31 August 2010

Spot-Fixing Doesn't Happen in Football, Does it?

The spot-fixing scandal in Pakistan's cricket team has displaced the floods as a top news story (below).  Surely this sort of thing wouldn't happen in English top league football?  Guess again.

Financial Times on IPCC

The Financial Times strikes exactly the right note on the IPCC (and its chairman).  Here is an excerpt:
Restoring public confidence in the IPCC is essential, because it is the main intermediary between scientists and politicians who have to decide on climate policies that could cost the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars. Given that most scientists believe in the need to tackle global warming, the IPCC cannot hope to satisfy the most extreme “climate sceptics”. But it must never again undermine its own credibility by sloppily repeating unsubstantiated statements that exaggerate the risk of climate change, such as the notorious claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

At its plenary meeting in South Korea next month, the 194 national governments that control the IPCC must push through a thorough overhaul of management and procedures. The IPCC needs stronger leadership to maintain credibility, including a new executive committee (with at least one member who is not a climate scientist) and a chief executive rather than a relatively powerless secretary. Although Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman since 2002, has been unfairly vilified in some quarters, his recent performance under pressure has not helped the cause of climate science; the time has come for him to move on.

A rejuvenated IPCC leadership could tackle the deficiencies in its review process. This should become more inclusive, welcoming alternative views where these are scientifically valid, and at the same time more exclusive, rejecting unsubstantiated claims of dramatic change. The many uncertainties need recognition, with IPCC assessments talking more about risks and probabilities than they have in the past. Then the debate can get back to the real issues posed by climate change.

Reminder: EPL Picks Due by Next Week

Get your picks in by next Friday on this comment thread.

What is a Conflict of Interest?

Several conversations that I have had off-blog suggest to me that the notion of "conflict of interest" with respect to scientific advisory panels is not well understood.  The IPCC does not presently have any COI policies so it is impossible to judge whether its chairman, or anyone else, has a conflict.  However, under the application of COI policies of other bodies, such as the UN, WMO and NAS, it is indisputable that the IPCC chairman has conflicts of interest.  This is so patently obvious that is not really worth debating.  Whether the IPCC will implement similar policies , and if they do, whether its current chair will be ruled exempt from them are entirely different questions.

Here is how the US National Academy of Sciences defines the concept with respect to financial interests (PDF):
It is essential that the work of committees of the institution used in the development of reports not be compromised by any significant conflict of interest. For this purpose, the term "conflict of interest" means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it (1) could significantly impair the individual's objectivity or (2) could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization. Except for those situations in which the institution determines that a conflict of interest is unavoidable and promptly and publicly discloses the conflict of interest, no individual can be appointed to serve (or continue to serve) on a committee of the institution used in the development of reports if the individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed.

General Principles

The term "conflict of interest" means something more than individual bias. There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee. Conflict of interest requirements are objective and prophylactic. They are not an assessment of one's actual behavior or character, one's ability to act objectively despite the conflicting interest, or one's relative insensitivity to particular dollar amounts of specific assets because of one's personal wealth. Conflict of interest requirements are objective standards designed to eliminate certain specific, potentially compromising situations from arising, and thereby to protect the individual, the other members of the committee, the institution, and the public interest. The individual, the committee, and the institution should not be placed in a situation where others could reasonably question, and perhaps discount or dismiss, the work of the committee simply because of the existence of such conflicting interests.

The term "conflict of interest" applies only to current interests. It does not apply to past interests that have expired, no longer exist, and cannot reasonably affect current behavior. Nor does it apply to possible interests that may arise in the future but do not currently exist, because such future interests are inherently speculative and uncertain. For example, a pending formal or informal application for a particular job is a current interest, but the mere possibility that one might apply for such a job in the future is not a current interest.

The term "conflict of interest" applies not only to the personal financial interests of the individual but also to the interests of others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests if these interests are relevant to the functions to be performed. Thus, in assessing an individual's potential conflicts of interest, consideration must be given not only to the interests of the individual but also to the interests of the individual's spouse and minor children, the individual's employer, the individual's business partners, and others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests. Consideration must also be given to the interests of those for whom one is acting in a fiduciary or similar capacity (e.g., being an officer or director of a corporation, whether profit or nonprofit, or serving as a trustee).

Financial Interests

The term "conflict of interest" as used herein ordinarily refers to financial conflicts of interest. In assessing potential conflicts of interest in connection with an individual's service on a committee of the institution used in the development of reports for sponsors, particular attention will be given to the following kinds of financial interests if they are relevant to the functions to be performed: employment relationships (including private and public sector employment and self-employment); consulting relationships (including commercial and professional consulting and service arrangements, scientific and technical advisory board memberships, and serving as an expert witness in litigation); stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments and investments including partnerships; real estate investments; patents, copyrights, and other intellectual property interests; commercial business ownership and investment interests; services provided in exchange for honorariums and travel expense reimbursements; research funding and other forms
of research support.
UPDATE:  A colleague remind me of this useful definition, posted long ago on Prometheus:
“A conflict of interest is a set of conditions in which professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as a patient’s welfare or the validity of research) tends to be unduly influenced by a secondary influence (such as financial gain)… The secondary interest is usually not illegitimate in itself, and indeed it may even be a necessary and desirable part of professional practice. Only its relative weight in professional decisions is problematic. The aim is not to eliminate or necessarily to reduce financial gain or other secondary interests (such as preference for family and friends or the desire for prestige and power). It is rather to prevent these secondary factors from dominating or appearing to dominate the relevant primary interest in the making of professional decisions.”

Reference: Thompson D. F., 1993. Understanding Financial Conflicts of Interest. The New England Journal of Medicine, 329:573-576.

30 August 2010

Should Rajendra Pachauri Resign?

If you want people to take action, then you obviously would make the arguments that require a certain set of actions.

Rajendra Pachauri, August 2010, Wall Street Journal
I spoke with a lot of reporters today in the US and UK about the IAC IPCC Review report.  An overwhelming focus of their interest was on Rajendra Pachauri and his future with the IPCC.  The speculation comes from the following statements in the IAC report (PDF, p. 41):
 A 12-year appointment (two terms) is too long for a field as dynamic and contested as climate change. . .

Recommendation: The term of the IPCC Chair should be limited to the time frame of one assessment.
When asked for a specific comment about Pachauri by Seth Borenstein of the AP I said:
"It's hard to see how the United Nations can both follow the advice of this committee and keep Rajendra Pachauri on board as head"
I followed this statement by emphasizing that the reforms of the IPCC go well beyond one individual.  Removing Pachauri and doing nothing else would do little to fix the IPCC.  Conversely, doing everything else recommended by the IAC and leaving Pachauri in place would go a long way to improving the organization.  So in many respects I see the focus on Pachauri as a distraction. (Somehow those comments did not find a place in the AP story!)

