NASA and the blogosphere

I recently published a paper on the motivated rejection of science that is forthcoming in Psychological Science. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N > 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r @ .80 between latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this paper has caused a considerable media response and a flurry of activity  on the internet. I have also received a fair amount of correspondence, so much in fact that I have been unable to keep up with it. I apologize to those who have not received a reply to recent messages, and I hope this post covers some of the issues raised.

 In a somewhat ironic twist, given that the paper addressed conspiracist ideation, much attention has focused on the source of participants, which were “Visitors to climate blogs voluntarily completed an online questionnaire between August and October 2010 (N = 1377). Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 “skeptic” (or “skeptic”-leaning) blogs were approached but none posted the link.”

To clarify, this means that participants were recruited from those blogs that posted the link—not those that did not. One might therefore presume that attention would focus on those blogs that provided entry points to the survey, not those that did not, because it is entirely unclear how the latter might contribute to the results of the survey. For example, the website of the British RSPCA also did not post a link to the survey, and neither did the Australian Woolworths website, so how might their non-involvement affect the results? I am keen to hear about potential mechanisms, perhaps we have overlooked something.

However, attention has primarily focused on those non-participating blogs and their identity. I have been inundated with requests to release their identities, and I have thus far declined to comply with those requests because I believe that a presumption of privacy should apply to my correspondence with potential participants in research.

Unlike some of the people who have been emailing me, my work is subject to ethical guidelines and is subject to approval by my University’s ethics committee—as is the work of any other behavioral scientist in Australia and elsewhere. It is therefore not solely my decision whether or not to reveal the identity of people who were approached on the presumption of privacy.

Because this issue is likely subject to different opinions, I have therefore approached the Australian Psychological Society and my University’s Human Research Ethics Committee to provide guidance on this decision.

There is an obvious asymmetry of potential harm here: If I release the names but it turns out to have been unethical, this cannot be undone. If I decline to release the names, as I have done to date, and it turns out that this was unnecessary, then no harm is done if release of the names is delayed by a few days.

I am therefore awaiting guidance on this issue.

In the meantime, I understand that there is a list on the internet of individuals who have declared that they were never contacted. As we are awaiting the decision about release of the names, just a matter of general principle, there can be no harm if those folks were to again check their inboxes (and outboxes) very carefully for correspondence from my assistant at UWA in August and September 2010. I know how difficult it is to locate individual emails among thousands received in a year, and a double check may therefore be quite prudent. (Who knows, it might even prevent some overly trigger-happy and creative people from floating a conspiracy theory about how I just made up the fact of having contacted those blogs, similar to the way NASA faked the moon landing.)

There are other issues that have been raised in connection with the paper, including some interesting points regarding the statistics, and they are worthy of further commentary in the near future. As it happens I am attending a conference at the moment with one of my co-authors, which ties us up for most of the time but which also provides an opportunity for discussion that is likely to lead to further posts in the not-too-distant future.



Aviation’s emissions problem

Earlier this month (August 2012) the Commonwealth government and the coalition both supported a motion by the (conservative) National Party calling on Australia to “use all political, diplomatic, and legal tools at its disposal” to ensure that the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) is not applied to Australian aircraft.

For a moment, it appears, aviation brought the Commonwealth government and the opposition together on climate change policy—no matter that, subsequently, it appeared that the Commonwealth would not join a World Trade Organisation challenge to the EU ETS as it applied to aviation.

The Commonwealth’s support for the motion was additionally curious because, while international airlines (led by those in the US and China) oppose the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS and unsuccessfully challenged its legality in the European Court of Justice last year, Qantas is complying with its EU ETS obligations and passes on its costs through ticket surcharges.

Qantas also faces carbon pricing in New Zealand and will likely participate in the Commonwealth’s ETS from mid-2013 through an ‘opt-in’ scheme.

And, like Qantas, aircraft leasing firms, it appears, are also taking account of the legality of the EU ETS. Such firms, according to the US Environmental Defense Fund, are including provisions in aircraft leases that state that lessees will operate aircraft in compliance with the EU ETS, and will bear the costs of non-compliance.

The main object of the Commonwealth’s climate change legislation is to give effect to Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto) and to support a global response to address the climate change problem.

Under Kyoto, developed state parties to it ‘shall pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases … from aviation … working through the International Civil Aviation Organization’ (ICAO). In other words, aviation is excluded from Kyoto. It leaves the aviation emissions problem up to ICAO, a UN agency.

Since Kyoto entered into force, however, ICAO has failed to reach any kind of consensus on a comprehensive approach to aviation and climate change. And yet it is the Commonwealth’s position—and the position of many other states—that ICAO remains the appropriate forum for the resolution of the international aviation emissions problem.

It is also the failure of ICAO in terms of aviation that led to the EU taking action to include aviation in its ETS. And yet ICAO, late last year, endorsed a paper approved by the US, China and India (and it takes a lot to bring these states together on a climate change matter) which called on the EU to exclude non-EU carriers from the EU ETS.

Further, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it unlawful for US airlines to comply with the EU law, the effect being that an airline flying to and from Europe would break either an EU law or a federal US law. And a US Senate committee last month advanced legislation (the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act) that would enable the US transportation secretary to prohibit participation in the EU ETS by US airlines.

And all of this against a background (on IPCC calculations) where aviation’s contribution to total emissions, estimated at 3%, could be as low as 2% or as high as 8%. And its contribution is growing.

There are good arguments to be made that, given unsuccessful international climate change negotiations through the UNFCCC and Kyoto, one alternative approach is to break the climate change problem up into different pieces (or industry sectors) and perhaps more effectively address the pieces in separate fora—a ‘bottom-up’ approach, as it were.

The international aviation experience to date regarding emissions does not bode well for even this approach. Nor does recent domestic aviation experience in the United States and Australia.

David Hodgkinson is an associate professor at the University of Western Australia and an aviation lawyer with national law firm Clayton Utz. He leads an international project which seeks to address the climate change displacement problem.

Methane and livestock: factoids help farmers least of all

By any traditional measure, Australia’s graziers and pastoralists have made remarkable achievements in a highly variable climate and a difficult global marketplace. Australian demand for meat and milk remains high and steady, and our exports are strong and growing. Animal agriculture isn’t going away anytime soon. At the same time, livestock production is an important contributor to the global warming, albeit one of many.

