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UK Secretary of State for the Environment reveals his depth of knowledge of climate change (not!)

Posted on 12 June 2013 by John Mason

An extraordinary - and worrying - insight into the mind of Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment here in the UK, was provided during a June 7th edition of the political Q&A programme Any Questions, available on BBC Radio 4 here. The programme is broadcast from a different venue every week and consists of chairman Jonathan Dimbleby and a panel of four politicians and commentators plus a studio audience who ask a selection of topical questions. This edition was from my home town of Machynlleth in Mid Wales and more specifically from the Centre for Alternative Technology, which has been promoting renewable energy and other sustainability issues since the 1970s.

This week's panel was made up of Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, Owen Paterson, UK Secretary of State for the Environment and James Delingpole, blogger and well-known inhabitant of an alternate universe when it comes to climate science.

A question from audience member Sally Carr (at 29 minutes 22 secs into the broadcast) caught my attention:

"Are those concerned about climate change talking anti-scientific green ideological nonsense?"

This is of course a Delingpole quote (Daily Telegraph, June 4th 2013) turned back at him, as Dimbleby himself observed. Delingpole was on first and gave a typical performance stuffed to the gills with strawman arguments and many 'usual suspect' talking points that we have debunked beyond death here at Skeptical Science - "no warming since 1997", of course, plus a few throwaway comments about yoghourt-weavers and eco-loons, accompanied by much spirited heckling. The only thing missing was a "POLAR BEARS ARE NOT EXTINCT" arm-waving exercise. All typical Delingpole and exactly what anyone would expect. The following graphic is sufficient to address his entire attitude in general:

The Escalator

above: animation showing how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to "cherrypick" short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps).

Leanne Wood was next, and she firmly recommended that we go with the science, mentioning the 97% consensus that has been in the news rather a lot in recent weeks. Peter Hain had people chuckling with his description of Delingpole as the Flat-Earther of the climate debate and went on to say that even to a non-scientist the meltdown of the Arctic was obvious to anyone as a sign that something was well and truly wrong. Finally it was the turn of Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson, and his answer was so utterly, breathtakingly gob-smacking that I have transcribed the main part of it in full. Each climate change myth he repeats is linked to the most closely appropriate Skeptical Science myth-busting page (opening in a new window):

"Well I'm sitting like a rose between two thorns here and I have to take practical decisions - erm - the climate's always been changing - er - Peter mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely and you can see there were beaches there - when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops - we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming - the climate's been going up and down - but the real question which I think everyone's trying to address is - is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James is actually correct - the climate has not changed - the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we've got to be careful of is that there is almost certainly - bound to be - some influence by manmade activity but I think we've just got to be rational (audience laughter)  - rational people - and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don't actually cause more damage - and I think we're about to get -"

Peter Hain interjects: "And this man is our Secretary of State for the Environment, for goodness' sake!"

That was - in a matter of a few tens of seconds, climate myths 1, 170 (possibly - see below), 39, 46, 27, 1 again, 4, 45, 9 and 37, as listed in the Skeptical Science Most Used Climate Myths database that appears on the left-hand side of all Skeptical Science pages. That sure is impressive and looks, in terms of the myth numbers, more like a massive Chinese Takeaway order than the collected thoughts of a Government Minister.

One claim - "in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely" - requires a bit of clarification, particularly because it is followed immediately by, "when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops". These two things are completely unrelated and thousands of years apart from one another. In the early Holocene, between ca. 8500 and 6000 years ago, the seasonal extent of Arctic sea-ice was sharply reduced. Along the coast of NE Greenland, there are well-developed wave-generated beach ridges dating from this time which document seasonally open water as far north as 83oN (as opposed to 'completely', by the way). The paper (Polyak et al, 2010) is available (PDF) here. But what does this tell us? In a nutshell, it illustrates something we are already realising from present-day observations: that the Arctic sea-ice is extremely sensitive to changes in climate forcings. In the case of the early Holocene, the forcing was a maximum in Milankovitch-related northern high latitude summer insolation. In the case of now, as Polyak et al say in the same paper:

"The current reduction in Arctic ice cover started in the late 19th century, consistent with the rapidly warming climate, and became very pronounced over the last three decades. This ice loss appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years and unexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities."

