Green goggles are somewhat akin to beer goggles, but the wearer sees what he or she wants to see rather than reality. A frequent synptom of the green glass wearer is a willingness to accept at face value and redistribute misinformation without a thought as to whether the “information” in question defies common sense. The “timeline” below, circulated widely, illustrates the phenomenon with misinformation at almost every timestep. This blog post dissects it for you.
2015/08/07. This post has been reworked with some added material, drawing attention in particular to the use of a very misleading article by An Taisce (by moving this to the top).
Update (November 22, 2016): You may notice that the link below for the Copenhagen Diagnosis report is to an Australian university rather than to the Copenhagen Diagnosis website. This is the link provided at http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org/press.html , this page having now replaced the old Copenhagen Diagnosis homepage.
Predictions and projections
When reading this timeline you should keep in mind the difference between a prediction, that is a forecast that something may or will happen in the future, and a projection, an estimate or forecast conditional on a particular scenario or set of assumptions. That scenario or set of assumptions is intrinsic to the projection (and of course a projection is normally not found standing alone in glorious isolation, but rather as one of a set of projections conditional on different scenarios or sets of assumptions).
As an example, “I will die” is a prediction of something which will happen, 100% probability. If I consult life tables, using my current age, I can make another prediction, this time of something which may happen, although no longer a certainty: I have a 50-50 chance of surviving for a specified number of years.
I now introduce scenarios, and associated probabilities. For example, if I step out into the road under a moving bus, the probability that I will die is rather high. But I have not forgotten what I was taught as a child, so the probability of this scenario actually arising is rather low. If you choose to examine only (cherrypick) this scenario for my demise, and ignore all other scenarios, you may project that high probability for my demise under that scenario, but if you instead present that high probability as a prediction, your procedure is manifestly unscientific (and remains so even if, in the fullness of time, you try to argue that “your probability” was close to the correct probability, which turned out to be the above-mentioned 100%).
The basis of the timeline above is the presentation of single cherrypicked projections as if these were predictions, divorced from both their own particular scenarios and from the context of the full set of projections from which each individual cherrypicked projection has been taken (whether presented by enumerating these scenarios and projections or by indicating the range of outcomes which are expected from this set of projections).
This procedure may be simply indicative of incompetence, or may amount to deliberate deception. Decide which for yourself. Unfortunately it is only too common, and the end result is the same whether the misinformation is provided through incompetence or as deliberate deception: those predisposed to accept such misinformation as fact will do so (the default behavior of the green goggle wearers of the post title, I’m afraid).
The October 2009 point on the timeline, although rather far down this post, is one which I particularly urge you to review (and it is relatively brief). A scenario used by the IPCC need only be considered possible, not necessarily plausible. The paper being misrepresented (as “an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060”) at that October 2009 point set out to show that the highest emissions A1FI scenario used in AR4 was not merely possible, as generally thought, but also plausible, but as a “plausible worst-case scenario”, dependent on conditions which appear “less likely”.
AR5 uses four RCP scenarios, and I have added as an appendix a note on RCP8.5. RCP8.5 is not simply “a scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions”. It is not ‘the’ IPCC projection – it is the most extreme of the four RCP scenarios, and is not simply ‘business-as-usual’. Indeed RCP4.5 and RCP6 seem more often used than RCP 8.5 for illustrative purposes in AR5 WG1. RCP8.5 is the extreme scenario, and has other assumptions in addition to high greenhouse gas emissions. The development of global primary energy supply shown in figure 5 of the original RCP8.5 paper referenced in the appendix is distinctly unreal – note the coal required. I know that this is illustrative rather than definitive – the 8.5 W/m2 target is what matters, but I’ve not yet seen a more realistic alternative breakdown, and in the light of growing divergence between observed temperatures and those projected under RCP8.5 I would suggest that it should be regarded as possible (if enough coal magically materializes?) but not plausible while this divergence continues.
