Lennart Bengtsson: “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong”

The GWPF yesterday announced that Swedish scientist Lennart Bengtsson joins their Academic Advisory Council. Among the members of this council are many well-known “climate sceptics” like Richard Lindzen, Ross McKitrick, Henrik Svensmark, Bob Carter, Nir Shaviv etc.

Bengtsson (born 1935) was the director of of ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting) for 18 years and after that he was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. So his background is very “mainstream”. His entry to the GWPF Council will certainly have raised a few eyebrows in the climate community that sees the GWPF as a sceptical think tank.

Bengtsson has written some very nuanced/critical opinion articles in recent years (see here and here). I decided today to ask Bengtsson about his motivation to join the GWPF Council and sent him a list of questions to which he kindly responded.

Why did you join the GWPF Academic Council?
I know some of the scientists in GWPF and they have made fine contributions to science. I also respect individuals that speak their mind as they consider scientific truth (to that extent we can determine it) more important than to be politically correct. I believe it is important to express different views in an area that is potentially so important and complex and still insufficiently known as climate change.
My interest in climate science is strictly scientific and I very much regret the politicisation that has taken place in climate research. I believe most serious scientists are sceptics and are frustrated that we are not able to properly validate climate change simulations. I have always tried to follow the philosophy of Karl Popper. I also believe that most scientists are potentially worried because of the long residence time of many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, our worries must be put into a context as there are endless matters to worry about, practically all of them impossible to predict. Just move yourself backward in time exactly 100 years and try to foresee the evolution in the world for the following 100 years.

Is this your way of telling the world that you have become a “climate sceptic”? (many people might interpret it that way) If not, how would you position yourself in the global warming debate?
I have always been sort of a climate sceptic. I do not consider this in any way as negative but in fact as a natural attitude for a scientist. I have never been overly worried to express my opinion and have not really changed my opinion or attitude to science. I have always been driven by curiosity but will of course always try to see that science is useful for society. This is the reason that I have devoted so much of my carrier to improve weather prediction.

Is there according to you a “climate consensus” in the community of climate scientists and if so what is it?
I believe the whole climate consensus debate is silly. There is not a single well educated scientist that question that greenhouse gases do affect climate. However, this is not the issue but rather how much and how fast. Here there is no consensus as you can see from the IPCC report where climate sensitivity varies with a factor of three! Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models. Here I intend to stick to Karl Popper in highlighting the need for proper validation.

Mojib Latif once said at a conference of the WMO (in 2009) “we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves”. Do you think the climate community is doing that (enough)? or are others like the GWPF needed to ask these “nasty” questions? If so, what does this say about the state of Academia?
I think the climate community shall be more critical and spend more time to understand what they are doing instead of presenting endless and often superficial results and to do this with a critical mind. I do not believe that the IPCC machinery is what is best for science in the long term. We are still in a situation where our knowledge is insufficient and climate models are not good enough. What we need is more basic research freely organized and driven by leading scientists without time pressure to deliver and only deliver when they believe the result is good and solid enough. It is not for scientists to determine what society should do. In order for society to make sensible decisions in complex issues it is essential to have input from different areas and from different individuals. The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong.

I noticed that some climate scientists grow more sceptical about global warming after their retirement. Can you confirm this? Does it apply to yourself? Is there a lot of social pressure to follow the climate consensus among working climate scientists which can explain this?
Wisdom perhaps comes with age. I also believe you are becoming more independent and less sensitive to political or group pressure. Such pressure is too high today and many good scientists I believe are suffering. I am presently a lot on my own. As I have replied to such questions before, if I cannot stand my own opinions, life will become completely unbearable.

Are you satisfied with the role that the GWPF has played so far? What could or should they do differently in order to play a more successful and/or constructive role in the discussions about climate and energy?
My impression is that this is a very respectable and honest organisation but I will be happy to reply to your question more in depth when I have got experience of it.

From the GWPF:
Professor Lennart Bengtsson has a long and distinguished international career in meteorology and climate research. He participated actively in the development of ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting) where he was Head of Research 1975-1981 and Director 1982-1990. In 1991-2000 he was Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. Since 2000 he has been professor at the University of Reading and from 2008 the Director of the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland.

Professor Bengtsson has received many awards including the German Environmental Reward, The Descartes Price by the EU and the IMI price from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). He is member of many academies and societies and is honorary member of the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Meteorological Society and European Geophysical Union. His research work covers some 225 publications in the field of meteorology and climatology. In recent years he has been involved with climate and energy policy issues at the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

 

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51 comments to Lennart Bengtsson: “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong”

  • [...] Uppdatering: Intervju med LB med anledning av hans samarbete med GWPF här. [...]