In my work with rural communities and industries, I still hear a lot of confusion on carbon and climate matters. In amongst the genuine questions is an assortment of factoids that downplay agriculture’s role in climate change.

Factoids are what myths become when repeated so often they are accepted as fact. Factoids are a worry. In a rapidly changing climate, one would think the more sensible way ahead for livestock producers is to empower themselves with the science needed to craft solutions that work for them as much as the public good. As the world economy shifts into low-carbon gear it is the carbon savvy who will profit the most.

A recent article on these pages sought to counter campaigns to (as the author sees it) ‘demonize’ cattle for the methane they belch and encourage vegetarianism. Much of what that article says lends the subject much-needed perspective and the author raises some good questions. In the pursuit of balance, however, she might have overstepped the mark somewhat.

Before we go any further, let’s back up a bit and look at the big picture: methane is an important player in global warming. That’s a fact. Atmospheric levels of methane are now at their highest for at least 650,000 years, rising by about 160 per cent since 1750, according to the IPCC. To date, methane is thought to have caused around 20 per cent of observed global warming.

Now, it’s certainly true that there are a plethora of methane sources, some natural, some not. The former includes wetlands, wild ruminant animals, termites, and even the oceans. Wahlquist points out that termites up the Top End emit a hell of a lot of methane.

Sure, OK, so what?

Surely the issue is about what we can control and not what we can’t? Most methane emissions today—more than 70 per cent—are our doing. Anthropogenic sources include leaky gas wells and pipes, coal mining, rice paddies, landfills, and deliberate burning of biomass (forests, savannahs, crop residues, etc.). Then there is our livestock. Estimates vary, but around 20 per cent of human-caused methane is directly attributable to animal production.

Ah, but what of all those wild beasts? Well, it’s thought that there are around 75 million wild ruminants roaming the planet today. Doubtless there were millions more in the past, perhaps scores of millions, but it’s hard to see their numbers ever reaching the more than three billion cattle and sheep grazing today. This represents a veritable explosion in the size of the planetary herd since pre-industrial times. Of course, the clearing and burning of vegetation for pasture is itself a major source of methane and other greenhouse gases.

So, any attempt to characterize livestock and grazing as natural (and, by implication, good) doesn’t wash, especially on a continent like Australia that never knew ruminants like these. That doesn’t mean that it’s a wholly bad situation. After all, billions of people, including many of the world’s poor, benefit from livestock. Indeed, the boom in livestock production shows little sign of diminishing.  As demand, particularly in East Asia, really takes off the world will have to manage almost five-and-a-half billion cattle and sheep by mid-century

But wait, methane lasts only about twelve years in the air, broken down (so to speak) by a combination of atmospheric chemistry and sunlight. So, if methane exits the sky so quickly, what’s the problem?

While methane is a short-lived compound, it’s not as if its sources have gone away and it will all magically disappear in twelve years time.  In fact, over the long term, the concentration of methane in the air shows a nett growth and it’s growing still. The suggestion that booming global stock numbers have played little or no part in this is a lot to swallow.

A popular myth has it that cattle and sheep are essentially carbon neutral. Cows eat carbon in the grass, the reasoning goes, which is then returned to the atmosphere when they poo, burp, fart, die, etc., only to be sequestered in pasture growth later. It makes perfect sense until you grasp the power of methane as a greenhouse gas.

It’s still a carbon-based molecule, but the methane burped out of a cow is considerably more powerful global warming agent than carbon dioxide. Molecule for molecule, over a given century, methane outdoes carbon dioxide by 25 to 1 in the warming stakes. (Over a twenty-year period methane’s ‘global warming potential’ rises to 72.).

Often cited is a 2009 CSIRO report for the Queensland Government suggesting that hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon—much more than all our livestock emit—could be soaked up in Australia’s grasslands. The fine print, however, reveals that these humungous figures refer to what is theoretically possible, not what is practical. That figure is bound to be much, much lower

It’s true that some microbial bugs in the soil gobble up methane. But this sink has never been shown to come even close to outweighing methane emissions from livestock.

Just as with transport or energy use, greenhouse gas reduction strategies are needed all along the supply chain. As things stand, direct emissions from agriculture are not liable for the carbon price, but landholders are unique in Australia’s emissions trading scheme in that they can, if they choose, create carbon credits to sell on the new market.

More efficient production is certainly part of the solution: healthier animals tend to put on weight quicker and emit less. (This could lead to a kind of ‘rebound effect’ if improved production spells higher stock numbers overall—something worth watching closely.) Changes in feed and other factors can reduce emissions substantially. And, where possible, converting manure into energy (as is being done in some piggeries and dairies now) saves fossil fuels and cuts methane emissions. Of course, setting aside land for bushland restoration or tree crops is a tried and true method of locking up carbon.

As for vegetarianism: it’s a highly unlikely prospect for most, so a bit of a (excuse the pun) red herring. There is, however, every reason to think the meat and livestock industries in affluent countries are smart enough to profitably adapt to more moderate consumption here while satisfying the growing needs of the developing world.

This then is the tricky dilemma we’ve inherited: to reduce the carbon hoofprint of the livestock sector, in a world demanding more and more, without losing the benefits—especially to those most in need. As problems go, it’s a biggy, but there’s no shying away from it. Australian farmers are good at doing more with less and the world needs them now more than ever. It’s one thing to be proud of agriculture’s achievements, but quite another to be over-sensitive to legitimate concerns. Unless farmers squarely face up to the problems, they’ll find it hard to make the most of the solutions.

Cattle and methane: More complicated than first meets the (rib) eye

A lot of people, amongst them Britain’s Lord Stern and Sir Paul McCartney, argue that eating less meat could help save the planet. But there is a growing body of evidence that it is not simply a case of less meat means less heat.

Most of the world’s farmland is grassland. For reasons of rainfall, soil type or topography it can’t be ploughed and it should never be irrigated. The only way to produce food from grasslands is to graze ruminants—animals like cows, sheep and goats—on it. Most mammals, and that includes humans, cannot digest grass. But ruminants possess several compartments in their stomachs. One, the rumen, houses microbes that can digest grass. The problem is that this microbial digestive process also produces the greenhouse gas methane as a by-product.

