“We’ll all be dead by then”: Lindzen in London

The UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee met today to hear oral evidence. The mainstream view was presented by Prof. Sir Brian Hoskins,  Prof. Myles Allen, and Dr Peter Stott. The low-climate sensitivity view was presented by Prof. Richard Lindzen, Nicholas Lewis, and Donna Laframboise. Nobody was invited to present the view that the IPCC has underestimated climate sensitivity. Always promising to start with a little false balance.

The mainstream panel presented few surprises to anyone who has read much of the IPCC report. The questions asked by the MPs were perhaps more revealing, with Stringer (10:47) asking about the Himalayan Glacier and other errors real and imagined in the 4th Assessment Report.

And then came the low-sensitivity team.  Laframboise had nothing to offer other than conspiracy theories and ad hominems. The Chair, Tim Yeo had little patience for her testimony, especially when she tried answering questions other than those asked (politicians are experts at that game – they are going to notice). Lewis tried to convince the committee that his objective Bayesian methods gave the only estimates of climate sensitivity worth paying attention (not sure how any choice of Bayesian prior can be objective).

Lindzen, a regular at these types of proceeding,  did most of the talking.

A full transcript will be published by the committee, probably in a month or so. Below is a partial transcript without any guarantee that it is correct. I’ve typically paraphrased the questions, but tried to catch the answers. There were undoubtedly more errors and misrepresentations from the professor, but I didn’t always know the papers to which he was referring, and have limited time to chase them down.

About warming over the last 60 years

“It’s completely consistent with there being nothing to worry about.” (11:12)

On sea-level rise

“Cannot say anything about [sea-level rise] at the moment … Not sure what is going on with sea-level … been increasing for thousands of years at a certain small rate … I don’t see much evidence here that points to man doing something extraordinary.”

Tamino covered similar nonsense from Judith Curry last week.

Global sea-level is expected (“expected”) to rise by 2100 by more than previously projected.

“I don’t know where that comes from. “

So you dispute the conclusion


If he does not know the evidence for a claim how, can he dispute it?

Any settle issues?

“Man should have some effect and climate changes … consensus … none of this tells you there is a problem”

Can summary for policy maker be relied on?

“31 pages leaves a lot out from a thousand or two thousand pages. Sins of omission can be as great as sins of commission”

Lindzen gives precisely zero examples to substantiate this claim.


“Entirely possible that there is no problem … range of uncertainty allows for the possibility”

Let’s be optimistic.

“Warming up to 2°C, they estimate would be net benefit. …  May be up to 5°C that is net benefit”

Let’s be very optimistic.

Figure 1 from Tol (2009) . Estimates of the global economic impact of climate change. Central line shows mean estimate, outer lines show 95% confidence interval.

Figure 1 from Tol (2009) . Estimates of the global economic impact of climate change. Central line shows mean estimate, outer lines show 95% confidence interval.

For someone so hostile to climate models, Lindzen is remarkably keen on the results of economic models from Tol and Nordhaus, models that are probably even more uncertain and more difficult to validate. Net benefit at 5°C is, extrapolating Tol (2009; figure above), exceedingly unlikely, and would involve large inter-regional inequalities. Even the small net benefit at 2°C would comprise of benefits in northern counties and losses in the tropics, a corruption of the Matthew principal “For unto every one that pollute shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that pollute not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” A fair solution would require the losers to be compensated by the winners, however I find it unlikely that, for example, the Americans will be keen to pay their share of the perhaps $100 billion per year unless they can deliver it with a B52.

Worse, the estimate of net benefit to 2°C is very uncertain: “the level of uncertainty here is large, and probably understated—especially in terms of failing to capture downside risks. The policy implication is that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should err on the ambitious side.” (Tol 2009)

“Science is an interest in its own right…. Scientists have their own interests”

Being a prominent sceptic is also an interest in its own right. Someone paid for him to come to London, to speak on a national stage rather than being the little known retired scientist he would have been had he held more mainstream views.

“Whatever the UK is deciding to do, vis-a-vis climate, will have no impact on your climate… will have a profound impact on your economy. You are making the decision, to take a problem that might not be a problem, take actions that  you know will make problems, and feel on the net that you have done the right thing, that’s for you to decide.”

And a journey should not be taken unless it can be made in a single step.

CO2 on climate (11:52)

“Theoretically it is supposed to have some effect…. I think it should have some effect … not the same as saying it is the major factor”

The hiatus: heat accumulation in the ocean (11:54)

“A very opaque way of saying that natural variability is the reason … does indicate a certain bias”

Is it the case that the decade 2000-2010 was the warmest on record (12:03)?

“It is entirely possible” [squirm, squirm] “of course it is!” … “For the last 16 years it hasn’t increased”

How does Lindzen hope to be taken as credible by the committee with such daft answers.

On the language of uncertainty

“For the uncertainty concerning the attribution, no, of course I’m not happy, I don’t know how that was derived”

He should start by reading the report.

On the words connected with the range of percentages of uncertainty

“They have no relation to the mathematical definition of those words. Using statements that do have mathematical meaning but you haven’t put them into a mathematical context”

Words have definitions, but there is no precise mathematical definition of the term “virtually certain”, so the IPCC defined the terms it uses.

