30 June 2009

The Rightful Place of Science? Within the Bosom of the Democratic Party

In the current Issues in Science and Technology Dan Sarewitz has an essay titled "The Rightful Place of Science" available here in PDF. Dan is a brilliant writer and a creative genius. It is amazing that he is not a major columnist for a leading newspaper or magazine.

Here are a few excerpts from his excellent piece on science and politics in the Obama era:

On Obama's stem cell policies:
. . .there is nothing at all anti-science about restricting the pursuit of scientific knowledge on the basis of moral concerns. Societies do this all the time; for example, with strict rules on human subjects research. The Bush and Obama policies differ only as a matter of degree; they are fundamentally similar in that neither one cedes moral authority to science and scientists. When it comes to embryonic stem cells, the “rightful place of science” remains a place that is located, debated, and governed through democratic political processes.
On Obama's decision to terminate Yucca Mountain's site characterization:
All of the major Democratic presidential candidates, seeking an edge in the 2008 election, opposed the site; shutting it down was one of Barack Obama’s campaign promises, which he fulfilled by cutting support for the program in the fiscal year 2010 budget, an action accompanied by no fanfare and no public announcement.

At this point it is tempting to write: “It’s hard to imagine a case where politics trumped science more decisively than in the case of Yucca Mountain, where 20 years of research were traded for five electoral votes and the support of a powerful senator,” which seems basically correct, but taken out of context it could be viewed as a criticism of President Obama, which it is not. But the point I want to make is only slightly more subtle: Faced with a complex amalgam of scientific and political factors, President Obama chose shortterm political gain over longer-term scientific assessment, and so decided to put an end to research aimed at characterizing the Yucca Mountain site. This decision can easily be portrayed in the same type of language that was used to attack President Bush’s politicization of science.
On science as a political carrot:
When President Obama was urgently seeking to push his economic stimulus package through Congress in the early days of his administration, he needed the support of several Republican senators to guard against Republican filibuster and to bolster the claim that the stimulus bill was bipartisan. Senator Arlen Specter, who suffers from Hodgkin’s disease, agreed to back the stimulus package on the condition that it includes $10 billion in additional funding for NIH. For this price a vote was bought and a filibuster-proof majority was achieved.

Now there is nothing at all wrong with making political deals like this; good politics is all about making deals. What’s interesting in this case is the pivotal political importance of a senator’s support for science. If Senator Specter (who, perhaps coincidentally, underwent a party conversion several months later) had asked for $10 billion for a new weapons system or for abstinence-only counseling programs, would his demand have been met?
Bottom line:
And so perhaps we have now discovered the rightful place of science: not on a pedestal, not impossibly insulated from politics and disputes about morality, but nestled within the bosom of the Democratic Party. Is this a good place for science to be? For the short term, increased budgets and increased influence for the scientific-technological elite will surely be good for the scientific enterprise itself. Serious attention to global environmental threats, to national energy security, to the complex difficulties of fostering technological innovation whose economic outcomes are not largely captured by the wealthy, are salutary priorities of the Obama administration and welcome correctives to the priorities of his predecessor.

But ownership of a powerful symbol can give rise to demagoguery and self-delusion. President Bush overplayed the national defense card in pursuit of an ideological vision that backfired with terrible consequences in Iraq. In turn, a scientific-technological elite unchecked by healthy skepticism and political pluralism may well indulge in its own excesses. Cults of expertise helped bring us the Vietnam War and the current economic meltdown. Uncritical belief in and promotion of the redemptive power of scientific and technological advance is implicated in some of the most difficult challenges facing humans today. In science, Democrats appear to have discovered a surprisingly potent political weapon. Let us hope they wield it with wisdom and humility.
Do read the whole thing.

Tropical Cyclone Damages in China

A new paper has been published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled 'Tropical Cyclone Damages in China: 1983 to 2006" by Zhang et al. available here in PDF. The paper finds no trends in either tropical cyclone landfalls or in normalized damage, as indicated in the following two figures from the paper.

The paper concludes:
The direct economic losses and casualties caused by landfalling tropical cyclones in China during 1983–2006 are examined using the dataset released by the Department of Civil Affairs of China. . . The direct economic losses trended upward significantly over the past 24 yr. However, the trend disappears if considering the rapid increase of the annual total GDP of China, suggesting that the upward trend in direct economic losses is a result of Chinese economic development. There is no significant trend in tropical cyclone casualties over the past 24 yr.
What does this mean? This means everywhere that scholars have looked and published results in the peer-reviewed literature (including the United States, Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, China, India, non-China East Asia, and Australia), there have been no trends identified over the periods of record in either landfalling tropical storms or their damage.

Even though this is what the peer reviewed literature says, acknowledging as much is enough to get you labeled a "denier." We do live in interesting times.

29 June 2009

Does Henry Waxman Understand Offsets?

In an interview with Montel Williams Henry Waxman (D-CA) explains his view of offsets (thanks TBI):
It doesn't make a difference that a coal-burning powerplant has to reduce its emissions if they have to do it by reducing their own coal, that could be more costly than just buying an offset and we still get the same environmental result. The environmental result is achieved, we do it in a way that would impact the economy in the easiest manner, and at the same time we're providing renewable fuels and greater efficiency and opportunities to get cars on the road that will pollute less.
This sort of thinking is exactly why Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) thinks that coal burning can proceed unaltered under the Waxman-Markey cap and trade regime:
. . . we provide two billion tons of offset each year during the life of the program. Those offsets would enable electric utilities like AEP (American Electric Power) to invest in forestry, agriculture and projects like tropical rain forest preservation in order to meet their CO2 reduction requirements under legislation. Therefore, they can comply with the law while continuing to burn coal.
Similarly German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel explained that more coal burning power plants need not increase emissions thanks to cap and trade:
. . . the emissions trading scheme would limit the level of emissions. “You can build 100 coal-fired power plants and don’t have to have higher CO2 emissions,” said the environment minister.
Are Waxman, Boucher and Gabriel correct? Is there some magical property of cap and trade regimes that allow coal burning to continue or even to increase while emissions are reduced? If so, what luck we have!

Of course not. Offsets allow the perpetuation of the business as usual energy system while enabling a convenient fiction that offsets are decreasing in a counterfactual manner future emissions that would have occurred absent the offset. Rep. Waxman is only correct if by "environmental result" he means "the environmental result as defined by my 1,500 page climate bill which includes a complex array of accounting mechanisms that conflate avoiding hypothetical future emissions with actual emissions reductions based on the provision of many, many billions of extra allowances that are created and awarded for taking a range of actions to re-distribute wealth in many places thereby gaining an emissions allowance credit that did not otherwise exist as part of the actual cap." If by "environmental result" Rep. Waxman, means an actual reduction in then emissions generated by economic activity in the United States, then his statement is simply wrong and misleading.

I wonder how long this charade will go on.

Senator Inhofe Takes What is Given

Updated: 30 June 12:50PM, See bottom

In the comments DeepClimate points us to his blog (thanks DC) where he discusses a Fox News article reporting how Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has ordered an investigation into EPA's handling of the Alan Carlin situation:
A top Republican senator has ordered an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency's alleged suppression of a report that questioned the science behind global warming.

The 98-page report, co-authored by EPA analyst Alan Carlin, pushed back on the prospect of regulating gases like carbon dioxide as a way to reduce global warming. Carlin's report argued that the information the EPA was using was out of date, and that even as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased, global temperatures have declined.

"He came out with the truth. They don't want the truth at the EPA," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, a global warming skeptic, told FOX News, saying he's ordered an investigation. "We're going to expose it."
Deep Climate, along with Gavin Schmidt and a few of our commenters, seem to think that some combination of the following facts would justify deviating from standard regulatory procedures in a federal agency (and DeepClimate even suggests that Carlin should have been fired long ago by EPA):

1. Alan Carlin is an economist.
2. James Inhofe (R-OK) is reviled among those wanting action on climate change.
3. Carlin's submission is full of nonsense and cribbed marterial from websites written by people with a connection to the fossil fuel industry.
4. FoxNews reported on Inhofe's investigation.

