Communicating uncertainties in natural hazards research

by Judith Curry

Tell me what you know.  Tell me what you don’t know.  Then tell me what you think.  Always distinguish which is which. – Colin Powell
This is a great quote from  Colin Powell, not sure I’ve seen it before.  I came across this in an article published in EOS by Seth Stein and Robert Geller, entitled Communicating Uncertainties in Natural Hazard Forecasts.  Since this is behind paywall, here are some extensive excerpts:
Natural hazards research seeks to help society develop strategies that appropri- ately balance risks and mitigation costs in addressing potential imminent threats and possible longer-term hazards. However, because scientists have only limited knowledge of the future, they must also communicate the uncertainties in what they know about the hazards. 

Meteorologists have taken the lead in explaining uncertainties in forecasts to the public (JC note:  see previous post The weatherman is not a moron). In the Powell formulation, “what you know” is that a storm is coming; “what you don’t know” is its exact track and thus how much snow will fall where, illustrated by the comparison of the varying model predictions; “what you think” is that snow accu- mulation is likely; and “which is which and why” are the models’ uncertainties and their limitations, due, in part, to sparse data.

Conversely, warnings or forecasts that do not communicate uncertainties can have embarrassing and sometimes counterproductive results. In 2008, as Hur- ricane Ike approached the Texas coast, the National Weather Service warned that people who did not evacuate coastal communi- ties faced “certain death.” In fact, fewer than 50 of the 40,000 who stayed on Galveston Island were killed. The predicted 100% probability of death—stated with no indication of uncertainty—fortunately proved significantly too high.

The trade-off is that worst-case warnings may save lives, but repeated overpredictions that do not acknowledge uncertainty can cause the public to ignore warnings. Hence, it is desirable to issue more nuanced warnings that explain the potential danger while acknowledging the uncertainty.

One major challenge is that real uncertainties often turn out to have been underestimated. In many applications, 20%–45% of results are surprises, falling outside the previously assumed 98% confidence limits. A famous example is measurements of the speed of light, in which new and more precise mea- surements fell outside the estimated error bars of the older ones much more frequently than expected. This effect arises in predicting river floods  and earthquake ground motion and may arise for the IPCC uncertainty estimates [Curry, 2011].

Another tough challenge, for which scientists do not yet have a good approach, involves extreme events that are so rare that their probabilities are hard to estimate. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was much larger than considered in the Japanese government’s hazard map and so caused a tsunami that overtopped seawalls, causing more than 18,000 deaths and $210 billion in damage. An immediate question is if and how coastal defenses that fared badly should be rebuilt, because building them to withstand tsunamis as large as 2011’s is too expensive.  In one commentator’s words [Harner, 2012], “The question—to be asked in the current case— is whether sometimes the bureaucratic impulse [to] avoid any risk of future criticism by presenting the ‘worst case scenario’ is really helpful…What can (or should be) done? Thirty meter seawalls do not seem to be the answer.”

Formulating effective mitigation strategies is both an economic and political challenge. In both spheres, explaining the uncertainties involved in hazard forecasts is crucial, even though they cannot be precisely estimated. From an economic view-point, they can be factored into analyses of the optimum mitigation level, i.e., that which minimizes the total cost to society, which is the sum of the cost of mitigation and the expected losses. Presenting the uncertainties is equally important for the public discussion needed to formulate policies. Sarewitz et al. [2000] argue that predictions must be as transparent as possible; that assumptions, model limitations, and weaknesses should be forthrightly discussed; and that uncertainties must be clearly articulated.

A similar view of the need for explaining uncertainties comes from considering technological accidents, which are like natural disasters in that the risks are hard to assess but can be large. Richard Feynman, dissenting from the official report after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, showed that the risks had been greatly underestimated and stated that “NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources” [Feynman, 1988]. Scientists working on natural hazard forecasting should consider Feynman’s advice.

JC comment:  Since I am currently developing an interdisciplinary proposal about natural hazards, I am in the midst of pondering these issues.  It seems like the points raised in this paper target the discussion surrounding extreme events into  a much more useful direction, than attempting to attribute these events to global warming.  Following the advice of Powell and Feynman here seems to cover the bases in terms of how we should communicate the risk of natural hazards.  One issue I would like to see discussed is the  (potential and actual) role of social media in addressing these issues.

141 responses to “Communicating uncertainties in natural hazards research

  1. The precautionary principle should be used and 100 meter seawalls should be built around every country on earth that is on the coast.

    We also need to be working full speed on advanced lasers to blast asteroids that may hit us in the future. Windmill powered, of course.

    If we need to curtail freedom, limit populations, and force everyone to become vegetarians and ride bikes instead of drive, then so be it.

    • David Springer

      Great first comment! I agree. Even cars have climate controls now. The earth should have one too. I further propose that the United Nations be put in charge of the world and everyone from cradle to grave must swear allegiance to it three times daily in front of at least one official party witness.

    • But no pink slime in hamburgers, right. That would be just the worst thing that could ever happen to Western civilization–probably worse than lead in paint. Thank gawd the Leftists and libs were all over that one…

    • We also need to dictate lifestyles. Imagine how much CO2 could be eliminated if Al Gore had to live in a 1 bedroom studio apartment (the kids have gone, they don’t need all those other rooms) with a 1 car garage. Now multiply it by all those billionaires, millionaires, and retired upper middle class couples with 2000+ sq.ft. houses. So simple, but the savings would be astounding.

  2. In the song “Undecided” the singer is confused and frustrated by the uncertainty of his girlfriend. She isn’t telling him anything he can use.

    “First you say you do, and then you don’t,
    And then you say you will, and then you won’t;
    You’re undecided now, so what are you gonna do?”

    Uncertainty about the future is not useful information.

    • Curiuos George

      A false certainty can be positively harmful.

      • Sure, but what would be worse:

        a. A false certainty AGW will be a serious problem.


        b. A false certainty AGW will not be a serious problem.

      • Only Leftist political activists ignore natural variability to argue that industrialization and capitalism are bad for humanity. It would not be so bad if schoolteachers had decided to take a break from babysitting children in the dropout factories to try their hand at running a profitable business but instead all they really want to do is be paid for being gadflies and help to facilitate a Leftist government takeover of the economy.

      • Capitalism ain’t bad for humanity. If it were, I wouldn’t be a capitalist.

        If I were super wealthy and super greedy I would want pure !00% free-market capitalism, so the lack of regulations would allow me to wipe out the competition and have a monopoly. Then I could dictate prices. I would bleed my customers like a leech.

      • Curiuos George

        Then we both prefer the uncertainty.

    • For example, it was with deception in his heart that Tenskwatawa used secret knowledge that he gained from “Panther across the sky,” who was his famous older brother Tecumseh. The secret knowledge was used to fool their fellow Shawnee people. It is true that Tecumseh was very intelligent. He learned English and had some conversations with those who were schooled in a few things about natural events that indigenous American natives were understandably totally ignorant of and never even dreamed about. Much like the Al Gore of his day Tenskwatawa laid claim to being a Shawnee Prophet. He used what was easily accessible knowledge from another culture to ‘predict’ an eclipse. Armed with false credentials so it came to pass that Tenskwatawa doomed the Shawnee to death but not from their ignorance of a simple natural event that was about to take place whether or not the Shawnee understood how or why or when. Rather, it was the Shawnee’s belief that Tenskwatawa was a Prophet. It was Tenskwatawa the liar that led them to their death.

      • Tenskwatawa prophesized that European settlers were not good for the Shawnee culture. It be an understatement to say his prophecy was accurate.