Have the IPCC underestimate effect of solar and cosmic radiation (12:13)

“Yes… Solar variability is very small…. On the other hand, there is now some experimental evidence …, that things like cosmic rays that vary quite a lot have an influence on the formation of cloud condensation nuclei… can amplify the effect of solar variability by a large factor. That is an unknown at this moment. The IPCC didn’t include it”

There is little credible evidence that cosmic radiation has a material effect on cloud cover.

Climate scientists are:

“Not the brightest people … The brightest kids went to physics and maths and chemistry and other areas…. Most of the graduate students came from physics and maths, they were the overflow”

Lindzen speaks from his own experience no doubt. This unevidenced insult might play well to the fake sceptics at WUWT or wherever, but I doubt it was persuasive in Westminster.


“If you said that sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 was 0.6°C”

At this stage, Lewis should have informed the professor that a sensitivity of 0.6°C is all but implausible. A sin of omission for the committee to feast on.

“At this point we not only don’t know what to do about it, but almost everything proposed would have very certain consequences for the people and very uncertain consequences for the environment. That should be taken into account”

The solution is obvious: reduce emissions. There may be some debate about whether carbon taxes, cap and trade or some other scheme is most efficient and fair.

The committee asked if Lindzen agreed with the cliche “doing nothing is not an option”:

“I don’t believe that… Virtually no policy that beats doing nothing for 50 years.”

This was citing work by Nordhaus, who has explicitly rejected Lindzen’s interpretation of his work: “Waiting is not only economically costly, but will also make the transition much more costly when it eventually takes place.” Lindzen cannot honestly claim to be fairly representing Nordhaus’s work. He is misleading parliament.

When challenged by the committee about the ethics of doing nothing,

“We’ll all be dead by then.”


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About Richard Telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
This entry was posted in Fake climate sceptics, solar variability and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “We’ll all be dead by then”: Lindzen in London

  1. I love the tweet from Gavin. He points to a graph with error bars on it as if that were a derivation.
    I wrote something about this.

    • You did read IPCC AR5 WG1 “Attribution of observed global scale temperature changes
      The evolution of temperature since the start of the global instrumental record” didn’t you? It’s is a little too long for Gavin to include in a tweet, but it seems to explain the derivation fairly well, and then there are the papers cited by this section.

      If Lindzen gave reasoned arguments why the attribution in this section is wrong, fair enough, but to simply claim he doesn’t know how it was done is pathetic.

  2. johnrussell40 says:

    “We’ll all be dead by then” is the thinking, if not the words, of a sociopath. And who is ‘we’? Certainly not my two-year-old grandson.

    Lindzen seems to have spent two much time talking to the sort of economists who believe that the further away from this moment in time, the less value (+/-) should be placed on an eventuality.

    • Even Lindzen the eternal optimist could not expect to see the sun rise in 2064, nor could many of the grey-haired parliamentary committee who completed Lindzen’s “we”. It was a throwaway line. Listen to it and form your own opinion of the man.

      If Lindzen believes that negative feedbacks are so strong that sensitivity is small, perhaps the 0.6°C he quoted, and that there will be net benefits until 2°C or even 5°C, and he is absolutely certain about this, then doing nothing is an entirely rational position. Admit any uncertainty, any tiny doubt, and the position collapses.

      • I found it interesting that he seemed to say – a number of times – “there is evidence suggesting we don’t need to be worried”. If you consider the reduced ECS/TCR range, then one could argue that that statement is correct. However, if you’re simply basing it on the possibility that even mainstream science suggests there’s a chance that warming will be low, then using precisely the same information we can say “there is evidence suggesting that we need to be very, very worried”.

        So, I got the impression was that he was saying that very carefully which would imply that he knows that “there is evidence to suggest that we should be very, very worried” but was specifically avoiding saying that.

      • Someone has set the essence of Lindzen’s testimony to music

  3. It would be a false balance to present the view that the IPCC has underestimated climate sensitivity. Reality (real world measurements) shows they have been overestimated and the IPCC is adjusting them downward in thier latest report.

    Another false balance is to create an organization (IPCC) whose expressed purpose is to report on the magnitude of man-made climate change and what can be done to reduce its impact, the existence of man-made climate change being assumed from the outset.

    If you already know the answer, you surly can find evidence to prove it to your own satisfaction.

    • Lindzen’s testimony misrepresented the IPCC report, swathes of climate science, and the work of climate economists. To balance his misleading evidence would need someone promoting the view that climate sensitivity is at least 4°C. You won’t find many people holding that view, and I’m not recommending that they be invited, only that their position would be as plausible as Lindzen’s. Aside from climate sensitivity, there are several aspects where the IPCC is conservative: sea ice has melted faster than expected, and there is potential for substantial sea-level rise if the ice sheets are destabilised.

      Since the radiative properties of CO2 are well known, and the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 cannot be due to anything other than human activity, it would be absurd not to study the effects of CO2 on climate. The IPCC exists to synthesis the evidence, both for and against this effect. There just happens not to be much plausible evidence against the effect.

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