Methane is a potent, if short-lived greenhouse gas. It is given a global warming potential rating of 25 times that of carbon dioxide, though it has a lifetime of 9 to 12 years in the atmosphere, compared with carbon dioxide which can last more than 100.

Some sectors of the community have leapt on this information, arguing that eating less beef, or not eating it at all, would be better for the environment. But this raises several questions: what happens to the grasslands that are no longer grazed?

What do we eat instead? How will its carbon footprint compare? What about the role livestock traditionally play on farms, eating waste and providing natural fertiliser? And should we be comparing the natural cattle cycle—that actually fixes carbon—with the burning of fossil fuels?

Grasslands account for sixty per cent of the world’s farmland. Can we ethically refuse to produce food from so much land in a world where a hungry population is rapidly increasing?

Ruminants produce protein from plants in areas that are unsuitable for any other agricultural activity. And before there were modern cattle there were wild ruminants: bison or buffalo, caribou, wildebeest, mouflon, auroch and goats. And they all produced methane.

The great bison herds that swarmed across the US prairies before white settlement, along with other native ruminants like elk and deer, are estimated to have produced 86 per cent of the methane of the current US cattle herd.

When modern day ruminants, cattle and sheep, are removed other ruminants usually move in. When the Maasai tribes and their cattle herds were removed from the Serengeti, to create a national park the native ruminants—buffalo, wildebeest, gazelles and giraffe—replaced them. They bred up and created their own methane.

Australia—apart from its population of feral goats and camels—is a special case. Its native herbivores are macropods: kangaroos and wallabies. Macropods also have complex stomaches, but their main byproduct of digestion is succinate. Contrary to widespread belief they do produce methane, albeit less than ruminants fed the same diet. There are only a few studies on macropod emissions. The most recent, on red necked wallabies in the Copenhagen zoo, found they produced between 25 and 33 per cent of the methane of a ruminant, per unit of food ingested.

Another byproduct is a whole new dietary category: kangatarians, people who eat kangaroo but not other red meat, on environmental grounds.

Interestingly, macropods, and this is the polite way of putting it, excrete most of their methane through flatulence, whereas cattle belch out 95 to 98 per cent of theirs.

The macropod research also provides an interesting line of investigation: could their succinate-producing bacteria be introduced into cattle, and cut their methane emissions?

The Australian naturalist George Seddon argued the main herbivores in Australia were insects, especially termites. And guess what termites produce: methane, three per cent of global methane to be exact. Richard Eckard, who is Associate Professor with the Melbourne School of Land and Environment among other titles, thinks it is quite feasible that termites produce more methane, per area in the Northern Territory, than livestock.

Australian beef cattle spend most of their lives on grass, but many spend 50 to 120 days at the end of their life in feedlots, being fed grain. There they are mostly fed low-grade wheat that is unfit for flour milling, crops grown specifically for livestock like sorghum and oats, and the waste products from making canola and cotton seed oil.

Many environmentalists oppose feedlotting due to its intensive nature and the unnaturally high grain diet. But feedlot cattle grow more quickly than grass fed cattle, and that means less greenhouse gas. In fact, Australian grain fed cattle are estimated to produce 38 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than grass-fed cattle. They grow faster again if they are administered Hormonal Growth Promotants.

Research in the UK has found that organic farms are less energy intensive than conventional farming, but they are also less productive. That means organic livestock have higher greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk or meat.

But the bottom line is we don’t really know how much methane our cattle are producing, for the simple reason they are animals, not machines. Methane production is influenced by diet, by productivity and by genetics: there can be a 15 per cent difference in methane emissions per animal within the one herd.

Ross Garnaut’s Climate Change Review reported livestock greenhouse gas emissions accounted for about 10 per cent of Australia’s total. Emissions have declined by 13 per cent since 1990, largely because of a fall in sheep numbers from 174 to 74 million. Garnaut pointed out improved animal husbandry over the past 20 years, undertaken for commercial reasons, had also reduced emissions per unit of output. He noted that these developments could go further.

The former Chief of CSIRO Livestock Industries, Alan Bell estimates beef cattle account for up to seven per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. And that figure is set to fall. The current estimate is based on old data that have recently been found to overstate the methane produced by northern cattle by 20 to 30 per cent. With about half the nation’s cattle in the north, this means a significant downward revision.

Bell agrees with Garnaut that both beef and dairy cattle have become much more efficient: as production per animal increases, the carbon footprint per kilo of steak or litre of milk decreases. Bell points to work by a student in his former department at Cornell University, Judith Capper. She estimated that in 2007, US dairy cows produced just 37 per cent of their 1944 greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk, a figure in line with their dramatic increase in milk productivity.

So what would happen if Australians, in the interests of lowering our greenhouse gas emissions, decided to stop producing cattle?

Grasslands have another important role to play: sequestering, or fixing, carbon.

The CSIRO has estimated that 164 million tonnes of greenhouse gases could be stored each year through agricultural activities like rehabilitating grasslands, restoring soil and vegetation carbon, and reducing savannah (northern grassland) burning. Last year Australia emitted an estimated 540 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Grasslands fix carbon as they grow; but they have evolved to be eaten. If they were no longer grazed the grasses would grow rank, and stop fixing carbon. And they would in all likelihood burn.

Bushfires, on average, burn over 500,000 square km of Australia annually, mainly in the grasslands in the northern half of the country. Bushfire accounts for about three per cent of the nation’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

If a person decides not to eat meat, what do they turn to for protein, and what environmental impact will that substitute have? This is a question currently being asked in the UK.

There, a study by Cranfield University, commissioned by the environmental group WWF, reported that many meat substitutes are produced from soy, chickpeas and lentils, But these crops can’t be grown in Britain. The report found a switch to these substitutes would result in more foreign land being cultivated, and raise the risk of forests being destroyed to create farmland. It also found meat substitutes tended to be highly processed and involved energy-intensive production methods.

One of the study’s authors, Donal Murphy-Bokern, said: “For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim.”

