31 March 2010

House of Commons CRU Email Report

The UK House of Commons has released its report (PDF) on the issues associated with the release of emails and other materials from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia last November. The report keeps a tight focus on CRU and Phil Jones. It provides a nice summary of issues, complaints and responses but adds very little new substance, which is probably to be expected as the report is based on a single day of testimony and has been prepared in just a few weeks. It punts some of the more challenging issues to other ongoing investigations.

Defenders of CRU will no doubt paint the report -- particularly the ambiguity of the rather trivial issues involving language, such as "trick" and "hide the decline" -- as a complete vindication of their arguments and those who have been critical will also focus on these phrases and call the report incomplete or a whitewash. These issues have always been a sideshow. The matters of greater importance are not about the behavior or language used by certain individuals, but rather what the released emails say about the culture and norms of institutions of climate science. On this subject the report offers a nuanced message. On the one hand, it largely explains the discussions and associated actions revealed in the emails as fairly normal for the profession. At the same time, the report offers of a fairly harsh rebuke of the profession for allowing such behaviors to become the norm.

Here are a few comments of some of the more interesting parts of the report:
We recognise that some of the e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share data, even unrestricted data, with others. We acknowledge that Professor Jones must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to seek to undermine his work. But Professor Jones’s failure to handle helpfully requests for data in a field as important and controversial as climate science was bound to be viewed with suspicion. He was obviously frustrated by other workers in the field trying to “undermine” his work, but his actions were inevitably counterproductive. Professor Jones told us that the published e-mails represented only “one tenth of 1%” of his output, which amounts to one million e-mails, and that we were only seeing the end of a protracted series of e-mail exchanges. We consider that further suspicion could have been allayed by releasing all the e-mails. In addition, we consider that had the available raw data been available online from an early stage, these kinds of unfortunate e-mail exchanges would not have occurred. In our view, CRU should have been more open with its raw data and followed the more open approach of NASA to making data available. . .

. . . a culture of withholding information—from those perceived by CRU to be hostile to global warming—appears to have pervaded CRU’s approach to FOIA requests from the outset. We consider this to be unacceptable.
Is the Committee really suggesting that Phil Jones should release a million emails (presumably he still can)? I seriously doubt that the information in a million more private emails among climate scientists would allay suspicion. This is just a bad idea.

The Committee concurs with the ICO that there is evidence that CRU scientists broke UK law in their efforts to circumvent FOI laws. However, the Committee would like to see this issue investigated to closure, rather than abandoned at a preliminary stage due to the fact that no prosecutions would be forthcoming in any case due to the a statute of limitations:
There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six-month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions. Much of the reputation of CRU hangs on the issue. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.
Like the advice to release a million emails, it is hard to see how this advice would allay suspicion. Given that there is consensus on what the prima facie evidence says, it would seem more likely than not that CRU and UEA would be found to have broken the law. A conclusive determination of this would probably intensify suspicions and even further damage the reputation of CRU, so much so that it would likely have to undergo some sort of serious institutional reform. A better strategy, in my view, would be to skip right to the institutional reform, rather than engaging in polarizing and damaging legal process with little formal significance.

The Committee suggests a broad indictment of climate science:
Reputation does not, however, rest solely on the quality of work as it should. It also depends on perception. It is self-evident that the disclosure of the CRU e-mails has damaged the reputation of UK climate science and, as views on global warming have become polarised, any deviation from the highest scientific standards will be pounced on. As we explained in chapter 2, the practices and methods of climate science are a key issue. If the practices of CRU are found to be in line with the rest of climate science, the question would arise whether climate science methods of operation need to change. In this event we would recommend that the scientific community should consider changing those practices to ensure greater transparency. . .

. . . A great responsibility rests on the shoulders of climate science: to provide the planet’s decision makers with the knowledge they need to secure our future. The challenge that this poses is extensive and some of these decisions risk our standard of living. When the prices to pay are so large, the knowledge on which these kinds of decisions are taken had better be right. The science must be irreproachable.

Climate Science and Sea Level Rise: A Report from the Real World

A Guest Post by Skip Stiles

Skip Stiles is the Executive Director of Wetlands Watch a nonprofit based in Norfolk, Virginia focused on the protection and conservation of Virginia's wetlands. In this guest post he describes his view from the front lines of adaptation policy -- trying to deal with both climate science and sea level rise.
I read with interest and conflict, the proposal to spend $50 million to develop more precise models of climate change impacts.

I have been in and around climate change policy for most of the last 30 years. I was hired in 1977 as a legislative assistant to the late Congressman George E. Brown, Jr., as he was drafting legislation to set up the first federal climate change research program. It became law in 1978 and for the next 22 years that I worked for Brown, as his chief of staff and as legislative director for the House Science Committee, climate change was the talk around the coffee pot in the office.

In time, the federal research program began to bear fruit, revealing a great irony: as the research got “better,” the policy response became more confused.

Along the research dimension, as we understood more, we plumbed the depth of our lack of understanding. Simple projections exploded into fractals of real world complexity.

Along the policy dimension, the inability of the public policy and political process to deal with uncertainty was again demonstrated. Politicians at all levels want a “green” or “red” light, or some quantification of the problem before they react. When scientific complexity raises the issue of uncertainly, politicians avoid acting.

The policy process seeks more certainty and more complete understanding. The science community agrees with this policy angst, trained to believe that a range of results will produce a single number if only they continue to sift. So additional research is funded and policy responses are delayed in a benign conspiracy of values, beliefs, and self-interest.

I was fine with that during my time in Congress because I did not see the urgency for action then. Later, during my service on the Virginia Commission on Climate Change in 2008, I still wanted better model results.

The Commission was faced with trying to understand impacts of climate change on Virginia. Unfortunately, the models produced impact maps showing the entire state composed of two pixels, too coarse to compel action. Storm intensity, temperature, and a host of other potential climate problems were poorly quantified. In the midst of our deliberations we sought better information, and would have endorsed something like the new Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models (EaSM) program, with a price tag of “only” $50 million.

However, this train of thinking endangers the work I do now with Wetlands Watch on climate change adaptation in coastal Virginia. We are working with local and state government officials to put community adaptation plans in place to address sea level rise in tidal Virginia. Here on the ground in the real world, this conspiracy to achieve predictive perfection is the enemy of preventive action and threatens millions of Virginians.

Where I live, in Norfolk, Virginia, we have seen 1.5 feet of sea level rise over the last 100 years and, with southeastern Virginia being as flat as a billiard table and with settlements in place here for 300+ years, our communities are getting flooding that has grown measurably worse over time. We have old buildings that once were safe that now flood regularly. We have streets that were safe and dry when they were first paved out in 1920 that now flood twice a month on spring tides.

We don’t need sophisticated models in southeastern Virginia, the most at-risk region from sea level rise outside of New Orleans. We get it and clearly see the cost of delay – yet what is the local political response?


We continue to allow buildings along the shoreline. We pretend somehow the seas will recede before we have to pay the bills. We don't make the hard choices politically on land use or other economic investments. Instead, we still ask for better data before we decide.

We do not have to wait for better models to get better data on climate change impacts here. We had a nor’easter in November producing a storm surge of 5 feet above Mean Higher High Water (above the average spring tide line). That gives us a snapshot of where the water will come with 5 feet of sea level rise – no modeling needed.

Here the policy process already has enough information to act: where the pavement got wet, you should stop allowing development and withhold public investments in redevelopment.

