28 February 2010

A Challenge for Joe Romm

[UPDATE #2: Did I say wow? ljohnson ups the ante in the comments, copying a message posted at Romm's:
Lets up the ante Joe.

I will match every dollar you put up, to 10,000 USD, to the winner's charity of choice. If you win, you don't pay and I do, to your charity.

If you lose, we both pay to Medecin san Frontiers. The winner is determined by an audience, which, as you choose the time and venue, is really chosen by you.
Let me say that I'll split the match with Joe, meaning that we can raise as much as $20,000 to a worthwhile charity just for participating in a debate.

Maybe others might pitch in and we can make some good of this.

Thanks ljohnson!]

[UPDATE: Wow. In the comments ljohnson writes of my debate challenge:
I will donate 2000 USD to the winner's charity of choice, with the winner as determined by audience voting after the debate.
Thanks ljohnson! My charity is listed to the left. Now we can surely do some good with a debate.]

Joe Romm has broken his own world record for the longest blog post complaining about me with a new post coming in at a staggering 4,016 words. I encourage everyone to have a look, keeping in mind that Joe Romm is the leading voice for action on climate change at the Center for American Progress. I suppose Joe and CAP think that their tactics are somehow effective. The image to the right is, ironically enough, included in Romm's magnum screed.

In an effort to turn this episode into something constructive and educational, I'd like to formally challenge Joe Romm to a public debate on climate policy to be held in Fall, 2010 in his home town at a date convenient for him, so that he does not have to travel and the timing can be made to fit his schedule. I'm willing to give Joe a chance to back up his bluster with a serious public debate. He wouldn't turn down such an opportunity, would he?

Since he doesn't allow me to post at his site, I'd appreciate it if and readers who might pass a link along to this challenge in the comments to his site, and then lets see how he responds. Meantime, please keep the comments here substantive and respectful.

Direct or Indirect? Two Views on Engaging Climate Change

Across the page from each other in todays NYT, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Al Gore express polar opposite views on how to enagage climate change. Gore recommends a direct approach focused on using science a a political sledgehammer against the "deniers":
What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.. .

Some analysts attribute the failure [of the Senate to act] to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.

But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.

Graham, profiled in a column by Thomas Friedman, proposes an indirect approach, one that sidesteps the science and focuses on areas of common interests:

“I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment — and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. ... From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them. You can have a genuine debate about the science of climate change, but when you say that those who believe it are buying a hoax and are wacky people you are putting at risk your party’s future with younger people. You can have a legitimate dispute about how to solve immigration, but when you start focusing on the last names of people the demographics will pass you by.”

So Graham’s approach to bringing around his conservative state has been simple: avoid talking about “climate change,” which many on the right don’t believe. Instead, frame our energy challenge as a need to “clean up carbon pollution,” to “become energy independent” and to “create more good jobs and new industries for South Carolinians.” He proposes “putting a price on carbon,” starting with a very focused carbon tax, as opposed to an economywide cap-and-trade system, so as to spur both consumers and industries to invest in and buy new clean energy products. He includes nuclear energy, and insists on permitting more offshore drilling for oil and gas to give us more domestic sources, as we bridge to a new clean energy economy.

“Cap-and-trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die — and you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon,” Graham argues. “The technology doesn’t make sense until you price carbon. Nuclear power is a bet on cleaner air. Wind and solar is a bet on cleaner air. You make those bets assuming that cleaning the air will become more profitable than leaving the air dirty, and the only way it will be so is if the government puts some sticks on the table — not just carrots. The future economy of America and the jobs of the future are going to be tied to cleaning up the air, and in the process of cleaning up the air this country becomes energy independent and our national security is greatly enhanced.”

Remember, he adds: “We are more dependent on foreign oil today than after 9/11. That is political malpractice, and every member of Congress is responsible.”

Clearly, Gore is going to appeal -- in both positive and negative fashion -- much more to people who are monomaniacal about the climate issue and fervent partisans in the debate. This includes many in the blogosphere who are singularly focused on climate change. Gore's approach is the classic "political wedge" that forces people to take sides and demands a winner and a loser. Gore ends his piece by demanding that voters address this issue politically, by voting out people who do not share his views.

Graham's approach is far more pragmatic and realistic, with far greater potential to appeal to the masses on terms that they care about. Graham focuses on areas where people already have expressed strong interests, like jobs and the economy, and suggests that climate policy be addressed indirectly by capitalizing on what people already value. Graham's proposal is much less focused on political winners and losers than is Gore's approach. Graham's policy recommendations, he would argue, make sense regardless who is in office.

Both Gore and Graham offer their predictions for U.S. climate policy in the near-term, Gore:
The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions. Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation.

Cap-and-trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die . . . The future economy of America and the jobs of the future are going to be tied to cleaning up the air, and in the process of cleaning up the air this country becomes energy independent and our national security is greatly enhanced
I suspect that Graham is right in his short-term prognostications about the fate of cap-and-trade. But more importantly, he is right about the longer-term politics of engaging the climate issue. Action to accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy will remain in gridlock so long as climate is approached as a wedge issue. Bloggers and partisans like wedge issues, but as we have learned good public policy rearely results from framing issues in such terms.

Two IPCC SREX Authors Discuss Inclusiveness

Last week Andy Revkin documented the fact that the IPCC decided to leave me off its committee on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). That I was left off is less troubling that there is no way to discern why I was left off, as the IPCC functions as a black box.

Perhaps there is some insight to be gained from one of the committee's members? One of the report's lead authors, Sabrina McCormick, responds to Revkin and justifies the IPCC's empanelment decisions on her blog as follows:
The IPCC is not meant to be a reflection of the work and perceptions of the same scientists year after year. It is a living, breathing entity whose strength is partially derived from the new talent that is represented across disciplines and generations of researchers. One essential piece of that is drawing from a pool of researchers who are not all old white men or from particular disciplines. So, if certain stalwart scientists are passed up because there are new views on critical subjects, so be it. I respect their work and the many years they have devoted to this subject. Such contributions are not to be denied. However, neither are the bright, new ideas of scientists not traditionally involved in the IPCC, like sociologists such as myself. Maybe we have the answers to solve the most pressing problem of our time.
Richard J. T. Klein, who is also on the SREX committee and an experienced IPCC author, shows up in the comments with this corrective:
Sabrina, in principle you're right. Except that Roger Pielke Jr., the person Andrew Revkin writes about, isn't old stalwart blood. He's never been an IPCC author before either, so his inclusion in the author team would have been just as innovative.
The black box remains unopened.

