Is there a PR campaign against climate science in the UK?

  • 29 Sep 2011, 13:41
  • Christian Hunt

It seems like there's a small one, at least. The Guardian covered Al Gore's presentation at the Scottish low-carbon investment conference:

Outside the conference venue, two women employed by the Kreate promotions agency in London handed out anonymously produced leaflets to delegates reproducing media reports of a high court judgment that heavily criticised the accuracy of Gore's 2007 climate documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Barry Duncan, the manager of Kreate, said their staff had been hired by a client who wanted to remain anonymous, on behalf of another anonymous client, to hand out "leaflets on renewable energy". Duncan said: "This is a bit strange, I totally agree."

Why strange? There were undoubtedly lots of people handing out leaflets at the conference, of all political hues. But you'd probably be able to find out where most of them were coming from and infer who was paying for their activities.

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Climate Reality check - a glance at the science behind Al Gore's project

  • 23 Sep 2011, 17:30
  • Tim Holmes

Al Gore's presentation for the Climate Reality Project was broadcast at midnight (GMT) last Thursday, and has garnered a certain amount of attention, particularly in North America.

A lot of the attention has focused on the social and political impacts of the campaign. But with presentations focusing on the "new normal" of increasing extreme weather events around the world, this post takes a look at some of the key claims on the different types of phenomena the Project's presenters focused on, and what links, if any, scientists have found between these and climate change.

Due to constraints of time and language, we looked at two presentations: Al Gore's from New York, and John Zavalney's from Boulder, Colorado. Our assessment is therefore not an in-depth look at the scientific worth of the Climate Reality project - that would take quite a lot longer - but an insight into the scientific merits of two sample presentations.

• "People are ... suffering the effects of the heatwaves" (Gore)

The European heatwave of 2003 was described by a 2008 US Climate Change Science Program report as "far outside the range of historical observations". A study of the heatwave concluded that:

"...It is very likely (confidence level >90%) that human influence has at least doubled the risk of a heatwave exceeding this threshold magnitude."

The US Climate Science report says of North America:

"Accompanying a general rise in the average temperature, most of North America is experiencing more unusually hot days and nights. The number of heat waves (extended periods of extremely hot weather) also has been increasing over the past fifty years... Human-induced warming has likely caused much of the average temperature increase in North America over the past fifty years and, consequently, changes in temperature extremes."

However, scientists studying the Russian heatwave of 2010 attributed it to natural climate variations, although they could not rule out climate change as a cause. Their work did indicate that the likelihood of extreme heatwaves in Russia will increase in the next few decades as greenhouse gases rise.

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Christopher Booker uses Times Atlas story for his own purposes

  • 22 Sep 2011, 14:00
  • Tim Holmes

Christopher Booker's full-page article in the Mail yesterday predictably attempted to connect the Times Atlas' recent mistake on the melting of the Greenland ice sheet with previous mistakes made by the IPCC - all in the service of a narrative that "belief in global warming may be little more than a vastly over-blown scare".

Booker is a vociferous climate change skeptic of long standing, and not averse to accusations about mainstream scientists' "alarmism". In February, for instance, he wrote writing that:

"Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre and Dr Myles Allen, head of Oxford's Climate Dynamics Group ... have long been among the most influential scientists in the world in stoking up climate alarmism."

So the fact that it was mainstream climate scientists (part of the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused climate change) who knocked this particular claim on the head of course posed something of a problem for Booker's conventional mode of argument.

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Harper Collins to "urgently review" maps following more criticism from scientists

  • 22 Sep 2011, 11:00
  • Robin Webster

Earlier this week the team at Harper Collins admitted they had made a mistake in a "misleading" press release which indicated that Greenland had lost 15% of its permanent ice cover. Their apology said "This was done without consulting the scientific community and was incorrect" but added

"We stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of The Times Atlas"

Since then, however, the pressure has ramped up - from the media, but more crucially from the scientific community -  to admit that the maps themselves were wrong. In a press release yesterday, scientists from the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at the University of Cambridge put it unambiguously:

"...scientists remain troubled by the final statement in the latest press release from HarperCollins, "We stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of The Times Atlas". Scientists still contend that the latest map of Greenland is highly misleading and is not a proper map of the ice extent and topography. The map shows only the extent of ice greater than 500m thick (furthermore, it appears to show contours of Ice Thickness rather than Surface Elevation). All permanent ice cover less than 500m thick has simply been erased.

As far as the UK scientists are aware, Greenland is the only map that does not show the topography and extent of ice correctly. The maps of Antarctica, Iceland and European Alps all appear to look sensible. If HarperCollins had applied their "greater than 500m ice thickness rule" to other areas of the globe, there would be virtually no glaciers mapped in Iceland or the Alps.

The scientists urge HarperCollins to acknowledge that their mapping of Greenland's ice is incomplete and misleading. We would encourage them to issue a corrected map for Greenland which shows the full ice extent and the true surface topography. The current map is in marked contrast to the overall quality and authoritative nature of the rest of the Atlas."

This morning Harper Collins have issued a response - or ' clarification'  - that admits that

"On reflection and in discussion with the scientific community, the current map does not make the explanation of this topic as clear as it should be."


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Times Atlas admit a mistake on Greenland press release claim, maintain maps are accurate

  • 20 Sep 2011, 13:48
  • The Carbon Brief

Since the  Times Atlas claimed last week that the Greenland ice sheet has lost 15% of its ice over the last twelve years, glaciologists who work on Greenland have been in uproar. Well, the Times World Atlas team have  now issued a press release which is somewhat of a mea culpa -

The Times Atlas is renowned for its authority and we do our utmost to maintain that reputation. In compiling the content of the atlas, we consult experts in order to depict the world as accurately as possible. For the launch of the latest edition of the atlas (The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 13th edition), we issued a press release which unfortunately has been misleading with regard to the Greenland statistics. We came to these statistics by comparing the extent of the ice cap between the 10th and 13th editions (1999 vs 2011) of the atlas. The conclusion that was drawn from this, that 15% of Greenland's once permanent ice cover has had to be erased, was highlighted in the press release not in the Atlas itself.   This was done without consulting the scientific community and was incorrect.   We apologize for this and will seek the advice of scientists on any future public statements.  We stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of The Times Atlas.