  • John

    “My impression is that this is a very respectable and honest organisation”
    Well, GPWF is apparently an lobby organisation that does not give you an honest presentation of the available scientific evidence, while still pretending to. For example, regarding climate sensitivity, without arguments they systematically exclude all research that point to higher sensitivity. They also ignore recent published papers that clearly showed why some of their presented methods giving lower values are biased low. See: http://www.skepticalscience.com/gwpf-lewis-crock-climate-sensitivity-optimism-ill-founded.html

    “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong.”
    We have created a potentially huge future problem by altering the climate and the ocean chemistry. The politicians need an assessment of the science to be able to make rational decisions. So what can be more natural than putting together an international expert panel writing a summary on the science? Leaving it to lobby organisations like GWPF just confuses the discussions, because political ideology and science become mixed up.

  • Dear John,
    You just expressed an opinion; as (climate) data trump opinions you contribute very little to the scientific process of understanding the real world we live in.

  • John

    oebele bruinsma,

    You are right in the irrelevant sense that I didn’t produce any papers myself. But I gave a reference to people who contributed and which shows that GWPF is giving you a highly misleading view of published papers in the area.

    Regarding “data”, Bengtsson writes:
    “Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models”

    This is very inconsistent with the scientific literature, see latest IPCC report and newer papers refered in the link I gave above. Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model and the models he refers to has been showed to be biased low (see link above again). In addition, other models and data shows that is is unlikely that sensitivity is low. But perhaps it is not surprising that a 80-year old emeritus is not up-to-date with recent scientific progress.

  • Leo Smith

    “Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model ”

    Newton Einstein and Popper must be turning in their graves.

    Heck even Kant/Schopenhauer never went so far as to say that the mind created reailty from NOTHING.

    I truly am …lost for words..

  • Altered Chemistry

    Leaving it to lobby organisations like GWPF UN IPCC, WWF, and Geen Peace just confuses the discussions, because political ideology and science become mixed up.

  • [...] Crok has been quick off the mark and has published a short interview with Bengtsson, looking at why he decided to sign up with GWPF and his position on [...]

  • Dear John,

    I’m speechless as well: One more try: Models are intellectually repacked OPINIONS. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • TomD

    “Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model”

    My new all-time favorite catastrophist assertion . . . to re-phrase this ridiculous pronouncement:

    “We must torture the data until it gives the answer we want.”

    Sing it loud, and sing it proud, alarmistas!

    Thank You John – you’re the best!

  • John

    TomD, oebele et al:

    Climate models predict that Holland is colder in winter than in summer. Is that just about opinions? According to astronomic models, Earth is not flat and revolves around the sun. Nothing more than opinions? We used to live in caves, now we can travel to the moon and back. Just because of opinions, nothing more?

    There are some substantial uncertainties in climate science but it is not about opinions. It is about statistics, models and data and an ambition to be objective. GWPF hasn’t contributed with any new insights. Instead they produce cherrypicked and misleading reviews but that is only what you can expect from an lobby organisation.

    It is also relevant to ask who is funding them, something that is not transparent.
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Global_Warming_Policy_Foundation

  • Marcel Crok

    John,
    My experiences with the GWPF are just fine. They promote an open debate like I myself try to do on climatedialogue.org

    See the response of Benny Peiser on Klimazwiebel after the Lewis/Crok report came out:

    http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.nl/2014/03/a-new-consensus.html?showComment=1394192694035#c7916039990826912566

    I’m afraid both Matt McGrath and Reiner Grundmann misunderstand the GWPF and our work. They should know better.

    Our mission statement and philosophy has been known ever since we launched the GWPF in 2009 and is prominently posted on our website:

    * We have developed a distinct set of principles that set us apart from most other stakeholders in the climate debates:

    * The GWPF does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming – although we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled.

    * On climate science, our members and supporters cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism.

    As a matter of fact, we don’t even have a collective view on the excellent new report by Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok.

    We are promoting an open debate, our opponents are trying to close it down.

  • Well, well dear John, Models eh? You have models and models. But first you have experiences; in your case celestial experiences of round trips and closer to home summer/winter and let’s throw in day night temperatures. As we appear to attach less variables to such models they become more reliable in that they can predict: stellar-moon positions. As more uncertain variables are included like summer and winter driving variables, we are not able to predict the nature of the summer or winter approaching. We can state the trivial obvious that summer temperatures tend to be higher than winter temperatures at a given location. Why is it then that climate models have not predicted the current experience of pausing or hiating temperatures and the record (Ant-)arctic ice sheets surfaces; see eg cryosphere today.

