New satellite data finds the Greenland ice sheet lost mass in the noughties

  • 29 Jul 2011, 14:00
  • Verity Payne

© Carsten Egevang/ARC-PIC.COM

The state of the Earth's polar regions gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, given the huge  potential impacts of melting polar ice. But while the Arctic sea-ice tends to dominate headlines, the massive ice sheet which sits on top of Greenland is also the subject of active scientific research.

Scientists are particularly interested in monitoring changes in the mass of the polar ice sheets because this provides a good measure of climate change over recent decades, and can help inform future estimates of sea level rise. 

Measuring ice sheet mass has been made easier by the  launch of satellites in 2002 that monitor changes in the Earth's gravitational field. The gravity measurements taken by the satellites can then be used to reconstruct changes in the melting or accumulation of ice sheets.

Now, a new  study (published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research) has looked at what the satellite data tells us about changes in the Greenland ice sheet between 2002 and 2009 - the data that's currently available. 

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New polling examines climate scepticism in detail

  • 29 Jul 2011, 09:00
  • Neil Roberts

Most people in Britain believe climate change is happening and believe that it is caused by human activity. That's one of the findings of  a new, detailed investigation of British public attitudes to climate change carried out by social psychologists from Cardiff University.

Everyone involved in the climate change debate - from scientists and science communicators to campaigners, politicians and journalists - must at some level, to some degree, confront the issue of public attitudes. So, this in-depth analysis of public scepticism, using the methods of social-psychology to gain a deeper understanding, should be welcomed. 

The study examined the degree of climate scepticism amongst the population. Researchers used the IPSOS-MORI polling organisation to survey a large sample of 1822 people on their attitudes and beliefs towards climate change, as well as their wider values.

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The Mail gives 5 times more space to the Global Warming Policy Foundation than to any other source on climate

  • 27 Jul 2011, 15:00
  • Neil Roberts

Analysis shows that the Daily Mail has given more than five times as much space to the Global Warming Policy Foundation's views in its recent coverage of climate change and 'green taxes' than to any other source.

According to former Independent environment correspondent Nicholas Schoon:

"The Mail has 'put on the war paint' (a Dacre phrase) and is campaigning against what it calls green taxes."

Schoon, writing for 'The ENDS Report', says the genesis of the campaign was a lunch between Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and Lord Lawson, founder of the GWPF.

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Does Lord Lawson's think tank 'cast doubt' on the science of climate change?

  • 26 Jul 2011, 15:39
  • Christian Hunt

Does Lord Lawson's think tank 'cast doubt' on the science of climate change?

The BBC Trust report into the corporation's science coverage noted last week [PDF p.69]

"Science can inform the debate, but policy implications of global warming remain a legitimate part of the news agenda. In its submission to this Report, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (active in casting doubt on the truth of man‐made climate change) told me that they are producing a review with a focus on climate science and science policy."

It is clear that the BBC Trust report as a whole is also critical of the amount of coverage which a few prominent climate skeptics - including Lord Lawson, founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation - have got over the last few years. The report also says

"The impression of active debate is promoted by prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord Lawson. The BBC still gives space to them to make statements that are not supported by the facts"

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Hello world!

  • 20 Jul 2011, 17:00
  • Christian Hunt

Hello. We have had lots of comments and feedback on the Carbon Brief site over our first five months of operation, positive and negative, some constructive and some less so. For the most part people either find what we're doing useful, or they're completely turned off by it - perhaps reflecting the state of the online debate around climate change.

One thing that people have requested is more information about who we are, what the editorial process is, and what our perspective on the stuff we write about is.

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BBC Trust on climate: Let's debate climate policy but reflect the "agreed scientific factbase"

  • 20 Jul 2011, 14:40
  • Christian

The ' BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC's coverage of science' by Professor Steve Jones has just been published. Here are some quick extracts from the section strongly worded section on climate change - a more considered blog will follow.

The section that deals specifically with climate change reporting is titled:

"Man‐made global warming: a microcosm of "false balance"?"

It notes that this area has been contentious for the corporation:

"The BBC has received many complaints about alleged weaknesses in its treatment of the subject. Many emerge from an organised response by determined climate‐change deniers rather than being objective disagreements with particular programmes ... This barrage of criticism by one side of the argument (matched, to a lesser degree, by complaints from those who believe that man‐ made global warming is real) shows that the BBC is at least annoying both parties to the debate and is achieving a measure of impartiality by so doing."

And warns:

"In some ways global warming shows how hard it is reach due impartiality in the treatment of science and how the BBC in its attempts to do so may inadvertently achieve almost the opposite."

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A thousand pounds on energy bills due to green policies?

  • 20 Jul 2011, 14:00
  • Christian Hunt

What's making fuel bills rise, and by how much? It's a live political issue, and there are a lot of numbers flying around, many of them in the Daily Mail.

