lead Centre would coordinate the network, organise joint calibrations and comparison campaigns, lead the drawing up of measurement requirements, etc. To spread the work load it could be an idea to one Lead Centre to one instrument or observation type. Please talk about this with your colleagues and spread this post.

* The opinions in the post are mine, the report represents the opinion of the Task Team.

Further reading

Thorne P.W., H.J. Diamond, B. Goodison, S. Harrigan, Z. Hausfather, N.B. Ingleby, P.D. Jones, J.H. Lawrimore, D.H. Lister, A. Merlone, T. Oakley, M. Palecki, T.C. Peterson, M. de Podesta, C. Tassone, V. Venema and K.M. Willett, 2018: Towards a global land surface climate fiducial reference measurements network. Int J Climatol., 38, pp. 2760–2774.

The report of the GCOS Task Team: GCOS Surface Reference Network (GSRN): Justification, requirements, siting and instrumentation options

GCOS, 2017: Report of the 1st Meeting of the GCOS Surface Reference Network (GSRN) Task Team
Maynooth, Ireland, 1-3 November 2017.

My first post trying to get the discussion going in October 2016: A stable global climate reference network

January 2018 GCOS Newsletter on designing a GCOS Surface Reference Network

Monday, 27 May 2019

A historic climate election in Germany

It is really late, but I have to report on a historical European election night in Germany. The government parties lost bigly, while the Greens won enormously. It is not the only reason, but a main reason for these changes was a lack of government action on climate change. The leaders of the main parties agreed with his assessment.

The difference between recent polling and the results suggest that also the YouTube video "The Destruction of the CDU" mattered. The CDU is the governing conservative party led by Angel Merkel. This video was watched more than 10 million times, which is more than 1 in 10 Germans.

Before we begin some background most non-Germans will need. Germany is currently governed by a coalition of Christian Democrats (not purposefully nasty Conservatives) and Social Democrats (Labour). These used to be huge parties, people's parties, which officially cater to all demographics. Before the 2017 general election they were also in power and already got a beating. Even together they now only have a modest majority. However, no other coalition could be found, the classical liberals broke up an earlier coalition attempt, and they were forced to govern together again.

So they were already vulnerable. Then they put the brake on the energy transition by strongly reducing its funding and got ahead slowly with building the new stronger power grid, they agreed on a very late closing date for the lignite coal power plants and it became clear that they will miss the CO2 emissions reduction goals they set themselves for 2020.

Sunday for Future

The climate strikes initiated by Greta Thunberg have become an enormous movement in Germany, still attracting many students after many months of strikes. This Friday, just before the European elections, there was an international strike day. An estimated 222 places in Germany held protests, not just students. And a week ago the video "The Destruction of the CDU" dropped, followed by a petition of a large part of the German YouTube scene not to vote for the governing parties, nor the far right.

Friday for Future rally in Stockholm with Greta Thunberg on stage.

As a consequence climate change was a big topic in the campaigns. All main parties promised they would work on it. Polls show that 81% of Germans demand better action on climate policy and environmental protection.

In the exit polls they always ask what the main themes are that decided one's vote. For the first time the most mentioned theme was: "Climate & environmental protection". Fortyeight percent gave this answer (you can give multiple answers).

The table below gives the results of the European election in Germany, together with the previous European election five years ago, the general election two years ago and recent polling.

Compared to the previous European election the Christian Democrats lost 6.5% and the Social Democrats lost 11.7% of the votes. The Greens on the other hand gained 10% and are now the second largest party with 20.7% of the votes. The Greens were already polling at this level since October last year.

I have chose not to show the joy of the Greens when the results came in. In case any CEOs or climate science deniers are reading this post, I do not want to cause any heart problems.

However, in the European polling data the Greens were lower just before the election. Probably because in European elections there are many small parties to compete with. I would say that the Greens won 2 to 3% more than expected and the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost a percent more than expected. That is some evidence that the YouTube video made a difference.

In my last post I wrote that I would not be surprised if polling were off more than usual because of the large turnout, the large changes and the events of the last week. But they were within the normal uncertainties. Chapeaux!!

Name Ideology EU 2019EU 2014General 2017Polling
CDU/CSUConservative 28.9%35.3% 32.9% 28%
SPD Social Democrat 15.8%27.3% 20.5% 17%
Grünen Green 20.5%10.7% 08.9% 18%
Linke Democratic Socialist05.5%07.4% 09.2% 07%
FDP (Classical) Liberal 05.4%03.4% 10.7% 06%
AfD Far Right Mix 11.0%07.1% 12.6% 12%
Sources: Preliminary official results. Previous results European election and general election from Polling is the average of the two most recent polls of the most reliable polling agencies in Germany: Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and Infratest Dimap.

Some non-climate notes. The Christian Democrats did relatively well because their front man, Manfred Weber, is running to be the next head of the EU Commission. (The Dutch Social Democrat running for the same post, Frans Timmermans, also did well very well in The Netherlands.)

It is good to see that the AfD, a party which rejects European moral values went down compared to two years ago. It did gain compared to the last European election by 4 percent. This increase is worse than it sounds because five years ago the party was still mostly an anti-Euro party and not yet so radicalised.

