31 October 2010

Simple Math and Simple Politics

If you spend anytime at all perusing the blogosphere, you will find a common theme coming from self-described liberal or progressive bloggers, and that is that those on the political right are ignoramuses. The argument is that they are just too stupid to know what's what - they are even anti-science, rejecting knowledge itself -- and consequently they support dumb candidates advocating ignorant policies. Such arguments are particularly evident in the corner of the blogosphere that discusses the climate change issue.  This line of argument of course is a variant of the thinking that if only people shared a common understanding of scientific facts they would also share a common political orientation (typically the political orientation of whomever is expressing these views).

Today's New York Times explains that top Democrats, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have bought into this view, leading to charges of elitism from their political opponents.  Here is an excerpt:
In the Boston-area home of a wealthy hospital executive one Saturday evening this month, President Obama departed from his usual campaign stump speech and offered an explanation as to why Democrats were seemingly doing so poorly this election season. Voters, he said, just aren’t thinking straight.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fueled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.
 And here is what the NYT reports about Bill Clinton expressing similar views:
Former President Bill Clinton has a riff in his standard speech as he campaigns for Democrats in which he mocks voters for knowing more about their local college football team statistics than they do about the issues that will determine the future of the country. “Don’t bother us with facts; we’ve got our minds made up,” he said in Michigan last week, mimicking such voters.

But if they understood the facts, he continued, they would naturally vote Democratic. “If it’s a choice and we’re thinking, he wins big and America wins big,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Battle Creek, pointing to Representative Mark Schauer, an endangered first-term Democrat.
The problem with such arguments is that they are simply wrong,  Facts do not compel particular political views, much less policy outcomes.

But for the purposes of discussion, let's just assume that those on the political right are in fact ignoramuses. Even if that were the case, appeals to the wisdom of the educated (and the stupidness of others) would still be a losing electoral proposition as shown by the graph at the top of this post (data here in XLS): Americans older than 18 registered to vote with a college degree represent only 32% of the voting population.  Those with an advanced degree represent only 11% of the population registered to vote. For those smart folks on the left, I shouldn't have to explain the corresponding electoral implications.

It should also be fairly obvious that when highly educated people tell those who are less educated that they are too stupid to know better, it probably does not lead to acceptance of claims to authority, much less reinforce trust in experts.  In fact, it might even have the opposite effect.

For those on the left who spend a lot of time explaining how intelligent they are, their politics are not always so smart.

28 October 2010

The Economist on The Climate Fix: "Bright and Provocative"

The Economist has a very positive review of The Climate Fix.  Here is how it starts:
THE title of this bright and provocative book is knowingly ambiguous; what sort of fix is it about? At least three distinct fixes, it turns out. There is fix-as-dilemma, fix-as-stitch-up and fix-as-solution. Roger Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, has useful things to say on all three fixes, and in so doing largely fulfils his aim of providing a guide to the perplexed.
 Read the entire review here.

Disasters Wanted: The Math of Capitalizing on Florida's Risk

[Correction 10/31: This post has been updated.  The Herald-Tribune is in Sarasota, not Tampa. Sorry!] 

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has another interesting article about the role of reinsurance companies in providing coverage against hurricane risks, or depending upon your view, in fleecing Florida consumers.

After I posted up some comments on the previous article from the Sarasota paper, I heard from a number of people in the re/insurance industry explaining that the situation is complex and business are simply responding to the commercial and regulatory environment.  The issues are complex, but the numbers reported by the Herald-Tribune are eye-opening regardless.  Consider this math:
On average, the Herald-Tribune calculated, reinsurers charge five times more than the actuarial risk of loss.

The translation for Florida property owners: For every $1 in hurricane risk to their home, they pay another $4 for the reinsurer's profit. In other words, if a reinsurer determines a home is likely to sustain $2,000 in damage in a year, it will charge $10,000 to cover that home.

In reinsurance, such math is unquestioned. It is not "undue profitability" but "the cost of capital," concluded an industry-funded study by the vaunted Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Insurers need considerable capital to supply this insurance and the cost of that capital is included in the premium," they note.
How does this happen?  The article explains that after Katrina, primary insurers started pulling out of Florida, due to perceptions of risk but also due to the regulatory environment.  The consequence was a greater reliance on Bermuda-based reinsurers:
From 2005 to 2008, 2.2 million Florida homeowner policies were canceled or non-renewed. The state-run Citizens Property Insurance for the first time became the largest provider of hurricane coverage in Florida.

With no viable alternative, state regulators and private insurance companies looked to offshore reinsurers to underwrite the risk posed by storms. With a few million dollars in the bank, newly formed insurers could buy large amounts of reinsurance to instantly write billions of dollars worth of coverage.

The new Florida norm are carriers like ACA Home, a tiny St. Petersburg home insurer started after 2005 with funding in part from a Bermuda reinsurer.

ACA Home has no employees and pays an affiliate, American Strategic, to run its business.

Financial filings show reinsurers take 86 cents of every premium dollar ACA collects -- $9 million of the $10.5 million it collected in 2009.

The cost for turning over almost all of its risk is high. ACA pays as much as 33 cents for $1 of protection against the most likely kind of storms, the equivalent of paying $66,000 a year to insure a house worth $200,000.
Ironically, such reinsurers thrive on disasters, and the following passage from the Herald-Tribune article will be a surprise to many I am sure:
FOR A GUT-WRENCHING 48 hours in September 2008, the National Hurricane Center's skinny black line pointed like an accusation at Miami.

Hurricane Ike was barreling through the Atlantic as a Category 4, on a westerly track that had the potential to deliver the long-dreaded sucker punch that would bring Florida to its knees.

As stomachs churned in Florida, a quarter turn around the globe on the balmy Mediterranean, the reinsurance industry welcomed an American calamity.

The financial giants who underwrite the world's risks were gathered in Monte Carlo for their annual Rendez-Vous de Septembre. Amid champagne parties and sailing races, they kept close watch on the advance of the storm.

Profits at that moment were flat and reinsurance rates falling, even in Florida.

By their analysts' calculations, it would take a $35 billion disaster to turn the market around.

The head of research for a London brokerage sized up the hurricanes circulating in the American Gulf.
"Gustav and Hannah: perhaps unlikely to have a major impact ..." he told financial writers in the plush salon of a Monte Carlo hotel, as they picked over silver trays of tiny lime tarts.

"But Ike ..." he said, turning his attention to the storm worrying Miami, "... depending on which way it goes, it could be a turning point, ladies and gentlemen."

There was nothing in his tone, nor the reaction of those taking note, to reveal they were discussing the decimation of another American city.

There is a perverse tendency for the reinsurance industry to hope for disaster.

The cost of calamity coverage is determined mostly by supply and demand. Big disasters can temporarily dampen quarterly profits and even kill a few unlucky reinsurers, but they drive up demand and draw down capital, shrinking supply.