For purposes of discussion, lets posit that all of 1 through 4 are true. Unfortunately for DeepClimate and Gavin Schmidt, they are all irrelevant because in U.S. federal agencies there is no "bogus" clause, no "denier" clause, no "Republican" clause that they can invoke to make arguments they don't like simply go away. Senator Inhofe of course knows this and will exploit the Carlin situation as much as he can, and in the process will give it far, far more attention than it would have received had EPA officials simply decided not to give Carlin's submission special treatment. In fact, I'd argue that it would have never been an issue without the special treatment. Now it can be used to fire up Inhofe's base and keep various dubious arguments in play.

When will folks learn that climate change, as important as it is, does not mean that basic democratic principles and procedures arbitraily get thrown out the door? And from a more crassly political perspective, when will they there is nothing to be gained by "protecting" a process from unwelcome information (especially when that process requires full disclosure), and much to be lost from efforts to defend the indefensible, even if you believe in the righteousness of your cause.

I am sure that from this episode some will blame Senator Inhofe for his efforts to sow opposition to action on climate change, which of course he is doing, but they should also recognize that his job is made a lot easier by his political opponents who served up Carlin on a silver platter.

Update 30 June 12:50

In the comments Jim Bouldin asks about standard regulatory procedures. The image below is from a 1981 book on rulemaking titled "A Blueprint for Regulatory Reform" by P. McGuigan. The relevant court case cited is Ethyl Corp. v. EPA, 541 F.2d 1, 36 (D.C. Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 941.

Clive Crook on Cap and Trade

Today, Clive Crook in the FT has the best post-W-M analysis I've seen. Here is an excerpt:

Mr Obama aims to keep his promises, which is admirable. Unfortunately, there is a problem. This is not, as many Republicans argue, that neither issue requires forthright action. Both do. The problem is that the bills emerging from Congress are bad and Mr Obama does not seem to mind.

The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty. Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself.

It proposes safety valves that will ease the cap if it threatens to have a noticeable effect on energy prices. It relies heavily on offsets – theoretical carbon reductions bought from other countries or other industries – so that big US emitters will not need to try so hard. It gives emission permits away, and tells utilities to rebate the windfall to consumers, so their electricity bills do not go up. It creates a vastly complicated apparatus, a playground for special interests and rent-seekers, a minefield of unintended consequences – and the bottom line for all that is business as usual. . .

The president has cast himself not as a leader of reform, but as a cheerleader for “reform” – meaning anything, really, that can plausibly be called reform, however flawed. He has defined success down so far that many kinds of failure now qualify. Without hesitating, he has cast aside principles he emphasised during the campaign. On healthcare, for instance, he opposed an individual insurance mandate. On climate change, he was firm on the need to auction all emissions permits. Congress proposes to do the opposite in both cases and Mr Obama’s instant response is: “That will do nicely.”

The White House calls this pragmatism. Never let the best be the enemy of the good. Better to take one step forward than blah, blah, blah. The argument sounds appealing and makes some sense, but is worth probing.

First one must ask whether the bills really do represent progress, however modest. As they stand, this is doubtful, especially in the case of cap-and-trade. Then one must ask whether the US will get to where it needs to be on climate change and healthcare via a series of small steps. Perhaps the country has just one chance in the foreseeable future to get it right. The White House has said as much: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Botch these policies this time, and it may be years before Congress can start again.

A White House that is more interested in promotion than in product development has another great drawback: it squanders talent. Mr Obama has impeccable taste in advisers: he has scooped up many of the country’s pre-eminent experts in almost every area of public policy. One wonders why. On the main domestic issues, they are not designing policy; they are working the phones, drumming up support for bills they would be deploring if they were not in the administration. Apart from anything else, this seems cruel. Mr President, examine your conscience and set your experts free.

The greatest waste of talent in all this, however, is that of Mr Obama himself. Congress offers change without change – a green economy built on cheap coal and petrol; a healthcare transformation that asks nobody to pay more taxes or behave any differently – because that is what voters want. Is it too much to ask that Mr Obama should tell voters the truth? I think he could do it. He has everything it takes to be a strong president. He is choosing to be a weak one.

This is What Victory Looks Like?

In his column today, Paul Krugman goes nuts over the Waxman-Markey vote and equates voting against Waxman-Markey with being a "climate denier" and with committing "treason." In a spectacular display of intellectual incoherence, Krugman at once conflates views on science with views on politics (and vice versa) and fails to consider the possibility that there are many perfectly sound reasons to think that Waxman-Markey is a stinker of a bill.

Makes me think that I'd hate to see his reaction if the bill had lost.

Q&A with Tom Fuller

1. Could you summarise your view of global climate change for us?

I provided such a summary in testimony I gave before the U.S. Congress in 2006, and it remains pretty much my current view. Here are my take-home points from that testimony:
1. Human-caused climate change is real and requires attention by policy makers to both mitigation and adaptation – but there is no quick fix; the issue will be with us for decades and longer.

2. Any conceivable emissions reductions policies, even if successful, cannot have a perceptible impact on the climate for many decades.

3. Consequently, costs (whatever they may be) are borne in the near term and benefits related to influencing the climate system are achieved in the distant future.

4. However, many policies that result in a reduction in emissions also provide benefits in the short term unrelated to climate change.

5. Similarly adaptation policies can provide immediate benefits.

6. But climate policy, particularly international climate policy under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, has been structured to keep policy related to long-term climate change distinct from policies related to shorter-term issues of energy policy and adaptation.

7. Following the political organization of international climate change policy, research agendas have emphasized the long-term, meaning that relatively very little attention is paid to developing specific policy options or near-term technologies that might be put into place with both short-term and long-term benefits.

8. The climate debate may have begun to slowly reflect these realities, but the research and development community has not yet focused much attention on developing policy and technological options that might be politically viable, cost effective, and practically feasible.
You can read about these points in more depth at this PDF.

2. If you were a member of Congress, would you vote for the current cap and trade legislation?

The legislation that passed the House last week (Waxman-Markey) is, to paraphrase, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), a stinker. Even many of those who supported it did so while holding their noses. As a matter of policy it deserves no one’s vote. As a matter of politics, if I were a Democratic member of the House I would likely have voted for the bill to please my party and the president, unless I were from a closely held district with agriculture, fossil fuel, or other similar interests. In that case I would have asked the president and the party for permission to vote against it. So long as the bill passed the president would understand. If I were a Republican member I would almost certainly vote against the bill, unless of course my district were to be the beneficiary of oodles of cap-and-trade pork from the bill.

It is of course easy to play the “how would I have voted” game when you don’t represent anyone and don’t have to run for re-election in 2010;-)

3. Who in the debate is playing fairly and who is not? (I have not yet gotten a complete answer to this question from your father, Stephen Schneider or Bjorn Lomborg--maybe you'll be the first...)

I’m not sure I understand this question, but I'll give it a go.

Many people, on all sides of the climate debate are very sincere in their views and work hard to express them as best they can. But among many, especially in the blogosphere where differences in perspectives are magnified and common courtesies seem to be forgotten, there is too often little willingness to accept the fact that different people have legitimately different views. People often forget that it is OK to agree to disagree. At the same time there are of course people on all sides of the debate who misrepresent information deliberately, attack people’s character, and worse. Having been on the receiving end of some of these tactics I guess I’d say if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. But we should all try to elevate the quality of debate.

