Were knives out for Frozen Planet six months ago?

  • 30 Nov 2011, 16:40
  • Christian Hunt

Source: BBC

David Attenborough's natural history spectaculars are always worth watching, and seem to have taken on the status of a national event - the ultimate water cooler TV. The latest series, "Frozen Planet" is no exception,  attracting rave reviews. This one  from the Mirror is fairly typical:

"If the BBC goes back to its roots it can produce something as gloriously wonderful and heart-stopping as Frozen Planet.

"David Attenborough, who has been a national treasure for longer than I've been alive, takes the viewer by the hand to gently lead us through the freezing wastes of our world and quietly blow our minds."

Perhaps this success is why his latest series, 'Frozen Planet' has come in for so much criticism from climate skeptics over the last few weeks. It would make little sense to cover the natural history of the polar regions without mentioning the fact that the Arctic and Antarctic are increasingly being impacted by climate change - and Frozen Planet will bededicating its final episode, due to be screened next Wednesday, to the topic. 

A couple of weeks ago the BBC was  criticised following the news that co-production partner the Discovery Channel will not be showing the last episode. The  Daily Mail and the Telegraph suggested that the corporation separated the episode out in order to help the show sell better in the US. Climate skeptics, of course,  questioned the legitimacy of including polar climate change in the series at all. 

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Lawson’s ‘sensationalism’ claim on thin ice

  • 29 Nov 2011, 17:00
  • Verity Payne

"Lord Lawson accuses Sir David Attenborough of 'sensationalism'"  announces a headline on the Daily Telegraph website. The story is based on a piece in this week's Radio Times which delves into the science behind David Attenborough's Frozen Planet series.

In the Radio Times article Attenborough gives a quick run-through of how the Arctic climate and cryosphere (ice) is being affected by climate change. Given that the piece is mainly about the science of climate, it's disappointing that the BBC felt the need to give a sort of 'right of reply' space to two campaigners below the piece - Lord Nigel Lawson, founder of the skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and Jonathan Porritt, ex-Director of Friends of the Earth and founder of Forum for the Future.

The Radio Times present these pieces alongside the question "Is global warming real or myth?" With even climate skeptics now falling over themselves to  claim they never doubted the planet was warming, the Daily Mail's readership  apparently convinced, and withsomewhere around 91% of the UK public agreeing climate change is 'real' in 2010, this seems an odd approach for Britain's favourite TV guide (circulation 900,000).

The scientific method uses disagreement to advance - witness last week's paper which suggested new insights on climate sensitivity, which are now being enthusiastically debated by the scientific community. But the fact of global warming is not a 'myth', it's robust science supported by strong evidence, and framing a question in this way is misleading and somewhat lazy.

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Climate crocks on "Climategate"

  • 28 Nov 2011, 12:00
  • Bárbara Mendes-Jorge

A concise analysis of the release of the new batch of UEA emails has arrived, in the form of an 8-minute video by Peter Hadfield ('potholer54' on YouTube) entitled "Climategate Mark II - the quotes and the context". Recommended.

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Rolling news: The Daily Mail's Friday afternoon Climategate reversionising

  • 25 Nov 2011, 18:15
  • The Staff

After a  relatively sensible article about the second release of emails stolen in 2009 from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit earlier in the week, the Daily Mail has let rip with a heroically silly exercise in 'live-update' journalism on its website.

Originally entitled  "Second climate emails leak: Political giants weigh in on 'biased' scientists bowing to financial pressure from sponsors", the piece quotes just one ex-MP - former chancellor, Nigel Lawson, founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It provides a whistlestop tour of the Mail's editorial views, with climate science and policy, the BBC and UK energy and climate change minister Chris Huhne* all criticised.

It's not entirely clear what argument the piece is making, but in the first paragraph the Mail appear to believe Huhne's "weak performance" - possibly on Question Time - has inflamed a  row over the email release*. They also link cite a  letter Lawson wrote to Huhne in which he defends the GWPF's work and stresses the 'rudimentary' state of scientific knowledge about climate feedbacks. Lawson also extends his criticism to the BBC's scientific coverage.