And so, back to that timeline
The previous version of this post started instead from an Irish blog, name and link omitted to spare blushes (but also An Taisce connected):
Mother Jones (see below) may well seem to suggest that it may be worse than we think (and to be fair to Mother Jones, it has also published articles showing rather more balance and sense than this one), but this article, far from being “very near to the reality”, is a prime example of feeding the credulity of green goggle wearers, and most certainly not something to use to “educate RTE’s Prime Time Team”.
Links are provided here to all original sources and website articles. Please take the trouble to verify at least some of them for yourself, rather than wearing your green goggles and believing outlandish claims you read somewhere on the internet just because they “are consistent with” your beliefs. (that lovely weasel phrase “consistent with”, often used elsewhere to mislead you). When you are not provided with a link to original sources, beware. When the original sources fail to back up the article, what conclusion do you draw about the author and about the website or periodical where it appeared?
My apologies if reading on, and in particular the exercise of verifying from original sources for yourself, proves detrimental to your faith. But it will be good for you – accepting this sort of nonsense is a demonstration of belief, not of science.
Central to the article is a timeline which should arouse suspicion:
The timeline starts modestly enough, with IPCC AR4. A one degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100. But here we have our first cherrypicking example, albeit a rather unusual example, presented as an announcement by the IPCC rather than a prediction. The IPCC AR4 WG1 Summary for Policymakers (page 13) and 2008 Hadley Centre report do indeed show these modest rises – but only for the most benign scenarios. The cherrypicking here is indeed unusual, selecting the lowest extreme case rather then the highest which seems otherwise the rule, but it does of course serve to add drama as the timeline quickly escalates: 2C increase by 2017, 3.5C increase by 2035! We will also see that other extreme, the A1FI scenario, appear later.
The nearest thing to a 2C increase by 2100 in the 2008 Hadley Centre report seems to be Figure 1 on page 13, with some liberties taken to select the “Very unlikely to be less than” cases for winter and summer temperature changes.
But enough of moderation for now. Let us get down to the real business of a rapid charge into drama and alarmism. (I’ve chosen to work back through the timeline to avoid lending any credence to the idea that this fantasy bears any resemblance to the development of climate science over recent years, and for the benefit of anyone in a hurry).
Working back from these latter extremes, even the most fervent wearer of green goggles should smell a rat on noting that the last link, purportedly to an International Energy Agency prediction of a 3.5C increase by 2035, is in fact a link to a Christian Science Monitor article from 2010. This is a November 2013 prediction by the IEA? Foreseen in 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor?
But it must be so – Dahr Jamail after all, according to the TomDispatch website which Mother Jones credits for this article, is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He did get one thing right – “apocalyptic” climate scientists, though whether the people he spoke to were “climate scientists” may be another matter. For more of what he got wrong, read on. That sound you hear, dear reader, is possibly Martha Gellhorn rotating in her grave (I do not know enough about James Aronson to guess whether he would be doing likewise, although I suspect he might be).
Leaving aside for now the curious chronology of a November 2013 IEA prediction being foretold in November 2010, and my sarcasm directed at believers who would swallow such sloppy writing, a more important question is whether in fact the IEA did predict “a 3.5C increase by 2035” (or not). And unfortunately, that is for the many believers who have repeated this “fact”, the answer is NO.
John Gibbons version
Dahr Jamail, our award winning journalist failed to check original 2010 IEA World Energy Outlook report, just as our own John Gibbons, who relied on an Irish Times blunder for a similar “IEA predicted” 3.6C increase by 2035, failed to check the original 2012 IEA World Energy Outlook report, on which these claims were based [IT OpEd: Irish Times Editorial “Climate change and Ireland”, November 19, 2012 (2035 in printed edition was corrected to 2200 for the online version, or see the editorial in full at the Irish Times with the note that “This article was edited on November 20th, 2012” – but with no indication that this was to correct a blunder)].
Looking at the 2010 report, note the important little words “eventual increase” on page 77, “in the long term” on page 97, and “long-term path” and “stabilising at” on page 384.
