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January 02, 2007

Profiling Frank Laird

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

Andy Revkin’s article in the New York Times yesterday suggested that there are an untapped set of views on climate policy that might be worth hearing from. We thought it might be worth profiling some of these voices periodically. One such perspective is provided by Frank Laird, a professor in the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Frank is also a friend and a faculty affiliate at our Center at CU.

One of Frank’s areas of expertise is energy policy, and specifically renewable energy policies. His excellent 2001 book Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values, (Cambridge University Press), was a finalist (one of the top 3) 2004 Don K. Price Award for the best book in science and technology policy or politics, awarded by the American Political Science Association. I reviewed his book in 2002 for the journal Policy Sciences and you can see my review here in PDF. Frank's book illustrates how technologies become objects onto which political partisans map their valued ends and means. While values don’t always change quickly, a technology – in this case solar energy and nuclear energy -- can be favored at different times for difference reasons by different political camps. Politics does make strange bedfellows. Consequently we should be careful in linking a particular technology with a political perspective. In the case of solar energy, Laird argues, success in making such a linkage is one factor which arguably held back the further expansion of solar technologies in the 1970s. Laird also shows quite convincingly how energy policy decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s have shaped where we are at today.

Frank has written on climate change as well. In 2000 he wrote Just Say No to Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets in Issues in Science and Technology. In that article he wrote:

The critiques in this paper are not based on skepticism about the nature and seriousness of climate change, and they are not intended to give aid and comfort to the diminishing band of greenhouse skeptics. I assume for this analysis that the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are correct. . . . Although the science still contains substantial uncertainty, as climate scientist Stephen Schneider and others remind us, that uncertainty cuts both ways, so that the effects of climate change could be significantly worse than the models predict. That downside potential is all the more reason why we need policies that will actually help us to put off and cope with whatever changes will come. The Kyoto Protocol emissions targets will only hinder our collective ability to do that.

His critique remains current today:

Effective international actions to cope with climate change should be based on three principles. First, the international institutions that will implement climate change treaties must be understood as catalytic, not regulatory. Second, actions on climate change need to make effective use of the substantial institutional developments already in place around the globe. Third, the goals of the treaty must be process-oriented, not descriptions of some final outcome. . .

The Protocol requires a major overhaul. It is based fundamentally on the monitoring, reduction, and trading of GHG emissions: a foundation that guarantees stiff political opposition and years of arcane technical arguments, absorbing the time, energy, and money of many participants. Nations, the UN, and NGOs organizations have so many diplomatic, financial, and technical resources tied up in Kyoto that it would be tragic for it to fail now; such a failure would set back international climate change efforts for years. It is time to let go of the failed emissions targets and seek new paths that will better serve everyone's needs.

I encourage everyone to read the whole article. It is short essay but prescient. Frank is current studying renewable energy policies in the United States and Germany.

Posted on January 2, 2007 06:53 PM


Hi all,
Thanks for this great blog and for all your work.
I am not a specialist in the field, just a
temporary resident of planet earth (with kids).
As such, I like to get my information from the
source, as unfiltered and unbiased as possible.
My question is: Have you published your own set
of recommendations on how individuals should go
about combating global warming? Or do you believe
only atop-down, global approach to the problem
has any chance of succeeding.
Ethan Franck

Posted by: Ethan Franck at January 2, 2007 08:05 PM


Thanks for your comment. The closest publication in the work we've done along the lines of your question is the forthcoming book by my colleague Lisa Dilling:

More generally, many advocacy groups and gov't agencies have very good suggestions on how individuals can take action on energy efficiency and reducing vulnerability to weather and climate.

Thanks again!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2007 08:46 PM


Since you are profiling some “Climate Change” contrarian views, I’d like to bring to your and your reader’s attention the following article from Garth Paltridge published in October 2004 (albeit as an opinion piece rather than as a formal paper).

(Garth Paltridge was the Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, and CEO of the Antarctic Co-operative Research Centre, from 1990 until his retirement in 2002)

I think that it’s well worth the read. It provides a unique perspective on the function of the IPCC, and there are many great insights into the politics behind the science…



Posted by: Arnost at January 3, 2007 04:03 AM

The Laird article as well as the Paltridge article, recommended by Arnost, are quite stimulating and to the point. I also read the Revkin articles and the attack on him and you in today's David Roberts blog (via Huffington).
You and Revkin must have iron hides. I find nothing but a search for reasonableness and truth on this site and in Revkin's articles. Yet you two are attacked as if you were Satan and Beelzebub. The numerous comments on the Roberts blog reveal emotional viewpoints and a certainty based on ignorance which seems to prevail in the Climate Change discussion.
My science backgound says that discussion should be objective, focusing on the information with an open mind. Where did that go in this age of venom peddlers?
Keep your level-headed approach and "stay the course".

Posted by: Paul Dougherty at January 3, 2007 10:30 AM

That Laird article is a very rational view. Good stuff.

Posted by: Steve Sadlov at January 3, 2007 10:47 AM

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