Archive for December, 2007

End-of-2007 Hurricane-Global Warming Update

December 26th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

There are a few new papers out on hurricanes (or more generally, tropical cyclones) and global warming that motivate this update.


Before sharing these new papers, let me provide a bit of background.


On the Political Relevance of Scientific Consensus

December 21st, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has released a report in which he has identified some hundreds of scientists who disagree with the IPCC consensus. Yawn. In the comments of Andy Revkin’s blog post on the report you can get a sense of why I often claim that arguing about the science of climate change is endlessly entertaining but hardly productive, and confirming Andy’s assertion that “A lot of us live in intellectual silos.”

In 2005 I had an exchange with Naomi Oreskes in Science on the significance of a scientific consensus in climate politics. Here is what I said then (PDF):

IN HER ESSAY “THE SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS on climate change” (3 Dec. 2004, p. 1686), N. Oreskes asserts that the consensus reflected in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) appears to reflect, well, a consensus. Although Oreskes found unanimity in the 928 articles with key words “global climate
change,” we should not be surprised if a broader review were to find conclusions at odds with the IPCC consensus, as “consensus” does not mean uniformity of perspective. In the discussion motivated by Oreskes’ Essay, I have seen one claim made that there are more than 11,000 articles on “climate change” in the ISI database and suggestions that about 10% somehow contradict the IPCC consensus

But so what? If that number is 1% or 40%, it does not make any difference whatsoever from the standpoint of policy action. Of course, one has to be careful, because people tend to read into the phrase “policy action” a particular course of action that they themselves advocate. But in the IPCC, one can find statements to use in arguing for or against support of the Kyoto Protocol. The same is true for any other specific course of policy action on climate change. The IPCC maintains that its assessments do not advocate any single course of action.

So in addition to arguing about the science of climate change as a proxy for political debate on climate policy, we now can add arguments about the notion of consensus itself. These proxy debates are both a distraction from progress on climate change and a reflection of the tendency of all involved to politicize climate science.

The actions that we take on climate change should be robust to (i) the diversity of scientific perspectives, and thus also to (ii) the diversity of perspectives of the nature of the consensus. A consensus is a measure of a central tendency and, as such, it necessarily has a distribution of perspectives around that central measure (1). On climate change, almost all of this distribution is well within the bounds of legitimate scientific debate and reflected within the full text of the IPCC reports. Our policies should not be optimized to reflect a single measure of the central tendency or, worse yet, caricatures of that measure, but instead they should be robust enough to accommodate the distribution of perspectives around that
central measure, thus providing a buffer against the possibility that we might learn more in the future (2).

Center for Science and Technology Policy Research,
University of Colorado, UCB 488, Boulder, CO
80309–0488, USA.

1 D. Bray,H. von Storch, Bull.Am.Meteorol. Soc. 80, 439 (1999).
2. R. Lempert, M. Schlesinger, Clim. Change 45, 387 (2000).

Laboratories of Democracy? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Laboratories of Democracy

December 20th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a request from the state of California for permission to exceed national standards on automobile emissions. It was the first such denial since the Clean Air Act was originally passed, marking a departure from 50-some such waivers previously granted.

It was not so long ago that the State Department’s Harlan Watson spoke at the 2003 Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on The Bush Administration’s enthusiasm for state-level initiatives on climate policy:

I would like to highlight the efforts being made by State and local governments in the United States to address climate change. Geographically, the United States encompasses vast and diverse climatic zones representative of all major regions of the world — polar, temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical — with different heating, cooling, and transportation needs and with different energy endowments. Such diversity allows our State and local governments to act as laboratories where new and creative ideas and methods can be applied and shared with others and inform federal policy — a truly bottom-up approach to addressing global climate change.

At the State level, 40 of our 50 States have prepared GHG inventories, 27 States have completed climate change action plans, and 8 States have adopted voluntary GHG emissions goals. In addition, 13 States have adopted “Renewable Portfolio Standards” requiring electricity generators to gradually increase the portion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy. And, at the local level, more than 140 local governments participating in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign are developing cost-effective GHG reduction plans, setting goals, and reducing GHG emissions

Yesterday, EPA’s Steven Johnson explains why the Bush Administration is now opposed to state by state efforts to innovate:

“The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” Mr. Johnson told reporters on a conference call. “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Climate policy needs more not less opportunities to learn from implementation. The Bush Administration’s inconsistent actions are not only ham-handed politics, but just bad policy, whatever one’s views on climate change, energy policy, or partisan politics.

