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Adaptation Policies for Biodiversity: Facilitated Dispersal
   in Author: Cherney, D. | Biodiversity | Climate Change | Environment July 18, 2008

Elements of Any Successful Approach to Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment | International | Sustainability | Technology Policy May 06, 2008

Ted Nordhaus on the Politics of Personal Destruction
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment | Science + Politics April 09, 2008

Setting a Trap for the Next President
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment | Science + Politics March 29, 2008

Those Nice Guys at Grist
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment March 27, 2008

Fewer Endangered Species
   in Author: Hale, B. | Biodiversity | Biodiversity | Environment | Science + Politics | Sustainability March 22, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Environment | Science + Politics | Technology Policy March 04, 2008

Guest Comment: Sharon Friedman, USDA Forest Service - Change Changes Everything
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Environment | Prediction and Forecasting | Science + Politics February 01, 2008

Soylent Green
   in Author: Hale, B. | Environment | Health | Science + Politics January 16, 2008

   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment December 05, 2007

The Technological Fix
   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Disasters | Environment | R&D Funding | Science + Politics | Technology Policy November 15, 2007

Abandoned mine language making its way through the Senate again
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Environment September 13, 2006

How Taxonomy is Political
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment May 27, 2006

Myths of the History of Ozone Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment May 08, 2006

Skeptics Society Conference Preview
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Environment May 04, 2006

On Missing the Point
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment | Science Policy: General March 08, 2006

Senator Craig and the Fish Passage Center
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Environment January 20, 2006

Get Ready for Air Capture
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment December 15, 2005

Being Accurate is Easy, Right?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment October 19, 2005

Kristof on Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Environment September 12, 2005

Making sense of economic impacts - Comparing apples with apples
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 06, 2005

Katrina in Context: A Blog Series
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 06, 2005

Intelligence Failure
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 04, 2005

Correction of Errors in Fortune Story
   in Author: Others | Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 03, 2005

"Nobody Could Have Foreseen"
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment September 02, 2005

Historical Hurricane Damage
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment August 29, 2005

On Point Radio Interview
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment August 28, 2005

Pope Vs. Lomborg
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment August 01, 2005

Summer Spill, Part II
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Environment August 01, 2005

Some Thoughts on U.S. Weather Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment July 26, 2005

A Few Commentaries on Lomborg Debate
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment July 12, 2005

Summer Spill(over)
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Environment July 11, 2005

Hurricane Impacts in Cuba
   in Environment July 08, 2005

What would Moby Dick think?
   in Author: McNie, E. | Environment June 24, 2005

Taking the Initiative: Public/Private Weather Debate Continues…
   in Author: Gratz, J. | Environment June 21, 2005

Predicting and Positioning for Hurricanes
   in Author: Gratz, J. | Environment June 17, 2005

Water Vapor and Technology Assessment
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment May 11, 2005

New Publication
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment May 06, 2005

How to Increase Fuel Efficiency
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment March 14, 2005

Book Review in Nature
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment March 11, 2005

"Skeptical Environmentalist" Article Now Online
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment August 20, 2004

Special Issue of Environmental Science and Policy
   in Environment August 17, 2004

Nanotech Authority
   in Author: Fisher, E. | Environment | Nanotechnology August 09, 2004

Frames Trump the Facts
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment | Water Policy June 29, 2004

Integration of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment May 12, 2004

UK Foresight on Floods
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment April 28, 2004

More Devil in the Details: Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment April 26, 2004

Country of Origin Labels for Gasoline
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Environment April 19, 2004

Mercury Regulation and the Excess of Objectivity
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment April 15, 2004

July 18, 2008

Adaptation Policies for Biodiversity: Facilitated Dispersal

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and colleagues have an important article on “Assisted Colonization and Rapid Climate Change” in this week’s issue of Science (pdf). The author’s argue:

Rapid climatic change has already caused changes to the distributions of many plants and animals, leading to severe range contractions and the extinction of some species (1, 2). The geographic ranges of many species are moving toward the poles or to higher altitudes in response to shifts in the habitats to which these species have adapted over relatively longer periods (1-4). It already appears that some species are unable to disperse or adapt fast enough to keep up with the high rates of climate change (5, 6). These organisms face increased extinction risk, and, as a result, whole ecosystems, such as cloud forests and coral reefs, may cease to function in their current form (7-9).
Current conservation practices may not be enough to avert species losses in the face of mid- to upper-level climate projections (>3°C) (10), because the extensive clearing and destruction of natural habitats by humans disrupts processes that underpin species dispersal and establishment. Therefore, resource managers and policy-makers must contemplate moving species to sites where they do not currently occur or have not been known to occur in recent history. This strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches.

The strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches due to the numerous risks associated with the introduction of invasive species. The authors fully acknowledge these risks.

The world is littered with examples where moving species beyond their current range into natural and agricultural landscapes has had negative impacts. Understandably, notions of deliberately moving species are regarded with suspicion. Our contrary view is that an increased understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of some species allows us to identify low-risk situations where the benefits of such "assisted colonization'" can be realized and adverse outcomes minimized…
…One of the most serious risks associated with assisted colonization is the potential for creating new pest problems at the target site. Introduced organisms can also carry diseases and parasites or can alter the genetic structure and breeding systems of local populations…
…In addition to the ecological risks, socioeconomic concerns must be considered in decisions to move threatened species. Financial or human safety constraints, for example, may make a species' introduction undesirable. It is likely to be unacceptable to move threatened large carnivores or toxic plants into regions that are important for grazing livestock…

These risks do not invalidate the authors' major point. If we want to conserve current biodiversity in a changing climate, we will likely need creative alternatives to current conservation approaches. Facilitated dispersal of species is one option that deserves consideration in specific conservation contexts. However, it is far from a silver bullet.

May 06, 2008

Elements of Any Successful Approach to Climate Change

This post summarizes, in capsule form, what I believe to be the necessary elements of any successful suite of policies focused on climate mitigation and adaptation. This post is short, and necessarily incomplete with insufficient detail, nonetheless, its purpose is to set the stage for future, in depth discussions of each element discussed below. The elements discussed below are meant to occur in parallel. All are necessary, none by itself sufficient. I welcome comments, critique, and questions.

1. Adaptation

Whatever the world does on mitigation, adaptation will be necessary. And by adaptation I don’t simply mean adaptation to the marginal impacts of human-caused climate change, as presented under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. I mean adaptation to climate, and as such, a concept much more closely related to the original notion of sustainable development. Adaptation is therefore core to any approach to climate change that seeks to ameliorate the effects of climate on people and the environment. Much of my research over the past 15 years has focused on this subject, and long-time readers of this blog will know my position well.

2. Make Carbon Emissions Pricier

Unrestrained emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will no doubt have effects on the global earth system, including the oceans, atmosphere, and land surface. There is a chance that these effects could be relatively benign, but there is also a chance that the effects could be quite severe. I personally lean toward the latter view, but I recognize that there is ample scientific knowledge available for people to selectively construct any position they’d like along this spectrum. I have little expectation that climate scientists, despite their notable work alerting the world to the risks associated with unmitigated emissions, have much prospect for accurately predicting the evolution of the global climate system (and especially its regional manifestations) on the time scale on which decisions related to mitigation and adaptation need to be made. In fact, I think there is a very good chance that some enthusiastic climate modelers will overstretch their claims and hurt their own cause. Even so, I have concluded that it is only prudent to establish some cost to emitting carbon (a global carbon tax is the theoretical ideal).

At the same time, because the global energy system is driven almost entirely by carbon-emitting fuels, putting a price on carbon will necessarily result in higher costs for energy and everything that results from using energy. This is of course the entire point of putting a price on carbon. Anyone suggesting anything different is being misleading. Now some will argue that over the longer term putting a price on carbon will result in benefits, especially when non-market outcomes are considered. Perhaps this is the case, and for purposes of discussion I’d simply grant the point. But in the short term, it is equally true that the costs of energy will increase. For this reason I am not optimistic about the prospects of putting a meaningful price on carbon anywhere, much less via a global treaty. People will react strongly to increasing costs, whether they are associated with energy, food, transportation, or whatever. Strong reactions will be felt in the form of electoral outcomes and thus in policy positions (exhibit A = McCain/Clinton pandering with a gas tax holiday; exhibit B = Last week’s UK elections, etc.). I am certainly not opposed to efforts to put a price on carbon, but at the same time we also need to be fully aware of the realities of politics which suggest that putting a price on carbon may not actually occur or, if it does occur, may be implemented at a meaningless level in small parts of the global economy. Therefore, we’d better be ready with another strategy when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail.

3. Make Carbon Free Energy Cheaper

The flip side to making carbon pricier is to make carbon-free energy sources relatively cheaper. The first step in this part of the strategy is to shift the massive subsidies that government provides to fossil fuel to non-carbon fuel energy sources. This by itself won’t make carbon-free energy systems cheaper, but it will facilitate the deployment and adoption of some currently pre-commercial technologies that may be on the wrong side of being competitive. I can see no justification for continued subsidies of dirty energy, but here as well we need to recognize the political challenges of displacing entrenched interests, keeping in mind for instance the example of the challenges of removing agricultural subsidies around the rich world. Energy subsidies will be equally difficult to displace.

Therefore, perhaps more important are measures that focus government investments on accelerating the development and deployment of carbon-free energy technologies. These measures include robust public funding for research from exploratory to applied; pilot programs to test and demonstrate promising new technologies; public-private partnerships to encourage private sector participation in high risk ventures; training programs to expand the number of scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of energy R&D projects; government procurement programs to provide a predictable market for promising new technologies; prizes for the achievement of important technological thresholds; multilateral funds and international research centers to help build a global innovation capacity; as well as policy incentives to encourage adoption of existing and new energy-efficient technologies, which in turn fosters incremental learning and innovation that often leads to rapidly improving performance and declining costs.

If there are to be targets and timetables associated with international negotiations, then they should focus on the development and deployment of carbon-free energy systems in the context of ever-increasing global demand for energy. Such a focus will be far more meaningful than the easily gamed, mostly symbolic, and reality-detached focus on concentration targets or, even worse, degrees Celsius.

4. Energy Modernization

The world needs more energy, vastly more so. So a central element of any national or international energy policy will necessarily include creating access to reliable, cheap energy. Consider that something like 2 billion people have no access to electricity around the world. It is a, in my view, simply a moral obligation of those around the world with high standards of living to help those who do not. This means focusing on energy modernization, but doing so in full recognition that carbon-based energy technologies, which are so readily available in much of the developing world are poised for ever more intensive development. I recommend a focus on energy modernization not simply for altruistic reasons, but in full recognition that it is in the narrow self-interests of the rich world to help foster new markets, new trading partners, and a growing global economy. In the future the greatest potential for this growth is in the developing world.

5. Air Capture Backstop

All of the hand wringing, name calling, and finger pointing in the world won’t change the fact that steps 2, 3, and 4 may not limit the growth of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at levels now deemed to be acceptable in policy discussions (pick your number – 560, 500, 450, 350, 280, whatever). Sorry, but it is true. Thus, so long as policy makers want to limit the growth in concentrations (which I think makes good sense), then they will want to focus on developing the capability to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a technology called “air capture”.

Even if approaches under 2, 3, and 4 above prove wildly successful I really doubt that such social policies can hit any target concentration within a few hundred ppm anyway. So the development of air capture technologies represents not only a backstop, but also a way down the road to fine tune carbon policies focused on concentrations, should that be desired. I have absolutely no doubts that with air capture as the focus of R&D over a few decades it can be achieved at pretty reasonable costs (but they will still be costs) using approaches today not yet commonly discussed. In fact I view the technical challenges of air capture much (!) more optimistically than suggestions that we can change the lifestyles and energy using habits of more than 6 billion people. In addition, the costs of air capture provide a hard estimate of the true costs of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thus provide a valuable baseline for evaluating other approaches based on social engineering. In my view air capture is the only form of geoengineering that makes any sense whatsoever.

6. Recognize that Climate Change is Not Only Carbon Dioxide

Stabilizing concentrations of carbon dioxide makes good sense, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that carbon dioxide emissions are the sole meaningful human forcing of the global earth system at local, regional, or global scales. Thus, we might with some effort successfully modernize the global energy system, and in the process decarbonizes it, but then find ourselves looking squarely at other human activities that affect the climate, and thus have human and environmental impacts.

These activities include other greenhouse gases, but also aerosol emissions, land use change, irrigation, chemical deposition, albedo effects, and others. We have entered an era where humans have a large and profound impact on the world, and to think that it is just carbon dioxide (or that carbon dioxide is all that matters) is myopic and misleading.

These are the elements that I believe together to be necessary in any approach to climate adaptation and mitigation that has any prospects to succeed. I will focus future posts on further discussing the specifics of each element, providing references and justifications, and connecting them each to actual policies that are the subject of current discussion.

April 09, 2008

Ted Nordhaus on the Politics of Personal Destruction

Ted Nordhaus eloquently characterizes a disturbing pattern in debate among those calling for action climate change -- avoid debating the merits of policies, and instead smear the character of those making arguments that you disagree with.

Here is an excerpt:

The assumption among environmental leaders was that once the scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change was occurring was established, this consensus would translate into a consensus as to what to do about it -- a consensus that would embrace the policies long advocated by the national environmental movement, namely the Kyoto framework at the international level and cap and trade legislation at the domestic level.

But a funny thing has happened over the last several years, as opinion about the reality and urgency of the climate crisis has "tipped." The consensus that would allegedly result once broad public acceptance of anthropogenic climate change was achieved has fractured. Efforts to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Accord at the international level have stalled, as developing economies, led by China and India, have balked at any framework that would constrain carbon emissions and slow economic development in the developing world, where most of the growth of carbon emissions over the next century will come from. The fragile coalition of businesses, some segments of the energy industry, and environmentalists that appeared ready to support a domestic cap and trade system has frayed, as the environmental movement has demanded that all carbon allowances be auctioned and business interests have balked at the increasing costs of the regulations. . .

Unfortunately, the response to these developments from some environmentalists has been to attempt to tar those who have challenged the efficacy of the dominant environmental policy framework to address climate change with the same brush that they used to discredit those who denied the existence of anthropogenic climate change back in the 90's, only this time they are attacking respected climate scientists, energy experts, and activists who have no connection to the fossil fuel industry and have long and well documented track records of advocating for strong action to address climate change.

This effort is not entirely unusual in modern American politics. Any observer of recent national elections can attest that it has become par for the course among partisans of both political parties, with the political Right having proven to be particularly adept at such tactics, and most would agree that it has not changed American democracy for the better nor aided the effort to address the great challenges that the nation today is faced with. So it is particularly unseemly for prominent environmentalists, having spent the last decade demanding that policy to address climate change conform to the reality of climate science, are now attempting to destroy, quash, and otherwise discredit good science and important scientific and policy debate because it challenges the immediate political and policy objectives of the movement.

Read the whole thing here.

March 29, 2008

Setting a Trap for the Next President

An editorial in todays New York Times reports that the Bush Administration (and specifically the U.S. EPA) is considering some action on climate change:

On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act clearly empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to address greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The ruling instructed the agency to determine whether global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare — an "endangerment finding" — and, if so, to devise emissions standards for motor vehicles.

One year has passed, and despite repeated promises from President Bush and the E.P.A. administrator, Stephen Johnson, nothing has happened. And it seems increasingly likely that nothing will happen while Mr. Bush remains in office. Last week, Mr. Johnson notified Congress that he had discovered new regulatory complexities and decided against immediate action. Instead, he planned to offer an "advanced notice of proposed rule-making," which requires a lengthy comment period and a laborious bureaucratic process that would almost certainly stretch beyond the end of Mr. Bush’s term.

The NYT fails to see one important aspect of this strategy. Issuing an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Regulation" (ANPR) is in fact a significant step in the regulatory process. Importantly, in the regulatory process it turns the burden of of proof around from the need to show harm in order for regulation to occur, to the need to show safety for the regulation not to occur. Proving that a substance is safe, under the assumption that it is harmful, is a much more difficult challenge than the opposite.