In our region, waiting for the EaSM results will mean we get another 6-12 cm of sea level rise and the promise of even more. Worse, in the interim we will have allowed more houses, hotels, and strip malls along the coast, raising the eventual expense of this problem – either in having to buy back these structures we have permitted or in higher insurance premiums as the buildings are flooded by future storms.

Waiting for EaSM model runs also distracts the local and state policy process from the “low hanging fruit:” all the reasonable "no brainer" approaches that make sense today and make even more sense with climate change. There are simple things we can be doing - don't build on the shoreline or on moving shore features like barrier islands, add at least a couple of feet of elevation to new infrastructure before it is built, etc.

So today I spend much of my time trying to undo the past 30 years of my work seeking perfection in forecasts. I ask local government officials to make decisions in advance of perfect knowledge because we know enough and to wait is to invite disastrous results.

I spend my days trying to change the world one IHOP Kiwanis Club meeting at a time, proselytizing on sea level rise. I don’t need to wait for these model runs and I certainly don’t need the distraction from my work they will cause.

If this new federal modeling effort, if other initiatives like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service lull the policy process into some dream state that promises them finer data, they will dither and delay. This delay will allow more houses on the shoreline, more port facilities built without considering sea level rise, etc.

If I had control of that $50 million, I’d take $2 million to gather real-world anecdotes of the changes that are happening: flowers blooming earlier, fire ants moving north, storm surges getting higher, robins staying longer in the fall, thawing permafrost catching fire. Then I’d take all this real-world evidence of the climate change that is already taking place and I’d spend $48 million working every Rotary Club, neighborhood association, and Scout Troop with this information until the nodding heads moved policymakers to action before it is too late.

29 March 2010

Freeing Energy Policy From Climate Science

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have a new essay over at Yale e360. It is right on target. They argue that justifications for action on energy policy need to be decoupled from climate science -- for the good of both. Here is how they start off:
The 20-year effort by environmentalists to establish climate science as the primary basis for far-reaching action to decarbonize the global energy economy today lies in ruins. Backlash in reaction to “Climategate” and recent controversies involving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2007 assessment report are but the latest evidence that such efforts have evidently failed.

While the urge to blame fossil-fuel-funded skeptics for this recent bad turn of events has proven irresistible for most environmental leaders and pundits, forward-looking greens wishing to ascertain what might be salvaged from the wreckage would be well advised to look closer to home. Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.
It only gets better from there.

The essay develops themes that have long been present in their work. In Break Through, they write:
The questions before us are centrally about how we will survive, who will survive, and how we will live. These are questions that climatologists and other scientists can inform but not decide. For their important work, scientists deserve our gratitude, not special political authority. What's needed today is a politics that seeks authority not from Nature or Science but from a compelling vision of the future that is appropriate for the world we live in and the crises we face.
Please read the whole thing, and feel free to comment at Yale e360 or come back and discuss here.

Note: I am happy to be a senior fellow of The Breakthrough Institute, founded by Michael and Ted.

A Response to Stavins

[FURTHER UPDATE 3/30: Professor Stavins has just now emailed me to explain that he does not delete comments, and perhaps my comments went into the spam bin. I am happy to hear this and appreciate the opportunity to engage in an open exchange of views.]

Harvard economist Robert Stavins, a long-time advocate for cap-and-trade policies as a means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, has written a blog post explaining why he thinks it is that cap-and-trade has died. His post reflects many of the flawed assumptions and erroneous history that led to cap-and-trade becoming a favored policy in the first place. Here are a few reactions:

First, Stavins hedges his bets a bit by explaining that cap-and-trade may not really be dead:
this approach to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is by no means “dead.” . . . The competitor proposal from Senators Cantwell and Collinsthe CLEAR Act — has been labeled by those Senators as a “cap-and-dividend” approach, but it is nothing more nor less than a cap-and-trade system with a particular allocation mechanism (100% auction) and a particular use of revenues (75% directly rebated to households) — and, it should be mentioned, some unfortunate and unnecessary restrictions on allowance trading. And we should not forget that cap-and-trade continues to emerge as the preferred policy instrument to address climate change emissions throughout the industrialized world — in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
He is right that there are vestiges of cap-and-trade still kicking around Congress. The prospects for passage in legislation still looks fairly dismal.

On that last point, Europe has indeed focused on cap-and-trade, but was remarkably not even at the table when the final Copenhagen Accord was put together -- not really a signal of Europe's leadership position. On Japan and Australia, the suggestion that cap-and-trade is emerging as a preferred policy instrument is to ignore the political realities in each of the countries. Momentum on cap-and-trade is moving in the other direction in both instances, just like in the US.

Stavins argues that the political hostility to action on climate change was the main reason for the failure of cap-and-trade:
In general, any climate policy approach — if it was meaningful in its objectives and had any chance of being enacted — would have become the prime target of political skepticism and scorn. This has been the fate of cap-and-trade over the past nine months.
This argument is wrong in at least two dimensions. First, since the 2008 elections the US has large Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate (including a Senate "supermajority" for much of 2009) and a Democratic President. This fact alone renders Stavins argument flawed. The problem was not a lack of political support, but failed policy design despite the strong political support.

In terms of public opinion, Stavins is wrong as well. For more than a decade public support for action on climate change has been strong, despite various ups and downs on views of climate science. Again, the problem was failed policy design in the face of strong public support, which supports action but does not hold climate change to be a top priority -- it never has, and arguably, never will.

Stavins interpretation of polls is in error when he writes:
For one thing, U.S. public support on this issue has decreased significantly, as has been validated by a number of reliable polls, including from the Gallup Organization. Indeed, in January of this year, a Pew Research Center poll found that “dealing with global warming” was ranked 21st among 21 possible priorities for the President and Congress. This drop in public support is itself at least partly due to the state of the national economy, as public enthusiasm about environmental action has — for many decades — been found to be inversely correlated with various measures of national economic well-being.
Global warming has never been viewed as anything close to a top priority by the American public. The same poll that he cites by Pew had global warming 20th out of 20 possible priorities in both 2007 and 2008. There simply has been no significant drop in public support for action.

Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have provided a more accurate reading of the polls:
Public opinion about global warming, it turns out, has been remarkably stable for the better part of two decades, despite the recent decline in expressed public confidence in climate science. Roughly two-thirds of Americans have consistently told pollsters that global warming is occurring. By about the same majority, most Americans agree that global warming is at least in part human-caused, with this majority roughly equally divided between those believing that warming is entirely caused by humans and those who believe it to be a combination of human and natural causes. And about the same two-thirds majority has consistently supported government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 1989.
As I detail in The Climate Fix public opinion in support of action is plenty strong for action to occur.

Stavins falls into the trap of thinking that an apocalyptic moment is needed for climate policy to be enacted:
Unlike the environmental threats addressed successfully in past legislation, climate change is essentially unobservable. You and I observe the weather, not the climate. Until there is an obvious and sudden event — such as a loss of part of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to a disastrous sea-level rise — it’s unlikely that public opinion in the United States will provide the bottom-up demand for action that has inspired previous Congressional action on the environment over the past forty years.
Well, if action in climate policy requires Antarctica falling into the sea, then I think that we can forget about action. Stavins dismal view is probably just the result of sour grapes from a cap-and-trade advocate, seeing his preferred policy fail in the political process. It is hard to admit a flawed policy design when you can blame the ignorant public instead.

Stavins also gets his history wrong when he writes:
Nearly all of our major environmental laws have been passed in the wake of highly-publicized environmental events or “disasters,” ranging from Love Canal to the Cuyahoga River.

