Oral History Transcript — Dr. Robert Watson
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Robert Watson; March 13, 2009
ABSTRACT: In this interview Robert T. Watson discusses topics such as: ozone layer depletion and scientific assessments; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - Collating Committee of the Ozone Layer (CCOL); Guy Brasseur; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); World Meteorological Organization (WMO); Narasimhan Sundararaman; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations; the Montreal Protocol; Mustafa Tolba; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); ultraviolet radiation; Stephen Seidel; Steve Andersen; chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs); polar regions; National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST); Dave Garvin; Bob Hansen; Tony Cox; Mike Kurylo; John Pyle; F. Sherwood Rowland; Mario Molina; Joseph Farman; Dan Albritton; David Fahey; Antarctic ozone hole; Adrian Tuck; Mack McFarland; Carl Howard; Michael Prather; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Brysse:I’m a historian of science. I’m working with Michael Oppenheimer and a few other people. Personally I’m looking at the history of ozone depletion science and scientific assessments, the idea being that everyone pretty much agrees that the ozone case is important in learning how to do science assessments and how to work successfully toward climate policy. A lot of people have written about the diplomacy, the history of how the Montreal Protocol was created. Not too many people have written about the Scientific, and especially the scientific assessments and how those were made, and what goes into that. So that’s what we’re trying to do. I understand you’ve been involved with a lot of assessments.
Watson:Yes, I was on climate, biodiversity and agriculture.
Brysse:And several for the ozone case, right?
Watson: Yes. The way they started…everyone has probably a different recollection of how they started. In the late 1970s there was a whole series of ozone assessments. There was one done by NASA, one done by UNEP - CCOL, Collating Committee of the Ozone Layer — there was one by the European Commission, there was one by the British government, and I think there was one done by the National Academy of Science in the U.S. There’s something like about five or six within a two-year period in the late 1970s, I’d guess ’78-’79 or that time period. What was largely happening at the end of those was actually trying to understand, as certain politicians asked, “What were the differences between them?” rather than asking what the similarities were between them. A guy called Guy Brasseur was once asked to write a short paper on the differences between them, which I thought was singularly unhelpful.
I then moved from the Jet Propulsion Lab to NASA in 1980 (I can’t remember exactly when, but in 1980), and NASA along with FAO and with NOAA, were mandated by congress to write an update of ozone depletion every two years. So they’d already started the — I think it came out in 1981, but I don’t think I bothered bringing it with me as it’s so historical now. Let me see, did I bring the ozone assessments with me? Not by the look of it. No, that’s the old one here. I didn’t even bother to bring it with me. So it would have been due out about 1980, 1981.
I thought, “This is absolutely crazy,” because I’d been partially involved in two or three of the others, and I thought yet another one legally mandated by congress and have no choice. So I phoned up Adrian Tuck, who is a British scientist, and said, “Look Adrian, any chance that you’d be willing to be part of this NASA/FAO/NOAA assessment?” He said, “Oh, I’d love to, but it’s a U.S. government assessment. I clearly can’t be part of it because if indeed it comes out with some conclusions that are inconsistent with the UK position it would be very awkward saying ‘Look this British scientist working for the British government (he worked for the meteorological office at the time) is part of an American assessment.’” I said, “This is just silly, Adrian. We’ve got to get past these national assessments.” Although of course by definition the UNEP assessment was an international assessment, but written totally in the wrong way.
Brysse: Which UNEP assessment was that?
Watson:All the UNEP CCOL ones were done the wrong way.
Brysse:What’s the wrong way?
I’ll get to that in a second. Adrian simply said, “It’s a shame it’s not a truly international assessment, Bob, because then I could participate.” So in real time I just said, “What if the World Meteorological Organization was the co-sponsor?” He said, “Perfect! That would be fine.” So I called up the guy called Narasimhan Sundararaman who used to work at FAO and had just joined WMO in charge of the ozone program, and I said to Rom, “Rom, would you be interested in…” because he knew about the previous ozone assessments nationally, U.S. and nationally, because he was working FAO. I said, “Would you be willing to co-sponsor an international assessment?” He said, “I haven’t got any money, and I haven’t got any time.” I said, “If all the money was provided by me and all the time was provided by me?” He said, “Not a problem.”
That led to the 1981 WMO/NASA/NOAA/FAO assessment. It had a small number of international scientists on it, international in the sense of non-American. I can’t even remember what the distribution of scientists was on that particular one. So we did that particular assessment. Then about three or four years later it was clear we ought to do another one, so I contacted — At that stage it was the three-volume Blue Books, the 1985 — I had seven co-sponsors of that. It was NASA, NOAA, and FAO—FAA again, plus UNEP, the British meteorological office. I think I got the British government, the German government to sponsor it, but there were seven sponsors at the end. That was the first of the truly international. So we really internationalized it. Still not very many developing countries. Again, I chaired that one. I think the next one after that probably would have been the one in 1987, the International Ozone Trends Panel. That was the first one I asked Dan Albritton from NOAA to co-chair with me. It was about that time that [???] Mostafa Tolba, the head of UNEP said, “Look we need to sort of institutionalize and regularize these international assessments. I’m thinking of trying to get sort of an international assessment imbedded.” I think he imbedded it in the Montreal Protocol legislation rather than the climate convention; I can’t remember which now.
That’s what I’ve read.
In one of the two it was institutionalized, and it said that there should be regular assessments to meet the needs of the convention party. I can’t remember whether we put it in the convention or the Montreal Protocol. I was the technical chairman of one or both of them. I can’t remember now which. We put it into one and I said, “The problem with staff is we’ve just started doing our next one.” Whichever our next one was; I think we did one in 1988, if I remember correctly. I used to have all of these assessments and I threw most of them away. I said, “Look, the problem with staff is we’ve already started one. I’ve already got the authors lined up, I’ve already agreed the script.” “Not a problem, Bob. Why not add a few catalytic foil presentations and present them to governments as what you’re doing? I’ll say this looks like exactly what we need and we’ll get it embedded with no changes.” And that’s what happened. It immediately became an integral component of the formal Montreal Protocol process, basically, without any [inaudible] we did it.
So that actually was really the way the thing got started.
Then we went from me chairing it to Dan and me. Then when it got formalized, I can’t remember at that stage whether we automatically just brought in — I know what we did. There were also of course at that stage the impacts assessment that by then had started and the TEAP. And so the TEAP was already being run out of US EPA and the impact one was being run out of Holland by Dr. van der Leeuwen. So he said, “Well look, if we’re going to really formalize these, we need to have developing country participation.” I can’t remember which year we made that decision, to be quite honest. We said, “Look, we therefore need someone from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” And so we put an African on the science one, and we put an Asian on one of the others, we had a Latin American on one of the others. There were three co-chairs from developing countries, one on each of the three assessments. Then we actually decided we couldn’t have just two Americans on the science one, and we went and had a European colleague, who unfortunately has since died, Gerard Megie, from France. We went literally from me chairing the things in 1981 and 1985 to two people, Dan and me, to eventually four of us, basically. Now Dan and I both dropped out after the last one and we’ve put in a whole new bunch of people.
What was wrong with CCOL? It’s a stupid way of doing an assessment, basically. What happened is each country that had research in ozone depletion was allowed to send one or two people to a meeting in Nairobi once every couple of years, roughly. It was called the Collating Committee on the Ozone Layer. Its number one function was actually to look to see what we were doing in the research; that’s why it was the researchers there. And at the same time we would write a very, very brief assessment, all in a week. So totally it’d have to be superficial, basically, compared to what was needed.
And not every country sent the right person. I think because EPA was the normal link to UNEP for the U.S., the delegation was actually headed by a guy called something like Wisener or Whizner, a complete asshole basically, but unfortunately the person has died now so I shouldn’t make such a comment. He headed the delegation, and the U.S. EPA budget was peanuts compared to the NASA/NOAA budget. After a couple of these I got put on, I said, “This is bloody ridiculous. You’ve almost got no budget, and you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” (I said it a bit more kindly, but not much more.) So I went with him. Oh boy, did he get pissed off when I would challenge him. He really didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. He didn’t have the budget to do it properly. It was NASA and NOAA, and they did a little impact work and a little bit of modeling that wasn’t particularly good, in my opinion, in the sense that it wasn’t as rigorous as you needed. It was interesting, and they linked the ozone depletion to skin cancer.
But the point fundamentally was, and the whole CCOL, these little reports would be written in a one-week period, which is not the way to do them. Most of them were government bureaucrats going, of course (which I was by then, you could argue), far from getting the best scientists in the world. So when we then went to these ozone assessments, the sort of thing started in 1981 done by the best scientists, after a few years the CCOL stopped doing their reports, and so did the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. It was the U.S. National Academy that had several quite good reports. But once we got the international process going there wasn’t much need for the national, and there wasn’t much need for the NASA/NOAA/FAA one either; they sort of dropped out after awhile. We more reported back to congress on what the research was being done in the United States, and we probably summarized from the big international assessments what the key state of knowledge was. I forget when they stopped doing the bi-annual reports, but we didn’t use them to do our own assessments then. We probably (and I haven’t kept any copies of them) just summarized the last key conclusions of the last assessments, which is a perfectly good way of doing it.
By then you realized that the more assessments you have, the more the people that are supposed to be looking at them are just plucking differences.
Watson:The whole reason for doing the first assessment was to get one single assessment done. That was the whole rationale. And literally by 1985, or soon thereafter, all the other more national UNEP/CCOL all disappeared — there was just one. And that philosophy underpinned to some degree the IPCC as well. That effectively you need one assessment, but it must be open and transparent and involve experts from all countries. Otherwise it isn’t open and transparent and you can’t expect other people to use it. The whole philosophy of going to an international assessment was bringing everyone together so there weren’t five reports or six reports in two years. That was the whole philosophy.
Brysse:Somebody, I think it might have been Edward Parson, in their book about ozone depletion said that another problem with the CCOL was that there was no body that was required to read its reports and act on them.
Watson:Yes, absolutely. Now you could say, let’s be quite fair, the 1981 report that I chaired, no one was required to read that one either, except that I used the congressional mandate for the two-year biannual reports from NASA, NOAA, and FAA, but it was submitted to congress, basically. But there was no international body that had to read it. The 1985 one was exactly the same. A whole bunch of us got together and we wrote the three-volume 1985 report. Again, there was no one — Mostafa Tolba was very interested in it, so I knew it would have an audience, but not a formal audience. That’s why when Mustafa said, “Hey, this stuff is really important. Let’s formalize it either under the convention or under the Montreal Protocol. I forget which. It might have been under the convention. It might have been done under the convention, actually, when I was the technical chairman. But then it had a reporting entity. You knew someone was waiting for it. So the first — I don’t even think the 1985 one had a — unless that was the one where we formalized it under the Ozone Convention, and I can't remember whether we formalized it before or after the 1985 report, actually.
Brysse:I should look at that, because that one has been described again by Parson, but also by a few other people as the first truly authoritative work.
Watson:Yes, I think that’s a fair statement. The first one was just simply showing you could do something internationally. It was a good report in 1981, but I think that most people have probably forgotten that report largely. They do focus on the three-volume one, which had a monstrous mistake in it, actually.
Brysse:Oh no. What?
Watson:We didn’t have an executive summary, so you’ve got about two thousand pages and no bloody summary. If I remember correctly, I don’t even think the chapters had a summary. I can't remember.
Brysse:There’s an introduction with a little summary of each chapter.
Watson:Certainly not what — I thought I’d brought some of my — This is really remarkable. It doesn’t look like I brought any of my ozone books with me. I’ve got all the IPCC because that’s today’s issue. Climate change. No, the only one I brought was the 2006 book, which I really didn’t do anything in. I think my name’s on it, but I didn’t deserve my name to be on it, to be quite honest. I think I just showed up for the final meeting. So what would be worth looking at is looking at the Climate Convention. It has a technical summary of the research needs in research and monitoring, although it’s actually called (and it’s interesting) research and systematic observations. There’s a whole political debate behind that one. I’m not sure, however, we called in there for regular assessments. If I had to guess, we put it into the Montreal Protocol rather than into that one. That would have meant the 1985 was also something that did not have an obvious audience, and it was probably the next ones that had what I called the required audience. That would be my guess of the sequence.
Brysse:Can you tell me again exactly what report that is that has that research and systematic observations?
Yes. It would be the 1985 ozone convention. It’s the convention itself. And in the back of it, it has a technical annex almost certainly called research and systematic observations. I chaired that particular technical working group. It was in essence — God, that’s a long while ago. I haven’t looked at that in 20 years. Basically it outlined what research needs there were. Very straightforward. We need to observe ozone. We need to do research to understand it blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It was more to give some guidance, very broad-brush guidance to governments of where the uncertainties were and what research was needed.
The reason it’s not called research and monitoring, it’s called research and systematic observations, it’s got a beautiful story behind it. I was chairing it. There weren’t that many governments participating, I’d guess 20 or so. It did not have a huge number of developing countries at that moment in time. We had some and had a fair number of developing countries, I’m guessing it might have been 30 countries or so, but it wasn’t 150. The Russians kept saying, “No, we can’t agree to it. Sorry we can’t agree.” I said, “Damn it. Surely we’ve got to be able to observe the ozone and see whether it’s changing and see what the trends are.” They said, “Well, yes.” I say, “So okay fine, we need research and monitoring.” They said, “No.” We must have spent a couple of hours on it, and I said, “Well damn it. All we’re talking about is systematic observations here.” They said, “Oh, that’s perfectly fine if you call it research and systematic observations.”
Monitoring was viewed as surveillance in the KGB. It translated to surveillance and it was the time of the Soviet Union with the KGB. It was a pure — Monitoring translated in Russian to the equivalent of surveillance, which to them then was the equivalent of the KGB. As soon as I just literally almost out of frustration said, “I really can’t understand why you don’t like systematic observations.” “Oh, we perfectly like those.” It was a translation/language issue. Very interesting.
That is really interesting. Did that happen again?