So if the Bush Administration were in fact to issue an ANPR it would be a fairly significant act, especially for this administration. It would signal that greenhouse gas regulations are in fact coming.

But the important question is when. The Times notes correctly that the regulatory process would stretch beyond Bush's term. And of course this might be precisely the point of issuing an ANPR. It would saddle the next Administration with the challenge of figuring out how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from autos. As we have recently seen in Europe, creating and implementing such regulations is a messy affair.

Not long ago I wrote of this possibility in my column for Bridges (PDF):

So if a Democrat is elected in November 2008, which appears likely, it seems eminently plausible that the Bush Administration would help the new administration get off to a running start by leaving them with a proposed rule, under the EPA, for the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Even the possibility of such a late-hour action is probably enough for the declared Democratic presidential candidates to be very careful about calling for dramatic action on climate change, lest – if elected – they find themselves getting what they asked for.

Because no one really yet knows how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by any significant amount, a strong proposed rule on climate change issued in the final months of the Bush Administration would create all sorts of political difficulties for the next president, just as those late-hour rules proposed by President Clinton did for President Bush. If reducing emissions indeed proves to be easy, as some have suggested, President Bush would get credit for taking decisive action. If it proves difficult and costly, as many suggest, then the next administration would bear the political backlash.

Common wisdom that the Bush Administration will not act meaningfully on climate change may in the end prove to be correct. But, at the same time, remember that lame ducks are unpredictable creatures.

My guess -- and it is nothing more than a guess -- is that the announcement of an ANPR on automobile emissions will occur -- if it is to occur at all -- after the November election, and only if a Democrat is elected. Of course, if McCain wins the election and the Bush Administration still announces the ANPR, then you can assume that there is still little love lost between the two, as the ANPR would saddle McCain with some sure problems during his presidency.

Finally, if you'd like to read the story of how Jimmy Carter's late-hour ANPR on stratospheric ozone eventually paved the way for domestic regulations and then international accords, please have a look at the following paper:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168. (PDF)

March 27, 2008

Those Nice Guys at Grist

The Gristmill Blog is an interesting place, not least because of the heaps of scorn they frequently direct my way. In their latest rant Dave Roberts takes issue with a poorly-worded story by Alan Zarembo in yesterday's L.A. Times (which we've discussed and clarified here) by attacking me.

Dave now says that my views on climate change are in fact the mainstream:

In short, the solutions [Pielke] advocates are the same ones pushed by just about everyone in the climate debate: a mix of adaptation and mitigation.

Of course it was not so long ago that Dave himself said quite bluntly of adaptation in June, 2006:

There's one way to directly address climate change, and that's reducing the GHG emissions that drive it. In the context of the climate-change debate, advocating for adaptation means advocating for a non-response. It means advocating for nothing. I, for one, am not going to provide that kind of political cover for those who are protecting their corporate contributors.

Unfortunately the anti-adaptation views that Dave held in 2006 are still widely shared in the policy and advocacy communities. For example, less than a year ago Tim Flannery called adaptation "morally repugnant" and a "form of genocide."

[UPDATE: A reader suggests that a fuller quote from Tim Flannery is more appropriate. I do not disagree. Here is what the reader pointed to from Flannery: "I think that adaptation, except in the more trivial ways, is a very dangerous route to go down.... I see adaptation, if we take it too far, as really a form of genocide."]

Al Gore is notably against adaptation as well. And several of us characterized the continuing policy challenges in a Commentary in Nature last year (PDF).

So while it is good to see that Dave appears to have mostly come around on adaptation and now sees it as an essential part of responding to climate change, there still is a lot of work to do. It is pretty bizarre that he has to go on the attack when his main point seems to be that he agrees with my views. Its about time. Now if only we can get Grist's Joe Romm straight on energy policy. We'll tackle that next week;-)

Posted on March 27, 2008 03:04 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Environment

March 22, 2008

Fewer Endangered Species

Hey, amazing. The world is getting safer for critters. Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, hasn't declared a single animal or plant species endangered or threatened since he took office in 2006. What a relief! Just eight years ago, animals and plants were going down like bowling pins. Now they're thriving. Maybe all that development wasn't so bad after all.

Bridge, anyone?

March 04, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute

I've gladly accepted an invitation to join The Breakthrough Institute as a 2008 Senior Fellow. They have an interview with me up on their blog here. And I'll be blogging over there regularly.

If you are not familiar with their advocacy efforts, check them out and add their blog to your blogroll.

February 01, 2008

Guest Comment: Sharon Friedman, USDA Forest Service - Change Changes Everything

It is true that the calculus of environmental tradeoffs will be inevitably and irretrievably changed due to consideration of climate change. Ideas that were convenient (convenient untruths) like “the world worked fine without humans, if we remove their influence it will go back to what it should be” have continued to provide the implicit underpinning for much scientific effort. In short, people gravitated to the concept that "if we studied how things used to be" (pre- European settlement) we would know how they "should" be, with no need for discussions of values or involving non-scientists. This despite excellent work such as the book Discordant Harmonies by Dan Botkin, that displayed the scientific flaws in this reasoning (in 1992).

What's interesting to me in the recent article, "The Preservation Predicament", by Cornelia Dean in The New York Times
is the implicit assumption that conservationists and biologists will be the ones who determine whether investing in conservation in the Everglades compared to somewhere else, given climate change, is a good idea - perhaps implying that sciences like decision science or economics have little to contribute to the dialog. Not to speak of communities and their elected officials.

I like to quote the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) governance principles:

Indigenous and local communities are rightful primary partners in the development and implementation of conservation strategies that affect their lands, waters, and other resources, and in particular in the establishment and management of protected areas.

Is it more important for scientists to "devise theoretical frameworks for deciding when, how or whether to act" (sounds like decision science) or for folks in a given community, or interested in a given species, to talk about what they think needs to be done and why? There are implicit assumptions about what sciences are the relevant ones and the relationship between science and democracy, which in my opinion need to be debated in the light of day rather than assumed.

Sharon Friedman
Director, Strategic Planning
Rocky Mountain Region
USDA Forest Service

January 16, 2008

Soylent Green

This was too rich not to mention, though it doesn't have all that much to do with science and technology. Evidently, the House cafeteria has just gone green. They now offer a wider selection of vegetarian options, cage free eggs, and hormone free milk. This has some lobby groups (namely, the egg and milk lobbies) in a twist.

Read the NY Times article.

The lobbyists seem to think that the restaurant operators are "hooked by propaganda of animal rights groups." So this raises a question: What's the grub? Either it's the case that industry eggs and cage free eggs, or industry milk and hormone free milk are absolutely, categorically equivalent, on both moral and non-moral grounds; or it's not. If there is absolutely, categorically no moral distinction between the two, then there's always the possibility that the two options are distinct on, say, preference grounds. In either case, the important observation is that there is some difference relevant to the decision-making of the restaurant operators: whether it be that the offerings come from American or Chinese chickens, wild or farmed fish, or (yes) fat or skinny farmers.

The last issue, you might reply, smacks of irrelevance. Who cares if the farmer is fat or skinny? Maybe there are even justice issues here: if, say, a restaurant operator chooses chickens from the fat farmer, on grounds that the farmer is fat, maybe this is due to a deeply embedded anti-skinny bias; or perhaps an affirmative action-laced agriculture bill. But these considerations are no more irrelevant to the restaurant operator's decision than any other considerations. They're all factors; and they need to be argued for. Positively. Not negatively.

Lobbyists who argue against the practice of greening one's food options once the decision has already been made are stuck with the hard line: that there is no difference whatsoever. That's plainly false, just as it is false that there is no difference whatsoever between food brands or between food that comes from Guatamala or Iowa. Now that the decision has been made, the burden of proof is on the lobbyists to demonstrate that there is absolutely, categorically no relevant difference between the several options. By my reckoning, that'll be mighty hard, since differences like the living conditions of chickens plainly matter, even if not morally, at least to some people. Maybe that's why someone would revert to inane strategies like suggesting that cafeteria operators are "hooked by propaganda."

Foodfights like this can only be made of people.

Posted on January 16, 2008 02:50 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Hale, B. | Environment | Health | Science + Politics

December 05, 2007


Not only was there an announcement from Bali, but S. 2191 went from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to the full senate. That's a pretty big deal too. It's endorsed by a variety of environmental groups, including the Apollo Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, League of Conservation Voters, National Environmental Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and The Wilderness Society.

Who knows how it'll fare, but I thought it possibly worth commenting on this tired minority response from some guy in Oklahoma.

Yep. It'll cost money. Whether that'll deal a devastating blow to "American families, American jobs, and the American way of life" is harder to judge.

Say, just what is the "American way of life" anyway? For that matter, what are "American jobs"? I won't even ask about "American families." That one sure created a stir in the last election.

Anyone care to take a stab at a definition? Props if you can offer a coherent answer without begging the question.

November 15, 2007

The Technological Fix

On Monday we had Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus kindly give a lecture on their new book Break Through. It was great to have them stop by, and nice to have an opportunity to get answers to questions about their book. Turnout was in the 100 range, judging by the size of the room. If you haven't read the book yet, you can either buy it, camp out in Borders with a cup of joe, or check out a three minute overview given by Geoff McGhee and Andrew Revkin of the NY Times covering the "New Environmental Centrists."

I want to respond to at least one of their claims, as well as a claim that appears to be circulating in the blogo-ether as what Revkin is calling the "Centrist" position, regarding the thought that we should encourage technological fixes to our problems. The reason I want to respond to this claim is both because I think it's right; and because I think it's, well, not right.

So let's talk about technological fixes.

I'm something of a technology buff. I like gadgets. I like science. And I like what technology does for me and the world. I also like what came about as a result of the ramped up R&D funds during the nineties. Moreover, I've never been totally enthusiastic about some of the neo-luddite language that once passed as environmentalist, so I agree with Shellenberger and Nordhaus (S&N) that we should all be encouraging, funding, supporting, and promoting technologies that help our civilization and our country advance. In fact, I also agree that environmentalists should be considerably more aspirational than desperational.

S&N argue persuasively that the "politics of limits" -- which is, roughly, the idea that regulation can serve as a cure-all to the world's environmental problems -- ought to be replaced with a "politics of possibility" -- which is kind of hopeful thinking about new possible worlds. Their argument runs primarily along political strategy lines and is buttressed by many studies that show that Americans don't respond well to the pessimism and "scare tactics" of environmentalism. The book's central idea should be familiar to anyone who has read their earlier work, Death of Environmentalism. In the end, it hangs on this dichotomy of political orientations: limits versus possibility.

And in this dichotomy lies the problem. It's a false concretism, supported mainly by S&N's choices of what counts as an environmental issue. Much of their book is geared to address concerns that relate to climate change. That's fine and well, of course, because climate change is one of the major hurdles that has been motivating the environmental movement for the past ten years or so. But it is also true that environmentalists have been dealing with many more problems than climate change for quite some time now. To declare the death of environmentalism, or to suggest that the positive panacea to the chicken-little environmental frame of mind is through technological and economic fixes, and that these fixes run contrary to the politics of limits, is to undermine a critical ethical thread that runs through environmental thinking altogether.

The greatest real-world instance of this thread is the relatively wide range of environmental issues that don't fall under the category of climate change; that were, prior to Al Gore and the Prius, central environmental issues. Here I'm thinking of issues like deforestation, desertification, extinction, habitat encroachment, water depletion, and so on. Environmental issues span the gamut, and many of them deal with human activities in and around nature. These issues can never be handled by technological or economic fixes, precisely because they are not problems of technical or economic failure. Some issues, for instance, relate to the problem of urban sprawl or to overconsumption, which cannot possibly be solved by appeal to technological or economic fixes. The "over" in 'overconsumption' isn't determined by what other people don't have (though that, surely, is part of it); it's determined by how much a person is entitled to and how much a person can reasonably use. Even Locke recognizes prohibitions against spoilage. These are primarily ethical and philosophical notions.

A second problem is that many of the classic environmental issues, among which climate change is only one, are best characterized as conflicts of interest, not just between two actors, but also between one actor and the environment. I want a cherry dining set, you want a cherry dining set, and there ain't enough cherry growing fast enough to give us both what we want. Moreover, when I take that cherry for my cherry dining set, I deprive the world of that cherry tree. In this case, it's not just any cherry tree; it's that cherry tree; that cherry tree under which Harold kissed Maude, under which Abe told his truth, under which Erma held her bowl. So too for many environmental problems: I want a ski slope, so I take that mountain. I want a fountain, so I take that reservoir. I want a McMansion development, so I take that open space. Taking specific features of nature yields particularized conflicts of interest; but even more than this, particularized clashes over what is and what is not permissible. Again, permissibility is an ethical issue, only loosely and tangentially related to the so-called "politics of limits."

What I'm expressing here isn't at all pessimism about technology. Far from it. As I've said, I like and support technological innovation. I'd even root for a budget that included a lot of it. I'm hoping to point out that S&N's "politics of limits vs politics of possibility" dichotomy has many rough edges; inattention to which heralds a premature call for the death of environmentalism.

For more on this, my colleague Michael Zimmerman, Professor in the Philosophy Department and the Environmental Studies Program, as well as an outspoken advocate of an expansively multidisciplinary approach to environmental issues, Integral Ecology, has his own new blog and has further comments on S&N here:

September 13, 2006

Abandoned mine language making its way through the Senate again

At the behest of corporate actors in the west, for the past few years Congress has been nipping at the edges of one of the thornier environmental policy issues in the west -- abandoned mines. Today the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked up S.1848 -- the "Cleanup of Inactive and Abandoned Mines Act" -- sponsored by Colorado Senators Salazar and Allard (neither of whom sit on EPW -- Allard did in the last Congress).

Abandoned mines are a contentious issue out west. You can get a sense of the issues here, here or here. (Or maybe since there's no wikipedia page on it, it's not such an important issue?)

Congress originally dealt with AM's in the 1999 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill. Sec. 560 of S.507 allowed the federal government to "to address water quality problems caused by drainage and related activities from abandoned and inactive noncoal mines." (Note the word "noncoal.") It demanded a 50-50 federal/non-federal cost-share when the AM was not on Federal land. But in the end the provision was doomed to be ineffective from the start as it only authorized a total of $5M.

In 2004 the Senate moved AML in Section 4401 of S.2773, the Water Resources Development Act of 2004. That provision moved a bigger portion of the clean-up to the non-federal party (now a 25-75 split) and directed that the non-federal interest pay 100% of the operation and maintenance of the site, but it increased the authorization for the program almost ten times to $45M. One of the more interesting additions in that provision, however, was the "No effect on liability" provision: "The provision of assistance under this section shall not relieve from liability any person that would otherwise be liable under Federal or State law for damages, response costs, natural resource damages, restitution, equitable relief, or any other relief."

In the end, the AML in the 2004 WRDA bill was not contentious, but WRDA has had trouble passing for other reasons. But the AML issue has remained and
gained enough traction to warrant its own bill.

Today's markup of S.1848 moves forward a new wrinkle in the AML situation: exempting "good Samaritans" from liability when they move toward cleaning up a mine problem not of their own making. (Background needed: in American law when a party buys land they are assuming the liability of the former owners for any environmental problems that exist or were caused downstream. In some cases companies have purchased such tainted property anyway, but in others it prevents sale. When the original party goes bankrupt the land becomes abandoned and this usually leaves taxpayers in the lurch for cleaning up the mess.) In the proposed bill, a "good Samaritan":

(A) is unrelated, by operation or ownership (except solely through succession to title), to the historic mine residue to be remediated under this section;

(B) had no role in the creation of the historic mine residue;

(C) had no significant role in the environmental pollution caused by the historic mine residue; and

(D) is not liable under any Federal, State, or local law for the remediation of the historic mine residue.