All these little words refer to 2200, not 2035. The 2012 report is even clearer in this regard on page 247 (my highlighting):
These particular canards seems to have spread widely. A Google search shows 2860 hits for “The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035”, with virtually all of the initial hits (I was obviously not going to wade through all 2860!) leading to this timeline:
Included among those hits was An Taisce’s January 2014 ezine , shown at the start of this post. The offending article can be found at the end of the ezine. (John Gibbons of course acts as spokesperson for An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee, but does this indicate similar credulity on the part of all involved, or worse still a cynical decision to abuse your trust by publishing something seen as “helpful” to the “cause”. As An Taisce has also demonstrated a willingness to substitute its own alarmist text for IPCC AR5 text and to present this as IPCC projection, An Taisce has questions to answer.
Another sample hit is a Huffington Post blog article with a probably unlivable planet by 2100, if not by 2050:
Moving back a step in the timeline, to 2012, did the IEA’s World Energy Outlook report for that year state that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017? Again NO. (“On track”, and its cousin “exactly in line with” are more examples of those lovely weasel phrases which are often employed to mislead in situations where these phrases would be unlikely to spring to mind for an objective observer). 2C by 2017 might have seemed overoptimistic in 2012 even to the most died-in-the-wool alarmist. On track to reach a 2C increase by 2017 sounds much more plausible.
The report does mention both 2°C and 2017 in the same bullet point, third from the bottom, on page 241. But this is not a projection of a 2C increase by 2017, and most certainly not a prediction, but rather two different sentences, the first talking of the scope for reaching the 2°C goal and the second discussing emissions accounting if action is not taken before 2017.
Moving back another step to December 2010, does the U.N. Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report predict up to a 5C increase by 2050? Perhaps it may not come as such a surprise at this point to find that the answer is yet again NO. The link provided is actually to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013 rather than the 2010 Report which would have been appropriate, but we’ll start here with the 2010 Report. Page 15 discusses a range of pathways through to 2100 hinted at by models (“hint at” is the phrase actually used on the second line of the text for Box 4 below, not an interpolation by me), implying a temperature increase of between 2.5°C to 5°C before the end of the century. The figure does show a purple band corresponding to “T > 5°C”, but the legend also indicates that this is “likely temperature increase (T) in the 21st century”, not “by 2050”, and this is for the most extreme of six pathways shown. Yes, the most extreme pathway does allow “up to a 5C increase”, although not for the claimed 2050, but – cherry-picking anyone?
As the link given was to the 2013 Report, here is the somewhat less clear Figure 3.1 from page 16 of the later report.
Moving back to November 2009 on the timeline, I could not see any obvious report from the Global Carbon Project to examine, but it is not quite true to say that the Copenhagen Diagnosis predicts a 7C temperature increase by 2100. Page 49 shows instead a projection of 2°C – 7°C, a wide range taking care of the omission of emission scenarios, not any definite prediction of 7°C. Misleading by presenting only the upper limit.
At October 2009 on the timeline the Guardian article linked does not include a link to the Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060. I had earlier suggested that you chase it up yourself as an exercise if you wish, but here it is: When could global warming reach 4◦C? [Richard A. Betts et al, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2011) 369, 67–84].
Needless to say, it is not “an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060″. The Guardian article may have given that impression, in typical Guardian style, although it does quote Professor Betts, probably accurately, although accuracy can never be relied upon in such articles, as indicating that
People will say it’s an extreme scenario, and it is an extreme scenario, but it’s also a plausible scenario.
The paper itself describes the scenario considered as a “plausible worst-case scenario”. (And also considered a “best guess” scenario — needless to say the two were not the same) Plausibility however is not sufficient to convert an exploration of an extreme scenario into a prediction of anything. The conclusion in this paper regarding warming reaching 4°C by the early 2060s reads
If carbon-cycle feedbacks are stronger, which appears less likely but still credible, then 4◦C warming could be reached by the early 2060s in projections that are consistent with the IPCC’s ‘likely range’.