      • And this is how a hoax dies: it is when everyone sees what the true motives of the Left are and how spurious the Climatists’ claims have been. Al Gore didn’t win Florida. Bush said nyet to Kyoto. Highschooler Kristen Byrnes (Ponder the Maunder) said nyet to the Gore-type truther-crockumentaries from the Left about rivers around the globe running red like lava from the heat caused by Americans simply going about their business of earning a living

      • Well, you stumped me with that one. Damned if I can figure out what your comment has to do with Tenskwatawa and the Shawnee.

      • Damned if I can figure out what your comment has to do with Tenskwatawa and the Shawnee.

        What is a charlatan…?

  3. The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

    I really like the general direction your thoughts are headed on this Judith. It seems for both anthropogenic as well as natural climate change hazards we need a comprehensive 6-pronged approach that is clearly and consistently communicated to both policy makers and the general public:

    Based on the best available data and combined model output:

    1) What is the range of potential hazards?
    2) What is the probabilities of each specific hazard?
    3) What are the likely consequences of any given hazard should it occur?
    4) What, if anything, can be done to prepare for or mitigate the effects of any given hazard?
    5) What are the costs of mitigation and preparation compared to the costs of accepting the consequences of any given hazard?
    6) How likely is it that there are unknown significant hazards not discovered in research or revealed clearly in model output?

    • Gates

      While I agree with your goal, isn’t what you are suggesting business as usual?

      The prevention or avoidance of damage is accomplished at a local level. Planners would only have available historical weather norms upon which to plan. Many or most countries would continue to ignore any data and would continue to not build proper infrastructure to protect their citizens. Mitigation actions would have no impact at all to these plans. There would be no means to estimate the change from the historical contitions that would result from taking the mitigation actions.

  4. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Far more famous is Colin Powell’s maxim If you break it, you own it.”

    As Colin Powell has made clear, the neo-conservative faith “Whatever we break, free markets can fix” has proved to be utterly wrong, eh?

    In the year after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 nearly 281 million US bank notes, weighing 363 tonnes, were sent from New York to Baghdad for disbursement to Iraqi ministries and US contractors.

    Henry Waxman, a fierce critic of the war, said the way the cash had been handled was mind-boggling. “The numbers are so large that it doesn’t seem possible that they’re true. Who in their right mind would send 363 tonnes of cash into a war zone?”

    Mr Paul Bremer, whose disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces and de-Ba’athification programme have been blamed as contributing to the present chaos, told the committee:

    “I acknowledge that I made mistakes and that with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently. Our top priority was to get the economy moving again. The first step was to get money into the hands of the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.”

      :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

    Conclusion  The intellectual and moral failure of climate-change neodenialists here on Climate Etc has the same origin as the intellectual and moral failure of regime-change neoconservatives in planning the Iraq War: Neodenialists and neoconservatives alike have no “Plan B” in the event that their ideological convictions are overthrown by events.”   :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

    • Powell did not follow his own advice especially in his speech to UN which insured that tens of thousands died. Another one who should retire to a life of denial and contemplation for his actions.

      • You’re entitled to your opinion – but really? – you choose this guy? Who else should retire?

      • To lives of quiet desperation and poverty? In no particular order, Larry Summer, Jamie Dimon, Dick Cheney, Robert Rubin, George Bush the younger, S Fred Singer, Pat Michaels, Willie Soon.

        Some of the above should be shot. YMMV

    • Yes, because one government sending another government piles of cash is EXACTLY what people mean when they say the free market.

      You have a keen understanding of oh so many things!! :) :) ;) o)

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        The neoconservative strategy “send bales of cash to Baghdad” amounted to “double-down on stupid”  … where “stupid” was “no planning at all.”   :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

        “Burn the earth’s carbon `cuz it’s cheap” is not obviously smarter, eh?   :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

    • Fan, this is the all-too-prevalent “government failure.” At the time, I could not believe that (a) the army was disbanded, with no capacity to disarm them; and (b) the public service was disbanded, leaving no one to run the country. It seemed inconceivable to me that the US did not have a detailed and sensible plan for running the country after its military victory; the victory was so certain that I assumed that great thought would have been put into dealing with the post-victory situation. The 6subsequent years of deprivation, fighting and death rose directly from this appalling government sin of omission.

      I’m a pro-market economist and former government adviser. The US failure here is one of the worst by a democratic Western nation. I’m guessing they didn’t consult pro-market economists, or anyone else.

      • Faustino -

        I assumed that great thought would have been put into dealing with the post-victory situation.


        I’m guessing they didn’t consult pro-market economists, or anyone else.

        Actually, they consulted with an extensive array of “conservatives” who had been planning extensively for years. Please look up the Project for the New American Century. They did put much thought into what would happen post-invasion. But their thinking was wrong.

        The Bush administration – no doubt including significant contributions from “pro-market economists” deliberately eschewed and/or actively undermined analyses that complicated the process of bias confirmation. They rejected State Department analyses and those of Middle East experts who said that their projections were wrong.

        But the very basis of invading Iraq was to promote American hegemony in service of pro-market ideology. Being an advocate of pro-market ideology, obviously, does not presume invading other countries, but neither does in exclude such policies.

    • Fan, OT, a few days ago you spruiked the Fleurbaey-Zuber on negative discount rates for long-term environmental issues. Did you read it? I thought I’d critique it, but it was too appalling to take seriously, the worst of academic posturing with no real-world relevance, I didn’t waste my time. Making an allegedly ethical argument on the basis of (a) wild and completely unsupportable estimates of what might occur in 500 years time and (b) basing the discount rate on the hypothetical position of the most-disadvantaged person in 2500 without regard to the welfare of the remaining 9 billion or so is not even fantasy-land (no pun intended), it’s padded-room asylum territory.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Faustino, I presume you take the main point:

        Neoconservative regime-change ideology short-sightedly believed:

        • We need only free the Iraqi people from fascist opression and market obstruction, to create an Iraqi paradise.

        Neoconservative ideology failed utterly, eh? To our immense cost.   :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

        Nowadays, neodenialist climate-change ideology short-sightedly believes:

        • We need only burn the earth’s cheap carbon energy reserves, to create an economic paradise.

        Neodenialist ideology is failing utterly, eh? To our immense cost.   :shock:   :oops:   :shock:

      • Happily, I’m neither a neo-con nor an ideologue.

  5. Trouble is, we are so bad at prediction: Chapter10 of Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan ‘- The Scandal of Prediction’ makes sober, and comic, reading:

    *On the vagueness of Catherine the Great’s Lover Count.

    *Information is bad for knowledge.

    *I was almost right… Tetlock’s study of experts’ record of successful predictions. (

    *The character of Prediction Errors.

    … and so on…

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      The Black Swan is an excellent book, and I’m sure everyone here has read it at least once (and shame on you if you have not), and it’s a great opportunity to talk about the things that are at the edge of probability (but still able to be modeled) as well as things that we can’t know (as they are beyond modeling capability) which leads to a discussion of the difference between black swans and dragon kings. In terms of climate, we can talk about lots of potential black swans and where they might exist in the “fat tail” of probability, but in as much as dragon kings can represent regime changing big surprises, though they may indeed be hazardous, it doesn’t do much good to talk about them as we really have no idea about their actual probabilities.

      • Well TSW, what do you think is going to kill you?
        Heart Attack?
        Climate Change?

        What type of research should get the most funding Alzheimer’s or Climate Science?

      • I thought the plan was to pretend that we could spend more than we earn until the economy fundamentally collapsed.

      • Doc,

        You list all these health related things that could, and do, affect millions, but hte simple truth is that life style and dietary changes can be much more effective in minimizing a great many of these, and thus prevention is a far better course of action in terms of ROI in many health related issues. But of course, prevention doesn’t make drug companies their outrageous profits (afterall, what the profit in people eating less and getting more regular exercise like walks in the park).

