And human wisdom?

No other planet to move to!

The title of today’s post picks up the theme of yesterday’s post Dog Wisdom, that incorporated a wonderful essay from Mark Rostenko about the wisdom of dogs.

The words in the sub-heading came to me because, unlike wild dog packs, we do not have the luxury of our ‘alpha female’ deciding her pack’s territory is no longer viable and they needed to move on.

All of which serves as an introduction to a recent essay from Martin Lack over on the blog Lack of Environment. Martin is well qualified to write on such matters as climate as he has been a Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS) since 1992 and a Chartered Geologist (CGeol) since 1998.  His essay was published on the 15th March and is called Merchants of Doubt need to do the math.


A feature-length documentary, based on the content of the Merchants of Doubt book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, went on general release at movie theatres in the USA this weekend.

As points out, it has already attracted the attention of an odd mixture of ideologically-motivated deniers of the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.

I say “odd” because, as per the above link, those who prefer to see climate science as a conspiracy to raise taxes (and install worldwide Communist government via the United Nations, etc.) include both longstanding disputers of inconvenient science like Fred Singer (who questions whether the movie is defamatory) and self-confessed non-experts like James Delingpole.

Both of the above would have done well to watch a recent BBC Four (television) programme – Climate Change by Numbers. In contrast to just about every other programme about climate change that you might have seen, this one is presented by three mathematicians. A 30-second trailer is inserted below but, if you have not seen the full 74-minute programme (opens in a new window), I really would recommend it.

The programme focuses on three numbers:
— 0.85 Celsius – the rise in average global surface temperatures since the 1880s.
— 95% – the certainty of the scientific community that this is primarily human-caused.
— 1 trillion tonnes – humanity’s carbon budget to avoid 0.85 increasing to 2 Celsius.

Along the way, the programme highlights the early work of Svante Arrhenius – who determined that a halving of atmospheric CO2 could cause a 4 Celsius drop in temperature (and therefore that a doubling of CO2 will cause a 4 Celsius rise).

With regard to the accuracy of computer models, the programme highlights the way in which this has been proven by their ability to predict the cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions.

With regard to our carbon budget, the programme highlights the fact that humanity has already burnt 0.5 trillion tonnes and, unless radical changes are made to global trends, will burn the remaining 0.5 trillion tonnes within 30 years. It also points out that, as ongoing events might well suggest, even 2 Celsius could have severe and pervasive impacts (as the IPCC described them last year).

All very inconvenient for libertarians everywhere, I guess.

See also:


NB: The link that Martin offers to the full programme is a version on YouTube that is chock-full of adverts; seemingly inserted every ten minutes or so.  Unfortunately, other YouTube videos of the same BBC programme also seem to have too many adverts.

Please don’t let that put you off watching a critically important message. Plus, as you watch the video, do stick under your hat the following note from Martin.

Thanks, Paul. There is one thing you might care to add (which I forgot to mention), which is this:

The final third of the programme includes a discussion of ‘extreme value analysis’ (EVA), which Wikipedia helpfully describes as “a branch of statistics… [that] seeks to assess… the probability of events that are more extreme than any previously observed“. Flood defences like the Woolwich Barrier on the Thames estuary were designed using EVA. However, crucially, EVA assumes that average parameter values do not change over time. Therefore, given that climate change invalidates this assumption, it is now accepted that London will need greater protection from flooding in the future. Athough not explicit in my original post, this was why I included a link to the ‘Climate Departure’ reseach of Mora et al., which estimates the regional variation in the date by which future climates will have departed from what has hitherto been considered normal.

So here is that full BBC Documentary.

Now where’s that spare planet!

5 thoughts on “And human wisdom?

  1. Thanks for the publicity, Paul. However, I think calling my post an “essay” is stretching the definition beyond its elastic limit. My post was an attempt to summarise the program in as few words as possible. I say “attempt” because I have since had to add the explanation of the significance of EVA being invalidated by ongoing climate change. Continuing in the same pedantic vein, I note that your first embedded video is not the 30-second trailer I refer to (perhaps it is not available in the USA?); and I don’t get any adverts when I watch the video on YouTube in the UK. This makes me wonder if the adverts are a consequence of the video being embedded on your blog (or you accessing YouTube in the USA)?

    Finally, given your opening and closing remarks, I feel obliged to point out that Professor Stephen Hawking has recently repeated his warning that humanity will only survive the consequences of cimate change by leaving the Earth and colonising Space (and/or other planets) — The Independent newspaper, 20 Feb 2015.

      1. No problem. Reading my original comment back, it all ‘sounds’ rather ill-tempered. Please be assured that it was just meant to be pedantic and, as such, might have benefited from the insertion of a few 😉 …!

  2. A very interesting post Paul.. Numbers rule ‘Our Climate’ in the world and I do not always refer to the weather, is based on Numbers.. be it $’s £’s or what ever Currency .. And if Profit were not at the helm, but conservation our Planet, We would be a lot greener and healthier than we are now.

    Thank you for sharing.. Sue

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