Watson:No, it’s the only one — We’ve often argued about single words where they don’t translate very often. That was the most interesting one I’ve ever come across. Certainly we’ve come across it before where a word or phrase has a different meaning, so it can be interpreted differently from one language to another. But that was the most beautiful one of all that I’ve been in.
Brysse:That is fantastic. There’s a lot of that even within users of English. Like getting knocked up, for example.
Watson:Yes. Absolutely. The guy from EPA that used to head CCOL was Herb Wiser, that’s what his name was. A decent individual, but just was totally bureaucratic, and unfortunately passed away a number of years ago.
Brysse:I think it was Karen Litfin in her book, and I know she talked to you when she was researching her book. Her argument was that there was a group that she called knowledge brokers that she said was the most important in creating the ozone regime. For her they were sort of intermediaries between scientists producing scientific results and politicians and policy makers who were coming up with the protocols. The knowledge brokers are a group that sort of translate the scientific knowledge and present it in a way that’s relevant to the policy makers. I’m with her so far. I agree that there might have been such a group, but for her they were primarily EPA employees.
Brysse:Yes. That’s the impression I got.
Completely 100% wrong. If she’s thinking of people like John Hoffman and Steve Seidel (and Steve’s a really decent guy), John was almost counterproductive. Incredibly bright, but in my opinion, our own worst enemy. He pushed everything to the extreme, i.e., if you got ozone depletion between now and the year 2300, we’ll have 1.5 millions deaths. I’ve got no idea what the numbers are; I’m making this up. But he pushed the thing out. Rather than saying X% ozone depletion will give you Y% ultraviolet radiation at the ground, which will give you Z% increase in non-melanoma skin cancer and Z plus increase in melanoma skin cancer. He wanted numbers that sounded minor. So he said the number of people that could die between now and 2300 — Absolute crap. It was pushing out too far just to make it look big, big numbers.
I found that that approach of US EPA was counterproductive and I found it to be pushing extremes. I’ve never found that to be very useful. I think always it was pushing to what I would call — It was selective use of information to what I call the high end of what could possibly happen. I’ve never found that to be very helpful, personally. My comment often would be to these guys, “Damn it. The central numbers with an uncertainty space is already scary enough. It’s already enough evidence to persuade policy makers that we need to do something. You don’t have to try spitting numbers out for another 200, 300 years. I would strongly disagree with that. I think there’s absolutely no question in my mind what would have made the difference, and that was effectively the international assessments, especially when we finally started to get decent executive summaries.
What would happen is Dan and I, by the time they actually got formally presented — I would talk at convention meetings and Montreal Protocol conventions, but once we’d actually established the assessment process as part of the debate under the Montreal Protocol. Once we’d actually got the documents, Dan and I, or one or both of us, would make a presentation in front of all the governments. Then van der Leeuwen and his co-chair would make a presentation on the impact, and Steve Andersen and one of his co-chairs would make a presentation on the economics and the technology. So the thing that at least at the international level, which is why I call it regularize it or formalize it, you can use either of those words, and then he made absolutely sure we had an opportunity to present the results and the implications of the results. In fact, some of the most important things we did — (It’s actually a real shame if I — Oh I think I might…I’m grateful I have one copy of all of them. I couldn’t believe I’d throw all these documents away.)
We didn’t do it at first, but by about the late 1980s, I might be wrong, we did a synthesis report. Those synthesis reports were really beautiful because what we’d say is, “What if you did have these sorts of different regulations to reduce global emissions of chlorine and bromine? What would be the impact on ozone? What would be the impact on UVB? And technically what would you have to do?” It wasn’t quite as sophisticated as I’ve made it, but we actually talked about were the implications of the different emissions proper? Was it classical plausible future stuff like we’ve done in IPCC? Much more sophisticated. We talked about different trajectories, what the implications for ozone would be, what the implications for UVB would be. And then when we’re told, “Well to go from this to this, you’d have to reduce it, and these are the types of technologies that could be brought to bear on it.”
We also presented that stuff. That was very powerful to do. So the thing that was the translation at least at the international level were these ozone — Just like it is now on IPCC and the climate change. There were no knowledge brokers in the middle. Absolutely none at all. Now domestically, yes. John Seidel, actually Steve Andersen was a major player in the U.S. government. Yes, they were knowledge brokers, if you want to use that, within the U.S. Internationally it was clearly the assessments. It wasn’t people like — it was almost in spite I would argue with people like Hoffman, because he just pushed it too far.
So there are no international knowledge brokers because the scientists are creating the assessment, and the assessment is what you need?
Yes. In fact, we would follow the convention process. Therefore we had the issues of the science, the impacts — it wasn’t just UVB and skin cancer, but that was the most important single issue, in my opinion. We looked at some of the ecological effects, which were hard to quantify. We looked at the impact on paint and other materials, the UV on the materials, etc. The most important issue is UVB and skin cancer. And that went through to Steve Andersen’s stuff, which I think got more and more important over time. The solution end of the thing, and that was a fair — So I would say that in the beginning the most important reports — Just like IPCC parallels it: “Is there really a problem, and what is the evidence there’s a problem? If we are losing ozone, what are the impacts? And then are there technical options?” After a while, especially once we got to the Montreal Protocol and we went to the London amendments and the Copenhagen amendments, etc., the solution part that Steve was in charge of and the economics around it became more and more important.
So it went from the science and, “God, it’s really bad guys,” to, “And there are solutions.” So it’s almost a parallel to the IPCC in many respects. That the IPCC, of the first reports that came out in 1991, there’s no question that the science one was by far the most important. I’d even say the second one in 1995, the working group on science was still the most important, and with a bit more emphasis on the impacts and a little bit more on the technology. By 2001, the third assessment report, I would say there’s pretty equally importance of all three. By the fourth assessment report, the science was reaffirming largely what was done earlier, and people were looking more and more and more at “Okay, how do we adapt? How do we mitigate it?” I’d say by the time they do the fifth one in a few years time it will really be all around how do we adapt and how do we mitigate.
Does that shift happen because there comes a point when pretty much everyone accepts this problem is real?
Watson:Exactly. Once you’ve accepted there’s a problem and you need a solution, by definition you would say, “By God, what’s that range of solutions? What are the economic issues around it?” Although there are more than economic — especially climate changes or distribution, which are behavioral issues. But on ozone for a large extent it was, “Boy, if skin cancer really is an issue, and this is unacceptable, then how can we reduce the emissions in a way that is indeed — they never used quite the word cost-effective, but are there technology solutions? It was never the big economic issue quite the way climate change is. For example, could you find a replacement refrigerant for a refrigerator? Well what you’ve got (and I’m going to round numbers) is a $1,000 refrigerator that used to have one dollar of fluorocarbon in it, CFC, it now has a $5 CFC. The cost of a refrigerator went from $1,001to $1,005 — wasn’t a big issue. In some other sectors it was. In foam blowing, the cost of the blowing agent was a bigger percentage. But in some cases, like the refrigerator or air conditioner in a car, whether that refrigerant was $1 or $5 per fill relative to the thing you were putting in was irrelevant, to say the least. Other uses it wasn’t quite that simple. The cost was a factor.
Brysse:I want to ask you a couple of questions based on something you said a few minutes ago. First, when you were talking about you think what you should have is an estimate of what you think is going to happen, and sort of stick with predicting the center of the range and that —
Watson:Show what the center is with the uncertainty bar — don’t just focus on the most extreme. Our central line projections might be X with a plus or minus number. So our best example might be for a certain emissions of chlorine and bromine-containing compounds, for certain emission the central estimate is a 10% ozone depletion globally, but it could be as low as five on the uncertainty, but as high as 15. I wouldn’t just report the 15 and do everything around that, and then spread it out for the next 300 years.
Brysse:That makes sense to me, but were there industry officials focusing on the bottom end?
Watson:Yes. We got around that. But yes, you could argue that some people only focus on the top end counterbalanced by people that are focusing on the bottom end. Therefore our role was to show what the range was and what the implications were. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing, although I’m not involved in it anymore, it is the IPCC. Always showing what the range is basically. What we never had there is what I call a probabilistic range, and that is, was the central value more likely than the lower or the upper number? We were not that sophisticated. I’m not even sure we could do it that sophisticated now. One should be shown what the range is, not just focusing on the worst case. Although they should know what the worst case is. Equally they should know what the best case is. You need the range, basically. That’s what one should always focus on is the full range. The central value is bad. If you want to be precautionary, it could be as bad as the top. So knowing what the top is, it’s important, and that is perfectly valid for a policymaker to say, “I can’t risk the top number.” That’s absolutely valid. That’s why on IPCC we show the range from the lowest to the highest. One shouldn’t only show the highest. I think that’s what I’d say.
Brysse:One more question about executive summaries. In the 1985 Blue Books you said the biggest problem was that it didn’t have an executive summary.
Watson:Yes. I went back to see what we summarized and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Brysse:Well there is an introduction chapter by chapter — there’s about a paragraph that says what’s in each chapter. So what would be —
Watson:It says what’s in each chapter, I think, rather than what the conclusions are of the chapter, doesn’t it?
Brysse:At least some of them —
Watson:I’d have to go back and look at some of them to be honest. I know I was once looking for something, and I’m not sure, I might be wrong on what I’m about to say, I’m not sure if we had a good executive summary even for the Ozone Trends report. I can't remember.
Brysse:Again, it has an introduction.
Watson:What it needs is like what we have now on IPCC and the later ozone. I’m sure by 2006 —
Brysse:That’s what I want to know. What’s the difference between an executive summary and an introduction that has —
Watson:Here is an executive summary.
Brysse:This one’s the 2006?
Yes. It’s one of the latest ones. This is a style Dan and I created, obviously with all — So, you know, are there ozone depleting substances? So we have, “The total combined…continued to decline.” Now a few years earlier, “Continued to increase.” Then to hard-hitting, “It’s starting to decline. What’s the evidence? The combined debaucher[??] has a downward trend from the peak valleys, which is [inaudible]. So really hard springtime ozone continues to be severe depletion. Severe.” If a policymaker doesn’t have much time, and Dan and I would do this all the time, we would actually just take all the bolds, put them together, and actually print them out and say, “Does this give you the ten most important messages?” In other words, if you had a minister or a major person from the business sector, and you were going up in the elevator, all you would have time for is these bolds. Do they make a consistent story? Have we grabbed all the information, the key messages? Have we forgotten any? So we’d go backward, and sometimes what we’d find is [inaudible] we’d write an executive summary, and someone says, “But one of the most important messages in chapter six is X.” We say, “God, we missed it.” Or, “A couple of these are really second order.” So we would actually focus on our bolds, and then we would actually put in the underlying supporting material too. Whereas an introduction would say, “Well, chapter six is going to look at what are the trends of surface temperature over the last 50 years to see whether it’s going to — It’s like an abstract of many research papers. They don’t give you the conclusions; they tell you what the paper’s going to be about. It’s almost a road map.
Whereas an executive summary you get right into the conclusions — we don’t waste any time. On this as you can see, goes right into major findings. What we did here, we actually said what some of the findings were in the previous assessment and then go boom, boom, boom, boom. So it is absolutely focused on the major conclusions. And the style that Dan and I liked very much, and everyone else agreed with it afterwards and we got it as IPCC, it’s a really hard-hitting sentence; occasionally it would be two sentences. But only one or two, not a long paragraph, and then some bullets underneath, really also equally short, that actually support that finding. And it’s a really hard-hitting way of getting the message across. So if I had to get in an elevator and I knew I was going to see a minister for five minutes, and I was going to give him a report on this, I would quickly make sure I knew what all the bolds were, and that would be my elevator speech.
Great. That makes a lot of sense to me. What about when you want to do a bold sentence and then a couple of bullet points about something on which there was a lot of uncertainty?
You’d actually say that. That is you might say, “There’s a range of views as to whether we are actually seeing ozone depletion or not,” for example. Then you’d have a couple of bullets that would show what the uncertainty was. Or for surface temperature one would say, for example, one of the IPCC, “The ground-based observations of temperature are showing an increase of .1 degrees centigrade per decade; however, the satellite observations are not showing any change at all.” Then there’d be a couple of bullets, and it might say, “We believe the satellite has got a calibration error in it,” or try and explain what the differences would be. Uncertainty has to come in there as well. By the time we get to this, and I would think if we’ve got some of the earlier ones they probably would have shown where there were some issues, which were a little bit less certain than these. Your point — It’s crucial to say to policymakers where there is uncertainty.
The area we sometimes, in my opinion, haven’t done as well as we could is, “What are the implications of uncertainty for policy formulation?” There are some examples where we’ve done it fairly well, but there are probably many examples of where we could do it better. I think some of the early IPCC reports, including ones that I’ve been part of obviously, and I’m not sure we fully thought out the policy implications of uncertainty. In other words, there were some scientific uncertainties that for the science community are really truly are big issues. There’re actually not very relevant to make it policy. There’re other uncertainties that are actually essential to forming policy. I think especially in some earlier reports, I’m not sure we plucked those out well enough.
Would you just want to point them out to policymakers, or would you want to tell them something a little prescriptive. Like, “Because we’re uncertain about this” —
Not prescriptive, but explain from our perspective what the implications are. The one golden rule of all of these ozone assessments and climate assessments and biodiversity assessments is never to be prescriptive. My most favorite of all statements I’ve ever written in my life was one that Dan Albritton and I wrote at probably three o’clock in the morning, which of course we took back to all the other scientists, and I’m sure we modified it a little bit. It was basically on polar ozone, Antarctic ozone, and the statement went along the lines of, “Unless there is a 100% elimination (or some words like this or complete elimination) of all long-lived chlorine and bromine-containing compounds into the atmosphere, the Antarctic ozone hole will be with us forever.”
