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Dr Emily Shuckburgh
26 January 2017 12:34

Video: Dr Emily Shuckburgh on peer-reviewing the Ladybird book on climate change

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

26.01.2017 | 12:34pm
InterviewsVideo: Dr Emily Shuckburgh on peer-reviewing the Ladybird book on climate change

Ladybird, the children’s publisher, has launched a new series of “expert books” today. One of the topics is climate change, with the others being quantum mechanics and evolution.

The 56-page hardback book on climate change is co-authored by Prince Charles, Tony Juniper and Dr Emily Shuckburgh. It is illustrated in the style of the iconic Ladybird series that were popular with children in the 1960s and 1970s. (See the sample of pages in the gallery below.)

Writing in the Mail on Sunday last weekend, Prince Charles explained what led him to want to publish such a book:

“The continuing confusion about what the science of climate change actually says, and the fact that positive solutions to it are now at hand, led me to help write a little ‘plain English’ book on the subject, covering the scientific facts, why we must urgently act upon those and why doing so would actually be a very good thing…I hope [it] will be of interest to some of the many people who remain uncertain or, indeed, unaware of the inescapable facts.”

At the back of the book, it lists the following scientists as peer-reviewers: Prof Neil Adger; Prof Nigel Arnell, Dr Joanna House; Prof Jason Lowe; Prof Georgina Mace; Prof John Shepherd; Prof Eric Wolff; and David Warrilow, the former head of science at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is listed as the review editor.

Carbon Brief spoke with Dr Emily Shuckburgh, deputy head of the polar oceans team at the British Antarctic Survey, and asked her about how the book was peer-reviewed:

“We really wanted to make sure all the material we had in the book could be said to be robust and evidence-based. So we thought having the book go through a peer-review process, despite no Ladybird book ever having been through a peer-review process before, would be really help. So we approached the Royal Meteorological Society to undertake that review…In writing the first draft, we, as authors, tried to make sure all statements in the book refer back to the peer-review literature. When we were comfortable with the first draft, we then sent it to the reviewers. The review editor then came back to us with those comments and we made revisions accordingly. And then the final version went back to the reviewers for their approval.”

Shuckburgh on what elements of climate science were hardest to synthesise down for the book:

“I don’t think I’d single out any particular thing. Climate science is an area that is complex and multi-faceted and a lot of the statements that we can make as scientists are quite nuanced. I think the biggest challenge was trying to fit all of that into 5,000 words. It was boiling down all that nuance in a way that still maintained the robustness of the statement…

In a way there’s almost too much in the book. It’s a bit like [digesting] all three working groups of the IPCC report into a Ladybird book. I don’t think there’s an awful lot more that we could have possibly squeezed in. We didn’t just try to talk about the science and the climate challenge, if you like, we also tried to talk towards the end of the book about the opportunities and talked a little bit about the technical innovations that are starting to bubble up. I think if we’d had more space, an entire other Ladybird book could be devoted to talking about those opportunities and the new innovative technologies in more detail.”

On whether the book will be updated over time:

“There’s a website listed at the end of the book which has all the references that we’ve provided for each of the different pages through to the peer-reviewed literature. Our intention is to keep that permanently updated. Without committing to anything, I would imagine that as new editions of the book are produced we might very well want to make sure they are kept up-to-date.”


Video by Rosamund Pearce.

  • Andrew Warren

    Despite all this, I noted that the accompanying editorial in the Mail on Sunday STILL persisted in peddling the lie that much of the basic science remains in dispute.

    • John Bruce

      Scientists are diffident which the media takes to be doubt which added to the avoidance of reality (using 5 year old data so missing the Arctic et al) as UNIPCC seeks ‘accord’ at COP21 and we simply don’t have ‘truth to power’ – here or anywhere. I fear it may take a ‘climate 2008’ H**y S**t moment before we begin to wage the war we ought to be well into by now.

  • John Bruce

    The only problem is that we wrongly base our assumptions.

    Recently Oxfam published the names of the 8 Wealthiest men in the World. The extra-ordinary sums involved should give us pause for thought – at what price is this list bought to pass? I have no quarrel with the individuals who exemplars of the best in capitalist meritocracy and all of who individually seek to benefit humanity, but the evidence suggests that our system has endangered our survival.

    All is the product of consumerist capitalism fuelled by debt enabled by since Nixon came off gold to now, 50 years on and the price of it can be measured in carbon – for it all has a carbon footprint – which today has so polluted our atmosphere that we have gone beyond any point of return – we
    are in the last stages of going extinct. Sounds extreme – look at the evidence.

    I have not read the book but if based on the UNIPCC output it is wrongly based and self evidently so.

    If one cares to look at the NASA/NOAA tables one can see that Last 16 of 17 years have been hottest on record – last 3 sequentially. Unfortunately by giving global data it has permitted ‘cross dressing’ the figures. The UNIPCC ‘relies’ on the Global anomaly. Yet to us that is an irrelevance. The measure of what we, 88% of global population who live north of the equator, are experiencing, is the climate, humidity and temperature of the Northern Hemisphere.

    Yet, so it can continue business as usual,the establishment deludes itself and us, by pretending that we can properly predict what is to come – and what is – on the benign Global Anomaly. That is wrong.

