Yesterday I attended the annual alumni lecture at the University of Leeds, where I work, and studied for my degree in the history and philosophy of science. Last years alumni lecture was given by Kenton Cool, the himalayan mountaineer and guide, who told us how he summited Everest twice in a week, great lecture and fabulous images. This year, the lecture was delivered by alumnus John Hirst, the CEO of the MET Office. His talk was entitled: Separating Climate Science and Politics.
With a title like that I thought it was going to be a pretty interesting lecture. Having just spent three days down at Chicheley Hall at the Royal Society meeting on handling problems in weather and climate prediction, I thought maybe John Hirst was going to tell us how ‘global warming’ had been overly hyped by political influence, and that it was time to return to properly organised science decoupled from the politics of the Green Agenda, and the money juggling behind the Carbon Market.
Not a bit of it.
Instead, after John Hirst introduced the MET Office as the world leading meteorological agency, and showing us some nice graphics of how well the latest high resolution weather models are almost getting it right for the 24 hour forecast, he regaled us with 40 minutes of the same old Al Gore/ James Hansen inspired drivel about the correlation between co2 and temperature over the ice age cycles and how natural variation couldn’t explain the rise in temperature over the last few decades. He even showed an IPCC graphic projecting a rise in temperature of 3 to 4C by 2100.
But I’ll hand it to Hirst, he is a smart propagandist. Rather than delivering a Gore style hellfire and damnation speech, he started by cracking a couple of jokes about how we looked less scary than the audience of A level students he had last addressed, breaking the ice and getting audience empathy. He assured us he’s not a scientist , and that he had learned what he knew from the Met Office during his years of tenure (he was appointed by the MET Office chairman Robert Napier, head of WWF UK from 1998-2006). It was obvious to me he had been briefed by Napier and strongly pro-CAGW people from the climate science side of the MET Office, such as Vicky Pope and Julia Slingo.
He gave the impression he was just there to deliver the facts, and that it was up to us whether to take ‘the science’ seriously, or whether to be influenced by ‘vested interests’ and ‘American Christians who believe God ordains the climate’. Towards the end of the lecture, he commented that according to one poll, only 25% of the UK population believed that global warming was man made, and asked for a show of hands on how many believed ‘the science’ he had presented. I was sat near the front (ready to pounce) and had to look round to see what sort of proportion of the 350 strong audience raised their arms. It was about 80%, a fitting testament to this man’s ability to use biased rhetoric to pull the wool over the eyes of the intelligentsia. That’s why he gets paid more than the Prime Minister.
The Q&A at the end was cut short after one audience member asked why we were still producing as many cars as ever if the situation was really as serious as John Hirst had told us it was, but the convenor had said Mr Hirst could be approached at the end of the meeting for discussion, so I moved down to the front and waited my turn, along with a few others who had questions for him. My first point to him was that the plot he had shown with an error range around natural variation with an upper bound which was below current temperatures was hopelessly over optimistic, because of uncertainty over the solar contribution, among others like cloud variation. He sidestepped this by telling me that ‘the science’ says that uncertainty was contained within the error range on the graph. I assured him it wasn’t, pointing out that the uncertainty over solar/cloud was such that depending on possible numbers within the true range of uncertainty could make the difference between the Sun being responsible for very little of the observed climate change, to all of it. Then I gave way to Susan, who tackled him on the issue of the Gore graph of co2/temperature over glacial/interglacial cycles. He said he had covered the fact that temperature leads co2 in the lecture. he had done this in a very glib way, amongst a narrative which implied the opposite, and this is what gave him away. he is not a hapless accountant innocently regurgitating the pap fed to him by the alarmists within the MET Office, but an erudite and persuasive propagandist for climate alarmism.
Susan asked him if it was appropriate for the ex president of an advocacy group to have been chairman of the MET Office. John Hirst prevaricated, saying that Napier had been in a non-executive position and that he didn’t influence ‘the science’. Ian pointed out that football club chairmen were also supposed to be ‘hands-off’ but that in reality, they influence the tenor and direction of the club. John Hirst denied this. Clive Best had travelled from Huntingdon for the lecture, and asked Hirst how reasonable he thought it was for the UK to commit economic suicide with the climate change act while China built new coal fired stations weekly. Hirst claimed the Chinese had told him they were preparing for a 4c rise in temperature!
I rounded off our discussion by pointing out that I had spent the last three days at a Royal Society conference on handling problems with uncertainty in weather and climate prediction, and that the MET Office scientists in attendance had been a lot less gung-ho than he had been about long term climate change beyond the abilities of the models to calculate probabilities and impacts. I told him he had therefore wrongly presented vague possibilities as ‘the science’ in his lecture. At this point he realised he had been skewered, threw his hands in the air and said:
OK, I give up.
At this point we let the hapless Mr Hirst off the hook and headed for lunch, where I enjoyed much merriment and fine conversation with Clive, Susan and Ian. Poor old accountant John didn’t really stand much of a chance against a nuclear physicist, a glaciologist, a sociologist and a philosopher of science.
It’ll take some time to go through the mp3 recording I made of the lecture and write a full rebuttal, but it’ll be worth the effort, because when I arrived, I was given a list of all those attending, and I’ll be sending each and every one of those I can find contact details for (most of them) a copy of the document I’ll be writing. I’ll be sending John Hirst a copy too, and offering him the right of reply to include in the circular. Perhaps one day, the MET Office will do the same for us.