As far as playing “fair” in my experience in the blogosphere there are (remarkably) only two websites that have refused to allow me to comment on their site, even when they are discussing my work, and those sites are run by Joe Romm (Climate Progress) and Gavin Schmidt (Real Climate). They can run their sites as they wish, of course, but their actions speak loudly. Why are these guys afraid of open discussion?

More broadly and significantly, I have little sympathy for those who use legitimate processes such as journal peer review and government advisory reports to advance personal or political agendas. This is a failure of process and those in leadership positions who oversee those processes. The systematic misrepresentation of my research in climate science reports provides a troubling example of this sort of failure.

4. Is climate science such an elite field that experts in other domains cannot offer qualified commentary? I'm thinking of Freeman Dyson and Ivar Giaever, specifically.

Of course not, (but I did have to Google Ivar Giaever before answering;-). If it were then no one could comment on the subject as no one is an expert is all aspects of climate change, which involves expertise ranging from demographics to economics to energy technologies to clouds to oceans to ecosystems to cryospheric dynamics and on and on. No one has this comprehensive expertise, though many are very qualified on important parts of the issue. Balancing authority and inclusion is a central challenge of democracies, and I tend to favor inclusion over authoritarianism, but many others will disagree (especailly on the climate issue).

Dan Sarewitz of ASU documented a public dispute between John Holdren and Tom Wigley from a few years back on this question in an excellent paper. Wigley was arguing for a narrow definition of expertise, Holdren for a broader concept. My views on this are similar to Holdren's. Of course, the credential card is often played as an appeal to authority in public debates to discredit someone or their views, without having to actually engage the substance.

5. As a citizen, do you believe that President Obama's energy program takes the right direction, commits the correct level of resources, and is likely to be beneficial for this country?

I think that President Obama has a powerful vision for where he wants the country to go and I admire and support his energy policy ambitions. However, thus far the main vehicle for achieving those ambitions is, as I mentioned above, a stinker. Getting policy to match political ambitions can be a tough task. In this case the policy is nowhere close.

6. Has the energy of tropical storms increased or decreased over the past 30 years? Are there regular cycles to tropical storm strength, and how does this affect your answer?

You can see data on tropical cyclone energy (measured over a 24-month period using a metric called ACE) from Ryan Maue's website. You can see from the graph below that, in Maue's words, "the recent downturn in global TC energy is nearing record low levels of inactivity."

7. Has the actual number of tropical storms increased or decreased over the past 30 years? Are there regular cycles to tropical storm numbers, and how does this affect your answer?

The answer depends on what basin you look at, what time period and on judgments about data quality. Here are a few peer-reviewed papers that try to address this question: here and here and here in PDF. But if it is landfalls that you are interested in, then there have been no long-term trends documented, anywhere.

8. What prescriptions would you offer to zoning regulations, building permits, architectural standards and community siting to make American communities more resilient to the impacts of large scale weather-related events?

This is a huge question with many answers that I cannot begin to do justice to here (though if you are interested I have written much on flood and hurricane policies). The most important general answer is for communities (where most of these decisions are made) to understand the risks they face and the uncertainties in that risk, and to ensure that their policies match up. Too often this sort of evaluative question gets hung up on questions of risk and leaves out the questions of policy. In general, U.S. disaster policy is based on the idea that risks should be subsidized by the public with predictable consequences. I recommend Rud Platt's book, Disasters and Democracy: The Politics Of Extreme Natural Events, which I reviewed here.

9. The government report has, you say, mischaracterised your research. How would you rephrase their comments so that it would accord with your published work?

It was not just a single government report, but multiple reports by the US government and the IPCC. The misrepresentation has been systematic. The US National Science Foundation, along with government's of Germany and the UK, as well as Munich Re, supported a 2006 workshop in Hohenkammer, Germany to develop a consensus, scientific perspective on the factor leading to the dramataic increase in disaster costs around the world. We reached a consensus and it still holds. I don't see any reason for a major assessment report to ignore the Hohenkammer conesensus or present conclusions counter to it without a justification. Here are our 20 consensus statements (full report here):
The focus of the workshop was on two central questions:

• What factors account for increasing costs of weather related disasters in recent decades?
• What are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

To be clear about terminology, we adopted the IPCC definition of climate change. According to the IPCC (2001) climate change is
“Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.”
The IPCC also defines climate variability to be
“Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. Variability may be due to natural internal processes within the climate system (internal variability), or to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (external variability).”
We use the phrase anthropogenic climate change to refer to human-caused effects on climate.

Consensus (unanimous) statements of the workshop participants:

1. Climate change is real, and has a significant human component related to greenhouse gases.

2. Direct economic losses of global disasters have increased in recent decades with particularly large increases since the 1980s.

3. The increases in disaster losses primarily result from weather related events, in particular storms and floods.

4. Climate change and variability are factors which influence trends in disasters.

5. Although there are peer reviewed papers indicating trends in storms and floods there is still scientific debate over the attribution to anthropogenic climate change or natural climate variability. There is also concern overgeophysical data quality.

6. IPCC (2001) did not achieve detection and attribution of trends in extreme events at the global level.

7. High quality long-term disaster loss records exist, some of which are suitable for research purposes, such as to identify the effects of climate and/or climate change on the loss records.

8. Analyses of long-term records of disaster losses indicate that societal change and economic development are the principal factors responsible for the documented increasing losses to date.

9. The vulnerability of communities to natural disasters is determined by their economic development and other social characteristics.

10. There is evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in global losses.

11. Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions

12. For future decades the IPCC (2001) expects increases in the occurrence and/or intensity of some extreme events as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Such increases will further increase losses in the absence of disaster reduction measures.

13. In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes
related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

Policy implications identified by the workshop participants

14. Adaptation to extreme weather events should play a central role in reducing societal vulnerabilities to climate and climate change.

15. Mitigation of GHG emissions should also play a central role in response to anthropogenic climate change,
though it does not have an effect for several decades on the hazard risk.

16. We recommend further research on different combinations of adaptation and mitigation policies.

17. We recommend the creation of an open-source disaster database according to agreed upon standards.

18. In addition to fundamental research on climate, research priorities should consider needs of decision makers in areas related to both adaptation and mitigation.

19. For improved understanding of loss trends, there is a need to continue to collect and improve long-term and homogenous datasets related to both climate parameters and disaster losses.

20. The community needs to agree upon peer reviewed procedures for normalizing economic loss data.
10. On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is not at all important and 10 is of the highest importance, where would you rank global climate change in terms of its likely impact on human development? Please feel free to explain.

Climate change as a very important topic, and one that I have devoted a good part of my career to working on over almost two decades. So I would fairly obviously and self-servingly give it a high ranking on your scale, probably a 10. But there are also many other issues that are 10s as well, such as health and disease, wars and famine, nuclear proliferation, energy security, economic stability and growth and so on. The challenge of policy is not to identify one issue that is more important than all others, but to craft policy responses that are effective and efficient, given that we have to do many things at the same time. So yes climate change is important, but we have to move beyond exhortation to actual development of effective policy options, and my view is that far more time is spent on the former than the latter.

Top 10 Things I liked about Prometheus

A guest post by Sharon Friedman aka docpine aka Sharon F.

1. We could keep up with the latest in the "big" climate science (as in GCM, IPCC) world in minutes a day. This comes in handy at work “hasn’t the A2 emissions scenario been proven to be way underestimating current conditions?”. Cocktail parties- not so much.

2. We could have discussions only other science policy wonks are interested in.. My model estimates the density of science policy wonks in the US is about 1 per 100 square miles. So without a virtual meeting place, we are likely to never interact except in hubs such as D.C. Those of us who spent time in D.C. can fondly remember our time worshipping at the Temple of Science (the NAS building) through virtual wonkhood.

3. We could interact between science policy practitioners in the real world and academics. What if medical researchers never spoke to actual doctors or got feedback on their research and how it applies in the real world? Whoops, forgot, most sciences do operate that way. This is actually pretty rare, and immensely mutually beneficial.