The turnout was very high for European elections: 61.4%. This 13% higher than in 2014, when it was only 48.1%. In all of Europe the turnout was relatively high with 50.5%.


There are clear differences between young and old voters. The greens won in all age categories, but were especially strong with younger voters.

While young people watch YouTube more, this is likely not just the video. The younger you are the more climate change will impact your life. Young people also more often vote for the first time and are change allegiances faster; so partially it may be a question of time. Furthermore, younger people were already politicised because the Conservatives were hurting the internet, #article13. And the denigrating way they were treated then and now on climate change was a good motivation to show up and vote. The biggest campaign helpers of the Greens were the Conservatives, especially my local MEP Alex Voss representing Bonn and leading the effort for internet upload filters.

Especially spectacular are the results if only people below 30 could vote. The Greens would be way ahead of all other parties with 33 percent of the vote, the Conservatives are a distance second with 13%.

Who did people under 30 vote for?

Political responses

Andrea Nahles (chair of the Social Democrats):
"Climate protection has been a voting issue for many voters. The difference between us and the Greens is not the question whether we want to achieve the Paris climate goals without ifs and buts, but how. And we will also discuss this issue actively in the next few weeks and we will act. With the socially compatible brown coal exit, we have managed what [a in 2017 explored coalition of Conservatives, Greens and Liberals] did not do. Now we take the next step, this year we want to bring a climate protection law for our whole national economy on the way."

German original: "Klimaschutz ist für viele Wählerinnen und Wähler ein Wahlentscheidendes Thema gewesen. Zwischen uns und den Grünen steht nicht die Frage im Raum ob wir die Pariser Klimazielen ohne wenn und aber erreichen wollen sondern wie. Und diese Frage werden wir auch offensiv discutieren in den nächsten Wochen und wir werden handeln. Mit den socialverträglichen Braunköhleausstieg haben wir es geschafft, was Jamaika nicht geschafft hat. jetzt drehen wir das nächste Rad, wir wollen noch diesem Jahr ein Klimaschutzgesetz für unse ganz Volkwirtschaft auf dem Weg bringen."
Katarina Barley (campaign leader of the Social Democrats):
"The topic of climate protection has played a huge role in the last few days and actually the whole election campaign and obviously we are not well enough prepared yet."

German original: "Das Thema Klimaschutz hat den letzten Tagen und eigentlich schon den ganzen Wahlkampf eine riesige Rolle gespielt und da sind wir offensichtlich noch nicht gut genug aufgestellt."
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer aka AKK (chair of Conservatives):
"We certainly have the result that in the government we were not very credible how we will protect the climate. And as a party we did not develop our platform enough. We have the ambition to say, we are firmly convinced that one can protect the climate and achieve a good economy and social balance. That we can present concepts that are convincing. This is exactly the work, one could say, that we have as a CDU. And that's why we will certainly already starting with the internal party meeting next week, will very intensively care especially about this topic in the coming weeks and months."

German original: "Wir haben sicherlich den Befund, dass wir weder in der Regierung sehr glaubwurdig vertreten wie wir die Klimaschutz erreichen. Und als Partei sind wir programmatisch von den Antworten noch nicht so weit, dass wir das was wir selbst als anspruch haben, namelich zu sagen, wir sind die fest Überzeugung, dass man Klimaschutzen kann und eine gute Wirtschaft und sociale Ausgewogenheit erreichen kann. Das wir dazu die Konzept vorleggen die überzeugen. Das ist genau die Baustelle die wir, wenn Sie so wollen, die wir als CDU haben. Und deswegen werden wir uns sicherlich auch schon beginnend mit der Klausur nächste Woche, sehr intensive vor alem Dingen um diesem Thema in den kommenden Wochen und Monate kummern."
Manfred Weber (leader of the German and EU Christian Democratic campaigns) did not say anything about climate in his official response.

Markus Söder, the leader of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU):
"The big challenge of the future is the intense confrontation with the Greens ... Old standards, as we had them so far, no longer apply. ... As Christian Democrats, we have to work together to become younger, cooler, more open. We have to handle topics and communication such that we do not look like a party from yesterday."

German original: "Die große Herausforderung der Zukunft ist die intensive Auseinandersetzung mit den Grünen ... Alte Maßstäbe, wie wir sie bislang hatten, gelten nicht mehr. ... Wir müssen als Union insgesamt daran arbeiten, wieder jünger, cooler, offener zu werden. Wir müssen mit den Themen und der Kommunikation so agieren, dass wir nicht von gestern wirken."
Annalena Baerbock (Chair of the German Green party):
"This election was a climate change election. This election was an election for democracy. For human rights, for a cosmopolitan Europe. That's why the votes make us happy, they are not just Green votes. These are votes for climate protection. These are votes for democracy. These are votes against right-wing populists. These are votes for human rights throughout Europe. We have not achieved that alone. We achieved that because many people took to the streets for climate protection. Because many young people, in schools, in universities, in sports halls were ready to fight for climate protection."