We didn’t tell the governments they had to have a complete ban on all long-lived — We said, “If we don’t have a complete ban it will be here forever.” I forget the exact words and I forget which ozone reports we put it in. My guess by then it would have been probably one of the early 1990 reports. So it didn’t tell governments what to do, but it told the consequences of not doing something. It was totally non-prescriptive, and yet it was really saying, “You’ve got to get rid of it if you want to get rid of the ozone hole.” That would have been the other way. We’ve used a lot of “if-then.” “If you want to achieve this, then these are the options.” Well, you can do the reverse, “Without doing this, then…” The if-then approach is a very powerful approach because it’s not prescriptive. If you do this, these are the consequences. If you want to achieve this, these are the options. On one of my own [???], “If you want to get rid of the Antarctic ozone hole, then you will need a complete cessation of all long-lived, or chlorine would have to go below two parts per billion, which would require the following.” You can do it in a step way. But the if-then is a very powerful approach. Telling governments what to do is not very useful. They tend to rebel against it. If-then is only turning the sentence around in reality.
That’s fantastic, though. That’s how you want to talk to your kid so you can get them to do something too. Make them think it’s their idea.
Watson:Always make the other person think it’s their idea. Plagiarism is my favorite thing. I don’t plagiarize other people’s — I hope I’ve never done it. If someone comes back to me and says, “Bob, I had a great idea a few weeks ago.” I say, “Yes, I know. I told you that. No problem whatsoever.” The best thing is when someone comes back with your idea himself, especially if it’s in the government level, or the private sector. Who cares whose idea it was if it actually gets implemented at the end of the day?
Brysse:That’s generous. Let’s go back in time a little bit. Before your involvement with all of these, were you working on science to do with ozone depletion? And then how did you get involved with all of the assessments?
Watson:My Ph.D. was on looking at chlorine, bromine, and fluorine atom reactions in the laboratory. So I looked at chlorine plus ozone, bromine plus ozone, and fluorine plus ozone. Atoms so Cl+ ozone, Br+ ozone. Then that, of course, produced the ClO, BrO and FO radical. Then I looked at ClO plus O acids, ClO plus NO free radicals. I did BrO plus NO, BrO plus RO, then I did BrO reacting with BrO, and then I did BrO reacting with ClO. I didn’t do much with the FO free radical I can remember. It was absolutely the foundation of the central part of the whole chemistry of ozone depletion.
Brysse:Was that an accident? When was this?
Watson:I had no clue. I had no idea there was any chlorine or bromine in the atmosphere. Absolutely none.
Absolutely no idea nor did my Ph.D. supervisor. Why were we doing it? Let me actually get the sequence. There were scientists called Norrish and Porter. One of their post-doc students, I think it was the post-doc of Norrish rather than Porter but I can’t remember, is a guy called Brian Thrush. Michael Klein was about the first student of Brian Thrush, and I was one of the students of Michael Klein. If you look at a tree of academics there’s Norrish and Porter, Brian Thrush is the next down, then Michael Klein, and then me. Norrish and Porter won a Nobel Prize for discovering the flash photolysis system, or using the flash photolysis system to look at chlorine in oxygen systems.
When you blow apart chlorine with a photolysis — they blew apart chlorine and ozone and they did a whole bunch of — So Michael a couple of decades later, it would have been the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, I forget, so a decade or so later Michael wanted to know whether they’d gotten the chemistry right. We had way more sophisticated experiments. In that we didn’t even use flash photolysis. We used a very different technique called discharge flow. It was phenomenally sensitive, what we called mass spectrometry and atomic resonance fluorescence. I could detect these radicals, or atoms, three and four orders of magnitude less concentration. Really very significant. And so incredible sensitivity. When you don’t have it, what happens is if you’re trying to see how A reacts with B, when you’ve done this big flash photolysis you’ve got lots of chemicals in there. So A can react with B and there may be C around or D around so it can become very convoluted. They clearly deserve their Nobel Prize, no question. But with this incredible enhancement of sensitivity, I could isolate A and B. I could isolate B and C, and C and D. So I could get rid of secondary and tertiary reactions, which they couldn’t. I did that Ph.D. between 1969 and 1973. Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina came up with their theory it would have been 1973, I think.
Yes, they published in 1974.
Watson:I probably had a significant percentage of the chemical reactions, which at that time were thought to be important. Where did I go from there? Then I went and did a post-doc with a guy called Harold Johnston out at University of California Berkeley. Harold was the person that had actually published and was fighting the world on the implications of supersonic transport, the Concord, from NOx, oxides of nitrogen. When I got to Harold’s group, there was a person called Dave Garvin and Bob Hansen who worked at what’s now called NIST, National Institute of Science and Technology in Washington D.C., in Gaithersburg in Maryland. It used to have a slightly different name at that time. They were doing a compendium of chemical rate reactions, simply going through all the reactions. I got asked to join them. I first got asked to review what they were doing on chlorine, and I thought they got a lot of the bromine stuff wrong — they just didn’t know some of the latest literature. I then became an author of it. It was interesting. I had done an academic Ph.D. on chlorine, bromine, and fluorine. I suddenly started working with a supervisor who was looking at atmospheric implications. Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina came out with their paper. Then I was asked to help review some of the chemistry and so all the dots sort of joined and I said, “My God, this stuff really is important.” And that was it.
Brysse:And everyone needs to know all the reaction rates.
Watson:Oh yes, absolutely. Then we actually put an international panel together to review all that. Another thing that goes in parallel with this stuff, which most people probably didn’t realize, is that there was an international panel put together to evaluate all the quality of the rate constant data, all the chemistry data.
Brysse:When was that? That does sound very important.
Watson:It’s very important, actually. There’s a guy here in England called Tony Cox at Cambridge University. Another person that would know about it is Michael Kurylo. He’s just retired. He’s in Washington D.C. He lives in Gaithersburg. Someone at NASA would be able to tell what his home phone number is. I can't remember what it is. Bob Hansen is long retired. Dave Garven is retired and may have conceivably passed away by now as he was quite older than me even when we started it. The first person to chair the truly big interna —The National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg.
Brysse:That’s who it was?
So there were two of them. One was The National Bureau of Standards, and Dave Garven and Bob Hansen did it. They had a series of publications that would have — They already had it going in 1974 when I got there, because that’s one I helped on. It morphed into this international one that was done under — Oh, who did we do it under? It wasn’t ICSU. It might have been an ICSU, International Council of Scientific Unions, but it was probably one of their subcommittees on data quality. I can't remember what it was. The chair of it was a man called Jergen Troe, a truly brilliant German scientist. There were about eight of us on the panel, including myself, Tony Cox, and Mike Kurylo joined us later, he wasn’t on it to start with, Jergen Troe, and then there were a couple of other people as well. What we did was basically analyzed every bloody reaction rate constant that were put into these atmospheric models. So let’s say the reaction was chlorine plus ozone and there were ten studies. We’d really go through all ten and come up with a recommended rate constant for their model. Then we’d do O plus ClO and there might be three studies. We’d say, “Okay, is one better than the other or do we just average the numbers?” And we’d go through — There was a critical assessment of the quality of all of the rate constants and equally a quality of all the what we called the photo-dissociation rates. Did light break it apart?
Absolutely critical because otherwise as a modeler if I want to do a model and I’ve got 100 reactions, do I take this number plus ClO plus ozone or this or this. And when you’ve got so many reactions and each one’s got five or six or seven or ten complications you go, “What the shit?” So this was actually in its own way was as much of a critical assessment to help the modelers. They could also then, if they want to, look at the uncertainty ranked, or they could say that not all hundred reactions are equally important. Some are way more important than the others. And they could say what is the sensitivity to an uncertainty and that reaction so my final ozone depletion, which they did, and they could then do what they called a Monte Carlo, just randomly change — So those assessments were absolutely rather crucial. In fact, I don’t think they were even mentioned here. There could always be a reference to them. I doubt that there is, is my guess.
When exactly did you say that was?
Watson:I can't remember when we started them, to be quite honest. I was part of these damn things actually for about ten or 15 years, I just don’t remember when we first started them. Well, I definitely would have still been at the Jet Propulsion Lab. I would have guessed it was in the mid- to late ‘70s, probably soon after I got to Berkeley actually. I would have probably guessed mid-70’s, ’75 to ’78. That is a guess. Again, I don’t think I brought any of those documents with me because they are fairly old. They were really, really quite important actually. They’re really quite important. I think they are completely under-recognized of how important they actually were.
Brysse:I have actually never heard of them, so I think you’re right. I’m just going to take a second to switch batteries.
Watson:If you can’t find them, I’ll be able to find them. I can try to get in touch with — Let me see if Tony Cox has actually sent me an email since I’ve been here.
Brysse:I’m actually going to Cambridge on Monday, and I sent an email to Tony Cox but he never replied. I’m talking to Neil Harris and John Pyle for sure.
Fine. John’s excellent, and of course he’s become one of the new co-chairs, and leads the national assessment. I’m just wondering where that went to. Let me see if I’ve got anything from Tony Cox here. I’m not sure if Tony’s emailed me since I’ve been here. [No email] Try and get in touch with Tony, and ask him about the International Rate Constant Assessments. He’s still doing some work for them. I think he’s actually writing a short report up literally now, so Tony would know. And he might remember when they were started. As I say, I think they were about the mid to late 1970s, and it was down under one of the international panels that looks at data. So it’s an offshoot of ICSU; it’s parallel to ICSU. I don’t even I think bothered putting down on my vita I ever did any of those things, actually. They were called CODATA assessments, so that might be another way to trace it back. But they were phenomenal. And the modeling community actually loved them.
One other thing that a lot of people said was actually pivotal in guessing the ozone convention and the Montreal Protocol was I bought together a whole bunch of the modelers in a meeting in Germany in about 1985. I forget the name of the meeting. I never realized how important it was then. But it was the first time we ever compared all the models.
One of the crucial things that we always did was the inter-comparison of models where you would put the same inputs, so we told all of them the exactly same emissions of fluorocarbons in, and then see what was the uncertainty based on the way they did the chemistry and the dynamics. So one of the first meetings to do model inter comparison was at a meeting in Germany in 1985. A lot of people said that was a really pivotal meeting, it really made a big difference. John Pyle might remember that meeting, actually, because he would’ve been at it. I just can’t remember where we had it actually at the moment.
So some of the things that really underpinned the ozone work is these CODATA assessments, and they still go on to almost today, I gather. And some of the modeling, a lot of this really the modeling inter-comparison stuff we did over years and years, actually crucial to understand why were models different. Were they putting in different inputs, or was it just the model worked? So by doing the inter-comparison, you could separate out the model-to-model differences, from the scenario-to-scenario differences at the beginning.
The third thing that was absolutely crucial in the way of ozone depletion was the field observation inter-comparisons. We brought the balloon inter-comparisons together. So again, it was how did — You know, if someone observed a chemical constituent in one part of the world with one technique and the second constituent was measured somewhere else, were the differences because it was that they were generally different in space and time, or was it just the instruments were different? So I pulled a whole bunch of these balloon and aircraft inter- comparison campaigns together where you put all the instruments measuring the same bloody thing at the same time. So you could see instrument-to-instrument comparison, so when they measured it then in different parts of the world, you could tell whether it was the instrument variability or was there really a change. So there were many things, and they were all sort of well documented, so to speak, in these assessments. So they were the things that sort of led to us having some confidence in about what we were talking about.
Was the 1988 Ozone Trends Panel report the first instance of that sort of thing, or just one of them?
It was the first time we looked to ozone correctly. What had been done up until then was measurements of ozone were made all over the world with a so-called Dobson instrument. They’d always been inter-compared; we had nothing to do with that. They’d already got their own inter-comparison. There was a standard in Boulder, Colorado, I forget, it was instrument #63 or whatever, I don't know. But it was the world’s standard, and it would often be traced around all over the world and put side by side with others, so you actually knew how good the data was. So that was something the World Meteorological Organization organized; nothing to do with us. In hindsight, it was absolutely critically important, basically. But what people would have actually done until the Ozone Trends Panel was they took all the ozone data from all the stations across the world and they did an annual average of it, and said is ozone decreasing globally? No real signal. Why would you bring all the stations together at one time? Well, you’ve got more data, and if there’s a small trend, the more chance of seeing it the more data you got. But what it masked completely that was so bloody obvious was that the ozone depletion varies with latitude.
Theory said you shouldn’t get very much in the equatorial region, but you should get more at high latitudes, and you should get more in winter than summer. So what Sherry Rowland had noticed, and some others, was if you looked to some the individual stations, they seemed to be showing ozone depletion, but when you put all of it together they didn’t seem to be showing depletion. But for some reason, you know you can’t rely on a single data and a signal station; it’s noisy, etc.
So what we did there for the first time was we broke the world into latitude bands, about three or four, and into seasons, about four.
And so we said okay, let’s look at all the data in the mid-latitudes in winter and the mid-latitudes in summer, and we got some really well-tossed statisticians to come together, so really get some of the best statisticians, there where the data was. Winter at high latitudes, large ozone depletion; summer in the tropics as well as winter in the tropics there’s actual no ozone depletion — totally consistent with the two-dimensional models. Now of course when we only had the one-dimensional models you couldn’t tell if there should’ve been a latitude change, so it wasn’t so you got the two dimensional models… We started up, and John Pyle was actually, I think his was probably the very first group to the model. I can’t remember when the first results came out, but it would’ve been in the 1970s. So one then had an opportunity to compare the observations by latitude and season with the models of people like John, and then more and more because we went away from 1D models to 2D models, and he actually had a good model, and so did some others. Because the satellite, by definition — that data started in the late 1970s, the good stuff, TOMS stuff, I think started in 1979. And so then as we moved into the late 1980s and 1990s, then we had by definition a more global coverage. The Ozone Trends Panel was absolutely pivotal in saying, “My God, the way we should look at the data is by latitude and by season.” And with some really good statisticians. So it was breakthrough, there’s no question. People like Sherry and many others played a very important role in that.
Right. Would you say that it’s different from other assessments? I mean most of the time — I want to ask your opinion about this, too, whether assessments contribute new scientific knowledge or simply synthesize what’s already out there? There’s that question in general. And then the Ozone Trends Panel, did it do something new?
