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Scientist's Caution About Caution Distorted by Distorters

03/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dr. Vicky Pope, the head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre, wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian. Scientists must rein in misleading climate change claims that, sadly, equates (without naming names and without putting out specifics) those speaking strongly about Global Warming in relation to specific weather events or about trends (specifically Arctic Ice) with ASS (anti-science syndrome) promoting Global Warming deniers.

News headlines vie for attention and it is easy for scientists to grab this attention by linking climate change to the latest extreme weather event or apocalyptic prediction. But in doing so, the public perception of climate change can be distorted. The reality is that extreme events arise when natural variations in the weather and climate combine with long-term climate change. This message is more difficult to get heard. Scientists and journalists need to find ways to help to make this clear without the wider audience switching off.

Pope concludes by affirming the Theory of Global Warming, "The scientific evidence is overwhelming." Did Pope not realize that the ASS-sufferers would conveniently forget to discuss those words while using here as a hammer to decry 'global warming alarmists'?

However, rather than challenging bad reporting on global warming impacts or media reporting simply not even suggesting that global warming has a relationship to severe weather events/situations or Will-fully deceptive opinion pieces, it is sad that Pope has chosen to use 15 minutes of fame to attack those trying to raise the alarm about global warming's quite serious implications and the need for action as some equal to global warming deniers in their distortion of the science. The fact is that, almost without exception, the changes that we have actually seen over the past twenty years have outpaced the predictions from climate scientists. If anyone had been stating, 15 years ago, that we would have seen 10,000s die in a European heat wave, the massive heat wave and fires in Australia, Hurricane Katrina's wrath (well, that was predicted), the extent of Arctic ice retreat, how far north birds have shifted, insect-infested boreal forests, etc, there seems no question that Pope would have called them 'alarmists' or distorting the science. And now?

Basically just hours after this OPED, attendees at the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago heard that Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates

The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations,"

Again, Considering how hard it is to gain 15 minutes of fame, it is sad that Pope chose to devote her time to urge caution in discussion when, it seems, her issue about "apocalyptic" warmings is over timing, not extent of issue. For example, she cautions against speaking of Arctic ice disappearing in the near term even while stating that the Arctic will be ice free before the end of the century. It seems her caution is arguing over angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Pope is absolutely accurate that this is a complex situation, difficult to explain, "difficult to get heard."

Sadly, Pope provides little direct evidence as to supposed exaggerations and doesn't point to any specific person that merits being sent to the same circles of Hell reserved for global warming deniers willfully seeking to forestall sensible action to mitigate global warming. And, actually, with the one case that she points to, what is going on with the Arctic ice cap, she seems to be challenging the results from the real 'ice experts' at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which are quite apocalytic themselves. As Joe Romm put it,

In any case, Hadley thinks the Arctic will be ice free later this century on our current emissions path -- so I guess it is a case of Apocalypse now versus Apocalypse later.

Let us be clear about Pope's views. Her question and issue seems to be how to discuss global warming, how to discuss global warming's relationship to specific events, and whether people are overstating near term effects. But, on global warming itself:

When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we "believe in climate change". Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity's activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.

"The scientific evidence is overwhelming ..."

Despite this clearly stated end, as above, Pope's discussion is misguided in tone, which not surprisingly is providing ammunition for those fighting against any action to reduce global warming's impact and fighting, with all their strength, to confuse people about science and promote ASS (anti-science syndrome).

Misleading reporting within The Guardian

So, following the Pope's reasoned and restrained op-ed, of course her words were discussed with restraint and reason, ensuring the people understood that she was not calling into question whether global warming existed or whether humanity has a role. Of course ...

In The Guardian, itself, David Adams authored 'Apocalyptic climate predictions' mislead the public, say experts

Experts at Britain's top climate research centre have launched a blistering attack on scientific colleagues and journalists who exaggerate the effects of global warming.

I'm sorry, even if disagreeing with the tone/focus, reading that OPED doesn't get me to "blistering attack ..."

And, the equivalency argument is one that Adams emphasizes

The Met Office Hadley Centre, one of the most prestigious research facilities in the world, says recent "apocalyptic predictions" about Arctic ice melt and soaring temperatures are as bad as claims that global warming does not exist.

Let us be clear, it is possible to read the scientific evidence differently. That there is global warming and that humanity is a significant fact is now as close to fact as one can get in science (a very, very strongly supported scientific Theory that has stood up to serious examination after examination. But there are serious disputes (debates) about the extent, nature, and speed of impacts. But, there is a difference between debating 'details' and rejecting core.

Thus, it is perplexing that Pope is arguing that those who (evidently) disagree with her on extent/nature/speed and seek to make a clarion call for action to reduce Global Warming's impacts based on their concerns are equivalent to those who call for an absolute rejection of science, who reject the Theory of Global Warming, and who knowlingly distort evidence -- and do not honestly deal with those who callenge them.

Sigh ...

"Having to rein in extraordinary claims that the latest extreme [event] is all due to climate change is at best hugely frustrating and at worse enormously distracting. Overplaying natural variations in the weather as climate change is just as much a distortion of science as underplaying them to claim that climate change has stopped or is not happening."

Let us be clear, it is insane to write that any event was "all due to climate change". People who are serious about global warming simply don't say or write that.

And, are "extraordinary claims" anywhere as well funded or as assiduously distributed as the deniers' material?

In reality, where is Pope's balance in the reporting? Adams at least provides this:

"Both undermine the basic facts that the implications of climate change are profound and will be severe if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut drastically."

Thus, while Adams includes material, buried in the center of the article, for understanding that Pope is no skeptic, but is concerned about how people speak re the issue of climate change, her strong statement re the reality of Global Warming doesn't make it into Adams' article.

But, even any hint of Pope's science falls out of the deniers' discussion

Senator James Inhofe (R-Exxon) and side-kick Marc Morano certainly couldn't have let this pass. And, Adams write-up provided sweet material to work with. Thus, the press release is entitled with Adams' misleading description of the OPED.

Climate of Change: UK Met Office Issues 'Blistering Attack on Scientific Colleagues' For 'Apocalyptic Climate Predictions'

Inhofe / Morano then add

"The record-breaking losses in the past couple of years could easily be due to natural fluctuations in the weather, with summer ice increasing again over the next few years," Pope explained.

Of course, perhaps it was due to space constraints, Inhofe and Morano forgot to provide any indication that Pope doesn't question Global Warming, that she rejects their rejection of science. Since they couldn't find the electrons to bring that to readers' attention, lets revisit Pope's conclusion:

Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity's activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.

"The scientific evidence is overwhelming ..."