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Daily Mail confused over whether 'green tax' cost is £85 or £300 as Mail on Sunday uses GWPF £200 figure despite PCC ruling

  • 19 Sep 2011, 18:14
  • Christian Hunt
The current interest in the right wing press about the impact of 'green' measures on consumers started  back in June when a Daily Mail front page - sourced to the climate skeptic think-tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation - claimed that 'green stealth taxes' were adding £200 to household energy bills. 

If you've been following the blog, you'll know that following a PCC complaint we made about this article, the Daily Mail issued a correction earlier this month, recognising that Ofgem's figures show that green energy measures are adding "no more than 9%" to energy bills - about £90.

So we were somewhat surprised to note that yesterday's Mail on Sunday reused the £200 figure - apparently the one that had been the subject of our PCC complaint - just a week and a half after the correction was published in the Daily Mail. 

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Scientists call Times World Atlas Greenland claims 'incorrect and misleading'

  • 19 Sep 2011, 13:39
  • Christian Hunt
With Arctic sea ice just past its annual summer minimum, interest in the Arctic has reached its annual peak. Perhaps timed to coincide with the sea ice minimum, the marketing effort accompanying the launch of the new edition of the Times World Atlas leaned heavily on the redrawn maps of Greenland featured in the atlas, which appear to show the ice cap in retreat.

But now scientists have raised questions about how the Atlas came to their conclusions about the ice cap, about the  press release put out to mark the publication of the 13th edition of the definitive tome, and about the maps themselves.

The press release claimed:

For the first time, the new edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, published on 15 September, has had to erase 15% of Greenland's once permanent ice cover - turning an area the size of the United Kingdom and Ireland 'green' and ice free… Cartographers of the atlas have sourced the latest evidence and referred to detailed maps and records to confirm that in the last 12 years, 15% of the permanent ice cover (around 300,000 sq km) of Greenland, the world's largest island, has melted away.

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The new normal

  • 14 Sep 2011, 00:00
  • Neil Roberts

US wildfires. Photo: © charentelibre

"All weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before."

With this great line Dr. Richard Somerville from the new Climate Communication project summarised the position now taken by many climate scientists, traditionally wary of linking extreme weather events with climate change.

Somerville, professor Emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and science director of Climate Communication, went on:

"Some types of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and or severe due to climate change, heat waves, heavy rain, floods, and droughts among them. Climate change is increasing the odds that extreme weather will occur."

Climate Communication labels itself as a "non-profit science and outreach project". It was launched last month by a group of respected climate scientists and science communication staff and is funded by the Rockerfeller Brothers Fund and the ClimateWorks Foundation It is headed by Director Susan Joy Hassol, a climate change communicator, analyst, and author; Dr Somerville is the project's science director. Its science advisers include Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground, Bob Corell, chair of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, and Greg Holland, chair of the Regional Climate Prediction Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Hassol has outlined more about the project in a guest post at Climate Progress.

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Disentangling media coverage about Arctic sea ice

  • 13 Sep 2011, 17:00
  • Tim Holmes

There has been a good deal of attention paid to the recent decline in Arctic sea-ice in the British press over the past week, with headlines including the following:

•  Arctic sea ice is melting at its fastest pace in almost 40 years (The Guardian)

•  Arctic sea ice melts at fastest rate for 40 years (Telegraph)

•  The Great Thaw: Arctic sea ice levels shrink to a record low (Daily Mail)


What measure are we using?

It is worth noting of this coverage, first of all that there are different ways of taking meaningful measures of Arctic ice. The most frequently used measure is sea ice "extent", defined as the surface area of the Arctic that is greater than 15% ice. Extent can be important in terms of ice albedo effects, and their impacts on regional and global warming, as well as further feedback effects on Arctic ice and elsewhere - and of course for all manner of other repercussions as the ice recedes.

Another important measure, however, is the volume of sea-ice, which can be modelled more roughly. Volume matters in part because younger, thinner ice can be more vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, which impact on the ice in the context of long-term global warming.

Thus age, extent and volume all matter in weighing up the future of the Arctic ice, and in particular what point this century we can expect to see ice-free Arctic summers.


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Arctic sea ice low – what does it really mean?

  • 13 Sep 2011, 17:00
  • Verity Payne

Arctic sea ice has hit the headlines over the last week. Last week the Polar Science Center of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington found that Arctic sea ice volume has reached a new record minimum in 2010. This week, following an analysis of satellite data, researchers at the University of Bremen announced that Arctic sea ice extent has reached a 'historic low' in 2011. Meanwhile, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), who normally release details of Arctic sea ice minima, has yet to determine that this year's summer minimum Arctic sea ice extent has been reached.

All of these different sources and claims can get pretty confusing. Just how do these different groups measure sea ice coverage? And why are they not all saying the same thing at the same time?

Arctic populations have been determining sea ice coverage visually for many years, so there are some some written records of ice extent over the last century. However, it is only since the launch of microwave energy-detecting satellites in the 1970s that scientists have been able to reliably quantify sea ice coverage. The satellites detect changes in microwaves emitted from the planet's surface. Ice, with its crystalline structure, emits more microwave energy than open seawater, so scientists can determine sea ice versus ocean coverage from the microwave data.

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