        Related to which should get more research funding, Alzheimer’s or climate science. Understanding both are important for improving the quality of human life.

      • R. Gates, in the last 10 weeks all four Alzheimer’s drug trails have been stopped.
        That is it. There are no Alzheimer’s drugs in trials at the moment, none, zero, zip. There are no drugs in the pipe, nor has anyone hinted they have something potentially workable.
        I would love to see an anti-Alzheimer’s diet.

      • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


        Really too bad about the Alzheimer’s funding….seriously. It’s such an awful disease. You can be sure that some combination of diet and lifestyle would prove to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s. See, for example:

      • I can’t resist drawing to R. Gates’ attention a recent exchange on the Daily Telegraph site:

        Poster: pharmas make trillions of pounds on many drugs !

        Faustino: Rather than taking drugs, you can just go to bed. I call this “Pharmas in Pyjamas.” (Thank you, thank you!)

    • Beth

      I re-read that chapter frequently (including Yogi Berra’s quotes).

      Good stuff.


    • Beth, my predictions are always correct. They are that the future will not be what we expected.

      • Not as accurate as mine.

        I predict the future will be the same as now or different than now. But I’m not 100% certain there will be a future. We most always recognize uncertainty.

  6. Heinrich the Norwegian Elkhound

    Everyone loves Feynman.

    Speaking of risks being underestimated…

    Here’s some of the things we know with low uncertainty:

    The last ice age ended because of a Milankovitch-cycle change in forcing of about 0.2 W/m2.

    GHGs now have a net effect of 0.6 W/m2 – Three times the size of a Milankovitch forcing (Hansen ‘Earth’s Energy Imbalance’), and this effect is growing.

    The ‘limit’ of 2 C warming is fast becoming an impossible goal. But with ‘only’ 2 C, the Earth’s climate will resemble that of the Pliocene – Except that your kids and your grand-kids will be around to see the effects.

    If anyone is still using ‘social media’ in 100 years, they may very well argue about how otherwise intelligent people could spent so much time and effort
    trying to ‘target the discussion’ on uncertainty.

    • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

      You must admit that the Holocene has been good for homo sapiens overall, compared to the last glacial period, and thus the contention that warmer can be better has some basis in fact. What is not so clear is if this “warmer is better” mantra can be carried forward if somehow the Earth moved fairly rapidly into a mid-Pliocene type climate or even, further on, into a Miocene. Would be still be able to feed the 7+ billion of us on the planet? What would it mean to fresh water supplies? To the ocean food supply? These are valid questions, especially in light of how rapidly (geologically speaking) these changes could come upon us as the rapidity of the spike in CO2, Methane, and N2O has been exceptionally fast from a geological perspective and has overwhelmed the natural negative feeback system.

      • You say: overwhelmed the natural negative feedback system

        Greenhouse gas is high and rising compared to the past ten thousand years.

        Every other parameter that we measure and get from proxy data is well inside the bounds of the past ten thousand years. There is no parameter, other than greenhouse gas, in actual data that has been overwhelmed.

        The only overwhelming that is going on is in the forecasts for the future that have been wrong for fifteen years.

      • Herman,

        The earliest and most vulnerable area of the planet to the effects of overall warming is the Arctic. If you don’t believe there’s been a change in the nature of this parameter (a qualitative change, a regime change) in the past few decades you might want to take a closer look at all the data. It has most experts quite concerned, and yes, even alarmed. It is only those in the denial-sphere who are still stuck in the mode of calling the changes we’re seeing in the Arctic “natural variabililty.”

      • R. Gates
        All the parameters in the Arctic are well inside the bounds of the past ten thousand years. Other than the rise of green house gas, there is nothing else out of bounds. The “so called experts” are concerned about Consensus Climate Model Alarmist Forecasts with no support from actual data. I have been looking closely at the data since spring of 2008. There is nothing in actual data to support the extreme alarm. Calling natural variability what it really is does make a lot more common sense than spouting all the Alarm Junk Science.

      • Actually Herman, the “parameters” of the Arctic sort of look like this:

        And then there’s this rather interest bit of research just released about the direct effects of CO2 on the actual bonds holding ice together:

        A brand new effect of CO2 on ice that good old fashioned scientific research discovered.

      • “parameters” of the Arctic sort of look like this:
        that is some of the worst BS that I have observed.

      • Gates from the abstract,

        “Buehler, along with his student and co-author of the paper, Zhao Qin, used a series of atomistic-level computer simulations to analyse the dynamics of molecules to investigate the role of CO2 molecules in ice fracturing, and found that CO2 exposure causes ice to break more easily.”

        There seems to be a method to test this “simulation” to prove this, why don’t they get some real data.

      • R. Gates
        The Reconstruction looks like an upside down hockey stick.
        It is likely as valid as the Temperature Hockey Stick.
        It has ignored the ice core data that shows the Medieval Warm Period which had similar Low Sea Ice Extent which did produce the massive snowfall that caused the Little Ice Age. Reconstruction is another word for “I really don’t know so I am going to make something up to scare people”

      • Gates

        What is (Imo) also interesting is that when you look at the holocene period over the last 8000 years the earth is in a cooling trend. It also seems that there has been a warming trend over the last several hundred years which has not been inconsistant with prior subtrends during the holocene. When would/will the warming subtrend be overwhelmed by the long term trend and what lead to the changes in the long term trend(s).

        A number of people have opinions. Most are half baked, but imo it is a central question to the debate.

      • Just a hunch (okay, with a wee bit of study) that we might in fact be prolonging the current interglacial by our greenhouse gas emissions, which certainly could be a good thing. The the natural follow-up to this would be the question: is it too much of a good thing?

      • Gates

        Agreed- it is an unknown. The larger point I am also trying to make is that when we look at the current warming trend and people extend it over the next 100 to 200 years, they are not taking into account that the natural warming trend would end fairly soon.

      • An interesting point, but turn it the other way, humans did well in the holocene because we were well suited for it, e.g. will filled the environmental niche. If we change the climate so that we are not so well suited for it, the cockroaches will prosper, not us.

      • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


        Cockroaches always prosper, pretty much no matter what. But the rate of change is a huge issue, from both a species adaptation perspective but also related to feedbacks and ultimate equilibrium response. Doubling CO2 in a few hundred years can have a different final result than doubling it in 10,000. When feedbacks don’t have a chance to respond, the final result will be different.

      • I always get a kick out of “will be” proclamations regarding future climate.

        Back to Judith’s remark about following Powell and Feynman.


      • A rabbit tale (no pun intended) that might be appropriate to statistical predictions:

        Three statisticians go rabbit hunting. They spot a rabbit. The first statistician shoots. He misses the rabbit’s head by a foot. The second statistician fires; misses the rabbit’s tail by a foot. The third statistician cries out, “We got him!”


      • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)


        Rates of change make a big difference in final outcomes in virtually all natural systems. I can hardly think of an example where it doesn’t.

      • Rabetts eat carrots. OTOH, you guys have been trying for years. Very.

    • Here’s some of the things we know with low uncertainty
      One thing is certain. These things all have high uncertainty.

    • How much time did you spent?

    • The net orbital forcing is unknown. Calling it Milankovitch and pretending to know it’s exactly 0.2 W/m2 at some point is pseudo-science.

    • David Springer

      “The last ice age ended because of a Milankovitch-cycle change in forcing of about 0.2 W/m2.”


    • Elkhound is right (maybe).

      If anyone is still using ‘social media’ in 100 years, they may very well argue about how otherwise intelligent people could spent so much time and effort trying to ‘target the discussion’ on uncertainty.