So a conclusion dependent on conditions which appear “less likely” magically becomes not merely a projection but “an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060″!
At this point you might be forgiven for concluding that difficulty with reading comprehension could be a required qualification for environmental journalists and correspondents.
At Mid-2009 on the timeline the U.N. Environment Programme Climate Change Science Compendium 2009 linked does not seem to predict a 3.5C increase by 2100. The closest approximation appears to be on page 11, but 2.4°C is not 3.5°C, other than for careless journalists.
As for the briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009, this is a briefing from an individual member of the delegation of Jamaica, T. Goreau, PhD, with a distinguished publication record in the area of coral reefs, but with some views which might go somewhat beyond an orthodox IPCC consensus: that briefing also suggests the possibility of crocodiles and hippopotamuses in London for a 1°C global warming; that IPCC model projections from climate change models must be way too low; that IPCC models have underestimated the sensitivity of temperature to CO2 around 10 times …
If you have read this far, you may find some further, more local, examples of misinformation in other recent posts on this blog. You will also find some material relating to the NASA Gistemp Surface Temperature data which may surprise you, and which does not require any great scientific knowledge to follow. If you need some reassurance that I do have some knowledge in this area and am not spoofing, check the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis, Updates to Analysis (2003-2011) and look for my name, Feb. 11, 2009 and June 24, 2010. (I’m also responsible for bringing issues dealt with in some other updates to the attention of the Gistemp team, without explicit credit here)
You deserve an honest discussion of climate change policy, not a stream of misrepresentations as contained in Dahr Jamail’s article. You rely on the expertise of journalists, particularly those described as award winning or specialist correspondents, but your trust is too often abused. While it would be unreasonable to expect that a journalist would check every claim they report which seems at face value reasonable – errors will inevitably slip through if articles are written to meet a deadline – you are entitled to expect that a journalist will take care to read and accurately report their source material, and that anyone purporting to be a specialist journalist or correspondent, or preparing an An Taisce ezine, will have sufficient knowledge of their subject to spot claims which do not seem at face value reasonable; to see that forecasts of 2°C increase in five years, 3.5°C or 3.6°C by 2035, or 5°C by 2050 for what they are – without any mainstream climate science support (see IPCC AR5 WG1 if you still have doubts).
You do not deserve a campaign by An Taisce, John Gibbons, and friends, to silence others who might expose their alarmist views as being far from mainstream.
Such an editorial filter might well, and appropriately, have unwelcome consequences for John Gibbons and An Taisce.
Appendix: A note on RCP8.5
While RCP 8.5 is often referred to as the “business-as-usual” scenario, it may be less well known that RCP 4.5 and RCP 6, in particular RCP 4.5, are also referred to by some as “business-as-usual” scenarios, and indeed are more often used than RCP 8.5 for illustrative purposes in AR5 WG1. A look at figure 5 in Riahi et al, “RCP 8.5—A scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions”, Climatic Change (2011) 109:33-57, DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0149-y shows much increased energy supply from coal at the end of the century, and raises an interesting question for those for whom RCP 8.5 is the only game in town – where is all this coal to come from? Current coal reserves are reckoned at around 100 years, and, unlike the case of oil and gas, these estimated reserves are not subject to regular increases – coal reserves have been estimated for much longer, and are not likely to increase dramatically.
I’d also draw attention to the assumption of a relatively slow improvement in primary energy intensity, about half the historical average:
There are of course other less well known assumptions in RCP 8.5 too. Population growth is another which should be considered. It is not so long ago that much larger family sizes were the norm here in Ireland too, with an expectation that some of these children would not survive into adulthood. Assuming such population growth is effectively a self-fulfilling prophesy while only lip service is paid to the provision of basic resources such as water, sanitation, medicine and energy, and appropriate agricultural practices adapted to local conditions.