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August 31, 2005

Unsolicited Media Advice


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

As I read about many instances of the immoral exploitation of Katrina's impacts to advance a political agenda, it seems to me that there is a good opportunity for the media to contribute constructively to this issue. So Prometheus-reading reporters, by all means ask your experts if Katrina is a result of global warming. But don't stop there. Please also ask the following question:

"If the US (or the world) were to begin taking more aggressive actions on emissions reductions, when could we expect to see the effects of such policies in the impacts of future hurricanes, and how large would those effects be?"

The question of hurricanes and global warming is interesting scientifically, of course, but for society broadly the question is important for the actions that we might take in the future. So please, go ahead and ask the above question and take the question of hurricanes/global warming to its logical conclusion.

Finally, the considerable misuse of science in the case of Katrina should give serious pause to anyone who thinks that the politicization of science is mainly a US or conservative phenomena. It is not.

Posted on August 31, 2005 08:37 AM

Comments

I guess I want some clarification of your thoughts. Do you think these stories are the result of organized campaigns by think tanks, or individuals who worry about GW jumping to conclusions?

Now, if the things they blame on GW are not a result of GW, that's a distortion of science. But your phrasing makes it seem as though what bothers you is that people might think GW is a problem and call for a specific action. Asking an expert if GW could increase the number and severity of hurricanes does not necessitate any particular way of addressing that, does it? It seems like you're making a policy argument, as well.

I think the main difference between the left and right are that the left's abuse is confined to certain issues, where as there is an increasing tendency among conservatives to attack the scientific process as a whole. It was not evolution, but science that ID attacked when it mocked science's "materialism" (i.e., empiricism and falsifiability of it's experiments). Nor has anyone mocked the right for being "reality-based", as if that were a failing, nor called for the removal of "scientism" from intelligence gathering, as the right has.

The left is not calling for environmental groups to have a say about what is or what is not good data the way the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness is. There's a reason the Data Quality Act was put in place - to take the decisions about what is science out of the hands of scientists. They know the DQA will be used overwhelmingly more by industry because they know those groups don't trust science. Their response is that environmental groups ought to do a better job of objecting to data. The left's response is that special interest groups ought not to be able to object to data at all.

They want to insert more politics into science. We think science is abused enough as it is, thank you very much, let's not make it worse.

Try proposing a way to keep scientific decisions free from political pressure, and see which side objects.

Posted by: Dylan Otto Krider at August 31, 2005 09:19 AM


Dylan-

I'm not sure what you mean by a "think tank" but if you mean a 501(3)c organization, then, yes, I do think that there is an organized campaign. And I do think that individuals with political motivations are also either jumping to conclusions, out of a lack of understanding or willful fudging of the facts.

And yes, I am very much talking about policy, not just science. See this paper:

Sarewitz, D., and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. Rising Tide, The New Republic, January 6.
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resourse-1694-2005.01.pdf

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at August 31, 2005 10:04 AM


Dr. Pielke advocates reporters asking, "If the US (or the world) were to begin taking more aggressive actions on emissions reductions, when could we expect to see the effects of such policies in the impacts of future hurricanes, and how large would those effects be?"

Holy smokes! No reporter could ever ask THAT! That would be way too logical! ;-)

I was just thinking this morning about an issue of "Scientific" American (first word in quotes, due to their September 2005 issue...but that's another story ;-)) that dealt with hurricane reduction.

I'll bet if the U.S. government offered a $1 billion reward, plus $2 billion per occurrence, for development of a method that can successfully reduce hurricane intensities by two Saffir-Simpson levels (e.g., from Category 4 to Category 2, or from Category 5 to Category 3) that scientists and engineers could come up with such a method within less than a decade.

That would completely eliminate the possibility that a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane could EVER strike the U.S. The highest category that could ever strike the U.S. would be Category 3...and the vast majority would be Category 1 or 2.

That would save literally 10s of billions of dollars over the next 2 or 3 decades. And probably more than $100 billion.

Contrast that to reductions in CO2 emissions, which will do virtually NOTHING. And which will cost far, far more than the $1 billion reward, plus $2 billion per hurricane reduction event.

Everybody wins with a successful hurricane reduction method. The federal government saves billions. People living on the coasts save billions.