Yes, okay. We’ve always argued an assessment should not do new science; it should assess the knowledge in the literature. I still strongly believe that. There are two variants of that. What we’ve often done is we’ve actually rerun theoretical models that have already been peer reviewed themselves in the literature. So the model itself is a well-tested model — a series of models, not just one. So we’ve often asked those models, both in ozone depletion as well as in climate change to all run the same scenarios of either ozone depleted gases or climate green house gases. I don’t view that as new science in the sense that the model is a tool, and the tool has been well tested before, all of them. Well, sometimes, you know, they vary one from the other. So doing new model runs I don’t view as new science. It’s using an existing tool applied in a specific way to do policy relevant runs, quite often, or to do the intricate comparisons.
Now, the one exception probably did we ever do new science was indeed the Ozone Trends Panel because we did use some new statistical techniques of breaking the data up. So I’m going to say it’s on the edge of — but what we were doing, we were assessing what was already in the literature. We didn’t create any new data, but we did use some new approaches to analyze the data. So you could say is that new science or not? Well, the statistical techniques we used had already been used, things like hockey sticks basically. So the basic statistical techniques had already been used in other applications, not for ozone. The data was already there. Was it new science? You could argue yes or no, actually. You could argue we were applying well-formulated tools, but from other fields into our field. So yes, it might be the one place that you could argue that we did some new research. It’s probably the closest we came to doing new research. If some people said that was new research, I wouldn’t argue it. If some people said no it was really just applying well-tested tools in a different way, I wouldn’t disagree with that either. You could call it either or.
Right. And it still has the advantage of international cooperation and authority to being recommended by experts.
Watson:And also heavily internally peer reviewed, and it was sent out for external peer reviewed. So heavily peer reviewed.
Brysse:I actually sidetracked you. You were telling me about your Ph.D., and then how you got involved with assessments in the first place. I interrupted.
Watson:No, no, no. That’s really what it was, basically, is I went from a classical Ph.D. where I didn’t know there was chlorine and bromine in the atmosphere to then working in a group that was actually working on atmospheric chemistry, but from oxides of nitrogen. I saw Rowland’s paper, asked if I would sort of help through this analysis of the reliability or how to assess laboratory data of rate constant association rates. Then not that long afterwards, and I was still doing science relevant to these issues, and not long afterwards I actually moved to NASA in 1980. I was asked to sort of do a NASA NOAA FAA assessment; decided it ought to be more international, given what happened in the six assessments in the previous two years. That’s really the story.
Brysse:What had happened with those previous assessments — was that because they were National they were perceived as partisan and biased?
Watson:Well, no, different people — The Europeans might have chosen the European Commission one. The Americans look more at the American report. Other people looked to those that didn’t think it was — but look at the differences. This report says this and this report says that, so people could pick and choose what they wanted. The same basic approach of why we did the rate constant evaluation. Models could pick study A, B, C, D, or E. We were just trying to sort of help, and they weren’t experts of that. That’s actually what the modeling community would say, including people like John Pyle. They’d say, “Look, there are six studies of O + ClO, or five studies of chlorine + methane, or six studies of this. Which one should I put into my model?” And so people like Tony Cox and myself and others, we’re like, “Well, why don’t we assess what we as chemical kineticists think is the right answer, or the best answer. So the modelers who are chemists most of the time say that I’m not a modeler. We actually tried to provide them a service, so they couldn’t just arbitrarily pick and choose. They actually wanted that service. It wasn’t to limit them. It was to save them from trying to make their own assessment. Did they average all the literature or did they throw some out? So we were in a better position to also assess the uncertainty. So we didn’t only assess a central value, we actually always assess what the confidence limit was as well. So that actually turned out to be a very, very useful thing, basically.
So the same philosophy applied on the assessments. Why allow governments to pick this versus this versus… ? Also made the scientific community look like it wasn’t coordinated. And so whenever you’ve got a chance [trans?] national problem, you should also have a chance [trans?] national assessment of knowledge, in my opinion.
Brysse:That makes sense.
Watson:It’s basically as simple as that. Whereas if England or the United Kingdom, whichever, or the US, would say, “What are the impacts of climate change on the US or on the UK?” No real need for an international assessment. Especially if you go over to do an adaptation of something, you can bring in much more the local characteristics, basically, in a much more integrated manner. So fairly straightforward, basically — none of this is rocket science, so to speak.
Brysse:The rate constant assessment work, is that laboratory experiments or calculations?
Predominantly the laboratory experiments done often by very different techniques — sometimes by the same techniques, sometimes by different techniques. For example, it might say is there much difference, and the answer can be yes. A very close friend of mine, Carl Harrods (I don’t see him very often now), there was a rate constant reaction, nitrous oxide, NO + HO2, hydrogen peroxide radial, and it goes NO + HO2 goes to NO2 + OH. Carl re-measured it (and I think I got the direction right), it went up by about a factor of ten. It was completely wrong in the literature, and it made the ozone depletion go from 3% to 8% ozone depletion. They then did another reaction, I forget what the second one was, and it went from 8 to 11. In other words, there were a couple of very key reactions that were way wrong — I mean way wrong.
Another important one was chlorine atoms plus methane. My Ph.D. supervisor did a study and got x. I did it with a different technique and got it much faster. Sherry Rowland did it and got the same as my previous Ph.D. advisor; someone else did it and got the same as me. (This is definitely not for your book!) There is a conference in Utah where I gave a talk and I gave my new study, and it showed it was actually curved; it wasn’t linear with temperature, logarithmically linear, which most things are. So I got up and I said, “My previous boss was wrong. It’s much faster.” I don’t mean there was a major…I forget how much faster it was, but not insignificant, 30, 40, 50%. Sherry Rowland got up with a technique that wasn’t particularly sensitive, in my opinion, got the same as my — No, Sherry went first, then I got up and said, “Well, I have to say, Sherry’s number is wrong, and so is my PhD. I’ve gotten way more sensitive than any of these people. They can’t really isolate the reaction.” Sherry wasn’t very happy. Then another guy got up and gave the same result as me. I said, “Don’t you think that Sherry Rowland is definitely all wrong?” He wouldn’t answer. I said, “You really need to answer the question. Doesn’t your data and mine suggest that Sherry is wrong?” Sherry was not happy. Big conference. It turned out that Sherry was wrong. [Chuckles] It’s just that this guy and I had much, and other people did it again, we just had much better sensitivity. So I was rather surprised how close he got to the right answer, given the technique he had. There’s nothing wrong with that, basically.
So anyway, so these assessments are quite important because they really can end up with very different results. We did also look to see sometimes theoretically what a rate constant should be, but it was 99% an analysis of laboratory studies. But there were some weird reactions of third order, A + B in what we call — I’ll give you an example. Chlorine monoxide reacting with chlorine monoxide, it’s normally just the two of them react together, but there’s also a third-body reaction where because there is a lot of nitrogen in the atmosphere that it made it react in a different way, so there’s what we call both a bi-molecular and a tri-molecular reaction. And we would get some very interesting results. Jergen Troe was a brilliant theorist, he actually would say it was theoretically sensible. So we did a little bit of theoretical analysis to see whether or not things made sense, but predominantly it was a straight analysis of the laboratory literature.
Did you or do you work on heterogeneous chemistry at all?
Watson:I personally never worked on heterogeneous chemistry. And of course it wasn’t until we saw the Antarctic ozone hole that people thought — The common wisdom up until then was heterogeneous reactions weren’t important.
Brysse:And why would that be?
Well, in the upper atmosphere, where most people thought the ozone depletion —Well, forget the polar regions for a second. The area where we saw ozone depletion was in the upper atmosphere, 30-40 kilometers. Up there, one, there are almost no aerosols; and two — in fact there are almost no aerosols there to start with, and the reactions are gas kinetic — chlorine plus ozone is almost going as fast as you can theoretically get it to go. Not quite; probably a factor of ten below. O + ClO probably within a factor of a theoretical limit. There is no way a particle could make any difference. Down in the lower atmosphere, we never thought of the sorts of reactions that we’ve seen in the Antarctic region, so when people put in some particles and sort of thought through could these have any effect, the answer was no, no, no. So it wasn’t until we saw that Antarctic ozone and thought what the hell is going on that we thought then of the ice crystals in the dark, that anyone thought about them at all.
So there had been some thinking about them. I think people who had given it some thought were people like Julian Hikland [?] and a few others. So it wasn’t we ignored it, but no one could see how they could be important in the lower atmosphere. Because all the ozone depletion was in the upper atmosphere, and it just didn’t look like it would make much difference, basically. The reason is you wouldn’t expect much ClO in the lower atmosphere because it’s caused by a heterogeneous reaction in the first place. So people sort of said if you have ClO, could you put particles and have any effect? Well, what happens in Antarctica is it’s the particles that help to give you the active chlorine: when the sunlight comes back into there, it breaks up. So it’s the particles in the first place that give you the active chlorine. So it turns the thing on its head, so to speak. So I never personally did any.
So by the time the ozone stuff became really important, we did some assessment of it under CODATA where it was only starting to become important even in the assessment process of CODATA, and so I actually think I dropped out of CODATA about the time that heterogeneous chemistry became important. But I’m sure CODATA, the team that I left behind — I mean I never shared to the team I was on — this would have been actually a very central part of all their later assessments, basically. But I never looked at another CODATA report or I stopped working on it, I moved on to other things.
It was really interesting, I asked both Rowland and Crutzen about this, and Rowland said exactly what you said: of course we knew there was such a thing as heterogeneous chemistry, but we knew there weren’t any particles there for the ozone so it was just a non-question. Crutzen said that he learned that there are particles in at least the lower stratosphere. I can’t remember the man’s name, but his former boss at the MPI in Mainz, that particular area of the atmosphere is named after him, or the particle band is named after him. And he said he always knew there were sulfate aerosols floating up there.
But not in high enough concentrations outside the polar region to make a difference. It’s been known there are some small amounts of sulfate aerosol particles, because sulfur gets into the atmosphere. It’s called the Junge layer. But there were low levels of them, and when everyone thought could they have an impact, the answer was no. So they were not dismissed out of hand. No one could see how they could be important. What we didn’t realize was these polar stratospheric clouds — no one thought about those until we saw ozone depletion, and then worked backwards what the hell was happening. Then people postulated you were getting these nitric acid polar stratospheric clouds. So they both saw aright. Crutzen said yes, we’ve always known there are some low levels of sulfate aerosols in the lower stratosphere, but Sherry was right, but never could see that they were in high enough concentration to make any real difference. And they’re still not important in the equatorial region. The particles that are important are in the polar region.
So the ones that are naturally there (of course the polar stratospheric clouds are natural), the ones we would have thought are the sulfate aerosols still don’t play a role, basically. It’s these polar stratospheric clouds are the ones that play a role in the two Polar regions. Heterogeneous chemistry in the tropics is irrelevant; it still isn’t important. So we never got it completely wrong. We got it wrong that we never thought it was happening in the Arctic and Antarctic region; we missed that completely.
But that’s a beautiful example of why you need a combination of observations of the real world, theoretical modeling, and a laboratory study — it’s the triangle of those. Once the observations were made, people said what the hell? And the first question was, was Joe Farman even right that ozone was being depleted. Even he waited a couple of years before he published it, because this wasn’t what you expect. So he was really quite appropriately conservative before he published his work on the Antarctic ozone, especially as the satellites weren’t showing it. That’s because we calibrated the satellites to ignore it! [Laughs] We threw out all the data that they were showing. So once the ozone hole was discovered, people like Susan Solomon and other scientists thought what the hell could it be about? So they came up with some hypotheses, and then people went into the laboratory to study it. It shows how science should work — it’s actually a good example of how science should work: from observations to theory to laboratory work. So sometimes laboratory work can stimulate to put it into a theoretical model and then you go on and observe and see if you get what you’d expect. Other times you get an observation and think, “Oh my god, how do I explain that?” You have to go back to theory in laboratory and say, “Oh, I can now understand it.” So it can go in both directions. The laboratory work can stimulate what the theory is, and then you go and see if it is actually happening in the real world. Vice versa, you can do it the other way around. We’ve gotten examples of both, very easily.
Let me ask you this, because you said you don’t work on heterogeneous chemistry. I’ve gotten the impression that it’s really tricky in the lab.
Watson:Oh, it’s hard as hell.
Brysse:For example, you get heterogeneous reactions all the time because you have surfaces in the lab. But is there a tendency to think, “Well, this is artificial. The atmosphere isn’t contained in beakers, so these reactions aren’t happening in the atmosphere”?
Watson:The big challenge, what was so sophisticated about what I was doing, why I could study these various ones, I could eliminate all the more reactions. The way I did my reactions was I could actually prove that the surfaces were having no effect on what I was doing. So my goal when I looked to atoms and free radicals, or free radicals and free radicals, or even atoms in a stable molecule, my challenge was to make sure the surface had no effect. So I looked only in the middle of a surface for something that was so fast, or in what I call a discharge function, I could eliminate all surface reactions. So I knew they had no role. In some of these older techniques, it was a combination of surface reactions plus what we call homogeneous reactions, and could you actually separate the two out. So the people now that are doing real heterogeneous chemistry — and I’ve never done any — they make absolutely sure that they are studying the reaction they think they are studying, not something that’s happening on the Pyrex surface, or whatever the container is.
One person who would be very good to talk to who has done a fair bit of heterogeneous chemistry is a guy called Ravishankar at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado. He’s now the director of the Aeronomy Lab. He works for Susan Solomon at the Aeronomy Lab. I would say start with Ravi; I think he would be one of the better. There are some other people I know at the Jet Propulsion Lab, but I think you’d get a better story about how to do it from Ravi, and he’d also tell you a few of the other people who have done it. The other way of looking would be grab one of these books, and if it says, “This surface reaction was important,” you might be able to back-deduce who did it. But Ravi would be able to tell you.
Brysse:I want to go to Boulder in a month or so anyway.
Watson:Ravi, yes, and Susan certainly has to be interviewed in my opinion. The other person you should absolutely interview is Dan Albritton that co-chaired these ozone assessments with me. The first one he co-chaired was the Trends Panel. [Off record comments: Dan’s wife in ill health.] He’s one of the most honorable men I’ve come across, so if he brushes you off it’s for a really good reason. He might well say yes, but if he were to say no he would have a very good reason: it’s simply family issues.
