Post-IPCC Political Handicapping: Count the Votes

February 6th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The National Journal has updated its poll of opinions on climate change among members of the U.S. Congress, which it first presented last April. The results, with a few exceptions, are much the same. What the poll indicates are that while there are indeed partisan differences on how members of congress view the science of climate change, there is nonetheless a strong majority of members who accept that “it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution.” Given this finding, one might wonder what marginal value exists in continuing to debate the science (one answer found below). Here are a few further details.


In its February 3, 2007 issue the National Journal finds (PDF) that 97% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans answered yes (or “consensus” or “part of cause”) to the question: “Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made problems?”

Let’s assume, for the present discussion, that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is interpreted identically to the IPCC’s “very likely” (meaning >90% certainty, the NJ poll was taken before IPCC’s release last week). Let’s also assume that the poll of 72 members is in fact representative of the 535 total. Finally, let’s set aside the debate of whether partisanship drives views on science or vice-versa.

What does this poll signify?

It means that in the Senate there are 57 members who believe that there is no “reasonable doubt” on the cause of global warming, and in the House this number is 258. These are strong majorities.

With respect to the policy questions asked by the National Journal here is how the numbers break out for those favoring various policies:

Mandatory CO2 Limits:

House 243
Senate 54

Carbon Tax

House 123
Senate 27

Cap and Trade

House 290
Senate 65

These counts (again, if an accurate reflection of members’ positions) suggest a few important conclusions.

1. The issue of science is no longer relevant to debate in Congress. A majority in both chambers accepts the human role in climate change, and further a majority accepts the need for action, including mandatory caps on carbon dioxide.

2. A carbon tax is largely unrelated to debate over the science. Even if the entire House were to be comprised of members who accept the science of climate change, as this factor alone drove voting behavior, the vote would be even. However, among Democrats only 50% favor a carbon tax, indicating that there are significant factors at play beyond just views of the science. If one posits that Republican views on a carbon tax are different than Democrats (big stretch), let’s say half as favorable (to be generous) with respect to their views of the science, then this would mean that Congress would have to be at least 75% Democratic to get a majority favoring a carbon tax. Under the present political landscape – not gonna happen.

Bottom line – the votes for action appear to be there. So too is broad public acceptance of the reality of climate change and a need for action. Why then is not action happening more quickly?

There are probably a few answers:

1. When push comes to shove. It may be the case that among many people global warming is an issue with more emotional affect than implications for action. In the U.K. for instance, where climate change is squarely on the agenda, only 11% of respondents to a recent poll indicated that they would fly less to reduce their emissions. The current debate in Europe reflects the difficulties of actually reducing emissions even in the context of apparent strong political and public support.

2. Political overreach. Some who want action on climate change have suggested that it might be best for the 110th Congress not to act in order to wait for a Democratic president to be elected in 2009 (or a least someone who is not GWB). The thinking is that even stronger legislation will be possible under those conditions. This might be wishful thinking. A good rule in politics is to take what you can when you can get it.

3. Those skeptics. Just when you thought that we’d seen the end of the debate over climate skeptics, it turns out that some scientists are busy trying to keep them in the limelight. Yes, you read that right. Consider that immediately upon release of the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers the RealClimate blog immediately followed up its 1,280 word review of the IPCC SPM with a 1,585 word essay on some anti-IPCC statement from a group of self-appointed climate skeptics. Without RealClimate’s generous lavishing of attention and imputed significance, the anti-IPCC document would probably have gone unnoticed by most folks. Like old Cold Warriors longing for the Soviet Union the complete and utter domination of the IPCC consensus view seems difficult for some to accept. This issue runs far deeper than bloggers worried about being out of a job, as it will no doubt manifest itself in debates over climate change research budgets. A strong case can be made that now that the science is settled, at least from the standpoint of justifying mitigation, that there is ample room to downsize significant aspects of the climate research enterprise. After all, plate tectonics is not a big area of research.

4. Fighting is more fun than winning. The dynamics of debate over climate change in the blogoshpere might be a good indication of the broader political dynamics for many. It is easy to transform the issue into skeptic vs. nonskeptic in order to debate science, or Republican vs. Democract to debate politics, or environmentalist vs. capitalist to debate the economy/environment, or any of a number of wedge issues that people find fun and exciting to discuss. We see that achieving pragmatic action on real issues — which might involve moving beyond the science or reaching a political compromise with one’s sworn enemies seems pretty tame and unexciting for many. I have little doubt that for some people, climate change is all about the fight, not the victory, so preserving conflict is paramount.