If Katrina had been a Category 2, instead of Category 4, probably none of New Orleans would be flooded right now. That alone would have saved 10s of billions of dollars in damage.

Not to say that this is *the* solution, or even any solution at all, but here is just one of the clever ideas that people have *already* come up with for reducing hurricane intensity:

http://mb-soft.com/public/hurrican.html

Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

Posted by: Mark Bahner at August 31, 2005 10:11 AM


I don't oppose these policy proposals at all. Although I am for energy conservation, I'm under no delusions that it will have any noticeable impact on the rise in CO2 or hurricanes. I also believe there are things you can do to deal with hurricanes that are more efficient than addressing GW. And I think if GW is or is not effecting weather, we should say so.

On the left/right access, though, let me ask this: if you said scientists should decide what is science, which side do you think would object? If you proposed any policy that attempted to isolate scientists from conflicts of interest or political interference, which side would object more strenuously? If you pushed to have scientists chosen based on credentials rather than political affiliation, who would object ON PRINCIPLE?

I think that's pretty clear.

Posted by: Dylan Otto Krider at August 31, 2005 12:26 PM


But Roger, global warming does cause more intense storms. Saying so isn't false.

What you seem to object to is that some people try to use that as an argument for certain policies you find inappropriate.

You have a policy disagreement with these people. So why are they "immoral"? You find their policy suggestions immoral? Or do you find any use of Katrina to make any policy argument immoral? I'm confused.

Posted by: Dave Roberts at August 31, 2005 12:28 PM


Dave-

There have been no published studies that argue for attributing an observed increase in hurricane intensity or frequency to global warming. Emanuel's recent paper, which I am very familiar with, argues for the existence of a trend in an index that he calls the PDI, which is indeed a measure of hurricane intensity. The paper does not present information for attribution of this trend, and if you look at Emanuel's recent statements to the media he has been exceedingly responsible in describing his work and its limits. His paper is suggestive of a link, but I don't think that it allows for the statement that you have made. This is also what the IPCC most recently concluded in 2001. Saying that global warming has made storms more intense is simply not supported by the literature.

But then a fair question is, so what? If this were only a dispute about science then it probably wouldn't be something I'd be interested in. It is ultimately a debate about action. Gelbspan is arguing for specific actions based on a claim that these actions will reduce the toll of floods, hurricanes, blizzards and other events. It is a misleading claim. If people who suffer the impacts of these events accept his policy argument, they will be sadly disappointed. Selling snake oil under a claim that it will cure disease is immoral.

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at August 31, 2005 01:22 PM


Dr. Pielke advocates reporters asking, "If the US (or the world) were to begin taking more aggressive actions on emissions reductions, when could we expect to see the effects of such policies in the impacts of future hurricanes, and how large would those effects be?"

What about asking the question: What would the effects of Katrina have been had we started taking aggressive actions 30 years ago? Maybe the winds would have been reduced by 20 knots, or maybe the sea level would have been 30 cm lower? Of course aggressive action now would have little effect on next year's hurricanes, and probably strengthening the levees would be cheaper just for New Orleans.

Over decades however the world is going to be better served by reducing emissions than by continually plugging gaps that appear. (Which is not to say that we don't have to keep plugging those gaps).

Posted by: barry at August 31, 2005 04:56 PM


barry- Thanks for your comments. We did a sensitivity analysis of hurricane impacts of the relative effects of climate change versus societal change over 50+ year, using the assumptions of the IPCC. Here is the results of that analysis:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., R.A. Klein, and D. Sarewitz, 2000: Turning the Big Knob: Energy Policy as a Means to Reduce Weather Impacts. Energy and Environment, Vol. 11, No. 3, 255-276.
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resourse-250-2000.07.pdf

Please take a look.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at August 31, 2005 06:44 PM


Roger- Thanks for pointing me to that paper. It all makes sense. Regardless of how aggressively we attack GHG reduction the impacts of climate change are going to persist for many decades. The adaptation mechanisms you outline there are going to be required anyway. Of course adaptation is easier in the United States, with low population density and plenty of money. It will be much harder for densely populated poorer countries like Bangladesh, who are not really resonsible for the problem in the first place.