      The grandchildren might remember the “global warming” scare of the early 21st century.

      But if the grandchildren are talking about “global warming” at all, they will be chuckling at how a large minority of the general public plus several scientists and a bunch of politicians could get so hysterical about nothing.


    • Elkhound

      You write:

      The last ice age ended because of a Milankovitch-cycle change in forcing of about 0.2 W/m2.

      Wiki assures us

      No declines in 65° N summer insolation, sufficient to cause a glacial period, are expected in the next 50,000 years.


      You had me worried at first, Elkhound. (Even the grandchildren can relax).

      But, hey, how about clouds?

      Ramanathan and Inamdar tell us that on average around 14% of the incoming solar radiation is reflected back out to space and the average net forcing from clouds is -18W/m2 (-48W/m2 from reflected incoming SW radiation and +30W/m2 from absorbed outgoing LW radiation).

      Big numbers, when you figure (as IPCC does) that 2xCO2 represents +3.7W/m2

      And we know from ISCCP observations (Pallé et al. 2006) that the global monthly mean cloud cover decreased by around 4.5% between 1985 and 2000.

      As a result the Earth’s global albedo decreased by the equivalent of around –5 W/m^2, i.e. decrease of reflected SW radiation (= heating of our planet). Over the period 2000 to 2004 the cloud cover recovered by around 2.5%, with an increase in reflected SW radiation of around +3 W/m^2 (= cooling).

      These numbers are all larger than your “Ice Age” number.


      Puts all that ballyhoo about GHGs and CO2 in perspective, doesn’t it?


      PS I live in Switzerland, but if I lived way up there in Norway (as I assume you do) I’d be scared out of my wits (and not about CAGW).

      • By those numbers, doubling CO2 is equivalent to reducing clouds by 20%.

        When have clouds ever dropped by 20%? Sustained.

        You say clouds dropped 4.5% and rose by 2.5%. Net 1.5% then.

        Seems like CO2′s 20% effect is far bigger then (and again, sustained).

      • lolwot


        The reflective forcing from clouds is -48 W/m2.

        Doubling CO2 is +3.7 W/m2

        So doubling CO2 = a 7.7% increase in clouds.

        Check the Palle data I cited.

        Fewer clouds (1985-2000) = lower albedo = more forcing

        More clouds (after 2000) = higher albedo = slight cooling

        All fits together, lolwot.


      • no you said yourself,
        -48W/m2 from reflected incoming SW radiation and +30W/m2 from absorbed outgoing LW radiation

        That’s net -18wm-2

        3.7wm-2 is about 20% of 18wm-2

        Question: How much will a doubling of CO2 reduce sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by increasing clouds? What effect will this have on plants?

      • Chief Hydrologist

        The change between the 80′s and 90′s was about 1.9 W/m^2 – consisting of 0.5W/m2 cooling in the IR and 2.4 W/m^2 warming in the SW in the ISCCP-FD. I would not rely on pre 2007 data such as in Pelle 2006.

        The pattern is consistent with changes in low level marine stratocumulous in the equatorial Pacific – such as are observed in ICOADS. We get similar results from ERBS.

    • Norwegian Elkhound, if it does warm rapidly, be glad that you are not a supremely-cold-adapted Norwegian Musk-ox.

  7. Note that the Standard Deviation under Hurst-Kolmogorov Statistics (HKS) is about double the Standard Deviation under Conventional Statistics. e.g. see Slide 10

    Hurst-Kolmogorov statistics and paleoclimate reconstructions

    Hurst coefficient, H 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98
    St. deviation, σ (CS) 2.61 2.90 0.39 0.42
    St. deviation, σ (HKS) 5.80 5.93 0.75 0.82

    Source: Hurst-Kolmogorov dynamics in paleoclimate reconstructions, Y. Markonis D. Koutsoyiannis European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2010 Vienna, Austria, 2 – 7 May 2010 Session HS5.4: Hydrological change versus climate change

    From this it would appear that natural hazards are much more likely to occur within a long term perspective, compared to short term conventional statistics.

  8. “In the Powell formulation, “what you know” is that a storm is coming; “what you don’t know” is its exact track and thus how much snow will fall where, illustrated by the comparison of the varying model predictions; “what you think” is that snow accumulation is likely; and “which is which and why” are the models’ uncertainties and their limitations, due, in part, to sparse data.”

    Right. So we don’t know if a storm is coming. Instead we might imagine that storm do come. And if a storm comes at some point in future it could rain or snow or be cloudy.
    For centuries people who had lived closer to environmental conditions- not living in air conditioned homes- knew that many years of warmer conditions were better than many years of colder conditions. In those times we were more dependent on wild life to survive, and it was crops are wild life that improved during warmer conditions.
    Most people now should able to see that centuries ago, we were not wrong in this regard.

    Governmental policy regarding preventing global warming is crazy.
    Governmental policy regarding preventing global cooling would be slightly less crazy.
    The government doesn’t have the power to control global temperature, perhaps the people of the world have this power.
    If we had a global totalitarian government is would still lack the power to do anything about global temperature, but it could manage the task of lying about what a swell job it was doing.
    So it’s crazy and delusional to imagine the governments of the world could change global temperature, and if had this power, they would have no clue what global temperature would be the best.
    All the governments of the world also lack the power to alter CO2 levels, assuming it was true, that CO2 level was a knob to control global temperature.
    Here is the US, we have had long history of not desiring a totalitarian government [certainly it has been within ability for decades- if we had wanted it], and recently millions of American have fought and died not to have such a future. Other nations have been less intelligent.
    Despite the obvious stupidity, some people yearn for a powerful world government- as though this was solution to every problem. Whereas it would obviously cause war, and would not solve a damn thing. A world government will have any sensible person opposing it- this like gravity- predictable. And world government ends with the idiots involved hanging for lamp posts- which would rather inconsequential compared the misery and death such stupidity would cause.

    And the idea of taxing CO2 emission is all about forming a world government, and nothing to do with controlling CO2 emissions.

    The nation emitting the most CO2 from fossil fuel is China. The future of China is uncertain, and it’s future has larger consequence than any weather. No one can predict it, just like no can predict long term climate change. Having some prediction of either is plausible with time frame of a decade or two.

  9. I like Doc’s point. From my point of view the giveaway that climate alarmism is some sort of pathology, or at the very least the product of wrong-headedness, is that other more imminent, (not to mention more immanent) problems are neglected. How many millions will be suffering from Alzheimer’s (as Doc mentioned) in the coming decades? Cancer is probably second to none as one of mankind’s great scourges. A rational climate alarmists…which is to say a rational worrier…should surely be spending just as much if not more of his time(surely more) sweating bullets over cancer as global warming…

    What about nuclear war? It seems irrational to me to get all bent out of shape over what might in fact be a beneficial warming (or perhaps no meaningful warming at all), and not lay awake nights worrying about Iran developing nuclear technology. Or much, much worse, the bomb finding its way into the hands of terrorists…

    One could go on and on…

    • I think there’s more of a giveaway here about your own pathology.

      Consider: “and not lay awake nights worrying about Iran developing nuclear technology”

      Why would you? After-all there’s no proof Iran is developing nuclear weapons and no proof that there will be a nuclear war.

      Unless of course you are laboring under some kind of Precautionary Principle? Say it ain’t so.

      If you applied your CAGW dismissal to all other walks of life consistently you should be not bothered at all by anything Iran is doing.

      • lolwot

        “Proof” that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, which it would then use to start a nuclear war by wiping Israel off the map?

        No. There is NEVER “proof” of anyone’s intent.