H/T DotEarth

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC, Science and Politics

December 19th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The current issue of Nature has a lengthy profile of Rajendra Pachauri, its “Newsmaker of the Year.” In the profile Dr. Pachauri discusses his personal views on the politics of climate change and his responsibilities as IPCC chair. Here is how he characterizes his own efforts, as quoted in the Nature profile:

We have been so drunk with this desire to produce and consume more and more whatever the cost to the environment that we’re on a totally unsustainable path. I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible forum the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development.

AP Pachauri Gore.jpg

In recent weeks and months, Dr. Pachauri, and other representatives of the IPCC, have certainly not been shy in advocating specific actions on climate change, using their role as IPCC leaders as a pulpit to advance those agendas. For instance, in a recent interview with CNN on the occasion of representing the IPCC at the Nobel Prize ceremony, Dr. Pachauri downplayed the role of geoengineering as a possible response to climate change, suggested that people eat less meat, called for lifestyle changes, suggested that all the needed technologies to deal with climate change are in the marketplace or soon to be commercialized, endorsed the Kyoto Protocol approach, criticized via allusion U.S. non-participation, and defended the right of developing countries to be exempt from limits on future emissions.

Dr. Pachauri has every right to these personal opinions, but each of the actions called for above are contested by some thoughtful people who believe that climate change is a problem requiring action, and accept the science as reported by the IPCC. These policies are not advocated by the IPCC because the formal mandate of the IPCC is to be “policy neutral.” But with its recent higher profile, it seems that the IPCC leadership believes that it can flout this stance with impunity. The Nature profile discusses this issue:

The IPCC’s mandate is to be ‘neutral with respect to policy’ — to set out the options and let policy-makers decide how to act. The reports themselves reflect this. Every word is checked and double-checked by scientists, reviewers and then government representatives — “sanitized”, as Pachauri puts it. But Pachauri is the face of the IPCC, and he often can’t resist speaking out, despite a few “raps on the knuckles” for his comments. He insists that he always makes it clear he is speaking on his own behalf and not for the IPCC. “It’s one thing to make sure that our reports are sanitized. It’s another for me as an individual to talk about policies that might work. I feel I have responsibility far beyond being a spokesman for the IPCC. If I feel there are certain actions that can help us meet this challenge, I feel I should articulate them.”

“I think Patchy needs to be careful,” says Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in Bilthoven, who is one of the co-chairs of the IPCC’s working group on greenhouse-gas mitigation. “One of the things about the IPCC is that it lays down the facts. If you start mixing [that] with your own views that’s not very wise. But he gets away with it because of his charm.” Steve Rayner, director of the James Martin Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, and a senior author with the same working group, feels that Pachauri’s personal statements place too much stress on lifestyles and not enough on technologies. But he also concedes that a certain amount of outspokenness is an essential part of the job. “I don’t think you can provide inspirational leadership in an enterprise like this unless you are passionate. That’s something Bob [Watson] and Patchy have in common. They are both very passionate about the issue and I think that’s appropriate.”

In general, those who agree with the political agenda advanced by Dr. Pachauri will see no problem with his advocacy, and those opposed will find it to be problematic. And this is precisely the problem. By using his platform as a scientific advisor to advance a political agenda, Dr. Pachauri risks politicizing the IPCC and turning it (or perceptions of it) into simply another advocacy group on climate change, threatening its legitimacy and ultimately, its ability to serve as a trusted arbiter of science.

On this point reasonable people will disagree. However, before you decide how you feel about this subject, consider how you would feel if the head of the International Atomic Energy Association responsible for evaluating nuclear weapons programs were to be an outspoken advocate for bombing the very country he was assessing, or if the head of the CIA with responsibility to bring intelligence to policy makers also was at the same time waging a public campaign on certain foreign policies directly related to his intelligence responsibilities. For many people the conflation of providing advice and seeking to achieve political ends would seem to be a dangerous mix for both the quality of advice and the quality of decision making.

The IPCC is riding high these days, but as Burt Metz says, they need to be very careful. Saying that your organization is “policy neutral” while behaving quite differently does not seem to be a sustainable practice. Policy makers will need science advice on climate change for a long time. The IPCC politicizes its efforts with some risk.

A Follow Up on Media Coverage and Climate Change

December 19th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I asked a few reporters and scholars why it is that a major paper in Nature last week on hurricanes and global warming received almost no media coverage whereas another paper released last summer received quite a bit more. Andy Revkin raised the issue on his blog which stimulated many more responses. With this post I’d like to report back on what I’ve heard, and what I’ve concluded, at least tentatively, on the role of the media in the climate debate.