German original: "Diese Wahl, diese Wahl war ein Klimaschutzwahl. Diese Wahl war eine Wahl für Demokratie. Für Menschenrechten, für ein Weltoffenes Europa. Deswegen sind die Stimmen die uns glücklich machen, nicht nur Grünen Stimmen. Das sind Stimmen für den Klimaschutz. Das sind Stimmen für die Demokratie. Das sind Stimmen gegen Rechtspopulisten. Das sind Stimmen für die Menschenrechten in ganz Europa. Das haben wir nicht nur alleine erreicht. Das haben wir erreicht weil viele viele Menschen für den Klimaschutz auf die Straße gegangen sind. Weil viele junge Leute in den Schulen, in den Unis, in Turnhallen bereit waren für Klimaschutz zu kämpfen."
Jörg Hubert Meuthen (Campaign leader of the far-right AfD):
"Certainly, the topic of climate policy and the hysteria around this topic was something that did not help us. The topic was hyped up. This appealed to people in large numbers."

German original: "Sicherlich war das Thema Klimapolitik und die hier verbreitete Hysterie um dieses Thema etwas was uns nicht in die Karten gespielt hat. Das Thema wurde nach oben gehypt. Die Menschen wurden damit in großer Zahl erreicht."
The press spokesman of the AfD even denies the greenhouse effect itself. Although it is possible that he is too stupid to understand the difference between the natural greenhouse effect and human activities making it stronger leading to global warming. Naturally such extremist irrational positions are problematic trying to gain votes from a well-informed critical electorate that knows the missary right-wing extremism has produced before very well.

Related reading

The leader of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU) declars the Greens to be the main competitor: Söder erklärt Grüne zur Hauptkonkurrenz der Union.

Preliminary official results

Ireland is the place to be for climate reporting in English: Green wave hits Germany with doubling of support. Shock result for Germany’s ruling parties, with worst-ever election for Merkel’s CDU.

AP: Europe wakes up to climate concerns after green wave in vote.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

A climate change bomb explodes in the middle of the German EU elections #RezoVideo

More than 10% of the German population has watched a YouTube video (currently over 10 million views) called: "The destruction of the CDU". The CDU is the Christian Democratic Union, the German conservative party.

This post is a small warning for those not following German politics that you may get away with paying lip service to solving climate change for a long time, but not actually solving it is like a game of chicken, it increases popular anxiety until it explodes. This week it exploded in Germany.

Next to unboxing and make-up tutorials, political YouTube is rather preoccupied with destroying stuff. Or claiming to have destroyed stuff. You have to game the algorithm to be heard.

The video features a blue haired YouTuber, Rezo, a normally not particularly political 26 year old who explains in 55 minutes how he researched what the conservatives are about and was shocked how bad it was. This is supported by 300 references and clips of ignorant conservative politicians and government speakers accidentally saying the truth, for example that Germany fights a war against Syria, while the German constitution forbids wars of aggression. I will focus on the climate change part being a climate scientist.

Climate change is the largest topic, but he also talks about illegal wars, aiding American war crimes, growing inequality, less social mobility, education, the incompetence and ignorance of CDU politicians (e.g., about drugs and article 13), supporting the Iraq war, denigrating protest (article 13) and spreading conspiracy theories,


The response to the video was an unprecedented amount of pearl clutching. How dare these young people have a fact-supported opinion. The "best" was journalists calling Rezo one-sided. I do not recall them ever saying that about a politician.

Some pearl clutching was anticipated after the lies that were spread earlier this year by the CDU to try to defend their atrocious EU law to make corporations administrating copyrights more powerful at the expense of creatives, the internet, start-ups and the freedom of speech. This law is best known for its most disastrous paragraph: #article13.

So a few days ago a large part of the German YouTube scene published an additional statement urging everyone to vote in the EU elections and not to vote the conservatives, social democrats or the far right (currently 2.5 million views). They call climate change the highest priority and bluntly state that the main parties will only change if they have an incentive, climate dinosaurs have to lose votes.

I love the last paragraph:
"Finally, dear politicians: of course you again have the possibility to discredit us. You can claim we have no clue what we are talking about. That we lie. That we participate in fake campaigns. That we are being bought and paid for, etc. You already used these respectless methods this year against us, against your own population. And we speak for many citizens when we say: This did not make you any friends."
The internet strikes back.

A large part of the video is about climate change and this part is also not just aimed at the conservatives, but also at the social democrats whose main excuse for neglecting climate change is 20 thousands coal workers. Politicians of either main party typically do not bring up themselves that politics is a precarious job and how nice it is to be assured to get a follow-up job at one of the main utilities.

I am in favour of paying politicians well, also in the years after they leave parliament under the condition that they do not work as a lobbyist or for a large corporation. We have to be able to be confident that politicians work for us. You see the mess in America when you cannot.

CDU reply

The conservatives made a response video because the Rezo video was so unfair to them, but then decided not to publish the video, but an 11-page PDF reply. My local conservative spread it calling the Rezo video populist and fake news and expecting the reply to be less popular. I see no reason why people watching a 55 minute political video would not read an 11-page text, which could have been a 10-page text, the first page contained only empty phrases.