The piece then replicates truncated quotes from the latest emails, apparently cherry-picked by the hacker, implicating not just the scientists but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in its allegations of climate spin. We have taken a quick look at some of these claims already, here.

The article then copies and pastes the earlier Mail piece on the subject, which has a different tone and rather more caveats. Presumably this is preparation  for a splash on the emails in the Mail on Sunday, but it does make for a rather bizarre piece.

The title also made three changes as we were writing this blog post - from 'Second climate emails leak: political giants weigh in on 'biased' scientists bowing to financial pressure from sponsors', to '...politicians weigh in...' to just changing the whole thing to 'Revealed: how climategate scientists DID collude with government officials to hide research that didn't fit their apocalyptic global warming claims'.

*Oh, and they just deleted the first paragraph about Chris Huhne.

Incidentally, gratifyingly - and just in time for the Literary Review's Bad Sex Awards this year - they refer to Phil Jones as the "director of the Climactic Research Unit". Although that will probably have changed by the time you read this. Never mind, we have screenshots.

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Update: 6.15pm - The whole article has now been rewritten. Have a good weekend.

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New paper looks to the past to estimate the future

  • 25 Nov 2011, 10:20
  • Verity Payne

A new scientific  paper released yesterday in the journal Science offers a revised estimate of  climate sensitivity - the amount of increase in the global mean temperature expected from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide - suggesting that it may be smaller than some previous estimates.

The paper hit the blogosphere earlier this month, with  climate skeptic bloggers making much of it at the time. Now it is gaining a fair bit of media coverage, with some provocative headlines including " Climate change fears 'have been exaggerated' say scientists who claim apocalyptic predictions are unlikely" (the Mail), and the Australian's " Climate forecasts 'exaggerated': Science journal". The Economist and the BBC have more sober headlines, with "Good news at last?" and "Climate sensitivity to CO2 probed" respectively.

So, what does the paper show? Scientists used a climate model to reconstruct land and sea surface temperatures from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), around twenty thousand years ago, when certain aspects of Earth's climate were quite different. There was about a third less atmospheric carbon dioxide than before the Industrial Revolution, sea levels were lower because northern latitudes were covered in ice and snow, there was less rainfall, and there was more dust in the air. 

The team used a model to examine this environment and work out what implications it had on how the climate changes as atmospheric CO2 levels change.

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Want to understand energy bills?

  • 24 Nov 2011, 17:41
  • Robin Webster

" Green tax to rise every year" blared the front page of the Mail this morning - rather predictably - and then (in smaller type) "... but don't worry, ministers claim overall bills will be lower - because their policies will make you use less energy".

Why predictable? Because yesterday, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published the latest iteration of its policy impacts document, which estimates the impact of energy and climate change policies on energy prices and bills.

The document, last updated in July 2010, was published alongside the government's Annual Energy Statement, which Chris Huhne delivered in a statement to Parliament at lunchtime on Wednesday. He also launched the Government's long-awaited consultation on the Green Deal.

The key prediction that the government made is the rather clunky one that, by 2020, green energy measures will, on average, lead to a £94 (or 7%) reduction in household energy bills compared to what they would have paid in the absence of policies. Policy measures will, the government say, add £280 to bills; but they also say that bills will fall by £373 as energy efficiency measures reduce overall consumption and bring down bills. So overall, the argument goes, £94 less.

This information was delivered in something of a PR blitz, with full spectrum press release, some nifty graphs, a Q&A, and even an infographic to illustrate the bills-go-up-come-down message

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UK press has cool reaction to second batch of UEA emails

  • 24 Nov 2011, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

Contributors to the comments sections of skeptic websites may be getting the popcorn out to sit in front of their computers and watch new revelations emerge from the second release of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia (UEA) on Monday, but UK news journalists have all but ignored the story.