While the UK imports its soybeans from cleared Amazon forest, Australia at least grew about 14 per cent of the soybeans it consumed last year. A major limiting factor in Australia is irrigation water: under Australian conditions soybeans need six million litres a hectare, slightly less than cotton’s 6.3 million litres.

Soybeans, lentils and chickpeas also need cleared land, something else that has a finite supply. This is a particular problem in Australia where soil types, restrictions on land clearing and competition with the mining industry all limit supply. They need diesel-guzzling, greenhouse gas producing tractors as well as fertilisers and herbicides—which also involve the production of more greenhouse gases.

And soybeans need to be processed, whether into soy milk or tofu, for consumption, and that processing takes energy, and we know what that means.

Animal products supply a third of all the world’s protein. If we eliminated livestock we would have to produce half as much again vegetable protein crops to replace meat.

But in Australia the shift from pasture to crop land results in a reduction in soil carbon. Increasing soil carbon will be critical to Australia’s future carbon balance. And the most effective way to increase carbon levels in soil used for agriculture is to return crop land to well-managed pasture, preferably native pasture.

In mixed farms—those that run livestock and grow crops—livestock play a critical role in eating farm waste and providing natural fertiliser. Livestock were, of course, a major source of soil fertility before the invention of synthetic fertilisers.

And many who don’t eat beef, do continue to consume dairy products: milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. Which brings us back to cattle.

The thing that bothers me most in this debate is not the demonisation of cattle or the failure to understand that cattle are part of a complex ecological system and if you change one part it will impact elsewhere.

No, the thing that bothers me most is the way cattle emissions have been roped into the climate change debate. The increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is overwhelmingly the result of burning fossil fuels. If that wasn’t happening we would not be having this discussion.

Fossil fuels consist of carbon, sequestered using the energy of the sun, hundreds of millions of years ago. Just four litres of petrol uses what was 90 tonnes of ancient life. In the space of one year, the world is using over 400 years of stored ancient energy and carbon. The carbon dioxide produced will remain in the atmosphere for a century. It is a one way street.

But the carbon released by cattle in methane was sequestered just last week, last month, maybe even last year. And within 9 to 15 years, the carbon in that methane will be sequestered again in a plant, perhaps in grass, to go again through the same cycle. Cattle are part of a natural biological cycle. In it, carbon is sequestered, used, released in a gas and sequestered again. I fail to see how this is the moral equivalent of putting tens of tonnes of fossil life into your petrol tank.

And you could look on cattle as a carbon sink. Get rid of them, and where does the carbon go?

So what is the environmentally conscious consumer to do?

The UK Sustainable Development Commission drew up a list of 13 priorities, as part of its advice to the UK government on a sustainable diet.

Guideline number one was “consume less food and drink”. Britain, like Australia, has a growing obesity problem. Reducing the consumption of meat and dairy products comes in at number eight—after reducing food waste, eating seasonally, not driving to the shops and improving food management at home.

If you walk or cycle to the butcher shop, take home some locally-grown steak and cook it that evening, rare over natural gas, is your carbon footprint smaller than driving to the supermarket, buying a soy-based product that was grown and processed overseas, then having to throw out leftovers because the kids wouldn’t eat it?

One thing is clear: it is not as simple as just giving up red meat.


This piece was originally broadcast on the ABC’s Occam’s Razor program (12 August 2012). Links to external sites have been added for publication on Shaping Tomorrow’s World.

AGU Fall Meeting sessions on social media, misinformation and uncertainty

We have proposed several sessions for the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco on 3-7 December: on uncertainty, misinformation and social media. AGU members are invited to submit abstracts for the sessions – the deadline to submit an abstract is August 8. Details of the sessions are:

GC014: Construing Uncertainty in Climate Science

Session Abstract:
Uncertainty forms an integral part of climate science, and it is often cited in connection with political arguments against mitigative action. However, the implications of uncertainty are not always well understood. In particular, uncertainty is often misunderstood to imply that the risk from climate change may be minimal, whereas in fact greater uncertainty translates into greater risk. This session will examine how uncertainty can be misconstrued, how such misconstrual can be avoided, what the implications of uncertainty are for risk management, and why the notion of uncertainty plays such an important role in cognition and decision making as it relates to climate change.

Convenors: John Robert Hunter, Stephan Lewandowsky, James Risbey

Invited Speakers:

  • Naomi Oreskes
  • Gerard Roe
  • Paul Baer
  • Mike Raupach

ED042: Understanding & Responding to Misinformation

Session Abstract:
Scientists face many challenges in effectively communicating science to the public, not the least being the presence of misinformation. However, there are actually positive educational opportunities available in the correction of misinformation. This session will explain the psychology and origins of misinformation, the cognitive processes at play when correcting misconceptions and recommended approaches to effective myth debunking. The session will be relevant to scientists seeking to explain their science, to communicators wishing to effectively outreach to the public and educators who may need to respond to misinformation in the classroom.

Convenors: Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook

Invited Speakers:

  • Daniel Bedford
  • Max Boykoff

PA013: Social Media and Blogging as a Communication Tool for Scientists

Session Abstract:
Social media and the Internet has become an increasingly indispensable tool for scientists and communicators. This session will feature key figures in the climate blogosphere who have adopted novel and effective methods of communicating climate change science on the Internet. They will discuss the risks and rewards of new media, covering issues such as the challenges and advantages of crowd sourcing, viral marketing, Internet marketing and traffic generation, the use of smartphones, the management of online communities and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Convenor: John Cook

Invited Speakers:

  • Michael Mann
  • Michael Tobis
  • Peter Sinclair
  • Zeke Hausfather

AGU Members, click here to submit an abstract for either session.

Food Policy Lessons for 2012 and Beyond

Despite ongoing challenges to global food security — from food price volatility and extreme weather shocks, to famine, unrest and conflicts, the year 2011 featured major policy developments that offer encouragement and point to areas where further action is needed in 2012 and beyond.

After many years of neglect, agriculture and food security are back on the development and political agendas.  Developing countries are continuing to expand their spending on food security and agricultural production, and donors and research institutions–including the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership of which IFPRI is a member, are increasing their commitments to agricultural research and development.