26 February 2010

IPCC to be Independently Reviewed

Has the UN turned a corner on its oversight of the IPCC? An article in today's Telegraph suggests maybe so:

Environment and Climate ministers meeting in closed session in Bali last night insisted that an independent review should be carried out following the publicising of mistakes in its last report, and a row surrounding Dr Pachauri's robust response to his critics. If his management is found to be at fault his position could become untenable.

Participants in the unprecedented meeting – held at the annual assembly of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Governing Council in Bali – were sworn to secrecy over the decision and it is only expected to be announced after its detaled scope and composition have been worked out by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation, the two UN agencies that oversee the IPCC's work.

The ministers – led by Hillary Benn, the Environment Secretary,and his counterparts from Germany,. Norway, Algeria and Antigua and Barbuda – refused to allow Dr Pachauri to decide who would carry out the review, insisting it must be completely and demonstrably independent of the IPCC.
That last paragraph sure is interesting.

25 February 2010

Defining Skepticism Down

[UPDATE: The editors at Foreign Policy have added this text at the bottom of the page describing my views:
*Editor's note: Pielke has informed the editors of FP that he strongly objects to being included on a list titled "Climate Skeptics." The aim of the list was, as the introduction states, to separate "the noise from the serious concerns" with regards to those offering critiques of either climate science or institutions charged with presenting climate science to the public or policy-makers; the article was explicitly not intended to equate the viewpoints of all people contained on the list. Pielke has been quoted in the mainstream media voicing concerns about the IPCC, as in today's Wall Street Journal, as well as questioning sloppy logic on the part of some environmentalists, for instance objecting to overstatements about hurricanes being linked to global warming. That is not the same as doubting the reality or significance of climate change. Pielke has not raised objections to the text or any factual details in the article, but he feels that inclusion in a list that carries a politically loaded name -- "climate skeptics" -- is potentially misleading; a reader who scans only the title and the list of names could draw the wrong assumptions about the nuances of his views.
I appreciate their responsiveness.]

Somehow I made the Foreign Policy "Guide to Climate Skeptics." Here is how they quote me:
"Climate change is a huge problem, and it's a problem linked to human activity. Greenhouse gases are an important part of that, but it's not only greenhouse gases. And we need to respond accordingly."
Am I the only one who finds this a bit incongruous? But up-is-down has always been a part of the climate debate.

[UPDATE #2: It has been pointed out that the profile of John Christy includes this quote from me:
"I respect him," Pielke says. "I disagree with him, but I respect him."
I do not recall saying this to the FP nor does provide and context to suggest what they are implying that I disagree with.]

Red Meat

James Inhofe (R-OK) is an irresistible attraction to many in the climate debate. A commenter has pointed out that the Senator has released a report -- his latest of many -- in which he indicates that his staff will be looking at whether climate scientists have broken any laws, based on the CRU emails. In my view this sort of announcement is what you do when you don't think that the law has in fact been broken. If he had any evidence of law breaking he'd be acting not via announcement. So I think that it is just a bit of clown-like bluffing, serving up red meat for the partisans, but little else.

Senator Inhofe is not alone in serving up red meat for his partisan followers. Over at ClimateScienceWatch, Rick Piltz focuses on the Inhofe report to also use these scientists for his own partisan purposes. In his comments he adds a good deal of intensity to the issue, writing about "trials" and "possible referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution." This is just as over-the-top as the Senator's report, and just as unhelpful -- if Piltz's concern is to improve the role of climate science in policy and politics (I assume that such improvement is not high on Senator Inhofe's agenda).

Talking about the prosecution of scientists is a good way to get a debate going, and this thread will meet that demand (keep it respectful, please). However, it should be realized that the actions of Senator Inhofe and those who take his bait miss what matters most here, and that is not individual scientists and their personalities or characters, but rather, the integrity of the institutions in which they reside. Those who wish to discuss issues of science policy as related to climate science, please use the comments in the post on my debate with Bob Watson. Those wanting more of a food fight can use this post. I know where I'll be paying most attention.

Watson vs. Pielke on IPCC at Yale e360

In parallel with Robert T. Watson, former chair of the IPCC, I have a piece over at Yale e360 on the IPCC. Watson argues that the IPCC needs some minor tinkering but is otherwise sound. I call for more comprehensive reforms.

Please visit there, read both essays and then feel free to return here and ask questions or discuss. Here are a few short excerpts:
Watson: So does the IPCC process need to be significantly revised? I would argue no, that the IPCC is more than capable of conducting rigorous and reliable assessments in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner. But the IPCC needs to regain its full and deserved credibility. The procedures for the selection of authors and review editors and the peer-review process and approval of reports are all sound. What is needed is to tighten up the implementation of these procedures, coupled with training of authors and review editors. The selected authors need to represent the full range of credible views, including those of the skeptics, and must ensure that all statements are based on sound science and that the citations used contain convincing evidence.
Pielke: Standing up for climate science means openly supporting reform of the IPCC while underscoring its institutional importance. The climate science community has failed to meet its own high standards. If the IPCC continues to pretend that things will soon get back to normal or that it need only castigate its critics as deniers and skeptics, it will find that its credibility will continue to sink to new lows. It is time to reform the IPCC.

24 February 2010

Trenberth, Christy and Pielke on IPCC Reform

The Council on Foreign Relations asked Kevin Trenberth, John Christy and me for capsule summaries of our views on reform of the IPCC. Here are snippets from the responses:
Trenberth: The IPCC review and oversight process is very rigorous. Clearly there can be and have been some lapses, but they appear to be fairly few. I do not think the system is broken and needs further change; it simply needs more attention to adhering to the process already in place.
Christy: [IPCC] lead authors are given powerful control by being vested with final review authority and thus are able to fashion a report that supports their own opinions while marginalizing countervailing views. This is not how the real uncertainties and difficulties of climate science may be established and communicated to policymakers.
Pielke: Unless the IPCC brings its institutional policies and procedures into the twenty-first century through a wholesale institutional reform, it will continue to come out on the losing end of challenges to its legitimacy and credibility.

A Black Box

The IPCC has a Special Committee on Extreme Events and Disasters, which was set up in the spring of 2009. Andy Revkin has the story of my nomination to the committee, along with 30 other U.S. experts. Behind closed doors the IPCC selected 13 of these 31 nominees to serve on their committee. I was not included, despite the fact that I have more relevant publications than any other U.S. nominee (Google scholar) and numerous participants were selected who have no publications in the area of climate change and extreme events. Revkin finds this a bit curious, but was unable to get the IPCC to explain how it made its empanelment decisions.