One thing that should be brought to Owen Paterson's urgent attention is the recent work at Lake El'gygytgyn in Arctic Russia, undertaken by the international team led by Julia Brigham-Grette, which has succeeded in obtaining an unbroken lake sediment record stretching back 3.6 million years. This unprecedented record - through all the glacials and interglacials and beyond into the Pliocene, has been covered by us here and here. Why is it so very important? Because, once again, the extreme sensitivity of the Arctic to climate forcings is demonstrated, but on an even more worrying scale. Never mind the sea-ice: the work documents how, during what are termed 'super-interglacials', with greenhouse gas levels comparable to those of the present day, the Greenland Ice-Sheet disappeared. The same thing happened in West Antarctica, as you can discover by following the two links above. In combination, such land-ice losses today would see a rise in sea levels getting on for fifteen metres over a number of centuries (which incidentally would mean the eventual loss of most of Machynlleth).

Machynlleth and sea-level rise

above: Machynlleth, where Paterson was speaking, with the 10m and 20m contours shaded. In terms of sea-level rise, this would be the reality were the Greenland and West Antarctica ice-sheets to collapse. Never mind complaining about wind turbines: this really would change the scenery!

Back to the programme, and following Hain's interjection, Dimbleby wondered if Paterson ever expressed similar views when talking to the Secretary of State for Energy (Paterson is a Conservative and the Energy portfolio is held by his Coalition partner, Liberal Democrat Ed Davey). Paterson went into a long reply which was centered around what is a valid point: yes, there is no point in exporting the problem by closing down UK industry and then buying industrial products from countries like China. Erm, that's exactly what we have been doing this past 30 years, regardless of who has been in charge, and that's not been about tackling climate change, it's been about making money. But back to his answer about climate change itself. It is so riddled with juxtaposed factoids and long-debunked climate myths that if it were the hull of a boat there would be more holes than fibreglass!

As Peter Hain pointed out though, this particular boat is the Environment, and Owen Patterson (who says that 'the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years') is currently the Skipper. Unfortunately, we happen to be the passengers, and this is the reality of our current course:

Fig 1

above: land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012).

Far from the alternate realities of Delingpole (who doesn't matter) and Paterson (who does, because he's supposed to be in charge of environmental affairs), is the simple fact that Planet Earth - the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere - has, since 1998, been accumulating heat at the rate of four Hiroshima bombs per second, every second. On that basis, Shipmates, I think it's about time we took this vessel full astern. What say you?

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Comments

Comments 1 to 36:

  1. This was shocking to listen to and shame on the BBC for setting it up in this way. There was no hope of meaningful debate with Delingpole on the panel so in most people's eyes Owen Paterson probably got away with his extreme views on climate change by virtue of sounding reasonable in comparison to him.

    I hope this gets picked up and Owen Paterson is held to account for his words. I'll be contacting my (Conservative) MP to express my concern, particularly as he's just sent me a letter reassuring me that they are still working hard at being the 'greenest government ever'. Ha!

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  2. "People growing crops in Greenland" ... the main Viking crop was hay for their domestic animals. One a few burnt barley seeds have been found in an old midden .. soemone may have tried growing it to make beer - the Greenland Norse are desribed in one annals as "not knowing beer". Vegetables were probably grown in small gardens.

    Amazing how the (totally irrelevant) image of Vikings frolicking in balmy Greenland has seized the imaginations of politicians like Paterson, who seems to be have been atrociously briefed or just unable to grasp the salient facts. 

    If it is any comfort, Hain and Wood seems to have come out ahead of Delingpole and Paterson, who probably ending up pleasing no one. Thank God the Conservatives did not get an absolute majority to form a government on their own. The Liberals at least are a brake on their wilder fantasies.

    Elsewhere, politically at least, there will soon be a Tony Abbott government in Australia (it seems), which will be "interesting". There is some comfort in Canada where the Harper crowd are mired in scandal and the more environmentally friendly Liberals have a new and popular leader. Harper may still cling on for a year or so, though.

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  3. Here in Germany, we also have deniers in the conservative and liberal spectrum, but also elsewhere. Fortunately, Merkel is not a denier, but she is a far cry from being the "climate chancelor" she once communicated to be, because she fears requesting more climate action might make her loose the elections. 