In addition, agriculture is increasingly seen as part of a larger context, contributing not just to food production, but also to human nutrition and health, and to economic, sociopolitical, and environmental security.

A new flagship report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the 2011 Global Food Policy Report, offers a summary of the year’s highlights and challenges, and suggests needed future actions.

Food price levels and volatility

Global food prices rose during the first half of 2011 and fell during the second half of the year. High oil prices, biofuel policies promoting expanded production,  weather-related shocks such as droughts and floods, and growing demand from emerging economies all played a role in this food price volatility. Volatile food prices harm both consumers and producers by increasing uncertainty and making it difficult to plan production.

Global response to this volatility included an action plan by the G20 ministers of agriculture to reduce price volatility, regulate commodity markets, and promote long-term agricultural productivity and an emergency rice reserve to help ensure long-term food security in the Southeast Asian region .

However, some national policies taken in response to changes in food prices may have increased the strain on the global food system. To raise producer incomes, the government of Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of milled rice, established a rice subsidy scheme  that threatened to shrink its exports and contribute to higher global prices. Several countries, including China, turned to large grain imports to build up strategic reserves, raising concerns about tighter grain markets.

Natural and human-caused shocks

The world saw some of the most severe natural disasters on record in 2011, including earthquakes and a tsunami in Japan;  severe floods and storms in Brazil, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States; and drought in the Horn of Africa. According to the International Disaster Database, more than 200 natural disasters, affecting nearly 100 million people around the world, occurred during the year. Poor and hungry people are particularly susceptible to these natural shocks.

In the Horn of Africa, extreme drought conditions triggered a widespread crisis in the region that was especially catastrophic in Somalia. More than 13 million people, principally pastoralists and farmers, were affected and their food and nutrition security was severely undermined. Vulnerable groups such as women and children experienced acute food insecurity and undernutrition. The United Nations Children’s Fund reported that more than 320,000 children suffered from severe malnutrition at the height of the crisis.

Although exposure to natural shocks is inevitable, human vulnerability to these shocks is not inevitable. Reducing vulnerability means improving society’s ability to cope and build resiliency toward future shocks.

Climate change

The record-breaking extreme weather events of 2011 suggested that climate change will put additional pressure on world agriculture in the coming decades. The year provided more evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are rising and that climate change is already affecting agricultural productivity.

There was encouraging progress at the annual climate conventions in 2010 in Cancun and in 2011 in Durban. A key result was the creation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which aims to forge a treaty by 2015 to bring both developed and developing countries together under a legally binding agreement by 2020. Outside of formal negotiations, countries and regions are proceeding with their own efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change. China, India, and Kenya, for instance, have all undertaken significant agricultural adaptation and mitigation activities. These national and subnational activities could be the basis for a binding multilateral agreement to pursue low-emission development strategies.


Biofuel markets in 2011 were dominated by the European Union, the United States, and Brazil. In the United States, debate centered on whether a tax credit for blending ethanol into gasoline should be repealed. Research suggests that this tax credit, combined with the ethanol blending mandate, results in both welfare and efficiency losses. In addition, the US launched  a mechanism for certifying biofuel producers who meet environmental and fair labor standards with a  “green label” that could earn them a price premium as the market further develops.

In the European Union, debate concerned whether the growing use of land for biofuel crops ultimately leads to conversion of natural land to cropland, diminishing the extent to which biofuel production cuts carbon emissions. Research on impact findings and policy options is underway, and the region is expected to move forward with adjusting its Renewable Energy Directive. Brazil, China and India have also substantially developed and revised their policies on biofuel that could have large impact on global food security.

The food and agriculture nexus

In an increasingly interlinked global environment, policymakers have begun to more overtly recognize the links between agriculture and nutrition, health, water, and energy.

The agriculture, nutrition, and health nexus came to prominence in early 2011 with an international conference “Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health” in New Delhi, organized by IFPRI and its 2020 Vision Initiative. This conference inspired and supported a range of new initiatives, including the launch of a major CGIAR research program,  “Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health.”  Several development agencies—USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative and the United Kingdom Department for International Development—also began to design or redesign their programs to better tap the links among agriculture, nutrition, and health.

During 2011, 24 countries with high rates of undernutrition joined the Scaling Up Nutrition initiative, a movement bringing together governments, civil society, the private sector, research institutions and the United Nations system to support countries in their efforts to develop nutrition-sensitive national plans. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition agreed to develop a five-year joint program to fully integrate nutrition security into the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.

Despite progress, much is left to be done to maximize the opportunities of the agriculture nexus approach. Looking ahead, it will be important to promote evidence-based research that identifies viable opportunities to strengthen linkages across sectors and achieve win-win outcomes.

Land issues

A rising world population, growing demand for food, fiber, and biofuels, and recent spikes in global food prices have placed increased pressure on land, worsening land degradation and increasing land prices, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and parts of Latin America.

Major land policy developments in 2011 included a United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting to address desertification, land degradation, and drought. New IFPRI evidence shows that policymakers should pay attention to land degradation not just in dry areas, but also on many high-quality irrigated lands. More should be done to assure the availability of fertilizers in areas where additional fertilizer use is needed and appropriate.

One dimension of land management policies that particularly occupied public discourse in 2011 was the issue of foreign land acquisitions—often described as “land grabbing”—especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Such acquisitions have the potential to inject much-needed investment into agriculture in developing countries, but they can also harm the food security and livelihoods of the local poor. Reports on the issue in 2011 by the FAO, World Bank, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development all highlighted the role of governments in ensuring responsible investment in agriculture and strengthening land administration systems that respect the rights, livelihoods, and resources of all citizens.

New players

The private sector, emerging economies, and philanthropic organizations are increasingly reshaping the structure and nature of the global food policy landscape. Not only are these new players a largely untapped source of financial support to food security efforts in developing countries, but they also offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise, providing new opportunities to address the increasing complexity and challenges facing the global food system.

TheG20 is quickly claiming a growing role, next to the G8, as a principal forum for managing global economic problems. Emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India have increased their engagement, especially in terms of forging South–South cooperation. One noteworthy development has been the initiation of cooperation agreements between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and emerging countries such as Brazil and China in support of agricultural and health innovations in the developing world.