The IPCC report includes the following focal areas, among others:
Changes in impacts of climate extremes: human systems and ecosystems
    • Role of climate extremes in natural and socioeconomic systems
    • Nature of impacts and relation to hazards
    • Observed trends in system exposure and vulnerability
    • System- and sector-based aspects of vulnerability, exposures, and impacts
    • Regional aspects of vulnerability, exposures, and impacts
    • Costs of climate extremes and disasters
My nomination came about when a colleague asked me in the spring of 2009 if I was participating in the committee. I explained to him that there was no point, as the IPCC would never select me to be included. He said they'd have to select me, if nominated, given my expertise and the IPCC's historical reliance on my work. So we made a bet of a beer, and I was nominated. Obviously, I won the bet and the beer. Since then, a range of colleagues have asked me why I am not participating on the committee.

There is a good case to be made that since I have collaborated in a lot of work in this area, I should not be on the committee, because I would be evaluating my own work. I think that this argument makes sense. However, this has not been a criterion used by the IPCC in its empanelment decisions in the past or on the extremes committee (based on who else was selected). However, having seen the efforts of the IPCC to actively undercut my work in its past reports and more recently via press release, I have my views as to what sort of criteria it employed in deciding the panel's membership;-)

Judy Curry on Credibility in Climate Science

Judy Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, has written a thoughtful essay on credibility in climate science. She has asked that it be discussed on a range of blogs with different perspectives. I am happy to discuss it here. Here is an excerpt:
In their misguided war against the skeptics, the CRU emails reveal that core research values became compromised. Much has been said about the role of the highly politicized environment in providing an extremely difficult environment in which to conduct science that produces a lot of stress for the scientists. There is no question that this environment is not conducive to science and scientists need more support from their institutions in dealing with it. However, there is nothing in this crazy environment that is worth sacrificing your personal or professional integrity. And when your science receives this kind of attention, it means that the science is really important to the public. Therefore scientists need to do everything possible to make sure that they effectively communicate uncertainty, risk, probability and complexity, and provide a context that includes alternative and competing scientific viewpoints. This is an important responsibility that individual scientists and particularly the institutions need to take very seriously.
Please go and read the whole thing, and feel free to come back and discuss here.

Decarbonization of the Colorado Economy

In today's Denver Post, Vincent Carroll has a column that discusses my testimony/presentation last week to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission. I was invited to testify and to present an analysis of the implications of Colorado's targets and time tables for emissions reductions using the methodology that I have applied previously to policies in Britain, Japan and Australia (and forthcoming in my new book, the rest of the world).

Carroll provides a nice summary of my presentation:
The Colorado Climate Action Plan adopted by Gov. Bill Ritter's administration states that by 2020, "Colorado will reduce greenhouse gas emissions . . . by 20 percent below 2005 levels"; by 2050, the goal is 80 percent. Environmental groups promote these reductions as the minimum of what must be done to forestall calamity, which is why few Democratic politicians are willing to stand up and say, "Sorry, that's just not possible."

To understand why it's not possible, consider testimony presented last week to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission by Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental sciences professor at CU-Boulder.

Although Pielke believes the "continuing increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could pose large risks," he also insists that the "design of effective policy starts with a realistic view of what the challenges are." Yet for Colorado to reach its 2020 emissions goal, he told the commission — assuming the same rate of increase in energy demand that occurred between 1997 and 2007 — this state would have to conjure up additional clean energy equivalent to 13 nuclear power plants of one gigawatt each. Alternatively, it would have to install the equivalent of more than 11,000 wind turbines in Colorado by 2020 — monster turbines of 2.5 megawatts each — or more than three turbines every day for the next 10 years!

Even that poster project of renewable energy, the Colorado Green Wind Farm near Lamar, boasts just 108 turbines — and they each generate 1.5 megawatts.

Such huge amounts of clean energy are necessary because we're talking about a major reduction in total greenhouse gases — including not only those related to electricity and heating but transportation, too.

It's possible, of course, that growth in energy demand will slow in coming years. But even if you halved growth, you'd still need more than 6,000 wind turbines or seven nuclear plants — neither of which is remotely likely, either.

Pielke doesn't counsel despair. For one thing, advanced economies have been "decarbonizing" for decades in the sense that less and less carbon dioxide is emitted for each $1,000 of gross domestic product; indeed, the annual rate of decarbonization has been about 2 percent for a quarter century. Yet it would have to accelerate to more than 5 percent annually for Colorado to meet its goal. Even hiking the renewable energy standard for electricity, as the legislature is doing, won't appreciably push the needle.

What's needed, Pielke argues, is far greater emphasis nationally on accelerating innovation. As Bill Gates noted last month on his blog, to reach the 80 percent reduction goal by 2050 would mean cutting "emissions from transportation and electrical production in participating countries down to near zero." And to do that, you "clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new approaches to generating power."
The mathematics of decarbonization are not complicated. Under even modest projections of economic growth (i.e., from 2% to 5% per year), Colorado would have to achieve rates of decarbonization of its economy in excess of 5% per year, well above its historical rate of about 2%. But rates of decarbonization is a fairly technical and abstract term lacking any intuitive meaning. So in my presentation to the AQCC I sought to translate what this might imply practically using a more meaningful metric -- the energy produced by nuclear power plant-equivalents or wind turbine-equivalents.

The math here is not complicated either. A 20% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels is about the emissions of 1997. The energy consumed in Colorado in 1997 was about 1.1 quads (quadrillion BTUs). Under an assumption that energy consumption will increase 2010-2020 at the same rate of growth as 1997-2007, this means that Colorado would consume about 2 quads in 2020. To get back to the emissions equivalent with 1.1 quads means coming up with about 0.9 quads of carbon-free energy. If 1 quad is equivalent to 11 GW, then Colorado will need to come up with about 10 GW of new carbon-free energy by 2020. If you want to assume that growth in new energy consumption can be halved -- a really big task given Colorado's expected population growth -- then you'd need about 5 GW of new carbon-free energy. I also presented to the Commissioners a scenario assuming that there is no growth in energy consumption in Colorado from 2007 levels (not going to happen), as a lower bound.

If growth in energy consumption continues at its historical rate (of about 2.6% per year), then this means that to achieve its 2020 emissions reduction target Colorado will need (more than) the equivalent of about 13 1 GW nuclear power plants operating at 75% efficiency. Don't like a nuclear comparison? OK, then this means that Colorado will need the equivalent of more than 11,000 2.5 MW wind turbines operating at 33% efficiency. I have considered none of the practical issues associated with grid integration, intermittency, electricity vs. liquid fuels and so on. This is one reason why I think my analysis errs on the side of underestimating the actual challenge. Remember that there are only about 3,500 days until 2020.