The contentious part of the bill is the exemptions it gives to good Samaritans in mine clean-up. Sect 3(g)(1)(C), "provides to the permittee, in carrying out the activities authorized under the permit, protection from actions taken, obligations, and liabilities arising under the environmental laws specified in the permit." Where "environmental laws" are defined in Sect 3(a)(3)(A-J) as:

(A) the Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.);
(B) the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.);
(C) the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300f et seq.);
(D) the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.);
(E) the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq.);
(F) the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.);
(G) the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (42 U.S.C. 7901 et seq.);
(H) the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.);
(I) applicable environmental laws of a State; and
(J) applicable environmental ordinances of a political subdivision of a State.

Concern over blanket exemption from liability under these law seems reasonable. However, the bill also sets out a very strict permitting process in which a mine may only be cleaned up in a state which has a "State Remediation Program" and any good Samaritan must apply through this program. Fines for violating the permit are set at $10K/day. Permits must also run through the EPA and may only be granted if the EPA determines, "the project will not degrade any aspect of the environment in any area to a significant degree" and "the project will meet applicable water quality standards, to the maximum extent reasonable and practicable under the circumstances." [Sect 3(f)(1)(A)(i-iv)]

According to Congressional Quarterly, Senator Boxer (CA) offered a substitute amendment that would have created a federal grant program for clean-up without the liability waivers, but it was rejected 7-11 (that would be party-line with one D voting against her, for those keeping score at home).

It's not clear to me where this legislation is going from here, but I suspect it'll be fairly non-contentious and get through the Senate. Enviro groups have their concerns (see this article) but to my eye the EPA permitting provisions seem a pretty solid backstop to the liability relief provisions. I have no idea where the House will take this, but I expect the western reps will try to run it through.

Posted on September 13, 2006 03:07 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Environment

May 27, 2006

How Taxonomy is Political

From this week’s Science:

Three of us have published descriptions of new species of restricted-range reptiles and amphibians that tragically aided their commercial exploitation. Immediately after being described, the turtle Chelodina mccordi from the small Indonesian island of Roti (2) and the gecko Goniurosaurus luii from southeastern China (3) became recognized as rarities in the international pet trade, and prices in importing countries soared to highs of $1500 to $2000 each. They became so heavily hunted that today C. mccordi is nearly extinct in the wild (4) and G. luii is extirpated from its type locality (3). The salamander Paramesotriton laoensis from northern Laos was not known in the international pet trade prior to its recent description as a new species (5). Over the past year, Japanese (6, 7) and German collectors used the published description to find these salamanders, and they are now being sold to hobbyists in those countries for $170 to $250 each. Similar cases are known from elsewhere in the world and from other taxa.

Withholding locality information from new species descriptions (8) might hamper profiteers, but it also hampers science and conservation. However, with the aid of the Internet, scientists can now monitor commercial demand for species just as commercial collectors can monitor scientific journals. This means prior information exists on which taxa will likely become commercial commodities (we should become concerned for any newly described species of Chelodina and Goniurosaurus). In such cases, taxonomists should work closely with relevant governmental agencies to coordinate publication of the description with legislation or management plans that thwart overexploitation of the new species. Of course, this will not always be easy or successful, and may lengthen publication time, but alternative solutions that allow taxonomists to continue their work without contributing to species decline are wanting.

Posted on May 27, 2006 09:06 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

May 08, 2006

Myths of the History of Ozone Policy

I have heard the case of ozone depletion invoked time and time again by advocates for mitigation action on climate change. Such invocations are not only like the old adage of generals fighting the last war, but worse, because they are like old generals looking to fight the old war as they wish it had been, rather than how it really was.

Here is a True/False quiz on the history of ozone policy. Keep track of your answers and the key will be provided after the jump:

1) Science provided a clear message.
2) Policy makers relied on consensus science to take action.
3) Public opinion was intense and unified.
4) Ozone skeptics remained mute and high-minded.
5) Science reached a threshold of certainty that compelled action

If you answered False to each of these then give yourself 100%. The ozone story is documented in this paper:

Betsill, M. M., and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 1998: Blurring the Boundaries: Domestic and International Ozone Politics and Lessons for Climate Change. International Environmental Affairs, 10(3), 147-172. (PDF)

Here are some brief comments on the questions above:

1) Science provided a clear message.

The science of ozone depletion was quite uncertain all the way through (and beyond) the Montreal Protocol in 1987, but especially so during the late-1970s/early-1980s adoption of the Toxic Substances Control Act, Clean Air Act Amendments, and Vienna Convention. Similarly, the settlement of the NRDC lawsuit that paved the way for the U.S. participation in the Montreal protocol took place before the discovery of the ozone hole.

2) Policy makers relied on consensus science to take action.

Policy makers used science as an indication of a possible problem and then very much followed a "no regrets" strategy. They first regulated "non-essential" uses of CFCs, for which substitutes were more readily available, and then took on essential uses later. In this way policy makers did what was relatively easier first, and left the more politically difficult challenges for later. In this way they reduced the scope of the problem. Climate change has seen the opposite strategy with the most difficult challenge and largest framing (regulating global energy use) at the center of the debate. Consensus science really did not play a role in ozone policy until after the Montreal Protocol when the issue was mature and fine-tuning was possible in the policy responses.

3) Public opinion was intense and unified.

According to the official UN history of the ozone issue there were exceedingly few news stories on ozone depletion in the U.S., China, U.K., or Soviet Union from 1977-1985, when much of the policy framework for the issue was developed (Figure 8.1, p. 293). The NYT had about 20 stories in 1982, and in no other year were there that many stories combined in 10 different leading newspapers during that period. This was also a period of intense (and legitimate) scientific debate. In fact, many people believed after the aerosol spray can ban in the late 1970s that the problem had been solved. It is hard to imagine ozone having anywhere near the salience and uniformity of opinion that we now see among the public on climate change.

4) Ozone skeptics remained mute and high-minded.

According to that same UN history (p. 295) one British scientist commented in 1975 that [Ozone-depletion theory is] "a science fiction tale . . . a load of rubbish . . . utter nonsense." There were plenty of skeptics on this issue, buoyed by fundamental uncertainties in the science in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The focus on "no regrets" strategies kept the attention off of science and onto policy options, which led to a breakthrough in the invention of substitutes for CFCs.

5) Science reached a threshold of certainty that compelled action.

Action on ozone proceeded incrementally with many decisions taken, first in the U.S. and then internationally. There was no "threshold for action" that we see so often called for in the context of climate change. Action took place based on what the political dynamics would allow. Science played a very important role in placing ozone depletion on the decision making agenda and then again in fine tuning the international protocol once it had been widely accepted. In between it was effective politics and a healthy policy process that compelled action, not science.

On the ozone issue we seem to have learned the wrong lessons – those that never existed in the first place. Progress on climate change mitigation might be more effective if many of today’s advocates actually fought the last war, rather than the one that they seem to have think that they won.

May 04, 2006

Skeptics Society Conference Preview

The Skeptics Society hosts an annual conference on a topic of their choosing. This year's conference is entitled "The Environmental Wars: The Science Behind the Politics" and will be held 2-4 June, 2006 at CalTech.

From the conference website:

"Why are we still debating climate change? How soon will we hit peak oil supply? When politics mix with science, what is being brewed? Join speakers from the left & the right, from the lab & the field, from industry & advocacy, as we air the ongoing debate about whether human activity is actually changing the climate of the planet."

From what I know of the Skeptics Society, they would welcome people from any perspective on the issue. The speaker lineup bears this out:

John Stossel
Michael Crichton
Adam Savage (MythBusters)
James Randi
Jonathan Adler
Ronald Bailey
David Baltimore
Gregory Benford
Brian Fagan
David Goodstein
Paul MacCready
Chris Mooney
Donald R. Prothero
Tapio Schneider

At a first glance of the schedule (and please keep in mind I'm one of the few on Prometheus who don't follow this debate closely), the potentially interesting events would include the panel of Chris Mooney and Ronald Bailey, as well as the keynote with John Stossel, Michael Crichton, Adam Savage and James Randi. Sparks (and hopefully only sparks) will fly.

Posted on May 4, 2006 12:32 PM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Environment

March 08, 2006

On Missing the Point

Karen O’Brien, of the University of Oslo’s Department of Sociology and Human Geography, has a very thoughtful editorial in the current issue of the journal Global Environmental Change. She suggests, quite appropriately in my view, that debate and discussion on global environmental issues focuses too narrowly on “science” and not on important issues of “human security.” She is asking us to consider reframing how we think about and organize to act on environmental issues. In my view, O’Brien is absolutely correct in her analysis, but her perspective, and that of Oxford’s Steve Rayner which we discussed yesterday, are far removed from the center of the current politicized and scientized debates over global environmental issues. Here is an excerpt from her editorial:

The time has come to reframe global environmental change first and foremost as an issue of human security. For years, the global environmental change research, policy, and activist communities have been pointing to a long list of potential negative outcomes from human-induced environmental changes. The premise for concern has been that we are altering key components of the Earth System, changing climate and hydrological systems, carrying out dramatic land cover changes, undermining ecosystem services, and reducing genetic, ecosystem, and species diversity (MEA, 2005; Steffen et al., 2004). A substantial effort has been made to document, understand, and explain the science behind these issues, in order to support policies and actions that address the driving forces of environmental change. This science-based approach has produced powerful arguments for reconsidering current strategies of economic growth and development, in favor of what can be considered sustainable development. Nevertheless, the approach has maintained environmental change as an issue of “science” rather than of human security, and it has consequently failed to engage society in creating the transformations that will lead to sustainability.

Human security goes beyond the traditional understanding of security as a state-centered concept related to threats and conflict. In terms of environmental change, human security can be considered the condition when and where individuals and communities have the options necessary to end, mitigate, or adapt to risks to their human, environmental, and social rights; have the capacity and freedom to exercise these options; and actively participate in attaining these options (GECHS, 1999). This is a people-centered concept that focuses on enabling individuals and communities to respond to change, whether by reducing vulnerability or by challenging the drivers of environmental change. More than a measurable and objective state, human security is something that is felt and experienced, and it is fundamental to every individual's well-being.

The emphasis on “science” over “security” is evident in popular debates about climate change. For example, the media in Norway (as in many other countries) seems to be obsessed with the question, “Is this climate change or not?” Every extreme hurricane, storm, or heat wave raises the spectre of human-induced climate change. Following each major event, the Norwegian media gathers groups of scientists to defend their research and the strong scientific consensus that increased greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate. Sceptical positions and scientific uncertainties are then equally highlighted, and anyone who has not taken graduate level meteorology classes is thrown into deep confusion.

Watching the media debate the relationship between Hurricane Katrina and climate change in September 2005, I could not help but think that this is simply missing the point. The debate should not be about whether or not this is evidence of climate change, but about whether human society has the capacity to respond to these types of shocks. Focusing on scientific uncertainty diverts attention away from the factors that generate vulnerability and create human insecurities. Indeed, uncertainty about human impacts on the climate system is inevitable, and the more scientific knowledge we gain, the more uncertain we are likely to be …

Read the whole thing here.

January 20, 2006

Senator Craig and the Fish Passage Center

I've written a good bit on salmon issues in the Columbia and Snake River systems (see Prometheus posts 1 and 2, and nosenada posts). I last left the issue with news of Senator Larry Craig's (R-ID) annoyance at a broker of information in the system.

Litigation has been running for years over the Federal government's obligations to protect various ocean-bound species of salmon and their inevitable conflict with the 11 major dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. In this case, the federal government means the Army Corps (who run the dams), the Bonneville Power Administration (who oversee the power ops), and NOAA-Fisheries (who are supposed to be watching out for the salmon under the ESA). NOAA-Fisheries has negotiated compromise solutions with BPA and the Corps on protecting both salmon and power issues. Environmentalists have sued, claiming that under the ESA, NOAA-Fisheries is only supposed to be protecting the salmon without taking economic considerations in account.

The federal interests in this case are simply an extension of one side of the interest triangle on Columbia/Snake salmon. The three major stakeholders are power consumers, farmers and fish lovers. The first category is represented by BPA because BPA sells the power and hears about it when that power gets expensive. Power consumers are both residential users and their co-ops, as well as major industries, such as Alcoa. Farmers' interests are obvious. Fish lovers include the various tribes of the region with treaty rights, sport fishermen and commercial catch operators. The basic issue is that fish lovers want BPA to spill water over the tops of the dams in the summer to help salmon smolts safely get out to sea. But that spilt water is water BPA cannot use for power generation and thus represents lost revenue and, by extension, higher rates for consumers.

(Worth noting, we are talking about summer power and the demand then is not from the Pacific Northwest but from out-of-market California for air conditioning. In other words, BPA doesn't actually lose money by spilling water in the summer, rather it loses revenue it could gain by selling power to another market.)

To this point, the presiding judge on the case, James Redden of the Federal District Court in Portland, OR, has usually sided with the plaintiffs and found the government's salmon recovery plans inadequate. The latest ruling came in October, with Redden stating in his decision:

I found NOAA's opinion that DAM operations would not jeopardize the continued existence of listed salmon species was arbitrary and capricious because it was based on a flawed framework of analysis that improperly segregated elements of the proposed action NOAA deemed to be nondiscretionary.... In addition, I found NOAA's analysis of the effects of the proposed action on critical habitat was arbitrary and capricious, and its analysis of the likelihood of recovery as well as survival of the listed species was inadequate.

The decision continues in even more scathing language on pages 3 and 4. This is entirely consistent with Redden's many decisions throughout the history of this issue and his exasperation at the federal agencies comes through clearly.

Redden's series of rulings has led Senator Craig to (predictably?) call Redden an "activist judge." This is an extension of Senator Craig's political decision on choosing up sides of the interest triangle. In this case he avoided the tack taken by every other Senator in the region -- all of whom have avoided publicly favoring one side -- and chose to side with power interests over sporting interests (who also have a strong Republican base).

Beside the name calling, Senator Craig's decision to favor one side has led to finding a way to influence the outcome of the policy decisions in the system more directly. He has done so by going after the data used by the plaintiffs to inform the Redden decisions. Specifically, Senator Craig targeted the BPA-funded Fish Passage Center (FPC), which aggregates fish count data and provides analyses of the health of the salmon stocks.

This is language that appears on pages 178 and 179 of S. Rep. 109-84 in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill (PL 109-103) :

The Committee is concerned about the increasing cost of salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia River Basin, and about the potential adverse impact of those increased costs on customers of the Bonneville Power Administration. The Committee also is concerned about the quality and efficiency of some of the fish data collection efforts and analyses being performed. As a result, during fiscal year 2006, the Bonneville Power Administration may make no new obligations from the Bonneville Power Administration Fund in support of the Fish Passage Center. The Committee understands that there are universities in the Pacific Northwest that already collect fish data for the region and are well-positioned to take on the responsibilities now being performed by the Fish Passage Center, and that the universities can carry out those responsibilities at a savings to the region’s ratepayers that fund these programs.

This language does not square with Craig's and his staff's early statements on the FPC, in which they derided it as a political agency with an pro-fish agenda. This mirrored the public comments of a prominent stakeholder on the pro-energy, anti-spill side. Only after Craig was skewered by local press did the story change to one of efficiency and overlap.

Of course, no metric exists to test whether the FPC is an honest broker or an advocacy organization, but my reading of their work places them clearly on the side of honest broker. Editorials from throughout the Pacific Northwest written in response to Senator Craig's actions seem to back me up. Senator Craig did not like the data coming back; data which supported the contention that federal agency plans to help salmon survival were not helping the salmon. So he found a way to kill the messenger.

There is something that clearly does not stand close scrutiny in the report language above. If the committee is concerned about the quality and efficiency of data collection, why is it decentralizing the collection and analysis, while "hoping" that PNW universities will take up the role? Furthermore, why is the committee de-funding the one organization that the federal agencies and other stakeholders in the system can turn to for on-demand aggregated information? Although individual scientists may do it as part of grant-supported research projects, the universities in the area have no charter or mandate to collect, analyze and provide this information on demand. The clear implication here is that some players in the system do not want the information available.