    ---

    Dennis Meadows recommended the book "Deceit and self deception - Fooling yourself to better fool the others" by Robert Trivers in a talk at the Smothsonian Institute. The book title fits particularly well for politicians ...

    Review of Trivers book: " ... His overarching premise is that if we can only see our own point of view, we can authentically argue our case because our deceits blind us to the truth. Ignorance can be bliss, until you are outwitted by a perspective you don't share. ...":
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/07/deceit-self-deception-robert-trivers

    Trivers book and the SkS debunking handbook incited me to review my strategy: I now start with the science model (where does energy go, what forcings exist, ...) and try not make anyone look bad/stupid ("I also was confused by ..., but then I read": nobody likes to be stupid ...): it's kind of "agree and then embed into the full reality context". That works also for cherry picking ("Yes, I also read that May was statistically cold, but then I read that what we experience here is only a local phenomenon and that there were almost 30C in Helsinki and May was very warm in Pakistan with up to 51C ...) and downplaying ("Yes climate has always changed, but that does not help us, since the civilization we live in has developed in a relatively stable climate and why would we want to destroy this ourselves?").

    I wonder if this works for politicians too, especially on stage, but it might be worth a try.

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  4. The good news, for the BBC, is that they have clearly bent over backwards to accomodate the false skeptics. So they've dodged the Delingpole-Bishops Hill snarly swarm. The Conservatives will breath a sigh of relief too. They've been accused of being all warm and cuddly, eg allowing gay marriage - and allowing UKip to challenge them. Instead they've used the national media to reinforce that they won't be out-conservatived by anyone. They can be as anti-science as anyone, http://skeptical-voter.org/wiki/index.php?title=Owen_Paterson. Owen has a long, loud and proud unscientific bent. His statements weren't really a surprise.

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  5. Thank you - THANK YOU - so much for this measured response. I was left speechless when I first heard Mr Paterson speak on this subject. I have written to both the PM and to Mr Paterson already and covered much of what you have said in your article in my own correspondence.  Skeptical Science is a fabulous resourse.

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  6. That isn't good news putting somebody in this position using the denial talking points so fluently. Maybe there was some US training involved. My guess the denier pundits in US government will turn around and accept these public statements as another argument to refute science.

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  7. I would suggest polite e-mails to his boss at No 10 to point out that such a view point demonstates incompetance to hold the office that he does.  I sent one that said:

    It has been brought to my attention that the Rt Hon Owen Patterson, SoS for the Environment, has demonstrated an amazing lack of understanding of the climate (http://www.skepticalscience.com/paterson-on-climate.html). That the SoS of the Environment is so blinded to the scientific position concerning a crucial part of his remit is remarkable and demonstrates a level of incompetence that makes his position untenable.

    Regards

    Mikemcc

    the contact website is: https://email.number10.gov.uk

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  8. Let's look at what the SoS actually said:

    the climate's always been changing - er - Peter mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completely and you can see there were beaches there - when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops

    The climate has always been changing.  Nothing wrong there.

    The Artic melted completely - as the post points out - this one is objectionable - exaggerated - what ever.

    beaches in Greenland - again, as the post points out, this is correct.

    When Greenland was occupied - people were growing crops - The Vikings were there for a couple of hundred years - it is inconceivable that they did not grow crops during this time frame - so again, this statement is true.

    we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming - the climate's been going up and down - but the real question which I think everyone's trying to address is - is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James is actually correct - the climate has not changed - the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years

    we then had a little ice age - we did.  This is also true.

    we then had a middle age warming - we did have a medeaval warm period.  This is also true.

    The climates been going up and down - again obviously true.

    the climate has not changed, the temp has not changed in the last seventeen years.  This is also true.  There hasn't been any significant warming for quite some time.

     

    To refute this last statement by talking about ocean heat content is comparing apples and oranges.  I am not saying the man is competent.  I am not saying that the man has a grasp of science.  But to make claims that he does not have a grasp of science or is incompetent based on the above statements is just wrong.

     

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  9. HJones wrote "the climate has not changed, the temp has not changed in the last seventeen years. This is also true. There hasn't been any significant warming for quite some time."