In the private sector, the World Economic Forum’s  New Vision for Agriculture Initiative —a collaboration between the World Economic Forum’s partner companies—promotes market-based, multistakeholder strategies for sustainable agricultural development.  In addition, public-private partnerships have been launched to promote sustainable agricultural growth, reduce hunger, and improve nutrition. For instance, PepsiCo has signed several agreements with international organizations to support increased agricultural production(especially among smallholders) alongside long-term nutritional and economic security efforts in countries such as China, Ethiopia, and Mexico. Similarly, private philanthropic and civil society organizations have continued to be major supporters of agricultural development, nutrition, poverty alleviation, and natural resource management. Still, evidence from 2011 shows that the opportunities presented by these new players have not been fully harnessed. To involve new players and retain traditional players in the global food policy arena, we need to strengthen collaboration, build trust, and establish mechanisms for accountability among different stakeholders by constructing strong coalitions of willing partners at the local, regional, and global level.

Outlook for 2012 and opportunities for action

Overall, 2011 and the years immediately preceding it have revealed serious risks facing the global food system—volatile food prices, extreme weather, and inadequate response to food emergencies were among the most visible. But chronic, long-term problems such as food and nutrition insecurity also point to areas where the food system can do better. Addressing these issues in a resource-scarce world will require keeping agriculture and food security issues high on the global agenda.

More broadly, food policy decisionmakers will face a number of challenges in 2012 and beyond. We will soon reach the 2015 target date of the Millennium Development Goals, almost certainly without having met the goal of halving hunger globally. South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, still show alarming levels of food and nutrition insecurity, despite the progress achieved in recent years. In addition, more work will be needed to reach an effective international agreement on climate change.

We must find new ways to exploit the links between agriculture and other sectors, and pay attention to gender equity to make investments and interventions in these areas more effective. A global system to measure, track, and monitor the cross-sectoral impacts among agriculture, food and nutrition security, energy, and natural resources will be important. In addition, to allocate resources more effectively, we should begin to base the prices of natural resources and food on their full value to society, including their social and environmental costs, such as impacts on climate change and health. All of these actions require skills and knowledge at the national and local level, so capacity building can help improve outcomes.

The Global Food Policy Report points to some high-priority areas for action in 2012. The international community should consolidate global and regional agricultural growth strategies and create or strengthen the institutions needed to make these strategies work. Participants in the Rio+20 meeting should integrate economic, social, and environmental sustainability and commit to concrete action to meet the long-term challenges of development, including poor nutrition, degraded soils, and scarce water. Finally, a broad intersectoral coalition should work together to address the crucial and connected issues of nutrition, food, and health.

This article is excerpted from the overview, by IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, of  IFPRI’s 2011 Global Food Policy Report. IFPRI’s 2011 Global Good Policy Report – the first in a new annual series – reflects on the challenges and developments of 2011 and provides an outlook for 2012.

Climate Uncertainty and Emission Cuts

It is very clear that uncertainty is no one’s friend. We have seen that greater uncertainty about the evolution of the climate should give us even greater cause for concern. We have seen that all other things being equal, greater uncertainty means that things could be worse than we thought. We have also seen that greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated, and that the allowance we must make for sea level rise will also be greater than anticipated. All of those results arise from simple mathematics, and we do not even have to resort to any economic modelling to understand how greater uncertainty translates into greater risk.

Let us now consider the other side of the risk-management equation: We have so far focused only on the cost of climate change, including the cost of adaptation measures (e.g., to put your beach front home on stilts). It is time to consider the cost of mitigation and how that is affected by uncertainty.

Mitigation means that we seek to reduce the damages from climate change by reducing carbon emissions. This is quite possible but it doesn’t come for free: We need to decarbonize our economy by converting to alternative sources of energy, and this clearly involves an economic cost (in addition to the new job opportunities that come with conversion to a new economy).

So how does this cost relate to uncertainty about the climate? How does greater uncertainty affect the cost of mitigation?

To answer this question, we need to deal with a few preliminary considerations.

Emissions vs. Atmospheric Concentration

First, we need to realize that to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, our current emissions have to tend towards zero. Just cutting 5% or 10% as suggested by political leaders (at best) will achieve nothing. This fact is illustrated in the figure below, and the underlying reasons are outlined in detail here—if the figure below does not make sense, then you should revisit this post before reading further.

What this figure shows are the global emission trajectories (in Gigatonnes, Gt, of carbon) that are required to limit humanity’s total cumulative emissions (that is, the sum total of all carbon that we will ever emit) to a certain level. Each line in the figure refers to a specific total “budget” of carbon, shown in the legend in Gt. So for example, the red line will limit total emissions to 1,000 Gt, whereas the black line will let us emit 3,000 Gt, and so on. (This figure, and all others in this post, rely on the equations provided by Raupach et al., 2011.)

It is clear that all lines tend towards zero sooner or later, and it is clear that the more we want to limit the budget, the steeper and the sooner the required emission cuts. Without going into details, it should be self-evident that steeper cuts translate into greater economic cost—cutting emissions by 5% can be achieved by efficiency measures; cutting them by 50% in a year requires that roughly half your factory is turned off.

The Cost of Delay

We can clarify the nature of emission trajectories further by picking a carbon budget and examining the required trajectories as a function of the time when we commence mitigation. The figure below shows those trajectories for a budget of 1,000 Gt (this budget was chosen for a good reason which I turn to below) and for four different times at which we commence mitigation:

The figure makes two points: First, the longer we wait, the steeper the required emission cuts. Second, if we wait till 2041 to commence mitigation, we would have to decarbonize the world economy overnight. Needless to say, this is technologically and politically impossible. This absolute boundary exists for any budget, no matter how large, it’s only the time at which it is hit that differs between budgets—in the same way that no matter how much money you have, at some point you will have to stop spending because you are out of cash!

It is important to establish the existence of this absolute boundary because then the economic discount rate ceases to matter.

What is the discount rate and why would it matter?