Of course, there are typically thick reports produced by experts with highly complex plans for meeting emissions reductions goals involving changes across the economy (and indeed there are such plans that have been produced for Colorado). However, even though these plans are far more complex than this simple exercise, they are arguably far more difficult to achieve due to their greater complexity. These plans express the challenge differently, but they make meeting challenge of meeting the targets no simpler than the magnitude of the challenge as presented here. Sometimes complexity obscures the obvious. My analysis make make more sense when you realize that we are not really talking about a 20% cut in emissions, but as much as a 45-50% reduction in emissions from levels that might occur in 2020 under plausible scenarios for business as usual. That amount of emissions approaches the carbon dioxide emitted from total energy consumption in Colorado in the mid-1990s.

The math here is not complicated and you can do this sort of analysis yourself. Indeed I encourage people not to take my word for it, but to just do the math. The data is readily available from BEA and EIA, and while it is of course possible to vary assumptions in many ways (e.g., by energy source based on different carbon intensities), the bottom-line result of this analysis -- that it appears unlikely and even impossible for Colorado to meet its 2020 emissions reductions target -- seems pretty robust.

23 February 2010

Updated WMO Consensus Perspective on Tropical Cyclones

A team of researchers under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization has published a new review paper in Nature Geoscience (PDF) updating consensus perspectives published in 1998 and 2006. The author team includes prominent scientists from either side of the "hurricane wars" of 2005-2006: Thomas R. Knutson, John L. McBride, Johnny Chan, Kerry Emanuel, Greg Holland, Chris Landsea, Isaac Held, James P. Kossin, A. K. Srivastava and Masato Sugi.

The paper reaches a number of interesting (but for those paying attention, ultimately unsurprising) conclusions. On North Atlantic hurricanes the paper states (emphasis added):
Hurricane counts (with no adjustments for possible missing cases) show a significant increase from the late 1800s to present, but do not have a significant trend from the 1850s or 1860s to present3. Other studies23 infer a substantial low-bias in early Atlantic tropical cyclone intensities (1851–1920), which, if corrected, would further reduce or possibly eliminate long-term increasing trends in basin-wide hurricane counts. Landfalling tropical storm and hurricane activity in the US shows no long-term increase (Fig. 2, orange series)20. Basin-wide major hurricane counts show a significant rising trend, but we judge these basin-wide data as unreliable for climate-trend estimation before aircraft reconnaissance in 1944.
The paper's conclusions about global trends might raise a few eyebrows.
In terms of global tropical cyclone frequency, it was concluded25 that there was no significant change in global tropical storm or hurricane numbers from 1970 to 2004, nor any significant change in hurricane numbers for any individual basin over that period, except for the Atlantic (discussed above). Landfall in various regions of East Asia26 during the past 60 years, and those in the Philippines27 during the past century, also do not show significant trends.
The paper acknowledges that the detection of a change in tropical cyclone frequency has yet to be achieved:
Thus, considering available observational studies, and after accounting for potential errors arising from past changes in observing capabilities, it remains uncertain whether past changes in tropical cyclone frequency have exceeded the variability expected through natural causes.
The paper states that projections of future activity favor a reduction in storm frequency coupled with and increase in average storm intensity, with large uncertainties:
These include our assessment that tropical cyclone frequency is likely to either decrease or remain essentially the same. Despite this lack of an increase in total storm count, we project that a future increase in the globally averaged frequency of the strongest tropical cyclones is more likely than not — a higher confidence level than possible at our previous assessment6.
Does the science allow detection of such expected changes in tropical cyclone intensity based on historical trends? The authors say no:
The short time period of the data does not allow any definitive statements regarding separation of anthropogenic changes from natural decadal variability or the existence of longer-term trends and possible links to greenhouse warming. Furthermore, intensity changes may result from a systematic change in storm duration, which is another route by which the storm environment can affect intensity that has not been studied extensively.

The intensity changes projected by various modelling studies of the effects of greenhouse-gas-induced warming (Supplementary Table S2) are small in the sense that detection of an intensity change of a magnitude consistent with model projections should be very unlikely at this time37,38, given data limitations and the large interannual variability relative to the projected changes. Uncertain relationships between tropical cyclones and internal climate variability, including factors related to the SST distribution, such as vertical wind shear, also reduce our ability to confidently attribute observed intensity changes to greenhouse warming. The most significant cyclone intensity increases are found for the Atlantic Ocean basin43, but the relative contributions to this increase from multidecadal variability44 (whether internal or aerosol forced) versus greenhouse-forced warming cannot yet be confidently determined.
What about more intense rainfall?
. . . a detectable change in tropical-cyclone-related rainfall has not been established by existing studies.
What about changes in location of storm formation, storm motion, lifetime and surge?
There is no conclusive evidence that any observed changes in tropical cyclone genesis, tracks, duration and surge flooding exceed the variability expected from natural causes.
Bottom line (emphasis added)?
. . . we cannot at this time conclusively identify anthropogenic signals in past tropical cyclone data.
The latest WMO statement should indicate definitively (and once again) that it is scientifically untenable to associate trends (i.e., in the past) in hurricane activity or damage to anthropogenic causes.

22 February 2010

Will Toor on Boulder's Emisisons Reductions

Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor has responded to a recent article in the WSJ which suggested that the emissions reductions policies in Boulder were falling short of their objectives. I disagree with Will's views about the potential for Boulder to reduce its emissions in any meaningful way. However, Will is smart and thoughtful and his views are always worth hearing. Here is his response (from the comments to an article by Tom Yulsman):
On Feb. 13 the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article criticizing the efforts of communities in Boulder County, Colorado to increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and build a green economy. The article included numerous cherry-picked negative quotes, but very little factual analysis on the impacts of these programs .

The truth is, our local clean energy efforts have had significant accomplishments. Since the program began in March 2009, the new ClimateSmart Loan Program has lent nearly $10 million in private bond sale investments to 612 homeowners to improve their homes’ energy efficiency and install solar systems. Approximately 1/3 of this went to solar energy, the other two thirds to energy efficiency improvements. More than 280 local independent contractors have received work from this program, producing jobs and keeping many vendors in business .The program is continuing to expand – we receive numerous calls from homeowners wanting to participate in the next round of loans. This program does not rely on tax dollars – instead it use property assessments to back bonds for clean energy improvements, and has begun one of a handful of national models for such programs. Already, three other counties in Colorado have followed suit.

Boulder, Boulder County, Superior and Longmont have all adopted residential green building codes, assuring that new homes and major remodels of existing homes are far more energy efficient than the national norm. Boulder County’s code requires modestly sized new homes to use 40% less energy than typical new homes, and requires larger homes to be even more efficient, so that their net impact is not greater than small homes. All these jurisdictions have collaboratively created a model commercial green building code which would set the bar at 30% more energy efficiency than national codes, and Boulder has already adopted this standard. Over time, these codes will have a huge impact on energy use .

In the last few years, our residents have increased their annual investment in new solar panels by a factor of 10 – making solar generation an important component of our local electricity mix. Local governments have aggressively pursued power purchase agreements that allow them to add largescale solar to public buildings at no net cost. Boulder County alone has installed nearly a megawatt of solar PV on 10 county buildings in the past two years.

Here are responses to some of the specific claims by the Wall Street Journal :

WSJ claim: “Since 2006, Boulder has subsidized about 750 home energy audits. Even after the subsidy, the audits cost each homeowner up to $200, so only the most committed signed up. Still, follow-up surveys found half didn't implement even the simplest recommendations, despite incentives such as discounts on energy-efficient bulbs and rebates for attic insulation.”

Here are the actual facts: The Residential Energy Action Program, a joint program of Boulder, Boulder County, and other municipalities in the county, which provides energy audits and energy counseling, has attracted more than 2,000 participants. Phone surveys have indicated that 85% of participants follow up with action. The most common improvement is added insulation, followed by installaing energy efficient furnaces, eand nergy efficient hot water heaters. On average, an audit participant spends $8,724 on energy improvements, resulting in a $44 return on investment for every $1 spent by local government.

WSJ statement: "We still have a long way to go," says Paul Sheldon, a consultant who advises the city on conservation. Residents "should be driving high-efficiency vehicles, and they're not. They should be carpooling, and they're not."

The implication is that local efforts to improve transportation sustainability are a failure. This is demonstrable false. Unlike the climate action plans, which are very recent, the City of Boulder has had a sustainable transportation plan since 1995, and has been carefully tracking the results.

Boulder’s efforts have focused on switching investment from roadway expansion to public transit and high quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, creating financial incentives for transit use, and supporting higher density mixed use development in the core of the community. This work has paid off. According to US Census Bureau surveys, Boulder residents have cut back their driving by nearly 20% since 2000. Compared to the national average, Boulder residents bike 18 times more, walk 3 times more, and use transit twice as much. Boulder set a goal of capping vehicles miles travelled in the Boulder Valley at 1994 levels. The data from 2008 (the most recent year data are available for is ) show that this goal has been met – there has been no increase in miles travelled within Boulder, despite a thriving, growing local economy. Without these policies we would have expected a 60% increase. This alone represents a significant accomplishment in avoiding GHG emissions growth. While there are clearly large transportation challenges facing boulder – how to develop additional regional public transit and how to house more employees within Boulder to reduce commuting being the biggest – it is just incorrect to imply that Boulder’s transportation efforts have been a failure.

Wall Street Journal claim: “By the end of 2008, emissions here were 27% higher than 1990 levels. That's a worse showing than the U.S. as a whole, where emissions rose 15% during that period, according to the Department of Energy.”

While this is true, it needs some context. At the global scale, total emissions are what count. But, if what we are trying to do is judge the success of local efforts, we need to normalize the emissions. Boulder went through a huge boom in employment and commercial construction. And commercial energy use is the largest source of GHG emissions in Boulder. These emissions came not necessarily from higher per capita emissions, but simply from more activity happening in Boulder rather than somewhere else.

Wall Street Journal quote: "If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts are not going to work as a core policy" for the nation, says Roger Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Local efforts to reduce GHG emissions have just begun. The carbon tax was not passed until 2006, and most of the programs have only been started in the last two years. The most successful countywide program to date, the Climate Smart Loan Program, just began in March of 2009. There simply has not been the time to measure the overall impact of Boulder’s carbon reduction efforts . The built infrastructure can’t be changed overnight. But what are seeing are some encouraging signs. The data indicate that emissions seem to be trending downwards, as opposed to historical growth rates of several percent per year. This is too recent to be sure that it is really a long term trend – but certainly does not support the conclusion that these efforts are a failure.

Boulder County and it’s municipalities cannot go it alone. Many of the largest drivers of GHG emissions are regulated at the state and national level. The state government regulates the generation of electricity – one of the largest sources of GHG emissions. Luckily, our Governor, Bill Ritter, has been a tireless champion of the new energy economy. Under his leadership the state has adopted legislation requiring that 20% of our electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020, and is considering legislation this spring to raise the standard to 30%. There is a real opportunity to couple this with coal plant retirements and additional use of lower carbon natural gas as an interim strategy to achieve deep reductions in GHG emissions – and huge benefits for public health locally.

The federal government regulates automobile fuel efficiency standards, controls much of the investment in transportation infrastructure, and is probably the only effective level at which a carbon tax or cap and trade system can be implemented. Local governments like ours can make a big difference in certain sectors, such as building energy efficiency, and are a hugely important place for policy innovation, but ultimately we can only achieve a large-scale transformation of our energy systems through a partnership between state, federal, and local government, in cooperation with the private sector.

Far from a cautionary tale, the Boulder area provides a model for how well crafted government policies for clean energy and sustainable transportation can spur green jobs, a high quality of life, and lower carbon emissions. It is time for the federal government to enact comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation so that the entire country can realize these benefits.

Mojib Latif on ZDF: "A Fraud to the Public"

The German public television station ZDF has put together a nice segment (in German, available here) on the substantive problems in the IPCC, including the issue of catastrophe losses. In it Mojib Latif, a prominent German climate scientist, comments on the misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change in very strong terms:
"This is clearly a fraud to the public and to the colleague. Everybody has to reject such a behaviour. We have to take care, those things won't happen again."
UPDATE: In the comments Richard Tol offers some helpful details on the translation (original above by a native German speaker, FYI):
Latif uses the word "Betrug", which can mean fraud, but also deceit, deception, cheating, fooling, swindle, fiddle, or scam.

I would think that "Betrug" is somewhat softer than "fraud", but then English is my second language and German my third.
FURTHER UPDATE: From the comments:
German is my first language,too, and I would translate Mojib Latif's sentence like this:

"This is a very obvious fraud, on the public and on the colleague in question. One has to categorically reject such a thing and we must now try, should such things really have happened, to make sure they don't happen again next time."

On a sliding scale of words refering to matters of dishonesty, "Betrug" is the strongest and most serious accusation, used in the sense of criminal deception. As even in Germany libel cases are no longer quite so rare, using this word can be quite risky. Note that the ZDF itself calls this "dubious goings on" ("unsauberes Handeln") and does not itself accuse the IPCC of fraud. Mojib Latif, who is entirely apologetic about the other mistakes pointed out in the ZDF report, uses "Betrug" very deliberately, when referring to the IPCC's misrepresentation of Roger's work, but covers himself when he adds "wenn sie [solche Dinge] tatsaechlich vorgekommen sind" - "wenn" could be translated even stronger as "if" and not just "should have" but it's unclear from his words how much doubt he meant to throw in there.

18 February 2010

Policy Impact of IPCC Misdirection

In Australia yesterday, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong gave a speech is which she discussed the claims that the IPCC had misrepresented the science of disaster costs and climate change. She stated:

Another claim is that the IPCC exaggerated economic losses from catastrophes attributed to climate change.

The IPCC has described these claims as “misleading and baseless". The scientist has gone on the record to say his peer-reviewed scientific paper was correctly represented in the IPCC report.

Presumably, the "scientist" that she refers to is Robert Muir-Wood. In the paper that Wong refers to, Muir-Wood and colleagues write:
We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses.
If Wong thinks that paper suggests a linkage between rising temperatures and catastrophes, then that is pretty good evidence that the IPCC did not in fact accurately represent the paper. It is interesting how the issue is now about how a paper was represented, and not the science of disasters and climate change.

Muir-Wood also confirms that the IPCC intentionally miscited another paper in order to include a graph that he says,
. . . could be misinterpreted and should not have been included in these materials.
Obviously, from Wong's remarks misinterpretation is more than just a possibility. The IPCC also made up stuff about my views and ignored its reviewers who explained that the graph was misleading and should be reviewed.

The bottom line is that there is no scientific evidence linking rising global temperatures to the increasing catastrophe losses around the world. Ironically enough, the scientific evidence includes the paper cited by Wong to suggest the opposite. Despite this fact, and the obvious IPCC misrepresentations on this subject, Australia's Penny Wong concludes:
There may well be dispute about the cost of catastrophes, but the science on the link between these catastrophes and climate change has not been credibly challenged.
Score that as one fully duped policy maker by the IPCC's spin and misdirection.

17 February 2010

RMS on the "Mystery Graph": Should Not Have Been Included

Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader, it appears that soon after I observed that in its public statement on the IPCC RMS was silent on the "mystery graph," RMS updated its statement as follows (PDF):
A graph showing averaged global temperature and averaged catastrophe loss since 1970 was included in supplementary material rather than the IPCC report itself and was not itself published. RMS believes that the graph could be misinterpreted and should not have been included in these materials.
RMS of course is the company that employs Robert Muir-Wood, contributing author to the AR4 IPCC WGII Chapter 1. The "mystery graph" appears above. It can be found in IPCC WGII in the Supplementary Material to Chapter 1, available here. The idea that the Supplementary Material is not part of the IPCC report is an interesting notion, but one that doesn't pass a common sense test, as the only place that it appears anywhere is in the IPCC report . As RMS explains, the graph was never published outside the IPCC -- in the peer or grey literature. In any case it is nice to see RMS come forward and admit that the graph "should not have been included" due to its potential misleading nature.

UPDATE: In the comments Ian Castles observes:
Of course the Supplementary Material to Chapter 1 of the WGII contribution is part of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. The Chapter supplementary material is included in on the CD-ROM accompanying the WGII contribution as published by Cambridge University Press (inside the back cover, according to the Contents page). In fact, the Errata to the WGI contribution includes errors which ONLY appeared in the CD ROM version of that Report, which had to be finalised before the printed volume.

Now that it has become clear that neither Robert Muir-Wood nor RMS believed that the graph should have been included, the IPCC should be investigating and explaining how the apparent failure of process occurred. The RMS statement is disingenuous in stating that the graph "was not itself published".
In short, RMS has now independently confirmed that the IPCC willfully miscited the graph to avoid a publication deadline and admits that the IPCC shouldn't have included the graph in the first place, because it was misleading. Not good for the IPCC.

Normalized US Hurricane Losses 1900-2009

The figure above shows normalized US hurricane losses for 1900 to 2009. It shows an estimate of what hurricane damages would be if each hurricane season took place in 2009. The dark line shows the linear best fit from Excel. Obviously, there is no trend. This makes sense as there has also been no trend in U.S. landfall frequencies or intensities over this period (in fact, depending on start date there is evidence for a slight but statistically significant decline, source in PDF).

One indication that our methodology does a good job adjusting for societal change is that the resulting time series matches up with the time series in landfall frequencies and intensities. If there were a significant bias in our methods (for whatever reason) it would show up as a deviation between the normalized trends and the geophysical trends. We see no such deviation. Other reasons for confidence in our analysis is that it has been independently replicated on several occasions and that we (and others) can also recover an ENSO signal in the data (e.g., PDF).

You can play around with the data from the ICAT Damage Estimator. Details on the analysis can be found in the following paper:
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.

Retreating to a Comfort Zone

With prospects for U.S. cap and trade legislation now completely extinguished, it is interesting to see some of the most vocal supporters of cap and trade silent on the implications of its failure and what should be done next on climate policy. Instead, Thomas Friedman and his favorite climate expert have decided to fall back onto debating the science and increasing emphasis on warring with the "deniers." Friedman writes today:
It is time the climate scientists stopped just playing defense.
Do we really need a further politicization of climate science? Haven't we had enough of that already?

Friedman's emphasis on stirring up the climate science wars is a shame because it obscures a really important point that he makes:
Even if climate change proves less catastrophic than some fear, in a world that is forecast to grow from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion people between now and 2050, more and more of whom will live like Americans, demand for renewable energy and clean water is going to soar. It is obviously going to be the next great global industry.
What is this? There is good reason to decarbonize the global economy independent of uncertainties about climate change? You'll be hearing much more about this from me in coming months.

16 February 2010

Consistent with Being in a Deep Fog

National Geographic reports yesterday:
Declining fog cover on California's coast could leave the state's famous redwoods high and dry, a new study says.

Among the tallest and longest-lived trees on Earth, redwoods depend on summertime's moisture-rich fog to replenish their water reserves.