The result is record profits made on the back of the world's biggest catastrophes -- Hurricane Andrew, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

The macabre sentiment pervading Monte Carlo in 2008 was parodied a few mornings later at the Cafe de Paris, where reinsurance brokers massed 20-deep for preliminary negotiations on the hurricane contracts for which Floridians would pay the next year.

"Industry mourns the passing of Gustav," joked a headline in the Rendez-Vous edition of the normally sedate Insurance Day.

By missing New Orleans, the trade journal quipped, the hurricane had "failed to destroy billions of dollars worth of energy infrastructure and make millions of uninsured poor people homeless.

"An executive from a Bermuda start-up said he had lost everything as a result of the non-storm ...

"'I've got everything riding on a big one.'"
The banks waited too long to get their house in order, I wonder if reinsurance will do the same.  If not, politicians will likely be more than happy to do it for them.

If it is not True and not False, then What is It?

The Guardian reports that the British Advertising Standards Authority -- an independent body recognized by government that adjudicates claims of truth or falsity in advertising -- has ruled that the advertisement shown above from Oxfam is not false.  Here is the explanation in full:
The ASA understood that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was considered, through its work collating data from peer reviewed climate science papers internationally, to be the world's most authoritative source of information on climate science. Taking into account statements issued by other national and international bodies with expertise in climate science, we considered there was a robust consensus amongst them that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change. We noted that the part of Oxfam's claim that stated "Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track ... let's sort it here and now" made a link between human action and climate change.

We noted that Oxfam had supplied a WHO fact sheet which had been published in January 2010 and which stated "Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries" and confirmation from WHO that that position still, in June 2010, reflected WHO's assessment of the situation. We noted that that statement reflected findings set out in more detail in WHO's publication "The World Health Report 2002 Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life", which stated "Climate change was estimated to be responsible in 2000 for approximately 2.4% of worldwide diarrhoea, 6% of malaria in some middle income countries and 7% of dengue fever in some industrialized countries. In total, the attributable mortality was 154 000 (0.3%) deaths ..." and WHO's 2009 publication "GLOBAL HEALTH RISKS - Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks", which stated "Climate change was estimated to be already responsible for 3% of diarrhoea, 3% of malaria and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004. Total attributable mortality was about 0.2% of deaths in 2004; of these, 85% were child deaths". We noted that those statistics were broken down in more detail according to cause and region in WHO's 2004 publication, "Comparative Quantification of Health Risks." We also noted that the IPCC Report's position was that changes in weather trends had led to increased disease.

We noted that Oxfam's claim was reasonably restrained in that it stated deaths were occurring at the present time as a result of climate change but that it did not claim specific numbers of deaths were attributable and it did not speculate about future numbers of deaths. Because of that, and because of the consensus that we considered already existed amongst climate scientists that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change, and because of a similar consensus that climate change was now resulting in people dying, we concluded that the ad was not misleading.
In The Climate Fix, I discuss the WHO claims in some detail, and point out that the WHO itself explains that their findings do not accord with the canons of empirical science (see p. 177).  I argue that the WHO results are a guess on top of speculation.  They are not true.

Well, if the WHO claims are not true, and the ASA says that they are not false, then what is their epistemological state?  They are, I suppose, whatever you want them to be.  Welcome to post-normal science.  From where I sit, seeking to justify action on emissions or even adaptation based on allegations that people are dying of climate change today is both wrong and wrongheaded, for reasons that I describe in some depth in TCF. Was the ASA decision wrong?  No.  But it wasn't right either.

27 October 2010

Daniel Greenberg Meets the Climate Scientists

Daniel Greenberg, the widely respected journalist and author who focuses on science policy and politics, was invited by Nature to review my book, The Climate Fix.  Little did he know that review would bring him up close and personal with the activist wing of the climate science community.  After writing a positive review of my book, Greenberg found himself under attack by Michael Mann, Paul Ehrlich and Stefan Rahmstorf on the pages on Nature.

What followed was an email exchange that provides some insight into the mindset of the activist wing of the climate science community.  Greenberg shared this exchange with me with the following message, published here with his permission:
Roger, Re my stirring experience of jousting with Mann, Ehrlich, and Rahmstorf: What a scurrilous bunch. My sympathy to you and anyone else who has to deal with them. They're gravediggers of science. Nature will soon publish my riposte and, I think, a disclaimer of any ties to me by the Marshall Institute. Below, my further exchanges with the low-life trio. Best regards, Dan
Here is Greenberg's email to Michael Mann that concludes the exchange, reproduced with his permisison:
Dear Professors Mann, Ehrlich, and Rahmstorf,

Your correspondence concerning my review of Roger Pielke's book "Climate Fix" has provided me with a deeper understanding of the widespread public skepticism toward climate science. In your hands, apple pie and motherhood would come under public suspicion. Have you considered taking a remedial reading course? Can you comprehend the difference between a book reviewer's own beliefs and the reviewer's presentation of the beliefs expressed by the author of the book under review? Apparently not. Furthermore, your insinuation of an undisclosed relationship between me and a conservative think tank is preposterous. In 2006, I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Marshall Institute---as I have done with numerous other organizations, including the Brookings Institution, RAND, AAAS, and various academic societies and universities. Common practice for journalists. Nor did I, as you allege, write a report, or anything, for the Marshall Institute. The panel's words were transcribed and published by the Institute. I wrote nothing for them. You guys are the devil's gift to the Tea Party and other climate-change wackos.

Sincerely, Dan Greenberg
If Michael Mann thinks that he has been treated unfairly by my decision not to publish his side of the exchange, I will be happy to post up his emails with his permission.  Somehow I doubt that he will be as forthcoming as Greenberg.  The repeated character assassination and behind-the-scenes attacks of a small segment of the climate science community gives the entire field a black eye, and it continues unabated.  Greenberg is right, these guys could make apple pie and motherhood come under public suspicion.

The Almost-Pirates of the Almost-Caribbean

[Correction 10/31: This post has been updated.  The Herald-Tribune is in Sarasota, not Tampa. Sorry!]

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has an eye-opening article on the Bermuda-based reinsurance industry, explaining how Hurricane Katrina was seen by this segment of the industry more as a business opportunity than as a disaster.  Here is an excerpt that describes what happened in the aftermath of the active and costly 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons:
[I]in 2006, many reinsurers reduced the storm coverage they were willing to give Florida. Some purposefully refused to write policies for months, convinced they could extract an even higher price from insurers that neared collapse.

First-hand accounts, brokerage reports and copies of reinsurance contracts written that year show Florida insurers were still cobbling together hurricane protection in August and September, during the peak of danger, and paying three times the January rate.

The cost was paid by Florida property owners, some of whom suddenly faced premiums as high as their house payments. Real estate agents complained they were losing home sales as buyers no longer qualified for mortgages, and Florida bank leaders trouped to Tallahassee begging relief.

The squeeze was legal, and opportunistic.