That said, as I've detailed before (e.g., here and here and here), Pachauri has many issues of potential conflict of interest.  He would all but certainly be found to have conflicts of interest under the WMO and UN guidelines that the IPCC is exempt from following.   The IAC Review finds the fact that the IPCC has no such guidelines to be unacceptable, recommending:
The IPCC should develop and adopt a rigorous conflict of interest policy that applies to all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports, including senior IPCC leadership . . .
Should Pachauri be deemed exempt from the recommended one-term term limit (as some have suggested) then it would not only make a mockery of the report, but also set the stage for a damaging battle over developing conflict of interest guidelines and how those should be applied to existing IPCC officials.  The IPCC could of course decide that Pachauri's conflicts do not disqualify him from the position.  Any such efforts to circumvent the IAC recommendations would risk further damaging the IPCC.

The bottom line?  The IAC Review has unambiguously recommended that the IPCC Chairman serve only one term.  Rajendra Pachauri has now served more than one term.  On this basis alone he should go.  However, even if an exception were made for him, he faces significant issues of conflict of interest that would result in his potential disqualification as the IPCC chair (should the IPCC implement policies anything like those of the WMO or UN or NRC).

If the IAC Review recommendations are to have any meaning at all then Pachauri should go.  Talk of retroactive application and grandfathering of the rules are a slippery slope back to the same sort of ad hocracy that got the IPCC into trouble in the first place.

As Expected: Cuccinelli Quashed

Exactly as expected, a Virginia judge ruled against (PDF) Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's fishing expedition at the University of Virginia.  The Washington Post reports:
Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena failed to state a "reason to believe" that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an "objective basis" to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.
For his part AG Cuccinelli says he is going to pursue the effort based on the guidelines of the ruling:
Cuccinelli said in a statement that he will send a new CID to UVa to continue his hunt for proof that Mann defrauded Virginia’s taxpayers in obtaining grants that funded his climate change research.

“While this was not an outright ruling in our favor, I am pleased that the judge has agreed with my office on several key legal points and has given us a framework for issuing a new civil investigative demand to get the information necessary to continue our investigation into whether or not fraud has been committed against the commonwealth,” Cuccinelli said.
Even so, I'd guess that this is the last we'll hear from Cuccinelli on this subject.

Report of the IAC Review of the IPCC

The InterAcademy Council Review of the IPCC has been released. The report is remarkably hard hitting with constructive and far-reaching consequences.  In the report's own words:
If adopted in their entirety, the measures recommended in this report would fundamentally reform IPCC’s management structure while enhancing its ability to conduct an authoritative assessment.
It is an excellent, thoughtful report.  While the report focuses on procedural questions and does not address any questions of scientific content, its recommendations have far-reaching substantive implications, such as for how to deal with uncertainty.  The report also directly addresses difficult subjects such as conflict of interest, policy advocacy and tenure of the IPCC chairman.

This post is simply a summary of the report's recommendations, and I will soon follow it with a bit more analysis.  Here then are the report's "key recommendations" that are highlighted in the Executive Summary, follwed further below by the recommendations found in the body of the text:
Governance and Management

The IPCC should establish an Executive Committee to act on its behalf between Plenary sessions. The membership of the Committee should include the IPCC Chair, the Working Group Co-chairs, the senior member of the Secretariat, and 3 independent members, including some from outside of the climate community. Members would be elected by the Plenary and serve until their successors are in place.

The IPCC should elect an Executive Director to lead the Secretariat and handle day-to-day operations of the organization. The term of this senior scientist should be limited to the timeframe of one assessment.

Review Process

The IPCC should encourage Review Editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that reviewers’ comments are adequately considered by the authors and that genuine controversies are adequately reflected in the report.

The IPCC should adopt a more targeted and effective process for responding to reviewer comments. In such a process, Review Editors would prepare a written summary of the most significant issues raised by reviewers shortly after review comments have been received. Authors would be required to provide detailed written responses to the most significant review issues identified by the Review Editors, abbreviated responses to all non-editorial comments, and no written responses to editorial comments.

Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty

All Working Groups should use the qualitative level-of-understanding scale in their Summary for Policy Makers and Technical Summary, as suggested in IPCC’s uncertainty guidance for the Fourth Assessment Report. This scale may be supplemented by a quantitative probability scale, if appropriate.

Quantitative probabilities (as in the likelihood scale) should be used to describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence. Authors should indicate the basis for assigning a probability to an outcome or event (e.g., based on measurement, expert judgment, and/or model runs).


The IPCC should complete and implement a communications strategy that emphasizes transparency, rapid and thoughtful responses, and relevance to stakeholders, and which includes guidelines about who can speak on behalf of IPCC and how to represent the organization appropriately.

Here are additional recommendations found in the body of the report:
The IPCC should make the process and criteria for selecting participants for scoping meetings more transparent.
The IPCC should establish a formal set of criteria and processes for selecting Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors.

The IPCC should make every effort to engage local experts on the author teams of the regional chapters of the Working Group II report, but should also engage experts from countries outside of the region when they can provide an essential contribution to the assessment.

The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature, including providing more specific guidance on how to evaluate such information, adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable, and ensuring that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged in the report.

Lead Authors should explicitly document that a range of scientific viewpoints has been considered, and Coordinating Lead Authors and Review Editors should satisfy themselves that due consideration was given to properly documented alternative views.

The IPCC should adopt a more targeted and effective process for responding to reviewer comments. In such a process, Review Editors would prepare a written summary of the most significant issues raised by reviewers shortly after review comments have been received. Authors would be required to provide detailed written responses to the most significant review issues identified by the Review Editors, abbreviated responses to all non-editorial comments, and no written responses to editorial comments.

The IPCC should encourage Review Editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that reviewers’ comments are adequately considered by the authors and that genuine controversies are adequately reflected in the report.

The IPCC should revise its process for the approval of the Summary for Policy Makers so that governments provide written comments prior to the Plenary.

All Working Groups should use the qualitative level-of-understanding scale in their Summary for Policy Makers and Technical Summary, as suggested in IPCC’s uncertainty guidance for the Fourth Assessment Report. This scale may be supplemented by a quantitative probability scale, if appropriate.

Chapter Lead Authors should provide a traceable account of how they arrived at their ratings for level of scientific understanding and likelihood that an outcome will occur.

Quantitative probabilities (as in the likelihood scale) should be used to describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence. Authors should indicate the basis for assigning a probability to an outcome or event (e.g., based on measurement, expert judgment, and/or model runs).

The confidence scale should not be used to assign subjective probabilities to ill-defined outcomes.

The likelihood scale should be stated in terms of probabilities (numbers) in addition to words to improve understanding of uncertainty.

Where practical, formal expert elicitation procedures should be used to obtain subjective probabilities for key results.

The IPCC should establish an Executive Committee to act on its behalf between Plenary sessions. The membership of the Committee should include the IPCC Chair, the Working Group Co-chairs, the senior member of the Secretariat, and 3 independent members, including some from outside of the climate community. Members would be elected by the Plenary and serve until their successors are in place.

The term of the IPCC Chair should be limited to the timeframe of one assessment.

The IPCC should develop and adopt formal qualifications and formally articulate the roles and responsibilities for all Bureau members, including the IPCC Chair, to ensure that they have both the highest scholarly qualifications and proven leadership skills.

The terms of the Working Group Co-chairs should be limited to the timeframe of one assessment.

The IPCC should redefine the responsibilities of key Secretariat positions both to improve efficiency and to allow for any future senior appointments.

The IPCC should elect an Executive Director to lead the Secretariat and handle day-to-day operations of the organization. The term of this senior scientist should be limited to the timeframe of one assessment.

The IPCC should develop and adopt a rigorous conflict of interest policy that applies to all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports, including senior IPCC leadership (IPCC Chair and Vice Chairs), authors with responsibilities for report content (i.e., Working Group Co-chairs, Coordinating Lead Authors, and Lead Authors), Review Editors, and technical staff directly involved in report preparation (e.g., staff of Technical Support Units and the IPCC Secretariat).

The IPCC should complete and implement a communications strategy that emphasizes transparency, rapid and thoughtful responses, and relevance to stakeholders, and which includes guidelines about who can speak on behalf of IPCC and how to represent the organization appropriately.

Hurricane Earl in Historical Context

The image above is from the ICAT Damage Estimator and shows the current position of Hurricane Earl, along with the tracks of all historical storms that passed within 50 miles of that position.  The histogram on the left shows the historical normalized damage in 2010 values for those 12 historical storms, which had a median damage of about $3 billion.

Below is a map produced by the ICAT Damage Estimator of the current National Hurricane Center 5-day forecast cone, showing that the storm is forecast to remain offshore.  If the storm were forecast to make landfall, then you could use to ICAT Damage Estimator to compare normalized damage from analogous historical storms under 2010 conditions.

 The graph below shows the individual forecast model predictions for the track of Earl, illustrating a high degree of agreement across the models.

The ICAT Damage Estimator does not make predictions, but it is very useful for putting official predictions into a historical context.  Have a look.

Stay tuned, Fiona, the next storm in line could be interesting.

27 August 2010

"I Have a Dream" -- August 28, 1963

On August 28, 1963 the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most famous speeches in United States history (see the video above). In a review of Eric J. Sundquist's book on the speech last year in the NYT, Anthony Lewis writes:
“I have a dream” is the refrain by which the speech is known — better known to Americans today than any other speech, even the Gettysburg Address. (In 2008, according to one study, 97 percent of American teenagers recognized the words as King’s.) But for all its familiarity and indisputable greatness, the origins and larger meaning of the speech are not generally understood.

The speech and all that surrounds it — background and consequences — are brought magnificently to life in Eric Sund­quist’s new book, “King’s Dream.” A professor of literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sundquist has written about race and ethnicity in American culture. In this book he gives us drama and emotion, a powerful sense of history combined with illuminating scholarship.

A remarkable fact of which I was unaware is that the last third of the speech — the part about the dream — was extemporized by King. He had a text, completed the night before. But as he was addressing the crowd, protesting the indignities and brutalities suffered by blacks, he put the prepared speech aside, paused for a moment and then introduced an entirely new theme.

“I still have a dream,” he said. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

With that quotation from the Declaration of Independence, King made clear that his vision of the future for black Americans was for them to be part of the larger society, not embittered opponents of it. He reiterated the point a few minutes later. Faith in his dream, he said, will bring a day “when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.’ ” Those “I have a dream” paragraphs still bring tears to my eyes.

The sources of that last third of the speech, fascinatingly explored by Sund­quist, include King’s own previous speeches, Negro spirituals, the Bible. We hear Handel’s “Messiah” when he says, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted.” But of course the words come from the book of Isaiah.

The image of the dream appeared in earlier King speeches, again coupled with ultimate belief in America. In Charlotte, N.C., in 1960 he said: “In a real sense America is essentially a dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. It is the dream of a land where men of all races, colors and creeds will live together as brothers.” . . .

Why did King abandon his written text that day at the Memorial? It may be, Sund­quist suggests, that despite shouts of approval he felt he had not really connected with the audience. His wife, Coretta Scott King, thought the words “flowed from some higher place.” In any event, the result was for the ages.

“Speaking suddenly from the heart,” Sundquist writes, “he delivered a speech elegantly structured, commanding in tone, and altogether more profound than anything heard on American soil in nearly a century. In the midst of speaking, King rewrote his speech and created a new national scripture.”
It is difficult to watch that speech and not realize that as messy and frustrating as politics can be, there is something utterly virtuous in our collective struggle to achieve our special and common interests.

Enjoy the speech and have a nice weekend!

26 August 2010

Obama Administration: The Courts are the Wrong Place for Climate Policy

[UPDATE 8/27: Real constitutional law experts discuss this here (Jonathan H. Adler) and here (Jonathan Zasloff) (read comments on the latter for their exchange), offering starkly different perspectives.]

The Obama Administration has issued a remarkable brief siding with energy companies over whether they should be liable for the effects of their greenhouse gases as a "public nuisance."  The arguments in the brief, should they come to be accepted, would appear to put an end to effort to use of the US judicial system to force regulations of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenwire reports that the administration's postion has come as a shock to some environmental advocates:
Matt Pawa, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the case, said he and his colleagues expected the White House to stay out of the matter. During a meeting with more than 30 administration lawyers at the solicitor general's office on June 24, it seemed they had "a lot of friends in the room," he said.

"We feel stabbed in the back," Pawa said. "This was really a dastardly move by an administration that said it was a friend of the environment. With friends like this, who needs enemies?"

Top attorneys at environmental advocacy groups are buzzing about the brief, sources say. Some feel betrayed by a White House that has generally been more amenable to environmental regulation than its predecessor.

"This reads as if it were cut and pasted from the Bush administration's briefing in Massachusetts," said David Bookbinder, who served as the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel until his resignation in May.
The brief itself reads as a more general argument against seeking to implement climate policies -- those focused on controlling greenhouse gas emisisons -- through the courts.

The brief states that the scope of potential harm from greenhouse gas emissions is so broad as to render the issue more appropriate to the legislative and executive branches (pp. 13-14, PDF):
[P]laintiffs proceed without relying on any statutory right or statutory cause of action, and have sued a handful of defendants from among a broad array of entities that emit greenhouse gases. Moreover, the types of harms they seek to redress could potentially be suffered by virtually any landowner, and to an extent, by virtually every citizen, in the United States (and, indeed, in most of the world). Prudential standing principles counsel in favor of leaving resolution of such claims to the representative Branches.

Plaintiffs’ common-law nuisance claims are quintessentially fit for political or regulatory—not judicial— resolution, because they simultaneously implicate many competing interests of almost unimaginably broad categories of both plaintiffs and defendants. On the plaintiffs’ side, the eight States, one city, and three land trusts in these suits are but a tiny subset of those who could allege they are injured by carbon-dioxide emissions that have contributed or will contribute to global climate change. The court of appeals focused largely on plaintiffs’ asserted injuries as landowners. See Pet. App. 59a-67a. But plaintiffs’ allegations are not unusual in that respect. Global climate change will potentially affect the property interests of most landowners. The court of appeals explained that global warming’s effects come from the land, the sea, and the air, and will threaten the beaches, the fields, the hills—and almost everywhere in between.6 The court of appeals’ analysis of the claims of the land-trust plaintiffs (Pet. App. 62a- 63a) further confirms that nearly all landowners will suffer injuries of the types they allege here. Moreover, global warming’s effects will not be limited to landowners; they will also be felt by governments, individuals, corporations, and interest groups throughout the Nation and around the world.
The brief also explains that the complexity of sources of greenhouse gas emissions also points toward a remedy outside th judicial process (pp. 14-15):
Parallel breadth and complexities also characterize the range of potential defendants in such common-law claims, because the categories of those who emit carbon dioxide (and thus contribute to global warming in the way plaintiffs allege) are equally capacious. Plaintiffs’ complaints name a few entities that operate power plants in 20 States. But the electric-utility industry alone is far larger, to say nothing of many other sectors of the economy that are responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions . . .

The multiplicity of potential plaintiffs and defendants is rendered especially troubling by the very nature of common-law public-nuisance claims seeking to slow global warming. The problem is not simply that many plaintiffs could bring such claims and that many defendants could be sued. Rather, it is that essentially any potential plaintiff could claim to have been injured by any (or all) of the potential defendants. The medium that transmits injury to potential plaintiffs is literally the Earth’s entire atmosphere—making it impossible to consider the sort of focused and more geographically limited effects characteristic of traditional nuisance suits targeted at particular nearby sources of water or air pollution.
The brief states bluntly that (pp. 16, 17):
Courts—when no statute is in place to provide guidance—are simply not well-suited to balance the various interests of, and the burdens to be borne by, the many entities, groups, and sectors of the economy that, although not parties to the litigation, would be affected by a grievance that spans the globe. . .

The confluence in this case of several factors—including the myriad potential plaintiffs and defendants, the lack of judicial manageability, and the unusually broad range of underlying policy judgments that would need to be made—demonstrates that plaintiffs’ global warming nuisance claims should be resolved by the representative Branches, not federal courts.
A question that I have for constitutional scholars:  How does the argument in this brief also not undercut MASS vs. EPA?

Has the Obama Administration effectively ended climate litigation in the US?  It sure looks that way.

Battles over Symbols

Much of the debate over climate change occurs as a battle over political symbols, adding much heat but little light to the issue.  Consider this scathing report from the FT Energy Source Blog:
Nothing like the words “Arctic” and “oil drilling” to get the environmental campaigners excited.

Add banks to the mix, and you have the perfect mix for a modern day witch-hunt.

The latest targets are Cairn Energy and the Royal Bank of Scotland. In a joint press release,  PLATFORM, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the World Development Movement on Tuesday said they “condemn [the] link between public money and Cairn’s Arctic drilling - RBS provided loan to oil company one month before it acquired rig for arctic drilling.”

The amount in question is a reported $100m lent by RBS - majority owned by UK taxpayers - last December.
The (first) problem with their point, however, is that RBS is a corporate broker to Cairn -so the $100m is likely to be just a fraction of the total it lent to the oil company last year. There seems to be no evidence to show that this particular $100m and the Arctic drilling are linked.

Secondly, the environmentalists’ outrage at taxpayer money financing oil drilling bizarrely stops with the Arctic. Drilling in Rajasthan - where Cairn in fact gets most of its oil - doesn’t seem to be a problem. Yet why is it less acceptable to drill near barely-populated frozen landmass than in the middle of India, where actual people may be affected by the drilling operations?

Maybe because polar bears are much cuter than people?
All of the protests in the world will add up to very little without a practical, politically feasible alternative way forward.  The lack of wide open debate on climate policy options -- and indeed efforts to squelch such debate -- is why most climate activism is simply empty exhortation.  Perhaps such exhortation is at least therapeutic for those involved.  Simply adding intensity to a political debate is a recipe for all sorts of problems -- including policy gridlock.

25 August 2010

Season-Long EPL Prediction Contest

This post is for the true football fanatics.  I am happy to host a season-long English Premier League prediction contest, because it is fun, but also because it gives us some more data to work with in the ongoing discussion of skill in forecasts.  (And yes, I have a post on the octopus in the works;-)

To play you simply need to add a comment to this post with your predicted end of season rankings -- 1 to 20 -- for the EPL.  The benchmark for skill will be the transfer payments made for each team as shown in the figure above -- this is our naive forecast.

The scoring for the contest will be a skill score based on the mean squared error of your prediction as compared to the naive prediction.  There will also be bonus points awarded for correctly identifying Champions League and Europa League teams as well as the three relegated teams.  The prize for the most skillful prediction will be a signed copy of The Climate Fix.

The season has already started , so you have some data to work with.  I'll consider any forecasts made before the first game kicks off on Saturday, September 11, which means that about 10% of the season will already be in the books.

The Attribution Trap

Climate policy has been hamstrung for many years by the notion that the influence of greenhouse gas emissions on society (and the environment) through climate change can be precisely assessed, and that such attribution can be used to guide the policy response.  But what happens when the policy community asks the impossible from the science community?  Bad policy and bad science can result.

The importance of attribution is implicit in the definition of "climate change" used by the Climate Convention, which refers only to those changes resulting from anthropogenic changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere. Under this definition the Climate Convention seeks to create a demarcation of dangerous interference, which is usually defined as the "2 degree" target or a 450 ppm concentration level.  The presence of such a threshold in policy language thus encourages efforts to attribute various societal impacts of climate to human-caused climate change.  Without such attribution, who can say what dangerous effects are caused by greenhouse gas emissions?  But what does it say about the policy framework if issues of attribution are not so clear cut?

It is easy to make statements about attribution for generic, hypothetical events far in the future.  But it becomes far more difficult in the present when actual events with real impacts are actually taking place.  Here the attribution trap is even more obviously pathological.