Senator Craig's staff tried halfheartedly to justify the decision to de-fund the FPC based on the above reasoning, but their early comments very clearly pushed this as a political decision, rather than a prudent policy decision. The timing could not have been more clear, as Craig's anger was palpable on the heels of a summer Redden decision that yet again found for the plaintiffs and against the agencies.

However, all the above said, somewhere in the Conference Committee (the process that reconciles the House and Senate bills and leads to final passage), somebody chose to temper Senator Craig's language. The report language of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill as passed out of Conference (H.Rep. 109-275, pg. 174) reads a bit differently:

The Bonneville Power Administration may make no new obligations in support of the Fish Passage Center. The conferees call upon Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to ensure that an orderly transfer of the Fish Passage Center functions (warehouse of smolt monitoring data, routine data analysis and reporting and coordination of the smolt monitoring program) occurs within 120 days of enactment of this legislation. These functions shall be transferred to other existing and capable entities in the region in a manner that ensures seamless continuity of activities.

Clearly the committee was uncomfortable with cutting the FPC free and letting the data fall into the sea. Although this final language is not substantially different from the Senate language, the last sentence above is an important directive that seems to make this issue more about efficiency and overlap and less about simply killing the FPC for the sake of killing the FPC.

[Final note: if you're confused about all the Senate report this and House report that and PL 109-xxx's, the appropriations bills are all summarized here. The Public Law (PL) is the passed legislative language; the reports are the plain-English explanations by the Committees of their actions. The most relevant report is the Conference Report.]

Posted on January 20, 2006 10:01 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Environment

December 15, 2005

Get Ready for Air Capture

I have often joked that the solution to increasing greenhouse gases was simple: simply invent a tabletop device (solar powered of course) that turns the CO2 in ambient air into diamonds and releases oxygen. While I am still awaiting this invention, the issue of "air capture" of CO2 is becoming less and less far-fetched. Whether or not air capture proves technologically, economically, or politically feasible in the long run, the technology, or more precisely the idea of the technology, has the potential to fundamentally transform debate on climate change.

The idea of air capture of CO2 is simple in principle: ambient air is taken in, CO2 is taken out, and air is released. (Those interested in an introduction to the technical details should see this PDF by David Keith and Minh Ha-Duong. For a look at a a prototype system see this PDF.)

Currently air capture of CO2 is a political third rail of climate policy. Here is why:

For most of those people opposed to greenhouse gas regulation advocating air capture would require first admitting that greenhouse gases ought to be reduced in the first place, an admission that most on this side of the debate have avoided. When so-called climate skeptics start advocating air capture (which I have to believe can't be too far off), then you will have a sign that the climate debate is really changing.

If such a transformation occurs, then we have the irony of seeing the climate skeptics become the technology advocates and the greenhouse gas regulation advocates become technology skeptics. Why? For most of those people who support greenhouse gas regulations, even admitting the possibility of air capture is anathema, because it would undercut the entire structure of the contemporary climate enterprise. Consider that the Kyoto Protocol and all of its complex mechanisms would largely be rendered irrelevant. So too would be most research on carbon sequestration (though point source sequestration would likely remain of interest) and management, as well as much of research on reducing emissions in autos, homes, cities, etc.. As well, because among many much of the motivation for climate mitigation lies in changing peoples lifestyles, securing advantages in international economics, and changing energy policies, air capture represents a tremendous threat to such agendas. As a 2002 Los Alamos National Laboratory press release trumpets, "Imagine no restrictions on fossil-fuel usage and no global warming!"

Now for a moment imagine that the technological, economic, and political obstacles to air capture could be successfully overcome. For the record, I have no idea if this is in fact the case, however some very prominent researchers think that it is possible, see e.g., this PDF. What would this mean?

This would mean that policy makers could then tune the atmosphere to whatever concentration of CO2 that they desired, and people around the world could continue to consume fossil fuels with abandon. (The entire prospect of geoengineering would of course require some very, very careful thought that I am obviously overlooking for the moment.) Now of course, this argument presumes that the climate problem is one of stabilizing CO2 concentrations at a particular level, such as described in the Climate Convention, a framing that I have critiqued (e.g., here in PDF), but let's go with it for purposes of discussion. The problem of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere would then simply be turned into a technical exercise in scrubbing the atmosphere clean, of course, at some cost.

Critics of air capture that I have spoken to dismiss air capture almost reflexively as undoubtedly forever remaining too costly and technologically infeasible. But given its potential to reshape the climate debate, I am amazed that air capture has not captured more attention from researchers and, especially, policy makers. For example, the recent IPCC report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage discusses capture from point sources, like power plants, but not from air. Should air capture start getting attention you can just about predict who will argue against it as being infeasible and work to keep it off of technology research agendas. (Question: Does anyone know how much research money is currently devoted to air capture?)

According to estimates by David Keith and colleagues, the costs of air capture are about one order of magnitude higher than the price that carbon trades for in the European carbon exchange. In the history of technological innovation, this is really not very far apart (think computers). Imagine if governments around the world set up a $50 billion prize for the first technology that demonstrated economic viability for air capture of carbon dioxide at, for instance, $20 per ton, $5 per ton or $1 per ton. The resulting investment in innovation would be massive. To scale the cost of awarding such a prize, it is a fraction of some projections of the annual costs of implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which would deal with about 99% less of the problem than cost-effective air capture.

Can air capture solve the problem of increasing greenhouse gas emissions? I don't know. But if scientists and policy makers frame the climate problem as one of stabilizing concentrations of atmospheric CO2, then given the potential payoff, air capture deserves to be at the center of international climate policy debate. Presently it is not, but I'd bet that it will be soon.

(Note: Thanks to David Keith for providing useful background information on air capture!)

October 19, 2005

Being Accurate is Easy, Right?

The amazing 2005 hurricane season continues with Wilma bearing down on Florida, currently as a S/S category 5 storm. I noticed an interesting difference in presentation between the AP and the NHC discussions of Wilma's intensity. Here is what the AP reported:

"Hurricane Wilma doesn't stop making history: It is the strongest, most intense Atlantic hurricane in terms of barometric pressure and the most rapidly strengthening on record. A hurricane hunter plane flying through the Category 5 storm's eye found a minimum central pressure of 882 millibars, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Wednesday."

Here is what the NHC said,


Is it really too much to expect the AP to use the word "unofficially"?

Posted on October 19, 2005 10:40 AM View this article | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

September 12, 2005

Kristof on Hurricanes

In his column yesterday, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof jumps on the bandwagon suggesting that greenhouse gas policies can be used as a tool to modulate future hurricane behavior. We've covered this subject in some detail here, but there are two points worth making on this column.

First, Kristof goes out of his way to avoid the obvious issue of societal vulnerability. He quoted Kerry Emanuel as follows: "My results suggest that future warming may lead to ... a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century." Kristof's ellipses significantly change the meaning of Emanuel's statement. Here is the full quote from Emanuel's paper (PDF), including the information replaced by Kristof with ellipses, "My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and-taking into account an increasing coastal population- a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty- first century." This is playing a bit fast and loose with Emanuel's statement, given that Emanuel says elsewhere, "For U.S.-centric concerns over the next 30-50 years, by far the most important hurricane problem we face is demographic and political." Of course, as we've documented here, for at least the next half century and probably longer, societal vulnerability to hurricanes dominates any projected greenhouse gas effects, so in an essay advocating greenhouse gases as a tool of disaster management, it is obvious why Kristof would want to pretend that this issue doesn't exist.

Second, Kristof relies on the opinions of scientists rather than what you find in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Now, the scientists that he cites are surely very intelligent people, and the peer reviewed literature has its own flaws, and of course Kristof is a columnist not an IPCC contributor. But it seems to me that we have the peer-reviewed literature for a reason, and that in general it is likely a more reliable guide to what we know than predictions of smart scientists as to what future research will reveal. Kristof relies on the opinions of smart people whose views are convenient to his argument, and ignores the opinions of smart people whose views are inconvenient. This is called cherry picking. One way to adjudicate among different opinions of scientists is to consult the peer-reviewed scientific literature (this is of course what the IPCC does), and when there are different perspectives in the peer-reviewed literature, then that is a reality of science.

Over the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that the controversy over hurricanes and global warming exists because different scientists have different views as to what future research will reveal, and they have been outspoken in advancing these opinions. Bill Gray, for example, expects future research to reveal no discernible connection between hurricanes and global warming. By contrast, Kevin Trenberth believes that a connection will be found. Future research will help to clarify this dispute. But if one takes a look at the peer-reviewed science available today (and later this week), there is in fact a clear consensus on this subject.

In his column Kristof cites the useful, but non-peer-reviewed Real Climate weblog and Emanuel speculating that, "The large upswing [in the PDI] in the last decade is unprecedented, and probably reflects the effect of global warming." This last statement is what scientists call a hypothesis. It may in fact be correct. Bill Gray may also be proven correct. To address such divergent views is one reason why we do research in the first place. We could save a lot of money in research funding if we substituted scientific opinions for research. But lets be very clear --- as of today, as we documented in our BAMS paper, research has not been conducted that would allow for a definitive conclusion on these different opinions on hurricanes and global warming. And unless there are some surprises in the publication pipeline, it does not look like there will be any peer-reviewed scientific studies available by the end of 2005, and thus available to the next IPCC, that clarify the issue of attribution of greenhouse gas effects on hurricanes.

Scientists would do themselves and decision makers a favor by clearly identifying knowledge that can be supported by the peer-reviewed literature and that which is based on opinions by scientists as to what future research will reveal. Our forthcoming BAMS paper on hurricanes and global warming should be interpreted as an assessment of what statements can be made based on the peer-reviewed literature available today. Some scientists of course want to make stronger statements, on one side or the other, and they of course have every right to, but they should be careful to qualify such statements as hypotheses or statements of expectation and not of findings. Otherwise, if scientists' opinions are as good a basis of knowledge as peer-reviewed studies, then what is the point of the peer-reviewed literature at all?

Posted on September 12, 2005 07:46 AM View this article | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Environment

September 06, 2005

Making sense of economic impacts - Comparing apples with apples

For further reading:

Downton, M., J. Z. B. Miller and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. Reanalysis of U.S. National Weather Service Flood Loss Database, Natural Hazards Review, 6:13-22. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2000: Flood Impacts on Society: Damaging Floods as a Framework for Assessment. Chapter 21 in D. Parker (ed.), Floods. Routledge Press: London, 133-155. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and R. A. Pielke, Sr. (eds.), 2000: Storms: a volume in the nine-volume series of Natural Hazards & Disasters Major Works published by Routledge Press as a contribution to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Routledge Press: London.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1997: The Social and Economic Impacts of Weather Workshop Report, ESIG/NCAR, Boulder, CO, May.

Accurate estimates of the economic impacts of a disaster's impacts are important for a number of practical reasons. In 1999, the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report titled, "The Impacts of Natural Disasters: A Framework for Loss Estimation" which stated that such data would be useful in making decisions about disasters:

" ... a baseline set of loss data, together with cost and benefit estimates of alternative mitigation measures, would allow the federal government and individuals and firms in the private sector to design and implement cost-effective strategies for mitigating the losses from natural disasters. Insurers could certainly use the data to improve their estimates of future payouts associated with disasters. And researchers and experts in disaster loss estimation could benefit from a standardized data base that would enable them to improve estimates of both the direct and indirect losses of disasters. These improvements in turn would assist policymakers in their efforts to devise policies to reduce the losses caused by future disasters. Beyond providing an indicator of total natural disaster losses to the nation, the framework for loss estimation described in this report would also provide detailed information on losses. A better understanding of issues such as who bears disaster losses, what are the main types of damages in different disasters, and how those losses differ spatially, are of critical importance in making decisions about allocating resources for mitigation, research, and response."

However, the NRC also found, "Despite the frequency and expenses of natural disasters, there exists no system in either the public or private sector for consistently compiling information about their economic impacts." The NRC's conclusions have been echoed by reports from the Heinz Center, Rand (prepared for OSTP), and from scholars such as Mileti, Hooke and Changnon. To date, no such database exists. A good deal of my own research over the past ten years has been motivated by this situation.

Tabulating economic losses is not straightforward. Damage estimates are a function of what is counted, how it is counted, over a certain time and space. In what follows, I present an excerpt from our 1997 book on hurricanes that briefly describes some of the methodological challenges of damage estimation and tabulation. Tomorrow we'll start looking at some actual data.

For those of you who would like a reference to the discussion below, a version of the below also appeared as a short essay in 1997. Here is that reference:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1997: Trends in Hurricane Impacts in the United States. Crop Insurance Today, 30(3), 8-10,18. ( PDF, apologies for the poor quality of the copy)

Begin extended excerpt -----------------------------

In the aftermath of any extreme event there is a demand for a bottom-line measure of damages in dollars. There are many valid ways to measure the costs of a hurricane. Any assessment of impacts resulting in a estimate of total damages associated with a disaster must pay explicit attention to assumptions guiding the analysis in order to facilitate interpretation of the estimate. The analyst needs to pay attention to five factors that can undermine damage assessment: Contingency, Quantification, Attribution, Aggregation, and Comparison.

Contingency: The Problem of Multiple-Order Impacts

When a hurricane strikes a community, it leaves an obvious path of destruction. As a result of high winds and water from a storm surge, homes, businesses, and crops may be destroyed or damaged, public infrastructure may also be compromised, and people may suffer injuries or loss of life. Such obvious impacts can be called "direct impacts" because of the close connection between event and damages. The costs associated with direct impacts are generally easiest to assess because they come in discrete quantities. Federal insurance payouts are one measure of direct impacts, as are federal aid, public infrastructure reconstruction, and debris removal. Table 1 (expressed in curren-tyear dollars) shows the direct impacts associated with Andrew's landfall in south Florida in August 1992.

Secondary impacts are those that are related to the direct impacts of a hurricane. Generally, secondary impacts result in the days and weeks following a hurricane's passage. For example, a hurricane may destroy a water treatment plant (Changnon 1996). The direct impact is the cost associated with rebuilding the plant; secondary impacts might include the costs associated with providing fresh water for local citizens. In general, such secondary impacts are more difficult to assess because they require estimation and are part of an existing social process; e.g., estimating the costs of providing fresh water in lieu of that which would have been provided by the plant requires some sense of what would have occurred without the hurricane's impact.

Further order impacts on time scales of months and years occur and can easily be imagined. For example, a hurricane may destroy a number of businesses in a community resulting in a decrease in tourist visits, which in turn leads to a shortfall in sales tax collection. As a result, community services that had been funded from sales tax revenues may suffer, leading to further social disruption and thus additional costs.

Estimation of the costs associated with such impacts is difficult to accomplish with much certainty because of numerous confounding factors. In short, a hurricane serves as a shock to a community that leaves various impacts which reverberate through the social system for short and long periods. Pulling the signal of the reverberations from the noise of ongoing social processes becomes increasingly difficult, as the impact becomes further removed in time and in causation from the event's direct impacts.

Attribution: The Problem of Causation

Related to contingency is attribution. In the aftermath of a natural disaster people are quick to place blame on nature: "The hurricane caused billions of dollars in damages." However, it is often the case that "natural" disasters are a consequence of human failures. Damage is often a result of poor decisions of the past and inadequate preparation rather than simply the overwhelming forces of nature. It is often at the intersection of extreme events and poor preparation that a disaster occurs. An important aspect of learning from a hurricane is to understand what damages and casualties might have been preventable and which were not. Gross tabulations of damages neglect the question of why damage occurred, and often implicitly place blame on nature rather that ourselves.

Quantification: The Problem of Measurement

How much is a life worth? Or put in practical terms, How much public money are people willing to pay to save one more life in the face of an environmental hazard? According to a review by Fischer et al. (1989) the public assigns between $2.0 million and $10.9 million as the value of a human life. The difficulties associated with assigning an economic value to a human life is representative of the more general problem of assessing many of the costs associated with a hurricane's impact. Similar questions might include: What is the value of a lost ecosystem, park, or unrecoverable time in school, etc.? What are the costs associated with psychological trauma? The difficulties in quantifying the cost of a life are representative of the more general problem of placing a dollar value on damages that are not directly economic in nature.