Bottom line from this post: The votes are there. What is lacking, as I’ve often asserted, are a wide range of policy options to exploit the current political receptivity. In the absence of good options, it is likely that we’ll continue see symbolic action (at best) and loud exhortations, as the battle over climate change continues.

38 Responses to “Post-IPCC Political Handicapping: Count the Votes”

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  1. Dan Hughes Says:

    I have a question. Exactly how would ‘Mandatory CO2 Limits’ be imposed? Are there other things in my life, which are also necessary for my health, safety, and staying alive, that have limits imposed at the Federal level?

    Thanks

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  3. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Roger,

    Could you give me some examples of what you mean by “a wide range of policy options to exploit the current political receptivity”?

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  5. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Marlowe-

    Thanks. A good place to start is this 1992 discussion of policy options by the NRC:

    http://books.nap.edu/books/0309043867/html

    EPA had a similar study in 1990:

    http://es.epa.gov/p2pubs/ppc/139316.html

    Both are focused on mitigation, and both are in dire need of updating. But this sort of approach might form the foundation for turning policy proposals into legislative initiatives, which then lead to practical action. Climate change won’t be addressed by a single piece of legislation, but many steps will be needed over many years. The current policy debate, in my view, is exceedingly uninformed by the range of possibilities, as suggested in these old reports.

    Also, Dan Sarewitz and I suggested one way to think about the policy challenge here:
    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2492-2007.08.pdf

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  7. Brian S. Says:

    I’ll just point out the existence of a president who’ll veto anything with regulatory teeth, the filibuster rule in the Senate, and John Dingell.

    Given the above, the presence of signficant number of unscientific denialists in the halls of Congress constitutes a signficant impediment.

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  9. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Roger,

    Still arguing by link :) . I certainly agree with you that climate change won’t be addressed by a single piece of legislation and I doubt that there is anyone who seriously thinks otherwise.

    You say “The current policy debate, in my view, is exceedingly uninformed by the range of possibilities”. Doesn’t this depend on what you think the current policy debate is about? IMO the debate has been about action vs inaction, mandatory regulation vs. voluntary programs. And what do you mean by exceedingly uniformed by the range of possibilities?

    In my simple policy world, there are a range of options to reduce GHGs. These options are usually evaluated using a number of criteria including cost-effectiveness, political acceptability and strategic considerations. Nuclear, for example, might score well on the cost-effective and strategic (from a national perspective) but flounder on the political criteria. Ditto for fuel efficiency standards, although there are some hopeful signs emerging there.

    If you’re suggesting that there should be a broad based discussion at the political level about what specific options to purse and what approach to take then I agree completely. The science is compelling enough to warrant government intervention. Now is the time to get into the weeds about nuclear, clean coal, carbon sequestration, carbon taxes, emission trading schemes, biofuels, updated energy efficiency standards for consumer products, building codes, no-till agriculture, trade sanctions on countries that don’t regulate (see Chirac’s recent comments). The goes on…

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  11. Jim Clarke Says:

    Roger,

    Your entire argument is based on a misconception of the scientific debate; a misconception that has never been more widespread than at present. There has never been an argument (at least among atmospheric scientists) about whether or not humans affect the climate. There is never been any doubt that increasing CO2 will tend to increase atmospheric temperatures. The scientific debate is and always has been about the magnitude of human induced change.

    Unless you are arguing that ANY human induced change is bad and requires immediate mitigation, agreeing to the statement that “…it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming (in part) because of man-made problems…” does not mean that the science no longer matters in the political debate. I am sure that Lindzen would have agreed with the statement 20 years ago!

    It is the magnitude of change that should dictate the political action and it is the magnitude of change that is still being very much contested in scientific circles (although not as much in the much smaller circle of IPCC invitees). The declaration that most of the warming in recent decades is the result of human emissions is not based on empirical scientific evidence, but on a circular argument:

    1. Assume human emissions are the main forcing in recent climate change.

    2. Tune GCMs to replicate 20th century climate.

    3. Remove human emissions from GCMs.

    4. Note that models no longer indicate the observed warming.

    5. Therefore, observed warming must be largely due to human emissions!

    (If I made such an argument in my grade school science fair project I would have received an ‘F’, yet that is the simplified version of what the IPCC has done!)