4. People were civil and respectful and dialogue led to deeper understanding. People would call each other on questionable claims and assumptions without the called upon leaving in a huff. I have tried to comment on some natural resource issues in online newspapers and magazines; the dialogue there seldom has to do with the exchange of ideas but rather clobbering people with accusations about their motives. Our level of civility is darn rare, in my experience.

5. One of my personal pet peeves is a project I am working on at work that is consistently portrayed incorrectly in the press. I have a hypothesis that the more invalid claims, the less likely it is that a venue provides an opportunity to comment below the story.. I like Prometheus because any claims are subjected to discussion and validation.. always. Including stories where comments are not a part of the orginal site.

6. I could find kindred spirits about downscaling not being the essential approach to think about the future; how can downscaled climate models be essential when downscaled economic models are not? Where else could you talk about whether knowing you don’t know is better than thinking you know and really not knowing?

7. People from all disciplines engaged and brought their perspectives. One of the discussions I thought was great was when economist, chemists and other started talking about how they deal with modeling and testing the results of models in their fields.

8. We could talk about science policy being about more than how much money is in the NSF, NIH, DOE and DOD research budgets (who else is supremely tired of hearing about this?)

9. Roger calling people on how they can be purveyors of “objective science” and deal snarkily with those who disagree: where else could that happen?

10. My fellow Prometheites.. respectful, thoughtful , insightful, questioning and contributing to my knowledge and thought development.

Here’s a virtual glass of Golden City Brewery Legendary Red Ale against a virtual background of Einstein’s Statue to Roger and all you fellow Prometheites!

28 June 2009

Who Cares About Integrity of Process When There are Political Points to Score?

In January 2006 I wrote a post titled "Let Jim Hansen Speak" in which I called the actions of the Bush Administration to limit the ability of NASA"s most famous scientist to speak out on policy matters "incredibly stupid." This week the blogosphere has been mildly excited (here and here) about an EPA economist named Alan Carlin whose comments on the EPA endangerment finding were buried by his superiors, i.e., not submitted as part of the internal EPA review process, as a matter of concern about how they would be received politically.

This post discusses issues of process related to the ability of civil service experts to have their voices heard on matters of policy related to administration political priorities. As I argued in the similar case of Jim Hansen in 2006, EPA's actions to limit Carlin's ability to have input are simply put, incredibly stupid, for the exact same reasons that NASA's actions under the Bush Administration to try to muzzle Hansen were also incredibly stupid. Here is how I see the Carlin issue:

1. It is without a doubt that his views were suppressed, in the sense that his superiors did not allow them to be included as part of the formal internal EPA review process. That fact is clear from the following email obtained and released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

2. For purposes of this discussion of process I am willing to stipulate that the substance of the review materials provided by Alan Carlin are in the words of fellow government civil servant Gavin Schmidt of NASA in a post implicitly condoning the EPA actions,
a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at.
3. I further note that Alan Carlin is not Jim Hansen, most obviously in terms of visibility, but also in the fact that Hansen is a climate scientist and Carlin is an economist. But there is an interesting symmetry in that with respect to the issues of suppressed comments Hansen is a scientist whose offending comments were on economics and policy, whereas Carlin has expertise in economics and policy and is commenting on aspects of climate science.

The relevant question of process is whether the submission's content (#2) or the author's characteristics (#3) justify the actions observed in #1, that is, refusing Carlin the opportunity to have a voice in the EPA review process. This question is exactly parallel to the circumstances involving Jim Hansen and the Bush Administration. My judgment is that #2 and #3 should be irrelevant to #1 -- As I concluded with Hansen, EPA should let Alan Carlin speak. Based on my quick reading of his submission (available here in PDF), Carlin's work poses little threat to the climate science community or the Obama Administration's political agenda. By contrast efforts to keep Carlin's views out of the public record could be much more politically significant (as was the case with Bush Administration and Jim Hansen).

But they probably won't be because the various political camps in the climate debate pretty much operate under an "ends justify the means" mentality these days, and that means that some acts of suppression will be judged more acceptable than others and everything will fall out along pre-existing political cleavages, with little attention or concern about the integrity of process, except among thos seeking to score a few political points. So the same people who complained about Hansen being suppressed under the Bush Adminstration will defend the supression (or more likely just ignore it) in Carlin's situtaion, and vice versa. The climate debate is predictable if nothing else.

26 June 2009

For Those of You Interested in the W-M Vote

E&E Daily has a nice breakdown of where the votes are and who is on the fence on the Waxman-Markey "jobs bill" in this PDF. If it is brought to a vote, then you can assume that the votes to pass are all lined up. If there is a delay, for any reason, there remains some uncertainty. My guess is that it has the votes and will pass. There is little political risk for Democrats to vote for the bill as conventional wisdom holds that it can't get through the Senate. On the other hand, not voting for it guarantees offending Congressional leadership and the President. On this basis I'd be very surprised if the Democrats cannot line up the needed votes.

Next week I'll discuss what happens after Waxman-Markey.

25 June 2009


NPR has a story on The Breakthrough Institute (where I am a senior fellow) and their views on climate change. It is worth a listen (here) or read (here).

TBI has the best and most comprehensive analyses of the Waxman-Markey Bill available and you can see those here.

24 June 2009

You are Invited to an Upcoming Talk at Berkeley

The Efficiency Illusion and other Energy Myths: Why Cap & Trade Won't Work -- and What Can"

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado, Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

Wednesday, July 1st, 6:00-7:30PM
Giannini Hall Room 141 (campus map)
As climate policy gets debated in Washington and around the world, Roger Pielke, Jr., an expert on science and environmental policy, will argue that the current climate policy framework rests on faulty assumptions about energy efficiency and the decarbonization of the global economy. Pielke is lead author of a controversial 2008 Nature article, "Dangerous Assumptions," which argued that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based its policy analysis on highly optimistic assumptions about future efficiency gains and also missed the recarbonization of the global economy, due largely to the turn back to coal led by China and India.

Pielke will argue that such flawed assumptions lead many analyses to routinely double-count emissions reductions achieved through energy efficiency, and ignore the actual history of technological change, making the challenge of decarbonization seem easier and less costly. The result, he argues, is that the policies we are debating are far from up to the challenge of stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels now deemed acceptable. Pielke will lay out an alternative framework for action on climate change, one focused on technology innovation, adaptation, and decarbonization of the global economy.

23 June 2009

RSS Issues

Thanks to those of you who emailed -- I think that the RSS issues are worked out. If not let me know. You may need to resubscribe. Thanks!

21 June 2009

Schmidt et al. 2009 Replication of Pielke et al. 2008

Silvio Schmidt and colleagues have a new paper in press that replicates our hurricane loss normalization work in Pielke et al. 2008 (PDF). Here is a comparison of the two normalizations over the Schmidt et al. period of record (which begins in 1950, ours dates to 1900), which should give additional confidence in the fidelity of our work, as Schmidt et al. use a different dataset for losses (Munich Re NatCat) and a different approach to normalization. As you can see, over the period of record the differences are minimal (in fact the statistical analysis in Schmidt et al. turns out identically if you use the results from Pielke et al.).

After a detailed look at the data they conclude quite properly:
There is no evidence yet of any trend in tropical cyclone losses that can be attributed directly to anthropogenic climate change.
They do speculate about a link based on the conclusion of IPCC 2007:
The IPCC states that humans have, “more likely than not”, contributed to the trend towards intense tropical cyclone activity since the 1970s. Therefore, any increase in losses could, more likely than not, be partly related to anthropogenic climate change. . . we advance the premise that if losses are affected by natural climate fluctuations, they are also likely to be affected by additional global warming due to anthropogenic climate change. This premise is supported by indications that the intensity of tropical cyclones is affected by anthropogenic climate change.
This is a valuable paper not just because it replicates our work (but of course that is nice to see). The authors also do a nice job clearly distinguishing what can be shown with available data versus what remains in the area of speculation.

