Numerical Analysis of Mark Lynas' "Six Degrees" Claims

This is ancillary to my blog “Lynas’ “Six Degrees” of (Computed) Half Blindness“.

From Mark Lynas’ book “Six Degrees – Our Future on a Hotter Planet” I have randomly selected some pages between 3 and 241, leaving out the introduction and the “Choosing Our Future” conclusions.

These are the results in terms of number of positive, negative and catastrophic remarks (*) in each of them

Page,Positive,Negative,Catastrophic
24,0,2,3
37,2,4,1
67,0,7,0
89,7,3,0
90,2,8,1
113,2,6,5
136,0,6,3
144,0,6,0
175,0,1,6
188,0,3,1
206,0,5,1
212,0,1,3
237,0,1,3

Based on the above, for each page of Lynas’ book there is 1 positive statement, 4 negative statements and 2 catastrophic statements. There may be a trend with statements getting less and less positive, but it can be noted that the whole thing is skewed towards negativeness from the beginning.

Only one page (89) out of 13 is more positive (7) than negative (3), and the immediately following page (90) quickly brings the situation back with only 2 positives and as much as 8 negatives (plus 1 catastrophic).

(*) Examples

  • Positive remark: page 89 (two degrees): “the northern central part of the US…will become an increasingly important winter wheat-producing area”
  • Negative remark: page 67 (one degree): “severe bleaching will occur on most of the world’s reefs every 3-5 years by 2030”
  • Catastrophic remark: page 136 (three degrees): “drought may once again become perennial in this densely populated country” (Indonesia)

Lynas' "Six Degrees" of (Computed) Half Blindness

I have decided to read debate-challenged Mark Lynas‘ “Six Degrees – Our Future on a Hotter Planet” on the basis of the surprisingly moderate review by Eric Steig on RealClimate.

Just as revealed by Steig, I must confess I tend to stay away from popular-science books that appear to overstate their argument. And Lynas’ book’s English cover does sport a giant wave crashing on top of a half-submerged Big Ben, with lightning out of a dark cloud and a citation from the Sunday Times defining the book as “terrifying” (on the back, the Financial Times describing it as “apocalyptic”).

Obviously, HarperCollins (the Publisher) thought it important for sales to make Lynas look like an incorregible alarmist with a penchant for “climate pornography”. Apparently, the author has lamented being “misconstrued” but I suspect the author doesn’t control much of what appears on the cover of a book, and how the contents are popular-pulverized in the Press.

In any case, the choice of quoting from Dante’s Inferno was all Lynas’.

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What do I make of it? I cannot say the book is “alarmist”, in the sense of trying to pump up the evidence for impending catastrophes. Lynas has obviously tried to stick to “available science”: but that’s exactly the main shortcoming of the book, that looks like a victim of the neurological condition called “neglect” (eg see “Hemispatial Neglect”.

“Neglect” happens when a patient simply cannot be made aware of something that is in front of them. For example in the case of “visual neglect”,  the patient may be able to describe in detail a whole image apart from some area or object in it, that simply do not register at a conscious level at all.

Analogously, current “available science” in Climatology, for whatever reason, consistently and invariably depicts what could go wrong in a warmer planet, “neglecting” what could go right.

Does anybody seriously believe that the current climatic conditions are some kind of “optimum”, so that even a 1C variation upwards can mainly bring bad news?

In the book, one would rather expect a rather even situation at the beginning, for a one- or two-degree change, getting worse as the chapters go by. You can see the actual figures in my blog “Numerical Analysis of Mark Lynas’ “Six Degrees” Claims“.

It’s 4 bad news, and 2 catastrophes, for every bit of good news.

Now, if Lynas, or any scientist, truly believes that a warmer planet will mean bad news will outnumber good news by 4 to 1 (or including catastrophes, by 7 to 1), a very, very good discussion of the reasons behind that would not only be welcome, but strictly needed.

Otherwise, as with so many other things in terms of climate, it will just be yet another extraordinary claim with no extraordinary evidence backing it.

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By the way…the preponderance of bad and catastrophic news makes it for a boring reading after a few pages of totally-predictable barrage. Lynas slips time and again (with no apparent awareness) in what management consultants would call a “reverse sh*t sandwich” situation: instead of hiding the bad between two goods (the classic “sh*t sandwich” of many performance feedback sections), it’s the good bits that have to survive in-between bad news.

For example, at page 37 we are told about coral bleaching, then the hope is thrown that the coral might survive after all, but the sandwich is completed with an expert stating it will be too hot for the coral to survive.

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Lynas’ solution to the problem is discussed at length but appears to pivot on the concept of “making policy by invoking survival of the species”. Having been unable to see much good in warming, Lynas shows a similar degree of intellectual neglect in trying to sweep aside every other problem there is in the world. Well, perhaps…but again, if stopping global warming by 1 or 6 degrees is more important than fighting malaria or hunger, we should be told exactly why.

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A final gem demonstrating my whole point, from page 278:

“people were better off and healthier in Britain under food rationing during the Second World War”

Where does that incredible statement comes from???

Either Lynas is training as a stand-up comedian, or he can truly be half-blind to the things of the world indeed.