In June, the Mail  claimed in a series of articles that 'green measures' were adding £200 to an average household energy bill. At the time, we highlighted  that this figure was based on unreferenced claims by climate skeptic lobbyists the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Others also  questioned it.

A few weeks later the Mail quietly stopped using the £200 figure in favour of energy regulator Ofgem's estimate of £100. But last week, green bills were back with a vengeance. Two articles  suggested that an average energy bill would double over the next five years, rising by £1000 to around £2000 "to fund a switch to green energy and build new nuclear power stations", and the paper's front page  headline warned:

"Families face £1,000 bill for green energy: Huge annual levy to appease the climate lobby"

This figure is notable because it differs dramatically to other estimates of how energy bills will be affected by renewables, nuclear build, energy efficiency and changes in energy infrastructure.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change  estimated in July 2010 that the average domestic energy bill would rise to £1,239 by 2020, with 1% of the rise due to the implementation of 'green' policies. They told us this week that this figure has been revised - they now estimate the average energy bill in 2020 will be £1,135 or £1,506 with inflation. These figures are for bills, not energy prices, and are based on estimated figures for electricity bills  published last week, and figures for gas bills which will be published later this year.

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Report into BBC's science coverage likely to suggest corporation needs to avoid false balance on climate

  • 19 Jul 2011, 11:50
  • Christian
The main conclusions of a high-profile  BBC Trust review of the BBC's science reporting, assessing its accuracy and impartiality, appear to suggest that the BBC is not biased in its coverage of science, and that the principle of impartiality does not compel the corporation to give attention to groups which make claims that are contrary to scientific consensus.

The headline messages of the report appear to have been leaked to the Daily Telegraph a day ahead of publication.  The Telegraph reports:

"In a long-awaited review of science output, published tomorrow, the BBC Trust will announce an overhaul of impartiality rules, compelling journalists and programme makers to give less attention to groups that make claims at odds with the scientific community's majority view."

"The report draws heavily on an independent review of the BBC's coverage by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London. Prof Jones is understood to have cleared the broadcaster of any suggestions of bias in its output. But his main recommendation is that for issues where there is a scientific consensus, such as the safety of genetically modified crops and the MMR jab, the corporation should not be compelled to give airtime to critics of the majority view."

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Where are the Daily Mail getting their numbers from?

  • 14 Jul 2011, 12:00
  • Christian

The Daily Mail has been on an anti green energy roll recently - but where is it getting its numbers from?

Last month the paper claimed in a front-page headline and subsequent series of articles that green measures are currently adding £200 to household energy bills. After Carbon Brief highlighted that the £200 figure was based on unsourced claims by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Mail dropped the claim in favour of Ofgem's estimate of £100, or 10% per year on energy bills - but continued to reference back to their original articles, and quote the GWPF extensively, in their coverage.

Yesterday, the Mail's front page upped their claims a bit further - with a banner headline

"£1,000 bill for green energy: families face huge annual levy to appease the climate lobby"

The Mail's coverage follows the launch by Chris Huhne of the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) White Paper on Monday. The reforms of the sector are intended to put in place power supply infrastructure intended to replace ageing power stations, put the UK on a green energy track, and prevent blackouts (something else the Daily Mail has been known to get worried about in the past).

As was reported across the press - for example the Telegraph, the Mirror, the Express and the Evening Standard - the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimated that the reforms of the electricity market will add £160 to the average annual energy bill.

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Chris Huhne on climate and security

  • 13 Jul 2011, 14:55
  • Christian

Christopher Thomond/Guardian

There was potential for Chris Huhne to make a mess of a speech to the military think-tank Royal United Service Institute on the linkages between climate change and global security last week. But he did pretty well.

Mapping the complex effects of climate change - uncertainties included - onto complicated social processes like conflict and security is an area where it's easy to miss subtleties and overplay things. Because of this, it's perhaps unsurprising that there have been a lot of 'climate change causes war' headlines over the years which are neither helpful nor accurate.

But Huhne's speech was a notable exception to this. Although he didn't shy away from the very significant potential impacts that a changing climate could have on international security, the speech demonstrated a grasp of the detail, providing a carefully referenced run-through of the links between climate change and security which is well worth reading in full.

It's difficult enough to work out what the impacts of climate change will be on societal processes that are more obviously linked to the climate - like agriculture. Geopolitics, wars and conflict are labels for incredibly complicated social processes, and mapping the likely impact of climate change on them is a formidable challenge.

Military planners however have been doing so - for example in the MOD's 'Global Strategic Trends' report published last year - and drawing on this work, Huhne frames the issue well, discussing risk and climate change as 'a systemic threat', rather than using a reductionist 'climate war' approach:

"For many people, climate change remains an indistinct threat. It is seen as something that is far-off - and far away. We hear something about polar bears, and long-term temperature trends, and subconsciously discount the threat. Like car crashes or alcoholism, it does not happen to us. Wrongly, we conclude that if we stop using plastic bags and unplug our phone chargers we'll be fine.


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