        But there is plenty of “evidence” that Iran is working on producing a nuclear device and that it intends to destroy Israel (it even said so), which would start a nuclear war.

        There is no “evidence” that the CAGW premise (as has been defined here many times) is supported by physical observations or reproducible experimentation (Feynman).

        That’s the big difference.


      • “No. There is NEVER “proof” ”

        Do you at least have a reproducible experiment that can show Iran will blow up the world?

        If not, sorry but you have insufficient evidence to get anyone worried about your fake alarmist fairytales about Iran.

      • All you’ve proved is IND (Iranian Nuclear Development)

        You haven’t provided sufficient evidence of CIND (Catastrophic Iranian Nuclear Development). Saying that it might happen is not good enough.

        Until you have evidence that CIND will happen, we should do nothing about Iran. Besides IND might even be good for mankind. Who can know. The uncertainty monster is just too strong on this.

      • lolwot

        Don’t twist my words.

        No one said anything about “blowing up the world” (Iran cannot do this, even if it does develop a nuclear weapon).

        But since its leaders have said that Israel should be wiped off the map, they have, in effect, stated their intent to do exactly that.

        If Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be able to do exactly what it has told the world should happen, namely wipe Israel off the map.

        That this would be the start of a nuclear war is obvious.

        There is evidence based on physical observations that Iran is working on developing a nuclear weapon.

        So this threat is real, based on stated intent and physical evidence, as opposed to the hypothetical threat from AGW, which is only based on model simulations based on hypothetical considerations.

        Big difference.


      • “There is evidence based on physical observations that Iran is working on developing a nuclear weapon.”

        Everyone accepts that there’s evidence for that. What we are skeptical of are your claims alarmist claims that there will be a catastrophe.

        The burden is on you to prove there will be a catastrophe. Until then we should do nothing.

        After-all you nuclear alarmists were predicting catastrophe during the Cold War too and that never happened.

        “But since its leaders have said that Israel should be wiped off the map”

        People making threats is not evidence of catastrophe. And those threats are themselves contested.

        Your alarmism is based on very shaky foundations. There’s ZERO empirical evidence there will be a catastrophe caused by Iran in the near future. We should do absolutely nothing.

  10. Judith Curry

    Interesting topic.

    You are walking a tightrope.

    Anyone working on “natural hazards” warnings has to consider how to avoid “oversensitizing” the public into panic (which turns into complacency after a while when nothing happens) versus “undersensitizing” them into complacency.

    The CAGW hysteria, which had its origins in fear mongering by individuals such as James E. Hansen plus the IPCC reports, is beginning to wane in the general public as well as the media, as people see no action on CO2 yet no warming and no disastrous effects.

    Dire proclamations that this or that extreme weather event or the unusually harsh winter was caused by CAGW or extreme exaggerations that millions have already died due to CAGW seem to be causing exactly the opposite of inducing fear.

    Some even scratch their heads trying to put the blame on poor communication skills, a general public that is too uneducated to understand the message, etc. (earlier threads here)

    But this whole episode makes your job more difficult as people are so used to climate experts trying to frighten them out of their wits with imaginary hobgoblins that they can’t differentiate when one is warning them to be prepared for a real potential danger.

    “Following the advice of Powell and Feynman” makes good sense.

    In this regard, it seems to me that the first step toward gaining public credibility is to clearly state up front that, contrary to anything the public may have been told in the past, there is no known connection between the natural extreme weather hazards of which you warn and the posited anthropogenic global warming.

    Your idea of using social media as a “bush telegram” for getting the message to a large number of people very quickly makes sense. Maybe someone with more experience with social media can comment.

    Lots of luck.


  11. Uncertainties versus certainties

    - We are uncertain about next month’s local weather

    - We are a bit more uncertain about next years’ regional weather

    -We are even more uncertainabout the regional climate 10 years from today.

    - We are completely uncertain about the global climate 50 years from today.


    - We are certain about the measured global temperature since the new millennium started (it has cooled very slightly)


    • According to which record has the Earth cooled since 2000?

      As far as I am aware every global temperature record shows a positive warming trend.

      • lolwot

        The 21st century started on January 1, 2001

        Since then it has cooled at a rate of around -0.09C per decade, according to the HadCRUT3 record (used by IPCC as the yardstick).

        This compares with IPCC projections that it should warm by +0.2C per decade.

        So IPCC’s models not only got the MAGNITUDE wrong, they even got the SIGN wrong.


        And we’re going to believe their forecasts to the end of this century?



      • Max, you write “So IPCC’s models not only got the MAGNITUDE wrong, they even got the SIGN wrong.”

        Unfortunately this argument will be going to go on for ever; or at least until a cooling trend has been going on for decades. There are two way of looking at the question “Are we warming or cooling?”

        lolwot is looking at it over a time period measured in decades, or even centuries. He is correct that the overall trend is one of warming, as records show has been happening since at least 1850, and probably going back to the LIA. There is every sign that this trend is still going on.

        You, Max, are looking only at the 21st century. And you are right. Over the decade or so of this century, temperatures have been cooling.

        To me the important issue is different from what you two are arguing about. The overall warming trend that seems to have been occuring since the LIA has not changed over all the centuries. There have been periods over decades where the trend has been warming, and similarly, there have been periods when it has been cooling.’ But over all there has been no change whatsoever.

        What happened in the last part of the 20th century, when CAGW was supposedly active, was that we had a period of “excessive” warming; excessive meaning stronger that usual. This has now been followed in the 21st century with a period of cooling. Which means that my contention of no change in trend is being preserved.

        But the conclusion that the trend has not changed for centuries means that there is absolutley no sign that adding CO2 to the atmosphere has any effect on global temperatures. The total climate sensitivity of CO2 is indistinguishable from zero.

      • Sorry, I left out the improtant bit.
        Now, I feel reasonably certain that you Max, will have no difficulty agreeing that I have a point. I would be interested if lolwot also agrees I might be correct.

      • Jim Cripwell

        I agree fully that the data tell me your statement is 100% correct.

        I was simply responding to lolwot’s attempted “sleight of hand” trick.


      • Jim Cripwell,

        Any news from Isaac yet?

        Many thanks!

      • I have told you I have not written to Isaac, and I have no intention whatsoever of writing to him. It was your idea to contact him, not mine. I think it would be a very bad idea for me to coantact him. If he wants to benefit from my wisadom, he can contact me.

      • Jim Cripwell,

        Just to make sure what I’m doing:

        You claimed:

        > I hope that, if I am wrong, someone will point out that I am wrong and where I am wrong.

        This contradicts your rhetorical question:

        > Why would I need to ask anyone?

        if by “anyone” we remind ourselves that in our context this refers to Isaac Held, a guy who could very help you in understanding where you are wrong, if you are.

        You are under no obligation to contact him.

        You are under no obligation to pretend wishing being shown wrong too.

        Your wish to let me contact him evidences some kind of curiosity. You might wish to take responsibility for that curiosity.

  12. Yes, Judith, social media is a worry. Increasing freedoms (like social media provide) should always be matched by increased responsibility, but is this happening? So far the record has not been good. We have all used throw away lines at times, but don’t expect them to appear on TV or the internet, except in fiction. There is a debate currently in Australia about how much and for how long internet providers should keep records of voice and text transactions. When an American lady was consulted, she said ‘We have freedom of speech’.

    Balancing freedom and responsibility properly is a hazard for democratic government. So I keep away from social media, partly because I have enough friends and partly because I have no desire to make spoilt Harvard brats richer.

  13. Judith,

    If told that a particular hazard, like smoking cigarettes, will reduce lifespan between 10-15 years then any individual would do well to take action and quit.