But climate change may be reducing this crucial fog cover. Though still poorly understood, climate change may be contributing to a decline in a high-pressure climatic system that usually "pinches itself" against the coast, creating fog, said study co-author James Johnstone, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Last summer the San Francisco Chronicle carried a story about research on fog and climate with a different conclusion:
The Bay Area just had its foggiest May in 50 years. And thanks to global warming, it's about to get even foggier.

That's the conclusion of several state researchers, whose soon-to-be-published study predicts that even with average temperatures on the rise, the mercury won't be soaring everywhere.

"There'll be winners and losers," says Robert Bornstein, a meteorology professor at San Jose State University. "Global warming is warming the interior part of California, but it leads to a reverse reaction of more fog along the coast."

The study, which will appear in the journal Climate, is the latest to argue that colder summers are indeed in store for parts of the Bay Area.

More fog is consistent with predictions of climate change. Less fog is consistent with predictions of climate change. I wonder if the same amount of fog is also "consistent with" such predictions? I bet so.

Number of the Day: 1,100

New Delhi is seeing the addition of 1,100 new vehicles to its streets every day.

15 February 2010

From a Mistake to a Lie

If you want to understand why so many people have lost trust in the climate science community, due to the acts of a few, just take a look at what Real Climate has done to spin the disaster issue regarding the IPCC. They write in a post that (emphasis added):
WG2 did include a debatable graph provided by Robert Muir-Wood (although not in the main report but only as Supplementary Material). It cited a paper by Muir-Wood as its source although that paper doesn’t include the graph, only the analysis that it is based on.
As readers here well know, the analysis of the Muir-Wood mystery graph does not appear in the cited source (or any other). Real Climate's claim is easily shown to be wrong. Perhaps they made an honest mistake. I pointed this fact out to them and asked that they correct the error:

This statement in your post is in error:

“It cited a paper by Muir-Wood as its source although that paper doesn’t include the graph, only the analysis that it is based on.”

The cited paper does not include the analysis that the graph is based on. In fact, it includes no discussion of temperature trends and disasters. You can confirm this for yourself:

You should correct the error in this post.

Real Climate has decided to leave the error uncorrected. When does an honest error become something different?

Instead of just correcting the factual record Real Climate responds to my request with the following:
You've been working hard to scandalize your personal quibbles with IPCC here - how consistent is this with your self-proclaimed role as "honest broker"?
Lies on top of lies. Not good. If they want to understand why their community has lost so much credibility, they need only look to their own actions.

14 February 2010

RMS Confirms Effort to Skirt IPCC Publication Deadlines

[UPDATE: Real Climate discusses the Muir-Wood paper, and refuses to correct obvious factual errors in their account even after having them pointed out. Their post is appropriately titled facts and spin.]

In my efforts to unravel the issues associated with the IPCC's mistreatment of the subject of disasters and climate change I discovered that the IPCC intentionally mis-cited a paper to get around its own deadline for the inclusion of publications in its report. This fact has now been independently confirmed by RMS, a company that develops catastrophe models for re/insurance (PDF).
The research was conducted during the first half of 2006 and the full paper summarizing the results was peer reviewed and accepted for publication in November 2006. This was a few weeks outside of the cut-off date for the IPCC 4th Assessment Report in October, which is why an earlier summary version of the paper—written for a scientific workshop held in May 2006 and published in the conference proceedings in October 2006—was referenced (the IPCC can only cite published material). Despite not being able to reference it, the IPCC was aware of the full report and that it had been accepted for publication before the 4th Assessment Report was finalized.
The problem was that the "earlier summary version of the paper" did not contain any of the information for which the citation was provided in the IPCC, specifically a discussion of rising temperatures and the increasing costs of disasters. In academia, the intentional mis-citing of a paper in support of a claim for which the paper offers absolutely no support would be a highly questionable ethical practice.

RMS is completely silent on the intentional misdirection and also on the so-called "mystery graph." I understand why. However, Rober Muir-Woods of RMS has already explained in public that the "mystery graph" should not have been included in the report. Given this fact, the omission of this detail from the new RMS FAQ is unfortunate. It is however nice to see my accounting of events surrounding the mistreatment of disaster losses by the IPCC receive some independent confirmation from RMS.

Glantz and Pielke Letter in the Boulder Daily Camera

Mickey Glantz and I have a letter in today's Boulder Daily Camera, here it is:

Watch that finger pointing

In an Associated Press article in the Daily Camera (Feb. 11) NCAR`s Kevin Trenberth is quoted as saying that the social sciences are "soft sciences," hence they bear responsibility for the sloppiness that has been revealed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Dr. Trenberth`s comment on the social and other scientists working on part of the multi-volume IPCC report is an attempt to deflect attention away from increasing and legitimate concerns about the panel`s credibility.

Indeed, the defensive approach taken by the IPCC and its leadership is part of the problem, and has made the IPCC`s difficulties even worse.

The facts are that the IPCC Working Group 2, the impacts report he refers to, was put together by all people from many disciplines -- physical, biological and social sciences. The two of us -- both social scientists -- have raised issues about the integrity of the IPCC assessments for years, only to be ignored by IPCC scientists, including our former colleague, Dr. Trenberth. The IPCC`s failings are the result of an organization that operates with far too little accountability and transparency.

For instance, we have repeatedly warned about the lack of a scientific foundation in claims that the increasing toll of disasters can be attributed in part to warming temperatures. The IPCC`s gross mistreatment of this subject is only now being widely recognized, and rightly so.

Yet just last October Dr. Trenberth testified to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that the rising toll of disasters has been at least in part caused by global warming (cdphe.state.co.us/climate/ClimateChangeTrenberth.pdf). There is simply no scientific basis for this claim. Increasing wealth, population and reporting explains the entire increase. Before pointing fingers at other scholars, Dr. Trenberth may first wish to ensure that he has his own facts straight and is not misleading policy makers.

We have no doubts that humans have an influence on the climate system, with a significant influence from accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We have both advocated action to reduce emissions and improve adaptation. Enacting such policies will be much more difficult if processes of expert advice lose their credibility and trust with the public. Finger pointing, rather than taking responsibility, will not help rebuild that lost credibility.



13 February 2010

Beyond the "Consistent With" Canard

For a few years, I've been noting the tendency for advocates and others to explain that specific weather events are "consistent with" predictions of climate models of the expected effects of human-caused climate change (e.g., here).

Over at the Center for American Progress, Joe Romm has recommended that journalists use the "consistent with" construction to imply in misleading fashion a linkage of specific weather events with human-caused climate change. Implying such a linkage is simply wrong, because weather is not climate.