Consider this discussion from the New Scientist (emphasis added):

[NCAR's Kevin] Trenberth agrees. "It comes to the question: given that there is a global warming component to an event, is there any way in which you can sue somebody for it? Who do you sue?" He points out, though, that it will always be difficult to rule out natural variation in climate. "It's going to be messy."

It already is. In 2005, victims of hurricane Katrina filed a lawsuit against a group of oil companies, claiming that they had created the environmental conditions in the Gulf of Mexico that strengthened Katrina. The case was dismissed in 2007, after it was ruled that the victims had no standing to sue because the harm could not be traced to individual defendants. That decision was reversed in 2009. But in June this year the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit again dismissed the case, this time because it did not have enough judges to form a quorum. In the process, the judges that were present ruled once more that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

There is another reason for finding out how much climate change is to blame for various events. "Hundreds of billions of dollars are potentially available [in a UN fund] to help developing countries adapt to climate change," says [Oxford' Myles] Allen. Who gets what share of the funds depends on being able to say which regions have suffered most as a result of climate change. For now, at least, that remains an open question.
Read that last paragraph again.  The ability of developing countries to access UN funds for adaptation depends upon their ability to attribute specific events to human-caused climate change from greenhouse gas emissions.  Because such attribution is not possible, this makes the entire policy basis of the fund flawed.  Just imagine the absurd notion of well-meaning UN officials coming to Africa explaining that they have the resources to help, say, malaria victims who have the disease as a result of human-caused climate change, but not any of the other victims of the disease.

Adaptation is not just a response to the marginal impacts of human-caused climate change, but rather to complex situations of vulnerability with inter-related and often inseparable social and climatic factors.  Improving the adaptive capacity of communities -- whether they be New Orleans or New Caledonia -- makes sense irrespective of the fraction of imapcts that can or cannot be attributed to human caused climate change.

Ultimately, the attribution trap makes adaptation a victim of the pathological politics of mitigation, where the policy framework encourages, even necessitates, claims with certainty of negative impacts due to greenhouse gas emissions.  Can climate policy be designed to succeed even if such attribution is either highly uncertain or even unknowable?  I think it can, but such an approach diverges a great deal from the course that we've been on.

For Further Reading

Pielke, Jr., R. A. 2004. What is climate change?. Issues in Science and Technology 20 (4) 31-34.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. 2005. Misdefining ‘‘climate change’’: consequences for science and action. Environmental Science & Policy 8 (6) 548-561.

See also Chapter 6 in The Climate Fix.

Australia's Unsettled Election

[UPDATE 8/26: The Economist has a nice overview.]

Australia's election outcome remains uncertain, with a few seats left to be decided, but no chance for an overall majority in parliament.  The three independent members of parliament, who have the power to decide the next government and thus have been called "kingmakers," have issued a set of requests to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Coalition leader Tony Abbott (here in PDF), which will surely be taken seriously.  They ask for answers by September 3, suggesting that Australia's leadership will remain in doubt for a few more weeks.

Political pundits are already trying to assess winners and losers from the election.  Some think that the Green party, which holds the balance of power in the Senate and a key seat in the lower house, has emerged a winner, others think not.  This implications of the election for Australia's climate policy remain completely unclear, though the context remains unchanged.  Meantime, as the video above shows, the Aussies are keeping their sense of humor (H/T Lowy Institute).

24 August 2010

Normalized Earthquake Damages

Following an earlier post, I have received several email queries about global trends in earthquake damages, and how they compare with those related to weather, prompting this post.

The figure above, from my colleague here at the University of Colorado, geologist Roger Bilham, shows a very similar story to that observed with respect to normalizations of weather-related losses.  Specifically, while the aggregate number of deaths related to earthquakes has increased dramatically in recent decades (red bars), over the long-term, there has been no trend in deaths after normalizing for population growth (black line). (Note how one might arrive at a different conclusion using a short time period starting in 1980.)

Last February, Bilham had an excellent essay in Nature (PDF) on the lessons from the Haiti earthquake.   And his Mallet-Milne lecture, published last year (PDF), should be required reading.  In it he asks:
. . . why the knowledge of 9,000 years of city collapse in earthquakes, and a known cumulative death toll of more than 10 million people, has not led to safer construction everywhere.
In his paper he explains that large earthquake disasters are relatively concentrated in a small part of the Earth's surface:
[T]he odds of a city being damaged by an earthquake are not evenly distributed on our planet (McGuire 2004; Dilley 2005). Twelve percent of all fatal earthquakes are found along the margins of the eastern Pacific, and fully 85% of the world’s earthquake fatalities have occurred in the Alpine/Himalayan collision belt between western Europe and eastern Asia. This comparison is based on earthquakes since 1570, i.e. since the earliest historically recorded earthquakes in the Americas. Since then roughly 1,100 people have died in earthquakes each year in the western Americas and Carribean, compared to 8,900/year along the southern edge of the Eurasian plate. This concentration of most of the world’s fatal earthquakes occurs in less than 12% of Earth’s surface area—a 150◦ longitude band between London and Tokyo, between the equator and 45◦N.
Bilham explains that the world still has a long way to go to adapt to the known threat of earthquakes:
[W]e still live in a world where deaths are expected to accompany large earthquakes near cities. Within 30min of a damaging earthquake we can quantify the number of fatalities and injuries anticipated in settlements surrounding the epicentre, before news of actual deaths are known on the ground. That this is possible admits that we have a problem in our cities that needs to be fixed. The time to have undertaken this fix was in the era of construction that started in about 1950.We have a further 30 years left in this global building boom, but it is unlikely that earthquake resistance will occur where the structures are going up most rapidly. The focus of earthquake resistance efforts should clearly be in the places where fatalities have been historically the worst—in the western Americas and in the Alpine/Himalayan/Indonesian collision belt. Given the present recession of world economies, the cost of the fix is likely to prevent the expenditure of funds where it matters most, at a time when it matters most. This suggests that urban populations will continue to be killed by earthquakes in the foreseeable future, and in greater numbers than in the documented past.
The story is similar when looking at economic damage in the United States, as the figure below shows.
That figure shows normalized damages in the US 1900 to 2005 from Vranes and Pielke (2008, PDF).  Such a long-term damage record is not available globally.