“That's what we saw after hurricane Andrew and that's what will happen again, in my opinion, the next time we have a major hurricane,” said Steve Alexander, actuary for the office of the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate.
The Herald-Tribune reports in some detail how the Bermuda reinsurers sought to capitalize on the post-Katrina opportunity:
THE STREETS OF New Orleans were still flooded in 2005 when reinsurers started raising money to pay for Hurricane Katrina and take advantage of the market boom expected to follow.

By December, Bermuda's reinsurers had raised $17 billion from eager investors, primarily hedge funds, private equity firms and U.S. investment banks such as Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

But the flood of new money was not used to make more hurricane coverage available to Florida.

Reinsurance contracts and comments by executives show that even when they had money in the bank and board approval to use it, Bermuda reinsurers cut the capital they were willing to allot to Florida.

The layoff in part was driven by the belief global warming had increased hurricane risk, a view backed by some scientists hired by the insurance industry.

But it also was driven by a hunger to maximize profit — to, as ACE Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Evan Greenberg told investors in a 2006 earnings call, “ruthlessly take the elevator up at the right times.”

Rather than just ride Katrina-driven price increases, the Herald-Tribune found, reinsurers worked to make them bigger. They sat on business they normally would have signed. They turned away Florida insurers they normally would have backed.

“It's a good tactic to do this,” Aspen Reinsurance CEO Chris O'Kane told stock analysts in early 2006. When he spoke, Aspen had written only half its normal Florida contracts.

“We're confident that we will be able to replace a significant part of this lost exposure by the middle of this year at much better prices.”

O'Kane expected reinsurance prices to double because Aspen was not the only reinsurer refusing to write. Other reinsurers also were holding out.

Axis Capital chairman John Charman started the Florida writing season predicting severe shortages, and ended it by confirming in an earnings call, “We held back capacity.”

Other reinsurers were willing to write policies but seized on the opportunity to boost profits in other ways.
Montpelier Reinsurance, for example, stopped selling a broad form of coverage on which many Florida reinsurers relied and offered a more expensive substitute.

CEO Anthony Taylor urged analysts to be patient as the Bermuda reinsurer turned away early business. He would make it up later, he promised, earning 30 percent more while writing half the risk.

“This is an unprecedented market disruption,” Taylor said in the conference call, “providing opportunities for those who have available capacity.”

By July, Florida's cost to reinsure against the biggest hurricanes had tripled.

Aspen's O'Kane told analysts he still was withholding capacity, confident Florida insurers would return in a few months as “distressed buyers.”

Florida home insurers complained prices rose so fast they were “written in pencil.” Security First president Locke Burt, seeking rate increases of his own, told regulators he would secure a quote only to discover “a month later our price was two times, then three times” the quoted amount.

Florida regulators began a watchlist of insurers without full coverage at the start of hurricane season. Industry sources said five insurers were put under temporary supervision. Records obtained by the Herald-Tribune show at least one, United Property and Casualty, was still short in mid-September and operating under a regulatory consent order, even as it sought a state loan to expand.

The average cost of reinsurance coverage in Florida climbed from $9.90 per $100 in exposure to $20, the highest in the nation.

The average home premium increased 80 percent. Residents near the coast saw increases of 300 percent. More than 300,000 Florida families lost their private coverage, forced to find a new company or join Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort.

A few industry leaders were troubled. Bill Riker, president at the time of Renaissance Reinsurance, said the Bermuda reinsurers overreached, hurting their own market. “The reinsurers didn't do themselves well at all,” he told the Herald-Tribune. They “lost track of what they're all about.”

Most reinsurers simply rejoiced. Aspen Re ended the year with a $378 million profit, more than double what it lost to Katrina.
The Herald-Tribune article begins to uncover some of the context that surrounds the RMS 5-year forecast that I discussed yesterday, which was produced in the post-Katrina pricing frenzy described above. The RMS forecast was important because it gave a scientific veneer to the justifications for much higher pricing of reinsurance.

There is more to this story, of course, such as the fact that contemporaneously RMS was busy inserting a misleading graph into the IPCC which falsely asserted a linkage between disaster costs and climate change (a graph that RMS later admitted should not have been included).  If the increase in reinsurance pricing were based on solid estimates of risk, that would be one thing.  If the increases were justifiable based on defensible judgments of risk, well, in that case the Bermuda reinsurers might risk getting a reputation akin to those who sell ice at inflated rates after a disaster, just because they can, which seems to be the tone of the Herald-Tribune article.

Another remarkable aspect of this issue -- quite apart from resinsurance but having to do with the IPCC -- is that the IPCC relied on a company with a clear conflict-of-interest for preparing its scientific assessment of the relationship of disasters and climate change.  Even allowing that RMS behaved in line with its true beliefs at the time about the science, the appearance alone is troubling.  And given that the IPCC has been shown to have been grossly wrong on this subject and its review process failed, we should all look with interest at how the IPCC proposes to handle COI in the future.

Interview with Spiked

Spiked Online has a really great article up by Rob Lyons about The Climate Fix.  Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
There is now little prospect of a global, Kyoto-style deal on emissions targets, and the IPCC - the body supposedly providing unbiased assessments of the world’s climate future - has been fully exposed for the political operation it always was.

Yet it is also still the case that the majority of scientists in this area do think that humans are influencing our climate in potentially negative ways, even if most of them would distance themselves from the hysterical claims about eco-geddon that were made in the past. If the policymaking process has hit a brick wall, is there a way to tackle that possible problem of climate change that might actually make some headway?

This is the question that lies at the heart of Roger Pielke Jr’s new book, The Climate Fix.
Have a look.

26 October 2010

There is a Lesson Here

David James, keeper for Bristol City, explains how he wound up in the Championship after a long spell in top flight football, most recently with Portsmouth:
How did I end up here? I must confess it wasn't part of the plan. I thought I would either stay with Portsmouth, move to a Premier League club, or go to Scotland. In between thinking about all that there was my wedding to Amanda to organise. Somehow it all converged at a single point: the morning after my stag do.

I received a phone call from an unknown number – I don't usually answer those but I was still drunk and so I picked it up. Much to my astonishment the man on the other end was Steve Coppell. He said: "All right Dave, I'm the Bristol City manager, and I was wondering if you'd be interested in having a look at the club?" If it had been anyone else I would not have considered it, but such was my respect for Steve that Bristol City suddenly became a serious contender.

Maybe We Don't Have the Technology

[UPDATE: Thoughtful perspectives on India, energy and carbon at the blogs of Bryan Walsh and Michael Levi.]