New Data on the Global Economy

December 18th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The World Bank has released a valuable new dataset with data on the global economy calculated as PPP and MER. In 2005 the global economy was about $44 trillion (MER) and $55 trillion (PPP). The slide below is taken from the press briefing presentation (ppt).

world economy.png

Climate Policy as Farce

December 18th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to The Telegraph to deal with the issue of climate change the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King, has encouraged a “cultural change” among women to prefer men who save energy, rather than hog it, such as by driving Ferrari’s. And for those of you unfamiliar with UK newspapers, it is important to point out that The Telegraph is not the UK’s version of The Onion.


Here is an excerpt:

Professor Sir David King said governments could only do so much to control greenhouse gas emissions and it was time for a cultural change among the British public.

And he singled out women who find supercar drivers “sexy”, adding that they should divert their affections to men who live more environmentally-friendly lives.

His comments were greeted with anger by sports car drivers who insisted that their vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions were tiny compared with those from four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Sir David, who is due to retire as the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser at the end of the year, said individuals needed to change their behaviour.

“I was asked at a lecture by a young woman about what she could do and I told her to stop admiring young men in Ferraris,” he said.

“What I was saying is that you have got to admire people who are conserving energy and not those wilfully using it.”

Sir David, who persuaded the Government to start using the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that claims to have lower emissions than most conventional cars, added: “Government has so many levers that it can pull – when it comes to the business sector it is quite effective.

“As soon as you come to the individual, however, they will buy a Ferrari, not because it is cheap to run or has low carbon dioxide emissions, but because young women think it is sexy to see men driving Ferraris. That is the area where a culture change is needed.”

Meanwhile, Europe is divided about strengthening regulations on emissions from autos:

Emergency talks aimed at setting EU targets to reduce CO2 car emissions are being held today amid fears that bitter wrangling between car manufacturing countries could delay or even derail the process entirely.

The European Commission is due to adopt a draft regulation tomorrow on reducing carbon emissions from passenger cars to 120 grams per kilometre within five years, but a bitter fallout between European heavyweights has plunged the key negotiations into crisis. Member states with car manufacturers that traditionally produce heavy, energy-hungry cars are concerned that the emission targets will unfairly benefit those businesses that make lighter, more efficient vehicles.

France and Germany, in particular, are believed to be at loggerheads over the Commission’s proposals. French manufacturers such as Peugeot-Citroen have already reduced their carbon emissions to 140g for their cars, whereas German companies such as BMW, Mercedes and Daimler still lag behind on emission targets because their vehicles are heavier and higher performance models. Sweden, which also tends to make larger cars, is also thought to be unhappy about the proposals, while Italy is backing France.

What is lost among this empty moralizing and trade disputes is that a zero-emission Ferrari would require no need to change the libidinal desires of young women (granting Prof. King’s dubious premise), nor an embarrassing trade dispute between countries committed to reducing emissions.

These anecdotes — frustrating and farcical as they may be — illustrate a serious underlying point: Much of climate debate is exactly backwards. Advocates are spending far too much time arguing over how important that it is that others change their behavior, usually in ways that those doing the advocating would want regardless of climate change. In this way climate change becomes not a problem to be solved but a political weapon in service of other goals. The alternative to the dominant approach to climate change would be to initiate those steps that will actually make a difference, thus enabling political compromise. As Dan Sarewitz and I have often argued it is often technological advances that enable compromise rather than vice versa. And in the case of climate change those steps that will actually make a difference begin with making the costs of producing alternative energy cheaper than fossil fuels (as Shellenberger and Nordhaus have argued, and now Google), and working to make people and ecosystems more resilient/less vulnerable to climate impacts. Of course many groups are doing exactly this, but they are certainly not those leading the charge on climate policy.

Technology Assessment and Globalization

December 18th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

My latest column for Bridges is out, and it is titled “Technology Assessment and Globalization”. This is a subject that I’ll be devoting a lot more time to in 2008.


Here is an excerpt:

When my parents brought home our first color television in the early 1970s, they could not have envisioned that they were contributing in a small but significant way to forces of globalization that 30 years later have resulted in their grandchildren asking me for sushi as a treat from our local grocery store.

Read it here and listen to the podcast here.

Shellenberger on Bali

December 17th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Over at the Breakthrough blog, Michael Shellenberger offers some straight talk on the outcome of the Bali meeting.

A Second Reponse from RMS

December 17th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A few weeks ago I provided a midterm evaluation of the RMS 2006-2010 US hurricane damage prediction. RMS (and specifically Steve Jewson) responded and has subsequently (and graciously) sent in a further response to a question that I posed:

Does RMS stand by its spring 2006 forecast that the period 2006-2010 would see total insured losses 40% above the historical average?

The RMS response appears below, and I’ll respond in the comments: