30 October 2009

Tom Fuller is Doing a Survey

Tom Fuller has set up a survey on various aspects of the climate issue. Please take a moment to participate. Here are his ground rules:
First, let's start with the ground rules. Your participation is completely anonymous, and no attempt will be made to contact you for any reason as a result of your participation or anything you write in this survey.

Second, this survey is not intended to be used as an opinion poll or a census, and will not be used as such. We are not trying to find out how many people 'believe' or 'disbelieve' in global warming. Our purpose is to try and find out if there are areas of agreement on possible policy initiatives going forward
Here is where you can find the survey.

Important New Paper on North Atlantic Hurricanes

A very important paper was published today by Chen et al. in the open-access journal Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Science (of the EGU) titled, "Quantifying changes of wind speed distributions in the historical record of Atlantic tropical cyclones" (PDF). The paper should go some way toward resolving disputes about the behavior of hurricanes in the North Atlantic, as it provides compelling evidence of a bias in the historical record due to observational practices. For instance, the paper finds that no Category 5 hurricane was observed in the North Atlantic until 1924, observing that "if the average frequency of Category 5 TCs during 1924–2008 were to be representative of the entire record, there should have been about 28 Category 5 TCs during the period 1851– 1923." The paper also provides (once again) strong confirming evidence supporting our work on the relative role of societal changes in the economic record of U.S. hurricane losses.

Here is an excerpt as related to that last point:
Focusing on the past six decades, we observe no sustained upward trends in wind speed distributions (Figs. 1 and 3), the mean wind speed at landfall or the annual frequency of occurrence of landfalling segments (Fig. 8). (Note that this annual frequency is specific to landfalling segments and different from the annual frequency of landfalling events since some events have multiple landfalling segments, e.g. in 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in both South Florida and Louisiana.) This being the case, the dramatic increases in total economic and insured losses from TCs, which have been manifest over the past six decades, indicates that the increasing losses must be attributed to the factors other than wind speed alone. This is in accord with recent studies (Pielke, 2005; Pielke et al., 2008; Crompton and McAneney, 2008), which demonstrate the importance of demographic changes in driving the increasing economic cost of hurricane losses.
The paper concludes as follows:
The quality of observational data is central to the ongoing debate between a warming climate and consequences for TC frequency and intensities. Our analyses show clear, anomalous differences in the wind speed distributions between the early historical period and the very recent six decades. While these differences cannot unequivocally exclude a possible Global Climate Change cause, we suggest that data quality issues are more plausible.

An enormous challenge lies ahead for recovering reliable wind estimates in the early historical record, especially for highly dynamic and short-lived extreme TCs. The counting of events by Saffir-Simpson Hurricane categories is determined by threshold wind speeds, and if the wind estimates are themselves unreliable, how can derivative statistics be trusted sufficiently for long-term trend analysis? It is timely to recognise that using the early historical record will inevitably involve some irreducible uncertainties and “fixing” these may not be possible and that more physically-based models are needed to help resolve the data impasse. Conclusions drawn from scientific and insurance applications using the inherently lower-quality components of the record should be treated with caution.
Find the paper here in PDF.

Roger Pielke Sr. is Sure Going to Like This

UPDATE: My father does indeed like this, he comments here.

For years my father has been arguing that:
. . . attempts to “control” the climate system, and to prevent a “dangerous intervention” into the climate system by humans that focuses just on CO2 and a few other greenhouse gases will necessarily be significantly incomplete, unless all of the other first order climate forcings are considered.
His views are now being robustly vindicated as a quiet revolution is occurring in climate science. Here is how PhysOrg reports on a study out today in Science by NASA's Drew Shindell and others:

According to Shindell, the new findings underscore the importance of devising multi-pronged strategies to address climate change rather than focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide. “Our calculations suggest that all the non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases together have a net impact that rivals the warming caused by carbon dioxide."

In particular, the study reinforces the idea that proposals to reduce methane may be an easier place for policy makers to start climate change agreements. “Since we already know how to capture methane from animals, landfills, and sewage treatment plants at fairly low cost, targeting methane makes sense,” said Michael MacCracken, chief scientist for the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C.

This research also provides regulators insight into how certain pollution mitigation strategies might simultaneously affect climate and air quality. Reductions of carbon monoxide, for example, would have positive effects for both climate and the public’s health, while reducing nitrogen oxide could have a positive impact on health but a negative impact on the climate.

“The bottom line is that the chemistry of the atmosphere can get hideously complicated,” said Schmidt. “Sorting out what affects climate and what affects air quality isn’t simple, but we’re making progress.”

Of note, Shindell et al. cautiously suggest that the entire framework of international climate policy may be based on an overly-simplistic view of the human effect on climate, by focusing on carbon dioxide equivalencies in radiative forcing (i.e.,g "global warming potential" or GWP), from their Science paper out today (emphasis added):
There are many limitations to the GWP concept (25). It includes only physical properties, and its definition is equivalent to an unrealistic economic scenario of no discounting through the selected time horizon followed by discounting to zero value thereafter. The 100-year time horizon conventionally chosen strongly reduces the influence of species that are short-lived relative to CO2. Additionally, GWPs assume that integrated global mean RF is a useful indicator of climate change. Although this is generally reasonable at the global scale, GWP does not take into account the rate of change, and it neglects that the surface temperature response to regionally distributed forcings depends on the location of the RF (26) and that precipitation and circulation responses may be even more sensitive to RF location (27). Along with their dependence on emission timing and location, this makes GWPs particularly ill-suited to very short-lived species such as NOx, SO2, or ammonia, although they are more reasonable for longer-lived CO. Inclusion of short-lived species in agreements alongside long-lived greenhouse gases is thus problematic (28, 29).
The Shindell et al. paper comes fast on the heels of a paper published a few weeks ago in PNAS by Molina et al. which argued similarly that a broader perspective is needed on the human role in altering climate. They write (emphasis added):
Efforts to limit CO2 emissions alone may not be sufficient to avoid or reduce the risk of DAI on a decadal time scale, including the risk of abrupt climate change from committed warming (8, 9). . . there is growing demand among governments and commentators for fast-action mitigation to complement cuts in CO2 emissions, including cuts in non-CO2 climate forcing agents, which together are estimated to be as much as 40–50% of positive anthropogenic radiative forcing (17, 18). . .

The 2008 Major Economies Forum Declaration calls for ‘‘urgent action’’ to strengthen the Montreal Protocol for climate protection (22). The 2009 G8 Leaders Declaration calls for ‘‘rapid action’’ on BC [black carbon] and pledges to ensure HFC reductions (23). The 2009 North American Leaders Declaration commits to phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol (24). The 2009 Arctic Council Tromsø Declaration urges ‘‘early actions’’ on short-lived climate forcers (25) including tropospheric ozone. A Nature editorial in July 2009, Time for early action, calls for ‘‘early action’’ on BC and methane, and on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol (26), and another in April 2009, Time to act, notes ‘‘short-term opportunities’’ to cut BC and methane (27). Wallack and Ramanathan call for action on BC and tropospheric ozone in their 2009 policy paper in Foreign Affairs to produce ‘‘rapid results’’ (28).
This recent research suggests that we must now be open to the possibility that there will not and cannot be a single policy approach to addressing the full spectrum of human influences on the climate system. The recognition of complexity may present an opportunity to move climate policy forward, by providing a justification for reconsidering the flawed (and some would say doomed) approach. My father has argued that (PDF),
. . . humans have an even greater effect on climate that is suggested by the IPCC. The human influence on climate is significant and multi-faceted.
As the community begins to realize these significant, multi-faceted and hideous complexities, it would not be a surprise to learn that a policy framework design 20 years ago is now somewhat out of step with current scientific understandings. The upshot is that as presently designed, international climate policy is both too complex and too simplistic. It is too simplistic because it is built upon a set of scientific perspectives on climate change that are increasingly seen as outdated and appropriate only for dealing with a narrow set of very important human influences -- long-lived greenhouse gases. It is too complex because in trying to deal with added complexity it has become unwieldy and clearly impractical from the standpoint of not just implementation but the politics of even reaching an agreement about implementation.

Climate policy can be improved by reconstructing climate policy from the bottom up. This process should begin by recognizing that no single policy instrument will ever deal with "climate change" (human caused or otherwise). An approach to climate policy that is decentralized and more focused in its elements will be better able to adjust as science evolves (and it will continue to evolve, to be sure) and allows for progress to be made incrementally along a set of parallel paths. The all-or-nothing approach to climate policy that dominates the present agenda is incapable of keeping pace with evolving scientific understandings as they relate to policy implementation, and from a pragmatic perspective, pretty much guarantees the "nothing" outcome.

As Molina et al. accurately point out in PNAS, there are already a large number of policies in place that might be considered as part of a multi-pronged approach to minimizing the human influence on climate. And it is certain that new policy vehicles will need to be developed. The most important short-term step that can be taken is, as my colleague Steve Rayner has persuasively argued to me, to reconceptualize the Framework Convention on Climate Change as a Framework Convention on Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases, which would signify a more focused approach. Dealing with long-lived greenhouse gases presents a daunting enough challenge by itself, and is impossible if burdened with other aspects of climate change. Once reconceptualized, climate policy can proceed upon multiple, parallel tracks, and thus have a greater chance to keep in step with evolving science and actually have a chance to make progress with respect to policy goals.

The Problem with Exaggerated and Inaccurate Claims

An interesting article in The Times (UK) today is notable because it quotes a number of prominent scientists critcizing the oft-used strategy of overhyping climate change in an effort to motivate action. The end result, as I have often argued inevitably follows such strategies, is a backlash. Here is an extended excerpt:
Exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the threat from global warming risk undermining efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and contain climate change, senior scientists have told The Times.

Environmental lobbyists, politicians, researchers and journalists who distort climate science to support an agenda erode public understanding and play into the hands of sceptics, according to experts including a former government chief scientist.

Excessive statements about the decline of Arctic sea ice, severe weather events and the probability of extreme warming in the next century detract from the credibility of robust findings about climate change, they said. Such claims can easily be rebutted by critics of global warming science to cast doubt on the whole field. They also confuse the public about what has been established as fact, and what is conjecture.

The experts all believe that global warming is a real phenomenon with serious consequences, and that action to curb emissions is urgently needed. They fear, however, that the contribution of natural climate variations towards events such as storms, melting ice and heatwaves is too often overlooked, and that possible scenarios about future warming are misleadingly presented as fact.

“I worry a lot that NGOs [non=governmental organisations] are very much in the habit of doing exactly that,” said Professor Sir David King, director of the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and a former government chief scientific adviser.

“When people overstate happenings that aren’t necessarily climate change-related, or set up as almost certainties things that are difficult to establish scientifically, it distracts from the science we do understand. The danger is they can be accused of scaremongering. Also, we can all become described as kind of left-wing greens.”

Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “It isn’t helpful to anybody to exaggerate the situation. It’s scary enough as it is.”

She was particularly critical of claims made by scientists and environmental groups two years ago, when observations showed that Arctic sea ice had declined to the lowest extent on record, 39 per cent below the average between 1979 and 2001.

This led Mark Serreze, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, to say that Arctic ice was “in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return”. Dr Pope said that while climate change was a factor, normal variations also played a part, and it was always likely that ice would recover a little in subsequent years, as had happened. It was the long-term downward trend that mattered, rather than the figures for any one year, she added. “The problem with saying that we’ve reached a tipping point is that when the extent starts to increase again — as it has — the sceptics will come along and say, ‘Well, it’s stopped’,” she said.

“This is why it’s important we’re as objective as we can be, and use all the available evidence to make clear what’s actually happening, because neither of those claims is right.” Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at the University of Oxford, said: “Some claims that were made about the ice anomaly were misleading. A lot of people said this is the beginning of the end of Arctic ice, and of course it recovered the following year and everybody looked a bit silly.”

Dr Allen said that predictions of how the world was likely to warm also needed to be framed carefully. While there was little doubt that the Earth would get hotter, there were still many uncertainties about the precise extent and regional impact.

“I think we need to be very careful about purporting to be able to supply very detailed and apparently accurate information about how the climate will be in 50 or 100 years’ time, when what we’re really giving is a possible future climate,” he added. “We’re not in a position to say how likely it is and what the chances are of it being different. There’s an understandable tendency to want to make climate change real for people and tell them what’s going to happen in their postcode, and that’s very dangerous because it gets beyond the level on which current models can operate.”

29 October 2009

Should Bulgaria Pay Brazil?

The BBC has an interesting article (thx DB!) on an east-west split within the EU on financing adaptation under a potential international climate agreement.
On climate change, the EU is keen to reach a united position ahead of December's United Nations Copenhagen summit, which aims to hammer out a new global climate treaty to replace the UN Kyoto Protocol.

Mr Reinfeldt called on EU leaders to agree a "fixed sum" that would open the way for other rich donors like the US and Japan to make similar aid pledges to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.

But just hours before the talks, Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said sharing the aid costs equally between all 27 EU nations was out of the question. "The burden-sharing proposal is not acceptable in its current form," Mr Bajnai said.

The Polish finance minister, Jacek Rostowski, told the BBC that nine Eastern European nations were ready to block a deal unless they were allowed to contribute according to their means, not to how much they pollute.

"There are countries there like Bulgaria and Latvia, which are considerably poorer than Brazil, and which would be expected to help Brazil in its adjustments to climate change," he said.
This is not the first time that eastern Europe has proven problematic in EU climate policy. But just wait until it comes time for the US to discuss how much money it is going to send overseas as a part of a climate deal. I can't imagine a situation in which this does not become a political lightning rod in the US -- regardless of the policy merits of doing so. (And to be perfectly clear about my views, I wrote in 1998 that the climate "winners" of the world have an obligation to help the climate "losers" - PDF - this post is about the politics of the issue.). Yvo de Boer, head of the UN FCCC helpfully explains that:
“Money, in fact, is the oil that encourages commitment and drives action”
Money also get the attention of voters, especially when you are reaching into their pockets to take it and then sending it to someone else. And in the United States, sending money overseas has never been politically popular, and I don't expect that it will be in the context either. I'll award a prize to the first person who can provide a quote from a U.S. elected official (POTUS, VP or anyone in Congress) advocating sending money overseas as part of a climate deal.

Blogs vs. MSM

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism provides some interesting data on the focus of attention on blogs and the mainstream media. The graph to the right shows the top issues for the week October 19 to 23. "global warming" is a top topic on the blogs, along with the "balloon boy" and a "cross dressing ban." Meanwhile the traditional media is focused on the economy, Afghanistan and health care.

There are of course plenty of ways to interpret this information, and my first reaction is that if your topic is sandwiched between the balloon boy and cross dressing, and nowhere to be seen in the MSM, then you've probably got a PR problem on your hands.

Pakistan's Coal

Speaking in Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encourages the exploitation of Pakistan's coal reserves:

There is no doubt that energy is at the heart of many of the economic problems that Pakistan faces – the unreliability, the erratic cross-structure, the failure to capture the full load that is produced. It’s just a lot of problems. And one of the things that Ambassador Holbrooke’s team has done is to do an in-depth study of what are the most difficult issues, but what could be addressed in a very systematic way.

So as I said earlier, we made our announcement yesterday. But I appreciate the kind of chicken-and-egg issue that you were talking about – the more access, the more economic development, the greater the energy challenges. And I think that there is no prohibition that I know of internationally, and I asked Minister Qureshi whether there had been any prohibition nationally under developing your coal deposits. Now, obviously, that is not the best thing for the climate, but everybody knows that. But many of your neighbors are producing coal faster than they can even talk about it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact that coal is going to remain a part of the energy load until we can transition to cleaner forms of energy.

So getting the resources to exploit your coal as opposed to being dependent upon imported energy is a choice for you to make, but it is certainly a choice that your neighbors have made. And that’s something that should attract foreign investment and should attract capital investment within your own country. And we don’t know how we’re going to proceed on the climate change issue. We’re working hard to come to some framework before Copenhagen, but coal will be, for the foreseeable future, part of the energy mix. And if you have these kinds of reserves, you should see the best and cleanest technology for their extraction and their use going forward.

Keeping Prediction in Perspective

Mike Hulme, Suraje Dessai and I have a piece out today in Nature Reports Climate Change titled Keeping Prediction in Perspective. Here is an excerpt, which references the figure above:

But evidence that climate predictions can provide precise and accurate guidance about how the long-term future may evolve is fundamentally lacking. Scientists and decision-makers alike should treat climate models not as truth machines to be relied upon for making adaptation decisions, but instead as one of a range of tools to explore future possibilities. A recent example2 from the Australian state of Victoria highlights the perils of relying on the predict-then-adapt mode of planning. In 2005, the Victoria government conducted a study to develop water-supply scenarios for its capital city Melbourne to 2020 under conditions of human-caused climate change. Before then, water planning in Victoria had been done with little consideration of the potential effects of climate change. The exercise resulted in a range of forecasts implying a 3-per-cent decline in storage under a 'mild' effects scenario and an 11-per-cent decline under a 'severe' scenario. The study concluded that the existing plan put into place in 2002 "provided [a] sufficient buffer ... across the full range of climate change and alternative demand forecasts considered in this case study" out to 2020.

If nature has a sense of humour, it is a vicious one. In 2006, water supply to Melbourne dropped to a record low level of 165 gigalitres (Gl), well below the 1913–2005 average of 588 Gl and the recently lower average of 453 Gl from 1996 to 2005 (Fig. 1). In the three years since the 2005 modelling study, the average water supply level was less than half the long-term average and well below the estimated outcome for the 'severe' scenario considered in the study.

Find the piece here. Comments welcomed.

Climate Whiplash

From NSIDC here at the University of Colorado in May, 2008:
Could the North Pole be ice free this melt season? Given that this region is currently covered with first-year ice, that seems quite possible.
From the UK Met Office this week:
. . . the first ice-free summer [is] expected to occur between 2060 and 2080. It is unlikely that the Arctic will experience ice-free summers by 2020.
Climate whiplash is a one good reason why efforts to motivate action should not be built on the backs of predictions.

Will William Connolley do the Right Thing?

In an earlier post I had speculated -- naively and prematurely -- that one small point of dispute between Steve McIntyre and Michael Mann in the wars over the Hockey Stick might be resolved empirically to the satisfaction of all. After all, if I, a mere political scientist can understand the debate and also (and more importantly) see that others far more qualified than I understand the debate and that they have decided to resolve it in favor on McIntyre, then I thought that -- aha -- here we have an issue that can be unambiguously resolved.

As Lee Corso might say, no so fast my friend. William Connolley, formerly of the British Antarctic Survey and the Real Climate blog, steps in and uses my assertion of a resolution as an opportunity to smear me (blogging on climate is a contact sport, fair enough), but more importantly to pledge allegiance to Michael Mann. What is clear from the subsequent discussion spanning several blogs, however, is that Connolley doesn't understand the substantive debate at all, but he does know where his tribal allegiances lie. This is unfortunate because it reinforces the perception that the "Hockey Team" (as they apparently self-named themselves) will never concede a point, never admit to fallibility, and never break ranks. I have been wondering if Connolley will "do the right thing" which in this case would be to familiarize himself with the facts of the matter and render an independent judgment on McIntyre's claims. Connolley shows some signs of moving in his thinking. How far will he go? Where it ends up is the uncomfortable position of admitting that on this issue, McIntyre is right and Mann is wrong. He's even been given a gracious face-saving way out by Jean S, a Finnish statistician who concurs with McIntyre.

McIntyre helpfully explains the issue for Connolley in a new post.

Why does this small dispute matter? Lets be clear, it is not about the overall validity of various hockey stick reconstructions (which involve many, many other issues in dispute, which is why resolving them one-by-one is important). The issue matters because it speaks to trust and credibility, which are two important factors that non-experts use to evaluate the claims of experts. If members of the Hockey Team cannot or will not admit error when such an error is demonstrably shown to be the case (in a manner that even political scientists can understand), for better or worse, for many observers it will say a lot about their credibility on other matters. An important part of science is being about to admit when mistakes were made, to correct them, and move on to further work with an improved understanding. It is not about fighting for one's allies position regardless of what the facts say, there is another word for that -- politics.

Will William Connolley do the right thing? I expect so.

28 October 2009

What is Graham's Bill?

In The Hill, Senator Lindsey Gram (R-SC) talks about the sort of climate bill he'd support:
"I firmly believe that if you had offshore drilling provisions, you would get more votes because people would see energy independence being achieved, and they would tolerate an emission control bill," Graham said. "You don't have to believe in climate change to vote for the bill I'm talking about. You just have to believe that controlling carbon is the way to get to energy independence."
All who believe that offshore drilling is relevant to energy independence please raise your hands? The article explains that:
The specifics of Graham's plan would allow for "environmentally responsible" offshore drilling, revenues of which would be split between states as well as the federal government, the latter of which would use the revenue to reinvest in clean technology.

Graham was not specific as to how his plan would specifically regulate carbon emissions.

Have You Stepped on a Secular Religion?

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John Stewart has Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt on The Daily Show, and asks about the "sh*t" he has received from certain climate activists. Will Stewart now get the same treatment? The following comment surely won't win Stewart many friends among Levitt's critics:
Have you stepped on a secular religion?

27 October 2009

Tornado Losses in the United States

Stan Changnon (a past collaborator of mine) has a new paper out in Natural Hazards Review titled, Tornado Losses in the United States (PDF). In it he concludes:
The 58-year time trends for the number of catastrophes and for losses of tornado-only catastrophes showed no upward trends with time and are not suggestive of increases potentially related to global climate change.
The figure above shows this data, with the economic losses adjusted according to a normalization methodology that Chris Landsea and I first proposed in 1998 (PDF), and it is described in the text as follows:
A new measure of tornado losses has been developed using recently available data from a different source, the property-casualty insurance industry. This industry has identified all weather events causing $1 million or more in losses since 1949 and labeled as catastrophes. . .

Fig. 3a presents the annual frequencies of tornado-only catastrophes during 1949–2006. The annual average incidence was 1.4 with a maximum of eight events in 1967 and none occurred in 20 years. The 58-year values exhibit a downward trend over time. The annual loss values for tornadoes Fig. 3b also exhibited a downward trend over time. The annual average loss was $128 million, with a 1-year maximum of $1,243 million 1953 and no losses in 20 of the 58 years.
Changnon paper reinforces a 2001 study by Harold Brooks and Chuck Doswell titled,
Normalized Damage from Major Tornadoes in the United States: 1890–1999 that concluded:
We find nothing to suggest that damage from individual tornadoes has increased through time, except as a result of the increasing cost of goods and accumulation of wealth of the United States.

Keith Kloor Blogging at Nature Climate Feedback

Keith Kloor, a former Scripps Fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism here at CU, is now blogging at Nature Climate feedback. Check out his biweekly roundup counting down to Copenhagen here.

26 October 2009

Mixed Messages

From the Times, several mixed messages from Lord Stern:

People will need to consider turning vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.

In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

Then comes this rather embarrassing admission,
Lord Stern, who said that he was not a strict vegetarian himself, was speaking on the eve of an all-parliamentary debate on climate change.
He also explains that the magnitude of effort is enormous:
He said that he was deeply concerned that popular opinion had so far failed to grasp the scale of the changes needed to address climate change, or of the importance of the UN meeting in Copenhagen from December 7 to December 18. “I am not sure that people fully understand what we are talking about or the kind of changes that will be necessary,” he added.
But, I thought it was a postage stamp per day?

A Point Resolved in the Hockey Stick Wars

Sometimes seemingly small disputes can tell you a lot. One of a what seems to be a bazillion points of dispute between Steve McIntyre and Michael Mann involves a claim by McIntyre that Mann mistakenly used a number of paleo-climate proxies upside-down. Mann replied by outright rejecting the claim:
The claim that ‘‘upside down’’ data were used is bizarre.
One of the challenges for observers of disputes about climate science is that they are often complicated, technical and nearly impossible to resolve without becoming an expert yourself. So generally people resolve them based on factors other than logic and data. In this case, it looks like this dispute will in fact be resolved unequivocally through the peer-reviewed literature, which for all of its faults, is the media of record for scientific claims and counterclaims.

Evidence pointing to a resolution of the dispute can be found in a newly released correction to a paper by the lead author (Kaufman) that was also claimed to have used proxy data upside-down. Kaufman has written a corrigendum which admits as much (here in PDF). McIntyre discusses the corrigendum today at his site. Here is an excerpt:
We pointed Mann's upside down use of the data (with a worse impact than on Kaufman) in the correct channels. Mann denied it. Once the matter is pointed out, it's not rocket science to determine who was right, but PNAS took no steps to resolve the contradiction. realclimate readers took Mann's denial as being proof that he didn't use it upside down . . . While Kaufman has admitted using the data upside down, Mann hasn't.
On this issue at least it seems that we can now resolve who's claims were correct and who's weren't.

An Inconvenient Comment

Something like "An Inconvenient Comment" blog was long overdue. Its mission statement looks pretty good:
This forum was created to provide a clearing house for all the reasonable and respectful commentary out there that's been drafted and submitted to online climate blogs such as Real Climate and Climate Progress, only to be removed or pulled from moderation in contradiction to the blogs' stated comments guidelines, or due to what AIC and the commenter believe are unreasonable and one-sided restrictions for an open forum.

AIC respects any blogger's right to moderate the discussions on their forum however they see fit, but is troubled by the descrepancy between some climate blogs' claims of openness and even-handedness, and the reality of their moderation practices.

While this forum is open as a place for people discuss questionable moderation practices and perhaps vent (in a constructive and respectful manner) a little, it was created with two primary goals:

1) To provide a more open and diverse extension of ongoing discussions at climate blogs where people have had difficulties in having their comments published. While this forum requests that initial comments on a mirrored post are copies of comments that were rejected at the source, responses to and discussions arising from those rejected comments are encouraged. This forum is not intended as an echo chamber; people of all viewpoints on any issues are very welcome to join the discussions in a respectful manner.

2) To encourage those who may have given up on contributing (or attempting to contribute) to discussions at blogs that rarely or never publish their comments to begin again, in hopes that what comments do go through contribute to a better discussion on those forums.

It can be a real sting when one spends time drafting polite and relevant commentary only to have disappear into a black hole because it doesn't support a specific scientific or policy perspective.

By providing a fallback outlet for such speech, this forum hopes to provide a directly related space for those unheard voices, and to encourage more meaningful discussion between differing viewpoints.

How Much Future Hurricane Damage Can Stopping Global Warming Achieve?

In the Huffington Post Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) makes a familiar argument:
Whether or not it was caused or worsened by climate change, the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina provide a window into the kind of world we can expect if global warming continues unabated.

Earlier this month, President Obama visited New Orleans. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina took an estimated 1,700 lives and displaced 1 million people. The total cost of the storm is estimated at well over $100 billion, with some estimates much higher. Four years later, the people of the region are still suffering, and it will take billions more to rebuild the Gulf Coast and protect coastal communities from future storms. And that's just what one storm cost us. How many of these disasters can we withstand? We must take action to address these real and costly threats. . .

Comprehensive clean energy legislation like the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act that Senator Kerry and I have introduced in the Senate is not only the right choice to transform our economy, create jobs, and make America more secure. It is also our most effective insurance policy against a dangerous future.
In a 2007 paper (peer-reviewed, and subsequently replicated/confirmed) I looked at the relative roles of climate change and societal change on future tropical cyclone losses. In the paper I simply assumed a very large anthropogenic climate change effect of a 36% increase in the intensity of every storm from what it would have been otherwise. I also assumed that efforts to reduce emissions have an instantaneous and proportional effect on storm intensity. No one in the scientific community that I am aware of believes either of these assumptions to be the case in the real world, so I have clearly erred on the side of overstating both the magnitude of potential changes in storm intensity and the efficacy of emissions reductions to reduce that intensity.
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Future Economic Damage from Tropical Cyclones: Sensitivities to Societal and Climate Changes, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Vol. 365, No. 1860, pp. 1-13.
Here is what I found in the paper:
. . . the analysis in this paper, consistent with that in earlier studies, suggests that any practically or politically conceivable energy policies can have at best a very small and perhaps imperceptible effect on future tropical cyclone damage. Consequently, policy action should focus on reducing vulnerabilities, at least in the short term. This finding should not diminish the importance of mitigation policies in response to climate change, but can help to better align political advocacy with potential policy effectiveness.
It is misleading, at best, to sell emissions reduction policies on the basis of their potential "to address these real and costly threats" and to assert that "clean energy legislation" now being considered in the U.S. Congress "is also our most effective insurance policy against a dangerous future."

To be absolutely clear, here is what my paper concluded:
To emphasize, the analysis presented here should not be interpreted as an argument against mitigation of greenhouse gases. And there is no suggestion here that human-caused climate change is not real or should not be of concern. Instead, this simple analysis under the most favourable assumptions for mitigation indicates that in the coming decades any realistically achievable mitigation policies can have at best only a very small and perhaps imperceptible effect on global tropical cyclone damage, whatever the costs of those policies might happen to be. This reality explains why adaptation necessarily must be at the centre of climate policy discussions and viewed as a complement to mitigation policies. It also helps to explain why mitigation policies in the short term necessarily must be focused on their non-climate benefits.

Most importantly, these results show how misleading it is to use tropical cyclone damage as a reason for greenhouse gas mitigation when other actions have far more potential effectiveness. The images of storm-spawned death and destruction are no doubt compelling, but it is misleading or disingenuous to suggest that energy policies can have an appreciable effect on future damages. The only way to arrive at tropical cyclone damages that exceed the societal factors is to hold societal change constant and focus only on the climate component, which is in fact what some studies have done in the past.12 Climate change is an important issue and policy action on mitigation makes sense, but when compared with available alternatives for addressing the escalating costs of tropical cyclones, ameliorating damage from tropical cyclones should not be conflated with other justifications for changing energy policies. Those interested in honest advocacy and effective policy should keep these issues separate.
The fact that reducing emissions will do little to address the growing toll of disasters is an example of what my colleague Steve Rayner from Oxford calls "uncomfortable knowledge." This is especially the case for those who continue to misjustify policies that are better justified for other reasons. In the long run climate policy will be better served by making honest arguments. A step in that direction would be to stop the pattern of using the specter of future Hurricane Katrinas (and disasters like it) as a basis for changing energy policies.

25 October 2009

The Hohenkammer Consensus on Climate Change and Disaster Losses

In 2006 I co-organized a major international workshop with Peter Höppe, of Munich Re, to focus on the role of climate change, including anthropogenic climate change due to greenhouse gases, in the increasing trend of global disaster losses. This workshop resulted in a set of consensus statements that were subsequently published in Science (PDF) and cited by the IPCC AR4 report. For those interested in what we concluded, in this post I have reproduced the Executive Summary of the meeting report (those wanting more can go here) as well as a list of the Workshop participants.

Comments and questions are welcomed. I believe that the workshop conclusions are as current now as then, and so too does my collaborator Peter Höppe who wrote (along with two other workshop participants) earlier this year that their work "confirm[s] the consensus reached in May 2006 at the international workshop in Hohenkammer attended by leading experts on climate change and natural catastrophe losses."

If you have questions about the Workshop, the consensus statements or research in this area, just ask.

Executive Summary of the Report of the Workshop on “Climate Change and Disaster Losses: Understanding and Attributing Trends and Projections”

25-26 May 2006
Hohenkammer, Germany

On the basis of collaboration between Peter Höppe, Munich Re, and Roger Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado, an international workshop on climate change and disaster loss trends was held in May 2006 in Hohenkammer, Germany with sponsorship from Munich Re, the U.S. National Science Foundation, GKSS Research Center, and the Tyndall Centre. In total 32 experts in the fields of climatology and disaster research from various parts of the world (13 countries) participated.

"White papers" from 25 participants were submitted in advance and formed the basis of the discussions. This Executive Summary reports 20 statements which each represent a consensus among participants on issues of research and policy as related to the workshop’s central organizing questions. A Workshop Summary Report follows which provides greater detail on the statements. The participant white papers, biographies, and workshop agenda are also included.1 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.”2
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).”3
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 over geophysical 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.
1 The views expressed in this report are those of the participating individuals. Institutional affiliations are only provided for identification purposes.
2 http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/518.htm
3 http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/518.htm

Workshop Participants (full bios here in PDF)

Christoph Bals

Laurens Bouwer
Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit

Rudolf Brázdil
Institute of Geography, Masaryk University

Harold Brooks
NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory

Ian Burton
University of Toronto, Meteorological Service of Canada

Ryan Crompton
Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University

Andrew Dlugolecki
Andlug Consulting

Paul Epstein
Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School

Eberhard Faust
Climate Risks, Department of Geo Risks Research/Environmental Management
Munich Reinsurance Company

Indur Goklany
Science & Technology Policy, Office of Policy Analysis
Department of the Interior

Maryam Golnaraghi
Natural Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Programme
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

Hervé Grenier
Risk modelling and weather derivatives
AXA Reinsurance

Bhola R. Gurjar
Indian Institute of Technology, Department of Civil Engineering

Armin Haas
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Jaakko Helminen
Climate Service, Finnish Meteorological Institute

Peter Höppe
Department of Geo Risks Research/Environmental Management
Munich Reinsurance Company AG

Claudia Kemfert
DIW Berlin
Department Energy, Transport and Environment

Richard J.T. Klein
Stockholm Environment Institute

Thomas Knutson
Climate Dynamics and Prediction Group
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA

Thomas Loster
Munich Re Foundation

Robert Muir-Wood
Risk Management Solutions

Gunilla Öberg
Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research, Linköping University

Roger Pielke, Jr.
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado

Silvio Schmidt
GeoRisks Research Department, Munich Reinsurance Company
German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) Berlin

Gerd Tetzlaff
Meteorology, Universität Leipzig, Institut für Meteorologie

Hans von Storch
Institute for Coastal Research, GKSS Research Center

Koko Warner
Institute of Environment and Human Security, United Nations University

Martin Weymann
Sustainability & Emerging Risk Management, Swiss Reinsurance Company

Angelika Wirtz
Department of Geo Risks Research/Environmental Management
Munich Reinsurance Company AG

Anita Wreford
School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia

Qian Ye
Center for Capacity Building, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Ricardo Zapata-Marti
Focal Point for Disaster Evaluation, ECLAC
CEPAL/México - Naciones Unidas

24 October 2009

Joe Romm's Latest 3,500 Words on Me

If you'd like to see the dynamics that I describe here in action, have a look at Joe Romm's latest fit. I encourage everyone to have a look. Maybe I touched a nerve? ;-) It is sure going to be fun when my book comes out, stay tuned!

Let me add that for those visiting here for the first time, wanting to see what all the hubbub is about, you can find my publications -- peer-reviewed and otherwise -- at this link. If you have questions about any of this work, or specifically about any of my views, please use this thread to ask, I'm happy to answer.

23 October 2009

President Obama's MIT Speech

I watched President Obama's speech at MIT and here are a few reactions (viewable here for those who did not catch it live). First, the President is clearly not interested in addressing the interests of liberal Democrats on energy and climate change. Obviously the Administration reads polls. I heard the phrase "climate change" only 2 or 3 times and "cap and trade" was nowhere to be found. His endorsement of the Senate climate bill was pretty weak, spending about 20 (50?) times the effort discussing the stimulus package. I will be interested to see how advocates for cap and trade react to the speech. Some environmental groups preemptively protested the speech, such as 350.org which included the box on the right in an ad in today's MIT Student newspaper (pdf).

The most important aspect of the speech is that it shows how things are changing in this debate. Climate policy is rapidly becoming a much larger debate about energy policy, which stands on other legs, like security and economics. Issues about the political significance of who believes what about what on various aspects of climate science will not disappear of course, but will increasingly be relegated to angry corners of the blogosphere, where such debates belong. The evolution of climate policy to decarbonization policy is well underway, and that is a good thing.

Steve Rayner Speaking Today at CIRES!

Friday, October 23rd, 2009
4:00-5:00 PM

Reception to follow
CIRES Auditorium
University of Colorado at Boulder

The Problem of Uncomfortable Knowledge in Science Policy Debates

Steve Rayner
Oxford University, UK

This talk will address the problem of how evidence is excluded in science policy debates and the difficulty that arguments from outside the conventional framing of issues have in being "heard" in a policy context. Examples include acts of self-censorship by IPCC Working Groups, the refusal of NGOs to countenance alternatives to Kyoto, the ESRC Science in Society Programme, and the ADAM program.

About the Lecturer

Steve Rayner is James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization and Director of the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, from where he also directs the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities. He previously held senior research positions in two US National Laboratories and has taught at leading US universities. He has served on various US, UK, and international bodies addressing science, technology and the environment, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Until 2008 he also directed the national Science in Society Research Programme of the Economic and Social Research Council. He is Honorary Professor of Climate Change and Society at the University of Copenhagen and is a member of Britain’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He was also a co-author of the 2009 Report of Britain’s Royal Society on Geoengineering the Climate.

Japan Lays Groundwork for a Stepback

From Reuters:
Japan could weaken its target for a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 if all major emitters do not reach agreement on an ambitious global climate pact, the environment minister said on Friday.

Countries are in fierce negotiations before a Dec. 7-18 meeting in Copenhagen for a broader, tougher agreement to fight climate change beyond 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends. "The possibility is not zero," Sakihito Ozawa told Reuters in an interview when asked if Japan could change its target, based on 1990 emission levels, if there was no ambitious agreement.