In 2007, the IPCC concluded, implausibly, that the world presently has, or soon will have, technologies needed to achieve aggressive emissions reduction targets.  This conclusion was often repeated by its chairman Rajendra Pachauri, such as in this 2008 interview with the IAEA (pdf):
We have established very clearly that all the technologies that are required for stringent mitigation action are either available today or due to be commercialised very soon.
 In a news report just out from Greenwire, Pachauri has a very different message:
Pachauri also predicted that India could commit to carbon emissions cuts of its own "maybe 10 years from now," once the technology to effect such change becomes more widely available.
What that technology is and the mechanisms for making it widely available are not discussed, but the fact that Pachauri admits that it is not presently available and won't very soon be marks a stark change in orientation.  I argue in The Climate Fix that no one knows how fast large economies can decarbonize, so Pachauri's guess of 10 years is just that.  The question that inevitably follows is, what policies are going to be adopted that help to motivate and direct innovation in energy technology?  India, it appears, has some answers.

The 2006-2010 RMS Hurricane Damage Forecast

Periodically on this blog I have discussed the 2006-2010 hurricane damage forecast that was issued by Risk Management Solutions, a leading catastrophe modeling firm.  As we approach the end of the 2010 hurricane season we are close to being able to offer a definitive evaluation of that forecast. You can see where things stand as of today in the graph above.  (All data is from the ICAT Damage Estimator, total damages shown.)

I will have a series of posts on the RMS forecast and its significance closer to the end of November. The forecast and its evaluation provide some very important lessons for catastrophe risk management, for the role of cat modeling firms in financial services and for the science of extreme events.  Meantime, those interested in a bit more background might have a look at this paper:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2009. United States hurricane landfalls and damages: Can one-to five-year predictions beat climatology?, Environmental Hazards, Vol. 8, pp. 187-200.

25 October 2010

So How are Things Going for You Lately?

Judy Curry responds to her critics in the climate science community in a post at her blog.  Here is an excerpt:
Let me preface my statement by saying that at this point,  I am pretty much immune to criticisms from my peers regarding my behavior and public outreach on this topic (I respond to any and all criticisms of my arguments that are specifically addressed to me.)   If you think that I am a big part of the cause of the problems you are facing, I suggest that you think about this more carefully.   I am doing my best to return some sanity to this situation and restore science to a higher position than the dogma of consensus.  You may not like it, and my actions may turn out to be ineffective, futile, or counterproductive in the short or long run, by whatever standards this whole episode ends up getting judged.  But this is my carefully considered choice on what it means to be a scientist and to behave with personal and professional integrity.

Let me ask you this.  So how are things going for you lately?  A year ago, the climate establishment was on top of the world, masters of the universe.   Now we have a situation where there have been major challenges to the reputations of a number of a number of scientists, the IPCC, professional societies, and other institutions of science.  The spillover has been a loss of public trust in climate science and some have argued, even more broadly in science.  The IPCC and the UNFCCC are regarded by many as impediments to sane and politically viable energy policies.  The enviro advocacy groups are abandoning the climate change issue for more promising narratives.  In the U.S., the prospect of the Republicans winning the House of Representatives raises the specter of hearings on the integrity of climate science and reductions in federal funding for climate research.

What happened?  Did the skeptics and the oil companies and the libertarian think tanks win?  No, you lost.  All in the name of supporting policies that I don’t think many of you fully understand.  What I want is for the climate science community to shift gears and get back to doing science, and return to an environment where debate over the science is the spice of academic life.  And because of the high relevance of our field, we need to figure out how to provide the best possible scientific information and assessment of uncertainties.  This means abandoning this religious adherence to consensus dogma.

The Times They are A'Changin'

President Obama signals a more ecumenical approach to energy policy, one that does not rely on any sort of climate science litmus test:
Regardless of what you think about climate change, here are a bunch of things that are smart to do. It will save consumers money, it will save the country as much money going into foreign oil imports, so let’s concentrate on things that we just know are smart to do." If we do that, we can probably get a quarter of the way there in terms of where we need to be in terms of carbon emissions. The other thing we need to do is to make investments in new energy sources, clean-energy sources, because the unit costs for clean-energy [sources] are still higher than they are for traditional fossil fuels. I had a group of businessmen in here led by Bill Gates that said, "Probably the most important thing we might be able to do right now is to triple our R&D budget for energy," because right now it’s about a third of what the NIH gets for health research. Why not boost this so that we can make faster strides? Even when you talk to somebody like Steven Chu, my Energy secretary, who knows the science of climate change and takes it very seriously, as do I, he’s the first one to acknowledge that we’re going to need some transformative technologies in order for us to get all the way to where we need to be on climate change. The point is that there’s things that we can do short-term on that don’t require you to perfectly agree on the science of climate change in order for you to think that it’s beneficial for Americans long-term.

2010 Hurricane Factoids

Adam Lea, of University College London, shares these interesting hurricane factoids related the the remarkable dearth of US hurricane landfalls in recent years.  His comments are reproduced here with his permission:
As the 2010 hurricane season (with 10 hurricanes) starts to wind down I thought I would share a few statistics on how unusual this season has been historically for its lack of US hurricane landfalls:

1. Since 1900 there is no precedent of an Atlantic hurricane season with 10 or more hurricanes where none has struck the US as a hurricane. The five previous seasons with 10 or more hurricanes each had at least two hurricane strikes on the US.

2. The last precedent for a La Nina year of the magnitude of 2010 which had no US-landfalling hurricane is 1973.

3. Since hurricane Ike (2008) there have been 16 consecutive non US-landfalling hurricanes. Such a  sequence last happened between Irene (1999) and Lili (2002) with 22 consecutive non US-landfalling hurricanes, and between Allen (1980) and Alicia (1983) with 17 consecutive non US-landfalling hurricanes.

4. The period 2006-2010 is one of only three 5-year consecutive periods without a US major hurricane landfall (the other two such periods were 1901-1905 and 1936-1940). There has never been a six year period without a US major hurricane landfall.

5. Historically one in four Atlantic hurricanes strike the US as a hurricane. Thus the recent dearth in strikes should be 'corrected' in the next few years.

24 October 2010

Mike Smith on The Climate Fix

Mike Smith, the incredibly successful meteorologist, author and entrepreneur (and a friend and collaborator), has a very positive review of The Climate Fix up at his site. Among many other achievements, Mike took the first photo of the so-called downburst phenomena in 1978 (shown above), which is described in his excellent book, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather.

His review of The Climate Fix includes the following phrases:
… fresh and much-needed … a most welcome addition to the discussion … an outstanding, balanced view of the entire issue … I highly recommend it.
Thanks Mike! Have a look at his full review here.

What Little Has Been Learned

Almost a year has passed since the release of the East Anglia emails.  And despite all that has happened, there are some repeated indications that the climate science community just doesn't get it.  One example can be found in Michael Lemonick's apologia delivered in response to criticisms from climate scientists aghast that he would give the "crank" Judy Curry a forum in Scientific American.  Curry is a professor at Georgia Tech, and a widely published and well-respected atmospheric scientist (at least in most circles). 