    The point is that there is certainty only in that humans are causing some warming, which was never the focus of the issue at all!

    If you are trying to make the point that the reason for inaction is that policy makers are not being given reasonable actions to take, then I would certainly agree. That is true whether you accept the IPCCs view of the science (as I believe you do) or not (like me). But please don’t suggest that debate over the MAGNITUDE of human induced climate change is no longer relevant to policy!

    I believe that stance would bolster those who want to inflict dramatic CO2 reductions on the global population. The higher the projected rise in temperature, the stronger the arguments will be for CO2 mitigation, while suggestions of adaptation will be deemed unrealistic. The lower the projected rise in temperature, the more attractive adaptation policy becomes, while CO2 mitigation policy becomes less urgent or unnecessary altogether!

    Even if I were to accept that the science no longer matters in whether or not we should take action, it is still vitally important in determining what action needs to be taken.

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  13. Jim Clarke Says:

    Marlowe,

    Your post represents the wide-spread, limited thinking about possible actions to address climate change. You stated: “In my simple policy world, there are a range of options to reduce GHGs.” The focus is always on reducing GHGs, but there is only only one negative consequence of man-made global warming that can most effectively be addressed by reducing GHG emissions. That is the rise in global sea levels. All other negatives are more effectively mitigated by addressing the individual problems directly. Many problems, like shifts in agricultural practices, can be handled by the open market with no government interference. Other problems, like the spreading of disease or the potential for increased tropical storm intensity, can be remedied much more effectively by improving sanitation and building practices, both of which are already needed regardless of climate change!

    The Executive Summary released last Friday cuts global sea level rise in half from previous estimates, reducing that threat considerably. In a rational world, this would result in a reduction of cries for dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions, and more calls for dealing with the problems that currently exist, while promoting new technologies for the future.

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  15. Benny Peiser Says:

    Good point, Jim!

    Which brings us squarely back to the economic and cost-benefit analysis of climate change, and that’s exactly where it belongs.

    Perhaps David Maddison of Birmingham University isn’t too far off when he makes the following argument:

    “If you look inside the Stern Review you find that he suggests that the most severe impacts of climate change would have the effect of reducing consumption by 35% in the year 2200. But at the same time elsewhere, the Stern Report suggests that baseline economic growth will be 12 times higher in the year 2200 – which means that we will have GDP 12 times higher in the year 2200. So even if we didn’t do anything about climate change, the Stern Review seems to suggest that still we would be eight times richer by the year 2200 than we are today. So if you are concerned about equal treatment of generations, some people might say that the best thing to do about climate change is nothing. This is not a view that I subscribe to. But it seems to be a logical conclusion if you read Stern carefully….”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6295021.stm

    In short, *whatever* interventionist climate policy action is proposed, its real cost-effectiveness needs to be costed prudently. After all, a careful analysis of the long-term costs and benefits might show that the most cost-effective solution for societies in dealing with climate change is …. the free market of demand and supply.

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  17. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Jim,

    Wow.

    You’re faith in the power of unfettered markets is impressive. You’ll forgive me if I’m less than impressed about your understanding about the impacts of climate change. Let me respectfully suggest that you read the WG II report or at the very least provide some references to back up your wild claims.

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  19. Mark Hadfield Says:

    RE: “The Executive Summary released last Friday cuts global sea level rise in half from previous estimates, reducing that threat considerably.”

    No. Eg see the following from http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/02/the-ipcc-fourth-assessment-summary-for-policy-makers/

    “Note that some media have been comparing apples with pears here: they claimed IPCC has reduced its upper sea level limit from 88 to 59 cm, but the former number from the TAR did include this ice dynamics uncertainty, while the latter from the AR4 does not, precisely because this issue is now considered more uncertain and possibly more serious than before.”

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  21. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Marlowe- Thanks, we are on the same page — “Now is the time to get into the weeds ” . . . as far as offering links, follow them if you wish, don’t if you don’t. Thanks.

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  23. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Jim- Thanks for your comments. You write,

    “Even if I were to accept that the science no longer matters in whether or not we should take action, it is still vitally important in determining what action needs to be taken.”

    Research related to specific policy actions is what I (and many others) would call “policy research” and it is exactly the sort of direction that climate research ought to be headed towards. By “science” I am referring to the summarized work in IPCC WG1, which is decidedly not “policy research.”