But the day after Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969, no article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer commented that “the cause was uncertain, because rivers periodically catch on fire from natural causes.” On the contrary, it was immediately apparent that the cause was waste dumped into the river by adjacent industries. A direct consequence of the “disaster” was, of course, the Clean Water Act of 1972.

In their book Break Through, Shellenberger and Nordhaus take a close look at the Cuyahoga River myth and find that reality does not match with legend:
On June 22, 1969, oil and debris on the surface of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, burst into flames and burned for twenty-five minutes. The burning river quickly became national news. Time magazine published an article headlined “The Price of Optimism,” complete with a spectacular photo of the river aflame. Randy Newman wrote a song about the famous fire. And decades later, environmental leaders remembered the fire as an emblematic cause of the burgeoning environmental movement. “I will never forget a photograph of flames, fire, shooting right out of the water in downtown Cleveland,” President Clinton’s EPA administrator Carol Browner said years later. “It was the summer of 1969 and the Cuyahoga River was burning.”

But the famous photograph that appeared in Time was not of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. It was of a far more serious fire in 1952 that burned for three days and caused $1.5 million in damage. In fact, the Cuyahoga had caught fire on at least a dozen occasions since 1868. Most of those earlier fires were much more devastating than the 1969 blaze: A fire on the Cuyahoga in 1912 killed five people. A fire in 1936 burned for five days. The 1969 fire, by contrast, lasted just under thirty minutes, caused only $50,000 in damage, and injured no one. The reason Time had to use the photograph of the 1952 fire is that the 1969 fire was out before anyone could snap a picture of it.

For at least a hundred years before 1969, industrial river fires were a normal part of American life.
Action took place on environmental polices of the 1970s not because of some new and unprecedented disasters -- the equivalent of Antarctica falling into the sea -- but because policies had been designed to match the political views of the day. The public, as Mike Hulme has said, have minds of their own. They should be respected.

The lesson that we should take from the failure of cap-and-trade is that public opinion must be a factor in thinking about policy design, not as something simply to be shaped by messaging or advocacy in the direction that experts prefer, but as a real factor that both limits and enables political possibilities. The reality is that there is strong public support for action on climate change -- but not for just any action. Understanding what the public will and will not support and designing those constraints into climate policies is a prerequisite to effective action on climate change. Until this lesson is appreciated, climate policy will continue to founder on unrealistic expectations about changing public opinion in light of massive climate disasters. This is nothing more than a recipe for over-hyping climate science in public debate.

28 March 2010

Mike Wallace on Warming Myopia

Mike Wallace, a climate scientist at the University of Washington, had a provocative op-ed in the Seatlle Times last Friday. Wallace was a member of the 2001 NAS panel that was convened at the request of George W. Bush to evaluate the IPCC top line conclusions (chaired by Ralph Cicerone, present-day NAS director). That committee reaffirmed the IPCC conclusions. Wallace was also the Chair of a 2000 NAS report on reconciling surface and satellite temperature trends. He is no skeptic.

Wallace's op-ed is provocative because it suggests that we've come to focus too narrowly on climate change, and he lays some of the blame for this at the feet of the scientific community. Here is an excerpt (emphases added):

It's tempting to blame the media for fixating on global warming, but we climate scientists are partly to blame for the misplaced emphasis. Over the past 20 years we have stood by and watched as governmental and nongovernmental organizations that deal with environmental issues became more and more narrowly focused on the long-term impacts of global warming.

Meanwhile, more imminent issues relating to the sustainability of our planet's life-support system under the pressures of growing human population and the widening gap between rich and poor are not getting the attention they deserve.

By failing to foster creation of robust, broad-based advisory mechanisms, we have allowed the IPCC assessment reports to become the dominant vehicle for representing the views of the scientific community on a widening range of environmental issues. In the IPCC terminology, symptoms of environmental degradation, regardless of their cause, are labeled as impacts of climate change, and the societal response to them is framed in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Scientists still write papers and speak to the media about environmental concerns outside of the purview of the IPCC, but with so much of the world's attention riveted on climate change there is a lack of institutional infrastructure for calling attention to other issues.

Labeling issues such as reduced agricultural productivity, loss of biodiversity, pollution and the looming shortage of fresh water as "impacts of global warming" leaves the public confused and susceptible to propaganda by groups who oppose environmental regulation of any kind. With the IPCC increasingly in the spotlight, the denialists can trivialize the entire environmental crisis simply by casting doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

Climate scientists and their detractors are slugging it out every day in blogs and editorial pages while legislative initiatives to get governments to address environmental and resource issues remain stalled, despite broad public support for them.

At the recent Copenhagen Summit, the nations of the world were reluctant to make binding agreements to reduce their production of greenhouse gases. Given the limited public understanding of the intricacies of climate science, the human tendency to be more concerned with current issues than with what the climate will be like 100 years from now, and the glaring inequities in per capita fossil fuel consumption between countries like the United States and those like India, justifying an enlightened energy policy on the basis of concerns about global warming is a tough sell.

The negotiations might have gone better had the justification been framed in terms of conserving the world's dwindling oil reserves, stabilizing oil prices and promoting energy independence.

The current stalemate is likely to persist as long as scientists allow climate change to dominate the environmental policy agenda. In order to promote a more productive dialogue between scientists and policymakers, the discussion of adaptation and mitigation options in the policy arena needs to be reframed so that it addresses environmental degradation and sustainability in the broad sense, not just the impacts of climate change.

Wallace is right -- about the consequences of a myopic focus, the need for a more inclusive reframing and the role of the climate science community in helping maintain the myopic focus, both as silent bystander (most of the community) and actively involved in the myopic framing (those activist bloggers).

Along with Mike Hulme, Hans von Sotrch, Judy Curry and others, Mike Wallace is helping to show that there are a diversity of thoughtful views among the climate science community. The blog discussions of climate are typically colored in black and white, whereas the real world is painted in shades of gray.

27 March 2010

The Politics of a Carbon Tax: Lessons from France

The French government's decision to withdraw its proposed carbon tax last week followed on the heels of a stinging electoral defeat of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party in regional elections. A carbon tax, starting at a low level with proceeds invested in energy innovation, remains a good idea. You'll hear more about this in The Climate Fix. The experience in France confirms lessons already understood about efforts to put a price on carbon. Among them:

1. A carbon tax is politically difficult to pass unilaterally.

France saw concerns raised about its proposed tax from across the political spectrum due to concerns about its effects on French competitiveness within the EU. In fact, the main justification for its withdrawal at this time by President Sarkozy was to link it in the future to a broader European approach.

2 . An unpopular political party or leader (or both) won't do policy innovation very well.

The French ruling party was trounced in the regional elections, winning in only 1 region. In such a context any policy innovation that they propose will all but certainly be a victim of the political winds of the day. Policy innovation needs to come from a base of political strength -- but also and crucially -- in the context of policies focused on energy innovation need to be politically sustainable over many decades. Hence, they cannot simply be appealing in a particular political context, but must appeal to common interests.

3. Technological innovation that reduces costs must precede any tax viewed as increasing costs.

The proposed tax was -- $23 per ton of carbon dioxide -- was (with hindsight, obviously) way too high for the benefits that were perceived. This fact was made clear by Segolene Royal, leader of the Socialist Party:
This tax only makes sense if there is an alternative. In my region for example, I calculated that for people who have to drive their car to work every day this tax would have cost over 200 Euros per year. As long as we haven't developed the electric car or public transport a carbon tx is totally unfair and antisocial and its a very good thing it has been withdrawn.
A carbon tax won't succeed politically if it is imposed under a promised of distant and diffuse benefits. It needs to be built upon a platform of innovation which shows immediate benefits. This is another reason for starting small, as any benefits will not result immediately.