Lemonick includes a section in his blog post titled "Is it Irresponsible to Discuss Curry's Views?" and he writes:
Some people see Curry as a whistleblower; others (including many climate scientists) think she’s a bit of a crank. . .

Simply by giving Judith Curry’s views a respectful airing, I’ve already drawn accusations of being irresponsible — and it’s valid to raise the question of whether giving her any sort of platform is a bad idea.
Lemonick makes clear in his blog post that he doesn't think much of Curry's views and that he sides with her critics.  But at the same time he offers some subtle but good advice to the climate scientists who have been apparently lobbying him behind-the-scenes:
I also argue, as you’ll see in Scientific American, that the vehement reaction of climate scientists, while perfectly understandable, might be akin to the violent reaction of the human immune system to some bacteria and viruses — a reaction that’s sometimes more damaging than the original microbe.
What are these guys so afraid of that they continue to seek to stage manage public debates?  Lemonick doesn't name names and I am not aware of any climate scientists who have gone public calling for the silencing of Judy Curry.  So far that action is all behind-the-scenes.  Have these guys learned nothing?  It seems that way.

Curry blogs here.  You can judge for yourself if her views are irresponsible or should be silenced. 

Beyond "Climategate" - Curry, Pielke Jr. and Revkin at Purdue Nov 3

This should be fun -- I'll be on a panel with Judy Curry of Georgia Tech and Andy Revkin of Pace University and the NY Times.  From the Purdue University website:


Over the past couple of decades, governments around the world have spent $Billions researching past and present climate variability and change, its impact to our environment, and likely future climate scenarios. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its 4th Assessment Report, proclaiming that, “The warming of the climate system is unequivocal”, stating with ‘very high confidence’ that human activity has contributed significantly to the observed changes. A recent poll indicated that well over 90% of climate scientists agree with findings of anthropogenic global warming. As robust debates continue within the scientific community concerning the magnitude of human influence, the rate of, and likely future impacts of climate change, public opinion - across all demographics - about the certainty of global warming and humanity’s role in climate change has decreased significantly over the past two years. The ‘Climategate’ controversy has raised additional questions not just about the legitimacy of climate science, but about the credibility of climate scientists themselves. A growing segment of the American population now believes that warnings about climate change are part of an elaborate hoax. To some observers, the climate change science community has failed in its public relations efforts. To others, the climate change science community has not been active enough in politics.

The purpose of this forum is to examine why such a contradiction between growing scientific certainty and decreasing public belief in climate science exists. In particular we wish to explore some of the following themes:
  • Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies?  Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists? 
  • What role has the media, including the blogosphere and the Internet, played in this growing contradiction? How has the media shaped the way that climate science is debated, disputed, and created? Is there a ‘better’ way for climate scientists to work with the media?
  • Moving forward, is there a better role for climate scientists in political and policy debates, and if so, what would it look like?

Visit to Ann Arbor

I'll be speaking at the University of Michigan tomorrow afternoon, details below:

The Climate Fix: A Pragmatic Future for Climate Policy

Date: October 25, 2010Time: 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Location:1110 Weill Hall (Betty Ford Classroom), Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
[ Pielke-flyer.pdf ]

A seminar co-sponsored by the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute

ROGER PIELKE, JR., Professor of Environmental Studies and Former Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado, Boulder

With commentary by RICHARD B. ROOD, Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences

22 October 2010

Quote of the Day

State Department spokesman Mark Toner clearly explains an energy policy reality:
"[Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explained that] we need cleaner energy sources and referred to the President’s agenda to seek cleaner energy sources, but until that time, we need to – frankly, to find energy sources in other areas as well, be they clean or dirty."
If only we could think of some way to accelerate investment in energy technology innovation.

21 October 2010

Nature's Muddled Views on Science and the Media

Nature has an editorial that reflects some muddled thinking about public debates that invoke science. Here is an excerpt:
There is more to communication of uncertainty than tone and content — the audience must also be considered, which brings us to the BBC. Like the IPCC, the BBC is an easy target for critics, who leap on claimed examples of bias and errors of judgement. And, like the IPCC, the BBC has launched a review of its procedures, in its case, the impartiality and accuracy of its science coverage. All radio, television and online content is under scrutiny, but it seems likely that the review will address news coverage in particular, and, within that, climate change. (BBC insiders think that complaints from climate sceptics prompted the review.)

The terms of reference for the review define science as “statements, research findings or other claims made by scientists”. In reality, perhaps the most common complaint from scientists about the corporation's coverage of global warming is the exposure handed to sceptical non-scientists, such as former UK chancellor Nigel Lawson. This is the source of the long-standing 'false balance' problem. The BBC Trust, which is running the review, should take a stricter line here. If BBC staff want to use non-experts to criticize widely accepted science, they must explain this lack of expertise to the audience, and why the BBC has invited them to participate. Too many of those responsible for news and current affairs at the BBC, and across other media, consider themselves primarily in the entertainment business. It is generally not a lack of scientific understanding by reporters that produces poor science content, as often alleged, but that straight news coverage of science is often thought to make for poor entertainment.
Nature misses a central point that the BBC appears to understand, specifically, that scientific debates are not ultimately about science, but embedded in a broader political debate.  The BBC's terms of reference for the review states:
It will assess news and factual output that refers to scientific findings, particularly where the science is itself controversial and where it relates to public policy and political controversy. "Science" in this context will be defined to include not just the natural sciences but also aspects of technology, medicine and the environment that entail statements, research findings or other claims made by scientists.
By this definition, any claim made by a politician such as Lord Lawson is not "science."  Rather it is politics, and politicians of all persuasions invoke science to justify their political views.  To expect that the BBC would add a disclaimer to any utterance by a non-scientist who invokes science in political debate that calls attention to their qualifications to issue such an utterance is nonsensicle.

Now, when the BBC engages competing experts to address factual disputes, should the BBC be in the business of assessing their expertise?  This too is problematic.

Here is an example:  Last February I appeared on BBC Newsnight with Chris Field to discuss the IPCC's misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change.  Should the BBC have pointed out to its audience that Prof. Field, while widely respected in his own field, has absolutely no expertise in disasters and climate change and that his appearance on the show was simply a function of his role as an official in the IPCC?  In other words, he was there to mount a public relations defense, as he was not scientifically qualified to actually engage the substance as an expert.  Following Nature's logic the BBC should have warned its audience that there was only one person in that debate who had published in the area being debated.  Silly, huh?

The scientific community too often takes the public to be fools and characterizes the media as incompetent.  The result of this orientation is to demand that the public be protected from hearing certain views, with the gatekeepers the scientists themselves.  As such debates are ultimately about politics, such a role would place scientists in the authoritarian position of determining who gets to speak (or at least how those allowed to speak are portrayed) on important public issues.  