    Sorry for any semantic confusion … Thanks.

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  25. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Roger,

    To be fair, I don’t have a problem with your linkish tendencies so long as some context is provided as to what they say (as with the first two you provide). In general I find them very useful and informative.

    What I don’t like is when they’re referenced with needlessly vague statements like “one way to think about the policy challenge”. Surely you could finish the thought and allow the reader to follow the link for more info, rather than just leave them hanging. As Coby suggested earlier, throwing out multiple links without summarizing their main points is often perceived as the virtual equivalent of throwing sand in the readers face, something I’m sure you don’t intend.

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  27. Mark Hadfield Says:

    Hi Roger

    What specific sorts of climate research do you think we need less of? Feedbacks between climate change and the carbon cycle, perhaps? Ice sheet dynamics? Land surface processes & vegetation feedbacks? Clouds? Methane budgets? Aerosols? Ocean heat storage?

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  29. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Marlowe- I’ll try to do better … no “sand in face intended”. Thanks.

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  31. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Mark- Thanks .. Dan Sarewitz and I answered this question in a short paper which discussed how climate science might shift from a focus on documenting that a problem exists to more actively contributing useful information for policy makers. Here is the link:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2003.01.pdf

    Several leading climate scientists suggested that climate science is in fact pursued for its intrinsic value, not for any societal relevance (yeah, right). See that response and othershttp://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/responce_for_2003.15_forum_climate_research.pdf here:

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  33. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    Roger,

    Your Scientific Leadership paper seems to suggest that applied research (e.g. into energy alternatives) is what is needed now, not basic climate research. I agree completely. But I’m curious to hear your thoughts on why this isn’t simply a variant on the linear model of science?

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  35. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Marlowe- Thanks. The approach that we recommend starts with an understanding of the policy context, and more explicitly, by working with decision makers to actually understand what sort of research might be useful to them. In this sense it is quite far from the linear model which starts with the investigator’s curiosity and then seeks to connect with decision makers after the research is completed.

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  37. margo Says:

    Mark,
    Your list of suggested topics to take funding hits left out a big one: Running more GCM models to predict the average global temperature.

    If we agree the average has increased, it’s likely time to pull back a bit from funding lots of full runs of GCM models and endlessly post processing data to discover they still don’t agree about what happens locally. For a period of time, scientists could concentrate on the models for subprocesses.

    Surely, taking half the money for actually running the big hammer codes containing known deficient submodels and pushing the money to improving the submodels might be wise.

    I have no objection to having the money go toward figuring out what policies we should implement either.

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  39. Andrew Alden Says:

    “A strong case can be made that now that the science is settled, at least from the standpoint of justifying mitigation, that there is ample room to downsize significant aspects of the climate research enterprise. After all, plate tectonics is not a big area of research.”

    I assure you that plate tectonics is still a very big area of research 40 years after the grand consensus. And geologists are not manufacturing controversy with expanding-Earth theories to maintain their funding. I find that accusation, leveled at climate scientists, similarly unlikely. Funding will simply be justified within the new context. This kind of “scientific climate change” can be plausibly explained as natural, even “very likely.”

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  41. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Andrew- Thanks for participating — about how much research funding goes to plate tectonics? I simply don’t know. But if it is more than $100 million/year I’d be surprised. Climate research receives about $2 billion. Thanks!

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  43. Lab Lemming Says:

    Plate tectonics funding:
    - United States Geological Survey – Includes $51.4 million for earthquake hazards – up from 50.8 million in FY ‘06.
    (nherp.org)
    http://www.nehrp.org/latest.html

    …drafting the next 5-year plan that influences Japan’s $145 million a year in earthquake-related research spending. (Science magazine)
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/280/5366/1000

    so that’s about 200 mil on goverment agencies alone, just on the subfield of earthquake hazards. Throw in the rest of the world, volcanoes, tsunamis, copper, tin, and molybdenum exploration, and basic scientific research, and you’ll probably have a reasonable number. Cherry pick your timescale to 15 months, then plate tectonics has killed more people than anthropogenic global warming, with or without stronger hurricanes.

    As for the settling of the scientific question of global warming, as long as the range for climate snesitivity ranges between 2 and 4.5, the science is not settled.