    However, if a second opinion is that the range of uncertainty is too small and it should be more like 5 -20 years, then it doesn’t really make any sense, unless I’m completely missing something in what you are trying to say, for our hypothetical smoker to light up again.

    Is it any different with climate? Does it really matter, from a policy perspective, whether the IPCC are correct with their estimate of 1.5 -4.5 degC or whether you are correct with 1.0 – 6.0 deg C?

    • John Carpenter

      TT, in both cases addiction is involved. Perhaps energy addiction is not equivalent to nicotine addiction, but our dependence on energy does not make the quitting of fossil fueled energy easy. Addicts are willing to take a chance on the certainty the addiction is bad for them in the future to satisfy their need for an immediate fix now. In the case of a drug like heroin, the body needs the drug, quitting cold turkey results in illness. Similarly, we can’t quit or fossil fuel energy dependence cold turkey without a surrogate ready like methadone. We can’t quit… We are fully dependent. So we are willing to accept the risks and hope they are low while we find a suitable alternative.

    • Isn’t the real topic of Uncertainty being missed?

      Sure, 1.0-6.0C is a range of temperatures, but there are cities that experience temperature ranges of almost 60C in some decades; how does Science communicate the Uncertainties of outcomes of something so ‘small’ as only 1.0-6.0C?

      Such as a 3%-17% increase in the most extreme weather frequency, or a 5%-12% increase in the extremity of the most extreme weather incidents, or a +/-40% increase in range of regional extreme weather event types? How does one express the uncertainties of the shifting of natural ranges for animals, explaining such things as the migration of opossum from the bayous into Canada, or of tropical and semi-tropical fish into the sub-Arctic?

      We’re seeing an asymmetrical rise in Uncertainty of outcomes in higher order results along the chain of dominoes, and no one’s expressing that terribly well. All we get is pronoiac bleating of, “but what about all the benefits?” As if. When I consent to having it done to me, it’s a benefit. Until then, it’s something you’re doing to me without my permission.

    • Tempterrain

      Here you come again with the tired old argument, comparing cigarette smoking with AGW.

      The KEY difference between the risk from direct smoking and that from AGW is simple.

      One has been demonstrated by thousands of clinical studies and several decades of actual physical observations, leading to the warning statements on cigarette packages in many countries.

      AGW, on the other hand, has not been shown by empirical evidence “to be hazardous to your health”.

      The second BIG difference is that these warning messages are directed at individuals to motivate them to stop smoking, thereby changing the behavior of consumers AND prolonging lives. And they work.

      Are you proposing to warn individuals that “emitting CO2 can be hazardous to your health”?

      What evidence can you cite to support such a statement? (By evidence, I do NOT mean pre-loaded model simulations, but actual empirical evidence, such as exists for the smoking link to respiratory disease.)

      Would such a message work in changing people’s behavior? How? Will it change our future climate one iota? (Please be specific.)

      Most important, would it prolong ANY lives? (The answer is clearly “NO”).

      Don’t bring up such absurd analogies, TT, they only make you look silly.


      • “The KEY difference between the risk from direct smoking and that from AGW is simple.

        One has been demonstrated by thousands of clinical studies and several decades of actual physical observations, leading to the warning statements on cigarette packages in many countries.”

        It’s not as different as you think. Put it this way:

        AGW has been demonstrated by thousands of climate studies and several decades of actual physical observation, leading to the warning statements by national academies across the world.

      • True.

        And your doctor can’t look at your lung Ca and tell you that it was for sure caused by smoking.

        There’s so much uncertainty……

      • What again are the harms that you know will occur due to the world being slightly warmer?

        The harm from smoking seems vastly more definitive

      • If I start smoking what harms do you know WILL occur?

      • Rob,

        I think you’re ignoring the benefits of smoking.

      • You can specifically state that there is a higher probability to get lung cancer than if you do not smoke. (I will not claim to know the %). You can also definitively state that if you get the lung cancer there is an “X” probability that it will be fatal.

        What is the harm related to it getting warmer that you can define this way, is there any of the feared harm that will be prevented to anyone alive if your preventive steps were taken?

      • Rob,

        That’s all very vague.

        Where’s the ‘empirical’ evidence that my Ca was caused by smoking???

      • I’m going with the Body of Believers… no matter who you are.
        Think about the known risks and existing in-no time.
        —With a bunch of people you are mad at too.
        Risk is not always the game it seems today.

      • lolwot

        AGW has been demonstrated by thousands of climate studies and several decades of actual physical observation, leading to the warning statements by national academies across the world.

        Your blind faith in dogma is wonderful, in the religious sense.
        (“…blessed are those who have not seen and still believe…”)

        But in the scientific sense it sucks.

        GW (not “AGW”, and certainly not the Hansen/IPCC premise of “CAGW”) has been “demonstrated by several decades of actual physical observation”.


        “AGW” has been described theoretically, and is a reasonable posit, although its magnitude is highly uncertain (as our hostess has testified under oath).

        “CAGW”, as proposed by Hansen or IPCC, is only supported by model simulations, NOT by empirical evidence.

        And that, lolwot, is what is being debated.

        Let me repeat, so you can understand.

        It is the “CAGW” premise of Hansen (and IPCC) that:

        Most of the global warming since ~1950 has with greater than 90% likelihood been caused by increases in human GHG concentrations


        that this represents a serious potential threat to humanity and our environment, unless actions are taken to curtail human GHG emissions (principally CO2).

        THIS is the premise you either have to conclude is valid or invalid.

        If you conclude that it is valid, you must cite scientific evidence to support its validity (Feynman).

        Those who are rationally skeptical of this premise (as I am) can insist that those who propose this premise provide empirical evidence to support it, but do not, themselves, need to produce such empirical evidence to falsify it.

        Now to RS, NAS, etc.

        Don’t fall into the logical fallacy of “argument from authority”. (Feynman has also discussed this).

        The only thing that counts, lolwot, is “argument from evidence”.


      • Michael and lolwot

        It’s not only lung cancer.

        Clinical trials and patient records taken over several decades have shown that smoking increases the risk of respiratory ailments of all sorts. (Check Google)

        There are NO such real-time physical observations to support the notion of CAGW.

        Quite simple, actually.


  14. Yes TT, climate is different from smoking.

    I know that will come as a shock to you.

    • I was hoping for a slightly more intelligent answer than that, MrE. But, I should know by now not to expect too much from you guys.

      • tempterrain

        You just got an answer from me, tt.

        I explained to you WHY your post was so absurd that it makes you look silly.

        Any comments?


      • Max,

        You’ve rather missed the point I was making. It wasn’t so much about smoking per se, that was just an example, rather it was about how we make decisions under what Judith would term “deep uncertainty”. Judith wraps all that up in a certain pseudo-mathematical mystique, as if it were all unexplored scientific territory, yet we all make those kind of decisions quite regularly.

        If you don’t like the smoking analogy, change it for something else: like being advised that your home is infested with termites and it will fall down with 2-3 years. Or is that 1-4 years or 0.5 years to 6 years? Or maybe never?

        The course of action should be quite clear, regardless of the exact numbers. Just like we don’t need to know exactly how much global warming there will be before we make a decision to do something about CO2 emissions.

      • tempterrain

        I understand your termite analogy as follows.

        If a termite inspection reveals physical evidence that termites have infested my home, I will spend the money on an expensive termite extinction program.

        I might first get a second inspection, to make sure I’m not just being “sold a bill of goods”.

        And it is clear to me that, contrary to global warming which has occurred since 1850, long before human GHGs played a role, even a small start of a termite infestation is enough evidence to act to keep it from spreading

        Unfortunately for the CAGW premise, there is no such physical evidence that the premise is valid.