19 June 2009

Review of The Honest Broker in Policy Sciences

The journal Policy Sciences has published a review of The Honest Broker by Kevin Curry and Susan Clark. It is a long and thoughtful review, and very positive. Here are a few excerpts:
Roger Pielke Jr. offers a way to sort through the complicated relationships between scientists and decision making. His perceptive, clearly worded, and engaging book offers both important academic insights and a model of professional practice for anyone wishing to engage effectively with politics and policy.
Curry and Clark engage several earlier reviews of THB, and clearly present my position with respect to advocacy by scientists:
Some reviewers (e.g., Rosenberg 2007; Skolnikoff 2008) disapprove of Pielke’s criticism of issue advocacy, but they seem to miss the crux of his argument. Pielke does not argue against issue advocacy. In fact, he argues that all four of the roles he describes for scientists are "critically important and necessary in a functioning democracy" (p. 7). Pielke’s argument is simply that scientists should clearly identify when they are acting as issue advocates. They should not obscure their goal and standpoint by using the assumptions of the linear model of science, or assume value consensus is present when it is not, or claim to be concerned with intelligence when they are actually concerned with promotion.
The review offers some criticism as well, and it is well taken:
In our view, the biggest shortcoming of The Honest Broker is its failure to develop the role of the honest broker more fully, especially in terms of the common interest concept as explicated by Lasswell and McDougal (1992). Pielke notes that very few people fulfill the role of the honest broker, and he clearly advocates for more attention to it. He notes that the role will most likely be played by a committee of scientists and provides examples: the now-defunct U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the European Enquete Commissions, and the Foresight process in the United Kingdom. We would have preferred a more thorough discussion of these cases, along with specific examples of how these organizations improved decision making by helping to clarify and secure common interest outcomes. We also expected suggestions for how committees of honest brokers might be integrated into our existing political and legal landscape. The lack of specificity here is unfortunate, because the role of the honest broker seems consistent with the commitment of the policy sciences to freedom through insight, knowledge integration, and an explicit engagement with values. Our guess is that the role of the honest broker is the role many policy scientists would choose for themselves.
You can buy a copy of The Honest Broker here.

18 June 2009

UK Climate Change Act Paper Now Published

My paper evaluating the UK Climate Change Act with Environmental Research Letters is out today (download it for free here). The Institute of Physics in London has issued a press release which I reproduce below. In coming weeks and months I'll discuss the significance of the analysis for evaluations of proposed US climate policies and upcoming international negotiations in Copenhagen. Meantime, comments welcomed.

British Climate Act “failed before it started”

Institute of Physics News

18 June 2009

The British Climate Act is flawed and comprised of unrealistic and unobtainable targets, writes US academic Roger A Pielke Jr, in a journal paper published today, 18 June, 2009, in IOP Publishing’s 'Environmental Research Letters'.

As Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, points out, no one knows how fast a major economy can decarbonise and policy therefore needs to focus less on targets and timetables that no one can be sure of reaching, and more on the tangible process for achieving goals such as the development of clean technologies that will be crucial in the decarbonising process.

In order to decrease carbon emissions, countries essentially only have four options: reducing their population, cutting back economic activity, taking positive steps to increase energy efficient technologies, or expanding the role of less carbon intensive energy sources.

Recognizing that no climate policy will focus on depopulation or reducing wealth generation, Pielke argues that setting objectives for efficiency gains in specific economic sectors and for the expansion of carbon-free energy supplies would be a first step in the right direction to make the UK a world-leader in the actual practice of carbon policy.

Looking at the targets set in the Act, the UK government would have to achieve annual decarbonisation rates in excess of 4% or 5% over coming decades, counteracting expected population and economic growth.

To be on pace to achieve these targets, the UK would have to become as carbon efficient as France by no later than 2015, which would require a level of effort comparable to the building and implementation of about 30 new nuclear power plants in the UK in the next 6 years. It took France about 20 years to decarbonise to its current level, largely due to its investment in nuclear energy.

As Pielke concludes, “Given the magnitude of the challenge and the pace of action, it would not be too strong a conclusion to suggest that the UK Climate Act has failed even before it has gotten started.”

“It seems likely that the Climate Change Act will have to be revisited by Parliament or simply ignored by policy makers. Achievements of its targets does not appear a realistic option.”

Seeing as the Climate Change Committee is not expected to present a specific decarbonisation policy roadmap until December this year, practical action under the Climate Change Act is unlikely to begin before 2010 at the earliest.

A Review of Anthony Giddens New Book

In the July issue of Nature Reports: Climate Change I have a review of Anthony Giddens new book, which is titled The Politics of Climate Change. Here is how it begins:

Though a widely respected and prolific sociologist, Anthony Giddens is best known as the brains behind the 'third-way' politics of the United Kingdom's New Labour movement in the late 1990s, during which he became something of a guru to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Giddens sought to forge a new kind of politics that moved beyond the traditional debates of the political left and right. In his latest book, The Politics of Climate Change, Giddens applies his third-way thinking and considerable intellect to climate change, to generally good effect.
You can read the entire review online here.

17 June 2009

More on the CCSP Report

I took a look at the public review comments on the CCSP Synthesis report released yesterday that were submitted to the CCSP (here in PDF) earlier this year and there are frequent mentions of my work and how it is at odds with the statements in the report. The following comment from Chip Knappenberger and CCSP response are telling (from p. 299).

Citation 27 is to Mills, Science, 2005. The Mills paper has come under intensive criticism, largely from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr—another expert in the field of disaster losses. Pielke Jr. published a response to the Mills paper in Science.

It is inconceivable that the authors of the CCSP report don’t know of the Pielke Jr. criticisms (after all Evan Mills is listed as a CCSP author) and yet it is equally inconceivable that knowing of them, that absolutely no reference is made to them.

The fact is, is that Pielke Jr. concluded “Presently, there is simply no scientific basis for claims that the escalating cost of disasters is the result of anything other than increasing societal vulnerability.” (Pielke Jr., Science, 2005). This is precisely the opposite of the CCSP conclusion. How can such criticism be completely ignored?
CCSP Repsonse (I wonder who wrote it -- I'd bet that is was a particular guy at LLNL, given that its statements that come right out of Mills's response to my Science letter):
The referenced paper is a synthesis of a large literature, and also parallels conclusions from IPCC/TAR/WG2/Ch8 (which should also be cited at this juncture). The referenced criticism took the form of a brief letter from Pielke Jr. to Science, which was answered in detail in the same issue by Mills. It would be beneficial to cite this exchange of letters, and, space allowing, draw out the many factors not accounted for in simplified “normalization” procedures. Considerable effort has been made to normalize historic offices (sic) upward to account for factors such as inflation, but little has been done to quantify the countervaling (sic) factors of improved construction practices, early warning systems, and other adaptive responses that reduce losses.

The referenced exchange of letters in Science has been cited.
Of course, as I documented earlier, in the final version the CCSP did cite my response to Mills to support a claim that I never made. Some improvement. Mills' response to my critique of his 2005 commentary in Science provides no data and does not directly address the substance of my critique, which is grounded in various peer-reviewed studies that I cite ( I provided a critique of Mills' response at the time). Mills' response does have this interesting statement (PDF):
Assuming that only socioeconomic factors— rather than rising emissions—influence losses may yield ill-founded policy recommendations that focus exclusively on adapting to climate change while dismissing energy policy as a legitimate part of the toolkit for responding.
You could not ask for a clearer statement of political necessity driving the need for certain scientific conclusions. The CCSP reports were supposed to summarize the peer-reviewed literature, not to serve as a place to air out unfounded critiques that have never appeared in the peer reviewed literature in order to protect favored policy choices. If Mills thinks that "contervailing forces" hide a greenhouse gas trend in the losses, then he should do the work necessary to support that claim and then publish it. Of course, we have considered that fact in our work on hurricanes and floods, e.g., for hurricanes because the trend in losses matches the trend in hurricane landfall events there is no bias introduced by adaptation, as this would have shown a trend in normalized losses differing from the trend in geophysical events. Regardless, the place for arguing about science is in the peer reviewed literature, not behind the scenes in an assessment report. If there are in fact different points of view to be found in the literature, they a good assessment will report on these differences. In this case, the peer-reviewed literature is unambiguous. Whomever wrote this section just didn't happen to like what it said. Further, if it was Mills writing about his own work it shows how incestuous the process is.

