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Climate Change By Numbers

Happy New Year (er…)!

Sorry for the total lack of posts since September – I’ve been busy settling into my new lectureship at The Open University, a UK distance learning university based in Milton Keynes. I’ve joined the research group of scientists such as Neil EdwardsMark Brandon and Vince Gauci who work on the environment, earth and ecosystems. I’m also enjoying learning how to teach students from all educational backgrounds (Open by name, Open by nature) based around the world.

I’ve also been busy being one of three Scientific Consultants (capitals to denote Officialness) for a new BBC program about climate science called Climate Change By Numbers. It will be broadcast in the UK on the 2nd March (BBC4, 9-10:15 pm) [Update: and repeated on the 3rd at 2:25am and 5th at 10pm] and available in the UK on iPlayer after that. I believe that a two part version will also be shown on BBC Worldwide at some point. Doug McNeall is another of the consultants (the third is not on social media).

I’ve closed comments on this post because (a) I’m a bit too busy to moderate right now and (b) I can’t talk about the content before broadcast anyway – they want people to watch it! But do watch this space for another post soon after broadcast, where I do hope to be able to answer people’s questions.

Here are the trailer and press release:

BBC Four explores the science behind three key climate change statistics

In a special film for BBC Four, three mathematicians will explore three key statistics linked to climate change.

In Climate Change by Numbers, Dr Hannah Fry, Prof Norman Fenton and Prof David Spiegelhalter hone in on three numbers that lie at the heart of science’s current struggle to get a handle on the precise processes and impact of climate global climate change.

Prof Norman Fenton said: “My work on this programme has revealed the massive complexity of climate models and the novel challenges this poses for making statistical predictions from them.”

The three numbers are:

  •  0.85 degrees – the amount of warming the planet has undergone since 1880
  • 95% – the degree of certainty climate scientists have that at least half the recent warming is man-made
  • one trillion tonnes – the cumulative amount of carbon that can be burnt, ever, if the planet is to stay below ‘dangerous levels’ of climate change

All three numbers come from the most recent set of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Prof David Spiegelhalter said: “It’s been eye-opening to find out what these important numbers are actually based on.”

In this programme, the three scientists unpack what the history of these three numbers are; where did they come from? How have they been measured? How confident can we be in their accuracy? In their journeys they drill into the very heart of how science itself works, from data collection, through testing theories and making predictions, giving us a unique perspective  on the past, present and future of our changing climate.

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor BBC Four, said: “This 75 minute special takes a whole new perspective on the issue of climate change. It puts aside the politics to concentrate on the science. It offers no definitive answers, but it does show the extraordinary achievements and the challenges still facing scientists who are attempting to get a definitive answer to what are perhaps the biggest scientific questions currently facing mankind.”

Executive Producer Jonathan Renouf said: “Who would have thought there’d be a link between the navigation system used to put men on the moon, and the way scientists work out how much the planet is warming up? It’s been great fun to come at climate change from a fresh angle, and discover stories that I don’t think anyone will have heard before.”


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