    This is incorrect, "no significant warming" does not mean "no warming", it just means there hasn't been enough warming to rule out the possibility that there has been no warming, and the shorter the period you choose, the greater the warming has to be in order to reject the possibility that there has been no warming.  This is why climatologists tend to use a period of about 30 years for assessing trends.  This canard has been addressed repeatedly on SkS, if you want to discuss it, then please at least read the appropriate article first.

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  10. This does not surprise me at all. After all this is the government which is pushing for fracking as hard as it is trying to block green energy sources especially wind turbines.

    As for US training, picking up on tamikenn57 at #6, sure there has been input from the direction in the shape of Richard Lindzen for one but I suspect the steady drip from other sources such as the 'squeezer of watermelons' aka 'Interpreter of interpretations' has been at work too.

    Question Time has a record of allowing ignorant or ideological blinkered denialists on a panel where climate change is brought up as seen some while back where Melanie Phillips gives forth.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention John.

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  11. HJones @8:

    Owen Patison indicated that the Arctic Ice was completely melted "when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops", ie the MWP.  That is false.  He indicated that the LIA followed immediately the period when the Arctic Ice was completely melted, ie, the Holocene Climactic Optimum; and then proceeds to indicate that the MWP followed the LIA.  Both false.  Trying to find one or two words you can construe as true among that mishmash of confused falsehood shows only your desperation to defend the indefensible.  Patison would have been better simply saying that he knows nothing of the issue, even though it is within his portfolio.  That, at least, would be honest.

    It is true that the Vikings grew crops in Greenland, but it is also true that they grow crops in Greenland today.

    Finaly, over the last seventeen years, the Earth has warmed faster than it did, on average, since 1900.  You may wish to distort the language so much as to say faster than centenial average warming is no warming - but that only tells us something about you. 

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  12. HJones, are you actually going to stick around and defend/discuss your claims?  I look forward to you doing so. 

    As for Patterson (and your defense, HJones), there's no critical contextualization being done.  For example:

    Patterson: "the Arctic melted completely and you can see there were beaches there." 

    This is probably a reference to Funder et al. (2011), titled "A 10,000-Year Record of Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Variability—View from the Beach."  Yes, Funder finds that during the Holocene climatic optimum, Arctic sea ice effectively disappeared at summer minima.  That has been used to make MWP-like claims about sea ice: "sea ice has been lower in the past; therefore there is nothing remarkable about current sea ice loss."  What Peterson, HJones, and sites like HockeySchtick fail to mention is that Funder et al. also found a hockey stick during the late 20th century.  Arctic sea ice extent slowly grows from the HCO until it reaches around 1970, when it sharply goes into decline.  Hockey Schtick went so far as to chop off that end of the graph.  HJones just ignores it.  Patterson has probably never read Funder; someone told him it would be a good thing to mention.  They also fail to mention that despite the long-term decline in solar forcing -- and the short-term decline of the last 50 years -- Arctic sea ice extent is plummeting and will reach conditions similar to HCO summer minima within decades (again, without help from the sun; indeed, with the sun trying to cool).

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  13. "the climate has not changed, the temp has not changed in the last seventeen years."


    Even looking at the very small component of the climate that is the lower troposphere, this is untrue.  Over the last 17 years (this meme keeps mutating into longer periods, BTW), UAH shows over .16*C of warming; HADCRUT4 shows about .12*C of warming.  GISS shows about .2*C of warming over the last 17 years.  Only RSS shows minimal warming, about .01*C.  I bet you think that one must be the correct one. 

    Of course, as has been pointed out numerous times here, most of the accumulated energy from the enhanced greenhouse effect is going into the oceans, which has continued to warm unabated. 


    "To refute this last statement by talking about ocean heat content is comparing apples and oranges."

    No, it's looking at the whole picture not just the small part of the climate system that is the lower tropsophere. 

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  14. HJones just ignores it.

     

    I didn't ignore it.  I didn't even comment on it, I only commented on Patterson's statement!  You seem to validate his claim here

      Yes, Funder finds that during the Holocene climatic optimum, Arctic sea ice effectively disappeared at summer minima.

    whereas I left it as saying his comment was exaggerated.

     

    Tom Curtis,

    You are comparing apples and oranges here too.  I am not distorting the language.