More broadly, there are dozens of peer-reviewed studies not referenced by the CCSP relevant to this subject. The focus on a single study, not peer reviewed and written by an author of the CCSP, should be of concern to anyone, regardless of their views on climate policy and politics.

Systematic Misrepresentation of the Science of Disasters and Climate Change

Let me start this post by stating that I am a strong supporter of action on both adaptation and mitigation policies related to human-caused climate change. At the same time I have seen some disturbing things take place in the scientific community. And it is just my luck that the area where I have observed the most shenanigans is the area in which I have considerable expertise -- disasters and climate change.

This post summarizes and reviews the systematic misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change in major science assessments, partly for my own purposes, but also to explain that there is a pattern of behavior taking place in this community that should be of concern to anyone who cares about the integrity of science, regardless of their position on climate policies and politics.

What I document below includes the following:

1. Reliance on non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer reviewed literature.

2. Reliance on and featuring non-peer reviewed work conducted by the authors of the assessment reports.

3. Repeated reliance on a small number of secondary of tertiary sources, repeatedly cited such that intellectual provenance is lost.

The questions that I have are, does anyone in the mainstream scientific or media communities actually care? Or is climate change politics so important that we cannot simultaneously worry about standards of scientific integrity?

1. In 2001 the IPCC Third Assessment Working Group II report cautiously claimed in its Chapter 8 that the upward trend in the costs of disasters had a climate component, and supported this assertion by referencing a non-peer reviewed report by Munich Re published in 2000 surveying natural disasters in 1999. That Munich Re report compared disasters in the 1970s to the 1990s and only speculated on issues of attribution. I provided a critique in the following paper, based on a talk I gave at the Smithsonian in 2006 sponsored by the National Research Council.
Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2006. Seventh Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture: Disasters, Death, and Destruction: Making Sense of Recent Calamities, Oceanography, Special Issue: The Oceans and Human Health, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 138-147. (PDF)
The caution in the report did not stop the head of the IPCC John Houghton from making statements about the attribution of increasing disaster losses to human-caused climate change when testifying before the US Congress, or his successor Rajendra Pachauri from making similar statements in 2005 (both referenced in the paper linked above).

Coincidentally, a lead author of the IPCC Chapter 8 that featured Munich Re's non-peer reviewed work included Gerhard Berz, who worked for Munich Re.

2. In 2005 Science published a commentary by Evan Mills, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, asserting that,
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment, climate change has played a role in the rising costs of natural disasters.
And Mills attributed at least part of the increase to "anthropogenic climate change."

What source did Mills use to support this claim? Why the IPCC Third Assessment Report Chapter 8 discussed above, which traces its sourcing to Munich Re, 2000. Mills also cites the Munich Re 2000 reported cited by the IPCC, giving the impression that there are multiple sources of support for his claim (even worse he cites a third report that also relies on Munich Re, 2000). Mills commentary is a fact checker's nightmare. Mills commentary is important because it shows up later and repeatedly as offering support for claims of attribution, even though it only offers a secondary and tertiary citation. Presumably the fact that it was in Science in 2005 gives it greater standing than a 2000 Munich Re report.

3. In 2006, the Stern Review report cherrypicked a single non-peer reviewed paper (Muir-Wood 2006) from a workshop I held and used it to generate an estimate of escalating damages due to greenhouse gas emissions. I examined the Stern Review report in depth and found that it also mysteriously inflated damages by an order of magnitude. I summarized the issues with the Stern Review in a peer reviewed paper:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Mistreatment of the economic impacts of extreme events in the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 17, pp. 302-310. (PDF)
In that paper, I conclude:
This brief critique of a small part of the Stern Review finds that the report has dramatically misrepresented literature and understandings on the relationship of projected climate changes and future losses from extreme events in developed countries, and indeed globally.
Richard Tol found it surprising (PDF) that Stern ignored relevant peer reviewed work and engaged instead in a selective reading of the available literature. Despite being unchallenged, my critique is ignored.

4. In 2007 the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report and -- surprise, surprise -- it also relied on the single non-peer reviewed Muir-Wood (2006) study cherrypicked from our Hohenkammer workshop as the single study to highlight in its review of this topic.

Further, the IPCC included a graph attempting to show how closely temperature anomalies match up with disaster losses, using a scaling of the axes to suggest a relationship where none has been shown in the peer-reviewed literature. Again it relies on Muir-Wood (2005).

Coincidentally, Robert Muir-Wood, of Risk Management Solutions, Inc., was an author of the chapter of the IPCC report that selectively highlighted his own non-peer reviewed work.

5. The US Climate Change Science Program systematically and repeatedly misrepresented the science of disasters and climate change.

First, the CCSP US extremes report miscited several of my papers in support of claims that they did not make and relied on Mills 2005 as the definitive source on this topic. The disasters and climate change section of this CCSP report is also a fact checker's nightmare.

Second the CCSP draft Synthesis report and final Synthesis report relied on non-peer reviewed work by Evan Mills and ignored relevant peer reviewed research showing different results (in fact all peer reviewed research points in the same direction on this subject).

Coincidentally, Evan Mills was an author of the CCSP Synthesis Report that highlights his own non-peer reviewed work. Mills also apparently consults for companies with an interest in climate policies, and yet this was not dsclosed by the CCSP.


The information above documents a pattern of misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change in the Stern Review report, the reports of the IPCC, an the US CCSP. The pattern of misrepresentation has three common characteristics:

1. Reliance on non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer reviewed literature.

2. Reliance on and featuring non-peer reviewed work conducted by the authors of the assessment reports.

3. Repeated reliance on a small number of secondary of tertiary sources, repeatedly cited such that intellectual provenance is lost.

The evidence presented here, and in great detail via the links, is unambiguous and unequivocal in support of my claims. Though if you would like to refute them with evidence, please do so in the comments. Until the climate science community cleans up its act on this subject it will continue to give legitimate opportunities for opponents to action to criticize the climate science community.

16 June 2009

Obama's Phil Cooney and the New CCSP Report

Imagine if an industry-funded government contractor had a hand in writing a major federal report on climate change. And imagine if that person used his position to misrepresent the science, to cite his own non-peer reviewed work, and to ignore relevant work in the peer-reviewed literature. There would be an outrage, surely . . .

The Obama Administration has re-released a report (PDF) first issued in draft form by the Bush Administration last July (still online PDF). The substance of the report is essentially the same as last year's version, with a bit more professionalism in the delivery. For instance, the photo-shopped picture of a flood appears to be removed and the embarrassing executive summary has been replaced by something more appropriate.

This post is about how the report summarizes the issue of disasters and climate change, including several references to my work, which is misrepresented. This post is long and detailed, which is necessary to support my claims. But stick with it, or skip to the end if you've seen the details before (and long-time readers will have seen them often), there is a surprise at the end.

Here is the relevant paragraph of the CCSP report, found on p. 105:
While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses,346 these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events.344,347 For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars. Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations. They also often fail to account for the vagaries of natural cycles and inflation adjustments, or to normalize for countervailing factors such as improved pre- and post-event loss prevention (such as dikes, building codes, and early warning systems).348,349
Lets take it sentence by sentence.