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  45. Jim Clarke Says:

    Marlowe,

    You wrote:

    “You’re faith in the power of unfettered markets is impressive. You’ll forgive me if I’m less than impressed about your understanding about the impacts of climate change. Let me respectfully suggest that you read the WG II report or at the very least provide some references to back up your wild claims.”

    It is somewhat amusing that you chastise Roger for his ‘linkish’ tendencies and then tell me to go read something without even a context or a link. No matter. Been there, done that!

    Knowing that I do not accept some of the basic assumptions found in the IPCC reports on climate change, why do you think I would find value in a series of pessimistic speculations based strictly on the product of those assumptions? Bjorn Lomborg, however, does accept the assumptions of the IPCC and still has come to the same conclusion, as have many others. Restricting CO2 emissions sufficiently to affect climate change is an extremely inefficient way to deal with most problems potentially exacerbated by global warming. (Feel free to give an example, besides sea level rise, of a problem that is best dealt with by reducing CO2 emissions!)

    As to the power of the free market…place yourself in a position of power in the year 1900. You have just been told that in 100 years there is a 90% probability that the population of the planet will exceed 6 billion people. This would obviously be a crisis as the world of 1900 can not even feed, cloth, shelter and provide health care for the 1.6 billion currently living! So you organize the IPPP (Intergovernmental Panel on the Population Problem) which issues a 1600 page report that speculates that population may even be much higher than that and outlines all the terrible wars, famines and human suffering that will result from over population, not to mention the degradation of the planet! I am sure that some would even state that it would end civilization as we know it and give us only 10 years to reduce the rate of human reproduction to avoid the catastrophe! (Heck, Paul Erhlich made similar ridicules claims with less than 30 years left in the 100, and look how wrong he was!)

    Lucky for you and me, our ancestors were not as foolish as we appear to be today. They did not waste time trying to predict the unpredictable. They did not take away the rights of our parents to raise families as they saw fit.

    Instead, they built a free market economy that relied on the millions of daily decisions made by average people to distribute scarce resources in the most efficient way. Amazingly, this not only resulted in a world capable of sustaining 6 billion people far better than the 1.6 billion a hundred years ago, it resulted in many of these same people choosing to have fewer children all on their own!

    For my references to the power of the free market and the foolishness of trying to predict the future, see ‘The History of the 20th Century’. For additional references on related topics, see ‘The History of Human Civilization’.

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  47. Mark Hadfield Says:

    Roger

    I read the Pielke and Sarewitz paper. I found it long on assertions and short on specifics. You want to ask decision makers what their requirements are? Fine, though I suggest that what we need is more a dialogue where decision makers say what they need and science leaders tell them what’s feasible.

    But you’ve talked to a few decision makers in your time. Just to focus the discussion: What sort of thing do you think they need? What sort of thing do you think they don’t need? (Satellite systems? Models?)

    Margo

    Thanks for some concrete suggestions. My list of topics to take a hit was not intended to be complete. Yes, duplication of GCM runs might be a candidate: I’m not competent to offer an informed opinion on that.

    OK, so here’s an thought of mine: regional changes in precipitation are surely relevant to policy makers. The AR4 SPM says:

    “Since the TAR there is an improving understanding of projected patterns of precipitation. Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high-latitudes, while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions (by as much as about 20% in the A1B scenario in 2100, see Figure SPM-6), continuing observed patterns in recent trends. {3.3, 8.3, 9.5, 10.3, 11.2 to 11.9}.”

    So what do we do about this? More models? Regional downscaling? Satellite sensing of surface properties? Or am I still thinking like a scientist? Is it enough to say some of the semi-arid regions of the Earth *might* get much drier and leave it at that.

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  49. Sylvain Says:

    Jim

    I agree with the way you expressed “the free market”

    I would add that even without any regulation the growth of oil consumption worldwide, combined with régional instabilities (Iran), and china and India economic growth will make other cleaner energy more competitive. The faster we will develop these energy the faster we will switch to them.

    I believe that this is an example of how free market will help the situation and at this pace, free market will be faster than policy option.

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  51. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Mark-

    Thanks. Here is a detailed analysis of the relationship of science and decision making in the context of the carbon cycle, in the form of a special issue of Environmental Science & Policy:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/publications/special/rsd_for_science.html

    Using a common framework focused on reconciling the supply of science with demands of decision makers each of the papers discussed specific instances of decision makers needs.