    The Global Anomaly is very heavily influenced by the less sunny, much bigger and much colder Antarctic – so we, who live above the equator, have our policy set not on what is extant where we are, but averaged down by adding in the Southern Anomaly – which is about as cogent as it was to
    say the Titanic can’t sink.

    The UNIPCC, so global elite, delusion comes from COP21 and for-runners. COP21/22 decided that we may expect to experience ‘a mean 1.6C by 2018’, that by cutting carbon we could maybe stay below 1.5C, that if 2C was realised it wouldn’t be until 2100 or later.

    It simply ignored the reality – though spoke of it as a future hazard – that the Arctic may produce methane, although in 2013 – over 2 years earlier – [Wikipedia ‘atmospheric methane’] The Arctic News had reported that the Holocene 11,000 year methane levels, never having risen above 780ppb, had shot up to 1830 ppb (O2e 60 ppm).

    As lately October 2016 the UKCCC was re-assuring us with a ‘steady as she goes’ report – reiterating the COP21 nonsense. For that is what the evidence proves it to be. It is available to everyone and requires no more expertise than any ordinary person brings to jury service. What is specialist are the
    many strands that scientifically make up climate science, but its conclusions are not. It is good to know that someone of the global stature of Prince Charles, who every child would know and respect has sought to give a grounding in what matters on climate, but hopefully he might follow up with a book for adults which ‘speaks truth to power’ – we are actually way further on than COP21/22 would have us believe. It is not a question of opinion but simple evidence based fact available to all.

    The ‘Truth’ – what best defines our reality is not the NASA/NOAA satellite LOTI data -which lags well behind our daily experience, and it is also not to be found in the tables for the Global Anomaly. ‘In fact’, what most nearly reflects the conditions we are living in (88% of global population) are the monthly temperatures recorded in the dTs tables (meteorological ground station readings) for the Northern Anomaly. These are freely available on the NASA site and scroll down.

    The conclusions are stark. 2081 came ad went last year for us. We are not warming at the sedate COP21 assumption of 0.01C pa but above 0.25C pa. We will probably pass ‘dangerous 2C’ well within the next 5 years. No amount of carbon cutting will stop global warming. We are told that 7.8C is unlivable (UNIPCC). But humanity will never live to see the day – we will have long been killed off
    – without intervention – by lesser heat with such humidity that when we sweat it ceases to evaporate to cool us, so ‘wet bulb’ (Wiki again,) or heat stroke, sees us off quickly – as core temperature rises. It is happening.

    We also now know that the oceans are warmer than thought, so humidity is higher than anticipated. Yet more worrying, is the stratosphere – we live in the c8 mile high troposphere, so above that – is colder than ever simply because our GHG tropospheric blanket is ever becoming efficient as GHG
    intensifies. It is a pity that we have no newspaper that covers global warming as does the Washington Post. It otherwise simply falls through the’ cracks in the UKs frenzied approach to what it, often misguidedly publishes as news, to the exclusion of what actually matters..

    But the kicker is this. Whilst man made carbon took the amount of carbon in the atmosphere above safe levels (the 280/300 ppm that nature can re-cycle every year, now to above 280/300 ppm) to about 405 ppm (parts per million) today, the irreparable damage was done in the 1990’s by which time our carbon output had so warmed the Arctic that it began to melt. One of today’s main drivers of our warming is Arctic methane. What we now produce is no longer the determinant of our future.

    In about 2010 – 2013 – unnoticed – methane began to be released from deep below ice as it melted back, added to which methane began to be released from thawing permafrost. The effect has been dramatic – we are now warming at least 25 times more quickly than COP21 presumed to be the case only just in December 2015.

    If correct and I would be delighted to be corrected, though not by an opinion from an expert but by the evidence making it plain I am wrong – the conclusions are:

    1. There is not, save solar, a single current ‘alternatives’ technology that is, due to carbon footprint, other than part of the long-term problem. Kyoto kicked off a shoal of red herrings which, despite $5.3tr (IMF) in subsidies, which have not produced the slightest slowing down – note the Keeling curve. Indeed, we are in an increasingly accelerating system Many are better than fossil fuel but, nevertheless, they are all adding to the problem and have to be replaced by something cleaner.

    2. If we are warming at c0.25C pa and today we are at 1.6C and 7.8C is ‘unlivable’ (sic) then without any greater acceleration we will have become extinct within 7.8 – 1.6/0.25 = c25 years. Sounds mad but so was the thought that the Titanic couldn’t sink or the Earth was round – until the conventional
    wisdom accepted as ‘progress’ what beforehand was considered unreasonable (to borrow from GBS).

    We do have technology on the shelf with which to make clean energy to put pollution out of business. It is not deployed because the Elite establishment do not want to disturb the status quo or void vested interest.

    In sum. Unless we intervene and accept disruption and migrate employment from what is to what it needs to be we won’t have employment.

    It is unlikely the UK or USA will fund climate appositely disruptive technology, both being, to a greater or lesser extent, in denial. So maybe someone somewhere may be of such exalted status as to have the ear of one of these men who have made a great deal of money. They may suggest that they could do worse for humanity than fund intervention – use that money for the public good and co-incidentally, to give their own nearest and dearest a future they currently don’t have.

    By buying what they had to sell, the making and transport of it produced such GHG that unless we now act it may soon simply become too late to avoid our existential threat.

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