Sentence #1
While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses,346 these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events.344,347
Reference 346 is to a paper I co-authored:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 29-42. (PDF)
In that paper we did indeed conclude that economic and demographic factors have contributed to losses related to hurricanes. In fact, we concluded that these factors accounted for all of the increase in hurricane losses over the period of record:
The lack of trend in twentieth century normalized hurricane losses is consistent with what one would expect to find given the lack of trends in hurricane frequency or intensity at landfall.
The CCSP report however, says the opposite, that these factors do not explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events. To support this claim they provide two citations. Lets consider each in turn, first #344:
Mills, E., 2005: Insurance in a climate of change. Science, 309(5737), 1040-1044.
If you go to Mills, and I have, you will find that it is a commentary that does not offer any new research. Instead, its assertion that societal factors cannot explain the increase in disaster losses is based on a further reference; here is what Mills says:
Global weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and faster than non-weather-related events
You will see in my comprehensive discussion of Mills that he relied on two sources to support this claim. The first source actually refers to the second, so there is only one source. That one source is a 2000 Munich Re report, which for reasons I explain in the previous link does not actually support its claim.

But more problematically, why is a report characterized by Science Advisor John Holdren as being the "most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive" analysis relying on a secondary, non-peer source citing another non-peer reviewed source from 2000 to support a claim that a large amount of uncited and more recent peer reviewed literature says the opposite about?

The second citation referred to is #347:
Rosenzweig, C., G. Casassa, D.J. Karoly, A. Imeson, C. Liu, A. Menzel, S. Rawlins, T.L. Root, B. Seguin, and P. Tryjanowski, 2007: Assessment of observed changes and responses in natural and managed systems. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, M.L., O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, pp. 79-131.
Which is of course Chapter 1 of the 2007 IPCC AR4 WGII report. That report relied on a single study to make the following claim (at p. 110):
A global catalogue of catastrophe losses was constructed(MuirWood et al., 2006), normalised to account for changes that have resulted from variations in wealth and the number and value of properties located in the path of the catastrophes . . . Once the data were normalised, a small statistically significant trend was found for an increase in annual catastrophe loss since 1970 of 2% per year.
Muir-Wood (2006) is of course the white paper prepared in advance of the Hohenkammer Workshop on disaster losses that I organized along with Peter Hoeppe (of Munich Re) in 2006. I called the IPCC out on this cherrypicking/misrepresentation when the report was first released. Even though Muir-Wood et al. (2006) found no trends from 1950, and more importantly the Hohenkammer Workshop resulted in a consensus finding that such attribution was not possible, the Muir-Wood et al. study has been cherry-picked by the IPCC and before that the Stern Review and now, indirectly, again by the CCSP.

So to summarize: sentence one is not supported by the citations provided, which lead in both cases to selectively chosen non-peer revied sources, and the citations that are peer reviewed on this subject come to an opposite conclusion and are ignored.

Sentence #2
For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars.
That figure appears to the right and its problems are many.

1. The figure includes a major earthquake and 9/11.
2. The figure and the text neglect the effects of increasing wealth.
3. Published peer reviewed studies show no long-term trends in flood or hurricane losses once adjusted for societal change, yet those data are included.

Sentences #3 and #4
Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations. They also often fail to account for the vagaries of natural cycles and inflation adjustments, or to normalize for countervailing factors such as improved pre- and post-event loss prevention (such as dikes, building codes, and early warning systems).348,349
I have to think that that the third sentence is referring to at least some of my work. Places that have been looked at include the United States for floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes (I'll ignore other studies outside the US since this CCSP report is referring only to the US). So what does that leave remaining? Not much.

The fourth sentence cannot be referring to my work, since it explicitly considers variability, inflation, and mitigation. Strangely enough that sentence is supported (reference #348) by a letter to Science (PDF) that I wrote on the Mills (2005) paper. In that letter I stated:
Presently, there is simply no scientific basis for claims that the escalating cost of disasters is the result of anything other than increasing societal vulnerability.
So it is strange to see it cited suggesting something that it does not.

Finally, #349 goes to a new paper by Mills which can be found here in PDF. Mills 2009 offers nothing related to the subject of this sentence, so it is strange to see it cited as a source here.

How can we explain how such a patently bad paragraph full of misrepresentations appeared in a U.S. government report?

One answer might lie in the fact that Evan Mills was a co-author of the report (p. 159). Do you think that had anything to do with it? His list of consulting clients is positively Phil Cooney-esque. Here are a few businesses and organizations that he lists under Consulting & Advising in his resume:
* Armstrong/Energyn (US)
* Barakat, Howard & Chamberlin, Inc. (US)
* Better Energy Systems (UK)
* Ceres (US)
* CMC Energy Services (US)
* Integrated Process Technologies (US)
* Investment Research, Inc. (US)
* Teton Energy Partners (US)
So a person responsible for misrepresenting science in a government report has ties and presumably financial interests with companies that have an interest in climate policy outcomes? No, couldn't be. Could it?

For those wanting a more rounded picture of extremes in the United States, here is what an earlier CCSP report concluded about extreme events in the United States, but which was uncited by this new CCSP report in this paragraph:
1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.

2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation (pp. 46-50, pp. 130-131), there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms

5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.

6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

15 June 2009

The Black Box of Risk

I have an op-ed in Tuesday's Financial Post (Canada) titled, "The Black Box of Risk." Here is the conclusion:
Efforts to create or impose certainty when certainty does not exist can be dangerous to our welfare. Consequently we have to be ever vigilant that our ability to engage in sophisticated modelling does not outstrip our ability to effectively use the results of those models in making decisions.
Read the whole thing here.

GHF Responds

A few weeks ago I took the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) to task (here and here and here) for making scientifically unsupportable assertions about the role of climate change in causing death, which it estimated at 315,000 per year. The Wall Street Journal, which featured my comments in an editorial on June 6 has published a letter in response by Walter Fust of the GHF, which I reprint here:
Regarding your editorial " 'Worse Than Fiction' "(June 6) about our recent publication, "Human Impact Report: Climate Change -- The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis": Unfortunately, this issue of climate change is not going away, however much we all wish it would.

The report is clearly controversial, but it's also well researched and very serious, despite Prof. Roger Pielke's rather alarmist language. Virtually the entire study is an agglomeration of existing statistics and models, updated where possible in most cases with the experts who developed them.

The number that has generated the most headlines is that some 300,000 deaths per year are attributable to climate change. The number is derived mainly from a version of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Burden of Disease model, which recently figured in an article in the British medical journal "The Lancet." Some 7.5 million people die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. These are all highly climate-sensitive diseases. Most of the deaths are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where temperature increases and water shortages can be more pronounced than, say, in Europe or North America. The WHO estimates the climate change role at around 4%, hence 300,000. To this we add annual losses due to extreme events like floods and cyclones, bringing an extra 15,000 to the death toll. This is clearly an estimate, but it's a supportable one. We make no claim that the Human Impact Report is the definitive scientific study on this topic. It's a start. More must follow. Climate change may not be the largest humanitarian concern today, but it is the fastest growing.

Our intention is not to try to divert funds from treating diseases like malaria but exactly the opposite. Climate change has remained silent, aggravating other problems that affect human society. Additional resources need to be directed toward tackling these problems precisely because of the influence climate change is now having on them. But the role of climate change in causing the problems must also be addressed.

It is fortunate that Kofi Annan has become so engaged in helping bring the issue to the forefront.

Walter Fust
CEO/Director General
Global Humanitarian Forum


Over at Real Climate, AP reporter Seth Borenstein calls out Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt for misrepresenting interviews he did with each of them. Blogs are useful for holding the media accountable, but the directionality can work the other way as well.