    We have a major research project focused on making decisions about climate science:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/sparc/

    We have looked at, in addition to carbon cycle, the NOAA RISA programs focuses on seasonal predictions, extreme events, and water resources. What decision makers need in many cases is not predictions of the long-term future (though sometimes they do need shorter-term predictions, such as with skillful ENSO predictions). They often need to know their sensitivities (or vulnerabilities) to impacts which are the joint function of natural and social processes. They need to know what options they have and the likely consequences of those options. Most importantly, they need information at the scale of their decisions, which for most decision makers is fairly narrow from a regional perspective and short term. Decision maker needs are quite contextual.

    To take the carbon cycle as an example, very few decision makers need global or continental scale information on the carbon cycle. Many need information at the local or municipal scale, and often associated with co-benefits or ancillary benefits (e.g., as related to the economy). See Dilling’s commentary in the special issue and teh reports of our 2 workshops.

    Most importantly, the scientific community needs to create a process whereby the needs of decision makers are continuously fed into the research planning process. The answer to what information decision makers need cannot be answered once, but requires a sustained interaction.

    Hope this helps. If you are interested in details, please do follow the links which go into far more depth than I have here.

    Thanks!

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  53. Paul Biggs Says:

    Science says that there is likey to be a human influence on climate which includes CO2 emissions. The magnitude remains unknown. IPCC AR4 has a temperature range for a doubling of CO2 of 1.1C to 6.4C. The likes of Nir Shaviv believe that climate sensitivity to CO2 is low, and he has peer reviewed publications to back up his view.

    The huge uncertainties are being ignored – the level of scientific understanding for most known climate forcings is rated a low or med/low (page 16):

    Solar Irradiance – low

    Linear Contrails (effect on cloudiness) – low

    Aerosol cloud albedo effect – low

    Aerosol direct effect – med/low

    Surface Albedo Land use – med/low

    Stratospheric water vapour from Methane – low

    Surface Albedo black carbon on snow – med/low

    Ozone (stratospheric/troposheric) – med

    Factors not included have a ‘very low level of scientific understanding.’

    Peer reviewed science on the effect on climate of solar eruptivity/cosmic ray flux has been ignored, along with recent research suggesting ocean cooling.

    Furthermore, the total man-made effect has an estimated range that varies by a factor of 4 (0.6 to 2.4 (WM)-2).

    How many members of the House or Senate know anything or enough about the science of climate change?

    A potentially successful policy needs a firm basis, climate policy based on CO2 has no such basis.

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  55. Mark Bahner Says:

    “If you look inside the Stern Review you find that he suggests that the most severe impacts of climate change would have the effect of reducing consumption by 35% in the year 2200. But at the same time elsewhere, the Stern Report suggests that baseline economic growth will be 12 times higher in the year 2200 – which means that we will have GDP 12 times higher in the year 2200. So even if we didn’t do anything about climate change, the Stern Review seems to suggest that still we would be eight times richer by the year 2200 than we are today. So if you are concerned about equal treatment of generations, some people might say that the best thing to do about climate change is nothing.”

    The fact that the Stern Review comes up with *only* a factor of 12 increase by 2200 does not speak very well for their abilities to correctly predict world economic growth.

    A growth rate of a factor of 12 over 200 years represents an annual growth rate of 1.25 percent. Let’s say that they are talking about per-capita growth rate…a per capita growth rate of 1.25 percent per year.

    The IPCC Third Assessment Report scenarios have per capita growth rates that range from 1.0 to 3.0 percent per year, with a midpoint of 2.0 percent per year. So the Stern Review estimate is near the very bottom for the IPCC Assessment Report scenarios. If the IPCC TAR midpoint of 2.0 percent per year is used, by 2200, the per capita GDP would be more than 50 times larger, not merely 12 times larger.

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/economics/index.html

    In constrast, I’ve estimated that the per-capita GDP growth rate in this century will accelerate from 2.5 to 3.0 percent in the 2000-2010 decade, to 6.0 percent per year in 2030-2040, to more than 10 percent per year by the end of the century. In fact, I predict per capita GDP will grow by 1000 in this century alone.