When Rezo states that 20 thousand coal workers are used as an argument not to protect the climate, while the CDU-SPD governemnt put a brake on the energy transition and doing so killed 80 thousand renewable energy jobs, the reply of the CDU completely ignores the comparison, while claiming to feel responsible about the affected workers and regions and saying that a further 40 thousand indirect jobs are affected. The question is why they do not feel responsible for the larger group of renewable energy workers. And there are naturally also indirect jobs that depend on those workers.

If you deceive your readers like this and count on them not haven seen the full arguments, it is best not to complain the others are fake news.

Climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf just wrote a fact check, he found most claims to be accurate and summarized:
"All in all, I can only say: Chapeaux. For someone new to the subject matter, Rezo understood the key facts about the climate crisis very well, and he communicated them clearly and vividly in his video. As clear and insistent as science has failed to achieve with its IPCC reports, and as it is rarely read in the classic media."
The main problem was the clearly wrong claim that the climate will spiral out of control if we would cross the 1.5°C warming limit. If scientists had come up with a hoax to enslave mankind, we would have been smart enough create something with such a clear threshold, but the climate change nature came up with just gets worse and worse.

The 1.5°C warming limit is a political compromise between the powerful status quo and the damages of climate change. As a Dutch person, I would have voted for no climate change, no sea level rise. But politicians from America and Saudi Arabia were sitting at the table and I was not.

One thing Rahmstorf missed was that Rezo implied that the current 100 times accelerated mass extinction of species is due to climate change. At the moment the main reasons are humans occupying more and more land and industrial intensive agriculture. Currently climate change is a factor, but not the main one yet. I am not surprised that people getting their science from the mass media get this wrong.

In the age of Fact Checks, also the CDU reply was checked for its claims on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (climate change mitigation as the English say; the Germans simply say: climate protection). Volker Quaschning, Professor for renewable energy systems at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, summarized:
"Overall conclusion: In this fact check no solid statements of the CDU were found, which substantively refute the contents regarding climate protection of the video of Rezo."
Tiemo Wölken, member of the European parliament for the social democrats, replied with a video. Showed you can talk to young people respectfully. He kinda admits his colleagues in Berlin do not do enough, but says that in Brussels they did their job. For example, the Climate Action Network (CAN) put them in the group of climate defenders; see graphic summary for Germany below.

The Rezo video is quite friendly on the German classical liberals (FDP). This could be because they voted against article 13 (internet upload filters), or to give people with right-wing politics an option, but they are not really better than the conservatives when it comes to climate change. For example, CAN put them in the climate dinosaur category together with the conservatives.

Their number one for the European parliament is Nicola Beer is even a partial climate change denier who wrongly claimed that extreme weather is not increasing. The FDP itself are not climate change deniers; Germany is not as systemically corrupt as America.

The video was not explicitly a call to vote for the Green party, but polls expect them to win 50% more votes than last time, with 17% to 19% of the votes. In the EU elections a party only needs 0.6% of the votes in Germany. It looks as if many people will vote a small party, they get between 10 and 13% of the votes. Polling suggests that the turnout will be larger than usual and that the conservatives will loose 5 to 8 percent points this Sunday. (The Social Democrats may loose 10 percent points.) Not a complete destruction, but a good sign to defend the climate, the internet and young people better in future.

With this bomb, the likely exceptional turnout and the large number of people thinking of voting new/small parties, I would not be surprised if some polling results will be more off than the usual 2 or 3 percent.

Whatever you do. Please vote.

Related reading

(All links are in German.)

Rezo: Die Zerstörung der CDU.

Rezo is either a big fan of the YouTube channel Jung und Naive or Tilo Jung helped him a bit.

Ein Statement von 90+ Youtubern

Social Democratic Member of the European Parliament Tiemo Wölken: Reaktion auf Rezo

CDU 11-page reply: Offene Antwort an Rezo: Wie wir die Sache sehen

Satire page on the CDU video: "Mussten leider feststellen, dass Rezo in jedem Punkt recht hat": CDU erklärt, warum sie kein Konter-Video veröffentlicht

TAZ on the press reaction: Schnappatmung wegen eines Videos

Stefan Rahmstorf: Das Rezo-Video im Faktencheck

Volker Quaschning: Faktencheck des Teils "Die Klimakrise" der offenen Antwort der CDU an REZO vom 23.05.2019

Open Letter


This is an open letter. A statement. From a large part of the Youtuber scene. On weekends are the EU elections and it is important to go voting. But it is just as important to make a rational decision in the election that is consistent with logic and science.

There are many important political issues, but according to the risk hierarchy, the potential destruction of our planet obviously has the highest priority. Any other issue has to be at the back of the queue.

The irreversible destruction of our planet is unfortunately not an abstract scenario but the predictable result of current politics. This is not what we claim, it is the unbelievably large consensus in science. The experts clearly say that the course of CDU/CSU and SPD is drastically wrong and leads us into a scenario in which the earth becomes inexorably warmer no matter what we do. In this world, not only many animal species are extinct, but also many people. For the survivors illnesses increase, trillions of economic damages develop and hundreds of millions of refugees will come, who must be accommodated not for a few years but for ever in other countries.

Science is certain of that. This is not about individual expert opinions, because you can always find them. No, it is an overwhelming consensus among scientists based on countless independent studies and investigations.

Those who deny this consensus, like the AfD, or do not act on it, like the current government, have no place in the leadership of an enlightened country.