He declined to say what alternative target Japan had in mind.

"As environment minister, I want to go ahead with this pledge, but the government announced it with a precondition at the United Nations (climate change summit last month) so of course it could change," he said.
If you want to know why such a stepback is inevitable, you can have a look at my analysis of Japanese emission reduction targets in the following paper:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2009. Mamizu Climate Policy: An Evaluation of Japanese Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 4.

Two Views of BAU in China

The following two graphics show two starkly different views of business-as-usual emissions from China. Here are the EIA projections, as graphed by this week's Economist:

And here is a picture of how the Chinese government views BAU, from an article in this week's Nature:

Note that the EIA has emissions at about 12 GtCO2 whereas the domestic figure has about 7.5 Gt, about 40% less. Has China already reduced its emissions by 40% by 2030 from BAU? Or are we seeing some clever gamesmanship in advance of international climate negotiations? You can glean my answer from these two posts: here and here.

IPCC Chief Criticizes President Obama

On the eve of a major speech by President Obama on climate and energy at MIT (more on that later), Rajendra Pachuri, head of the "policy neutral" IPCC, criticizes President Obama and opines on U.S. domestic politics:

"I personally feel he ought to be doing a lot more," Pachauri told reporters after a debate on climate change in Stockholm, adding the president "really has to assert himself to see that the US passes legislation" prior to the Copenhagen summit.

The high-stakes conference in the Danish capital from December 7-18 will see nations attempt to hammer out a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

The US Senate on October 27 is scheduled to take up a climate change bill sponsored by Democratic Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, but the White House recently recognized the improbability of a Senate vote before Copenhagen.

Pachauri however stated he was "cautiously optimistic" that the Americans could agree on legislation in time for the summit, underlining it was "critically important that the US be part of this world deal."

"He (Obama) has to get the Senate to legislate the Kerry-Barbara Boxer bill," Pachauri insisted during the debate, adding he felt the president had not "put his weight behind it."

22 October 2009

Public Opinion Realities

UPDATE: Jon Krosnick doesn't believe it:
Since 1997, the percentage of Americans that believe the Earth is heating up has remained constant — at around 80 percent — in polling done by Jon Krosnick of Stanford University. Krosnick, who has been conducting surveys on attitudes about global warming since 1993, was surprised by the Pew results.

He described the decline in the Pew results as "implausible," saying there is nothing that could have caused it.
A new poll is out by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that indicates that the public is losing steam on the issue of climate change, but nonetheless, favors action to address accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Once again we have solid evidence that there is plenty of political will for action even if not everyone thinks alike on the issue.

Only 18% of Republicans and only 50% of Democrats think that recent warming is because of human activity, as shown in the following chart. the data indicates that advocates should be well past time trying to get everyone to a single view on the scientific aspects of climate change. It just is not going to happen.
Remarkably, only liberal Democrats have shown an increase in concern on the issue, as shown below. meanwhile, it has become of diminishing seriousness for just about every other group of Democrats. What this means is that continued efforts to intensify concern over global warming could have the effect of turning this issue into a being perceived solely as a liberal cause (more so than it is already perceived to be) and alienate the rest of the voting populace, the vast majority of which do not consider themselves to be liberal Democrats.
One reason to stop focusing on what people think about the science of climate change is that a majority of the public supports action on emissions (shown below) and well as international cooperation on climate change (not shown). The policy challenge is thus to design policies that can be effective given the strong political support that has existed on this topic for some time. The realities are that support is about as strong as it is likely to be, and really hasn't changed much over a decade or longer. Efforts to make climate change a top line issue will inevitably backfire. For some these facts may be frustrating, but they are the reality of the issue.

Elephant in the Negotiations

Some statements from India today are not really new views but worth noting as they make stepping back at Copenhagen all the more difficult and thus unlikely. The BBC reports on a statement by Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh clarifying reports that he had suggested in a leaked memo that India was perhaps willing to compromise a bit on its demands at Copenhagen (thanks DB). Apparently, this is not the case:
Internationally legally binding [greenhouse gas] reduction targets are for developed countries and developed countries alone, as globally agreed under the [2007] Bali action plan
UPDATE: The folks at CAP are a bit behind on India's position, saying today the opposite of Ramesh's latest pronouncements:
Ramesh appears to be leaning toward a structure that would commit India to binding its domestic actions to an international agreement and subjecting those actions to international scrutiny.
Not really.

And Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh restates what I am beginning to call an iron law of climate policy:
Developing countries cannot and will not compromise on development.
However I don't think that it is just developing countries that will not compromise on development. India is but one part of the equation that will lead to the can being kicked down the road at Copenhagen. More tea leaves read here.

21 October 2009

Greenpeace: Optimists, Apologists, Opposition and Principled Action

Greenpeace has a new report out -- called Business as Usual (PDF) -- critical of the House and Senate approaches to climate policy now working their way through the Congress. I don't agree with everything in the report, but one point I strongly agree with is its highlighting of the prominent role given to coal:
There is probably no better indication of the persistence of business as usual than the fact that both the House and Senate climate legislation prioritize support for the primary industrial source of greenhouse gas. That’s right, the largest federal investment is to subsidize coal.

It was expected that climate legislation would support coal energy to make a transition to a future where its primacy as the source of electric power diminishes. But no one was prepared to see the enormous level of federal support in the bill aimed at an industry that employs fewer Americans than wind energy alone. It is beyond reason and integrity. It has led many to wonder whether the House bill might be more aptly named the American Coal Energy and Security Act, for embedded within it are generous subsidies and boondoggles that favor coal above all other energy sources.
Their discussion of offsets is both entertaining and on target:
It is as if a man with heart trouble and diabetes who weighs 360 pounds is encouraged by his doctor to pay someone else to go on a diet for him.

To be fair, the economic thinking behind offsets has a narrow theoretical validity. Since the atmosphere is one entity, it really does not matter precisely where or how CO2 emissions get reduced. So the rational thing to do is scour the planet for the cheapest opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions, or their equivalent. One problem with this approach is a moral one—it skirts complex issues of social justice—because it enables the wealthy nations to pay the poor ones to go on a carbon diet for them. It allows polluters to continue polluting by buying indulgences that clean the conscience more than the environment.

Another problem is that this approach avoids the practical reality that it has not been possible to generate real offsets in any meaningful quantity. The academic analyses of Michael Wara and the recent arrests in Europe over massive fraud in carbon trading provide ample concrete evidence for us to relinquish belief in workability of the offsetting theory.

The fact is that the allure of immense profits has mostly produced massive instances of cheating in the offset market, with the environment left to suffer the consequence. We are on the brink of witnessing the creation of another sub-prime bubble, a global trade in ostensibly halted CO2 emissions that in reality are in the atmosphere.

The fat patient will stay fat; the other man paid to go on a diet will do no such thing; and the doctor will walk away satisfied. It is a healthcare system for the environment that will be in need of reform the day it is created.

This is why the California legislature voted to strictly limit the use of offsets in the cap-and-trade program it is developing to regulate emissions of the state economy. The California economy by itself is the eighth largest in the world. By forcing polluters to take action in-state, legislators are keeping new green jobs at home and bringing associated health benefits of cleaner air to their own constituents.

It is unfortunate that the federal and international discussion of offsets is usually a jargon-laden affair, with experts talking about how to guard against “leakage” and assure “additionality.” These are euphemisms for the question—how do we make sure no one cheats. The jargon has assured that the general public has little access to the discussion. If it was conducted in plain English, we’d understand that the offsetting conversation is really about how to design a loophole to allow polluters to keep polluting—to continue with business as usual. Everyone already knows—wink, wink—that the cheating will continue because there is no practical way to stop it.