It is worth noting that on the left-right political spectrum, Royal -- Sarkozy's once and perhaps future political opponent for President -- is a Socialist and opposed the carbon tax while Sarkozy is center-right and supported it. This suggests that the issues here are less about left-right politics in general than about the policy specifics (and the present unpopularity of the President).

4. Short terms costs must be balanced by short term benefits

Ultimately, for a carbon tax to pass or any effort to put a price on carbon emissions, short term benefits must approximate the short term costs. France saw this calculus fall in the direction of opposing the tax, both politically and in terms of policy. This calculus is the result of failed policy design, not anything inherently wrong with the notion of a carbon tax. Expect to see it proposed again, in France and elsewhere.

A carbon tax remains a good idea. The policy and politics needs some work.

24 March 2010

For Academics Teaching in Fall:The Fix Will Soon Be In!

[UPDATE: I've been asked a good question by a professor thinking about adopting the book for fall, and that is, are galleys available for examination. Answer: Sorry, not yet. However, for anyone who wants a sense of the book, I am happy to walk through the volume in a phone chat before any spring textbook ordering deadlines. Just drop me a note.]

My new book, The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming, will be published late this summer. It will be available in time for use in fall courses. I'll be using it in my first-year graduate seminar.

For those faculty who would like to use it in their courses, I plan on blogging systematically about the book -- sort of virtual book club -- during the fall term and plan to organize the discussion in such a way to be useful to university courses, from undergraduate to graduate levels. I will also be providing assignments and spreadsheets to accompany the discussion.

If you'd like to participate, you can email at pielke@colorado.edu to discuss details and to make requests, or you can just follow along. The book can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $17 andif you are interested in an exam or desk copy, see here. If you are outside the US, the publication schedule will be a bit later and I am happy to tailor discussions to courses on different schedules.

The Fix will soon be in . . .

Panel on Geoengineering Next Monday at CU



With a certain amount of anthropogenic climate change now "built in" to the system, the potential for rapid, irreversible outcomes, and doubts about the speed with which we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists and governments are beginning to contemplate deliberately engineering the earth's climate system. Opinions among the scientific community span the spectrum from "it's our responsibility to provide this tool for the toolbox" to revulsion at the hubris of the idea, and concerns that it could reduce pressure for greenhouse gas reductions. A flurry of reports and conferences have considered the feasibility of developing and deploying geoengineering, potential unintended consequences, and the difficulty of governing the technology in which some options may be unilaterally undertaken. This panel seeks to illuminate the many questions surrounding research on geoengineering, and the technology’s political and ethical dimensions; how does it compare with other solutions to global warming? Should we research it, much less seek to implement it? Is geoengineering acceptable because it addresses harms already done? How would we know when to use it? And who decides?


- Max Boykoff, CU Environmental Studies and Geography
- Lisa Dilling, CU Environmental Studies
- Benjamin Hale, CU Environmental Studies and Philosophy
- Roger Pielke, Jr., CU Environmental Studies
- Bill Travis, CU Environmental Studies and Geography

A reception will start at 3:00 pm in the CIRES auditorium (338), with the talk beginning at 3:30 PM. This event is being co-sponsored by the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, the CU Environmental Studies Program, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), and the Institute of Behavioral Science, Environment and Society Program.

23 March 2010

Stealth Advocacy and Geoengineering

Wired has an interesting story on a meeting being held this week at Asilomar on the governance of geoengineering. Several of my colleagues are in attendance. I was invited but decided to spend my spring break otherwise ;-)

The meeting is interesting because it is sponsored by a group with a financial interest in geoengineering. From the Wired story:
While many of the field’s top scientists are attending the meeting, it has drawn criticism from high-level scientists with an interest in geoengineering like Stanford’s Ken Caldeira and the University of Calgary’s David Keith.

“My only concern about this meeting is that the convening organization, [Climate Response Fund] is nontransparent and appears to be closely tied to Climos which was conceived to do ocean fertilization for profit,” Keith wrote. “While I am happy to see profit-driven startups drive innovation, I think tying ocean fertilization to carbon credits was a sterling example of how not to govern climate engineering, and I am therefore concerned to see a closely linked organization at the center of a meeting on governance. A meeting on governance ought to start by having transparent and disinterested governance.”

Despite Keith’s strongly worded statement about the conference, he has decided to attend to, as he put it, “speak out.” Caldeira declined his invitation, telling Wired.com that he preferred governance meetings held by “established professional societies and non-profits without a stake in the outcomes.”

The choice of venue was by design:

The group is meeting at the Asilomar resort in California, a dreamy enclave a few hours south of San Francisco. The gathering intentionally harkens back to the February 1975 meeting there of molecular biologists hashing out rules to govern what was then the hot-button scientific issue of the day: recombinant DNA and the possibility of biohazards.

The 1975 process wasn’t perfect, but after a fraught and meandering few days, the scientists released a joint statement that placed some restrictions and conditions on research, particularly with pathogens. That meeting is now held up as a model for how researchers can successfully assume the mantle of self-regulation.

22 March 2010

A Summary of Richard Tol's look at IPCC AR4 WGIII

A guest post by Richard Tol

The Fourth Assessment Report of Working Group 2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been widely criticised for being overly pessimistic about the impacts of climate change. The IPCC has admitted that errors were made, but argues that the mistakes were just that. However, all errors point in one direction: alarmism about climate change. This suggests, at least, an inadvertent bias.

In the previous guest posts, I (in one case jointly with Chris Green) argue that Working Group 3 also contains mistakes, and that most errors point in one direction: optimism about the impacts of climate policy. The other mistakes reveal the inability of the IPCC to constructively engage with valid criticism. I also looked at the reviewer comments and the responses. The errors were identified during the review process, but made it into the final report nonetheless.

In the post about population projections, I show that the IPCC misquotes a paper that cast doubt on the IPCC SRES scenarios. In the post about exchange rates, I demonstrate that the IPCC misrepresents or omits papers that criticise the IPCC SRES scenarios. These two cases suggest that the IPCC has lost the ability to be self-critical.

In the post about double dividends, I show that the IPCC’s claims that climate policy would stimulate economic growth and create jobs are not based on peer-reviewed literature. Furthermore, the IPCC fails in its role as policy advisor. Ecological tax reform could promote growth and employment – but only under very narrow conditions. An honest broker would spell out those conditions. A stealth advocate would suggest that those conditions are rather easily met – as does the IPCC.

In the post about technological progress, I show that the IPCC emphasizes the results of studies that show that the costs of emission reduction are lower than previously thought, while suppressing or misquoting studies that show the opposite – despite credible evidence that the latter papers are closer to the truth. The IPCC assessment is certainly incomplete, but I would argue it is biased.

In the post about selection bias, I demonstrate that the IPCC summarises the results of multiple abatement studies in a misleading way, failing to alert the reader to the fact that the estimates of the costs of stringent emission reduction are unrepresentative of the literature and severely biased downwards. This is deception pure and simple.

In the post about double-counting, we show that the IPCC confuses carbon savings due to “market forces” with carbon savings by “climate policy”. This again would suggest to the unsuspecting reader that emission reduction is cheaper than it really is. The IPCC again did this in spite of protests by the referees. The IPCC deliberately puts the reader on the wrong foot.