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  15. Tom Curtis & HJones,

    A few barley seeds found in a midden does not demonstate the Vikings ever grew food crops on large scale. This recent, very small find only shows how sparse the evidence is.

    In the medieval chronicle, the King's Mirror, a son asks his father about Greenland.

    Son. You stated earlier in your talk that no grain grows in that country; therefore I now want to ask you what the people who inhabit the land live on, how large the population is, what sort of food they have, and whether they have accepted Christianity.

    Father. The people in that country are few, for only a small part is sufficiently free from ice to be habitable; but the people are all Christians and have churches and priests. If the land lay near to some other country it might be reckoned a third of a bishopric; but the Greenlanders now have their own bishop, as no other arrangement is possible on account of the great distance from other people. You ask what the inhabitants live on in that country since they sow no grain; but men can live on other food than bread. It is reported that the pasturage is good and that there are large and fine farms in Greenland. The farmers raise cattle and sheep in large numbers and make butter and cheese in great quantities. The people subsist chiefly on these foods and on beef; but they also eat the flesh of various kinds of game, such as reindeer, whales, seals, and bears. That is what men live on in that country.

    As I said above, the only crop was hay. No doubt attempts were made to grow grain crops, but no evidence has ever ben found that these were sucessful.

    PS I misremembered "men who did not know bread" as "men who did not know beer" above in #2.

    www.northvegr.org/misc%20primary%20sources/misc%20lore%20translations/004.html

    It is almost not relevant to Paterson's point, and possible shows he owes his climate "science" more to Christopher Monckton and Lord Lawson that to his advisers.

     

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  16. HJones.

    You say @14 that you do not distort the language or ignore inconvenient facts. Are you then confining yourself to distorting numerical equivilances?

    I ask this as you assert @8 that "the temp has not changed in the last seventeen years" is a statement of truth. So you appear to be telling us here that 0.469ºC = 0.245ºC, these being respectively the present HadCRUT4 rolling annual temperature and that same measure from 17 years ago.

    Your assertion is truly a distortion.

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  17. HJones, stringing together a set of individually correct statements doesn't mean they necessarily support a conclusion, for example:

    "in proxy data CO2 is correllated with, but lags temperatures; the solubility of CO2 decreases with increasing temperatures; the oceans have warmed, thus it is natural to expect that CO2 has risen as a result."

    this combines three individually correct statments that come together to imply a conclusion that is false.

    The problem with Paterson's statment is that it reveals that he has a very weak grasp of the fundamental issues surrounding climate change, as he raises several issues that provide at best questionable support, even where technically correct, for his downplaying of the anthropogenic element of climate change.  This is a very worrying thing to see in a secretary of state for the environment.

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  18. Truly scary, I agree.  Michael Fallon (Energy Minister) is also an misinformed puppet of the fossil fuel industry (as his attempts to discredit Tim Yeo in the recent parliamentary debate on the Energy Bill demonstrated).  It is very clear, therefore, that Ed Davey (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) had both these men in mind when he spoke about the folly of people who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/04/2097641/uk-climate-minister-slams-media-and-blinkered-deniers-its-the-science-stupid/

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  19. HJones, whilst I'm reluctant to extend your domination of this thread I do have to wonder if you think that a series of, at a stretch, defensible statements is an acceptable way to communicate on a subject? The impression that Owen Paterson gave was misleading - clearly so for anyone familiar with the subject - and the statements he didn't make are essential for anyone to understand the state of scientific understanding. The best you can say about his words is that they were highly selective and designed to support a predetermined position, though whether it was his own selection or his advisors' is not clear. He is either incompetent or deceptive. I'm not sure which is worse.

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  20. Dikran Marsupial @17,

    I was merely commenting on the fact that "a set of individually correct statements" could generate the villification that the early comments showed.

    I do not know the SoS, not being from the UK, and it well may be that he is the idiot that everyone is making him out to be.  I just didn't think that his quoted statements warranted that.

     

     

    MA Rodger @16

    It wasn't my comment at 14, it was at 8, and it was a quote.  My statement was that there wasn't any significant warming in 17 years.

    While the speaker is SoS in charge of the environment and should know the implications of the correct phrasing and terminology, he is a politician and not a scientist.