When politicians make political claims justified by appeals to science of any sort, a responsible media will evaluate those claims by calling upon relevant experts.  The role of the media is not to evaluate the legitimacy of politicians to participate in public debate based on the quality of their judgments (if so, public debate might suddenly become very quiet;-). Arguably the media has erred on the side of not challenging certain claims made in political debate, hence the current BBC review. Nature has little to complain about.

The scientific community, particularly as related to climate change, continues to struggle with an authoritarian impulse, characterized by continued efforts to serve as gatekeepers to public debate and efforts to delegitimize views that they disagree with.  The reality is that public opinion on climate change is plenty strong enough for action (the UK has the strongest national legislation for emissions reduction of any nation), and over the long term, the media has done a good job covering climate change.  In fact, if the media has made mistakes in the past, it has been in being too deferential to those in the scientific community who seek to limit debate and discussion.  Nature's current views represent steps back rather than forward.

20 October 2010

Tar Sands Pipeline Likely to Be Approved by Obama Administration

The Hill reports that the Obama Administration is set to approve a pipeline from Canada's tar sands in Alberta to Texas refineries for petroleum from tar sands:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears poised to approve a
 controversial TransCanada pipeline carrying tar-sands-based crude oil
 from Alberta, Canada, to Texas despite pushback from House Democrats 
and environmental groups.

Clinton has indicated that the State Department “is inclined” to grant 
approval for the pipeline, which has come under intense scrutiny over 
its potential impact on water quality and wildlife.

“We haven’t finished all of the analysis,” Clinton told a crowd at the 
Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Friday evening. “But we are 
inclined to do so.”

 She said the U.S. is “either going to be dependent on dirty oil from 
the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.

That will continue to be the case “until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet,” she said.

“It's a very hard balancing act,” she said. “But … energy security requires that I look at all of the factors that we have to consider while we try to expedite as much as we can America's move toward clean, renewable energy.”

 Anyone wanting to keep track of that expediting can see recent US decarbonization data here.


Michael Mann, Paul Ehrlich and Sefan Rahmstorf have a silly letter in Nature in which they criticize Daniel Greenberg and Nature over his positive review of The Climate Fix.  This is the second try by activist climate scientists to get some sort of mileage out of the Greenberg review.  They write:
In our view, Daniel Greenberg's book review of 'The Climate Fix' by Roger Pielke Jr (Nature 467, 526527; 2010) does a disservice to your readership by besmirching the integrity of the climate-research community.

Nature should have pointed out to its readers that Greenberg has served as a round-table speaker and written a report (see http://go.nature.com/otwvz2) for the Marshall Institute (see http://go.nature.com/4u9ttd).
The relevance of Greenberg's minor interactions with the Marshall Institute to his review of my book is left for the reader to discern, but presumably it disqualifies him from something. If Mann et al. want to actually comment on my book, there are far more direct ways of doing so. I suspect that a critique of a review of my book is the closest that these activist scientists will get to actually engaging it.

In the letter, they also take issue with Greenberg's use of a quote from Steve Schneider.  They fail to mention that my book presents the full quote as well as Schneider's response.  For some odd reason Nature did not point out to its readers all of the organizations that Mann, Ehrlich and Rahmstorf have contributed to as speakers or report writers.  That would just be silly, wouldn't it?

A Change in the Winds?

Is a bipartisan discussion of energy policy possible?  Maybe.

Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN) and the Center for American Progress -- champion of cap-and-trade, home of scorched-earth blogger Joe Romm and DC think tank with close ties to the Obama Administration -- show some signs of openness to new thinking on energy policy, as reported by CAP (emphasis added):
In Daniels’s speech honoring Hudson Institute founder Herman Kahn, Daniels differentiated himself from most national Republican leaders by endorsing a tax on imported oil. This idea contradicts two major GOP orthodoxies: opposition to any tax hikes and devotion to big oil. Politico’s report on the speech:

Daniels also suggested support for increasing gasoline taxes. Kahn wrote, in a passage Daniels read from Thursday, “One fully justifiable tax would be on imported oil. Any large importation of oil by the U.S. raises security problems. There are, in effect, external costs associated with importing oil that a tariff would internalize.

“Now, maybe that transgresses some philosophical viewpoint of yours,” Daniels told the well-heeled crowd of 250. “But to me, that’s an interesting point today, just as valid as the day he wrote it.

The need to reduce foreign oil consumption is more imperative now than when Kahn proposed the oil import fee in 1982. The United States imported less than one-third of its oil in 1982. Imports in 2009 totaled nearly two-thirds of oil consumption. And one in five barrels of oil consumed in the United States now comes from nations that the U.S. State Department classifies as “dangerous or unstable.” A fee on imported oil would help internalize some of the economic costs of this dependence, as Daniels noted in citing the Kahn quote from 30 years ago.

An oil import fee could raise revenue to reduce foreign oil consumption by investing in oil demand reduction programs. Such funds could also reduce the budget deficit—a top priority of congressional Republicans. A temporary, extremely modest $5 per barrel fee could raise $22 billion annually. This small levy would raise gasoline prices by just an estimated 5 cents per gallon—less than the gasoline price increase between the week of October 4 and October 10.

This miniscule increase in gasoline prices is too small to create much of an incentive to reduce driving. It would, however, make domestic oil slightly more price competitive with foreign oil. More importantly, the revenue could fund programs to replace some oil with public transportation, natural gas and electric vehicles, and other alternative fuels. These funds could also help reduce the deficit, and/or provide rebates to middle- and low-income families.
The proposal for a small fee on oil with proceeds invested into energy innovation is consistent with the proposals that I advance in The Climate Fix. But more importantly, Governor Daniels forward thinking (a trial balloon to be sure) and the CAP's willingness to respectfully discuss his ideas suggests that a sensible bipartisan discussion of energy policy is still possible in these hyper-politicized times.  And that is good news whatever your politics happen to be.

New Bridge Column: No Guarantees in Policy Analysis

My latest column is out in Bridges, the excellent quarterly on science and technology policy from the Office of Science & Technology (OST) at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC.  In it I discuss the role of policy analyses in delivering certainties in outcomes.  Here is an excerpt:
. . . "technology-led" proposals funded by a low-but-rising tax are spelled out in far greater detail in my book, in "The Hartwell Paper" (a collaboration led by the London School of Economics and Oxford University that I participated in earlier this year) and, in particular, in the work of economists Isabela Galiana and Chris Green at McGill University.

These ideas are often the subject of discussion and debate on my blog, providing a useful opportunity for critique.  In such discussions I have found an interesting objection to the proposals, which comes both from those who favor the conventional, top-down targets and timetables approach as well as from those who are opposed to efforts to intentionally seek to accelerate the decarbonization of the economy.
Have a look at the column to see what those shared objections are.  And as usual, in Bridges there are a range of interesting articles and commentaries that you might check out. Comments welcomed on my column as well.

18 October 2010

Giant Panda

The FT reports on a big number:
[Chinese] officials have aired a goal of a 40-45 per cent cut in carbon intensity by 2020, and the new five-year plan will reinforce that with an interim target.