In sum, the review process of the IPCC failed miserably. AR4 of WG3 substantially and knowingly misrepresents the state of the art in our understanding of the costs of emission reduction. It leads the reader to the conclusion that emission reduction is much cheaper and easier than it will be in real life.

Dr Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research was one of the lead authors of Chapter 11 where most of the “errors” originate. He has since been appointed as the co-chairperson of WG3 for the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014.

Preview of a Network Analysis of the Climate Debate

The UK blog Left Foot Forward has provided a glimpse at a study commissioned by Oxfam by the digital mapping agency Profero. The report is not yet available but the image above is suggestive as to what it might find. I always wondered what was at the center of the climate debate universe ;-)

18 March 2010

Chill Out: Matt Nisbet on Politicized Climate Science

Matt Nisbet, a communications scholar at American University, has a thoughtful and hard-hitting essay at Slate arguing that climate scientists need to step back from a war footing, because they are waging a battle for public opinion that they've already won. The most likely casualty of continued open warfare on climate skeptics will be science itself.

Here is an excerpt:

If communication researchers have trouble establishing clear evidence of a significant impact for Climategate, what explains the apparent overreaction by scientists and their bunker mentality? Past research shows that individuals more heavily involved on an issue, such as climate scientists, often tend to view even objectively favorable media coverage as hostile to their goals. They also have a tendency to presume exaggerated effects for a message on the public and will take action based on this presumed influence. The call to arms that "science is getting creamed" and that there is a need for an "aggressively partisan approach" are examples of how these common miscalculations about the media have colored the outlook of climate scientists.

Scientists are also susceptible to the biases of their own political ideology, which surveys show leans heavily liberal. Ideology shapes how scientists evaluate policy options as well as their interpretations of who or what is to blame for policy failures. Given a liberal outlook and strong environmental values, it must be difficult for scientists to understand why so many Americans have reservations about complex policies that impose costs on consumers without offering clearly defined benefits. Compounding matters, scientists, like the rest of us, tend to gravitate toward like-minded sources in the media. Given their background, they focus on screeds from liberal commentators which reinforce a false sense of a "war" against the scientific community.

The scientists seem to believe they can prevail by explaining the basis of climate change in clearer terms, while asserting the partisan motives of "climate deniers." This has been the strategy since the early days of the Bush administration, yet for many members of the public, a decade of claims about the "war on science" are likely ignored as just more elite rancor, reflecting an endless cycle of technical disputes and tit-for-tat name calling. What are needed are strategies that transcend the ideological divide, rather than strengthen it.
I differ a bit from Nisbet in his prescription -- he thinks scientists should work to engage the public and opinion leaders. In contrast, I think scientists need to demonstrate leadership by helping to open up space for a wide-ranging discussion of policy options among specialists, rather than enabling a small clique of activists to try to shut down any such discussion in the name of science.

These views are not mutually exclusive, of course. However, any public engagement is futile from a policy perspective without viable policy options on the table. And tight now climate policy lacks viable options.

Nisbet is one the mark when he concludes:
By getting out of the lab and away from their echo chamber of like-minded views about climate politics, researchers would learn how other people view climate change, and what should and can be done about it.

17 March 2010

Reivew of Gore, Hansen, Schneider and Helm/Hepburn

In Nature this week I review books by Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Steve Schneider and Dieter Helm and Cameron Hepburn. It looks like the full review is freely available here. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Together, these four books highlight that climate policy is at a crossroads. The journey so far has emphasized science and exhortation: that facts, spoken loudly enough, are enough to win the argument. That path has succeeded in bringing climate change to the attention of policy-makers and the public as an important global problem. At the same time, that approach has shown its limitations. Climate science has become deeply politicized and climate politics is in gridlock. Climate change is at risk of becoming an issue of cultural politics, similar to the evolution debate in the United States and elsewhere. If the climate-policy debate is to continue as it has, we should expect more of the same.
Please have a look at the whole thing and then feel free to come back here and discuss or ask questions.

16 March 2010

Oil Demand in the Platinum Age

Two scholars at Leeds and NYU have placed online a very interesting draft analysis of projected demand for oil. The figure above comes from their analysis.
J. M. Dargay and D. Gately, 2010. World oil demand’s shift toward faster growing and less price-responsive products and regions (PDF)
Here is their provocative conclusion:
World oil consumption has experienced dramatic share changes since 1971, shifting toward faster growing and less price-responsive products and regions. The OECD and FSU consumed 86% of world oil in 1971, compared with only 61% today. OECD use of fuel oil was 33% of total world oil in 1973, compared with 9% today.

Most of the easy reductions in demand – fuel-switching away from residual and heating oil, especially in the OECD – has been accomplished: we have picked the low-hanging fruit. Demand for these fuel switchable oils has fallen by one-third, while the demand for transport and other oil has doubled. Hence, world oil demand is now dominated by transport and other oil, which are less price-responsive and more income-responsive than residual and heating oil. Similarly, the regional shift of world demand away from the OECD and FSU has the same effect – toward regions whose income growth and income-elasticities of demand are higher, and whose price-elasticities are lower, than for the OECD and FSU.

The rest of the world now consumes 39% of world oil (but it has nearly 80% of world population), and its income is growing faster than in the OECD and FSU. Its per-capita oil demand has grown from 0.4 liters/day in 1971 to 1.1 liters/day in 2008, averaging about 2.5% annually. DOE(2009) projects that the rest-of-world’s annual per-capita oil growth rate will slow dramatically (to 0.56% ), even assuming faster income growth than in 1971-2008, increasing only to 1.2 liters/day by 2030. IEA(2009) and OPEC(2009) make similar projections. In contrast, we project a rest-of-world growth rate similar to what has occurred historically, to 1.8 liters/day by 2030. This difference in projections amounts to an extra 20 mbd in rest-of-world demand by 2030 – roughly twice the current production of Saudi Arabia. Such rapid demand growth is unlikely to be supplied by conventional oil resources. Hence this imbalance would have to be rectified by some combination of higher real oil prices, much more rapid and aggressive penetration of alternative technologies for producing liquids, much tighter oil-saving policies and standards adopted by multiple countries, and slower world economic growth.
The analysis supports assertions by Garnaut et al. that the world has entered a "platinum age" of growth in emissions:
Rapid global economic growth, centred in Asia but now spread across the world, is driving rapid greenhouse-gas emissions growth, making earlier projections unrealistic. . . we project annual emissions by 2030 to be almost double current volumes, 11 per cent higher than in the most pessimistic scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and at a level reached only in 2050 in the business-as-usual scenario used by the Stern Review. This has major implications for the global approach to climate-change mitigation. The required effort is much larger than implicit in the IPCC data informing the current international climate negotiations.
The analysis is also supportive of the suggestion in Pielke et al. 2008 (PDF) that the IPCC SRES scenarios had potentially underestimated future due to aggressive assumptions about rates of spontaneous decarbonization:
. . . it is likely that we have only just begun to experience the surge in global energy use associated with ongoing rapid development. Such trends are in stark contrast to the optimism of the near-future IPCC projections and seem unlikely to alter course soon. The world is on a development and energy path that will bring with it a surge in carbon-dioxide emissions — a surge that can only end with a transformation of global energy systems. We believe such technological transformation will take many decades to complete, even if we start taking far more aggressive action on energy technology innovation today.
These various analyses suggest that the challenge of mitigation -- that is, stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations at a low level, such as 450 ppm -- that been dramatically underestimated. If so, then the policies currently being discussed are not up to the challenge. It is uncomfortable to discuss for those wanting action on climate change, no doubt. Maybe that is why there is so much renewed attention being paid to debates over the science.