Bilham, R., 2009. The Seismic Future of Cities, Twelth Annual Mallet-Milne Lecture., Bull. Earthquake. Engineering, 1-49, 10.1007/s10518-009-9147-0

Bilham, R. 2010. Lessons from the Haiti earthquake, Nature 463, 878-879 (18 February 2010) doi:10.1038/463878a

Vranes, K., and R. A. Pielke, Jr. 2009. Normalized Earthquake Damage and Fatalities in the United States: 1900 - 2005. Natural Hazards Review 84-101, doi: 10.1061/ASCE1527-6988200910:384,

Basic Research as a Political Symbol

I have a retrospective book review in the current issue of Nature on Science--The Endless Frontier, the classic US government report on science policy released 65 years ago.  Here is an excerpt from the essay (and a version of the figure that accompanies the piece):
The influence of Science —The Endless Frontier stems largely from its timing, coming at the tail end of a war in which science-based technology had been crucial. The development of the atomic bomb, radar and penicillin meant that Bush’s declaration that “scientific progress is essential” to public welfare found a receptive audience. Bush also adopted innovative language that capitalized on this new-found government credulity.

In particular, he broadened the meaning of the phrase ‘basic research’. In using it to refer simultaneously to the demands of policymakers for practical innovation and to the interests of scientists in curiosity-driven enquiry, he satisfied both sectors.

Before the report, pleas by scientists to expand government support for research had met with only limited success. Prominent calls along similar lines were made to no avail in 1924 by the UK National Union of Scientific Workers (NUSW) and in 1929 by US agriculture secretary Arthur Hyde. The poor response might have been due to the confused messages\ offered to protect the integrity of pure research. In a 1921 essay, for example, the NUSW president declared that scientific research has “no industrial bearing at all” but later stated that it is “the foundation of progress in industry”. Not surprisingly, most policy-makers shrugged. Some political leaders did champion government support for basic research before 1945. Prior to Hyde’s appointment, US agriculture secretary Henry C. Wallace had argued in the early 1920s (one of the first narrow uses of the phrase) that the agency should fund more “basic research” to enhance agricultural productivity. At the time, Wallace’s call for investment was counter-intuitive because US agriculture was suffering from being too efficient; a surfeit of production depressed prices and caused hardship for farmers. But he reasoned presciently that consumption would catch up in the longer term. Wallace did not live to see his vision realized, but his son, Henry A. Wallace, picked up the baton, first as agriculture secretary under Roosevelt (1933–40) and then as Roosevelt’s vice-president (1941–45). During the war, the younger Wallace served as liaison between Roosevelt and Bush.

Bush was selected by his friend and neighbour Vice-President Wallace to draft Science — The Endless Frontier. As director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Bush had credibility and good connections within both the science and policy camps. This meant that when the report was released — less than two weeks before the Hiroshima atomic bomb was detonated — it was well positioned to influence. When Wallace’s political fortunes fell, leadership in science policy completed its switch from the agriculturists to the physicists, and the language of science policy changed too.
During the fall I'll complete a much more in depth piece on the history of US (and to some degree also UK) science policy in the first half of the last century, with a particular focus on the role of "basic research" as a political symbol.  Among the interesting issues I'll explore in greater depth than I was able to in the Nature piece is the catalytic role played by Henry A. Wallace and his son Henry C. Wallace (pictured above on the cover of Time) in the establishment of the science policies which guide research to this day.

The role of the Wallaces in the evolution of science policy seems to have been mostly overlooked, perhaps as a consequence of the younger Wallace's fall from political grace in the 1940s, which itself is a very interesting story.  I'll have more on such things in coming months.  Meantime, you can read my Nature essay here and in you are not a subscriber it is here in PDF on my personal page as well.

23 August 2010

Disaster Losses and Climate Change

[UPDATE: The NYT's Andy Revkin covers the new article here.]

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has just put online a review paper (peer reviewed) by Laurens Bouwer, of the Institute for Environmental Studies at  Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, titled, "Have disaster losses increased due to anthropogenic climate change?".  

Readers of this blog already know the answer to this question, and here is Bouwers' conclusion:
The analysis of twenty-two disaster loss studies shows that economic losses from various weather related natural hazards, such as storms, tropical cyclones, floods, and small-scale weather events such as wildfires and hailstorms, have increased around the globe. The studies show no trends in losses, corrected for changes (increases) in population and capital at risk, that could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Therefore it can be concluded that anthropogenic climate change so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters.
Bouwers rightly acknowledges that there are uncertainties in such studies, and in particular, there will be a need to refine efforts to evaluate changing vulnerability and exposure in future such work, especially as the signal of greenhouse gas driven climate change is expected to become larger.  However, such uncertainties are not presently so large as to undercut Bouwers' conclusion, e.g.,
A rigorous check on the potential introduction of bias from a failure to consider vulnerability reduction in normalization methods is to compare trends in geophysical variables with those in the normalized data. Normalized hurricane losses for instance match with variability in hurricane landfalls (Pielke et al. 2008). If vulnerability reduction would have resulted in a bias, it would show itself as a divergence between the geophysical and normalized loss data. In this case, the effects of vulnerability reduction apparently are not so large as to introduce a bias.
A pre-publication version of the paper is available here in PDF.

Bouwer, L.M. (in press). Have disaster losses increased due to anthropogenic climate change? Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi:10.1175/2010BAMS3092.1.

21 August 2010

Hung Parliament in Australian Election

Following the remarkable election in Britain last May, Australia has followed with its own remarkable election today, resulting in an apparent hung parliament.

The balance of power may lie with the four independent members of the House and the one newly-elected Gren party member:
The three incumbent independents, all former National Party members – Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – will be joined on the crossbench by Mr Wilkie, a former intelligence officer who fell out with the former Howard government over the Iraq war. Both he and Mr Bandt would be more disposed to siding with Labor.

The three former Nationals were non-committal last night and Mr Windsor warned that if stable government could not be achieved, "we may all end up back at the polls".

Mr Oakeshott offered hope to Labor by saying good communications, including broadband, was a priority for him.
Senior Liberal Nick Minchin said the independents should respect the major party that had the highest two-party-preferred vote and the most seats.

The final result may not be known for some days, especially as a record 1.8 million pre-poll votes were cast, including almost 951,000 postal votes.

The drift of votes to the Greens killed Labor. Its primary vote fell 5.3 percentage points from the 2007 election to 38.1 per cent while the Coalition's primary vote rose 1.6points to 43.7 per cent.

The Greens had a 3.8 per cent swing to receive 11.8 per cent. Mr Bandt is only the second Greens member to sit in the House of Representatives, following Michael Organ who won the 2002 Cunningham byelection.
It is too early to say what the implications might be for Australian climate policies -- which played a big role in Labor's demise -- as his election is still playing out, and may need to be played out again.  Stay tuned.

20 August 2010

Another Perspective on the Russian Heat Wave

[UPDATE 8/25: See this interview of NOAA's Marty Hoerling.]