     

    OPatrick,

    I have no desire to dominate this or any thread.  I only offered a comment, and responded to questions and comments.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The introduction to the SkS Comments Policy reads:

    The purpose of the discussion threads is to allow notification and correction of errors in the article, and to permit clarification of related points. Though we believe the only genuine debate on the science of global warming is that which occurs in the scientific literature, we welcome genuine discussion as both an aid to understanding and a means of correcting our inadvertent errors.  To facilitate genuine discussion, we have a zero tolerance approach to trolling and sloganeering. (My bold)

    Please read the entire policy and adhere to it. Thank you.

  21. HJones wrote "I was merely commenting on the fact that "a set of individually correct statements" could generate the villification that the early comments showed."

    In that case you did not understand the reason for the "villification" (which is hyperbole on your part), which is that the secretary of state was using a "set of individually correct statements" to draw a conclusion that wasn't justifiable by that "set of individually correct statements". The secretary of state for the environment ought to be able either to give a sound justification for his position, or to recognise that the "set of individually correct statements" did not support his position.  Even if he is not a scientist himself, he ought to have a basic understanding of the mainstream scientific position, perhaps by reading the IPCC's "summary for policy makers", which is designed for that very purpose.

     

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  22. HJones @20.

    I think you are rapidly slipping into denial. The quote from Paterson was "James is actually correct - the climate has not changed - the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we've got to be careful of is..."

    Your assertion @8 was (as I correctly pointed out previously) "the climate has not changed, the temp has not changed in the last seventeen years. This is also true. There hasn't been any significant warming for quite some time." The first two clauses of this extract can be seen to be the Paterson quote even though they were not marked as such by you, but the third clause that I have enboldened is all you.

    Also you are wrong @20 concerning your words @8 where you do not actually mention "17 years." Perhaps your words "quite some time" may be your way of saying the same thing. As you now present the actual time period, I would point out that you are wrong in this as well. A 0.224ºC rise globally in 17 years is actually very significant rise.

    I would be churlish not to suggest that your floundering here may be because of a missing word from your statement, but if you did insert the adjective "statistically" into your statement (and please do take on board that words are there for a reason), you would still be wrong.

    Your comment presented @20 apparently at me seems to be excusing Paterson by suggesting that only scientists are qualified to talk in depth on the subject of climate change. I would disagree. It is a matter of knowing what you're talking about, not whether you are a scientist or a politician or whatever.

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  23. HJones - Paterson was either being deliberately wrong or he was terminally confused. One of the two. Do either positions give him any credibility with his current brief? You tell me!

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  24. If Delingpole were fined a wooden nickle for every misleading statement he utters, there would not be a tree standing in England.   That he has a tool like Paterson to play with is a shame but what they are both afraid of is that the order will not be "All Engines Back Full" but  "Left Full Rudder, Port Engine Back 2/3, Starboard Engine Ahead 2/3"  and hearing the helmsman respond  "Aye Aye Sir"  

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  25. HJones, I think misunderstand me.  I'm saying that his claim that his claim is not exaggerated.  It is quite relevant.  However, he left it at that.  He put a simple piece of evidence out there without providing any context for understanding, other than the general bent of his other comments.  You erased his claim as exaggerated.  Why?  You provided no reasons for doing so, probably because you were thinking of his statements in terms of their rhetorical value.  When read in the scientific context, Funder et al. 2013 is quite important, because it gives us further secondary evidence that we're warming the climate system with extreme rapidity.  What Marcott et al. 2013 found makes sense alongside Funder et al., and the news ain't pretty. 

    Others have commented on your clinging to "individually correct" statements.  As the main post points out, there are several of Patterson's claims that are so bizarre I have to question the man's training: "the climate has not changed - the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years." 

    Eh?  The climate has changed quite significantly.  A poleward shift of the Hadley circulation by 5 degrees in two decades is not climate change?  An 80% reduction in Arctic sea ice volume at summer minimum (-33% at winter max) in just 35 years is not climate change? 