Curry vs. Mann in Discover

There is an interesting set of interviews in Discover with Judy Curry, of Georgia Tech, and Michael Mann, of Penn State. It is worth reading in full to see two very different views of climate science and how it should engage with the broader community. One of these voices represents the future of climate science, and the other, its recent past.

Here are some excerpts from the interview with Curry:

Where do you come down on the whole subject of uncertainty in the climate science?

I’m very concerned about the way uncertainty is being treated. The IPCC [the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] took a shortcut on the actual scientific uncertainty analysis on a lot of the issues, particularly the temperature records.

Don’t individual studies do uncertainty analysis?

Not as much as they should. It’s a weakness. When you have two data sets that disagree, often nobody digs in to figure out all the different sources of uncertainty in the different analysis. Once you do that, you can identify mistakes or determine how significant a certain data set is.

Is this a case of politics getting in the way of science?

No. It’s sloppiness. It’s just how our field has evolved. One of the things that McIntyre and McKitrick pointed out was that a lot of the statistical methods used in our field are sloppy. We have trends for which we don’t even give a confidence interval. The IPCC concluded that most of the warming of the latter 20th century was very likely caused by humans. Well, as far as I know, that conclusion was mostly a negotiation, in terms of calling it “likely” or “very likely.” Exactly what does “most” mean? What percentage of the warming are we actually talking about? More than 50 percent? A number greater than 50 percent?

Are you saying that the scientific community, through the IPCC, is asking the world to restructure its entire mode of producing and consuming energy and yet hasn’t done a scientific uncertainty analysis?

Yes. The IPCC itself doesn’t recommend policies or whatever; they just do an assessment of the science. But it’s sort of framed in the context of the UNFCCC [the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. That’s who they work for, basically. The UNFCCC has a particular policy agenda—Kyoto, Copenhagen, cap-and-trade, and all that—so the questions that they pose at the IPCC have been framed in terms of the UNFCCC agenda. That’s caused a narrowing of the kind of things the IPCC focuses on. It’s not a policy-free assessment of the science. That actually torques the science in certain directions, because a lot of people are doing research specifically targeted at issues of relevance to the IPCC. Scientists want to see their papers quoted in the IPCC report.

And here is an excerpt from Mann's interview:
Judith Curry has been an outspoken critic of your work and of a lot of climate researchers in general.

Did you ask Judith to turn over her e-mails from the past three years? Once she does that, then she’s in a position to judge other scientists. Until she does that, she is not in a position to be talking about other scientists. Glass houses. Look, I’ll just say this. I’ve received e-mails from Judith that she would not want to be made public.

She said that some data discussed in these e-mails concerned a temperature bump in the 1930s and 1940s, caused by a coincidence of Atlantic and Pacific decadal oscillations.

Yeah, I came up with the term: Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. I coined the term in an interview with Richard Kerr [a writer for Science] in 2000 over a paper with Tom Delworth of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the NOAA Laboratory in Princeton, where we actually were the ones to articulate the existence of this oscillation. And you know what? It was celebrated by contrarians. My work has been celebrated by climate skeptics. It’s an interesting footnote.

Is Curry wrong in that regard?

I don’t know exactly what she is referring to. She might be referring to a paper by Thompson et al. that appeared in Nature a couple of years ago about a spurious cooling in the 1940s that scientists couldn’t quite understand.

She was referring to a rise and fall in temperatures in the 1930s and ’40s that might have been caused by a coincidence of these oscillations in the Atlantic and Pacific, and another that could account for a lot of the warming in the 1990s. She was saying that it looked bad that you were trying to smooth out the bump in the ’30s and ’40s but not the one in the 1990s. Is that a valid critique?

The way you characterize it, it sounds like nonsense. I’m not sure how much familiarity she has, for example, with time-series smoothing. I’ve published a number of papers on this topic, and in fact, the approach that I take was used in the most recent IPCC report. I actually take a very objective approach to the problem of time-series smoothing. I’m not sure she understands the problem. It is very much the mainstream view in the climate research community that you cannot explain the warming of the past few decades without anthropogenic and human influences on climate.

Read the whole thing.

15 March 2010

Stealth Issue Advocacy

In my book, The Honest Broker, I argue that "stealth issue advocacy" occurs when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are really seeking to advance a political agenda. When such claims are made, the authority of science is used to hide a political agenda, under an assumption that science commands that which politics does not. However, when stealth issue advocacy takes place, it threatens the legitimacy of scientific advice, as people will see it simply as politics, and lose sight of the value that science does offer policy making .

Here is an example of stealth issue advocacy that I came across today: From an AP article, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco explains a need for better communication related to climate change (emphasis added):

"We are no longer constrained by talking about some possible future. Climate change is happening now and it's happening in people's back yards," Jane Lubchenco told reporters at a briefing.

"Scientists have seriously underestimated the importance of explaining what we know about climate in a way people can understand," she said.

The effects of climate change are being felt from melting Arctic sea ice to threats to birds and forests and the spread of disease. Worldwide, 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record.

Recent criticism of errors in the U.N. climate panel report on global warming and revelation of stolen e-mails from climate scientists have raised questions about climate change.

It's not surprising there could be a few errors in a 3,000-page document, Lubchenco said, though she stressed that the goal is always to have no errors.

"There is a well-orchestrated and fairly successful effort under way to confuse and sometimes cherry-pick information," Lubchenco said.

The best response, she said, is to provide information from trusted sources such as NOAA, which operates the National Weather Service and collects and distributes data on weather and climate.

"I don't view our role as trying to convince people of something," she said. "Our role is to inform people."

Now someone will have to explain that last sentence to me, because it makes no sense. Of course Lubchenco wants to convince people of something. In the first highlighted passage she is referring to an "effort underway to confuse." She doesn't specify who that is doing the confusing, but I have a good idea who she is referring to (and I am sure, so do you).

Lubchenco wants to counter an unnamed well-orchestrated campaign, but she doesn't want to convince people of something? Right.

Waging a political battle through science is a losing proposition for advocates to begin with -- not admitting that is your strategy, when it obviously is, makes things even worse. Why not just admit the obvious?

Good Advice for Bloggers Also

Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times today is worth a read. His closing comment might well be applied to bloggers as well as film makers;
. . . Hollywood’s inability to handle political complexity plays only a small part in our ongoing polarization.

But it is a part of it. Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.

Bias in IPCC AR4 WG III? A Guest Post by Richard Tol and Chris Green

This post continues Richard Tol 's series looking at Working Group III of the 2007 IPCC report. Here he is joined by Chris Green, professor of economics at McGill University.

In this Part VI Tol and Green conclude that,
Table SPM.1 is wrong and misleading. It is wrong to suggest that emission reduction costs are independent of the assumed future developments. It is misleading to conclude that emissions can be substantially reduced at negative economic cost.
Please have a look at their full discussion below. If you have questions or criticisms of their analysis please submit them in the comments, I am sure that Richard and Chris will be happy to engage.
Double Counting and Negative Costs

The first 5 parts of this series one of us (Tol) looked at Chapter 11 (Parts 1, 2, 3) and Chapter 3 (Part 4, 5) of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of Working Group III (WGIII) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Parts 4 and 5 looked at Chapter 3.

Here, we return to Chapter 11. The first and second order draft of the chapter and the review comments can be found here.