NOAA has this to say about the Russian heat wave of 2010:
Despite this strong evidence for a warming planet, greenhouse gas forcing fails to explain the 2010 heat wave over western Russia. The natural process of atmospheric blocking, and the climate impacts induced by such blocking, are the principal cause for this heat wave. It is not known whether, or to what exent, greenhouse gas emissions may affect the frequency or intensity of blocking during summer. It is important to note that observations reveal no trend in a daily frequency of July blocking over the period since 1948, nor is there an appreciable trend in the absolute values of upper tropospheric summertime heights over western Russia for the period since 1900.

The indications are that the current blocking event is intrinsic to the natural variability of summer climate in this region, a region which has a climatological vulnerability to blocking and associated heat waves (e.g., 1960, 1972, 1988). A high index value for blocking days is not a necessary condition for high July surface temperature over western Russia---the warm summers of 1981, 1999, 2001, and 2002 did not experience an unusual number of blocking days.

A clear understanding of the causes for the 2010 Russian heat wave is important for informing decision makers and the public on whether they need to transition from a preparedness mode of precautionary responses to an adaptation mode involving investment responses and actions. Our assessment indicates that, owing to the mainly natural cause for this heat wave, it is very unlikely that a similar event will recur next summer or in the immediate future (next decade). Whereas this phenomena has been principally related to a natural extreme event, its impacts may very well forebode the impact that a projected warming of surface temperatures could have by the end of the 21st Century due to greenhouse gas increases.

19 August 2010

Reinsurance Innumeracy

I was intrigued to see the following in a Swiss Re press release a reader sent to me this morning (thanks FN):
Climate change could significantly increase the risk of hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean and threaten future development in the region, concludes a new study released by the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). Damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding already amounts to 6% of GDP per year in some countries, according to the study’s preliminary results. Under a high climate change scenario, annual expected losses could rise by another 1 to 3% of GDP by 2030.
The statement is interesting because of the very large increase in projected hurricane losses to 2030, even under the most extreme scenario. So I took a look at the underlying report, which was produced by the intergovernmental CCRIF supported by reinsurance companies including Swiss Re. And like a lot that you find in the grey literature related to climate change, it does not hold up so well.  Here are two reasons why, and they have nothing to do with the report's cherry picking of extreme scenarios or even the validity of those scenarios.  My critique below takes the climate part of the methodology as given (I didn't even look at the climate part of the methodology, which has its own obvious problems).

First, the report (here in PDF) combines projected future damage resulting from GDP growth and projected climate change and calls the total "climate change."  Not good.  You can see this in the figure below from the report. I have placed a red circle around the report's breakdown of the sources of future increases in damage, and you can see that a significant part is due solely to an "increase due to asset growth."

Then in the left panel you can see the total increase reported (in the green oval that I added), with a 50% increase in losses as a proportion of GDP (from 6% to 9%, and the difference of 3% is 50% of 6%).  By the time this makes its way to the press release it is characterized as
Findings from the study indicate that annual expected losses from wind, storm surge and inland flooding already amount to up to 6% of GDP in some countries and that, in a worst case scenario, climate change has the potential to increase these expected losses by 1 to 3 percentage points of GDP by 2030.
That is just wrong and misleading. Not good.

The second problem with the report is that while it takes an extreme scenario for climate change, it takes a single apparently conservative scenario for GDP growth.  For instance, the report assumes a 1.2% per year GDP growth for Jamaica, as compared to a 1.8%per year increase in damages due solely to climate change.  If the report were to instead assume a 2% per year annual growth rate (as the Jamaican government does for 2001/12) then hurricane damage would decrease as a proportion of GDP by 2030, because economic growth would outstrip the independent effects of climate change.

A better conclusion from this report would be that climate change -- even under the most extreme scenarios -- might increase or decrease future Caribbean hurricane damage relative to GDP, or even have no discernible effect, but the policy options that make sense in this region are insensitive to these uncertainties.

I see that some in the media have already uncritically repeated the misleading conclusions from the report.  Let's see if anyone else does.

[UPDATE 8/20: Climate Progress fell for it.]

18 August 2010

Going the Wrong Way

Last week, the US Department of Energy released preliminary estimates of 2010 US carbon dioxide emissions (h/t Joe Romm).  The data, along with preliminary data on 2010 US GDP allow for a preliminary look at the rate of decarbonization of the US economy (see figure above).  Decarbonization refers a reduction in the ratio of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP.

As readers of this blog know -- and readers of my book will learn -- to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations at a low level (e.g., 450 ppm)  requires global annual rates of decarbonization of greater than 5%.

The preliminary 2010 US data indicates that the United States in in fact not decarbonizing but recarbonizing (and to emphasize, it is preliminary).  You can see this in the figure above.  The Department of Energy provides an explanation (and see this post from earlier today):
Forecast economic growth combined with increased use of coal and natural gas is expected to contribute to increases in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions of 3.4 percent  in 2010 (U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Growth Chart).  Projected coal-related CO2 emissions increase by 6.0 percent in 2010 primarily a result of increased electricity sector coal usage. Higher natural gas consumption in the industrial and electric power sectors is expected to lead to a 3.9-percent increase in CO2 emissions from natural gas.
With coal and natural gas consumption increasing at a rate faster than economic growth, the result is a recarbonization of the economy.  Hopes that the economic downturn or various stimulus investments have lead to an acceleration of decarbonization were always dubious, that should now be fairly certain (for an earlier discussion see this post).

If this data does not indicate to advocates of action on climate change that a radical new direction is needed, then I'm not sure what would.

Schellnhuber in Der Spiegel

Der Spiegel has a very interesting interview with Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of the world's leading climate scientists, confidant of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the self-proclaimed father of the 2-degree temperature target (UPDATE: In the comments Richard Tol points to Schellenhuber's 2 degree target proposal, here in PDF.  Tol has written an excellent analysis of the 2 degree target as well, here in PDF.)

[UPDATE: This interview is also being discussed at Die Klimazwiebel.]

The interview provides a candid look into the thinking of a leading scientist who is very influential in climate politics.  I recommend reading the interview in full.  Below are a few aspects of the interview that I found interesting.

First, Schellnhuber seems to struggle with the questions about fairly representing climate science in public debates.  He first seems to say that he does in fact emphasize disproportionately dangers and risks:
As an expert, it's possible that I tend to point to dangers and risks more than to opportunities and possibilities -- similarly to an engineer who builds a bridge and has to make people aware of everything that could cause it to collapse. Warning against a possible accident is in fact intended to reduce the likelihood of an accident.
He then seems to blame the media for exaggerations of climate science:
Naturally, we have to be careful not to dramatize things. After all, scientific credibility is our unique selling point. But I do confess that when you have the feeling that people just aren't listening, it becomes very tempting to turn up the volume. Naturally, we have to resist this temptation. On the other hand, the media often portray my statements in one-sided ways…
Then he cites the political demands for certainty:
In climatology, it would be difficult, even just from a technical point of view, to conduct the entire scientific debate in full public view. That's because politicians and society want the clearest, most unambiguous answers possible. And if we can't provide those answers, many people simply stop listening to us. They're basically saying: Don't bother us with your models and counter-models. Get back to us when you have all the answers.
An interesting set of answers, no doubt.

