Guest post: Complaint to RTÉ

The letter of complaint to RTÉ copied below, relating to the interview of Friday 6 August on RTÉ’s Drivetime with Mr. John Gibbons, was submitted today (8 August 2021). The interview related to a potential collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and the drastic consequences it would have for Ireland’s weather.

To: RTÉ Drivetime

cc. Ms. Dee Forbes, Director General, RTÉ

Mr. Jon Williams, Head of News RTÉ

Complaint About Drivetime Interview with Mr. John Gibbons on Friday 6 August

Dear Sir/Madam,

                            We wish to complain about the interview on RTÉ’s Drivetime on Friday 6 August with Mr. John Gibbons, introduced as an environmental journalist, regarding the supposed collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and the “catastrophic changes in Ireland’s weather” to which this would lead.

The interview centred on a recent paper by N. Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research [1]. This paper presents a statistical study of the AMOC based on an ad hoc equation, dx/dt = λx+η. This equation has no physical basis as a governing equation for the AMOC and no conclusions drawn from it can be given any credence.

There is no evidence that the AMOC has ever broken down in any climate resembling the present. The known AMOC collapse that occurred about 14,000 years ago, as the last ice age was coming to an end, was not driven by a change in greenhouse gases. It occurred because of a large surge of fresh water from melting ice on the North American continent into the Atlantic. The ice melted because of a change in the Earth’s orbital parameters that led to a very large increase in the sun’s radiation incident on northern high latitudes in summer.

When Mr. Gibbons was asked whether we know the cause of the supposed imminent AMOC collapse put  forward in the Boers paper, he answered; “Absolutely! It’s due to greenhouse gas emissions.”

He then went on to say that the breakdown in the AMOC would cause a drop in the amount of heat being transported polewards, which would lead to an increase in the temperature gradient, leading to superstorms that would wipe out cities. He also said it would lead to an increase in the melting of the Greenland ice cap, which would cause a rise in global sea level. We wish to comment on these assertions of Mr. Gibbons as follows:

1) There is no evidence that the meridional temperature gradient is increasing as a result of any incipient breakdown in the AMOC. On the contrary, the meridional temperature gradient is decreasing, because the Arctic is warming faster than lower latitudes. 

2) Any collapse of the poleward heat flow in the AMOC would lead to a cooling of northern high latitudes and therefore to growth of the Greenland icecap and a consequent fall in global sea levels. Mr Gibbons’s vehement assertion that a collapsed AMOC would lead to a rise in global sea level was self-contradictory.

3) Even if the AMOC were to break down, this would not lead to a “catastrophic changes in Ireland’s weather”. The Atlantic would still continue to absorb heat in summer and release it in winter. The released heat would still be carried by the prevailing southwesterly winds toward Ireland and northwestern Europe, giving a much milder climate than would otherwise prevail at our latitudes [2].

Mr Gibbons also asserted that the science of climate change is “crystal clear”. He is obviously unaware that in a recent issue of Science magazine, climate modellers who previously refused to debate with any of their colleagues who pointed out that climate models were exaggerating the rate of warming due to greenhouse gas increase have now themselves admitted that this is actually the case [3]. Nor does he appear to be aware of the recent game-changing book, “Unsettled”, by Prof Steven Koonin, which has authoritatively demonstrated that very large areas of climate science are, in fact, seriously unsettled [4].

Mr. Gibbons also made no reference to the paper of Worthington et al. (2021) who, using a comprehensive dataset, found that there is no overall AMOC decline in the period 1981-2016. Their paper clearly states that “Our model has not revealed an AMOC decline indicative of anthropogenic climate change.” [5].

Neither did he refer to the work of Chafik et al. (2021) who examined the northern reaches of the AMOC and found that “Coupling between the inflow of Atlantic water into the Nordic Seas and the Atlantic Multidecadal Variability was so tight that we could find no evidence for long-term or secular weakening or strengthening of this poleward flow (related to anthropogenic warming, for example). In short, the inflow of warm water to the Nordic Seas has been quite stable over the past century since the start of modern oceanography.” [6].

Not being a climate scientist (or any kind of scientist) himself, Mr. Gibbons projects an air of certainty and comprehensive knowledge to which no genuine scientist would lay claim.

We submit that in providing a person like Mr. Gibbons with an uncontested platform in a matter of such public importance as this, RTÉ is failing in its duty to serve the public interest.

Yours sincerely,

Ray Bates (Adjunct Professor of Meteorology, UCD),

Donal O’Callaghan (Retired Principal Research Officer, Teagasc),

Fintan Ryan FRAeS (Retired Senior Captain, Aer Lingus, and Senior Engineer, Inmarsat)

References

[1] Boers, N. (2021) Observation-based early-warning signals for a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 680–688. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01097-4

[2] Seager, R. (2009). Climate mythology:The Gulf Stream, European climate and Abrupt Change. http://ocp.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/gs/

[3] Voosen, Paul (2021) U.N. climate panel confronts implausibly hot forecasts of future warming. Science, 27 July. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/un-climate-panel-confronts-implausibly-hot-forecasts-future-warming

[4] Koonin, Steven E (2021). “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why it Matters”. BenBella Books Inc., Dallas, Texas. Prof. Koonin was Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy in the Obama Administration.

[5] Worthington, E.L, Moat, B.L., Smeed, D.A., Mecking, J.V., Marsh, R. and McCarthy, G.D. (2021). A 30-year reconstruction of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation shows no decline. Ocean Sci., 17, 285–299, 2021 https://doi.org/10.5194/os-17-285-2021

[6] Chafik, L., T. Rossby, H. Hátún, and H. Søiland (2021), Rethinking oceanic overturning in the Nordic Seas, Eos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO156810.

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