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/economics/index.html

    This will be due primarily to increases in computing power:

    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/11/why_economic_gr.html

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  57. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Robert Reich:

    “The United States, with five percent of the world’s population, contributes about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, far more than other country. But you can forget a carbon tax any time soon. Dems don’t have the intestinal fortitude to propose it.”

    http://robertreich.blogspot.com/2007/02/windfall-profits-tax-on-oil-companies.html

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  59. Mark Hadfield Says:

    Hi again Roger

    I’m working through the special issue of ES&P. I see a lot of words, but still not much detail that shows me (a working scientist on the peripheries of climate science) what sort of changes you want in the work being done. I mean Lisa Dilling talks about the need for research relating to “options to manage the terrestrial and oceanic portions of the carbon cycle”. OK, let’s think about one of these options: let’s soak up the carbon by planting trees. You had something to say on this recently:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001056change_the_climate_.html

    Hmmm, maybe it’s not so simple: there are effects on surface radiation balance and water balance and regional circulations, maybe affects on convection and precipitation, not to mention methane (trees cause pollution, you know). So, how can we assess the tree-planting option? It seems to me it requires modelling related to land surface processes & circulation changes, analysis of satellite data, etc. This sounds like the sort of research you *seem* to have been critical of.

    Am I on the right track here?

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  61. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Mark- Thanks. Yes you are on the right track, but if you were really to ask an urban decision maker what information they need it would not be so narrowly focused on carbon — they would want to know about the economic effects, benefits of, say, changes in transportation, efficiency, pollution, water resources, federal subsidies, agriculture and so on. This might indeed involve the sort of modeling that you mention and it might also involve other types of research.

    What I am mostly critical of is science conducted in search of a problem to which it is to be applied. My sense is that science is far more useful when one starts with the problem(s) and uses that to guide the research . . .

    Thanks!

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  63. Mark Hadfield Says:

    Roger

    I chose a carbon example because that’s the subject of the journal issue you referred me to. I chose planting trees because it’s something you wrote about recently, suggesting it’s not as simple as “plant a tree, absorb CO2 and save the planet”.

    My experience (and I do have some) in providing scientific information to support decision makers is that the big challenge is to exploit and synthesise the large body of knowledge out there, most of it generated by scientists who were not thinking about my immediate problem when they decided to do it. (And a big thanks to the US Government here for making its research products freely available.)

    What you say about problem-driven research certainly sounds sensible, obvious even. I’m not convinced it’s actually true, but I’m sure we can agree to hold our different views on this for now…

    Ciao.

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  65. Lab Lemming Says:

    Roger:
    “What I am mostly critical of is science conducted in search of a problem to which it is to be applied. My sense is that science is far more useful when one starts with the problem(s) and uses that to guide the research .”

    I disagree completely. Research is soundest when one tackles problems that are illuminated/ highlighted by previous studies. If you start arbetrarily promoting things which you want a scientific answe too, the quality of the science will necessarily suffer until the gap between what we know and what we want to find out can be filled.

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  67. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    LL- Thanks for your comment, I will now argue by link, please forgive;-) — we address this question in the following paper:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2485-2007.02.pdf

    Have a look if you are interested in an in depth treatment of this issue. Thanks!

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  69. margo Says:

    “What I am mostly critical of is science conducted in search of a problem to which it is to be applied. My sense is that science is far more useful when one starts with the problem(s) and uses that to guide the research .”

    Yes, and the most entertaining argument in suppoort of Roger’s sense comes in the form of this television series:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_the_Universe_Changed

    (Seriously. It’s a great show. It also happens to explain why certain research was funded, which inventions or discoveries resulted, and how those spun of later inventions and discoveries. And who doesn’t want to learn that the Scots whiskey distillers funded applied research that eventually spawned and the industrial revolution?)

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  71. Brian S. Says:

    A pseudo-trackback:

    “R.P. Jr. and who controls the agenda

    ….The problem with these bad arguments is similar to other lazy arguments like the ol’ slippery slope claim: the argument is an easy one to come up with in some form or another, but because every once in a great while it actually is valid, it’s impossible to dismiss categorically….”

    http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/2007/03/rp-jr-and-who-controls-agenda.html

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  73. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Brian S.- Thanks for the pointer. However, other than the fact that you think I am lazy, right-wing, and perhaps evil I can make so sense of it whatsoever … ????

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  75. Brian S. Says:

    I didn’t say you were right wing, I just noted that the right wing (and sometimes the left) often makes this kind of bad argument. And while the argument is lazy IMHO, it doesn’t necessarily make you lazy (or evil).

    As for whether my post makes any sense, that’s up to you and any other reader to judge.