To achieve these goals, China is preparing a big spending programme to boost clean energy. The new energy investment plan, which has been reported by official media but not yet formally approved, could see as much as Rmb5,000bn ($753bn) poured into developing alternative energy sources in the next decade.

An Enduring Mystery

In an article about climate skeptics in Kansas who are focused on clean energy, the NY Times poses a question:
Over dinner, Wes Jackson, the president of the Land Institute, which promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture, complained to Ms. Jackson, his daughter-in-law, that even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.

Why did the conversation have to be about climate change? Ms. Jackson countered. If the goal was to persuade people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, why not identify issues that motivated them instead of getting stuck on something that did not?
Is it really that complicated? (Thanks PK and TC)

Paper Accepted: Emissions Reduction Targets in Australia

Regular readers will be aware of my analysis of the decarbonization implications of various emissions reduction targets in Australia.  That paper has now been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science & Policy.  You can download a copy of the updated, pre-pub version which has been accepted for publication here.  As always, comments welcomed. 

The Australia paper is the third such analysis, following studies of the United Kingdom and Japan.  These cases, as well as several others, are a focus of Chapter 4 in The Climate Fix, which also looks at other countries and offers a global perspective.

A Positive Path for Meeting The Global Climate Challenge

I have a new piece up over at Yale e360.  Here is how it starts:
This past year, the Indian government took two actions that help to illustrate which steps to decarbonize the global economy might work and which are unlikely to succeed.
Have a look, and feel free to let me know what you think there or here.  It is a condensed discussion of the "iron law" of climate policy that I discuss in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of The Climate Fix.

17 October 2010

Talks This Week in Seattle and Tempe

I'll be discussing The Climate Fix in Seattle on Monday and Tempe on Tuesday.  If you attend and are a blog reader, please do say so, and say hello!

Details follow for Seattle:
Monday, October 18 at 7:30 pm
Science: Roger Pielke: Repairing Climate Policy

Why can’t the world successfully address global warming? Science-policy expert Roger Pielke says it’s not the fault of those who reject the Kyoto Protocol, but those who support it and the magical thinking it represents.

Pielke, author of The Climate Fix, says that to repair climate policy, we need to shift the debate from meaningless targets toward a revolution in how the world’s economy is powered, neutralizing the venomous politics surrounding the crisis.

Presented as part of Seattle Science Lectures, with Pacific Science Center and University Book Store. Series sponsored by Microsoft. Series media sponsorship provided by KPLU.

Tickets are $5 at www.brownpapertickets.com or 800/838-3006, or at the door beginning at 6:30 pm.

Downstairs at Town Hall; enter on Seneca Street.
 And Tempe:

Roger Pielke, Jr. | The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicans Won't Tell You About Global Warming

7pm Tuesday, October 19

Science policy expert Roger Pielke, Jr. presents his book The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming. Why has the world been unable to address global warming? Pielke says it’s not the fault of those that reject the Kyoto Protocol, but those who support it. Pielke offers a way to address climate policy by shifting the debate away from targets and towards a revolution in how the world’s economy is powered, while de-fanging the venomous politics surrounding the crisis. Co-sponsored by the ASU School of Sustainability. More info: Sustainability.ASU.edu.

Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 S McClintock Dr
Tempe, Arizona

Accounting and History, not Red Wine

Yesterday's FT had an intriguing and fascinating letter about the so-called "French paradox" which asks why the French have such low levels of heart disease yet a diet rich in saturated fats.  Red wine has been the popular answer.  Professor Timo Strandberg suggests another.  Here is an excerpt:
According to a skilful dissection of this myth in the British Medical Journal by professors Malcolm Law and Nicholas Wald in 1999 (May 29), wine consumption may actually explain little of the paradox. Some of it has pertained to a habit of French doctors not to ascribe all deaths basically due to coronary artery disease (for example heart failure) to a coronary cause.

A major part of this paradox is, however, explained by a time lag, the slow development of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease during several decades. Fewer coronary deaths during the 1970s and 1990s in France than in Britain (or the US) were simply reflecting much lower saturated fat consumption and lower cholesterol levels in France during earlier decades. While saturated fat consumption started to increase in Britain from the late 19th century and reached a plateau during the 1930s, this increase did not happen in France, a Mediterranean country, until from the 1970s.

But we may not be seeing a reciprocal increase of heart disease in France any more, because of early adaptation of modern cardiovascular prevention. Already during the 1990s, French patients were receiving cholesterol-lowering drugs some nine-fold more frequently than their British counterparts. Eating lots of cream, cheese and butter-rich croissants may not be so dangerous, if you are on a statin.
Interpreting data requires knowing something about the data and its context.  Nothing can be taken for granted.

Obstacles to Communication

I have just been engaging in a dialogue with a reviewer of The Climate Fix at Amazon.com who is telling people that the book's main policy recommendation is advocacy of carbon capture and sequestration (!), which is pretty far from the mark, to be polite.

I have responded to the reviewer as follows, but somehow I think that a fair representation of the book may not be this reviewer's priority -- an occupational hazard I suppose;-)
Sorry, but you are dramatically misrepresenting my book.

In it I call for a carbon tax and investment in a wide range of activities related to technological innovation and expanding energy access especially in the parts of the world presently without. My focus on innovation includes a focus on nuclear, as I explicitly recommend a stance of "technological agnosticism" in pursuing energy innovation (and as I say in the book, expressing the magnitude of the decarbonization challenge in terms of equivalent nuclear power plants is not a statement about nuclear power plants -- you can substitute coal plants with 100% CCS if you'd prefer, or wind turbines or solar thermal plants -- it does not alter the conclusions). Chapter 9 outlines a wide range of such policies, none of which include advocating CCS. Virtually all of the reviews and discussion of the book emphasize it's emphasis on a technology-led policy funded by a low-but-rising price on carbon. My discussion of CCS is very limited (as it should be given that it is not a focus on the book or its recommendations), but you can find a brief discussion of the significant technological obstacles on p.133.

15 October 2010

Geoengineering: The Embryonic Stem Cells of the Left

In The Climate Fix, I have a chapter that explains why implementation of geoengineering schemes is a bad idea (with one notable exception).  But I do not object to most research on geoengineering (however, if such research involves large-scale field tests, it may be considered experimental implementation).  But not everyone agrees that geoengineering research should be allowed.

Writing at AAAS ScienceInsider, Eli Kintisch reports that the upcoming international negotiations on the UN Convention on Biodiversity are going to consider a ban on geoengineering, including geoengineering research.  Here is an excerpt from his blog post:
Next week's meeting of the 193-nation Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, will tackle such controversial issues as funding for the Global Environment Facility, hard-to-reach biodiversity targets, and controls on the access of genetic material in plants. If time allows, delegates to the CBD may also debate the first-ever international blanket prohibition on research related to geoengineering, the deliberate tinkering with the climate to reverse global warming.