Lots of people at Boulder have been involved in this. Susan Solomon obviously; Ravi Shankar obviously; David Fahey did a lot of work on it. In fact one of the things we did once was commonly asked questions. I don't know if we’ve got them in this latest one where they published it separately. Yes, “20 Questions and Answers”. What we wanted to call it was “20 Dumb Questions”. David Fahey, who is at Boulder, was the person always organized these 20 questions. It used to be called “20 Most Commonly Asked Questions”: Aren’t we sure it’s volcanoes doing it? Aren’t the fluorocarbons too heavy they can’t get into the atmosphere? They’re really dumb questions.
Brysse:Didn’t that come out in the first place because of stupid things that people were saying?
Watson:Yes, exactly. Certain people were saying these are way too heavy to get up there, and the volcanoes… Yeah. But so we called them the 20 most commonly asked questions rather than the 20 dumb questions, although some were actually dumb. But it turned out to be very policy relevant and very useful. David was always the lead author for them. David is at Boulder in the NOAA Aeronomy Lab. Definitely it would be well worthwhile to talk to him as well.
Brysse:That does sound very policy relevant.
Watson:Oh, totally policy relevant! Absolutely. “What is ozone, and where is it?” David came up with the good, the bad, and the ugly: You want it up here because it protects you from UV radiation. You don’t want it down here at the ground surface level because it causes asthma. “How is it formed?” “Why do we care about it?” So very straightforward questions. “Are they heavier than…” So very, very useful. I’d actually we had it at the beginning of the book rather than the end of the book. So that, again, was another innovation. I think the first time we did it was in the ’90s, I can’t remember when. I was involved in the first two fairly heavily. My name is at the front of this one, and I’m embarrassed because I actually didn’t do much on this one. I did a lot on all the ones after this one; this one I did almost nothing and I actually told them they should take my name off because I was embarrassed by that. But there was a political reason not to change while the Bush administration was there. If it seemed to be redesigned, the Bush administration might try to put someone else on there that may not have been the right person. So they said, “Bob, even if you don’t do anything, just allow us to use your name.” It’s a good document. My embarrassment is because it is a good document and I truly don’t deserve to have my name associated with it.
Brysse:Is there or has there ever been a tension between, on the one hand, the assessments need to be written by or there needs to be participation by true experts in the field for them to be authoritative. On the other hand, if the experts in the field are busy writing assessments, they may have less time to contribute.
Watson:Oh absolutely, no question. Given I’ve been doing ozone assessments, the climate assessments, and biodiversity, and now agriculture, single-handedly I could be blamed for slowing down science! [Laughter] It’s a serious issue, and that is an issue of how often should you do them. There are three reasons you have to ask the question of how often. One is if you do them too often, the science hasn’t really moved, and all the scientists are doing is writing assessments and they can’t do research. If you do them too infrequently, the issues could go off the boil, and policy could be based on old information. So on IPCC, they do their very big reports every five to six years. We had 1991, ’96, 2001, 2007, and the next one will probably be a six to seven year gap. The reason is otherwise — whereas the ozone ones I think have been coming out almost every two or three years. Let’s see. 1981 — that was the first one that I did. The ’85 one was the three-volume one. Then we had the Montreal Protocol. ’88-’89, that was the trends one. So the truly holistic one was ’81, ’85, ’89. Then we went to ’91, so two years later. That was a special one, methyl bromide. Then we did ’94, only three years later. Then we did ’98, four years; then 2002, four years; then 2006, four years. So they range between two and four. That is incredibly frequent.
Brysse:And it takes, what, a year to put one out?
Watson:Oh, probably more like two years. Four years is fine, although I would argue now it should be more like five or six years, all the policy is there now. This is why I wouldn’t even want to work on one. One, I’m too far away from the science now; and two, the policy has been made now, there’s no point working on it. It’s yesterday’s issue as far as I’m concerned, it really is. The mistake, I think, is why is it in 2006 still as thick as this? It should be something like 20 or 30 or 40 pages. That was the other co-chair who passes away, unfortunately — really great guy. I think we’re spending too much time on assessments. When it was a hot issue, yes. But now, with all the policy largely in, I would argue they don’t need another one. You’d have to ask John Pyle when the next one is coming out; I’m not involved with it at all. But if it’s much before 2011, I would say why? I really would. In fact that might be a question you should ask him.
But the ozone assessments, when I say they’re coming out every five to six to seven years now, there are special reports. What is very powerful, and I like this, is when we realized that the ozone trends was an issue all on its own, we had a special report on ozone. When we recognized methyl bromide was coming in, we had a special one on methyl bromide. And that’s the approach that we used on IPCC, if there is a narrow special issue that has to be dealt in depth, so IPCC does big holistic reports every five, six, seven years, but special reports as needed in between. All those special reports have proven to be unbelievably powerful. You could argue they’re as important in their own way as the big holistic reports. But I think we have to find the balance between doing assessments and actually doing research, no question.
Brysse:When the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered, some people say no effect on Montreal Protocol negotiations; some people say huge effect. What do you think?
Watson:Depends on what they mean. Obviously we’d observed the Antarctic hole — the Montreal Protocol was 1987. Farman’s paper was ’85. The answer is we’d observed the ozone hole, people were convinced it was real by then. We’d sorted out that the satellite data was screwed up, so it wasn’t an artifact of Farman’s Dobson instrument. So we’d confirmed it was real. Susan Solomon had taken a group down to Antarctica, a small group, in 1986 to see if she could differentiate between the chemistry theory, the volcano theory, and the dynamical theory. The volcano theory made no sense anyway, so you can forget that one.
Brysse:I thought the third one was the solar theory.
Yes, solar. It was solar, dynamical, and chemical. The power of the chemical was were they hydrocarbons or was it coming from volcanic activity. So Susan went down there, and obviously she only had a limited number of observations, but it was clear to my mind that she had largely shown that it was most likely due to the chemical theory that she and others had postulated. We went down to Punta Arenas, Chile with our big aircraft campaign. So I would argue that the ozone hole and the hypothesis that it was plausibly due to chlorine, if not likely due to chlorine, did definitely have an effect on the negotiators in Montreal. So they had the theory of global depletion. We’d still not got the Ozone Trends Panel out by then, so we’ve not shown definitively the ozone was being lost. So I think it was the theory of ozone depletion plus the observation of the Antarctica ozone hole was the combination.
Some people made the mistake — We got down to Punta Arenas, Chile about a month or so before they started negotiating, or three weeks, something like that. By the time they start to negotiate the Montreal Protocol in Montreal (I mean they’ve obviously been thinking about it before, but the final negotiations), we had pretty much convinced ourselves that the ozone hole was definitely due to chlorine and bromine and due fluorocarbons. Because we’d already seen the anti-correlation between ozone and ClO, we’d already done a half a dozen ER-2 flights and DCA flights. A lot of people argued down there that we should actually get in touch with the negotiators in Montreal and tell them what we found, and I said, “Hell no, we’re not going to do it,” and we never did tell them what we were doing. So if anyone says that 1987 Antarctica ozone expedition had an influence on Montreal Protocol the answer is no, because basically I, and I got every other scientist to agree, we put basically a ban on anyone talking about it. So our expedition had no effect.
Did the observation and the 1986 have an effect? I think the answer is yes. You could never prove it, but I think the answer is yes. It had to have some effect psychologically on it. So I would certainly be in the camp it had an effect. And also, the Montreal Protocol was a precautionary one anyway — it had to be in their minds.
You could ask why did we not let the negotiators know about the results. Very straightforward answer. While we got 150 scientists and technicians down there, experimentalists, theoreticians, we ran the theory in real time, we looked at the observations, we compared it to theory, it all made sense. Adrian Tuck was the overall science director. I’d funded the thing, basically; it was down there. But even though we were all convinced we’d gotten the right answer, my view was very, very simple: what if we’re wrong? What if, when we go back in the cold light of day, we’re analyzing all this in real time, the observations certainly look good, what if after you’ve gone back and you’ve recalibrated your instruments and you find there is something wrong with the calibration. Not likely, but what if you do? What if we go back and a theorist says, “My god, I forgot something! There’s another way to explain this.” Not likely, but possibly.
I said if we let the policy makers know what we found now, and it turns out to be right, would it have a big effect on the negotiations? Probably not because they’ve already decided how far they are willing to go. They’re not drastically going to change their minds in real time. They’d have to go back to their governments, the heads of state possibly, they’d probably want to talk to industry about can we do more. So there’s probably not much that can be done. What if we’re wrong? What if it did influence the negotiations? What if they did pull more drastic action? Well that was the thing that cemented it. If we turn out to be wrong six months later, they will never listen to us again. And it’s quite clear the Montreal Protocol is only the first step in a series. It’s almost obvious there will be more negotiations. So we’ve got very little upside and huge downside, in my opinion, and everyone agreed with it. I felt very strongly about it, I really didn’t want the information out because of this risk.
And this is the issue with scientists working on environmental issues: we’ve got to be right 99 times out of 100, or at least 95 times out of 100. If we make a major mistake once, politicians will never listen to us again, or it will take a long while to get credit back. The skeptics will have a field day. Not worth it, basically.
If one had thought that would be the only time they ever negotiated, one might have had a different view, although I personally wouldn’t have had a different view. It was clear they weren’t going to have a different view; this is an evolving field. It’s like pretending that the Montreal Protocol is going to be a one-off deal, or the one they’re doing in Copenhagen will be the last time they ever negotiate on climate change — of course not. So my best analysis would be the following. Look at how Nobel science prizes are given. Rarely given within 10, 20, or 30 years of the person coming up with the discovery. Every science prize has been given for something that was done 10, 20, 30 years before — it’s stood the test of time. And so rarely has someone said suddenly, “Oh my god, we should never have given that Nobel Prize, it’s completely wrong.” I’m sure some of it has been overturned, but only because of really — I mean no one has said, “That was a silly one to give.” Now look at the Peace Prize, the number of times that a Peace Prize has been given on something that was done the year before. Carter got it for things on the Middle East; those negotiations went nowhere. Women in Ireland on the IRA; those negotiations never went anywhere. There are a whole bunch of Peace Prizes where something was given for what happened the year before, and they fizzled out. They didn’t say wait ten years, did the negotiations that Carter in the Middle East have longevity? The answer is no. Did the role the women played in the IRA — I mean I’m glad they won it, but it fizzled after that.
So standing the test of time isn’t bad, and that’s my equivalent. You don’t make policy on the latest scientific paper in case it’s wrong. Make sure we get the scientists together, get the best minds together, is this right or is this wrong? And then say our best judgment now, collectively, is this is solid, go and make policy, basically. So you’ve got to give it a little bit of the test of time. And my view is when we were down in Punta Arenas, Chile there’s always a long shot we could be wrong, so don’t risk betting the farm on it. Really fairly straightforward.
That makes sense to me, but the way you just phrased it make it sound contradictory to the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is don’t wait for complete knowledge.
Oh, I’m talking about waiting a year or two. If I thought it was going to be the end of the Earth, which way would I go. But we’re talking about the putting chlorine bromine into the atmosphere for 30 or 40 years, and the stuff lives in the atmosphere for 50 to 100 years. Would another one or two years make any difference? And the answer is basically no. It would be in the thickness of the pencil line, basically. If it was something where my god, I’ve got to make a decision, could we go to war over this? Then I might use the precautionary principle a bit more. So you’re right. It depends on how far you push the precautionary principle.
Now, this is actually an interesting issue. If it drastically changed things, and they already were thinking about the ozone hole, and they realized it was a first step. That’s why I couldn’t get too excited about it. If it was something that really turned it upside down and inside out, I would have quickly said, “Okay, let the politicians know what’s going on in Punta Arenas. But I’m going say that in six months from now we will get a group of scientists together and across the world to evaluate this, so you need to be on notice. Our provisional results are the following, but I want to make sure we’re right, so I’m going to get 50 to 100 scientists together within six months. We’ll let you know in six months, so be prepared that you may want to reconvene in six months time.” So there’s always a way, if it is so drastic and it would have made a monstrous difference to negotiations, of how you can do it, basically. You just don’t wait another two or three years; you say this is urgent enough that I’m need to bring things together.
In fact, if there’s a major drastic paper on climate change today, it’s not going to drastically effect the negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of this year. There’s already enough evidence we’ve got a major problem. The front page of The Independent three days ago said ClO is likely to rise twice as fast as the IPCC said — I agree with it. IPCC underestimated it; we all said that at the time. Is that going to change the negotiations? No. It doesn’t refute the IPCC — it’s even more solid information. And that’s exactly the way it should be taken.
I was thinking of how industry officials at a certain point in time might have tried to manipulate or misinterpret the things you were saying, to say, “We need to wait until we know for certain exactly what’s going on.”
Even then it wasn’t for certain. It would simply be, “Let’s go home and make sure that we’ve calibrated our instruments, our theory is solid. In fact all the scientists saw it the same way. While I would say it was a 1 in 100 shot of being wrong by that particular time, it all fitted together, the jigsaw puzzle, really well. And so the odds of being wrong were slim, but was it worth taking that risk when the negotiators probably wouldn’t have changed their mind anyway, they were too far into the negotiations. It would be interesting to know if anyone actually thinks we made — Again, it’s a personal judgment on things like that. But at the time I didn’t get dozens of scientists saying, “Bob, we’ve got to let them know!” Everyone seemed quite comfortable, it was not a contentious issue. We talked about it, and it wasn’t contentious. And I think everyone now is very comfortable. I mean this is just amazing, when you really think about it. We had a very broad paper at the Vienna Convention.