  • John

    Marcel Crok,
    great initiatiate with the climatedialogue.org, I respect that even if I don’t agree about GWPF. Debate is fine, but I prefer that it should be on other
    premises, science is not politics.

    oebele bruinsma,

    That the summer always is hotter than the winter in the northern hemisphere is as “trivial obvious” as it will get warmer with more long-lived greenhouse gases put in the atmosphere.

    “Why is it then that climate models have not predicted the current experience of pausing or hiating temperatures and the record (Ant-)arctic ice sheets surfaces; see eg cryosphere today.”

    Because of a combination of:

    1. Models are not initiated with exact start conditions
    2. Models are not perfect
    3. The forcings are not exactly known

    But this is not that relevant for the issue of how much warming we’ll get in the long run. Compare with the seasonal change problem. Regardless of weather, which we cannot predict weeks into the future, we still know it will be a big difference and we could still predict statistics for the average weather. We can also predict that the winter will be colder in Norway than in the Netherlands etc. Weather is chaotic, but apparently climate and energy balances are not.

    There are many sources available on the internet where you can learn more about this, including online courses. Just be careful with the sources.

  • Herman Aven

    John: “We can also predict that the winter will be colder in Norway than in the Netherlands”. Following your not very strong analogy:

    If we’d have 15 years in a row our winters being nearly the same or that summer would be as cold as winter, something would be wrong with the seasonal model or some significant factor would have to be determined, stronger than any seasonal influence. Just imagine that!

  • [...] Dette og mer kan vi lese i et intervju med Marcel Crok: [...]

  • Marcel Crok

    Hans von Storch now also published an interview with Bengtsson:
    http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.nl/2014/05/interview-with-lennart-bengtsson.html

  • [...] För den som i likhet med mig faktiskt är intresserad av vad en riktig forskare tycker, har Lennarts tyske kollega Hans von Storch intervjuat honom med anledning av det nya jobbet. Och så här säger han i en annan mejlintervju med holländske bloggaren Marcel Crok: [...]

  • Frank

    John explains that models fail because:

    “1. Models are not initiated with exact start conditions
    2. Models are not perfect
    3. The forcings are not exactly known

    But this is not that relevant for the issue of how much warming we’ll get in the long run.”

    Why John is wrong:

    1. To deal with the initialization problem, models are initiated with a variety of starting conditions. Despite this, models rarely produce a pause like the current one and rarely produce as little warming has seen for the last quarter century.

    3. Recent changes in the amount of forcing agents have been accurately measured. The forcing expected for various GHG’s have been determined by laboratory measurements. The forcing expected for aerosols has much greater uncertainty, but models use a single forcing value, not a range. Therefore their output range doesn’t include the uncertainty inherent in aerosol forcing. AR5 reported that the likely cooling effect from aerosols is smaller than previous believed, but the AR5 models relied on older forcing data. Many models rely upon strong aerosol cooling to hindcast an appropriately small amount of 20th century warming. A significant amount of warming late in the 21st century arises from an expected reduction in aerosol emissions, so that projected warming appears exaggerated.

    2. Climate models have two major imperfections: a) The grid cells are too small to represent some important aspects of convection and natural variability (like ENSO, the Julian-Madden oscillation). We don’t know how projections will change when computers have the ability to work with smaller grid cells. b) Climate models contain dozens of parameters that describe subgrid processes like cloud formation, precipitation and diffusion of heat. These parameters are tuned one at a time to produce a model which describes current climate. Studies with ensembles of models with perturbed parameters show that many sets of parameters are likely to be equally good at representing current climate and that an optimum set of parameters is unlikely to have arisen from the current tuning process. Different sets of parameters give different climate sensitivity. A much wider range of possible futures climates for a given emission scenario than the IPCC has shown probably are consistent with the known physics of climate.

    The problems with models ARE RELEVANT to the amount of warming they project for a particular emissions scenario and the uncertainty with which they project it.

  • Fulco

    All climate models show exponential differgence, they all run away, this is why I don’t trust them.
    It is not known how to incorporate the behavior of CO2 based on a physical model, so a forcing is used.
    The influence and physics of clouds in not clearly understood, so it is omitted or pourly implemented.
    All models give different results so there does not exists a standard model predicting climate within lets say 1%.
    So is there really a concensus ?
    What do you expect from such models. In any case not a fundament for a political scenario.

  • John

    Frank,
    you don’t show that I was wrong in any way, you just claim it. And your amateur assessments are not very interesting.

    See for example Schmidt et al(2014) for a recent more professional assessment of models.