Perhaps ignorance is the reason for this misconduct, perhaps they do not have the strength or decency to put science and reality above money and the influence of big corporations and lobbies. In any case, we must ensure that parties have an incentive to act in the spirit of science. And the obvious incentive we can create is for them to lose votes in the elections. Only then would they have a reason to change their behaviour.

Therefore we all ask: Do not vote for the CDU/CSU, do not vote for the SPD. Nor should it vote for any other party that acts so little in the sense of logic and science and, according to the scientific consensus, destroys our future with its course. And certainly not the AfD, which even denies this consensus.

This is not about different legitimate political opinions. It is about the irrefutable need to do everything in our power to drastically change course as quickly as possible. This is what more than 26,000 German-speaking scientists are demanding. This is the demand of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is reviewing and summarising the thousands of scientific publications. And we take the side of the experts. Because if we stay on this course for the next few years, perhaps we will no longer have a chance of stopping the destruction.

Finally, dear politicians: Of course you now have the opportunity to discredit us again. You can accuse us of not having a plan anyway what we are talking about. That we lie. That we participate in fake campaigns. Are instrumentalized. That we are bought and paid and so on. All these disrespectful techniques you have already used this year against us, against your own population. And we speak for very many citizens when we say: You have not made friends with it.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Stop dumping those damn emails

"the American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails”

My apologies. One last thing about these damn email now that Julian Assange is indicted and may be extradited to the United States after being locked up for seven years in the London embassy of Ecuador for the crime of informing the public of abuses of power by the elite as leader of WikiLeaks.

Assange is indicted for trying (failing) to help his source Chelsea Manning to crack a password. Helping a source is what a journalist does and I feel that the relationship between a journalist and a source should be protected as part of the freedom of the press; this is unfortunately not the case in America, while, for instance, codified into law in Sweden. Journalists need sources to do their work. Just like your democratic right to vote should not be made into a theoretical right by making it hard to vote.

It is possible to have a honest discussion on whether WikiLeaks is part of the press or whether it is a source. It has aspects of both. Nowadays major media organizations provide anonymous contact facilities similar to those of WikiLeaks. It should not matter that WikiLeaks is independent and works with multiple sources and multiple media organizations.

There is one aspect where WikiLeaks is different from the press, however. Those damn emails. WikiLeaks published every single one of them in a big data dump. A journalist would only have cited those mails which are of public interest. Some email definitely were newsworthy, such as the Democratic party helping Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries where it was supposed to be neutral. But there was no need to publish all emails.

[UPDATE, The Intercept after a data leak in Brazil:
"When making these judgements, we employ the standard used by journalists in democracies around the world: namely, that material revealing wrongdoing or deceit by powerful actors should be reported, but information that is purely private in nature and whose disclosure may infringe upon legitimate privacy interests or other social values should be withheld."
The Intercept]
Publishing all mails is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy and the right to organize. In this case, they contained personal information of donors, including home addresses and Social Security numbers. Even if these had been more professionally edited out, these emails would still have done enormous collateral damage to the network of Hillary Clinton.

"Whistleblowers face prosecution under the Espionage Act if they leak information of public interest to the press, while there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources. Journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border"
Reporters Without Borders

Blinded by their hatred for Clinton some seem to be blind to that damage. We only have rule of law when the rules are universal and one should thus try to remove any biases due to a specific case. A trick that helps me think more objectively is to switch the subjects. When the USA is killing people all over the world with drones, it helps to consider how one would feel about that when Russia, Iran or North Korea would do so. (Pick your favorite enemy country.) When the media tells you it is terrible what country or person X did, see how you feel if your country or your mom did the same. This may be the best trick I have ever learned. Tribalists may not like it.

For some climate scientists may be more sympathetic than Hillary Clinton. The first big political email dump was a collection of [[emails stolen from the servers of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)]] in the United Kingdom shortly before the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

Cherry picking from these emails bloggers and conservative media did great damage to the public view of climate science. For example by quoting an email using the term "trick", which people interpreted as something nefarious, while in science it simply means a smart small way to compute something. All scientists involved were cleared by numerous investigations by several organizations, but by then the damage had been done. Had these emails been given to a journalistic organization, it would have investigated the situation and asked experts for advice before publishing and, in this case, likely would not have published anything.

There was also much damage to the professional networks of the scientists involved. Even if a message were not private, in an email you do not express yourself like in a public statement. You write for a specific audience. If one would be forced to write everything for public consumption that would slow down everything enormously. It should be possible to get feedback on ideas in private before saying something ill-considered in public.

Also in case of conflicts it is best to first try to solve this in private and not do this in public. It should be possible for me to write a colleague that I think they behaved wrongly or visa versa; that keeps our community a friendly place for all. It should also be possible to organize. For example, when there are problems with (sexual) harassment, women should be able to warn each other. It is harmful when such emails are published, especially when the accusations are not true. And it is harmful when such email are not possible.