When asked about the 2 degree target, he is not optimistic (understandably).  He explains that the target was created for political reasons and invokes the need for air capture technologies:
Technically speaking [the 2 degree target] is probably still just about possible. But in 10 years' time it'll probably be too late. After that, it could be that the only solution will be global carbon management, that is, the artificial removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, perhaps through reforestation of degraded areas of land or the direct filtration and permanent disposal of carbon dioxide. That's the ace up our sleeve, which we would then have to play. . .

Politicians like to have clear targets, and a simple number is easier to handle than a complex temperature range. Besides, it was important to introduce a quantitative orientation in the first place, which the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change managed to elegantly wangle its way out of. And let's be honest: Even if we aim for the two-degree target, we'll end up somewhat higher. Whenever there's a speed limit, most drivers tend to go a little faster.
Remarkably, he ends the interview where so many arguments from climate scientists end up -- in a need to reform democracy to be less democratic:
Ultimately only democratic societies will be able to master this challenge, notwithstanding their torturous decision-marking processes. But to get there perhaps we'll need innovative refinement of our democratic institutions. I could imagine assigning 10 percent of all seats in parliament to ombudsmen who represent only the interests of future generations.
Who, I wonder will these forward-thinking ombudsmen actually be?  I suspect Schellnhuber has some ideas.

A Resurgence of Coal Power in the US

The AP describes the continuing presence of coal power in the United States:
Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry's standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.
But like everything related to the energy and climate, it is useful to have a sense of proportion.  So have a look at the figure above, which comes from a US DOE presentation earlier this year (PDF).  The figure shows the coal power build rate - actual and planned -- for the US and China.

The red parts of the bars for 2008 and 2009 (and perhaps part of the yellow for 2010) are what the AP article is describing.  The broader context are the blues and greens.

New Paper on Australian Bushfires

I am a co-author on a new paper on Australian bushfires, just accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate and Society of the AMS. Here is the abstract and citation:

This study re-evaluates the history of building damage and loss of life due to bushfire (wildfire) in Australia since 1925 in light of the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria in which 173 people lost their lives and 2,298 homes were destroyed along with many other structures. Historical records are normalised in order to estimate building damage and fatalities had events occurred under the societal conditions of 2008/09. There are relationships between normalised building damage and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole phenomena, but there is no discernable evidence that the normalised data is being influenced by climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases. The 2009 Black Saturday fires rank second in terms of normalised fatalities and fourth in terms of normalised building damage. The public safety concern is that of the 10 years with the highest normalised building damage the 2008/09 bushfire season ranks third, to the 1925/26 and 1938/39 seasons, in terms of the ratio of normalised fatalities to building damage. A feature of the building damage in the 2009 Black Saturday fires in some of the most affected towns – Marysville and Kinglake – is the large proportion of buildings destroyed either within bushland or at very small distances from it (<10 m). Land use planning policies in bushfire-prone parts of this country that allow such development increase the risk that bushfires pose to the public and the built environment.

Crompton, R. P., K. J. McAneney, K. Chen, R. A. Pielke Jr., and K. Haynes, 2010 (in press): Influence of Location, Population and Climate on Building Damage and Fatalities due to Australian Bushfire: 1925-2009. Weather, Climate, and Society.
While it is certainly interesting that we do not find any signal of long-term climate change in the loss record, that finding certainly is not entirely unexpected given the growing body of research in this area.  The more significant findings of this paper have to do with issues of land-use planning and the relationship of bushfire damage to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole phenomena.

In due course I'll post up a pre-publication version of the paper.

17 August 2010

Free Preview of The Climate Fix

Amazon.com via its "Click to LOOK INSIDE" has the first two chapters of The Climate Fix (50 pages plus!) available for a free preview here.  Have a look and let me know what you think!

The Climate Fix Back Cover Blurbs

Basic Books has posted online the back cover blurbs from The Climate Fix.  Here they are:
“Roger Pielke, Jr.’s voice in the global warming debate is one of rare common sense. While many authors link anthropogenic climate change with energy technology, Pielke, Jr. goes farther and emphasizes the role of development economics and deep seated social behaviors that cannot easily be addressed...you will be hard-pressed to find a better analysis of the thorniest aspects of the climate challenge.”—John Marburger, Vice President for Research, Stony Brook University and former Science Advisor to President George W. Bush

“The present climate policy stalemate cries out for a new approach in dealing with a challenge that is unprecedented in scope and complexity. This book offers scientists, policy makers and the general public a critical perspective and thoughtful suggestions for a way forward. It should be read by anyone who cares about the future of the planet and its people.” Neal Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor and Senior Fellow in Science and Technology at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University
“Pielke’s thoughtful analysis of how climate science has interacted with policy - often not productively - provides new and engaging insights. Moreover, his conclusion about the importance of decarbonization and disaggregating climate policy gives the climate debate a new dimension. By weaving his personal story into the development of these issues, he presents a compelling narrative that deserves a wide readership.”—D. James Baker, William J. Clinton Foundation and former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Roger Pielke, Jr., cuts through passions and politics to propose a clear and sober way forward in addressing one of the critical issues of our time.”—Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT

Original Source Wanted

[UPDATED: Vinny Burgoo comes through with the source, see the image below.  I will use this data as the basis for an EPL season-long prediction contest later this week.  You get a head start on the naive forecast because the season has started!  Stay tuned . . . and thanks Vinny!]

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about the English Premier League and included this interesting tidbit:
One British newspaper on Sunday published a list from top to bottom of the value of the 11 players each team started as the new season kicked off.

Manchester City and Chelsea, each with teams that cost more than $235 million in transfer fees, were at the top of the list. West Bromwich, which spent $21 million, was second to last. Blackpool was rock bottom.
The original source for this is here, and you can see the data below.

Focus of Attention

The interesting software at WordItOut allows you to take a text or a webpage and create a word cloud showing the frequency of use of certain words in that text.  (Though it is not clear to me how much text from a website is used.) 
This sort of analysis can be useful.  For instance, the Sydney Morning Herald made a word cloud from Julia Gillard's recent speech (seen above), discovering her focus to be on "friends" who "want" "work" -- climate did not appear in the cloud.

The word cloud below shows the focus of attention for this blog, just as an example, selecting words of 6 letters or more.  Just for fun I made word clouds for a few other climate-related blogs (but not posted here) -- some interesting results!

Focus of Attention of http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com

Word cloud made with WordItOut