        And that is the key difference.


      • ” such physical evidence that the premise is valid.”

        You may think that – but it isn’t Judith’s argument. She herself says that she has no serious disagreements with mainstream scientific opinion apart from on the issue of uncertainty.

        Whereas the IPCC have given figures of 1.5 – 4.5 degC for CO2 climate sensitivity , Judith would put the range wider. 1-6 deg C ( to the 66% confidence limits) or whatever she feels is an appropriately wide range at the time given the available evidence.

        So how can this increased range, which may well be correct, make the slightest possible difference from a policy perspective?

        The answer is that it can’t. Can it?

        On the other hand, if Judith were of the opinion that climate sensitivity was much less uncertain that she says it is, and also the range of narrowed uncertainty was very much at the lower end of the scale then there would be a case for a different policy perspective. But she isn’t.

  15. When I was a sixteen-year-old, the freshman Chemistry lab assistant opened the first lab with an excellent tutorial on the topic of Uncertainty.

    “When you drop acid,” she began, “it’s like..” and she trailed off, utterly catatonic for a full three minutes give or take, eyes wide open in a far-off gaze. “ never know what it will be.” Just as if she’d never had her episode.

    Needless to say, I was always utterly careful of the handling of reagents in the lab thereafter, to be sure of my grip on the beaker and never to spill anything with a pH varying from 7.0 by more than +/-0.2.

    Because you can never be certain.

    Okay, so the point of the story is you never know what you’re communicating to a naive audience that hasn’t shared your experience or education, and has nothing whatever to do with Uncertainty.

    • John Carpenter

      Yeah, try reading a few MSDS’s for some common compounds used in the lab… Heh, real eye openers for novices.

    • The term ‘dropping acid’ didn’t quite mean the same thing when I was a similar age..

      The effects were always slightly uncertain. Though, not highly uncertain, which would would have made us much less keen to experiment than we actually were. So the point of my story would be the exact opposite to the one Judith is keen to promote.

    • Maybe I’m being a bit naive here ! I think it does have the same meaning after all!

      • tempterrain | October 11, 2012 at 12:18 am |

        Hint: she was wearing a Grateful Dead tee-shirt under her lab coat, and blue jeans autographed by Jerry Garcia. Well, you couldn’t see the signature while she was wearing the lab coat.

      • There’s no rational reason why the said substance is illegal actually. It’s many years since I’ve undulged in that kind of thing, but IMO, and in my experience, and also from what I’ve researched, it was much less harmful than alcohol. It wasn’t quite like I’d expected it to be, but quite fascinating nevertheless.

      • “There’s no rational reason why the said substance is illegal actually.”

        Laws were passed to save the children.

        But for most of America’s history we somehow managed without these laws.
        I would guess it boils down to parents having a growing feeling of having less control over their children, and therefore as part of remedy they felt they needed these laws passed by the State.

      • Religion is often said to be the opium of the people, which is a good reason to be against them both. Religion, opium and of course all similar substances tend to produce a false consciousness in those who indulge. They shouldn’t necessarily be illegal but they’re not to be encouraged either.

      • temp,

        Yr: “false consciousness”

        Hey temp! Love the ease with which your reflex-thinking slips into Marxist jargon. And “religion is the opium of the people”? heh, temp? Fascinating concept and figure of speech, temp! Did you make all that up all by yourself?

        You know, temp, observing your watermelon-brain at work has an undeniable, if creep-out fascination to it. I mean, like, you are such a party-line hack, reliable good-comrade. I mean, like, you never step out of line. I mean, like, you never have the slightest hint of an original thought. Amazing, really.

        So “religion is the opium of the people”, temp. So what, then, is the “opium” of the hive-weenie, booger-eater “crusher crew” you hang with, temp?

        Let me guess the answer to my own question, temp. The greenshirts’ “opium” is their scaremongering make-a-buck/make-a-gulag, rip-off scams of which the CAGW con is but the latest example. And always, the hive’s lefty scams, temp, are pushed in the name of the “peope” (you know, the “people”–the dolts that you hive-bozo Philosopher-Kings imagine are so easily manipulated (so why do you suppose it is, then, that us “little guys” saw through your little GAGW scam, if we’re so dumb, temp?) and that you watermelon-worthies hold in such eternal contempt).

        And, of course, it is the “people” who fill the gulags and bear the scourge when one of your collectivist-hustles works out while you commissar-grade hive-flunkies remain exempt from the heavy-lifting you advocate for others and are assured the “good life” you condemn in the “people”. That, and you hive-nik shot-callers also get to enjoy the delicious, opium-like high (only better) that comes with ruthlessly and imperiously bossing us helots around (while kissing the rumps of your betters, of course) and summarily correcting the attitude of anyone who fails to show you a proper respect with your hive-issued Makarov. Indeed, that last is really what it’s all about as far as you’re concerned, right, temp?

        And unlike religion and opium, which you, temp, think (which means the hive also thinks it) should not be “encouraged”, we can safely further assume that, in contrast, the hive-position is that lefty frauds, like the CAGW scam, should be encouraged in every possible way, to include mandatory brainwashing sessions, beginning in the womb. And that those who fail to succumb to the indoctrination are to be commited as human “guinea pigs” to psychiatric hospitals, shot for crimes against humanity, or incarcerated in slave-labor gulags. Well, temp, at least you eco-sociopaths don’t plan to slice-and-dice any of us “enemies of the people” for our body parts–or do you?

        Did I miss anything, temp?

      • Related:

        linked from:
        Posted at 2:29 pm by Glenn Reynolds
        Or here:

  16. Dr Curry,,

    An engineer might say; Risk is a function of frequency and consequence. Perhaps for climate change we could change this to “probability” and consequence.

    It seems to me that there are large error bars on both sides of that equation, so large in fact it is even possible that the probability could be cooling or the consequences could be benign.

    As a member of society who pays taxes and votes for authorities to represent me and protect my interests, expect and demand that they use my money as efficiently and as effectively as possible. What I need is a resilient infrastructure. If there is heavy snow, and the likelihood of it in the future, I expect planning to take account of it, so I can get around, and shops can be resupplied with goods.

    I also expect that long term planning ensure that we don’t encounter avoidable and foreseeable crises in the future, but committing to policies to guard against one specific outcome in a prognosis that is so deeply uncertain is not efficient use of resources, or even likely to protect future me, especially as so many things that could influence that outcome could change in the mean time.

    • +1

    • Agnostic | October 11, 2012 at 3:03 am |

      Specious argument. Risk is never treated as negative in risk management. It’s an arrow that only points in the direction of fhe potential detriment.

      Larger Uncertainty in Risk, likewise, never increases efficiency of money spent: inherent in increased Uncertainty is increased inefficiency in decision-making. A competent engineer, I would hope, doesn’t go with the information they wish they could have, but with the information they do have. So that resilient infrastructure you hope for (increased snowfall sometimes being one outcome of AGW in some cases)?

      Well, that’s going to be more costly infrastructure to build, in many cases new and in near total ignorance of what exactly to prepare for, and more of the time the extra cost will have gone to waste waiting for some extreme that will not show up that particular spending period. You’ve just described a cost of AGW.

      Here’s a rare case where you get to have your cake and eat it too: you want long term planning to ensure we don’t encounter avoidable and foreseeable crises without committing to just one outcome?

      Congratulations. AGW delivers drought and flood, snow dumps and heatwaves, increase in weeds and decrease in crops, harsh conditions for local animal life and ideal conditions for invasive vermin, sometimes several of these at once. You get to have all these Risks for the low, low price of one single decision to burn carbon.

      Though of course some argue that weeds and vermin are benefits.