On page 145 of the 195-page agenda for the conference is the declaration that no:
Climate-related geo-engineering activities [should] take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts.
It's unclear, however, what that prohibition would mean were it to pass. Would it bar computer studies, or simply large-scale deployment of climate-altering schemes after they've been tested? The United Kingdom and the European Union are currently funding a handful of projects involving physical, atmospheric, and social research on sun-blocking techniques using particles in the sky, for example. They're on paper, in the lab, or being simulated on a computer. Would this broadly written bar apply to that work?

Concerned that the language, if passed, could prevent research that prominent scientific institutions say is important, a handful of scientists are trying to table or defeat this language.
The support of some on the political left for a ban geoengineering research has much in common with those groups on the political right who have sought to ban embryonic stem cell research (and yes, in both cases there are a variety of groups seeing various sorts of limitations).  The reaction of the scientific community in both instances has been similar. It is probably just a matter of time before those opposed to geoengineering research (and geoengineering) are called anti-science.

Is Your "b exponent" Hyperbolic or Exponential?

In the FT yesterday, John Dizard explains an important debate over the future of natural gas, with far reaching implications for investors, governments and you and me.  Like many debates of relevance to policy, the debate over production decline curves in natural gas wells from shale gas formations hinges on expectations of the future that can only partially be addressed via scientific predictions.  Uncertainties and ignorance are fundamental.  The market has been rife with optimism that there is plentiful, recoverable natural gas available via new technologies for drilling.  But not everyone agrees.  Dizard explains the debate:
[R]right now in the US and European energy world, there is one number that does tell you the story. It’s just not a number most investors, and the policy tribes, ever heard of, let alone used as a guide to action.

I’m speaking of the “b exponent”. You are much safer questioning the occupation of a gas promoter’s mother than doubting the “b exponent” of his wells. After all, the former is only about the past; the latter tells his future. And your future, since you’re paying for his future.

The b exponent is a term in the equations that define curves on a chart that describe the rate at which the production of gas or oil wells declines over time.

These equations have been tweaked and elaborated over the past 60 years, incorporating the slow increase in geological science, along with the cyclical requirements of gas and oil promoters.

The decline curve equations all incorporate terms for initial production rate, the initial rate of production decline, and the degree to which that initial decline rate flattens out over time.

The b exponent is a way of getting the curve generated by the equation to fit that rate of flattening.
He explains the debate over the "b exponent" in terms of two views on how it will play out in the context of shale gas:
The debate, which is turning into an argument, over the potential for shale gas development turns on that rate of flattening. The two schools of thought are the “hyperbolic decline” people and the “exponential decline” people, referring to two curve shapes.

The hyperbolics believe that decline curves for shale gas flatten out over time, much like conventional, vertical wells drilled into sandstone or carbonate formations. For them, the b exponents of their wells would be 1 or greater. They can take the high initial production rate of shale wells, or “IP”, and show financiers how this translates into high recoverable reserves or “EUR”.

The exponentials, a so-far smaller group, say that shale wells decline quickly after their initial high production, so the b exponents would be, say, 0.5. On hearing this, the hyperbolics will break a long neck beer bottle on the bar, and a fight will start.
Why does this debate matter?
If the hyperbolics are right, then shale gas wells in Louisiana or, prospectively, Poland will produce gas at a reasonably high rate and low cost over a long period of time.

That is what has been sold to Wall Street and is being used as a negotiating position with Russian gas officials. Up to now, the hyperbolic argument has worked with Wall Street. Unfortunately for Europe, the Russians think the production and unit cost numbers are an empty bluff.

I have seen very smart exploration and production people using the best available science and data make large losing bets on the size and location of hydrocarbon deposits. Unlike Wall Street or political people, they eventually face the facts, admit when they’re wrong, and use the information from the failures to do better next time.

If this were only an insider industry debate, then the rest of us could ignore it, or buy some popcorn and watch the show.

But it isn’t. The US, Europe, and now China are making huge investments in switching from coal-fired power to gas-fired power, and if there isn’t enough gas at a low enough price, they have a problem.

For example, if the pessimists/exponentials are right, then the ultimately recovered gas reserves from, say, the Haynesville deposits in Louisiana and Texas could be closer to 2bn cu ft for the average well, rather than the 6 bcf some operators project. If so, then the wells on most of their land would need a gas price that is at least twice, and perhaps three times, what is on offer in the spot and futures markets.
Keep your eye on the evolution of knowledge of the "b exponent" -- this is not a debate that will be settled via theoretical arguments, but through actual experience in natural gas recovery.  Stay tuned.

Follow Up on EU's Cancun Position - Recipe for Gridlock

As expected the EU has decided to go into the Cancun climate negotiations looking to extend Kyoto, but sets the stage for conflict by linking such an extension to commitments from those not so far covered under the protocol.  Fro the EUObserver:
The [environment] ministers indicated that Europe would push for an extension to the current multilateral treaty on reducing greenhouse gases - the Kyoto Protocol - at crucial UN climate change talks which start in Cancun, Mexico, next month.

Under Kyoto, a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1997, industrialised countries committed themselves to reductions in greenhouse gases. The EU and other rich countries have been opposed to a second commitment period after the current period ends in 2012 as they want emerging economies to agree to binding reductions before they pledge to make further reductions themselves.

Poor countries have robustly defended Kyoto, due to the language contained in it of "common but differentiated responsibility," understood by developing nations to mean that those countries that caused the problem should pay for solving it and make binding commitments to CO2 reductions.

The battle over the Kyoto Protocol has hamstrung climate negotiations for two years.

"The EU has no problem with the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol," said Ms Schauvliege and Connie Hedegaard, EU climate action commissioner, in a joint statement.

However, in backing the protocol, the bloc seeks to unwind the principle of 'common but undifferentiated responsibilities.'

"But we would not do it without conditions. All major economies will have to commit themselves, and areas where the present Kyoto Protocol lacks environmental integrity need to be addressed," they added.
Europe's opening position remains a total non-starter for India and China, and other countries, as they concluded earlier this week:
Environment Ministers from key developing nations who are part of the BASIC grouping, including India and China, began a key meeting today to work out a common strategy at the crucial Cancun Climate Summit to oppose attempts by the West to "foist" legally binding pacts.The Ministers from Brazil, South African, India and China, who form the four nations of the BASIC grouping and five other countries -- Yemen, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Argentina and Egypt -- came together in this Chinese coastal city to work out a joint strategy to oppose attempts by the developed countries to "foist" legally binding agreements at the Cancun Climate Summit from November 29.
This difference in negotiating position explains why expectations for Cancun are low and heads of state are staying far away from the Mexican resort.  It also explains why global climate negotiations are not going anywhere anytime soon.

And also as expected, the EU environment ministers put off a contentious fight about whether to increase the bloc's target to a 30% reduction by 2020.