OTOH adaptation is not the whole answer. If you use adaptation as an excuse to do nothing about energy policy and carry on emitting GHGs at an ever increasing rate, then the consequences are unforseeable. Even, assuming linear changes in temperature etc with CO2 concentration the adaptation required just increases continually.

My original comment was because your question was unreasonable. It is obvious that the effects of GHG emissions changes will take a very long time to be felt. Mostly GHG reductions will show in the negative, as much worse consequences don't manifest themselves.

Posted by: barry at August 31, 2005 08:11 PM


Barry asks, "What about asking the question: What would the effects of Katrina have been had we started taking aggressive actions 30 years ago?"

Barry, a little less than 30 years ago (25, to be exact), I was studying Advanced Energy Systems in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. One of our "texts" was a softcover book published by Scientific American (currently "Scientific" American) in 1971.

In that entire book, called "Energy and the Environment," there was not a single mention of global warming caused by CO2 emissions. Do you know why? Because in 1971, the earth had been *cooling* for almost 25 years.

But I was studying in 1980...so why wasn't global warming caused by CO2 an issue then? Well, for one thing, our major concern was running out of oil.

It's totally useless to play "what if" games about the past. (It's NOT totally useless to play "what if" games about the future.) What if the plot to kill Hitler in 1944 had actually succeeded? There were so many things that could have happened differently that day:

1) The location of the meeting was changed from an underground bunker to an above-ground building with open windows (had the meeting been below-ground, Hitler almost certainly would have been killed),

2) The briefcase containing the bomb was moved from the inside of the heavy table pedestal to the outside (if it had been left at the inside of the table, Hitler would almost certainly have been killed),

3) There were to be two bombs, but the plotters panicked and didn't put the second bomb into the briefcase (if both bombs had been in, the second would have been detonated by the first, and Hitler almost certainly would have been killed).

Etc. etc. etc. Again, playing games with the *past* may be fun, but it's not worth anything. Hitler didn't die.

Now, playing "what if" with the *future* is worth something. Roger Pielke asked for opinions on what would happen to the earth's temperature if humans cut CO2 emissions to zero *today*. (Ignoring the fact that this is possible.) I estimated that the earth would warm by 0.5 degrees Celsius over the 21st century if CO2 emissions were cut to zero today. I further estimated that, if events were allowed to continue completely as "business as usual" the warming over the 21st century would be 1.2 degrees Celsius. No scientist has ever questioned that assessment, and I don't expect that one ever will, because it's a good estimate.

So the earth will likely warm over the 21st century. If we cut emissions to ZERO today, it will be about 0.5 degrees Celsius, and if we forget that CO2 even exists, it will be about 1.2 degrees Celsius. In other words, even the most drastic measures will have little effect.

Compared to that, to me it seems VERY clear that money would be much better spent attempting to reduce the intensity of hurricanes. As I wrote, I wouldn't be surprised at all if hurricanes could be substantially reduced in intensity (e.g. from Category 4 to Category 2) for a few billion dollars per occurrence. That would be MUCH cheaper than reducing CO2 emissions, which will have virtually no effect on hurricane intensity, at least for the next 50+ years.

Posted by: Mark Bahner at August 31, 2005 08:24 PM


Prof. Pielke says:
"I'm not sure what you mean by a "think tank" but if you mean a 501(3)c organization, then, yes, I do think that there is an organized campaign. And I do think that individuals with political motivations are also either jumping to conclusions, out of a lack of understanding or willful fudging of the facts."

Name names, and tell us specifically what they are pushing, otherwise this is mere inuendo.

Posted by: Eli Rabett at September 1, 2005 10:52 PM


Eli- Thanks for your question. Here you go:

http://www.greenhousenet.org/

And we discussed an organized campaign of fudging science here:

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/000354harbingers_and_clima.html

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at September 2, 2005 06:44 AM


Roger, surely you jest, you manage to find an obscure group run by an obscure economics professor at Lewis and Clark College, and even then, your evidence for their claiming that Katrina was caused by global warming, at least on first glance at the site you point to is simply that they link to the Gelbspan article.

Take another try.

While you are at it, since you are so fair and balanced, how about trying to name a few organizations on the otherside, which, for example, are blaming this disaster on "environmentalists" (a much easier job btw)

Posted by: Eli Rabett at September 2, 2005 10:37 PM




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