Chapters 4-10 assess the literature on emission reduction by sector (energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, waste). Chapter 11 synthesizes that material, and is thus a key step towards the Summary for Policy Makers.

According to Table SPM.1, emissions can be reduced in 2030 by 5-7 GtCO2eq/yr at zero marginal costs (and thus a total benefit). This represents 7-10% of emissions in the A1B scenario (68 GtCO2eq/yr), and 10-14% of emissions in the B2 scenario (49 GtCO2eq/yr). That is, the ability to reduce emissions and make money at the same is independent of the no-policy scenario.

You can look at emission reduction in two different ways. First, you can take the present as your starting point. You would find that there are many opportunities to save energy. This is because state-of-the-art technologies are superior to the technologies that are actually in use (which were state-of-the-art when they were bought years or decades ago). Therefore, you would conclude that there are great opportunities to reduce emissions at low or negative costs.

You can also look at this from a different perspective. Energy efficiency has improved greatly in the past – without the support of climate policy – and this is likely to continue into the future. New and improved gadgets that will make people better off will be sold anyway. This is part of any reasonable projection of future emissions without climate policy. However, you would conclude that climate policy would push energy efficiency harder – and that this would cost money.

The two perspectives are equally valid, but they should be kept separate. The fuel efficiency of car engines does not improve by itself – engineers will need to make an effort. But they will make that effort because the buyer demands a bigger car with the same mileage. This does not constitute a low- or negative-cost option, let alone a success for climate policy – because it would also happen without climate policy.

Table SPM.1 mixes the two perspectives. The SRES scenarios A1B and B2 rightly assume substantial technological progress in the absence of climate policy. The results can therefore not be compared to the negative cost emission reduction potential. Table SPM.1 makes that comparison nonetheless.

Table SPM.1 even suggests that the negative cost potential is independent of such things as energy prices. The 2030 price of energy is higher in A1B than in B2. Therefore, more energy saving equipment would break even in A1B than in B2 – and the negative cost potential should be larger in A1B than in B2. It is not in Table SPM.1.

WG3 has no excuse for making a mistake like this. This issue has been known for at least 20 years, and was recently repeated in the “dangerous assumptions” paper by Pielke, Wigley and Green in Nature which rallied against the confusion between emission reduction by climate policy and by other forces.

How could this happen?

The First Order Draft of the Summary for Policy Makers does not have Table SPM.1 or anything like it. The Second Order Draft has a table which does show negative emission reduction costs – but only against a single scenario. Table SPM.1 is based on Table 11.3 in Chapter 11. Here is a comment on the Second Order Draft:
Table 11.3 is sensitive to energy price development
Table 11.3 provides alternative estimates of potentials for different carbon prices, but for specific baselines. Clearly the baselines are affected by the assumed energy prices, but it was not possible in the time available to undertake the comparison exercise using different baselines.
Here’s a comment on Table SPM.1:
We have serious reservations about the validity and comparability of the underlying estimates from Chapters 4 to 10 […]because there is no demonstration that the estimated mitigation potentials have been evaluated properly with respect to the two baselines used for this analysis. The mitigation estimates in the SOD apparently do not take account of the technological changes already embedded in the SRES B2 and WEO 2004 reference scenarios against which the mitigation estimates were made ...
a fully consistent modelling framework is not available; that is why a scenario analysis was applied
So, the authors of both the SPM and Chapter 11 were well aware that the results are problematic.

There was also this comment:
The estimates of achievable mitigation (by 2030) presented in tables SPM-[1], TS-19, and 11-3, may not in fact contribute to mitigation from baseline. The estimated achievable emission reductions may be absorbed by the energy-intensity reductions and decarbonization embedded in the SRES B2/WEO (2004) baselines. If in fact estimated mitigation possibilities can truly contribute beyond that which is already embedded in the baseline scenarios, then that should be demonstrated in detail, not simply assumed.
Rej[ect]: mitigation potential is additional to what is included in baseline
Another comment (on Table 11.3):
None of the discussion of mitigation potential […] belongs in an IPCC Assessment Report. […] Calculations of mitigation potential are only possible through application of a model that […] develops an explicit baseline […] and makes consistent assumptions about costs and performance of present and future technologies. There is an implicit model behind the original calculations presented in the chapter, but it is so simplistic and leaves out so many critical factors in estimating a marginal abatement cost curve that the results would not be accepted for publication in any reputable journal. I would be embarrassed as a chapter author to take responsibility for such flawed and naïve analysis in a report designed to be an assessment of the best research available. […] It likewise appears to assume that the same amount of mitigation be achieved at a given cost no matter what baseline emissions pathway is chosen – which clearly cannot be the case because the technologies assumed as mitigation measures may already be adopted in the baseline. Moreover, there is no demonstration that the estimated mitigation potentials have been evaluated properly with respect to either of the two baselines used for this analysis. The mitigation estimates in the draft apparently do not take account of the technological changes already embedded in the SRES B2 and WEO 2004 reference scenarios against which the mitigation estimates were made.
REJ[ect]: The dependence of the estimates on the baseline is recognized and allowed for.
So, when the comment was gently worded, the IPCC authors admitted that the results are problematic – but no action was taken. When the same comment was raised in a less gentle voice, the IPCC authors simply denied the problem – and no action was taken.

Table SPM.1 is wrong and misleading. It is wrong to suggest that emission reduction costs are independent of the assumed future developments. It is misleading to conclude that emissions can be substantially reduced at negative economic cost.

Much Ado About Nothing

Jon Krosnick of Stanford University argues that the recent issues in climate science have done very little to alter public opinion in the United States on climate change. Watch Krosnick above and read the report here. Here is the opening to the media release.

Despite recent news reports questioning the credibility of climate science, the vast majority of Americans continue to trust the scientists who say that global warming is real, according to a new Stanford University study.

"In recent months, we have seen a spate of news stories suggesting that the American public is cooling on global warming - that fewer people now believe that the planet has been heating up than they did a year ago," said Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of political science at Stanford. "But our work shows that the percentage of Americans who believe in the existence of global warming has only dipped 5 points, from 80 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2009, and that public confidence in climate scientists has remained constant over the last few years."

Those wanting to continue to argue politics through science will find Krosnick's analysis unwelcome. However, the fact of the matter is that the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won by those arguing for a human influence and a need for action. Those still battling over the science should consider the wisdom of Walter Lippmann, who argued that the role of politics in a democracy is not to get people to think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.

12 March 2010

Sea Level in IPCC: "Far Worse" than the Himalaya Glacier Error

[UPDATE: 3/17, Over at Real Climate contributor Eric Steig takes issue with this post writing:
. . . Many colleagues of mine that I know are sincere seem to think Pielke is "reasonable." All I can say is that well meaning people thought that Joe McCarthy was 'reasonable' too. Those people weren't paying attention (or they rather un-American values). Now: read this post by Stefan (ippc-sealevel-gate/ in which he is unambiguously saying that IPCC is conservative (not alarmist), and then read RP Jr's post in which he miscontrues Stefan's post to mean that "another leading scientists says that IPCC is flawed." THERE is stealth advocacy for you. Look me in the eye and tell me you think Piekle is being "reasonable" here. (Note: I grant you that it is possible that Pielke may just be too stupid to have understood what Stefan wrote. But I doubt that. --eric

Real Climate contributor Stefan Rahmstorf has written an interesting post criticizing about the IPCC's handling of the issue of sea level rise in the IPCC AR4 WG I report:

In its latest report, the IPCC has predicted up to 59 cm of sea level rise by the end of this century. But realclimate soon revealed a few problems.