The number of offsets pending legislation authorized on an annual basis is truly astonishing: Two billion tons worth. That is equivalent to one quarter of annual US emissions—or the first 75 pounds of flesh our fat man would shed on a diet. That’s why many analyses conducted by both the EPA and EIA have shown that the offset provisions will mean that the US will not have to start reducing its own industrial emissions for almost another two decades. If that is not business as usual, nothing is.

When the number of allowable offsets was first revealed, in the climate community it had the impact of a punch below the belt, and it left everyone temporarily down for the count and sucking air. Some of us have yet to recover. Some have picked themselves up off the canvas and brushed off the low blow. Others have found ways to rationalize the offsets as necessary, even playing the role of apologist for bad policy.
Apologist for bad policy? I wonder who they might be thinking of? Greenpeace pulls no punches in its conclusion:
Optimists, Apologists, Opposition and Principled Action

After more than 20 years of effort and attention to the issue, America has never been closer to enacting climate legislation. The tantalizing prospect of having a climate law on the books has created a dangerous willingness to accommodate unacceptable compromise.

The legislative momentum of 2009 has prodded industry to spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbyists, hired to secure handouts and craft loopholes. Together with longstanding opponents of progressive climate and energy legislation, they have driven lawmakers to make such steep concessions in order to secure votes that pending legislation has become merely an extension of business as usual.

The optimists seem to believe that a price signal, no matter how weak or undermined by handouts and loopholes, will provide the impetus to help us get started to turn the corner on climate change. They point to the Clean Air Act and Social Security as federal measures that started out weak and grew effective over time.

It is attractive historical analogy that is in the end ultimately unpersuasive. Those national laws did not have embedded within them a simultaneous and greater strengthening of the very thing in need of correction. The Clean Air Act, for example, did not send hundreds of billions of dollars in handouts and loopholes to the very polluters it was trying to regulate. The pending legislation does.

Optimists argue, too, that we will likely never have a constellation of elected and appointed leaders in Congress, in the White House and in the federal agencies as sympathetic to climate action as we do now, so, despite its apparent flaws, the American Clean Energy and Security Act is the best we’re going to get.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, they say.

That is a good argument used to poor purpose. Rather, let us stand firm not to adopt legislation that locks in a permanent and endless fossil fuel future, let us insist that this constellation of great leaders be the enemy of impending catastrophe.

There are apologists who go a step further than the optimists. They argue suddenly that it doesn’t matter if you allocate carbon credits for free, rather than auction them; or that offsets might not be bad thing after all; or that the big bet we’re placing on technology to capture and bury carbon emissions will actually bring about the demise of coal as an energy source.

There is all manner of spinning—well-intentioned, disingenuous, self-serving—among supporters of climate action, and it has become almost impossible to separate political calculation from scientific necessity. There is even a belief that the Senate will improve the legislation and correct its fatal flaws in the months ahead. We are under no such illusions.

The Senate bill, now in play largely mimics the House bill, with lawmakers in the Senate poised to make a fresh round of fresh handouts—to the nuclear power industry, the oil industry and agribusiness interests.

Despite talk of raising the bar, the reality is that Congress will further weaken the bill before it has concluded its business.

Many supporters of climate action find themselves forced to grasp a flimsy hope—that we just need to get something started—anything—and strengthen it later. And so we witness the cheerleading to which we cannot lend our voice.

Politics as usual will only produce its corollary, business as usual. Corporate special interests are still dictating United States’ global warming policy, slowing the pace of our nation’s ambition at every turn, and creating a dead weight on international cooperation to solve the climate crisis.
We see the only hope of global climate remedy to be active and principled engagement from the Oval Office. The world is waiting.
Ouch. Kudos to Greenpeace for an interesting and well-written report.

Post-Doc Wanted

University of Colorado
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research
CIRES/SPARC Research Associate

The Science Policy Assessment and Research on Climate (SPARC) project is currently recruiting for a research associate. The successful candidate will conduct research on science policies for adaptation to climate change. This research will include evaluating the current supply of scientific and other information being generated for adaptation, as well as examining the demand for such information from those sectors and individuals who might be in a position to make decisions about adaptation on the ground. The research will therefore include a wide variety of methods, including reviewing reports, policy documents, scholarship and workshop findings, interviewing science policy decision makers as well as resource managers and others who may be considering or implementing adaptation measures, and other methods as appropriate. Institutional relationships, programmatic processes, and topic areas will also be examined.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) has an opening for a one-year Postdoctoral Research Associate under an NSF-sponsored project called Science Policy Assessment and Research on Climate that is investigating climate science policy. The position will be located in the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder. For further information related to the research activities envisioned within this position please see

• Engage in original research to characterize the existing funding structure and science policies for climate change adaptation-related research
• Engage in original research on the needs of decision makers at various scales and in various sectors for new
information on adapting to climate change
• Collaborate with colleagues within CIRES on research
• Collaborate with national and international partners
• Publish research results in peer-reviewed fora
• Assist and lead in the development of meetings and workshops in support of project objectives
• Contribute to other, related Center projects in research, education and outreach

• Recent Ph.D. in a related field
• Knowledge of climate science and climate policies
• Experience working on interdisciplinary projects
• Demonstrated ability to present and perform on a professional level through use of excellent written and verbal communication and interpersonal skills
• Demonstrated ability to work within a team of researchers
• Publication of articles in refereed journals and in the non-academic literature
• Presentation of papers at national or international scientific meetings
• International interests and experience
The position will be filled as a Research Associate in CIRES, University of Colorado at Boulder, and will be eligible for employee benefits, including 22 days of vacation per year. Screening will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

To Apply: Applicants need to go to jobs@CU using this link to apply:


Applicants need to upload a letter of interest, complete resume and salary history, a letter of recommendation & proof of degree/or transcripts confirming degree. In addition, the applicant should furnish the names of three individuals familiar with the applicant's professional qualifications for the position to provide references.

Job Code SPARC-1
The University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment. The University of Colorado at Boulder conducts background checks for all final applicants being considered for employment

20 October 2009

IPCC Advocate in Chief

The IPCC has a stated mandate to be "policy neutral." In practice its definition of "policy neutrality" is rather loose as it appears to include the lobbying of the U.S. president by the IPCC head, Rajendra Pachauri for policies that he personally favors:
. . . on September 22 President Obama himself spoke at the United Nations when the UN Secretary General had convened an extremely useful meeting on climate change with several world leaders in attendance. . . I had the privilege of addressing the same audience immediately after the speech of the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon and just before President Obama. As I left the podium and President Obama was getting ready to walk in I greeted him briefly and asked for 10 minutes of his time, so that, I thought, I may convince him on the need for US leadership in tackling the challenge of climate change, a requirement that he himself has stressed on several occasions. I hope I will be granted this privilege, hopefully before Copenhagen.

The Nobel Peace Prize, particularly on this occasion, is more about expectations and hope than actual achievement. Mr Obama himself has called the award as a call for action rather than for anything that he has already accomplished.

Having stood before the distinguished audience in Oslo alongside Mr Al Gore in December 2007 on behalf of the IPCC I have experienced the enormous weight of responsibility that this award carries. Not only does the Nobel Prize result in demands from a large number of organisations, institutions and individuals for the time and views of the winners of the award, but it also places a huge burden of expectations that go with its dignity and uniqueness.