      • The point is Bart, that these “risks” could occur anyway. Given that the climate always changes with or without anthropogenic help, we need to be able to tolerate whatever nature might throw at us.

        Let’s suppose for a moment that many of the assumptions skeptics are dubious about are correct, and the world is warming largely because of CO2. But suppose also that coincident with our highly industrialised society, the climate is about to turn much cooler. From history it’s clear these conditions are not favourable to society generally, so it might be considered serendipitous that we have taken the edge off potential cooling, at the same time helping crops grow with extra CO2 to photosynthesise.

        Suppose now that many of the assumptions are still correct and the world gets much warmer, but it has no significant bearing on weather patterns, or it does have a bearing on weather patterns, but not detrimentally so, nothing that cannot be adapted to. The money, ingenuity, and resources being committed to mitigating CO2 emmissions could be better spent in the developing world, on education, clean drinking water, and coal fired power stations that would, for all that they may for sure emit pollution, it is nothing in comparison to the damage done to the environment by people exploiting it just to survive.

        Now, just for the moment consider that some of the assumptions are not correct, which any thinking, rational person, who has invested any time trying to understand this subject must conclude is at least a possibility, and wonder if attempting to mitigate something that is not proven to be detrimental, is really the right strategy. Sure, it is fair enough to be concerned enough to want to expedite realistic alternatives to fossil fuels, because fossil fuels are dangerous to mine, refine and transport anyway, and yes, unfettered emmissions may have consequences such as climate change we don’t want, but betting the house that immediate and urgent mitigation is the only solution seems a bad bet given the uncertainties.

        Surely the priority from the point of view of policy is to build in resilience to any sort of climate change, and then look to developing proper long term high density safe alternatives such as thorium fission, or fusion, as natural progression of a technologically evolving society.

      • Agnostic | October 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm |

        Yeah. No. The point is, whether the _outcomes_ might occur anyway some of the time, the Risks of the outcomes increase due to AGW. Asserting otherwise is mere error.

        While it’s all very well and good to mouth naively that, “we need to be able to tolerate whatever nature might throw at us,” even a little examination reveals that you’re exactly wrong. Depending on how frequently, intensely, for what duration, and to what extent we know cost of tolerating what is thrown at us changes, and the revenues foregone due lost productivity while we’re having things thrown our way only get worse.

        Also, let’s reject your use of the phrase, “skeptics are dubious about,” as I’m very skeptical; I’m far more skeptical apparently than are you. What you call ‘assumptions’ and then enumerate as, “the world is warming largely because of CO2,” is not an assumption at all: this is a proposition built out of ab initio reasoning from the foundations of Physics and confirmed by data. We don’t need to suppose anything. This is just fact.

        Then we see you use a fingoist technique of suppose, suppose, suppose.. We have to stop you mid-sentence right at the start, point out you use a faulty premise that invalidates your entire argument, and discard the rest.

        In Logic, we stop with the first error.

  17. Judith asked:

    One issue I would like to see discussed is the (potential and actual) role of social media in addressing these issues.

    My answer would be: “The opposite of what you want/expect”.

    A year or so ago there was a tsunami warning for Australia’s east cost. A People left work, grabbed their surf boars and went to the beach to surf the tsunami wave. The police couldn’t believe the reaction to the tsunami warning. the opposite of what they wanted.

  18. Peter Lang

    You might be exactly right.

    The same is often true when hurricane warnings are sent out – surfers love the thrill of unusually big breakers.

    But, aside from the response by stupid risk-takers. I think Judith’s question was a good one.

    I’m not an expert on “social media networking”, so cannot comment on “how” – but for things such as warnings for tornadoes or flash floods, where a large number of people need to be warned very rapidly locally, it seems that using this medium as a “bush telegraph” in a controlled fashion might pose the advantage of providing “instant communication”.

    Of course, there is always the problem of misuse or setting off a panic reaction, which would have to be looked at, but the concept, itself, seems to be worth looking at, don’t you think?


  19. With deep regrets, I recommend that everyone study the discussion on economics:

    Worldwide, the wrong side now has the upper hand in the age-old battle of The EGO versus The FORCE


    With deep regrets,
    -Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  20. Ask any weatherman who lives where they have snow, and he’ll tell you that they lean towards the higher accumulation predictions because if they predict 6″ and get 2″ no one will remember a few days later. . . but if they end up with 6″ of “partly cloudly”, it’ll be talked about bitterly for months or years. . .

  21. In communicating uncertainties it might also be good to ask:

    Who is being asked for answers and who isn’t and why?
    What questions are not being asked?
    What answers are not being given?
    Where is all of this being done and why there?
    Why now?
    What happened before this?
    What will happen next?

    It always amazes me that the most obvious questions are the ones never asked and the ones in most need of answering….

  22. Another tough challenge, for which scientists do not yet have a good approach, involves extreme events that are so rare that their probabilities are hard to estimate. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was much larger than considered in the Japanese government’s hazard map and so caused a tsunami that overtopped seawalls…

    Have the people advising the Japanese government on earthquake risk not heard of the Gutenberg-Richter law?

    Could I suggest that scientists struggling with estimating probabilities for extreme events should perhaps start by reading John Gribbin’s Deep Simplicity.

  23. A valuable topic to attempt to raise in public discussions are the uses of uncertainty disclosures.

  24. Back at Jim Cripwell | October 11, 2012 at 9:37 am I wrote
    To me the important issue is different from what you two are arguing about. The overall warming trend that seems to have been occuring since the LIA has not changed over all the centuries. There have been periods over decades where the trend has been warming, and similarly, there have been periods when it has been cooling.’ But over all there has been no change whatsoever.
    What happened in the last part of the 20th century, when CAGW was supposedly active, was that we had a period of “excessive” warming; excessive meaning stronger that usual. This has now been followed in the 21st century with a period of cooling. Which means that my contention of no change in trend is being preserved.
    But the conclusion that the trend has not changed for centuries means that there is absolutley no sign that adding CO2 to the atmosphere has any effect on global temperatures. The total climate sensitivity of CO2 is indistinguishable from zero
    I also wrote “Now, I feel reasonably certain that you Max, will have no difficulty agreeing that I have a point. I would be interested if lolwot also agrees I might be correct.”
    Max replied “I agree fully that the data tell me your statement is 100% correct.”

    So, I had a reply form Max, but nothing from lolwot. I suspect the reason why lolwot has not responded is because I am right, and he does not have the integrity to agree that I am right. How about it lolwot. Am I, indeed, correct, or if I am wrong, why am I wrong?

  25. Dr. Curry,

    Colin Powell’s comment is great — but opens up unfortunate political floodgates (totally unrelated to the uncertainty question).

    My only experience in the field of uncertainty is in the collection and interpretation of intelligence data — a field whose rules (when there are any) are quite different than those found in public policy and science.

    But the one rule we had — and one that I had drilled into me and have not been able to forget — First and Foremost, admit when you don’t know. along with the instruction –> Label every guess, assumption, supposition, and hope clearly as such [ I assure you, failure to do so resulted in extreme chastisement].

    I look forward to reading your conclusions.

  26. And now for something completely different … from Georgia Tech!
    McGyver robot deals with uncertainty

  27. The role of social media is diffusion but even that metaphor is inaccurate. Talk of communication often reads as though the public were a student sitting in a classroom but that linear model is far too simple. The ebb and flow of public scientific knowledge and belief is a very complex system which is never still. Most people have only a slight need to know so the idea that the public needs to know what the expert knows is false.

    Moreover when it comes to public action the scientist is often the learner not the the teacher. That part seems especially hard for scientists to grasp.

  28. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup | Watts Up With That?