Sea Level Rise Constrained?

Nature Geoscience has a new review paper out on sea level rise. Based on a review of the literature, it concludes that global average sea level rise is unlikely to exceed one meter by 2100:
As the present warming trend is expected to continue, global mean sea level will continue to rise. Here we review recent insights into past sea-level changes on decadal to millennial timescales and how they may help constrain future changes. We find that most studies constrain global mean sea-level rise to less than one metre over the twenty-first century, but departures from this global mean could reach several decimetres in many areas.
A search of Google News for the lead author's name -- Glenn Milne -- shows no news stories on the article.

14 June 2009

Target 1939: A Case for Absolute Baselines

There has been some occasional chatter about the use of relative baselines in setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions, with some folks arguing for using a 1990 baseline and others suggesting 2005. How silly. How about just using absolute baselines? The following examples use carbon dioxide emissions.

If the world wants to achieve an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels this really means returning to 1939 levels of emissions.

For the US, a 17% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels (such as in the Waxman-Markey Bill) represents a return to about 1990 levels. An 80% reduction represents a return to 1905 levels.

For the United Kingdom, a reduction of 34% from 1990-(its 2022 interim target) represents a return to carbon dioxide emissions of 1896 and an 80% reduction (its 2050 target) represents a return to emissions of 1849. (Wow!)

You can calculate other absolute baselines with the dataset here.

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13 June 2009

Occasionally Asked Questions About Roger Pielke, Jr.

Updated February 11, 2015

Q: Who are you?

I am currently a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado. At CU, I am also a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and am director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (also from 2001-2007). Before coming to CU in 2001, I spent 8 years as a staff scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in their Environmental and Societal Impacts Group (which no longer exists). I have a B.A. in mathematics, an M.A. in public policy and a Ph.D. in political science, all from the University of Colorado. In 2007 I was on sabbatical at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization (now called the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society) at Oxford University. 

Q: Who are you not?

I am not Roger Pielke, Sr., who is my father. He is a refreshingly original, consistently brilliant, incredibly productive, and widely respected atmospheric scientist, recognized as one of the ISI most-cited geoscientists, among countless other accolades. He spent 25 years at Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, for a time serving as the Colorado State Climatologist, and he is now retired from the faculty at CSU. To further confuse things, he is now affiliated with the University of Colorado/CIRES where he spends some post-retirement research. His email is pielkesr@cires.colorado.edu.

Q: How do you pronounce your name?

Pell-Key. Though I'll respond to Peel-Key. And if I am in Germany it is Peel-Ka.

Q: What do you know?

I can claim some expertise in the following topics:

*expert advice, evidence-based policy
*science and scientists in policy and politics
*use and misuse of predictions in decision making
*societal impacts of natural hazards, disasters
*adaptation, mitigation and geoengineering policy related to climate change
*technology assessment and innovation policy
*science and technology policy
*United States space policy
*governance of sport (e.g., FIFA, "sex testing," doping, NCAA, etc.)

I know an awful lot less about everything else, but that ignorance didn't stop me from occasionally commenting on this blog.

Q: You often comment on policy issues, so what is your political orientation?

By some combination of nature and nurture I am an unreformed pragmatist, an unabashed policy wonk, and trained as a policy scientist. On issues that I gained some expertise in, I've seen them become far less black-and-white in my own mind than I had once thought they were when I knew less about them. Thus, I am very cautious about issues that I know little about where solutions or positions seem totally obvious. The world is a complicated place. The most ironic thing about learning is the realization of how little you actually know. On the traditional left-right spectrum of American politics my views are probably most consonant with those of the “Blue Dog” Democrats who argue that “the stale extreme left vs. right approach requires a breath of fresh air.” If you want to know what I think about things that I have some expertise in, just have a look at the blog and my publications and you'll get a pretty good sense of my views on particular subjects. If you have questions, just ask me.

Q: Are your peer-reviewed publications online?

Yes. Almost all of my peer reviewed publications can be found online here. If you are looking for something and can't find it just send me an email: pielke@colorado.edu.

My H-Index is 48, on February 11, 2015, according to Google Scholar.

Q: Where can I find your opinion pieces?

I have published, sometimes with colleagues, various op-eds and other opinion pieces in the Fiancial Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, The New Republic, the Rocky Mountain News, Issues in Science and Technology, Science and Nature, among other places. These perspectives can be found online here. If you are looking for something and can't find it just send me an email: pielke@colorado.edu. Starting in 2005 I became a regular columnist for Bridges, the quarterly publication of the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC. In 2014, I joined Nate Silver's 538 for about 10 minutes, and then moved on to Sporting Intelligence.

Q: What editorial boards do you serve on?

I am on the editorial boards of: Minerva, Darwin, Environmental Science an Policy, Natural Hazards Review, Policy Sciences and Water Resources Research.

Q: What other professional affiliations do you have?

I have been a Senior Fellow of The Breakthrough Institute since 2008. I also have an appointments as a Research Fellow, Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University, Visiting Senior Fellow, Mackinder Programme, London School of Economics and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.

Q: Who funds your research?

Since being at CU, I have received research funding from NSF, National Weather Service, and NOAA. If you'd like to sponsor my work (hey, it can't hurt to ask) please contact me (pielke@colorado.edu).

Q: Do you give talks and lectures?

I have given many lectures at many universities around the world. I am also occasionally asked to give lectures to museums, companies, and industry associations.

Q: How can I contact you?

Email is always the easiest way to get in touch with me: rpielkejr@gmail.com. Other contact information is as follows:

Roger Pielke, Jr.
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research
University of Colorado
1333 Grandview Ave, Campus Box 488
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0488
303-735-1576 (fax)

Q: How did you come to be an academic?

My parents, both now retired, were educators, so I guess it is in the genes. I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia where my dad was on the faculty of the University of Virginia. I remember fondly frequently going to work with him and spending the day on campus. Even after spending my $1 allocation for video games, checking out the murals in Clark Hall, and hoping to catch a glimpse of Ralph Sampson or Jeff Lamp, I found plenty of time to wander around the different departments (astronomy was by far the coolest) and lose myself reading books in Alderman library. Even today I find any university campus a pretty damn cool place to explore.

Growing up I always expected to be a scientist of one sort or another -- astrophysics was a leading candidate for a long time. While an undergraduate I spent several years working at NCAR doing basic FORTRAN programming for their Atmospheric Chemistry Division. This was during the years of the ozone hole negotiations so the science was never far from policy. In 1991 during graduate school, I followed Rad Byerly (a “lapsed physicist, recovering congressional staffer”), who was then at CU directing a space and geosciences policy center, to Washington, DC when he was appointed to be Chief of Staff for the House Science Committee, then under the leadership of Congressman George E. Brown (D-CA). I was an intern for Rad and had a summer that cemented my shift from the pursuit of a science career to one focused on science policy. I returned to Colorado and decided to follow through in my policy studies and earned a doctorate in political science. I immediately thereafter had a chance to work for Mickey Glantz at NCAR as a post-doc, and that position turned into a staff scientist job, and I stayed there until I was recruited to CU in 2001. It all looks straightforward looking backwards; it seemed a lot more uncertain as it was unfolding.

Q: Do you do anything besides work?

Yes, lots. I am married with three children. I am easily entertained by any activity involving a ball of any sort -- playing or watching. In particular I am an avid soccer player and fan. When I was in high school I played for Arsenal. Here is a picture of me back in the day. OK, it was the Fort Collins Arsenal, and that picture is actually somewhat more interpretative than historically accurate.

Q: Where can I find a short bio?

A short bio is online here.

Q: Do you have any photos online?

Here are a few photos we've collected for various professional purposes.

Q: How about a CV?

If you are interested in a complete CV just send me an email: rpielkejr@gmail.com.