A hurricane impacts many aspects of society that are not explicitly associated with an economic measure (e.g., well-being). As a consequence, any comprehensive economic measurement of a hurricane's impact necessitates the quantification of costs associated with subjective losses. Therefore, the assumptions that one brings to assessment of value can affect the bottom line. Care must be taken to make such assumptions explicit in the analysis.

Aggregation: The Problem of Benefits and Spatial Scale

Hurricanes are not all costs; however estimates of impacts rarely consider benefits. Consider the following example: Following a hurricane that severely damages agricultural productivity in a region, commodity prices rise nationwide. Thus, while farmers in the affect region see losses, farmers outside of the region may actually see significant benefits due to the hurricane. At a national level the hurricane may thus have net economic benefits.

The example of farmers seeing gains or losses, depending upon where they farm, points to two sorts of issues: benefits and spatial scale. Arguably, following every disaster some individuals and groups realize benefits in some way from the event. Should such benefits be subtracted from a hurricane's total impact? Further, the picture of damages depends upon the scale of the analysis. For the same event a county may experience complete devastation, the state moderate impacts, and the nation positive benefits.

Transfers of wealth through disaster aid further complicate the picture. Because there are multiple valid spatial scales from which to view a hurricane's impacts careful attention must be paid to the purposes of loss estimates. Furthermore, it is important to remember that impacts go beyond those things that can be expressed in dollars -- Suffering and hardship are losses independent of scale.

Comparison: The Problem of Demographic Change

As a consequence of the challenges facing meaningful impact assessment, comparing hurricane impacts across time and space is problematic. Past intense hurricanes of the past would certainly leave a greater legacy had they occurred in more recent years. Yet, damage statistics often go into the historical record noting only the event and economic damage (usually adjusted only for inflation). Such statistics can lead to mistaken conclusions about the significance of trends in hurricane damage. Because population and property at risk to hurricanes has changed dramatically this century, such statistics may grossly underestimate our vulnerability. Therefore, care must be taken in the use of bottom line damage estimates to reach policy conclusions.

The Bottom Line: Apples with Apples, Oranges with Oranges

There are many ways in which to measure the costs associated with a hurricane. There is no one "right" way. The method chosen for measurement of the costs of damages depends upon the purposes for which the measurement is made, and therefore must be determined on a case by case basis. No matter what method is employed when assessing or using the costs associated with a hurricane's impact, the analyst need to ensure at least two things. First, the analyst needs to make explicit the assumptions which guide the assessment: What is being measured, how, and why. Second, compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges. If the purpose is to compare the impacts of a recent hurricane with a historical hurricane or a hurricane to an earthquake, the methods employed ought to result in conclusions which are meaningful in a comparative setting...

Society has become more vulnerable to hurricane impacts. The trend of increasing losses during a relatively quiet period of hurricane frequencies should be taken as an important warning. When hurricane frequencies and intensities return to levels observed earlier this century, then losses are sure to increase to record levels unless actions are taken to reduce vulnerability.

Inhabitants along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are fortunate in that hurricane watches and warnings are readily available as are shelters and well-conceived evacuation routes. However, this should not give reason for complacency -- the hurricane problem cannot be said to be solved (Pielke 1997). Disaster planners have developed a number of scenarios that result in a large loss of life here in the United States. For instance, imagine a situation of gridlock as evacuees seek to flee the Florida Keys on the only available road. Or imagine New Orleans, with much of the city below sea level, suffering the brunt of a powerful storm, resulting in tremendous flooding to that low lying city. Scenarios such as these require constant attention to saving lives. Because the nature of the hurricane problem is constantly changing as society changes, the hurricane problem can never be said to be solved.

Works Cited

Changnon, S.A. (ed.) 1996. The Great Flood of 1993: Causes, Impacts, and Responses (Westview Press: Boulder, CO).

Fischer, A., L. G. Chestnut, and D. M. Violette, 1989. The value of reducing risks of death: a note on new evidence, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 8:88-100.

Hebert, P. J., J. D. Jarrell and M. Mayfield, 1996. The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Hurricanes of this Century (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts) NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS NHC-31 (February). Coral Gables, FL: NHC.

Landsea, C. W., N. Nicholls, W. M. Gray, L. A. Avila, 1996. Downward trends in the frequency if intense Atlantic hurricanes during the past five decades, Geophysical Research Letters, 23:1697-1700.

Pielke Jr., R. A. 1997 (in press). "Reframing the U.S. Hurricane Problem," Society and Natural Resources Volume 10, Number 5, October.

Southern, R. L. 1992. Savage impact of recent catastrophic tropical cyclones emphasizes urgent need to enhance warning/response and mitigation systems in the Asia/ Pacific Region, mimeo

End Excerpt ---------------------------------

Posted on September 6, 2005 07:49 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

Katrina in Context: A Blog Series

On Saturday the New York Times ran a story that described efforts to total the economic impacts of Katrina. The story described the work of a catastrophe modeling firm which estimated that Katrina's costs could top $100 billion. What does this mean? What does this tell us about Katrina in historical perspective? About what we should expect for the future? What knowledge is grounded in peer-reviewed science? What is the significance of understanding Katrina in context for actions that we (and who is we?) might take to increase the odds of better ourcomes in the future?

For those of us interested in policies with respect to hurricanes and other extreme events it is important to accurately place Katrina into historical and future context, so that decisions about the future might be well calibrated with respect to risks and vulnerabilities.

We have conducted a wide range of research over the past 10 years on hurricane and flood impacts, and over the next week or so I will be working through this research so that people interested in impacts and policy can get a better sense of the work that lies behind the discussions that often appear on this site.

There are a lot of possible topics to discuss, and below is the list of subjects that I am starting out with. If you don't see a subject on this list that you'd like to have discussed, just let us know and we'll do the best to accommodate the request.

1. Making sense of economic impacts - Comparing apples with apples
2. Historical economic losses from Hurricanes - Where does Katrina rank?
3. Historical economic losses from floods - Where does Katrina rank?
4. Historical human impacts (non-economic) - Where does Katrina rank?
5. Federal disaster declarations - Understanding hazards and hazard politics
6. Federal disaster declarations - Hurricanes and Hurricane-Spawned Floods
7. Risk management versus vulnerability reduction - Different approaches to policy
8. Climate change, societal change and extreme weather events - Science and Policy
9. Summary Thoughts - What next after Katrina?

Posted on September 6, 2005 07:40 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

September 04, 2005

Intelligence Failure

The Bush Administration's complete lack of preparedness for responding to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is one of the most significant intelligence failures in history, ranking right up there with Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Ii will be important in the coming months for Congress to investigate this policy failure with every bit of effort that it did after 9/11. Let me say that I have every expectation that the government professionals now fully engaged in the rescue and recovery operations will do an outstanding job. The question that needs to be asked, and it is not too soon to begin asking, is why was the federal government so unprepared for the disaster in the face of robust scientific knowledge about the disaster at all time scales? This is especially in light of the fact that the government completely reorganized itself after 9/11 to improve the nation's preparedness and response to catastrophes.

Like many people, I too was buoyed by the reports in the immediate aftermath of Katrina that New Orleans had dodged another bullet. It is understandable that government officials not involved with disaster preparedness and response (including the President) might have seen these reports and felt the same way. But to learn that the federal government agencies responsible for disaster preparation and management had taken very little action in the days and hours before Katrina's landfall to prepare for the possibility of flooding of New Orleans is simply amazing. I study disasters and find this incredible.

Statements by Bush Administration officials reveal the depth of this intelligence failure. Consider the following comments from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA's Michael Brown:

Of Katrina resulting in the failure of the New Orleans levees Chertoff said -- " "That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight." He called the disaster "breathtaking in its surprise." ... Chertoff argued that authorities actually had assumed that "there would be overflow from the levee, maybe a small break in the levee. The collapse of a significant portion of the levee leading to the very fast flooding of the city was not envisioned."" Wrong. It is now well established that what has occurred was foreseeable and foreseen.

Of the time available to prepare, "Chertoff also argued that authorities did not have much notice that the storm would be so powerful and could make a direct hit on New Orleans." Wrong this storm was forecast perfectly and there were days of notice that an extremely powerful storm would hit along the gulf coast. Forecasts cannot get any better. And again, the disaster has been predicted for 30 years.

Chertoff explains on Wednesday that the government was betting on the come: "... in terms of this storm, particularly because it seemed to move to the east at the last minute, and I remember seeing newspaper headlines that said, you know, New Orleans dodged the bullet, on Tuesday morning, and even as everybody thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet Tuesday morning, the levee was not only being flooded, which is, I think, what most people always assumed would happen, but it actually broke."

Two things here. First, planning for the best case scenario is not a good approach to disaster policy. One wobble in a hurricane's path can make a big difference. And second, the Secretary of DHS was getting his information about the storm's impact on Tuesday from newspaper headlines? Are you kidding me?

Then there is the bizarre episode last Thursday of Chertoff arguing with NPR's Jeremy Siegel about whether or not there were in fact people stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center, and calling the news reports "rumor." Do these folks not watch cable news? Is it possible that I had better intelligence at the foot of the Rockies thousands of miles away than the Secretary of Homeland Security?

Later that day FEMA director Michael Brown told CNN on Thursday that they had only learned of people at the convention center on that day, presumably via the questions put to Chertoff:

"ZAHN: Sir, you aren't just telling me you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?

BROWN: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the Convention Center people until today."

Chertoff explains the intelligence failure on Sunday by placing blame on state and local officials:

"Well, I mean, this is clearly something that was disturbing. It was disturbing to me when I learned about it, which came as a surprise. You know, the very day that this emerged in the press, I was on a video conference with all the officials, including state and local officials. And nobody -- none of the state and local officials or anybody else was talking about a Convention Center. The original plan, as I understand it, was to have the Superdome be the place of refuge, of last resort. Apparently, sometime on Wednesday, people started to go to the Convention Center spontaneously. Why it is that there was a breakdown in communication, again, I'm sure will be studied when we get to look at this afterwards. FEMA, of course, did not have large -- is not equipped to put large masses of people into an area. FEMA basically plugs into the existing state and local infrastructure. What happened here was essentially the demolishment of that state and local infrastructure. And I think that really caused a cascading series of breakdowns. I mean, let's be honest. This stressed the system beyond, I think, any prior experience anybody's had in this country."

Let me explain why these comments are significant. Chertoff and Brown are the respective heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and within DHS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These are the federal agencies with lead responsibility for being prepared for and responding to disasters. Understanding and mitigating risk is their jobs.

This commentary is not a cheap political shot at the Bush Administration. They did have the bad luck of being in office when Katrina stuck, but they are nonetheless accountable for government performance in such situations. And there has been a significant policy failure on their watch. Furthermore, in the aftermath of 9/11 the Bush Administration completely reorganized itself to improve the nation's ability to secure itself. Under this new reorganization, DHS has comprehensively failed its first test. Congress needs to find out why, and fix it. We will have more disasters, that is for sure. The time to start asking hard questions is right now.

Posted on September 4, 2005 04:15 PM View this article | Comments (16) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

September 03, 2005

Correction of Errors in Fortune Story

Post co-authored by Roger Pielke, Jr. (RP) and Kerry Emanuel (KE)

Over this past week as the horrific disaster along the Gulf coast has developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have both been quoted extensively in the media based on our various work on hurricanes. For the most part the reporting of our views has been accurate and responsible. With this short post, we'd like to correct some significant mischaracterizations and errors in a Fortune news story. We address them below.

1. The Fortune story states, "But Emanuel and other experts have warned for over a decade that global warming may be creating an environment prone to more violent storms, droughts and other weather extremes ... " This may be true of "other experts" but it is not an accurate characterization of KE's statements over the past decade.

2. The Fortune story states, "A forthcoming paper co-authored by University of Colorado researcher Roger Pielke Jr. argues that by 2050, hurricane losses due to both coastal population growth and the rising value of coastal property will be 22 to 60 times greater than those that are potentially caused by global warming's effects. Ironically, MIT's Professor Emanuel was a co-author of that paper. But after compiling the startling data on intensifying hurricanes, he says, "I changed my mind" and struck his name from the authors' list."

The reason that KE decided to withdraw amicably from co-authorship had nothing to do with the paper's summary of research on the societal impacts of hurricanes, as implied here, but instead, a change in KE's views on the significance of global warming in observed and projected hurricane behavior. It is misleading to use KE's withdraw to dismiss the entire paper. Here is how KE characterized his withdrawal to RP in an email:

"The awkward situation we find ourselves in is bound to occur when research is in rapid flux. Working with both data and models, I see a large global warming signal in hurricanes. But it remains for me to persuade you and other of my colleagues of this, and it is entirely reasonable for you all to be is, after all, very new. It is not surprising, therefore, that what I have come to believe is at odds with any reasonable consensus. The problem for me is that I cannot sign on to a paper which makes statements I no longer believe are true, even though the consensus is comfortable with them."

We remain close, collegial colleagues who are seeking to advance science by challenging each others ideas in the traditional fora of scientific discourse. We hope that the media will recognize that science is complex and legitimate, differing perspectives often co-exist simultaneously. This diversity of perspective is one feature that motivates the advancement of knowledge.

3. The Fortune story states, "Emanuel found that since 1949, the average peak wind speeds of hurricanes over the North Atlantic and the western and eastern North Pacific has increased by a whopping 50%... Meanwhile the duration of the storms, in terms of the total number of days they lasted on an annual basis, rose by roughly 60%." This is a mischaracterization of the recent research conducted by KE, which instead found an increase in the power dissipation of hurricanes, an integrated measure of peak wind speeds and storm duration; it is the cube of the wind speed that has increased by about 50%, not the wind speed itself.

4. Finally, the story misuses the term "hypercanes" which refers to theoretical research conducted by KE and colleagues in the mid-1990s. The term has nothing to do with the present or near-term future. Hypercanes require ocean temperatures of at least 50 C and may have formed shortly after collisions of large extraterrestrial bodies, such as asteroids, with the earth; they will not arise as a consequence of global warming.

Posted on September 3, 2005 09:23 AM View this article | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Others | Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

September 02, 2005

"Nobody Could Have Foreseen"

I am just watching CNN and see George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton being interviewed both saying that of the disaster facing New Orleans "nobody could have foreseen" what has occurred.

Well that is clearly wrong. Here is an excerpt from a news story one year ago, which is but one example of many going back decades from the hazards community warning of the exact disaster that we are seeing unfold before our eyes.

"People floating through a polluted stew to treetops, competing with fire ants for a dry perch -- a direct hit here by Hurricane Ivan could be that horrifying, Louisiana storm damage experts say. With New Orleans' saucer-shaped topography that dips as much as nine feet below sea level, there's nowhere for water to go if a storm surge is strong enough to top levees ringing the city. "Those folks who remain, should the city flood, would be exposed to all kinds of nightmares from buildings falling apart to floating in the water having nowhere to go," Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Public Health Center, said Tuesday. And that's not all. Flood waters, in addition to collecting standard household and business garbage and chemicals, would flow through chemical plants, "so there's the potential of pretty severe contamination," van Heerden said. LSU's hurricane experts have spent years developing computer models and taking surveys to predict when hurricanes could flood the city and how many people would choose to wait out the storm at home. Both results paint grim pictures. Surveys show about 300,000 of the city's 1.6 million metro-area residents would choose to risk staying inside the city's ring of levees. Computer models show a hurricane of a strong Category 3 or worse (wind speeds of around 120 mph or more), hitting just west of New Orleans, would push storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain over the city's levees. New Orleans would be under about 20 feet of water, higher than the roofs of many homes here. Much of town would be inundated for weeks, meaning the hundreds of thousands who evacuated or could be rescued would have to stay with friends, relatives or in sprawling temporary shelters to the north for weeks. The rescue operation, meanwhile, would be among the world's biggest since World War II, when Allied Forces rescued mostly British soldiers from Dunkirk, France, and brought them across the English Channel in 1940, van Heerden predicted."

