Question for Sir John Beddington

According to Bishop HillSir John Beddington is seeking feedback on the climate impacts report I blogged about yesterday.”

My question is of a technical nature. Given that the Stern Review of 2006 received worldwide acclamation for its novel conclusions, I would have thought Sir John Beddington would have utilised this work. Apart from a footnote or two, the only reference is in a box on page 63.

Dear Sir John,

I am a humble beancounter, who spends his time in analysing complex project costs and application forms for capital expenditures. In this vein, on page 63 of your report you claim that the Stern Review had a social discount rate of 1.4%, whilst

conclude that the Lord Stern used a discount rate of 0.1%. Have we all misread the report?

GM Food can prevent Global Hunger – but not as part of a Global Plan

According to the Telegraph today, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s recognizes that genetically modified foods are part of the solution to growing population and climate change. He has a point, but only if Government’s do not create a plan. If climate change happens, it will happen in ways that we have not predicted. It will not be in more frequent category five hurricanes in the Caribbean, nor the sudden disappearance of the Amazon through a dramatic drop in precipitation, nor the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting one summer (causing a four metre rise in sea levels), nor permanent drought in Eastern Australia, nor the shrinkage of water supplies in Northern India through the rapid disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. If it does happen, the form of rapid climate change will probably have not been predicted. We could develop drought resistant crops for areas that get higher rainfall, or disease resistant crops where we get drought. The best policy to alleviate hunger is to stop doing anything that may cause it. There are two things that have caused hunger in the last century.

  1. Collectivization and State Planning. The vast majority of deaths through starvation in the twentieth century were due to this cause, including 5 million under Lenin’s Soviet Union, 8 million under Stalin, 1-3 million under the current North Korean dictatorship in the 1990s and 20 million plus as a result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward
  2. War such as the Second World War, or the war in Congo in the 1990s have lead to mass hunger as well.

The best way to prevent famine is to have a peaceful, integrated world economy, where every nation has developed far enough for only a small proportion of the national output to be devoted to food production for consumption within the nation. In consumption terms it means a small proportion of average disposable incomes being spent on food. That implies globalization and free trade to foster economic growth.

Government’s and International Agencies, in meeting future needs, should first aim to do no harm. In the last few years world food prices have more than doubled, adversely affecting the non-farming world’s poor. A contributing factor is the impact is the competition from bio fuels, especially ethanol. This could become more significant if rapid climate change reduces global food production capacity.

Update – on a similar theme, Haunting the Library takes George Monbiot to task in a 2002 prophecy that there would be starving inten years if we did not all become vegans.


Considering Uncertainty in Climate Science

Sir John Bedddington, provides the introduction to a summary of “The Science of Climate change” on  UK Business Department website. He states

            “The fact that uncertainty exists in climate science, as it does in other fields, does not negate the value of the evidence – and it is important to recognise that uncertainty may go in both (or a number of) directions.”

This may be true in a new field, but there is evidence that where the consensus is concerned, when assumptions have to be made, or choices made between different scientific conclusions, there has been a very strong bias towards the more alarmist conclusions. For instance,

  1. The emphasis on positive feedbacks;
  2. The over-statement of climate sensitivities;
  3. The promotion of the hockey stick as secondary verification of recent warming being largely due to anthropogenic factors.
  4. Further there has been a public relations failure to challenge unsound science, or wild predictions, or false confirmations.
  5. Neither have there been any consensus scientists standing up to emphasise that the model scenarios of future temperature changes are not forecasts

The consequence of recognising uncertainty means that an audit is required of the total picture. Each part of the science needs to be graded according to the certainties. Most certain is that a massive increase in greenhouse gases will, ceteris paribus, cause a rise in temperature. At the other extreme are predictions that within a generation the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer, or the Himalayan glaciers will have vanished, or the Maldives will disappear beneath the waves. The rhetoric needs to be replaced by establishing the case on a scientific basis. It is not sufficient to say that there is uncertainty and move on as is nothing had happened. The presence of uncertainty severely weakens the claim that the science is established and settled. We should now see the consequences for policy.

Hattip to BishopHill