    If you want to analyze the rarity of certain short timeperiods you also need to take into account the process of (cherry-)picking the particular interval.
    For example, how rare it is with extreme El Ninos like the 1997-1998 one? (spoiler: perhaps once in a century or so).

    I think you and Fulco need to be more humble and study these issues more carefully before doing assertions. But avoid organisations like GWPF, they will just confuse you and give you a very skewed scientific view. The IPCC reports is an obvious starter. Otherwise, this site http://www.skepticalscience.com is a great source and gives you a very pedagogic mainstream view while also rebutting various myths about the climate and models.

  • Marcel Crok

    @John
    Nic Lewis and I take the full responsibility for the report that we wrote about climate sensitivity. So the fact that the GWPF published it means very little. GWPF in no way influenced the content of our report.
    Lewis will now also participate in a Climate Dialogue about climate sensitivity that starts this week.
    Please stop criticising our report just because it is “a GWPF report” and give arguments why it is wrong in your opinion.
    Marcel

  • BruceC

    I wouldn’t worry about ‘John’ to much Marcel. In two of his posts he has referred to ‘Skepitcal Science’ for references.

    Need I say anymore.

  • John

    Marcel Crok,
    “Please stop criticising our report just because it is “a GWPF report” and give arguments why it is wrong in your opinion.”
    See link in my first comment. Very well formulated, I think, I have not much to add except that in the real world there is a great chance(i.e. risk) that melting permafrost will add a lot of extra CO2 and methane into the atmosphere and ocean. Reduced ocean and biosphere carbon uptake is also likely according to experts. This is often excluded in the estimates. Anyway, I’m looking forward to read the discussion at climate dialogue, thanks for providing it. Perhaps that is the right forum for subversive argumentation a la Lewis. But the risk is that it gives a “false balance”, Fasullo and Annan are on a different competence level.

    BruceC,
    I think the reason why skeptical science is a very good source is not because they are the greatest experts but because they are excellent communicators as well as intellectually honest and refer to the greatest experts. So you need to say a lot more to even have a chance to make a point.

  • BruceC

    ‘intellectually honest’…..????

    LOL…SkS are renowned for their editing and/or deleting ANY post that goes against AGW or SkS belief. None of the contributors of SkS are classified as a ‘climate scientist’. Most are environmental activists who dabble in ‘climate science’ as a hobby, including their ‘I am not a climate scientist, but a cartoonist’ leader John Cook.

    The ‘Team’ at SkS also like to photoshop themselves onto German SS uniforms in their spare time.

    If you really want to go to a truly scientific (Climate Change/Global Warming) blog, written by a ‘climate scientist’ then go to Judith Curry’s Climate Etc.

  • cRR Kampen

    “… experiences with the GWPF are just fine. They promote an open debate…” [Crok] which is the problem called ‘merchandising doubt’. Debat is over, science is settled, time for policy and time to separate the policy debate from the scientific endeavour.

    But those who are so aghast at people not open to debate should begin with attacking mathematicians. They really think they are God’s keepers of truth. Now guess what: climate models have a mathematical base! How’s that for an NWO!

    ” In order for society to make sensible decisions in complex issues it is essential to have input from different areas and from different individuals. The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong.” [Bengtsson]

    Bengtsson is apparently confused with the NIPCC. Or he meant ‘good’ instead of wrong, because his wish is the exact IPCC mandate.

  • BruceC

    John, going back to your comment made on the 2nd May @ 1:11, you state:

    “Regarding “data”, Bengtsson writes:
    “Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models”

    This is very inconsistent with the scientific literature, see latest IPCC report and newer papers referred in the link I gave above. Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model and the models he refers to has been showed to be biased low (see link above again). In addition, other models and data shows that is unlikely that sensitivity is low. But perhaps it is not surprising that a 80-year old emeritus is not up-to-date with recent scientific progress.”

    I am most interested in your statement, “Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model”.

    I wish I didn’t have to embarrass you and your ‘models’, but, real observations are making a mockery of your above statement: http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/CMIP5-90-models-global-Tsfc-vs-obs-thru-2013.png

    Just in case you’re new to this, all the little squiggly lines are ‘models’. The hard black line (with squares) is the average of all these ‘models, 90 in total. The green and blue plots are self explanatory and OBSERVERED DATA!. The climate models (and global warming) went AWOL around about 1999.

    As the data shows, “Over 95% of Climate Models Agree: The Data Must Be Wrong”.

    Your homework for today is to prove the above graph wrong.

  • BruceC

    John, going back to your comment made on the 2nd May @ 1:11, you state:

    “Regarding “data”, Bengtsson writes:
    “Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models”

    This is very inconsistent with the scientific literature, see latest IPCC report and newer papers referred in the link I gave above. Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model and the models he refers to has been showed to be biased low (see link above again). In addition, other models and data shows that is unlikely that sensitivity is low. But perhaps it is not surprising that a 80-year old emeritus is not up-to-date with recent scientific progress.”