The real question that will deserve considerable attention from the standpoint of political accountability is -- why was the government so unprepared for a disaster that was well foreseen by experts? For the academic community there will be some tough questions as well - how could it be that knowledge well known in the academy apparently was so far removed from the practice of policy making?

Posted on September 2, 2005 12:26 AM View this article | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

August 29, 2005

Historical Hurricane Damage

Here are a few estimates of damage from relevant historical hurricanes had they occurred in 2004. I'd guess, and it is nothing more than a guess, that Katrina will exceed the amounts of Betsy, Camille and Hugo but not Andrew.

1965 Betsy $18 billion
1969 Camille $19 billion
1989 Hugo $16 billion
1992 Andrew $66 billion

For methods, see this paper:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and C. W. Landsea, 1998: Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1925-95. Weather and Forecasting, American Meteorological Society, Vol. 13, 621-631. (PDF)

Posted on August 29, 2005 10:35 AM View this article | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

On Point Radio Interview

I was on NPR's On Point this morning with MIT's Kerry Emanuel and others to discuss hurricanes and their impacts. When available the show can be found here.

Posted on August 29, 2005 09:13 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

August 28, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

As Hurricane Katrina churns toward New Orleans, I thought that folks might be interested in seeing what happened when Camille devastaed Louisiana in 1969. In 1999 we produced this report for its 30-year anniversary. In particular, have a look at this photo gallery.

Our research suggests that Camille would have been a $20 billion storm had it occurred in 2004. Camille's track was to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its full wrath. A direct hit or track to the west of New Orleans could easily result in damages considerably larger than those we estimate for Camille in 2004. Stay tuned, and best wishes for people in the storm's path.

Posted on August 28, 2005 09:51 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

August 01, 2005

Pope Vs. Lomborg

This month's issue of Foreign Policy has a very interesting set of exchanges between Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. It is an interesting exchange because Foreign Policy has them going back and forth a number of times.

The differences between Pope and Lomborg are not over facts or science, even though they both invoke facts to support their positions. At its core their dispute is over values - which values should be prioritized in our society and through what means. Their debate is a political one and may be just as much about rallying the faithful as it is to swaying the undecides.

Here is an excerpt:

Pope: ... True, we need priorities. And safe drinking water ought to be at the very top of the list. I agree. We also share distress that air pollution is killing so many Americans each year - but that doesn't mean mercury might not be a bigger problem. After all, neurological damage to kids is a very big deal. Having priorities doesn't always mean Sophie's choice. If we clean up coal-fired power plants, we solve both air pollution and mercury with one investment. We don't have to make an all-or-nothing choice between environmental responsibility and economic progress. If we can afford F-16 fighter jets for Pakistan, we can afford clean water and better schools in Karachi ...

Lomborg: ... Prioritizing really means some things must come last. Of course, we can make some investments in the environment without sacrificing economic progress, but we cannot make them all. Because the United States can afford F-16s does not mean it can also afford all environmental initiatives. We have to carefully spend our resources where they will do the most good. The solar installations you champion easily cost $450 apiece. Better-constructed $10 stoves can significantly reduce indoor air pollution. Do we want to help one family a little or 45 families a lot? ...

Pope: ... No, Bjørn, Sophie's choice is avoidable. Bad human decisions, not inescapable reality, make the environment appear to be a "trade-off" with prosperity...

Lomborg: ... You insist that there are no real trade-offs between the environment and prosperity. But money spent on windmills can't also be spent on something else. It is not that environmental projects are not worthwhile. It's just that they are not the only things we need to do...

Posted on August 1, 2005 07:50 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

Summer Spill, Part II

In the long run, for the intersection of politics and policy in climate change, the defining problem will likely be balancing energy needs with climate change mitigation needs. In the short term this is already happening in the Pacific Northwest, with endangered salmon standing in for climate change. I've introduced the problem in these posts (link, link, link and link).

The crux of the issue is continuing to return cheap power on a major investment in hydroelectric infrastructure, while protecting and restoring endangered salmon – species that have been severely impacted by building that hydroelectric infrastructure. Both facets of this intersection have broad impacts on the regional economy, with jobs-intensive industries reliant on cheap power (e.g.: story) and a burgeoning fishing industry (sport and food) reliant on healthy fish stocks. But lurking just beyond the competing economics, which smells like the fight between farmers and the gold mining industry in late 19th century California, is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its disregard for the economics of species protection. Illustrative of just one aspect of this convoluted game, the complication of managing the power system under the influence of protecting endangered species is summed up well in this article.

For reasons I covered here, the politics of salmon and power generation in the Pacific Northwest is not easily defined along party lines (also see this letter for more evidence of bipartisan politics in the issue). That may be changing. I wrote that Senator Craig was the first Pacific Northwest Senator to become directly involved (beyond just speeches and letters, in other words) in the fight over science and policy for endangered salmon, trying to kill the federally-funded Fish Passage Center (FPC) that consolidates and analyses fish survival data.

Craig at first never hid that his move to kill the FPC was in direct response to Judge Redden's ruling that BPA and the Army Corps must do more to protect salmon. But after he was hammered by the editorial shop of almost every media outlet in the region, a broad and diffuse response that seems to make clear that the priorities of Idaho citizens tip toward the fish side of this dispute, Craig's justification for moving to eliminate the FPC has become defensive.

The Idaho Statesman published a Craig op/ed on his move to kill the FPC, in which he claimed that it's simply a tax-saving move: "The FPC meets the exact description of a redundant federal program." The claims made in Craig's letter are strenuously disputed both by Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife and by salmon interest groups.

In response, regional House Democrats are asking their Approps chair and ranking member to oppose Craig's language and save the FPC (see this Seattle P-I story:

" 'With so much uncertainty surrounding salmon recovery presently and in the future, now is simply not the time to curtail agency access to the best available science,' says a July 20 letter to the Republican chairman and the ranking Democratic member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. The letter, circulated by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., also was signed by Democrats Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Brian Baird and Rick Larsen of Washington and Earl Blumenauer, David Wu and Darlene Hooley of Oregon. "

It is unclear yet whether the summer spill issue will further break down along party lines; as yet no Pacific Northwest Senators or Representatives have publicly supported Craig's maneuver. Both parties walk a fine line, with the rise in political clout of conservation groups with conservative sympathies (e.g.) and the necessary political goal of keeping power prices low.

Perhaps the most fascinating indication of the convoluted politics on the issue can be seen in trying to find political letters written by Governors, Representatives and Senators. While all of these representatives proudly post letters and press releases to their websites on almost every issue they are involved in, trying to find their signed letters to agency heads, committee chairs and other policy players on summer spill is near impossible.

Posted on August 1, 2005 07:44 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Environment

July 26, 2005

Some Thoughts on U.S. Weather Policy

Today I am giving a presentation at the "Community Meeting on the Future of the U.S. Weather Prediction Enterprise" on U.S. weather policy - that is, on how decisions are made within the meteorology community to organize research and its connections to operations and end users. If you are visiting this site as a result of my talk today, Welcome!

The meeting has been called because of concerns among some in the meteorology community -- "Although weather prediction in the United States has made significant strides during the past several decades, there are a number of warning signs that U.S. weather prediction and research are not living up to their potential." And a background paper (PDF) by the University of Washington's Cliff Mass provided in advance of the meeting provides a similar message:

"... there is a growing sentiment in the community that weather prediction research and operations in the U.S. have significant problems, and that progress in diagnosing and predicting the weather is far less than our discipline's potential. All too often the large American weather prediction enterprise, both in research and operations, has worked with insufficient coordination and cooperation, resulting in inadequate resources for key tasks, inefficient duplication of effort, slow progress developing essential technologies, and unproductive or inappropriate use of limited manpower. Significant problems have developed because key players in the weather enterprise-operational centers, academic researchers, government laboratories, the user community, and the private weather sector-have not worked together effectively."

I've had the pleasure of working with the weather community - academia, government, private sector, WMO -- for more than a decade and have written a number of pieces on weather policy that both reinforce and contradict aspects of the common problem justifying the present meeting (links to several relevant papers can be foound below).

First, the weather community has not reached its potential. But this should be viewed not as a crisis or situation requiring drastic action. In fact, weather, and weather forecasting in particular, is one of the great technological success stories of the 20th century. The weather community has been so successful that the United States is among the most resilient and well-prepared communities in the world with respect to weather hazards. It should say some thing that weather forecasting only makes the news when there is a significant forecast bust. Can the weather community do even better? Probably, but there is very little latent demand for them to do so.

Second, the weather forecasting community, and especially the research community, has an unhealthy focus on obtaining more resources for the science of meteorology. This does little to distinguish this area of science from most others, but the weather community has both a wonderful track record of sustained and significant federal support, and a string of failures in dramatically increasing that level of support. History is littered with the experiences of weather research programs that failed to break the bank - MESOMEX, SESAME, STORM, USWRP. It is no surprise to me that one of the sessions at this week's meeting is devoted to funding. As this community goes forward, it would be wise to pay close attention to the lessons of past efforts to organize large community programs.

My talk today revisits an essay that I wrote about 5 years ago that I titled "Six Heretical Notions About Weather Policy." Here is a summary of my perspective which I share today in my talk:

The weather community postulates that improved forecasts will benefit society. Thus, the logic about what to do is obvious.

* To improve forecasts we must advance science.

* To advance science we need improved models.

* To test and use improved models we need better observations.

* To assimilate the better observations and run the improved models we need faster computers.

* More funding will enable faster computers, better observations, improved models, and advances in science.

Therefore, more funding for advancements in science, models, observations, and computers are necessary and sufficient to benefit society. A corollary is that the greater the funding to meteorology, the greater the benefits to society. This logic seems so obvious and inescapable that to many in the weatehr community, and as a result great frustration is sometimes expressed when policy makers in places like Congress and the Office of Management and Budget apparently fail to grasp its self-evidence. But well-meaning, but scrutinizing, person might question this logic? In particular, the follow notions might occur to an outsider:

*More data is collected than is ever used in research or operations

*Forecasts are already great -- How good do forecasts have to be?

*The weather community is flush with funding (consider a recent BAMS article by Alan Robock that presented data showing that the average meteorology professor at 16 leading research universities obtains $500,000 of funding per year, totalling more than $115,000,000 in research support.)

*More research has been produced than has ever been incorporated into operations

*Improved value of weather forecasts is constrained by characteristics of use and users and not by forecast accuracy

*The atmospheric sciences community is so large and full of overlaps and redundancy that no one really knows what the universe looks like.

I conclude my presentation with six more heretical notions, updated to 2005:

*New funding - Forget about it!

*The frontiers of weather research lie in sciences other than meteorology

*In the developed world the future benefits to society of weather services are primarily in the private sector

*In the developing world the future benefits to society of weather services are primarily related to basic infrastructure of forecasting-warning-use

*Operations, not research, always has to be at the center of the weather enterprise

*Any effort focused on the weather "research" or "prediction" enterprise is doomed to failure

For further reading:

Pielke Jr., R. A., and M. H. Glantz, 1995: Serving Science and Society: Lessons from Large-Scale Atmospheric Science Programs. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 76(12), 2445-2458. (PDF)

Hooke, W. H., and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2000: Short-Term Weather Prediction: An Orchestra in Search of a Conductor. Chapter 4 in D. Sarewitz, R. A. Pielke, Jr., and R. Byerly (eds.), Prediction: Science Decision Making and the Future of Nature. Island Press: Washington, DC. 61-84. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and R. Carbone, 2002: Weather Impacts, Forecasts, and Policy: An Integrated Perspective, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 83:393-403. (PDF)

Questions or comments?

Posted on July 26, 2005 07:48 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

July 12, 2005

A Few Commentaries on Lomborg Debate

Last year I co-guest edited a special issue of Environmental Science and Policy on various dimensions of the debate over The Skeptical Environmentalist. Several comments responding to papers in that special issue have now been published, and we have set up a special WWW page for them:

1. Peter Dougherty, an editor at Princeton University Press, provides a commentary (PDF) on Chris Harrison's paper (Chris edited TSE) Dougherty writes,

"The major point Chris Harrison makes in his account of the publication of Lomborg is that the reaction on the part of the book's fiercest critics "went beyond the usual unpicking of a thesis and concentrated instead on the role of the publisher in publishing the book at all." This is a highly unusual, but not unheard of, state of affairs in university press publishing. It invites a publisher to explore the considerations leading up to the publishing decision, and in this case the same publisher's actions in defending its decision after the book's publication. In both cases, Harrison's account reflects a high degree of professionalism on the part of Cambridge University Press."

2. Eva Lövbrand and Gunilla Öberg comment on papers by Dan Sarewitz and one that I wrote. They write (PDF),

"We agree that the linear model of science policy interplay is sadly outdated and in need of replacement, but fear that a renewed demarcation between the realms of facts and value conflicts rather will reinforce than challenge the logic that it rests upon. In order to move forward, we argue that it is necessary to instigate a reflexive and philosophically informed discussion about the situated and provisional nature of scientific advice in environmental policy-making among scientists themselves and those making use of scientific results."

Dan and I write a response (PDF),

"But okay, let us imagine a world in which this ideal discussion between natural scientists and decision makers is actually taking place, with the result that all participants in the conversation understand that knowledge is "situated and provisional," and that facts and values, science and notscience, are not clearly delineated. In this world, are we to expect that the newly enlightened scientists would then initiate "a public discussion about the limits to scientific inquiry and hence [open] up for social monitoring and scrutiny of scientific results [sic]"? Presumably, these enlightened scientists would no longer worry about where their funding will come from, and they would, moreover, be willing to cede their considerable authority to a bunch of social scientists."

You can find the whole series here.

Posted on July 12, 2005 08:15 AM View this article | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

July 11, 2005

Summer Spill(over)

Two major Congressional interjections into science, two tales of coverage and interest by the press and by the science policy blogs. While Rep. Barton was causing a lot of noise in the blogoworld and little in the mainstream press for the past two weeks, another issue was being played hard on the north side of the Capitol. This issue made more mainstream news but I haven't heard a peep out of other science policy writers or commentators, even though it has to be one of the most beautiful examples of the intersection of science, policy and politics.

If all you want to know is the basics, here they are: Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) has inserted language into the Energy and Water Appropriations bill (S.Rep. 109-084) to kill the Fish Passage Center (FPC) because he doesn't like the science they've been doing. FPC is a small shop based in Portland, OR that does science for the Federal hydro system in support of measures to save ESA-listed salmon. The language that Sen. Craig inserted in the bill is here and decent synopses of the issues are here and here. This GoogleNews search will give good local Pacific Northwest coverage (which is the only place it was covered beyond the WP and CSM). Craig's action is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of politics/science intersections in this issue, but its boldness makes for a very instructive departure point.

If you want to go deeper into the story, read on.

The overarching issue is called "summer spill" and here are the particulars in brief: the mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers are straddled by 11 major dams. Adult returning salmon can get upstream to spawning grounds relatively easily thanks to fish ladder projects built into the dams, but smolts (juveniles) returning to the Pacific have a harder time getting past the dams. Since many salmon species in this system are endangered, extraordinary steps are required to be taken to ensure survival. At this point, the main method is to collect the smolts upstream and barge them below the lowest dam. The best way to ensure survival, however, is to spill water over a spillway and allow the smolts to pretend it’s just a big waterfall. This presents a loss in potential revenue for the Bonneville Power Administration, who would rather keep the water in reservoirs to be released as needed by power consumers (through the turbines), not fish (over the spillway).