First, although the temperature scenarios of IPCC project a maximum warming of 6.4 ºC (Table SPM3), the upper limit of sea level rise has been computed for a warming of only 5.2 ºC – which reduced the estimate by about 15 cm. Second, the IPCC chose to compute sea level rise up to the year 2095 rather than 2100 – just to cut off another 5 cm. Worse, the IPCC report shows that over the past 40 years, sea level has in fact risen 50% more than predicted by its models – yet these same models are used uncorrected to predict the future! And finally, the future projections assume that the Antarctic ice sheet gains mass, thus lowering sea level, rather at odds with past ice sheet behaviour.**

Some scientists within IPCC warned early that all this could lead to a credibility problem, but the IPCC decided to go ahead anyway.

Nobody cared about this.

Rahmstorf explains that he sees this error as being worse than the 2035 glacier error (emphasis added):
Why do I find this IPCC problem far worse than the Himalaya error? Because it is not a slip-up by a Working Group 2 author who failed to properly follow procedures and cited an unreliable source. Rather, this is the result of intensive deliberations by Working Group 1 climate experts. Unlike the Himalaya mistake, this is one of the central predictions of IPCC, prominently discussed in the Summary for Policy Makers. What went wrong in this case needs to be carefully looked at when considering future improvements to the IPCC process.
A few weeks ago Robert Watson, former director of the IPCC, suggested that some might ask a question about the issues raised in the IPCC:
Some would say that only four mistakes or imprecise wording have been found in the 1,000-page Working Group II report, and none in working groups I and III, and so would ask: Is there really a problem?
After Richard Tol's guest posts here over the past two weeks (more to come next week) on issues in WG III and now an IPCC contributor taking the IPCC AR4 WG I to task, I don't think that the hypothetical "some" would continue to be asking whether there really is a problem.

11 March 2010

Bias in IPCC AR4 WGIII? A Guest Post by Richard Tol, Part V

This post is Part V of Richard Tol's look at the IPCC AR4 WGIII. The first four posts looked at Chapter 11. Part I is here. Part II is here. Part III is here. Part IV is here. Parts I, II and II looked at Chapter 11 in AR4 WGIII. This installment, like Part IV looks at Chapter 3.

Richard Tol is a research professor at ESRI in Ireland, one of the top 175 economists in the world and a contributor to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where his work is widely cited. In this guest post, the fourth of a series, Richard takes a look at parts of the IPCC AR4 Working Group III, which has largely escaped scrutiny in recent months. In this Part V he concludes that,
In sum, the IPCC made a mistake in SRES. Instead of admitting and correcting the mistake in AR4, the IPCC distorts the literature review to hide the mistake.
Please have a look at Richard's full discussion below. If you have questions or criticisms of Richard's analysis please submit them in the comments, I am sure that Richard will be happy to engage.
Ignoring the Actual Balance of Views on PPP vs. MER

In parts 1, 2 and 3, I looked at Chapter 11 of the Fourth Assessment Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Here, as in part 4, I turn my attention to Chapter 3. The first and second order draft of the chapter and the review comments can be found here.

There was controversy over the IPCC SRES scenarios back in 2003. Ian Castles and David Henderson noted that the IPCC had used market exchange rates (MER) in lieu of purchasing power parity rates (PPP). This is an arcane bit of economics, but easily understood by anyone who was travelled: A dollar goes much further in a poor country.

Economists have long known that international comparisons of living standards using MER are just wrong. But SRES is about emissions. Emission data are derived from energy and agriculture statistics, measured in physical units. So, PPP v MER is irrelevant. Or is it?

The SRES scenarios assume convergence: Poorer countries grow faster than richer countries. In the very long run, everyone is equally rich. If measured in MER, the gap between rich and poor is large; and poor countries grow fast. If measured in PPP, the gap is smaller, and economic growth is slower. Economic growth drives emissions growth. Therefore, PPP v MER matters.

The Summary for Policy Makers of WG3 reads as follows:
Available studies indicate that the choice of exchange rate for GDP (MER or PPP) does not appreciably affect the projected emissions, when used consistently.
In other words, PPP v MER is irrelevant. Castles and Henderson are dismissed as “inconsistent”.

Chapter 3 devotes almost three pages (180-184) to this issue. Here are a few citations. On p. 171 (summary):
In the case of the SRES, the emissions trajectories were the same whether economic activities in the four scenario families were measured in MER or PPP.
On p. 181:
Nordhaus (2005) recommends that economic growth scenarios should be constructed by using regional or national accounting figures (including growth rates) for each region, but using PPP exchange rates for aggregating regions and updating over time by use of a superlative price index. In contrast, Timmer (2005) actually prefers the use of MER data in long-term modelling, as such data are more readily available, and many international relations within the model are based on MER.
At first sight, this paragraph is balanced – but Nordhaus is a leading authority in climate economics and national accounting. Both papers are cited as presentations at a workshop – but Nordhaus’ paper was accepted for publication when the Second Order Draft was reviewed. Timmer’s paper was never submitted.

On p. 183:
Manne and Richels (2003) and McKibbin et al. (2004a, 2004b) find some differences in emission levels between using PPP-based and MER-based estimates.
According to Manne and Richels (2003), carbon dioxide emissions in 2100 drop by 14% from 21 to 18 10^9 tonnes of carbon. They write that “virtually the entire emissions decline occurs in the non-Annex I countries”. Figure 3 suggest a drop of 21% from 14 to 11 10^9 tonnes of carbon. Does that classify as “some” or “not appreciably”?

McKibbin et al. go further: “we show that emission projections based on convergence assumptions defined in MER terms, are 40% higher by 2100 than emissions generated using a PPP comparison of income differentials between economies.” For China, the difference is over 80%; for the Less Developed Countries, almost 110%.

PPP v MER is trivialized on p. 183 of Chapter 3:
To summarize: available evidence indicates that the differences between projected emissions using MER exchange rates and PPP exchange rates are small in comparison to the uncertainties represented by the range of scenarios and the likely impacts of other parameters and assumptions made in developing scenarios, for example, technological change.
The reviewers did not agree at all with the drafts of the chapter. There were 11 votes of protest and 2 votes of support in the First Order Draft; and 16 votes of protest against 1 votes of support in the Second Order Draft.

The reviewers also alert the authors to three further, peer-reviewed papers: Dixon and Rimmer, Tol, and Smith et al. The first two papers matter because the models are specified in a different way but reach the same conclusion as Manne and Richels and McKibbin et al. (there is a substantial difference). The paper of Smith et al. matters because it shows that sulfur emissions would be different as well. These papers were not cited in the published chapter. The chapter did, however, use the phrase “evidence from the limited number of new PPP-based studies” in the summary. The “limited number” probably refers to Manne and Richels and McKibbin – that is, two papers. In fact, there are five papers – and zero papers that use a full-blown model to show the opposite.

There is also a Pielke moment. Comment FOD 3-183:
other modelling teams (IMAGE, IIASA) did not recalibrate but argue on first principles, or as Tol (forthcoming, Climatic Change) argues, on a misinterpretation of first principles (Richard Tol, Hamburg University)
comment is wrong: Tol does not reject the “no change” vision in his paper.
That, the IPCC authors know better what Tol writes about than Tol himself!

In sum, the IPCC made a mistake in SRES. Instead of admitting and correcting the mistake in AR4, the IPCC distorts the literature review to hide the mistake.