President Obama would now be under enormous pressure to perform if not for reasons of deep conviction, which in his case are so evident, but also because the world now expects him in essence to justify through results achieved what the award of the Nobel Peace Prize demands.
Is it appropriate for the IPCC head to be engaged in overt political lobbying? If so, what policies should he be lobbying for, since the IPCC itself doesn't discuss specific policies? Is the IPCC an advisory body or an advocacy organization?

Limbaugh Attacks Andy Revkin

UPDATE: Revkin discusses Limbaugh's comments here.

Showing that stupid political commentary obeys no ideological bounds, Rush Limbaugh today has this completely inane commentary on Andy Revkin of the New York Times:
I think these militant environmentalists, these wackos, have so much in common with the jihad guys. Let me explain this. What do the jihad guys do? The jihad guys go to families under their control and they convince these families to strap explosives on who? Not them. On their kids. Grab your 3-year-old, grab your 4-year-old, grab your 6-year-old, and we're gonna strap explosives on there, and then we're going to send you on a bus, or we're going to send you to a shopping center, and we're gonna tell you when to pull the trigger, and you're gonna blow up, and you're gonna blow up everybody around you, and you're gonna head up to wherever you're going, 73 virgins are gonna be there. The little 3- or 4-year-old doesn't have the presence of mind, so what about you? If it's so great up there, why don't you go? Why don't you strap explosives on you -- and their parents don't have the guts to tell the jihad guys, "You do it! Why do you want my kid to go blow himself up?" The jihad guys will just shoot 'em, 'cause the jihad guys have to maintain control.

The environmentalist wackos are the same way. This guy from The New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on Earth -- Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?

Giant Fish, Big Fish and Minnows of the Liberal Blogosphere

Yesterday was sure interesting. Nothing like a little personal conflict to motivate dozens of emails to me and plenty of comments across the blogosphere. For better or worse I have a much better sense of how the liberal slime machine works in practice, having been inside now a bit. This is all the more ironic because I consider myself to be cut from a similar political cloth to many of those who are engaged in all out war against me. Here are a few reflections.

Here is how it works. The really giant fish -- public intellectuals like Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman -- confer authority on the big fish of the liberal blogosphere. They do so by applauding the work of the big fish and saying that they trust them. This is a useful exchange because the big fish amplify the writings of the giant fish in the blogosphere and do the dirty work of taking down their political opponents by playing some gutter politics that the giant fish would rather not be seen playing. This has the effect of establishing the big fish as people to be listened to, not because they are necessarily right about things, but because the giant fish listen to them and the giant fish set political agendas.

Among these big fish feeding the giant fish are Joe Romm, Brad Delong, RealClimate, and there are of course many others, but these are the ones I have first-hand experience with (lucky me). Each of these professionals has great potential to positively influence policy debates in positive ways. Instead they all actively have chosen to engage in pretty embarrassing and unethical behavior that caters to tribal, echo-chamber politics. Their behavior is not only a poor reflection on them as individuals but it serves to intensify partisan splits and actually work against effective policy making, as has been written about by Cass Sunstein and Clive Crook.

What do I mean when I say that they engage in embarrassing and unethical behavior? For instance, their blog etiquette is simply a disgrace, especially for people who claim to be professional, e.g., they each disallow substantive comments that they disagree with, either from me or from those supporting things that I have said. To provide an example, yesterday after I had accused DeLong of deleting comments from his blog he protested vehemently to me by email that:
My default is that everyone's comments are automatically published. (I do prune them later, if I think they are actively misleading. But I don't refuse to post.)
The screen shot below from DeLong's blog last evening (taken by an observer and sent to me by email this morning, thanks D!), do the comments look "actively misleading" to you? They are polite and on point. Yet they were immediately deleted by DeLong. Several other similar comments were "pruned" as well. Hey, it is DeLong's blog and he can run it like he wants, but to put forth a bald lie and then accuse me of "insanity" for pointing out that he actually deletes comments (when he does) takes chutzpah.

In the case of Romm and Delong they also engage in outright lies and character assassination. Neither links to my own words on my blog, apparently afriad of what might happen if people view what I have to say directly, rather than their cartoonish caricatures. Gavin Schmidt of Real Climate contacted my university once and demanded that they sanction me for opinions that he did not like on my blog, under a vague threat of harm to reputation. Joe Romm has ordered the media not to talk to me (given the response, I assume that the folks who listened to him were the same folks who feed him quotes;-). What is even more disturbing is how these folks interact on a personal level. I was completely taken aback by the unprofessional email responses I received from Brad DeLong yesterday. I have occasionally seen faculty members throw hissy fits in a faculty meeting, but never have I seen the degree of unprofessional behavior displayed routinely by professionals in the liberal blogosphere. What is with these guys?

But even the big fish apparently see some gutter behavior as not really becoming of professionals (though Romm doesn't seem to care), as to more effectively attack someone's reputation they also rely on the minnows of the blogosphere, people who see it as their sole job to "trash" someone's reputation via innuendo, fabrication and outright misrepresentation. Among these minnows are controversialist bloggers like Tim Lambert, who are professionally unqualified to engage in the substance of most debates (certainly the case with respect to my own work), yet earn their place exclusively by making mountains out of molehills (e.g., Lambert carpet bombs the internet with references to his post on the fact that I once botched a Google search, making insinuations of associated evilness in my soul) and ad hominem attacks (Pielke viciously attacked Al Gore!! Pielke is the Devil!!), without out once engaging the substance of my work (e.g., Al Gore agreed with my critique of his slide show and subsequently removed a slide from his show, I complemented Gore for his commitment to accuracy).

The big fish then feed on the minnows, for instance, Real Climate and Brad DeLong have cited Tim Lambert as an authority, including on my own work, yet to my knowledge Lambert has never actually engaged anything I've published in the peer reviewed literature much less any substantive arguments that I've made. Of course he doesn't -- he is not qualified to do so. Joe Romm just makes stuff up and even when shown to be in error he plows ahead. They then incestuously cite each other. This creates a valuable political smokescreen for the giant fish. The giant fish then get plausible deniability from engaging in what might seem to be less-than ethical behavior, the big fish get the ego-strokes of acknowledgment from the giant fish and the occasional top-line billing among favorable-leaning media. Similarly the minnows get to parlay inexpertise into a small role in the politics of personal destruction, and are cited by the big fish, but never by the media or the giants, which would be unbecoming.

So why me? Maybe I'm just lucky. But maybe it is because I have patiently and persistently built upon an academic record of peer-reviewed research on aspects of the climate that they disagree with, but cannot touch via conventional academic argumentation. Among the arguments I have made (with colleagues of course) in the course of arguing that human-caused climate change is a very real threat deserving of policy attention and resources to adaptation and mitigation:

1. There is no greenhouse gas signal in the economic or human toll record of disasters.
2. The IPCC has dramatically underestimated the scale of the stabilization challenge.
3. Geoengineering via stratospheric injection or marine cloud whitening is a bad idea.
4. Air capture research is a very good idea.
5. Adaptation is very important and not a trade off with mitigation.
6. Current mitigation policies, at national and international levels, are inevitably doomed to fail.
7. Current technologies are not sufficient to reach mitigation goals.
8. In their political enthusiasm, some leading scientists have behaved badly.
9. Leading scientific assessments have botched major issues (like disasters).
10. The climate science community is fully politicized.

Each of the above is of course open for debate. but oddly, my attackers never want to debate any of those topics, instead preferring instead to attack-the-man and attack-the-credibility. While such strategies speak loudly for themselves, I have no illusions that this is going to change. In fact, I expect it to get worse, as I have a major book on climate coming out next year that will be in bookstores everywhere. When that book comes out I am sure we can expect a feeding frenzy among the fish of the liberal blogosphere. It'll be fun. Stay tuned.