Where policy, politics and science collide is in managing the entire western Montana-to-Pacific Ocean system for both fish and hydropower. The ultimate executor of the system is the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in close collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers (who operate the dams) and NOAA Fisheries (who 'operate' the fish). The balance between fish and power have been controlled by a Biological Opinion (BiOp), constructed originally in 1995 by NOAA Fisheries to satisfy the Endangered Species Act, which tells BPA how they must operate the system for the benefit of ESA-listed salmon species. The BiOp is written with input from local tribes that have treaty rights over the fisheries, the state Fish and Wildlife Services of ID, OR and WA and an affiliation of power consumers. Confused yet?

It's called "summer spill" because BPA spills water in the spring willingly, but would like to keep the water in reservoirs when power demand is high during hot summer months in California. So the quibble is over spilling water late into summer when most smolts have already gone down stream. The fish groups (e.g. and e.g. 2) say something like, 'spill until every last smolt has passed' and the power interests say something like, 'give me a break, we're only talking about a couple of fish here.'

The BiOp was originally issued in 1995 and is revisited when new science comes in. Litigation has been brewing over a year 2000 version of the BiOp and subsequent attempts to alter the flow regimes established therein, with the tribes and pro-salmon groups claiming that NOAA Fisheries/BPA/ACE isn't doing enough to protect listed fish. Litigation is under Federal district judge James Redden, based in Portland, OR.

Unfortunately for the power side, for the past three years NOAA Fisheries and BPA have tried to curtail some spill, and Judge Redden has consistently ruled that they are ignoring the best science in coming to their decisions. The latest rulings were in mid June and ordered that BPA adhere to the 2000 BiOp (i.e., not curtail summer spill).

Enter Sen. Craig. At first Senator Craig talked openly of attaching a rider to an appropriations bill that would simply overturn Judge Redden's order. Then his staff had a better idea: remove the funding from the Fish Passage Center, preventing them from continuing to provide data on fish/dam survival. Redden's original order came down 6/10/05, after the Bush Administration appealed the 9th Circuit allowed the decision to stand on 6/21/05 and Craig's report language went in 6/24/05. The cause and effect went something like this:

Cause: judge rules that based on best available science, federal agencies aren't doing enough to protect ESA listed-salmon

Effect: Senator moves to kill center collecting science data on fish

Craig's main justification is that the FPC either isn't doing good work or their work is politically skewed. Since the FPC posts their memos here and all of their reports here that claim is fairly easy for the reader to examine. From a 6/24/05 Greenwire story:

"Craig's move against the spill is 'a shot across the bow,' said Sid Smith, a spokesman for the senator. 'Power rates are going up, we think ratepayers ought to have some answers for how their money is being spent.' "

But here is the irony of all ironies:

Craig spokesman: "There is a lot of science behind the biological opinion, and we believe the biological opinion will lead to the recovery of salmon," Whiting said. "One judge, with a stroke of his pen, changed the work of all the scientists. I think it's safe to say Larry Craig isn't going to sit idly by." (The Columbian, 6/24/05, pg C1)

So Craig's response is to try to kill the very shop that produces the "science behind the biological opinion." The FPC helped produce the data that went into the BiOp and is the one entity responsible for continuing to produce data in support of the BiOp. Joseph Heller would be proud.

As I said above, this is a very nuanced and complicated situation, with more angles than is possible to cover here. I will be posting more in-depth stories - including going much deeper into the politics - over the next few days here.

Posted on July 11, 2005 01:17 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Environment

July 08, 2005

Hurricane Impacts in Cuba

For those following the track of Hurricane Dennis, this paper (PDF) has good data on hurricane impacts in Cuba since 1901, see in particular Table 3 (and Figure 9) for data on Cuba's hurricane history.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., J. Rubiera, C. Landsea, M. Fernandez, and R.A. Klein, 2003: Hurricane Vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean, Natural Hazards Review, 4:101-114. (PDF)

Posted on July 8, 2005 09:07 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Environment

June 24, 2005

What would Moby Dick think?

An article published yesterday in the BBC News states that “the International Whaling Commission has condemned Japan’s plan to increase the scale of its catches in the name of science”. The debate over what constitutes enough whales for scientific inquiry (look here for info about the IWC scientific permits) is another good example of what happens when science is used as a proxy for what is essentially a political, economic, gastronomic and values debate.

Since the moratorium on commercial whaling was established in 1986, countries have been allowed to “kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research” according to guidelines that are established by each member nation. For example, the current 2004 permit for Japan allows for “220 common minke whales, 50 Bryde's whales, 100 sei and 10 sperm whales” to be killed in the name of scientific research. This is in addition to another research program in which “it takes 440 minke whales from the southern ocean each year”. Japan is now proposing to introduce a new research plan that would boost the minke harvest up to 935, and fin whales and humpbacks up to 50 in Antarctic waters.

Again, according to the BBC News, 63 scientists working with the IWC condemned Japan’s proposal for two reasons. First, results from the first 18 years of research have not yet been evaluated. Second, with the new proposal, Japan’s catch would approach commercial levels that were in place before the 1986 moratorium was established. Still other critics are calling for non-lethal methods of research.

But this isn’t about scientific research done in the name of resource management.

When was the last time we’ve read about the killing of African Elephants, Bald Eagles, Bluefin Tuna or California Condors in the name of enhancing our scientific knowledge of that species’ management? While having the entire animal available for research could certainly be scientifically useful, it begs the question, what N is the optimal size for conducting valid research?

Let’s face it, Japan’s scientific whaling program is a clever way of utilizing the IWC’s own bureaucratic framework to legitimize the commercial harvest of whales that supports a lucrative whale-meat industry back home (Whale Burgers). Indeed, the BBC reports that Japan has undertaken a promotional program celebrating whale meat.

So let’s take science out of the debate and assume for a moment that substantive whale research can still be undertaken using non-lethal means, and by utilizing the occasional whale carcass that washes ashore. Indeed, a resolution proposed by Australia that asked Japan to switch to non-lethal research passed in the IWC by a slim margin. Instead we should focus on what this debate is really about: politics, economics, gastronomy and values. Keep your eye on this ‘scientific’ debate as Japan recruits more Lesser Developed Countries and small island states to join the IWC, and ostensibly, support increased whale harvests in the name of scientific research.

Posted on June 24, 2005 07:57 AM View this article | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: McNie, E. | Environment

June 21, 2005

Taking the Initiative: Public/Private Weather Debate Continues…

For those not familiar with the current (and past) debate between the private weather sector, academic meteorology community, and the public weather services (generally NOAA and the National Weather Service (NWS)), here’s a very brief overview.

The private meteorology community is worried about unfair competition from the academic and public sectors and the lack of a clear policy concerning how the sectors interact and how the sectors should solve disputes that arise. The private sector feels that the government’s weather services are stealing a piece of their pie and doing it unfairly, since the private sector contributes tax dollars which help to fund the government weather services that eventually compete against it. Further, the private sector feels that the nation as a whole could benefit from a more limited NWS/NOAA role. This more limited role would remove some services that are duplicated between the government and private sector which would release more government money and personnel to address the core functions of NWS/NOAA.

The recent NRC Fair Weather Report and the very recent Santorum Senate Bill S.786 both address this issue, and numerous other academic papers and press releases by industry organizations also address the issue. The latest release by the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists is perhaps the most detailed release to-date, and outlines four goals that the NWS/NOAA should work toward while developing policies to solve the on-going debate. In part, these goals mention “…prohibiting uniformly within NOAA the development and dissemination of products and services that unfairly compete with the products and services of private sector meteorology…” and “Encourage positively NOAA’s interaction and collaboration with private sector meteorology through a variety of means and venues…”

What’s lost in this latest release by the NCIM is the mention of a transparent, systematic process to assess new products and services and to settle disputes. This system should also assign accountability for who should carry out this process as well as outline any repercussions if a party does not hold up its end of a deal. Although I imagine that each sector would support some type of system like the one mentioned in this paragraph, each sector is pushing the other sectors to develop this system instead of taking the initiative to do it themselves or to at least start the process.

The end result of this ongoing debate should not be a senate bill or legislated solution that sets hard lines on what each sector should or should not do. Alternatively, the end result should be a process that is agreeable to all parties and developed by all parties. For all the debating and finger pointing that I’ve seen over the past few years, I still find it hard to believe that the sectors are not working to collaboratively to develop this system. Hopefully the new American Meteorological Society’s Weather and Climate Enterprise Committee will be a starting point for this development.

Posted on June 21, 2005 05:25 AM View this article | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Gratz, J. | Environment

June 17, 2005

Predicting and Positioning for Hurricanes

Greetings! Since this is my first post to Prometheus I will introduce myself: I am a third-year graduate student of Roger Pielke Jr. working toward a MS in policy and meteorology and an MBA, both at the University of Colorado.

Following the recent Prometheus posts on Hurricanes (here and here), I want to bring up another issue that involves hurricane forecasting. In 1999, Roger Pielke Jr. wrote this article in Science which points out the differences between improving hurricane track forecasts and translating this improved forecast into measurable benefits for emergency managers and other decision makers and stakeholders. The gist of the 1999 article is that hurricane track forecasts since 1970 improved at the rate of about 1% per year while the length of coastline warned per storm increased from about 300 nautical miles (nm) in the late 60’s to about 400 nm during the 1990’s. Basically, the science of prediction improved, but the science and art of positioning government agencies and the public for hurricanes did not improve, at least by the metric of ‘miles of coastline warned’.

Fast-forward to 2005, and it seems like both the improved prediction and stagnant positioning trends are the same as they were in 1999. An article in the May 2005 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) points to the success of the U.S. Weather Research Program’s (USWRP) goal of “…tropical cyclone track forecast guidance products with an improvement in accuracy of 20%...” The author of this article points out that the 20% improvement goal was “challenging”, and as I write on page 26 of my undergraduate thesis, specific and challenging goals are proven to lead to more successful results than general, or “do our best” goals. In this vein, I applaud the research effort that lead to the successful completion of bettering hurricane track forecast models by 20%.


I find it hard to believe that the recent BAMS article did not once mention how the improvement in track forecasting has impacted other societal metrics (miles of coastline warned, number of people evacuated, public/emergency manager confidence in forecasts etc). Although the author pointed out the short time needed in this project to transfer knowledge from research findings into the operational hurricane models, there is no mention of advancements in the societal positioning for hurricanes as a result of the improving trend in track prediction.

The field of meteorology has and will continue to suffer from a positioning problem. While the state of the science is improving and prediction errors are decreasing, large-scale research efforts generally still do not address transitioning improvements in the science to improvements for the public at large. Perhaps we can simply assume that more accurate hurricane track models will directly lead to improvements in the public warning system, but a September 2003 BAMS article shows that official hurricane track forecast errors are larger when watches and warnings are in effect than at times when there are no watches and warning (i.e. as the hurricane nears land and people, track forecast errors increase).

All of this points to the need for a more systematic focus on how meteorology influences and helps the public. The science of weather will undoubtedly show continuous improvement as it has for the past 50 years, but will the science be able to position itself to make the most of these improvements and help the nation (and the world) use more accurate meteorological information to save lives and money? I argue that meteorological science will help the nation most and will receive more positive attention if it focuses on positioning as well as predicting.

Posted on June 17, 2005 02:19 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Gratz, J. | Environment

May 11, 2005

Water Vapor and Technology Assessment

A study just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) provides some reinforcement for the idea of a technology assessment of the environmental effects of fuel cell cars.

Last year a few of us (myself, Bobbie Klein, Genevieve Maricle, Tom Chase) here at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research wrote a letter (PDF) to Science suggesting that water vapor emissions from fuel cell vehicles ought to be considered from the standpoint of a technology assessment, because water vapor can have effects upon the environment. We speculated:

"As fuel cell cars are suggested as a solution to global climate change caused by rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, they are frequently misidentified as "zero-emissions vehicles." Fuel cell vehicles emit water vapor. A global fleet could have the potential to emit amounts large enough to affect local or regional distribution of water vapor. Variation in water vapor affects local, regional, and global climates (1). Data on such effects are sparse because of complexities in the water vapor life cycle. However, our preliminary calculations indicate that a complete shift to fuel cell vehicles would do little to slow water vapor emissions, which presumably have increased perceptibly in some metropolitan locations through the growth in use of internal combustion engines. In some locations, changes in relative humidity related to human activity have arguably affected local and regional climate (2, 3). Depending on the fuel cell technologies actually employed, relative humidity in some locales might conceivably increase by an amount greater than with internal combustion engines. This increase could lead to shifts in local or regional precipitation or temperature patterns, with discernible effects on people and ecosystems The broad environmental effects of fuel cell vehicles are an issue worth addressing via a technology assessment before implementing a solution (4). Not all problems can be anticipated in this manner, but if some can, then the effort will have been well spent (5). In the case of hydrogen cars, the cure may indeed be better than the disease, but we should make sure before taking our medicine."

Our point was not that the environmental effects of water vapor emissions would necessarily be significant (we haven't done that research), but instead that research should be conducted to explore whether or not (and to what degree) such effects would be significant, even if such research leads to a dismissal of concerns. We received a number of dismissive replies to our letter suggesting that human emissions of water vapor were necessarily irrelevant in the climate system, because of its small contribution to he global water vapor cycle, and as a consequence, this aspect of a technology assessment would be unnecessary. (And ExxonMobil incorrectly states that fuel cells provide "zero vehicle emissions.") While scientific claims of the irrelevance of water vapor emissions may prove correct, it would not preclude the importance of doing a comprehensive technology assessment. After all, CFCs were long thought to be a perfect industrial chemical because they had "no effect" on the environment. And a negative finding from a technology assessment can be just as important as a finding of harm.

A study just out in the PNAS (I don't have a direct link yet) would seem to support our calls for a technology assessment, and was described by as follows:

"Line Gordon, of the University of Stockholm, Sweden, and her colleagues, looked at how much water vapour is being produced around the planet and compared this to estimates of what would have been produced if human activities hadn't modified land-use and vegetation. Their study is the first to look at water vapour flows on a global scale. The researchers found that, worldwide, deforestation has decreased the evaporation of water by four per cent. Overall, this is almost exactly offset by the increase in the release of water vapour from irrigation. But the authors warn that the balance at the global level hides strong regional differences... The combined effect, say that authors, is a substantial difference in the distribution of vapour at a global scale compared to what the distribution would have been without human deforestation and irrigation. Studies in China have shown the changes to vapour flows within a region can affect the monsoon rains across the region. No one has yet studied the interaction between vapour flows and the climate on a global scale. The authors suggest the interaction could be large, and the implications for food security could be severe... [Gordon] underlines the need to start analysing the role of water vapour flows in the global climate. "We need to see how big an effect this can have on a global scale," she says."

Ultimately, water vapor emissions from a global fleet of fuel cell powered autos may indeed prove to be benign or irrelevant. It would certainly be wonderful to find a important energy technology with little downside. But given the low cost of exploring this topic, it would seem to make good sense to perform a comprehensive technology assessment (argued in the peer-reviewed literature) of fuel cell technologies, before committing to a particular technological or policy path. And any such assessment ought to consider water vapor as well.

Posted on May 11, 2005 09:50 AM View this article | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

May 06, 2005

New Publication

Bobbie Klein and I have a new paper out. The paper suggests that the impacts of hurricanes/tropical storms is somewhat greater than conventionally accounted for, when inland flooding is considered in addition to coastal damages.

Here is the abstract:

"Abstract: A problem exists in that the classifications used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for weather-related disasters do not always allow analysts to clearly link declared disasters to their ultimate meteorological cause. This research focuses on those disasters related to flooding resulting from tropical cyclones. Neither FEMA nor the states that request federal disaster aid distinguish flood disasters by their meteorological origin, making it difficult to assess the contributions of various meteorological phenomena to the incidence and severity of Presidential Disaster Declarations. The data presented in this initial analysis indicate that the flood-related impacts of tropical systems are considerably broader and undoubtedly larger in economic magnitude than documented in the official records kept by FEMA."

The whole paper is here.