This came out at the Montreal Protocol. This came out in Copenhagen. This came out…I mean you couldn’t script something better than this, you really couldn’t, and it’s because they got trust in what we were doing — they got trust in the science and trust in the assessment process. If we had been significantly wrong once in that process, it wouldn’t look like that. I think that’s helped to give trust to the IPCC, although the IPCC in its own right has earned trust. But it built upon the same philosophy as this. The basic issue was the first chair, Burt Bolin [?], was a truly superb chair and totally trustworthy as an individual, and we got the process right. We looked to this in the way we did peer review. It went well beyond it, actually — our peer review in IPCC is way stronger than the peer review, way stronger, far more involvement in governments. It’s a different process, in its own way a stronger process. This is a good process, no question. And the IPCC is also a very good process and it’s also earned the trust of governments, and actually industry.
Have you interviewed anyone from industry on this? [No] I can give you two or three names that actually worked on the science level, one who works really closely with Oppenheimer, Mack McFarland. He worked for DuPont. Second would be Pauline Mitchely [?], and she’s about to be the secretary of Working Group 1 of IPCC, so she’s in Germany [will get contact info]. She worked for ICI. Third would be Dean Dacsee [?]. He’s in the Boston area. He was the modeler for these guys and he got huge amounts of money. They would be the three scientists, two of them worked directly for two of the major companies, DuPont and ICI. Mack McFarland would think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. He’s also become an incredible advocate on climate change in IPCC, and that played a key role. Another guy who has left DuPont but was always on the policy side [Mack would have contact info] is Joe Steed. The guy on the policy side from ICI that Pauline would know how to get to is Gordon Dipthrows [?]. So you’ve got two guys from ICI and DuPont who were scientists, but obviously played a role in policy in the company, and two are purely policy people.
I think you’ll actually find they will talk about their research program, the fluorocarbon research, and rightly so, it’s an excellent research program. In the sense that it wasn’t huge, $2 million a year, no censorship of results at all. It is the absolutely counter to the way the tobacco industry did it. It’s probably one of the best examples of industry doing totally legitimate science.
Even though you’re talking mainly about assessments, you have to say what underpins an assessment, and people like Mack and Pauline were absolutely involved in the research program, and they really did have a good research program, and it was complementary to the big NASA program I had and the NOAA program Dan Albritton had. I had about $20-odd million a year; Dan probably had $4 or $5 million, and they had about two, and they really were the big programs. The UK program was pretty small at the time, although very good work of John Pyle and Adrian Tuck and Tony Cox, people like that, but it was relatively modest in comparison.
It’s actually well worth featuring, in my opinion, the industry program, and the reason is they start to get ownership of the science by doing their own science that fed into the assessments. That’s not unimportant. Ownership at the end of the day is 99% of what should happen.
If you want to talk to their science program as it fed into assessments, talk to my wife Elizabeth Fester Watson [separated at the moment]. She was the program manager for the international fluorocarbon program from about 1982 onwards. There was a different person before that, John Vanhorn (he may have passed away). Elizabeth did a superb job on that. They actually came out with a final booklet about what the program had accomplished. Yes they were blowing their own trumpet, but it was pretty accurate as well. Even Molina became an advisor to them at the end of the day, there were about 10 or 15 of us — we never expected any money from them — but we were consultants to them. We allowed them to pay airline travel, but took no personal money from it. They had some really good advisors. For example, Carl Howard, now retired, in Boulder, Colorado, he was the one who did this NO + HO2, and it got worse, and they funded him again and it got worse. That was all industry funding. So even after he made it worse for him, they still funded him again, and he made it worse again. So that’s a really good sign. Were they looking to try and disprove the theory? Absolutely yes. But did they stick honestly to the science? Absolutely yes.
It was an interesting period, actually, and industry should be given some credit.
Now, did they the fight the regulations for ten years? Yes. When the science became hard — I’m probably a bit more generous than Sherry in how I view them, and that’s perfectly fair. Did the politicians wait a bit too long? Yeah. I would have liked to have seen the 1987 thing probably closer to 1985 or whatever; you can always argue that. As Sherry said, we should have made rules and regulations two to five years earlier, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with him. Would he be as generous on industry as me? Maybe. Probably not quite as generous on industry as me. Sherry might say we had to hit them over the head with the science. Possibly true, but look where we’re getting on some of the other environmental issues! On a relative scale you could argue they did at least put money into research. They honestly participated in the assessments; they did not try and skew them. So should we have been there five years earlier? Yes, I would have preferred that. But if you would have said 1982, what did we have? We only had theory. It wasn’t until 1987 we showed the ozone trends, and it wasn’t until ’84-’85 we got the ozone hole. So it would have been purely the precautionary principle. How much evidence do you need? Interesting question. And it really is an interesting question, basically. Some people argue we should have been there earlier. Couldn’t disagree. It would have been based purely on the precautionary principle in that state and theoretical modeling.
And the models did this for a while. They’d bounce up to 15%, they went down to about 3% at one stage, and it was actually some of Carl’s work that made it go back over ten again. The climate projections have been much more stable than the ozone ones. The ozone ones really did bounce around. Always showed loss.
Actually it was right before the 1976 NAS report got delayed six months, and wasn’t part of the reason that it was the N2O5 reactions that they thought might actually cause an increase. It was supposed to come out in April and it came out in September.
Watson:It might have been N2O5. I don’t think we thought chlorine nitrate that early yet. We wouldn’t have even thought of chlorine nitrate by that early. We would have thought of N2O5 because that was all part of the supersonic NOx issue. To be honest, I can’t remember. But that would have been, again, an example. New information — don’t stuff it in quickly; take a little bit of time to think about. I’m not sure exactly that would have affected the chlorine projections. I have to think about that. But I can’t remember that far back — getting old.
Brysse:Well that’s understandable. That is a while ago now. I’d like to ask you a little about the actual process of working on assessments, stories about actually being in the room with the people who are writing the assessment. For example, say you’re writing a scientific paper with one or two colleagues. In what ways is that similar or different to writing an assessment with a lot more colleagues?
Watson:It is different, because if you’re writing your own paper with two or three colleagues, you’ve probably all been working on it from day 1 and maybe on exactly the same page. So I’m sure there is internal debate, and that’s healthy, but it’s an internal debate within the two or three or four of you. What you have effectively here is if you write a chapter on any particular topic, it doesn’t matter, so let’s say it’s a theoretical modeling chapter. You probably would have typically eight to ten people on the chapter. Let’s see, say chapter six arbitrarily; just as good as any other chapter. There’s chapter six. Oh my god. So these would have been the guys that would have all shown up at the meeting, so more than a dozen, actually.
Brysse:When it says lead author versus contributor, what’s the difference?
These guys would all have prime responsibility for writing different parts of the chapter. They would have each gone to the meetings to argue, to debate it face to face. These guys, they might have phoned them for information, or they provided some information to them. They might have been first order peer reviewers for them. They might have sort of sent in some stuff, a paragraph to write, but not a substantial amount. These were the ones that would really do the writing. They would be the ones revising the chapters, etc.
What you might get around that table, for example, is let’s say you’ve got a modeling group. You probably would have most of the modelers that had actually done stuff in the literature, and if their stuff was in disagreement with each other, they would have some lively conversations of why am I getting this, why are you getting that. And if it’s about observations, the satellite guys have got one result and the ground-based guys another. So it would often be comparing and contrasting each other’s work — assessing it.
You would also therefore want some people who were actually independent. In other words, say it was a group looking at the ozone models. You’ve got one or two people who had not published on that topic who could be much more independent. Equally, if it was looking at say the trends in ozone, the observations, you’d have one or two people who had not published again, so they could take a more independent view. That’s why choosing the lead authors was very crucial. You want the people to be highly knowledgeable, but you often did not want the person that may have published the most results in that area because they might conceivably only promote their own work. So the choice of lead authors is rather crucial: highly knowledgeable, but not necessarily the authors that have done the most work in that field because otherwise they may be slanted or biased to their own work. And you actually want people to defend their own work, but be open to it may not be right.
So the dynamics…I rather came across situations where people were screaming at each other. Healthy debates often, but I can’t remember one where we had to pull people apart, so to speak. Some were a bit more contentious than others; there’s no question whatsoever. Some were harder to agree to text than others. But that’s where it comes back to your original point. If you can’t show that one is necessarily wrong, and there are two or three different views, you have to put the three views down, or show what the range of uncertainty is. But I’ve always found that most of them work rather well together, actually, and maybe it’s because quite often on the models you could never prove which model was right or wrong, so you put the range of models and everyone could see themselves within the ensemble, basically. So you’d have far healthier vibrant discussions quite often than you would if it was just two or three people sitting around writing their own personal stuff.
But that’s also where people like Dan and I came in.
By the time I started doing these reports and chairing or co-chairing them, I wasn’t an active scientist anymore. I stopped doing that about 1980 when I went to NASA as a program manager, so I was funding lots of science. But I had absolutely no vested interest in whether the science I’d funded was better than the science the Fed had funded, or someone else; that was absolutely irrelevant to me. By the time we got to this, the rate constant stuff had already been evaluated by the other groups, so it wasn’t which rate constant was right. So there was nothing in these documents that Dan or I had ever personally worked on. Therefore, we could challenge everybody.
I saw our role, Dan and myself and then the other co-chairs when they came onboard, as organizers, synthesizers, and challengers. “Is this really right? Have you guys really got this right?” I mean we would read every damn chapter because we were responsible with them for writing the executive summaries when we finally got around to having executive summaries. So we would actually spend a lot of time, especially on the areas we knew moderately well, working with and challenging are we describing this well, have we really assessed it well. That’s why Dan and I, being sort of relatively different people, and then when we brought in Gerard Megie, who is a really world-class observationalist, which neither of us were (although we could always look at the data obviously, it wasn’t that complicated), the fact that the three of us had different backgrounds was very useful to synthesize and to challenge — both functions basically. But really, the key was Dan and I were there to lead and coordinate and catalyze all of these lead authors to write the final documents, and the lead authors were to catalyze their individual teams.
Was all of this challenging and stuff that you were doing happening at the meetings, or just in response to written things that they gave you?
A little bit of both. When material arrived, we might well challenge it, support/challenge, obviously, in writing. And definitely at the meetings, where we’d already got the first drafts, and someone would be up saying, “This is our key conclusion,” and not only Dan and me, but everybody else who hadn’t been working on the chapter would sort of say, “Well, is that really right?” Or, “This isn’t explained very well.” Or, “Can you really justify this?” Or, “I’ve got a different opinion on this.” Because the people that maybe wrote chapter 3, some of them had some real knowledge about say chapter 6. They may have been on chapter 3, but they may have done some work themselves and are really knowledgeable about chapter 6 or chapter 8. So there would be a verbal presentation where the whole group would then challenge. So there would be some written comments on the chapters and some verbal comments. Then they would break up into groups and go away and say, “Okay, we’ve heard the following. Do we need to change up the chapter? How do we need to change up the chapter?” So they’d rewrite it. Sometimes it was just not very well written — you know, it’s a first draft. Somebody had said to just write it better to explain what you’re saying. Sometimes they say, “Hey, we think you need to rethink this line of argument again,” basically. And then we’d come back together and have another discussion.
Another crucial issue was understanding the interrelationship between one chapter and another chapter. In other words, these chapters are interrelated, so we have to make sure the one chapter wasn’t inconsistent with what we were saying with another chapter, etc. So they would work on their individual chapters at these meetings — and they were nearly always one-week meetings — so they’d work on individual chapters and on the cross linkages of across chapters. And we would work on the executive summaries, and we would work on the ozone hole summary for this executive summary. So quite often after the first time through Dan and I would say, “We want the executive summaries from each of your chapters by Wednesday, so we can be integrating that into an overall executive summary that we can bring back to you on Thursday.” So they’d be working on their own chapter, the executive summary of their own chapter (or the conclusion, whatever they call them nowadays), and Dan and I with others would be working on the overall synthesis of which they played an equally important role. They had to have complete ownership.
So the overall one wasn’t just Dan and me. They called them scientific summaries. So we’d say, “We want your summary of your chapter.” So we’d get the summaries, and then we’d synthesize what did all of that mean in a shorter document. So it would be according backwards and forwards at each level, which actually I thought worked unbelievably well.
Speaking of cross linkages between chapters, was it ever the case that you had contradictory data or conclusions from different chapters?
Watson:On first drafts, possibly yes, and that was the reason for really sitting down to make sure. The other thing would be there’d be no point in the modelers — Obviously everything was going in parallel, so the models would be comparing their models to, say, observations. Well if the observation group said we don’t like that data, this is the better data, we have to make sure the modelers were comparing their models with what was viewed to be the best data, not the crappy data. So it was more that type of thing. It would be rare that the data was different, because the data would be in each of the individual chapters. But you might have the modelers in one chapter comparing to a data set that the data guy said, “Not sure that’s the best data,” or the uncertainty range, should we compare this. So that’s why one had to have the cross-comparison.
Brysse:That’s the kind of area where I start to think maybe there is something new in assessments, that's somehow more than the sum total of all of the different science just coming together.
Brysse:Because all of this comparison and collating of uncertainties…
Oh no question. This adds hugely to the scientific literature. I wouldn’t say it quite so much on ozone. I’ll give a better comparison in a minute on the climate change. Why do people take part in these? Well first, they meet their other colleagues. If you’re a modeler, you meet all the other modelers. But even more important, you interact even closer with the experimentalists, etc., so you’re meeting with the best people in the world right across the issues. So you may often have not met the observational guys that you’ve been comparing your theory with. Although today science is fairly international, but especially scientists from developing countries have a real opportunity to meet the best from the US or the UK.
The reason people keep doing this is threefold.
One, they want to get their science reflected in this. Two, they find it exciting working with other scientists and learning things they hadn’t learned on issues they might not spend much time on. And three, their science is influencing policy. There are at least three reasons for doing it.
Now on the interdisciplinary, this is multidisciplinary, but the more I’ve worked on the agricultural stuff and on climate, it is way more than even this as inter and multidisciplinary. You’ll get scientists there that have never met a social scientist on a particular subject. So you’ve got the technologists saying, “Well, the technology is here today. The efficiency of my solar panels is the following.” But the [inaudible] say, “Well, the reason it’s not getting into the marketplace is we’ve got a policy regime that’s subsidizing fossil that doesn’t allow this.”