Such communications are important everywhere, whether in science, in politics or any other profession. Approving of email dumps to be published is similar to requiring everyone to communicate via a public bulletin board. I do not want to live in such a post-privacy society. It is good that newspapers have set up their own confidential and anonymous contact mechanisms, whether they be dropboxes, encrypted emails, messengers of secure FTP. I hope that whistle-blowers will use those as their first option to uncover abuses by the powerful. Writing a good article is a service to the reader. Dumping private data a danger to the public.

Related reading

Many Democrats and liberals are cheering Assange's arrest. That's foolish. And really disappointing. American already ranks at the bottom for press freedom among Western countries.

It Is Morally Unconscionable Not To Give Chelsea Manning Clemency. The information WikiLeaks uncovered may have been inconvenient for the powerful, but was important for the public to make informed decisions.

Reporters Without Borders puts the USA 45th of 180 in press freedom. Just putting the freedom of the press in the first amendment of the constitution is not enough.

The Washington Post on the 2019 update: Report: U.S. declines again in press-freedom index, falls to ‘problematic’ status.

Because of the situation Reporters Without Borders teamed up with others to make a dedicated The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

(Ideo)Logical Reasoning: Ideology Impairs Sound Reasoning. Would the argument still make sense if the other side made it? Manuscript.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

No, we do not have 12 years to stop catastrophic climate change #12years

I have to apologize to Peter Hadfield (better known as Potholer54) as I am not sure I have found the source of the talking point that we only have 12 years. Science journalist Hadfield always encourages real skeptics to check claims by searching for the source in the scientific literature. The best solution to the riddle I found is really disappointing, but independent of the source, the claim is terrible.

How much warming is seen as acceptable is a political compromise between how hard it is to change the energy system (against powerful vested interests) and how much damages people see as acceptable. All world leaders have agreed in the Paris climate agreement on the following compromise.
Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [2.7 °F] above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
Previously the political compromise used to be to keep the warming below 2°C and most scientific work thus focused on the impacts of 2°C warming and on possible ways to make the transition that fast. After Paris politicians asked scientists to study how much the damages from climate change would be reduced and how much harder it would be to limit warming to 1.5°C.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thus brought all the research on this topic together and in October published a report on the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C warming. In the media reporting a frequent talking point somehow was that we only have 12 years to stop climate change.

How much CO2 can we still emit?

Before looking into it I had guessed the claim would be based on the carbon budget. How much CO2 we can still emit until we reach the amount that will likely warm the Earth by 1.5°C. Note that CO2 accumulates in the climate system and the warming is determined by the total historical amount we emit. I sometimes worry people think that when global warming becomes too devastating we can stop emitting CO2 and the problem is solved. When the French stopped dumping salt in the Rhine and Meuse the water quality quickly became better. CO2 is not like that. When we stop emitting CO2 warming will even continue for some time, it will not go back to the temperature we used to have and many consequences (such as sea level rise) will keep getting worse, just slower.

The Earth has already warmed by about 1°C since the end of the 19th century.* Based on past emissions alone we would not reach the 1.5°C warming level yet, according to the IPCC report. A part of the carbon budget is still left. This is a bit more than 10 times how much we currently emit per year and could thus have been the source of the talking point. The Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC states:
Limiting global warming requires limiting the total cumulative global anthropogenic emissions of CO2 since the pre-industrial period, that is, staying within a total carbon budget (high confidence). By the end of 2017, anthropogenic CO2 emissions since the pre-industrial period are estimated to have reduced the total carbon budget for 1.5°C by approximately 2200 ± 320 GtCO2 (medium confidence). The associated remaining budget is being depleted by current emissions of 42 ± 3 GtCO2 per year (high confidence). The choice of the measure of global temperature affects the estimated remaining carbon budget. Using global mean surface air temperature, as in AR5, gives an estimate of the remaining carbon budget of 580 GtCO2 for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 420 GtCO2 for a 66% probability (medium confidence).
This would have been a better reason for the talking point than the possible reason below, but even then we do not have 12 years, we should do more NOW. We cannot wait 12 years and then suddenly stop all emissions. We are already doing a lot, half of all new electrical generation capacity in the world is already renewable power, but we need to do more and do this now. The only time better than now is decades ago.

On the other hand, the Earth does not explode in 12 years, any action reduces damages and adaptation costs. If we do not manage to limit the warming to 1.5°C, it would be better to limit it to 1.6°C than to 1.7°C, and so on. There is no brick wall we crash into, there is no cliff we fall into, there is no "deadline", CNN. Any limitation of the warming makes life on Earth better. Being lied into one Iraq war is catastrophic, but still better than 2 or 3 wars.

Any analogy is imperfect, but a better analogy would be that climate change is like crossing a busy street without looking, it is a irresponsible risk and the farther you go the higher the risk. Another analogy is walking into a mine field as Michael Mann often says. We do not know when the mines will explode, better walk into the field as little as possible and not 12 meters.

Reducing CO2 emission means changing our energy system and agriculture. This is a big task, and not something we will not be finished within 12 years. When we do more now, we would also have more time than 12 years to finish the task.

It is much better to say that to achieve the climate goals we have set ourselves in the Paris climate agreement we have to be at zero emissions in a generation. Or that we have to half emissions in 2030.

I would vote for that, but considering the resistance to change of the establishment, Gavin Schmidt is probably realistic when writing on RealClimate:
Can we avoid going through 1.5ºC?

