The Slides that Shook Boris Johnson Out of Denial

February 9, 2022

Well, shoot.
Been spending the last 15 years trying to think of ever-more-clever and sophisticated ways to rouse humans out of their torpor on climate change, when it turns out just the very, very ordinary graphics from the IPCC are all that was needed, all along.

Carbon Brief:

A scientific briefing that UK prime minister Boris Johnson says changed his mind about global warming has been made public for the first time, following a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by Carbon Brief.

Last year, on the eve of the UK hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Johnson described tackling climate change as the country’s “number one international priority”. He also published a net-zero strategy and told other countries at the UN General Assembly to “grow up” when it comes to global warming.

However, just a few years earlier, Johnson was publicly doubting established climate science. For example, in a Daily Telegraph column published in 2015 he claimed unusual winter heat had “nothing to do with global warming”. And, in 2013, he said he had an “open mind” to the idea that the Earth was heading for a mini ice-age.

Last year, acknowledging his past climate scepticism, Johnson told journalists that he had now changed his mind, largely due to a scientific briefing he received shortly after becoming prime minister in 2019.

Johnson admitted he had been on a “road to Damascus” when it comes to climate science:

“I got them [government scientists] to run through it all and, if you look at the almost vertical kink upward in the temperature graph, the anthropogenic climate change, it’s very hard to dispute. That was a very important moment for me.”

The Sunday Times later reported that this briefing had been given by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor, and, according to one of the prime minister’s close allies, it “had a huge impact”.

Below, with explanation by Carbon Brief, are the 11 slides shown to the prime minister on the evening of 28 January 2020 in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street.

The three charts come from the Met Office Hadley Centre’s Climate Dashboard – a website that brings together “the key indicators of climate change”. The site features graphs such as temperature change, sea level change and atmospheric CO2 change over time – drawing on data produced by “respected institutes and research groups around the world”. 

The graph in the top left is known as a Keeling Curve, and shows the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels over 1960-2020, measured in parts per million. The graph uses data from three sources – the Mauna Loa observation centre (blue), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (yellow) and the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (red).

The graph in the bottom left shows the increase in global temperatures over 1850-2020, compared to the 1850-1900 average. The coloured lines indicate different datasets, including the Met Office HadCRUT(black) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAAGlobalTemp (yellow).

The graph in the bottom right shows global sea level from 1993 to 2020, compared to the 1993-2010 average, in mm. The graph uses satellite datasets from organisations including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (pink) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (light blue).

The map in the top right shows warming over 2009-19, compared to the 1961-90 average. The graph is similar in appearance to one used on the Met Office HadObs website.

The two charts on the left are from FAQ 10.1 in chapter 10 of the Working Group I report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report (AR5), published in 2013. This chapter focuses on “detection and attribution” of climate change.

The black lines show observations of global temperature since 1860, based on datasets including the Met Office HadCRUT4 dataset, while the red and blue lines show model results. The upper chart shows model simulations excluding the influence of human activity on global temperature results. Conversely, models in the lower chart include human influence on global temperatures. While the upper chart shows a clear departure between model runs and observations from the 1960s, the lower chart shows close agreement between the models and observations. This shows how “human forcing” plays a key role in observed temperature trends.

The map in the top right is a repeat of the one shown in the first slide. The map below it shows the equivalent data from climate model output (taken as an average across a number of models).

You get the idea.
By all means go to the link to see the complete set of slides. If only we’d known decades ago that simply explaining the science in a rational and reasonable way was all we needed to do..

But then, maybe, based on Johnson’s speech above, somebody made the reference to a James Bond movie, maybe that’s what did it?


2 Responses to “The Slides that Shook Boris Johnson Out of Denial”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I’m not going to pass up a chance to whine about the global sea level chart: While it may show some aspect of ocean volume increase, it obscures the fact that all sea level is local, and depends on a variety of different factors which that can make it a much greater problem on some coastlines than on others.

    (This is on top of the fact that the world’s oceans aren’t shaped like a cylinder or a martini glass, but require varying amounts of expansion with each millimeter going up.)

  2. talies Says:

    The problem with people like Johnson is that he is only concerned with what people in general will accept or believe. It makes no difference whether it is these alien concepts like “true” or “false”. Will it gain him kudos for saying it? He is good at working out what graphs will now be accepted by others.

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