Then someone will be talking about the social, “Ah, but the problem is it hasn’t been culturally acceptable yet.” So you’ll actually bring together pure behavioral issues with economic issues with finance issues, with policy issues, with legal issues, with natural science issues. Then of course there’s a range of natural science and a range of social. Some of it, especially when I was the chair of IPCC and we didn’t have enough social scientists around, and I realize that now, it really gets intriguing. So the agricultural assessment I’ve just finished directing a year ago, it had a range of social psychologists, social anthropologists, hardnosed economists, hard-nosed agricultural scientists. I mean a woman who worked with communities in India that were dirt poor and a Harvard professor or Oxford professor. This woman had never been out of her local village, basically. Very intriguing watching that. That was almost the ultimate social experiment [chuckles], bringing totally different worldviews together. Way beyond anything we did on this, basically. But agriculture, unbelievably important for the dirt farmer in Mali who may not even be able to read, but he knows something about farming in Mali. So very intriguing, this incredible spectrum of knowledge together.
Another interesting one, we had three very contentious issues on agriculture: trade, genetic multiplication, and pesticides. Chemical companies don’t want to waste pesticides. They don’t want people to become ill. So the classical statement is safe use of pesticides. Works beautifully in the UK, and it works beautifully in the US. If you can’t read the instructions, how do you have safe use? It might say do not eat, do not drink. But if you can’t read, you’ve hadn’t got a good extension service in your village, how do you define safe use? It’s obvious when someone says it to you. The whole concept of safe use sounds perfectly fine. You then go and talk to someone who says, “You know, these farmers, they actually can’t read.” How do you define what is safe use? Or efficient use, if you can’t say you add this dosage, etc. It really is rather intriguing when you work outside your norm of what you’re used to. It’s obvious to us you read the instructions first, but that isn’t so obvious when you can’t always read the instructions!
There was a period, and I don’t exactly remember when this was, maybe right after the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered, where the literature in the assessments, and possibly also in the scientific papers, switched from talking about and calculating ozone depletion potentials to chlorine loading potentials. The way I understand it, it’s because the ozone depletion potentials got too hard to calculate.
Boy, I’m going to have to remember back. You’re right, it was a very fundamental issue. I’m trying to remember why we did it. On the ozone depletion potential, they were easy to calculate for the very long-lived gases, and then they became harder and harder for the very short-lived gases. And we also had bromine, which some of those tended to be short-lived, where they were both long- and short-lived. When we went to the chlorine loading potential, we could scale the bromine…Boy, I’m trying to remember why we did it. Rather than me guess, the person to ask because he was intimately involved with it is Michael Prather. The other person who might remember why we did it is Mack McFarland. John Pyle might remember; ask John as well.
It was a very fundamental issue. It wasn’t the ozone depletion potential was totally wrong either. I think we found there was a slight — it wasn’t a monstrous improvement, in my opinion. Somehow I think we found it easier to explain it. One of the advantages (this is my memory of it, now), was we were telling governments that we actually wanted to limit the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere. If there’s a certain amount of chlorine, you’ve got a certain amount of ozone. If you didn’t get down below two parts per billion of chlorine and bromine together, you couldn’t get ride of the Antarctica ozone hole. So it was a way of then plotting how much chlorine was in the atmosphere, and for different regulations you could see how it was coming down. So the chlorine loading at the end of the day collectively was the most important thing to show the relationship between ozone and chlorine. Because we wanted to limit the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere; we actually didn’t care which chemicals it came from, we cared about the total chlorine and the total bromine. When you look at ozone depletion potential, it was chemical by chemical by chemical, so you could say how bad is 11 versus 12 versus 113 versus methyl chloroform versus…So that was still very important.
But to actually get across to policymakers how were their regulations starting to affect the chlorine loading, so I think it was as much for that as anything else. But ask the others, because I haven’t worked on ozone in really ten years. I’ve been working on climate and agriculture now.
So I think we found it was a better way to explain to policymakers. It was a way of integrating up at the end of the day. The equivalent of climate change would be the total irradiated force: what is CO2 doing, what is methane doing, what is nitrous oxide doing, basically. Our other equivalent is carbon dioxide equivalent, where we integrate methane and nitrous oxide through their irradiative effect into carbon dioxide. So for policymakers, the ozone depletion potential was perfectly valid talking the relative importance of individual chemicals.
Then the question is how do you bring the chlorine and bromine loading down, and therefore the chlorine loading became a much — we would integrate up the contribution of 11, 12, 13, etc., and so policymakers could see, “Ah, the Montreal Protocol, no regulations, chlorine was likely to do this. With the Montreal Protocol we’re here, with the Copenhagen we’re here, etc.” It wasn’t it was a better parameter. It may have helped a little bit on long-lived versus short-lived, but it was a way to integrate the whole thing up. You couldn’t integrate up the ozone depletion potentials; you could integrate up the contribution to the atmosphere of the chlorine or the bromine.
To my way of thinking, you couldn’t have something like chlorine loading potential, you couldn’t think of it and you couldn’t sell to anybody without there being a consensus out there that ozone depletion is real, chlorine causing ozone depletion is real. You have to have that background assumption for people to talk about it.
Watson:Yeah, you could have had chlorine loading right from the beginning as a way of summing all of the chemicals. I mean that’s really all it is.
Brysse:But people who wanted to argue that CFCs weren’t causing ozone depletion…
Watson:Exactly, yes, quite. And of course what you have to have is how they liberate their chlorine; that’s basically what you need. If it always stayed in the CFC, they would have had no impact on ozone at all. So it’s only chlorine as it affects. There’s two things. You can have total chlorine loading, but then what you also need is the chlorine in the active…you know, sort of how it affects ozone. It became a useful parameter once we’ve established that chlorine and bromine were, individually and collectively, both destroying ozone. It became, then, a useful indicator. It’d be the equivalent if you hadn’t proven methane and nitrous oxide, also greenhouse gases, why would you have CO2 equivalent? You have to make that case first.
Brysse:Exactly. It strikes me that as a historian it is a really useful marker for a certain…
Watson:I think they still use in the regulation the ozone depleting potential as well. Again, ask John etc., but I don’t think they’ve totally abandoned the concept of using the ozone depleting potential.
Brysse:You said something when we were talking about who is involved in assessments and who the lead authors should be. That reminded me of something Rowland had said. I was surprised to hear how few assessments he had been involved in, and he told me he thought a main reason for that was that very early on he stated which way he thought regulation should go, he had a clearly expressed public opinion on that, and he felt it made him seem a bit too partisan for some assessments.
There’s a little bit of truth in that in the sense that in my opinion, and it is a personal opinion, you couldn’t have Sherry ever chair one of these international assessments. He was already on record on what he would do with the CFCs, so therefore those that actually had a counter view to Sherry, if you’d have allowed Sherry to chair an international assessment, people would have said he was just talking the results to fit his preconceived ideas. Therefore he was not involved in the 1981 assessment or I don’t think the 1985. I did get him involved in a very visible way in the Ozone Trends Panel. He is a world-class scientist. But there’s also a perception. It’s the same as, in my opinion, you couldn’t have Jim Hansen or Steve Schneider chair the IPCC. Especially Steve, who is very broad. I mean Jim is very bright as well. Steve is incredibly bright and incredibly broad, but Steve has been so much on record for addressing climate change, those skeptics would never believe it. And you’ve got to get these assessments owned by everybody. Those ones on Sherry’s side would say, “Of course, this is great. Sherry chaired it. Of course I believe it.” Those who opposed it would say, “Damn it, we already know where he’s coming from.” So one has to be very careful. So I think it was superb Sherry was on the Ozone Trends Panel.
Mario has been involved in more than Sherry because he wasn’t as vocal. He was viewed, rightly or wrongly, as less political — I’ll phrase it that way.
Now, there’s a plus and a minus here, actually. Anything Sherry ever did was taken into account by all of us, no question at all about that. And having a person outside the process pushing and pushing, a little bit like Jim Hansen is on climate, is perfectly valid. For example, I wouldn’t ask a key person from DuPont or ICA to chair one of these either. Same thing from the other side of the coin. So I think Sherry’s evaluation of that is actually a very valid one, and that didn’t in any way diminish his role. He was always I’ll call it a scientific activist, and I do use the word science there.
Sherry uses science carefully. Some activists don’t, on either side of the activism. Sherry has always used science well, and that’s important. But the perception of him chairing an international assessment, I think it would have been less likely that the assessments would have been as embraced by everybody. Personal view. I’m not sure he and I would disagree on that; that’s almost what he was saying. The question is, is he disappointed he wasn’t in more. If there was one now it wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s gone past the policy phase now and it’s yesterday’s issue. We’ve got to make sure we phase them all out. We can’t become complacent. In other words, we’ve got the regulations; now we’ve got to make sure they’re all followed through on.
Sherry has always played an important role in the debate. That’s also interesting. He’s played a very important role in the debate in the US. He’s given a lot of talks internationally, and honored and recognized for it as well, including obviously the Nobel Prize. He got the Volvo Prize, and I think he got one of the Japanese ones but I’m not quite sure about that one. But he was not a player in the interface with the international negotiations.
It was people more like Dan and myself who were the face of the assessments and the international negotiations. Sherry was a player around the world, and talking to individual governments, major international symposia. Very important, very powerful. But he was never at the science-policy interface at the actual negotiations, but he’d already done his job. They’re complementary jobs. I think that’s the way I would say it. Highly complementary. I mean he’s obviously played an incredibly important role. I would hope he’s not disappointed he wasn’t part of more of these. I think he was part of one of the most important ones ever, the International Trends one. The others have been very important as well. But that was also a very pivotal one, and no question, his contribution is recognized by everybody.
But one has to be a little careful. One of the reasons I was dumped from the IPCC is the US government didn’t like the results of the third assessment report, and they viewed [???], which is complete and utter bullshit, but that was their perception, basically. In fact they even commented at one policy. They said whoever chairs IPCC should — Well, the guy that’s there now for sure has [???] far more policy than I ever have. So anyway.
Some of these reasons you were just discussing with Rowland, are those similar reasons for why assessments are meant to be policy relevant and not policy prescriptive?
Absolutely. Otherwise you can always be viewed as, you’re advocates and you’ve preselected the information to support your policy position. The second reason is scientific knowledge, and I put technical and economic and social in there as well, there’s only one input to a policy decision. There are other factors. There is the economy in the broad sense of the word, there’s employment, there’s distributional issues. Even more so on climate and agriculture, and even on biodiversity, but for a different reason on biodiversity. So for scientists to believe that they know what the answers are is a little bit…arrogance is too strong of a word, but it fails to recognize the other dimensions of a policy decision.
I think climate change would really be the perfect example. You could say we should have a major cutback, and I do. But again, I say it’s how to do it, because what’s the ethical issue that most of the emissions are coming from developed countries and not developing.
Let’s go back to ozone. There is an interesting issue here. They were viewed to be very important gases in refrigeration, foam blowing, etc. Let’s assume two parts per billion of chlorine and bromine with a carrying capacity to the atmosphere. There’s already .6 from methyl chloride, but let’s say that it would be reasonable to get to two without a big issue. The OECD countries, the industrialized world, used all of that carrying capacity.
By the time of 1987, there were not very many fluorocarbons being used in developing countries. Let’s say a few of those. Let’s say refrigeration really turned out to be absolutely crucial and effectively there weren’t any really good substitutes. The OECD countries had already used up the carrying capacity of the atmosphere, and we said they’ve all got to be banned. Well we managed to get rid of all of our refrigerators with fluorocarbons, but did we have a right to tell China and India they couldn’t protect their food, etc., etc.? It was a food security issue, which is a human health issue, etc. It becomes very interesting on an ethical standpoint, which is where we are on the climate debate. How much can you allow to load the atmosphere with green house gases? How did we get rich in OECD? Use of fossil fuels. How did we get rich also? We deforested our part of the world. But we’re telling China and Brazil don’t use fossil fuels, don’t deforest. Really got to look at some of these ethical issues rather carefully. But we were rather fortunate.
Now, effectively we did come up with substitutes that were reasonably affordable quickly. But let’s say they weren’t quite so much there. A developing country could have said, “Damn it, these gases are really crucial for me. And they actually don’t affect me — I’m not white and I’m not going to get skin cancer!” [Chuckles] None of them ever did say that. In fact I think we actually owe developing countries a huge debt of gratitude to recognize they never once said this is primarily an issue for white-skinned people. Africans, Asians, Latin Americans who have got far more pigmentation in their skin than we have never once said, “You’re asking us to protect you from cancer. And yet these are important gases to us.” Never once came up in the debate. And yet in reality, the big impacts are on light-skinned people. Never once did they point that out that I was aware of, which is really rather nice. Because they could have said, “You’ve used these gases. They’re important to us.” Maybe the reason it didn’t come up, other than their being very honorable, we actually did put in together a financial trust fund to help the transfer, and that was crucially important and a major fact of it. But when you look at this at the end of the day, why did we really care about ozone depletion? It really was a simple issue. The EDCO [?] system issue would have become more of an issue once we understood it better. But the one that sold it was skin cancer on light-skinned people. Also, where are most developing countries? In the tropics. They’re not in the ozone depletion there. So when you really think about getting all of the developing countries to move away from it, one, there wasn’t much ozone depletion where they were, and two, the big issue wasn’t a big issue for them. So even though their ecosystems had a big impact, very intriguing, they all signed up for it, and I think it’s because we did put the right financial mechanism in place, and we appreciated them. So anyone who says, “Oh yeah, and we have to pay for it,” damn it, we should have paid for it! It wasn’t their issue at lots of levels. So it really is a superb example of people working together. When you put it so starkly, it really is quite interesting.
So you can see the Montreal Protocol as a huge success in that way. Maybe it took five or ten years longer…
Watson:Absolutely. Other than that, it was an incredible success.
Brysse:So why is the climate change negotiation so much harder? US politics?
For the last eight years, yes, but that makes it too simplistic. First, every country in the world needs energy, and coal is unbelievably cheap. Why do we still produce energy and use it the same way today as 100 years ago? We produce electricity from coal and gas. Our cars are based on oil. It’s exactly the same as 100 years ago. The technology is more sophisticated, but it’s the same basic idea. Why haven’t we transitioned to more renewable energy or electric cars or a hydrogen economy? Well, hydrogen is only a carrier of energy; it’s not an energy source. Coal is very cheap, oil has been very cheap — there’s been no financial economic incentive to transition, which compares to say computers, communications, pharmaceuticals — I can’t recognize those technologies even 10 or 20 years ago. They’re totally different. Why? Because there was an economic reason to keep it expanded. There is no incentive for decades and decades and decades to move away from fossil fuels, therefore you have industries embedded in fossil fuels.
It’s also complicated because we the North used up the carrying capacity of the atmosphere, that we really shouldn’t have gone much above 350 parts per million of CO2, and we’re already at 370. So we’re telling developing countries we got rich by using fossil fuels, but you should use more expensive forms. They’re saying, “But we didn’t cause the problem!” They’re right. So the energy is absolutely embedded in everyone’s economic growth. There are major equity issues. Also, developing countries are the ones that are most vulnerable. It’s the reverse of the ozone issue. The most vulnerable countries are poor people in developing countries. So some people even in OECD economies, we’re not really going to suffer very much from climate change. We’re going to be protecting developing countries.
Well, there are huge ethical issues. Of course we should be. And there are damages on OECD countries, there’s no question. But its way more embedded in some of the equity issues, way more embedded into the economic issues, and who caused the problem, who should pay for it.
The science is about as solid as the ozone science was, in my opinion, when we had the Montreal Protocol. That’s my personal view. We know as much about climate as we did about — I’d say actually more, because we actually have got the theory, we’ve seen observed changes, and we’ve established cause and effect. I think we’ve got the science more like where we were on the London Amendments, more so than the Montreal Protocol. Also, you’ve got way more entrenched — I mean in ozone there were only 19 significant companies around the world that produced them. Those that produced them found the solutions, largely. The energy guys, this is real big business. This is the biggest energy companies, coal, oil, and gas, in the world — big political pressure on those groups. Incredible lobbying by some of them. Not all of them; some are being much more responsible than others. So the dynamics is very different.
So what can we learn? What we can learn is you need to do real good research to get a good, solid scientific base; you need international assessments to make sure we’re all on the same page; you need concerted action. So there are three big lessons to be learned, and then after that it gets more and more complicated! [Laughs]
What you said about who is going to suffer, and the OECD countries are not necessarily as much with climate change, that really makes sense to me. I’m from Canada, and I’ve heard people jokingly say Canada doesn’t care about climate change because we want our country to get warmer.
Watson:There are plusses and minuses. Other than Vancouver and Halifax, you don’t have any major cities on the coast. Halifax I wouldn’t call a major city, and Vancouver is a moderate city compared to Montreal and Quebec. So your major cities are not on the coast. They are on the Great Lakes, so a sea level rise could affect there, but you could easily dam it up so it wouldn’t be an issue. You’ll get a longer thermal growing season, so you potentially have far more chance of increased agricultural productivity in things like wheat, if there’s not a big increase in pest regime. Forestry is rather important to you, and a warmer climate might give you far more forest fires and forest pests. That’s a real big question; I would not be complacent about forests. Then go farther north where you’ve got an interesting issue with the Inuit — Eskimos, who’ve got far more voice now than they had 10 or 20 years ago, and the melting the permafrost would absolutely modify or destroy even their way of life. They now have political pressure, basically.
So if I were to say to what degree is it an issue for Canada, sea level rise, not particularly. Agriculture, some positives. Forestry, definitely some negatives. Permafrost, absolutely some negatives without any question whatsoever. Human health, not a big issue. You’re not going to get malaria or these others. Heat stress mentality is never going to become an issue in any way.
Brysse:Although it gets pretty hot in parts of Alberta in the summer.
Watson:But you probably have air conditioning, those that can afford it, so a bit of a social issue there. The same in Chicago, summer of 1994 in the US. Water, probably get more water. If anything, you’ll get more floods, so you might have to worry about floods. Probably won’t have to worry about droughts there. So water, food, it can be managed. Forestry, a little bit of an issue. Human health, not an issue I would particularly worry about.
Brysse:How about migration, if parts of the southern US become unlivable?
Watson:Yes, and I think even more in developing countries, the migration issue. It should be a concern. Also, we’re part of one world, basically. What we do is going to screw up — So someone could try to make a case to the Canadian government, “Human health, there could be some danger!” Yes, probably three cases a year, or five cases of malaria. Let’s be serious about this, guys! We’re talking about a million cases in parts of Africa. I’ve heard people try to sell the human health thing on dengue in Australia, and there are only 20 cases a year. Relative risk has to be looked at.
Brysse:But if you’re trying to get those rich white people to care about something that matters to them, maybe that’s the way to do it.
Yes, but you have to sell it appropriately. Then someone finally says it wasn’t a big issue compared to these others. That’s why I don’t like over-selling. But I do like selling the risks, and I do like the two sides of the coin, basically. These are really serious issues, but let’s not over-sell inappropriately. Should we care about developing countries? Yes. We were the ones that used up the carrying capacity. And also developing countries are important to us. A lot of our food comes from there. And let’s be careful on this, China will become one of the superpowers. It’s not a developing country for too much longer. India as well. So if we piss them off now, they might come to get their own back later. So Africa may not be very powerful politically now, but hopefully one day it will take its rightful place. So you have to look at the politics long term as well.
This I think is where Bush made a fundamental error, pissing the rest of the world off. The US came across as just arrogant. He had the sympathy of the world after 9/11, but then most of his other actions afterwards were totally arrogant and he pissed the rest of the world off. You have to think through…The British Empire, take that, you know, the sun never set on the British Empire. I think England has now got a fairly good place in the world today, but we could have pissed the world off where no one ever wanted to talk to us again, the way we colonized parts of Africa, etc.
You’ve got to think through, things change over time. Roman Empire disappeared, Greek empire disappeared, the Egyptian empire, the British Empire, the Moguls. You always have to think what do I want to leave behind, and how do I want to be thought of after my supremacy disappears? The more you’re open, the more you’re compassionate, the more you’ll be treated well if indeed for whatever reason you stop being the superpower and you just become one of the pack. I’m not a historian, but we should learn from history, and I don’t think many superpowers learned from history. Rarely has a superpower stayed a superpower too long. You only have to look at the former Soviet Union. I think that’s what Obama has realized, that he needs to be a compassionate and sensitive leader for the world, so we’re remembered as a compassionate world leader, not an arrogant leader, which is unfortunately what I think the Bush administration will be remembered for.
Anyway, slight diversion there! But it all comes into the equity issue, how you deal with global issues. Equity is important.
Yes, typical ethical questions. Peter Singer gave a talk. Well, there’s a whole series at Princeton on the ethics of climate change. But he broke it down in very simple terms: does the US have a particularly huge responsibility for climate change, and he showed three or four or five different ways of looking at it, and they all said yes.
Watson:There’s no question the answer is yes: 5% of the world’s population using 25% of the world’s energy, a significant reason for some of the deforestation in different parts of the world, our demand for timber from abroad.
…care about the ozone I think is rather black and white. What I think would be much more interesting, you could do a very in-depth analysis of the ozone story. It would be a fun thing to read, etc. But I’d ask what is the outcome of it, and what will people learn from it, and will it influence anyone to do anything differently in the future. And I’m a little nervous the answer is no, it won’t have a big impact on anybody. So you could go into detail on it, and then say okay, what did we learn from it? To what degree has it influenced future assessments? I’m horribly biased, but to what degree did it influence the IPCC, and did they learn from it? To what degree did it influence the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and did they learn from it? And to what degree did it influence the International Agricultural Assessment on Science and Technology? And why did I pick those? They’re the ones I’ve all chaired. And another one, the Global Biodiversity Assessment. So having a comparison across the assessments, to what degree did we learn or not learn, I think would be much more powerful than just simply looking at the ozone story. So what you might want to do is an in-depth study of ozone, and then at a slightly more superficial level, look to see about the way the IPCC is being conducted, look to see the way the biodiversity assessment is being conducted, look to the see the way the AG assessment was conducted, then say to what degree did they learn from and take some of the key lessons, and was there an evolution in the thinking? I think that would be a much more powerful story.
Brysse:Are there any important international environmental assessments in recent years that you haven’t chaired? Because one could argue that you are the key factor.
Depends on how you look at it. UNEP has this thing called GELL, the Global Environments Lab Look, and they’re not particularly influential, but they have them. There was a water assessment done by the CJR Water and Agriculture, came out about a year ago now, about this time last year. It was done by the CJR Center in Sri Lanka, International Water Management Institute. It wasn’t a huge international assessment, but it was an international assessment. There was of course a large dams assessment, the Large Dams Commission. Slightly different issue. I’m trying to think what else there’s been. They’re the major ones. Because you actually ask an interesting question, did something feed into something, and my comment was the first ozone assessments didn’t have anything to feed into. IPCC was formed before the UNFC —
One other interesting question is the timing between assessments and policy.
On the ozone, we obviously started the ozone assessments internationally before we had the convention and before we had the Montreal Protocol, but then it was embedded. Climate, we had the IPCC before we had the UNFCC, and it’s independent of it, but always effectively been closely connected to it. The biodiversity assessment, the CBD, started before any major international assessment, and even now today doesn’t have a true international process behind it. So when we did the MA, it was not requested by anybody, although we talked to all the policy groups. And on the agriculture, there’s nothing to feed into directly, although there are lots of international entities associated with food. So the three interesting issues are the timing between assessments and policy; to what degree are they inter-governmental, non-governmental, or hybrid; to what degree are they independent or embedded in the conventions? There are some very interesting questions of the plusses and minuses of that.
There are actually some very interesting issues around how you do an assessment. See, the ozone assessment was demanded, so to speak, every so many years. It’s not an inter-governmental process in a classical sense. Four or five scientists have been chosen to lead it. IPCC is a pure inter-governmental process — the management board is governments. We’ve been asked by conventions to do an assessment, but we don’t go there for formal who’s nominated, who’s approved. So it’s weird. You could call it non-governmental, but requested by convention. IPCC is actually totally independent of the convention, but listens very closely to what the convention wants. The Millennium Ecosystem was totally non-governmental, but we went to all the biodiversity conventions to say what are the big policy questions, and we put them on as ex officio members on our board of directors.
The Ag Assessment was inter-governmental, but with a multi-stakeholder bureau of 30 governments and 30 members from civil society, and if it ever came to a vote, it was only governments. So there are four very different government structures, four almost different ways they’re connected to conventions or not connected to conventions. They’ve all learned from this (maybe because I’ve been involved in all of them), the peer review is absolutely critical, transparency is absolutely critical, and executive summaries are absolutely critical. So I would argue all of the assessment process, the actual writing and peer review, has learned a lot from the ozone assessments, actually, and in some ways has gone even further. But then the linkages to the policy process are quite different, and to what degree should it be relevant. You know, let’s just get the sciences to do their own thing. Let’s have an inter-governmental, let’s have a hybrid.
Very interesting question, actually.
You might want to talk to Michael about whether you should do just an ozone story, or whether you should do an ozone story in-depth and then sort of tease out some of the key issues about all the other ones. I think it would make an interesting last chapter to say since the ozone assessments, they started some of this during this, now they’ve continued. To what degree have they got similar characteristics by the way they’re run or their government structures or the way they try and influence policy process. I think you’d get a lot of intrigue out of the last part. I think it would make it a more interesting story at the end of it, because it would say, “So what? So we’ve done a great analysis of what we did. So what? Did anyone learn from it, or not? What did you get, lessons out of it? What could we have done differently?” In fact that would be intriguing. Once you’ve done the history of it, analyze would you have done anything differently, and if you had, having in those sense you’ve done, has it been picked up any other assessments.
That would be a really good test. The ozone assessments, they are first, right? There weren’t really any other international…?
Watson:Not at that level. I don't know of any. The acid depositions tended to be regional, like there are some acid deposition studies in North America. There probably were some acid deposition studies in Europe; I don't know about them. There’s a big acid deposition research program; I forget what the damn thing was called, something like Long-range Trans [???] Air Pollution or something, and it probably had an assessment process, but that would have been regional. I don’t even know when they started as I’ve never read one. That’s not an issue I followed, basically. I think it would be fair to say that the ozone were the first truly international ones. And they grew, and that's something you should look at. Look at the composition of that one in 1981, and then look at the composition in 1985, and then now look at the composition of where the authors come now. It would be interesting to see, although a tedious task, how many countries had experts that were involved in the 1981, then look at how — Look at are you only doing the science or are you doing the impacts of the TF1 [and the TEAP?] as well when you look at the assessments?
Brysse:I’m mostly focusing on the science assessments.
Watson:Might want to do at least a little bit on the evolution of the — so the two dimensions can be a really depth of this, at least a small story how there was parallelism that we did go to impacts and the economics and technical one, because that absolutely had an influence. Just knowing there were solutions would be a problem. You know, this was risk assessment, and to some degree you could argue going all the way to TEAP was risk management — how could you then manage the risk? You do need both parts for a policymaker, so you might want to at least have a little bit on the other two, and then say that was one of the lessons IPCC got, you have to do risk assessment and risk management. What are the threads, and what are the options for action? So there are two other dimensions, and Michael might not think that’s worth it. But I think it would make a more interesting two-year study, to be honest. If Michael and you do want to go into the next bit, I once wrote a short paper just for the hell of it, I never published it, what we’re trying to do is to try and sell, so to speak, an MA follow up, which then would actually be embedded with the conventions or with like an IPCC, embedded but independent, requested but independent I would say — that's a fair way to say it. Some others want to embed it into a CB, that would be totally politicized. So I did write a short paper once on all of these sorts of different approaches to the governments, so if you do indeed do decide to do something, get in touch with me again and I’ll try and dig out wherever my paper is and send you a copy. It sort of talks about the pros and cons of different government structures as I see it, although I never developed it particularly in any great depth. It’s a 10-15 page thing.