IPCC has to use a few circumlocutions to avoid giving a direct answer to this question (for reasonable and understandable reasons). I’m not quite so constrained…

There are many issues related to the feasibility question of which physical climate-related issues are only one. The basic issue is that the effort to reduce emissions sufficiently to never get past 1.5ºC would require a global effort to decarbonize starting immediately that would dwarf current efforts or pledges. This seems unlikely (IMO).
So my answer is… no.

I get that there is reluctance to say this publically – it sounds as if one is complicit in the impacts that will occur above 1.5ºC, but it seems to me that tractable challenges are more motivating than impossible (or extremely unfeasible) ones – I would be happy to be proven wrong on this though.

The craziness begins

However, the press articles and TV segments on the IPCC report do not talk about the carbon budget. In most cases they do not explain at all where the 12 years comes from. The Guardian headline is: "We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN." Given that English is the global language, the difficulty of the English have understanding international relations is rather surprising. The IPCC is not the UN. More importantly for this post, the headline is not explained anywhere in the article.

The most surprising place to see the claim is Fox News**: "Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed." That is some contrast to their evening television opinion shows operating as the PR arm of the Republican party. This article was on their homepage, in the science section, under the category "Doomsday" and republishing an article written by the New York Post. Again I cannot find a justification for the headline in the article.

The Sunrise Movement will visit members of Congress to lobby for a Green New Deal on Monday, December the 10th and would like climate scientists, who happen to meet at the AGU Fall meeting in Washington DC, to join them. They also did not go to the source, but trusted newspapers when they write in their call for action: "the latest UN report says we have 12 years to rapidly transform our economy to protect human civilization as we know it."

As an aside, had I been in Washington, I would have been happy to join them, I feel we need to do more to reduce climate change damages, but the Green New Deal is politics, not science. So I would not show up as a scientist (in one of those stereotypical white lab coats).

We may be getting a bit closer to the solution listening to CNN. Interrupting their programming on the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft CNN titles "Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn" and says: "In Paris leaders pledge to keep the rise well below 2 degrees [Celsius]. This report now suggests we aim for 1.5°C. A benchmark we are predicted to reach in 2030."

(No, the politicians suggested we'd aim for 1.5°C.) Why does CNN think that experts warned about this? The reporting of LifeGate may give a hint:
If not curbed, this trend will lead the Earth to exceed the threshold of +1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052 (according to the different scenarios the SR15 took into consideration). This means that in just 12 years we could reach the temperature rise that the Paris Agreement hypothesised for 2100.
LifeGate is a news organization calling itself "the leading point of reference for sustainable development since 2000". They at least describe this situation is sufficient detail to have a look what the source says.

What does the IPCC say about 1.5°C, 2030 and 2052? The summary for policy makers states in their description of the current situation:
Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence)
Chapter one of the report has the details and confirms that the period 2030 to 2052 is based on an estimate of how much the world has warmed up to now and how fast it is warming. That fits, we have warmed about 1°C and the warming is about 0.2°C per decade. So one degree more warming would be in 5 decades and half a degree warming more would be 25 years, which is the middle of the 2030 to 2052 year interval.

Figure SMP1, panel a, from the Summary for Policy Makers of the IPPC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

This is the warming baseline WUWT & Co., Big Coal and Big Oil and the pro-torture politicians Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Mohammad Bone Saw Salman are fighting for, which is for comparison with climate policies that benefit humanity in the remainder of the report.

The period of 2030 to 2052 is mentioned in the beginning of the report and was also mentioned early in the IPCC press conference. So it makes sense that is was noted in the press, but that they used the lower uncertainty range (12 years) and not the mean (26 years) is weird, as well as calling reaching the 1.5°C level an immediate catastrophe or deadline, while it had a different function.

Maybe I am too much of a scientist, but mentioning the lower boundary of an uncertainty range makes no sense without defining the range. The IPCC used the term "likely", which is defined as a probability between 66 and 100%. If you wanted to more sure the period contains the year we will cross the 1.5°C level, for example "virtually certain" (99-100%), the range would have been much wider and the lower bound much earlier. Scientifically speaking the "12 years" without that context is meaningless.

So what most likely happened is that we have scientists describing the progression of climate change. They give the uncertainty range and the press decides to only mention the lower boundary of this range. Then they somehow turn it into a deadline, put this in many headlines and never tell their readers where the number comes from. This made #12years a somewhat viral political meme. Chinese whispers of the worst kind. Journalists please listen to Peter Hadfield: check the source.

* If we define the pre-industrial temperature as the temperature of the second half of the 19th century, as the newest IPCC report did. The actual industrial revolution and our CO2 emissions started a century earlier. Politicians will have to clarify how they define their thresholds. It may be a good idea to convert the 1.5°C and 2°C limits into warming since a more recent period, as this is better defined due to much better observations.

** Clicking on the Fox News link may give you "Access Denied". Copy and paste works.

Related reading

Professor Myles Allen lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C: Why protesters [everyone, red.] should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric.

The Carbon Brief: In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on climate change at 1.5C

Andrew King, Ben Henley & Ed Hawkins in The Conversation: What is a pre-industrial climate and why does it matter?

Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC

There’s one key takeaway from last week’s IPCC report. Cut carbon pollution as much as possible, as fast as possible.

Largest ever group of global investors call for more action to meet Paris targets. 'The group of 414 institutional investors with $31 trillion under management say governments must take serious steps to cut emissions. ... Among specific policies, they request governments “phase out thermal coal power”, “put a meaningful price on carbon” and “phase out fossil fuel subsidies.”'

In the ongoing climate negotitions in Poland, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia & Kuwait objected to the conference "welcoming" the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C warming, the BBC reports. The flood of messages on this BBC article suggests that climate scientists who volunteered to write the report are not amused.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Julika Griem against story telling, heroic adventures and simplifying in science communication

The German eleventh Forum on Science Communication came to my home town, which was a good occasion to spread the word on Climate Feedback. I could write several blog posts inspired by this meeting, which is good and I might, but this post is just about the opening speech by Prof. Dr. Julika Griem, the vice president of the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities. Julika Griem slaughtered a few holy cows in front of the vegan science communication folks who were talking about this until the last session.

The conference offered a wide range of backgrounds. Well-dress communications people with slick rehearsed talks, natural scientists like myself in t-shirts freely speaking inspired by power point bullet points, journalists in the middle and Griem gave the opening lecture in humanities style by reading a written out text. I would have preferred to read myself, to be able to stop and think, so I was happy when they posted the text (in German). People who survive a humanities eduction deserve a medal.

Prof. Griem asked several controversial questions. Is it really such a good idea to focus so much on story telling, adventures, heroes/personalisation and simplifying? Isn't describing, explaining and argumentation better suited for science? Especially modern science is about working together in large groups with many specialised scientists in which management, administration and technical infrastructure are important. Documents, data and instruments are harder to turn into heroes than individuals.

Prof. Dr. Julika Griem speaking at the Forum on Science Communication.

Later at the form, the group The Debate, which organises science debates all over Germany, noted that their audience missed talking about the process, how we do science, why we are confident about certain results? While in science journalism it is common to focus on the results themselves and on people.

This fits to my blogging experience: posts on methodological and organisation matters are read surprisingly well, especially as they are not spread on social media that much. Maybe everyone thinks they are the only ones interested such details, i.e. in how science works. Such a meta science topic is something that does not fit that well in a story telling framework. My explanation how a scientific conference is organised will never get a Pulitzer price, but was read well. (Alternative hypothesis the title sounded nice, but the post was not what was expected, which would fit the linked example.)

Related, but not from the conference, is that I discovered Street Epistemology on YouTube. With this method it is possible to reasonably consistently have friendly conversations about hard topics, even about religion, which you are normally not supposed to talk about because it so easily escalates.

The Street Epistemology strategy is: 1) do not attack the person, 2) do not question the conclusion (closely tied to identity), but 3) do talk about methodology. In that respect it fits well into the above suggesting to communicate better how we do science and why we know what we know.

As scientists we talk about methodology all the time and we are normally able to have productive conversations at scientific conferences even though scientists come from a wide range of culture and backgrounds. However, outside of science we hardly talk about methods. Especially the media is very focused on people & conclusions.

Maybe we should do this more and see if Street Epistemology (SE) also works to get a friendlier chats on climate change. The first video below give an example of an SE conversation, while the second explains the idea in more detail.

We should not forget in this debate that scientists and journalists have different interests. For a scientist quality is much more important than quantity (number of readers). When I give a talk it is not important whether 10 or 1000 people are in the audience, if there is one expert in the audience who will build on my work it was a success.

A former journalist once did a short media training here in Bonn. He wanted us to do exactly what ever journalists want us to do. He was utterly disappointed when I told him scientists have their own interests, he complained I had not been listening. I did, and it is good to know what your counterpart wants to try to find the best compromise for both, but I do have my own interests.

Griem also did not like hero stories as the lone warrior recalls the same anti-institutional feelings of anti-science critics. Stories where technocrats and bureaucrats at universities, in Bonn (where her DFG is) and in Berlin (politics), hold back intrinsically motivated people to do ground breaking work. I would see that as a reason to like hero stories, trying to make institutions better is the opposite of being anti-institutional and there really is enough to complain about, from publish and perish, to funding science based on short-term projects rather than on long-term relationships with people and institutions. Project-funded science stifles innovation and waste enormous amounts of work in writing proposals, in managing them, and in each time building a new group. Time and energy that could have been spend on doing ground-breaking research.

Prof. Dr. Julika Griem proposed that science communication should tenderly overstrain the public. That does not sound like a good general strategy. It would lead to misunderstanding and would limit the audience interested in science even more. However, it is good to have a range of strategies and publishing a tenderly overstraining book like [[Gödel, Escher, Bach]] also belongs to science communication.

Related reading

Opening speech by Prof. Dr. Julika Griem (in German): Impositions: Science communication and
its contradictions. Zumutungen. Wissenschaftskommunikation und
ihre Widersprüche

Interview with me on Climate Feedback (in German): When researchers look the press over the shoulder. Wenn Forschende der Presse auf die Finger schauen.

Climate Feedback, a group a climate scientists who review media articles on climate change.