The discount rate is used by economists to balance future costs against current expenditures. For example, should I spend $1000 today to fix something that will cost $2000 to fix in 10 years time? Perhaps, but what if the future cost were only $1250? After all, in 10 years time we expect to be far wealthier than now, and $1250 then may appear to be pocket money whereas $1000 now feels like a lot of money. In a nutshell, the discount rate determines by what percentage we reduce the cost of future expenditures to make them commensurate to today’s dollars.

In the context of mitigation, the discount rate matters because it could be argued that even though delayed mitigation is more costly than cutting emissions now (because steeper cuts are required), those delayed (greater) expenses are not “worth as much” as today’s costs because they are discounted. Given a (very) large discount rate, one might therefore be tempted to argue that mitigation should be delayed until 2021, because even though this will increase costs, the increase is compensated by the delay. Although the required discount rate would likely be large, it cannot be dismissed. Indeed, Weitzman (2007, p. 705) noted that “…the biggest uncertainty of all in the economics of climate change is the uncertainty about which interest rate to use for discounting.” It would therefore be preferable to remove this source of uncertainty.

Fortunately, the discount rate and the uncertainty surrounding it, ceases to be relevant when we reach the absolute boundary in the above figure, at which point it no longer matters by how much we discount future costs. Decarbonizing the economy over night is impossible, and switching the world economy off is inconceivable, and those two facts are not subject to discounting.

Uncertainty and Mitigation

It follows that to examine the impact of climate uncertainty on mitigation, we should focus on an absolute boundary that is not subject to arguments involving a discount rate.

To relate climate uncertainty to mitigation, it is helpful if we first consider the relationship between total carbon emissions and the expected peak temperature increase. This is shown in the figure below, which is produced using the equations provided by Raupach et al. (2011).

The figure shows that to keep warming limited to 2°C—the maximum considered “safe” by scientists—we must limit cumulative emissions to around 1,000 Gt. This explains why I used a budget of 1,000 Gt in the earlier figure: If you look at it again, you can see for yourself how urgently we have to embark on mitigative action.

So what about uncertainty?

I again used the variance in our estimate of climate sensitivity as an indicator of uncertainty—if you are unclear about what that means, refresh your memory here.

I again assumed that the uncertainty surrounding climate sensitivity has a fat-tailed lognormal distribution (cf. Roe & Baker, 2007). I varied the variance—and hence uncertainty—of that distribution from minimal to quite large without changing its mean. At each level of uncertainty, I drew 1000 samples from the sensitivity distribution and computed the carbon budget that would limit warming to 2°C. In other words, I translated the uncertainty in climate sensitivity into uncertainty about the budget that we had left to spend.

The results are shown in the figure below and are worth exploring in detail.

Consider the top panel first. The blue line plots the mean carbon budget (across the 1000 samples) as a function of the uncertainty surrounding climate sensitivity (for this demonstration, climate sensitivity is expressed in units of KW-1 m2, with a mean of .741 and variance as shown in the figure above. This value corresponds to a sensitivity of 2.75°C in response to a doubling of CO2, which is right around the best estimate).

When uncertainty is minimal (left-most blue data point), the expected budget is around 1000 GtC, which is precisely the value that in the earlier figure gave us 2°C peak warming—as it should be because we are examining budgets to limit warming to 2°C.  

When uncertainty increases, the mean total budget also increases with uncertainty (other points on the blue line). That is, the greater our uncertainty about climate sensitivity, the greater the expected (average) carbon budget that we have available to limit warming to 2°C. This is good news, at least at first glance, because it means that greater uncertainty might give us greater leeway. However, that is not the complete picture, because what is relevant in this instance is not just the mean (average), but also the remainder of the distribution of carbon budgets: Remember, I sampled 1,000 possible actual sensitivities from a distribution, each of which is associated with an actual carbon budget—we therefore are now dealing with a distribution of possible budgets, and the shape of this distribution describes how likely those various budgets are.

The remaining lines in the top panel of the figure describe the shape of this distribution by plotting its median (i.e. the point that divides the distribution into an equal number of observations, such that 500 are above and another 500 below that point), its 25th percentile or quartile (labelled Q25, referring to the point that has 250 budgets below it and the remaining 750 above), and finally its minimum. The latter is particularly important because it tells us what the least (and hence most constraining) carbon budget is that we may encounter at a given level of uncertainty about the climate.

The figure shows very clearly that the minimum budget decreases as uncertainty increases, before it flattens out as it hits the horizontal dashed line. What does this mean? It means two things: First, as uncertainty increases, the worst-case scenario—namely, the lowest possible carbon budget that we may have available to limit warming to 2°C—becomes worse. Second, and even more worryingly, the worst-case scenario rapidly hits an absolute and inescapable brick wall. That brick wall is the dashed line, which represents the amount of carbon (346 Gt) that humanity has already emitted.

In other words, as uncertainty increases, the worst case scenario becomes the worst imaginable case—namely the case where we have to switch off our economy not only over night but to do so now.

Right now.


Needless to say, this is impossible.

Now, one might argue that the worst-case scenario shouldn’t worry us too much, because on average greater uncertainty means that we have a greater carbon budget to play with. This argument, alas, overlooks the bottom panel of the figure.

The bottom panel of the figure plots the probability of the carbon budget hitting that conceptual minimum. No carbon budget can go below that minimum—because we’ve already spent it!—but the number of budgets, out of the 1000 sampled, that hit the minimum varies with uncertainty in climate sensitivity.

And the probabillity goes up as uncertainty increases.

The number of worst-case budgets increases with uncertainty, from zero (if uncertainty is tiny) to more than 8% (.08), when uncertainty is large. To put this into context, that risk is more than 1,000 times greater than the risk of dying in a car crash in Australia (expressed as fatalities per 100,000 population).

So not only does greater uncertainty put the worst-case scenario into a very bad spot, it also increases the likelihood of that worst-case scenario being true. In a nutshell, increased uncertainty means that the likelihood of us having to turn off the economy overnight right now, goes from zero to a non-negligible 8%.

Would you still drive your car if the risk of a crash went up from its current level by a factor in excecss of 1000? Hint: That means more than 1,600,000 Australians would die every year in car crashes. 

So no, uncertainty is no one’s friend, whether we talk about damages from climate change or the costs of mitigation. There is no escaping those simple mathematical facts.