    I am most interested in your statement, “Observational data does not show anything itself, it must be interpreted via a model”.

    I wish I didn’t have to embarrass you and your ‘models’, but, real observations are making a mockery of your above statement: http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/CMIP5-90-models-global-Tsfc-vs-obs-thru-2013.png

    Just in case you’re new to this, all the little squiggly lines are ‘models’. The hard black line (with squares) is the average of all these ‘models, 90 in total. The green and blue plots are self explanatory and OBSERVERED DATA!. The climate models (and global warming) went AWOL around about 1999.

    As the data shows, “Over 95% of Climate Models Agree: The Data Must Be Wrong”.

    Your homework for today is to prove the above graph is wrong.

  • cRR Kampen

    BruceC, you probably didn’t get an answer because he doesn’t consider himself to be your student.
    Baselines, baselines, Bruce C. A quick glance on this should suffice to see how that graph is a fraud: http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2014/02/roy-spencers-latest-deceit-and-deception.html

  • Rob v

    The big problem for every (climate) scientist.

    To Be or Not To Be.

    Follow The Yellow Brick Road

    A Mathematician is not a scientist. They are not interested in the real world (and not only in climate science)
    http://youtu.be/nXF098w48fo

  • BruceC

    @ cRR Kampen, that reference from Sou from Bottswana, (or where ever she’s from) HotWhopper, made me laugh louder than John’s references from SkS. Fair dinkum, is that all you guys have….SkS and HotWhopper. Not a climate scientist in sight.

  • Fulco

    Bruce C: The article of Roy Spencer has some flaws too, this has to do with the choosen origin, but it remains true that all models diverge from measurements.
    John: With my background in theoretical physics I am very capable of reading articals on climate change.
    Marcel: You are right, there is more to read than articles approved by the International Political Climate Church. Judge the contents not the stamp.

  • BruceC

    BTW…sorry for the double post. Not sure what happened there.

  • cRR Kampen

    “… made me laugh louder than John’s references from SkS” – Of course: so you agree to its content, which was about showing a fraud and true: THAT was no laughing matter.

  • Tab Numlock

    Any “scientist” who claims that man-made global warming has been detected is a fraud. We don’t know if it will cause warming, cooling or have no effect. I’m hoping for warming, personally. We are still in an ice age and the ice sheets can come back at any time. Plus, I like nice weather.

    We are also in a CO2 famine. The liberation by Man of CO2 buried during the Carboniferous is a boon for the earth. It almost makes me believe in divine guidance. I hope I live to see 1,000 ppm and maybe, finally, a little of that long-promised warming.

    http://oi55.tinypic.com/necf12.jpg

  • cRR Kampen

    Never mind a sea level at some 20 metres higher, Numlock. We are all happy to take in 17 million Dutch (I’ll go build my new house in your backyard) and 200 million Bangladeshi refugees.

  • Rob v

    cRR Kampen

    20 meters higher in how many years? 10 , 100 , 1000 ?

  • [...] Lennart Bengtsson: “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong” [...]

  • [...] the Academic Council of the GWPF. This generated quite some attention on blogs and in the media. I interviewed him, but also Hans von Storch on Klimazwiebel, Axel Bojanowski had a story in Der Spiegel (English [...]

  • [...] the Academic Council of the GWPF. This generated quite some attention on blogs and in the media. I interviewed him, but also Hans von Storch on Klimazwiebel, Axel Bojanowski had a story in Der Spiegel (English [...]

  • [...] Judith Curry, here’s an excerpt from an interview Dr. Bengtsson gave with the Dutch web site State of the Climate, in which he shares his opinion on “scientific [...]

  • [...] they broke with consensus [...]

  • [...] 1: Interview with Marcel Crok “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically [...]

  • [...] http://www.staatvanhetklimaat.nl/201…sically-wrong/  3 Add Dyzalot to Rail [...]

  • [...] 1 May the Dutch journalist Marcel Crok published on his blog an interview with Bengtsson. He began by posing the question: Why did you join the GWPF Academic Council? Bengtsson’s [...]

  • [...] 1 May the Dutch journalist Marcel Crok published on his blog an interview with Bengtsson. He began by posing the question:Why did you join the GWPF Academic Council? Bengtsson’s [...]

  • [...] du fonctionnement même de la recherche et de la découverte. Lennart Bentgtsson s'est exprimé clairement à ce sujet. Il a dit [...]

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