    And if there's anything that gets my goat more than representing the system with the surface/lower troposphere, I don't know what it is.  Phil Jones was careless with this point, and he hasn't heard the end of it.  Now you're giving Patterson a free pass on it.  No.  Patterson deserves to be ripped for that claim.  The system is warming as expected.  The surface/lower troposphere (all of how much of the thermal capacity of the system?) has gone through a longish positive excursion (97-07 roughly) followed by a multi-year negative excursion.  Would you say that .172C per decade over 40 years is significant?  That's the trend up to present, including this alleged "hiatus." 

    NODC OHC during the alleged "hiatus".  Positive trend?  Yah.  Significant?  Yah.  Last value?  Ouch.  It's all good.  It'll drop down to 0 next year.  Snort. 

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  26. I'm surprised Paterson didn't mention Romans growing grapes and producing wine in Britain. That would have made a perfect score.

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  27. Just found this Huffington article from last year:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/27/windfarms-backed-by-environment-secretary-owen-paterson_n_2029079.html

    He seems to say quite similar things in that interview, except he adds 'There are all sorts of other things that affect climate change, like the sun.'

    For the record, I don't think straight trees is a good sign as to whether there is enough wind for a wind farm! (as Paterson seems to suggest it is).

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  28. So the Paterson has got denier talking points so thoroughly internalised he can bring them out  fluently and effortlessly whilst actual mainstream climate science looks to be something he chooses not to be well acquainted with.

     From an Environment Secretary of State who is part of a globally influential government that supposedly accepts the validity of climate science it is deeply dismaying.

    I keep urging our Australian conservatives, who continue giving climate science denial and obstructionism their imprimatur of respectability and legitimacy whilst simultaneously declaring their confidence in mainstream climate science; is this a taste of what we will get when we do get a conservative government; public declarations of commitment to international agreements that gloss over a complete lack of understanding of it's seriousness?

    Given how much easier compromising a policy to the point of pointlessness is compared to developing serious policy and pushing it through with determination, this UK example doesn't bode well for Australia's part in future efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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  29. Correction to previous post - " I keep urging our Australian conservatives, who continue giving climate science denial and obstructionism their imprimatur of respectability and legitimacy whilst simultaneously declaring their confidence in mainstream climate science to ditch that position; is this a taste of what we will get when we do get a conservative government; public declarations of commitment to international agreements that gloss over a complete lack of understanding of it's seriousness?"

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  30. shoyemore @15, 1250, the date of the King's Mirror, comes in the tail of the MWP when tempeatures had fallen substantially from the 900-1000 peak.  Nevertheless, even in 1250 the King's Mirror says:

    "As to whether any sort of grain can grow there, my belief is that the
    country draws but little profit from that source. And yet there are men
    among those who are counted the wealthiest and most prominent who have
    tried to sow grain as an experiment; but the great majority in that country
    do not know what bread is, having never seen it."

    In that respect, the cultivation of barley in Greenland would have been similar in extent to its current cultivation.  Given, however, that Greenland would have been warmer in the preceding centuries, it is plausible that it was cultivated more extensively during the early period of norse settlement.  Even so,  

    "Researchers believe the Vikings probably grew barley in small quantities, compared with the large, billowing cornfields we have today, and sowed barley in small enclosures that were no bigger than their ability to irrigate the corn and keep hungry animals out."

    Further, Greenland was never self sufficient in grain.

    Given the comment in the King's Mirror, and the finding, not only of barley grains, but of the "... rachis fragments, the part of the plant that holds the kernel to the spike or ear", which:

    Trigg et al (preceding link) say:

    "While the presence of rachis fragments may merely be a normal component of poorly leaned grain stores, they may also signal that barley was grown nearby . Moreover, the presence of these plant parts among pieces of charred and uncharred dung indicate that the barley may have been eaten by the livestock, which perhaps were allowed to graze on harvested fields or were fed grains and harvesting waste."

    Feeding livestock an imported grain seems unlikely to me.

    In any event, while evidence of cultivation of grains norse settlers may be ambiguous, it favours their having done so on a small scale.  Conseqently, we should not claim the contrary.  I certainly agree, however, that the cultivation was on a small scale indicating that even at its warmest in the MWP, cultivation of grains on the southern tip of Greenland was marginal at best.  

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  31. Tom Curtis,

    Too hand-wavey for me, Tom. The King's Mirror quotation you give I interpret as supporting my earlier point - beyond small scale attempts, there was no significant grain-growing in Norse Greenland. We should not be surprised to find the discarded remnants of these (ultimately) failed attempts.