Despite the fact that the new release has come the week before the UN Durban Climate Change Conference is due to start, apparently with the intention of disrupting the lead-up to the event, even the Daily Mail, hardly the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's biggest fan, sounded unimpressed by the latest batch of emails.

Indeed, only two pieces appeared after UEA gave a press conference yesterday.

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New scientific study - Arctic sea ice decline 'unprecedented'

  • 24 Nov 2011, 14:06
  • Verity Payne

new study published online by the journalNature this week has found that the decline in Arctic sea ice over the last few decades is "unprecedented" over the last 1450 years.

Since the advent of satellite monitoring at the end of the 1970s it has been clear that Arctic sea ice is declining, losing around 3% of its area per decade over the last thirty years. This loss has been particularly extreme in the summer months - the September minimum in sea ice extent is decreasing at around 12% per decade. This has been accompanied by the sea ice becoming thinner, along with a decrease in older ice reserves.

These sorts of changes have concerned scientists, and provide evidence for the so-called 'Arctic amplification' effect projected by climate models simulations where temperatures are expected to rise at about double the global average in the Arctic.

But the small number of long-term records of changes to Arctic sea ice have meant that up until now it has been difficult to determine whether the sea ice is fluctuating naturally, or if, as scientists suspect, the current ice loss is unusual.

Now an international team of scientists have produced a record of Arctic sea ice change which spans the last 1450 years, using data from ice cores, tree ring records, lake sediments and historical evidence.

The researchers have found that there have been some occasions over the last 1450 years when Arctic sea ice has retreated at a similar pace to the current ice loss, but the decline in ice on these occasions has never reached the volume of ice lost over the last few decades. As the researchers put it:

"...Both the duration and magnitude of the current decline in sea ice seem to be unprecedented for the past 1,450 years."

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So, how have the UK media reported the second batch of Climategate emails?

  • 23 Nov 2011, 17:41
  • Christian Hunt

The fresh batch of UEA emails released yesterday have made their way into some of the papers today, with some familiar emphases and angles being adopted. But to what extent has the coverage been based on a reading of the emails themselves, and to what extent have quotes from the emails - suggested apparently by the hacker and presented in a short 'Readme' file - been used as the basis for the stories?

The phrases from the file certainly seem to feature prominently. We looked at the quotes featured in selected UK coverage so far, and read them in context to see if journalists are bothering to do their homework. Click here for Media Matters's look at coverage in the US.

Is the government strong-arming scientists?

The Daily Mail covers the story in a brief article today. The only piece of evidence from within the emails they pull out is a passage that, on the face of it, seems to suggest government pressure on scientists to massage or manipulate their data for use by government in its public messaging. As the Mail reports it, the email "appeared to implicate a government official in the furore over global warming data."

The email, from an insider at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), reads:

"I can't overstate the HUGE amount of political interest in the project as a message that the government can give on climate change to help them tell their story. They want the story to be a very strong one and don't want to be made to look foolish."

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More on the UEA 'Climategate' emails - recommended reading

  • 23 Nov 2011, 14:10
  • Christian Hunt

We're a day on from the  release of another batch of the emails taken from the University of East Anglia (UEA) server, mirroring 2009's 'Climategate' incident. It's a story that is filling online climate forums and has also had a bit of pick-up by the media. Here's a selection of the most interesting pieces:

First: is it just us, or does The Daily Mail's coverage have a tinge of boredom about it?

New leak of hacked global warming scientist emails: A 'smoking gun' proving a conspiracy - or just hot air?

"The identity of the people who posted it was not revealed - although the clear political statement is new. The file also contains more than 200,000 other emails, which are encrypted, and no password is provided.

"Presumably, this is to protect the individuals involved - or simply because the material is so non-controversial or boring that it's not worth releasing.

"The University of East Anglia has not confirmed whether the material is genuine.

"None of the material appears to be new, either: it seems to date from the first release in 2009.

"It also occurs against a rather different scientific background, after the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature review of climate-science data by prominent climate sceptic Richard Muller, which analysed 1.6 billion temperature records, and concluded that global warming was a genuine effect."

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