There is only one way to escape that uncertainty: Mitigation. Now.



Raupach, M. R.; Canadell, J. G.; Ciais, P.; Friedlingstein, P.; Rayner, P. J. & Trudinger, C. M. (2011). The relationship between peak warming and cumulative CO2 emissions, and its use to quantify vulnerabilities in the carbon–climate–human system. Tellus, 63B, 145-164.

Roe, G. H. & Baker, M. B. (2007). Why is climate sensitivity so unpredictable? Science, 318, 629-632.

Weitzman, M. L. (2007). A Review of The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Journal of Economic Literature, 45, 703-724.

ABC documentary demonstrates the how and why of climate denial

This is a repost from Skeptical Science. Note that STW’s own Stephan Lewandowsky has also published on this topic in The Age/Brisbane Times and Australian Media Centre/ABC Environment.

Tonight, the Australian TV channel ABC will air the documentary I Can Change Your Mind about Climate. The show features climate activist Anna Rose and retired Liberal senator Nick Minchin attempting to change each others’ minds about climate change, by introducing each other to a number of leading voices on climate change. Some have argued, with a fair amount of justification, that its unwise to give the small minority of those who reject climate science an equal voice with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who agree that humans are causing global warming. However, in an article published today at ABC Environment, I argue (in a valiant effort to take a glass-half-full approach) that this documentary can instruct us on the how and why of climate denial. Here’s an excerpt:

What do you do if all the world’s experts disagree with you? A decades old technique perfected by the tobacco industry is to manufacture the appearance of a continued debate through fake experts. Climate change is a complicated, multi-disciplinary science and yet many of the leading voices who purport to know better than the experts have never published a single piece of climate research. Of Nick’s four voices against the scientific consensus, we have a blogger, an engineer and a political lobbyist. Nick turns to only one actual climate scientist, whose research has been thoroughly refuted in the peer-reviewed literature.

Alternatively, when the world’s leading experts disagree with you, another popular approach is to don a tinfoil hat and cry conspiracy. A small minority seem to believe that tens of thousands of climate scientists across the globe are all engaged in a conspiracy. Of course there is no evidence for this (which to the paranoid is further proof of a conspiracy), even when scientists’ emails are stolen and pored over with a fine-tooth comb. Fortunately very little tin-foil-hattery is in evidence throughout the documentary, apart from a throwaway line from David Evans that scientists are ‘concealing the evidence’.

How does one deny the consensus of evidence? One straightforward approach is to simply ignore it! Jo Nova ignores satellite observations that directly measure an increased greenhouse effect when she claims the warming effect from carbon dioxide (CO2) is immeasurable. Richard Lindzen claims negative feedbacks will cancel out CO2 warming, citing the Earth’s past. But it’s precisely the Earth’s past that provides many independent lines of evidence for reinforcing feedbacks that are an integral part of our climate system.

Marc Morano delivers a breathtaking torrent of misinformation (although I’m not sure he did take a breath) that ignores entire swathes of evidence. He overlooks the fact that Arctic sea ice has dramatically thinned with the total amount of ice hitting record low levels in 2011. He ignores that global warming is still happening, with our planet currently absorbing heat at a rate of two Hiroshima bombs per second. Genuine scepticism requires considering the full body of evidence in order to properly understand what’s happening to our climate. What we witness from Nick Minchin’s witnesses is not genuine scepticism but rejection of any inconvenient evidence.

Read full article…

Observing the misinformation of David Evans, Jo Nova, Marc Morano and Richard Lindzen is an examination into the how of climate denial, exposing the techniques common to all movements that deny a scientific consensus. To explain the why, I leave it to Naomi Oreskes who deconstructs Nick Minchin’s rejection of climate science in some powerful footage that tragically didn’t make it into the final cut. Thanks to the magic of the interweb, here it is in all it’s YouTube glory (many thanks to the producers for granting permission for me to upload the video):

The documentary airs on Thursday 8.30pm Australian EST. During the documentary and following Q&A panel (featuring Anna and Nick), there’ll be a live blog featuring scientists across Australia commenting on the documentary in real time. A number of scientists will also be tweeting at the same time with the hashtag #qandascientists (I’ll be tweeting away from @skepticscience and anticipate posting short URLs to SkS rebuttals as the inevitable climate myths appear).

Do you want some science with your entertainment?

On Thursday next week the ABC (Australia, 26 April, 8:30pm AEST) will be airing the documentary I can change your mind about … climate, which has been attracting quite a bit of media attention already. Its main protagonists are two polar opposites: A conservative politician, former Senator Nick Minchin, and a young climate activist, the founder and chair of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition Anna Rose.

Nick Minchin is well known for his opposition to climate science and also for opposing the notion that second-hand tobacco smoke is detrimental to your health. Anna Rose has been campaigning for climate action in Australia for years and heads a grassroots organization of 57,000 members.

The narrative of the documentary is that Anna seeks to change Nick’s mind about climate change, whereas Nick is trying to change hers. They travel around the world together, meeting up with supporters of their respective positions, discussing the scientific evidence and challenging each other’s positions.

This documentary will be followed by a “Q&A” panel, consisting of the two main protagonists (antagonists?) Nick and Rose, and also mining magnate Clive Palmer, social researcher and writer Rebecca Huntley, and the Chief executive of the CSIRO Dr Megan Clark. This panel may be quite a lively event, given that Clive Palmer has recently alleged that the CIA funded Greenpeace to harm Australian industrial interests.

Notably absent from the panel are, you guessed it, climate scientists. Dr Clark runs the CSIRO but her qualification is in economic geology not climatology. However, this peculiarity should not be of too much concern because Mr. Palmer will likely ensure that the panel retains its entertainment value.

And those viewers who seek more than entertainment and want some scientific information as well are not left out in the cold either: On the day, during the broadcast of the documentary and the subsequent Q&A panel, Australian climate experts will run a twitter feed (via The Conversation) and also a live blog (hosted by Crikey). The details will be announced here on Shapingtomorrowsworld and elsewhere on the web closer to the time.

So tune into the ABC for entertainment and grab the science via Twitter and our live blog.