    The Norse had vegetable gardens, and may well have tried to grow grain in those gardens, but no should be fooled into thinking there were wide fields of corn or barley, or that bread was a staple food, as Patterson's remarks would be interpreted by a listerner unfamiliar with the evidence.

    The difference between us is not about the Norse growing grain but how extensive that was, and how important it was to the community. If the Norse did grow small patches of grain, it was hardly any more significant that provided a small supply of a chieftain's beer or barley bread. For vast majority of the community, hay was the important crop, an absolute necessity to get their domestic animals through the winter.

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  32. I've always believed that the most effective rebuttal to the whole Greenland thing is that the part of the world I lived (the U.S. Southwest) underwent a horrific drought at the same time. Now, given the relative populations and economic importance of Greenland (no offense to the inhabitants of Greenland), the effects of a similar level of drought in my part of the world would be devestating.


    And yeah, I learned that on this site.

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  33. I think we're crediting Paterson with more understanding than he actually has. When he referred to the 'Holocene', I think he actually meant to say 'Eocene' (because that's what his GWPF mate Lawson has referred to in the past).  As I wrote in a comment here...

    He's quite right of course that the Arctic was ice free in the Eocene—as was the Antarctic—but to show how irrelevant this meme is he should also have mentioned that our primate ancestors, and all other mammals, were then no bigger than small dogs. Note the line in the link below, "the hot Eocene temperatures favoured smaller animals that were better able to manage the heat": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eocene (scroll down to 'Fauna').

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  34. If I understand the implications from El'gygytgyn, the message is that At 300ppm, the world is a different place, at 400ppm a very different place.  The only reason we don't yet experience this difference is the inertia of the climate system.  We will clearly have an ice free Arctic ocean for a day in September in a few years and following that for longer and longer periods.  The Arctic clathrates will be released and so forth. Guy McPherson lists some 10 tipping points we have set in motion.   At best, if we revived all the carbon sinks we have damaged (Alan Savory for instance) and stopped putting new carbon into the atmosphere we might achieve a decrease of 2ppm per year.  We aren't going to do either of these things and 500ppm which at this rate, we will achieve in the middle of the next century is beyond our imaginations.  I know every generation likes to think it is special and special means for the nut cases, the generation that sees Armagedon.  It is just possible that we have succeeded in bringing it on.

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  35. William,

    I think your estimate of a mid-22nd century appointment with 500 ppm atmospheric CO2 is a bit off. The atmosphere gained approximately 3 ppm CO2 in this past year and the average increase from 2000 to 2010 is about 2 ppm as seen in the graph found here:

    www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

    If even the 2 ppm per year rate is used, if this rate of increase were to continue for the rest of the century, by 2100 the atmosphere will have gained approximately 174 ppm. That would bump the total up to 574 ppm. If the rate of increase is closer to 3 ppm, we could conceivably blow past 650 ppm by 2100.


    This apparently inexorable upward trend is one reason I worry about the seemingly good news regarding the 3.8% decrease in carbon emissions that has just been seen in the US, even as globally emissions went up by 1.4% according to the IEA:

    www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/carbon-dioxide-emissions-rose-14-percent-in-2012-iea-report-says/2013/06/09/35d32bac-d123-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html

    That is to say, it seems to me that there is a good chance that scientifically challenged politicans and skeptics here in the US will, as they do whenever there is an unseasonable snowstorm or cold snap, seize on such news and think 'we've done our part' or conclude that the problem has gone away when the reality is that vastly greater reductions are required.

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  36. I feel a certain sympathy for Owen Paterson, he is hated and vilified by both sceptics and believers in equal quantities, along with anyone who points out that he is not entirely wrong or is not actually spawn of Satan. Being local to the area I heard the program and the comments and have a deep fondness for the Centre for Alternate Technology, but from my perspective Patterson spoke as a politician, he sounded like one, but he was confused and confabulated. Hopefully once the quality of his expertise in climate science is understood by experts such as the Skep Science community, we will have insight into how badly his cabinet colleagues are likely to perform on other issues such as health and the economy. They are out of their depths but have to appear to be competent and that is a dreadful place to be for any well meaning individual.

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