Posted on May 6, 2005 12:38 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

March 14, 2005

How to Increase Fuel Efficiency

Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and 24 bipartisan co-sponsors have introduced a bill in Congress that calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the accuracy of its protocol for estimation of vehicle fuel economy (i.e., as measured in miles-per-gallon, mpg). According to a press release issued by Representative Johnson’s office,

““America's car buyers deserve truth-in-advertising when they buy a new car,” said Johnson, who introduced the bill with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and over two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors. “The current EPA tests clearly mislead car buyers. Car buyers think they're getting better mileage on the road and a better deal at the pump than they really are. This common-sense bill requires the EPA to update its 30-year-old tests to reflect today's driving conditions.” The tests used by the EPA to measure fuel economy - the city/highway gas mileage figures that appear on a new car's sticker - are 30-years-old and are based on car technology from the late 1970s and 1980s. According to government and auto industry experts, the tests produce gas mileage rates that are inflated from anywhere between 10% and 30%. The inflated rates mislead consumers into thinking they are getting better mileage on the road, and a better deal at the gas pump, than they really are.”

Data should be accurate, who is going to argue with that?

If the bill becomes law it may lead to profound effects on actual fuel economy and a political battle waged through EPA estimates of fuel economy. The reason for this is that the government has in place policies governing what is called “corporate average fuel economy” or CAFE standards. Here is how the CAFE program describes it: “Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less, manufactured for sale in the United States, for any given model year.” For passenger cars the current standards are 27.5 mpg and for light trucks 21,0 mpg (for details go here.).

And here is the part of the CAFE program that is most important with respect to Rep. Johnson’s proposed bill, “Fuel economy is defined as the average mileage traveled by an automobile per gallon of gasoline (or equivalent amount of other fuel) consumed as measured in accordance with the testing and evaluation protocol set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” The Department of Transportation (DOT) does claim to verify the EPA estimates. Even though Rep. Johnson says that her bill does not “alter or change Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements,” it could have very significant implications for the auto industry under CAFE.

If it turns out that EPA’s estimates of fuel economy are off by, say, 30% industry-wide, and this is reflected as well in the DOT CAFE program verification of those estimates, then this means that present guidelines of 27.5 mpg and 21.0 mpg are really only leading to fuel efficiency levels of 19.25 mpg and 14.7 mpg! Any changes resulting from Representative Johnson’s bill of the EPA/DOT protocols for estimating fuel efficiency that lead to a downward revision in fuel efficiency estimates will necessarily have the effect of compelling automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets under CAFE.

If Rep. Johnson’s bill becomes law we will undoubtedly see a vigorous battle over the EPA protocol used to estimate fuel efficiency and a corresponding mapping of political debate over fuel efficiencies onto the technical methods used to calculate them.

Posted on March 14, 2005 04:53 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

March 11, 2005

Book Review in Nature

In the current issue of Nature I have a very positive review of Nature's Experts: Science, Politics, and the Environment by Stephen Bocking (Rutgers University Press: 2004). In the review I write,

“In this excellent book on environmental science and politics, Stephen Bocking grapples with a problem that he characterizes as a riddle: “How can science be part of the political process yet separate?” Or more specifically: “How can we ensure that scientific research provides the information we need to pursue our environmental values and priorities (whether these relate to exploitation or to protection) without science itself becoming subject to the conflicts and controversies of environmental politics?” For decades, the riddle posed by Bocking was answered through a widely shared conceptual model about the role of science in society, presented most influentially in Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report to government, Science: The Endless Frontier.”

Read the whole review here.

Posted on March 11, 2005 07:47 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

August 20, 2004

August 17, 2004

Special Issue of Environmental Science and Policy

I co-guest edited (woth Steve Rayner) a special issue of the journal Environmental Science and Policy that is just out. The issue is titled "Science, Policy, and Politics: Learning from Controversy Over The Skeptical Environmentalist." Contributors are Chris Harrison (Cambridge University Press and Editor of The Skeptical Environmentalist), Naomi Oreskes (UCSD), Dan Sarewitz (ASU), Chuck Herrick (Stratus Consulting), and me.

You can find the journal online here and if you can't access online you can email me for a reprint (

Comments welcomed.

Posted on August 17, 2004 10:38 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Environment

August 09, 2004

Nanotech Authority

A recent report by Britain's Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering entitled ‘Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties’, calls for public debate regarding the development of nanotechnologies and research into their health and environmental effects.

The report has occasioned editorials such as one posted on SciDev.Net by David Dickson.

Dickson suggests the report points to two key challenges facing nanotechnology and nanoscience: adequately ensuring that nanotechnologies address the needs of the world’s poor and building social markets favorable to nanotechnologies.

To address the risk of a “nano-divide” between the world’s rich and poor nations, Dickson calls for the development of nanotech skills among poorer nations, dissemination channels for nano products, and informed public debate.

Characterizing the content of this debate, Dickson writes: “informed public debate…must include authoritative information about potential health and environmental consequences; there is no room for those who dismiss all such concerns as merely the unreasonable demands of whose who seek a risk-free society.”

It is not always clear on what basis information should be considered “authoritative” nor who should decide this. The approach outlined by Dickson would seem to include information and demands that might otherwise be disqualified on the grounds of being “unreasonable.” This type of approach may be encouraging to those who would make such demands, but it stops short of outlining what counts as “reasonable.”

While defining “reasonable demands” is risky business, without clear parameters, what gets debated could too easily be determined by the agendas of those who get to decide, rather than by a reasonable process.

Posted on August 9, 2004 01:42 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Fisher, E. | Environment | Nanotechnology

June 29, 2004

Frames Trump the Facts

The July/August, 2004 issue of Sierra Magazine has an interesting interview with Berkeley’s George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics, on the “framing” of environmental issues.  (A side note, Lakoff seems to be a hot commodity as he also appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly in an excellent article by James Fallows on the upcoming presidential debates.)

After being asked to define “framing,” Sierra asks Lakoff “How about "protecting the environment"? Is there a frame embedded there too?”  Lakoff’s reply includes the following:

“Environmentalists have adopted a set of frames that doesn’t reflect the vital importance of the environment to everything on Earth. The term "the environment" suggests that this is an area of life separate from other areas of life like the economy and jobs, or health, or foreign policy. By not linking it to everyday issues, it sounds like a separate category, and a luxury in difficult times.”

Then Sierra asks “What’s the alternative?”  Lakoff replies:

“When environmental issues are cast in terms of health and security, which people already accept as vital and necessary, then the environment becomes important. It’s a health issue–clean air and clean water have to do with childhood asthma and with dysentery. Energy that is renewable and sustainable and doesn’t pollute–that is a crucial environmental issue, but it’s not just environmentalism. A crash program to develop alternative energy is a health issue. It’s a foreign policy issue. It’s a Third World development issue.

If we developed the technology for alternative energy, we wouldn’t be dependent on Middle East oil. We could then sell or give the technology to countries around the world, and no country would have to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund to buy oil and then owe interest. This would turn Third World countries into energy producers instead of consumers. And it’s a jobs issue because it would create millions of good jobs in this country. So thinking and talking about environmentalism in limited terms like preservation of wilderness is shooting yourself in the foot.

That’s why the frame is so important. Most environmentalists believe that the truth will make you free. So they tell people the raw facts. But frames trump the facts. Raw facts won’t help, except to further persuade the people who already agree with you.”

This seems right on to me (as my students will attest!).  Four years ago, here is how Dan Sarewitz and I characterized the global warming debate in an article titled “Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly:

“In politics everything depends on how an issue is framed: the terms of debate, the allocation of power and resources, the potential courses of action. The issue of global warming has been framed by a single question: Does the carbon dioxide emitted by industrialized societies threaten the earth's climate? On one side are the doomsayers, who foretell environmental disaster unless carbon-dioxide emissions are immediately reduced. On the other side are the cornucopians, who blindly insist that society can continue to pump billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with no ill effect, and that any effort to reduce emissions will stall the engines of industrialism that protect us from a Hobbesian wilderness. From our perspective, each group is operating within a frame that has little to do with the practical problem of how to protect the global environment in a world of six billion people (and counting). To understand why global-warming policy is a comprehensive and dangerous failure, therefore, we must begin with a look at how the issue came to be framed in this way. Two converging trends are implicated: the evolution of scientific research on the earth's climate, and the maturation of the modern environmental movement.”

Here are links to the Sierra interview with Lakoff and to our 2000 paper on climate change.  (And for a more recent and wonky analysis of framing and climate change policy see this paper of mine, just out in Issues in Science and Technology.)

May 12, 2004

Integration of Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy

A group of European research centers has been work on a project called Blueprint to consider how science and technology policies might be harmonized with environmental policies in Europe.

The project describes its purpose as,

“Various kinds of environmental innovation, i.e. improved knowledge and technological options, can be induced by science and technology policy. Capacity building in the field of environmental innovation can be stimulated by S&T policies and can be extremely helpful for environmental policy. And a new kind of environmental policy, taking the impacts of environmental regulation on innovation, competitiveness and employment into account, would be extremely helpful to stimulate scientific and technological progress… Against this background, we plan to implement the thematic network BLUEPRINT which is the short name for “Blueprints for an Integration of Science, Technology and Environmental Policy”. The network is designed to examine the relationship between S&T and environmental policies considering the complexity of factors influencing innovation and environmental decisions in firms. The objective of the network is to promote dialogue between the socio-economic research communi!
ty, policy makers, industry and intermediate organisations in Europe in order to enhance policy coherence in addressing sustainable development issues.”

Posted on May 12, 2004 08:39 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

April 28, 2004

UK Foresight on Floods

The United Kingdom’s Office of Science and Technology has a fascinating project called Foresight. According to its website, “The Foresight programme either identifies potential opportunities for the economy or society from new science and technologies, or it considers how future science and technologies could address key future challenges for society.”

The project is part technology assessment, part science and technology policy, and part delineation of policy alternatives.

Foresight came to my attention because of its recent report on Flood and Coastal Defence, but it also has projects in Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs, Cyber Trust and Crime Prevention, Exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum, and Cognitive Systems.

The recently released flood report (in PDF) is exceedingly well done. It considers both climate and socioeconomic factors as drivers of future flood risk, it discusses significant and irreducible uncertainties, it considers mitigation and adaptation responses as complements, and it presents a wide range of policy responses without seeking to advocate a favored few. In short, it is perhaps the best example of a climate assessment that I’ve seen.

A few excerpts from the flood report’s executive summary:

"Ultimately it is our decisions that will determine whether we are successful." P. 38

"The extreme uncertainty of the future is a major challenge in devising effective long-term flood-management policies. It is important to decide how much flexibility is required to cope with an evolving future, and to choose a portfolio of responses to achieve that. In this respect, reversible and adaptable measures would be the most robust against future uncertainties." (p. 43)

And from its Key Messages for Researchers,

"Reductions in global greenhouse-gas emissions would reduce the risks substantially, however, this is unlikely to be sufficient in itself. Hard decisions need to be taken – we must either invest more in sustainable approaches to flood and coastal management or learn to live with increased flooding."

All assessments of climate science and policy should be as well done as this one.

Posted on April 28, 2004 10:38 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

April 26, 2004

More Devil in the Details: Climate Change

A discussion paper from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research at the University of Oslo, Norway examines the consequences for climate science and policy of different definitions of “vulnerability.” The paper observes the term “vulnerability serves as a flexible and somewhat malleable concept that can engage both research and policy communities. Yet the extensive use of vulnerability in the climate change literature hides two very different interpretations of the word, and two very different purposes for using it.”

The paper presents two different definitions of the term vulnerability, “On the one hand, vulnerability is sometimes viewed as an end point – that is, as a residual of climate change impacts minus adaptation… On the other hand, it is sometimes viewed as a starting point, where vulnerability is a characteristic or state generated by multiple environmental and social processes, but exacerbated by climate change.”

The authors argue, “We make the case in this paper that the two interpretations of vulnerability – as an end point or as a starting point – confound the issue of climate change… the two definitions not only result in two different diagnoses of the climate change problem, but also two different kinds of cures.”

The paper concludes, “the end-point interpretation [of vulnerability] focuses on technology and transfer of technology, rather than on development… When vulnerability is taken as the starting point of the analysis, the focus of the assessment is quite different. Vulnerability to climate change is recognized as a state, generated not just by climate change, but by multiple processes and stressors. Consequently, there are multiple points for intervention. Technological adaptations to climate change represent only one of many options – albeit a problematized one due to existing social, economic and political structures that may increase inequality in a community and exacerbate vulnerability for some. Addressing climate change means enhancing the ability to cope with present-day climate variability and long-term climate uncertainty.”

This paper is worth reading. It is consistent with our own work focused both on vulnerability as well as the different definitions of climate change held by the IPCC and FCCC. There are signs that the pathologies resulting from the dominant framing of the climate issue are no longer flying under the radar.

April 19, 2004

Country of Origin Labels for Gasoline

Imagine this -- you pull up to a gas station and you see labels on each pump identifying where the gasoline originated: “100% Saudi Arabian” or “50% Venezuelan, 50% Gulf of Mexico” or “100% Alaskan.” Such labels would allow consumers to express their preferences with their wallets and would allow different oil companies to differentiate their products by country-of-origin.

It is not too farfetched to imagine that all of those cars with American flags on them might have drivers who would pay more for non-Middle Eastern gasoline. Why would non-Middle Eastern oil cost more? Simple, there is much less of it. And greater demand for such oil would increase prices even further. Country of origin labels on gasoline would allow environmentalists, those concerned about U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil, and the “Buy USA” crowd to express their preferences through the market, and in the process, help to further national goals. It also would seem to appeal to an unlikely coalition of groups not traditionally aligned with one another.

Implementing such labels would not be easy. But we do have a precendent to learn from. In September, 2003 the U.S. General Accounting office released a report on challenges posed to certain agricultural markets by the 2002 Farm Bill, which required country-of-origin labels for certain foods that had previous been exempted from such requirements under the 1930 Tariff Act. A 1999 GAO report discussed some of the practical challenges of implementing country-of-origin labels.

If knowing country-of-origin makes sense for consumers of food, why not also for consumers of gasoline?

April 15, 2004

Mercury Regulation and the Excess of Objectivity

In 2000, a colleague of ours, Dan Sarewitz, wrote an essay titled “Science and Environmental Policy: An Excess of Objectivity” in which he argued,

“Science is sufficiently rich, diverse, and Balkanized to provide comfort and support for a range of subjective, political positions on complex issues such as climate change, nuclear waste disposal, acid rain, or endangered species.”

Lets add to that list mercury emissions from power plants. On April 3, 2004 a news article in the New York Times took the Bush Administration to task for taking advantage of the “excess of objectivity” present on this issue. The story observed,

“While working with Environmental Protection Agency officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury …While the panel members said the changes did not introduce outright errors, they said they were concerned because the White House almost uniformly minimized the health risks in instances where there could be disagreement.”

In an editorial today, April 15, 2005, the New York Times raises “allegations that the White House manipulated a National Academy of Sciences study in order to minimize mercury's health risks.”

Unless these allegations refer to some yet-to-be released bombshell about the White House interfering with the internal activities of the National Academy of Sciences, we are simply seeing the New York Times expressing dissatisfaction with how the White House has decided to use “facts” (or the diversity in available facts) in support of its ideological agenda. This is called politics.

Sarewitz writes that it is not

“productive to blame politicians for manipulating or distorting objective science to support partisan positions. Of course politicians will look for any information or argument that they can find to advance their agendas -- that is their job. While politicians may not be above playing loose with scientific truth, more often they can and will simply search out -- and find -- a legitimate expert or two who can marshal a technical argument sympathetic to the desired political outcome. It is the job of politicians to play politics, and this -- like the second law of thermodynamics -- is not something to be regretted, but something to be lived with.”

The ironic, and troubling, outcomes that result from placing upon the scientific community the onus for responsibility for policy making related to mercury (or any other complex issue) is that it both reinforces the misleading perspective that science dictates certain political outcomes and strengthens the hand of ideologues in their efforts to take full advantage of the “excess of objectivity.” Countering these efforts will require greater sophistication about science in policy and politics.

Posted on April 15, 2004 09:39 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Environment

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