In addition to being wrong, implying such a linkage is also wrongheaded. To understand why, have a look at the short debate above between Daniel Weiss of CAP and Marc Morano of climatedepot.com. Based on this performance, CAP may want to rethink its messaging. However, Mark Morano is probably pretty happy with it as it stands.

In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank makes a point that I have been arguing for years:
For those concerned about warming, it's time for a shift in emphasis. Fortunately, one has already been provided to them by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has done more than any Democrat to keep climate legislation alive this year. His solution: skip the hurricanes and Himalayan glaciers and keep the argument on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on foreign oil, some of that going to terrorists rather than to domestic job creation.

Al Gore, for one, seems to realize it's time for a new tactic. New TV ads released during last week's blizzards by Gore's climate advocacy group say nothing about climate science. They show workers asking their senators for more jobs from clean energy.

That's a good sign. If the Washington snows persuade the greens to put away the slides of polar bears and pine beetles and to keep the focus on national security and jobs, it will have been worth the shoveling.
Someone should pass along this good advice to CAP.

12 February 2010

Australia Decarbonization Paper

If you got here via the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, welcome. The paper of mine referenced in the articles can be found here. Comments welcomed.

It is true that my analysis failed to account for accounting tricks:
Australia's Climate Change Ministrer, Penny Wong, yesterday said the paper ignored ''the important role international permits will play in Australia's low cost transition to a low pollution future''. ''The government's policy includes using international permits as part of the market-based Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme…"
So Australia doesn't really intend to decarbonize its economy? Wow.

11 February 2010

Unpublished Paper on Problems in Scientific Assessments

Last week I alluded to a paper that I had submitted for publication and which was ultimately rejected. The journal was MTS Journal and the occasion was that a colleague was putting together a special issue and had asked me to contribute something. I was not too bothered by the rejection, apparently, and at the time I was getting ready to move to Oxford for a sabbatical. In light of recent events regarding the IPCC, the paper now appears a bit more significant than it did back then. Below are links to the (a) original submission, (b) reviewer comments and my responses, and (c) the revised resubmission, which was rejected for publication.

If nothing else the review comments indicate how criticisms of the IPCC were received circa late 2006. Comments welcomed.

(a) Original submission (PDF)
(b) Reviewer comments and response (PDF)
(c) Revised submission (PDF)
Pielke Jr., R. A. 2010 (2006). Effective Science Arbitration: Some Lessons from Recent Scientific Assessments, unpublished manuscript, December, 2006.
For those not interested in all the details here are the three lessons that I draw:
The three cases discussed here were not selected through some random procedure, but happened to be instances in which I observed problems in the assessment process while doing research. Thus it is difficult to assess how widespread the issues discussed here might be in the assessment literature. However broad the problem is, as the IPCC prepares to publish its fourth assessment report, and scientists and policy makers continue to emphasize the importance of assessments, it seems critical to carefully evaluate procedures for accuracy, and for users of assessments to understand the strengths and limits of assessments. . .

Each of the three cases discussed in this paper reinforce the continuing importance of the conventional peer-reviewed literature. . . While assessments can serve as a useful “shortcut” to researchers, particularly for areas outside their direct expertise, it is appropriate for researchers to continue to rely on original literature in their scientific work, rather than to simply depend on assessments as accurate means to convey scientific findings. Inevitably, assessments must simplify, in the process losing much of the nuance and uncertainties that characterize any complex scientific study. . .

Asking an assessment to distill the potential relevance for action, or at a minimum to specify criteria of policy relevance, would not necessarily require abandonment of a focus on positive questions. An assessment built upon questions provided by policymakers would create a close tie between the information demanded by decision makers and that being produced in assessments . . . In each of the three cases discussed here, shortfalls in credibility have potential threaten the assessment legitimacy. And both credibility and legitimacy could be enhanced through a more explicit focus on assessment salience, which was lacking in all three instances.

Weather is not Climate

Let's see if I can make this simple.

What happens in the weather this week or next tells us absolutely nothing about the role of humans in influencing the climate system. It is unjustifiable to claim that a cold snap or heavy snow disproves or even casts doubts predictions of long-term climate change. It is equally unjustifiable to say that a cold snap or heavy snow in any way offers empirical support for predictions of long-term climate change. This goes for all weather events.

Further, it is professionally irresponsible for scientists to claim that some observed weather is "consistent with" long-term predictions of climate change. Any and all weather fits this criteria. Similarly, any and all weather is also "consistent with" failing predictions of long-term climate change. The "consistent with" canard is purposely misleading.

Knowledge of climate requires long-term records -- on the time scale of a decade and longer. Don't look to the weather to learn about climate, unless you have a long time to watch. Using the weather to score cheap political points in the climate debate appears to be a tactical area of agreement among those who otherwise disagree about climate change.

10 February 2010

IPCC: Cherish, Tweak or Scrap?

Nature solicits the opinions of 5 past IPCC contributors about the best way forward for the institution. Here are a few short excerpts from the diverse range of views.
Mike Hulme

The IPCC is no longer fit for purpose. . .

My suggestion for radical reform is to dissolve the IPCC after the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014. The work would be split into three types of assessment and evaluation, each rather different to the three existing IPCC working groups.

Eduardo Zorita

An [International Climate Agency] could be built, for instance, on the IAEA template, encompassing many more countries than the IAEA but with a smaller staff. . .

As with finance, climate assessment is too important to be left in the hands of advocates.

Thomas Stocker

The IPCC has served as an honest broker in the past and will do so, hopefully, in the future.

Only with strict adherence to procedures and to scientific rigour at all stages will the IPCC continue to provide the best and most robust information that is needed so much.

Jeff Price

Increasing the number of lead authors would provide better balance and give more scientists the ability to participate in the process. . . The IPCC should also expand the number of specialist task forces, task groups and hold more expert meetings to provide additional scientific review and oversight . . . the current period between assessments is too long.

John Christy

The IPCC selects lead authors from the pool of those nominated by individual governments. Over time, many governments nominated only authors who were aligned with stated policy.

I recommended last year that the next IPCC report invites published authors to write about the evidence for low climate sensitivity and other issues. The IPCC then would be a true reflection of the heterogeneity of scientific views, an ‘honest broker’, rather than an echo chamber.

Another Report from the Ri

Above image from adibaker.com.

Amelia Gregory has provided another first hand account of the debate at the RI last Friday night. She does a nice job summarizing the event, and even provides some illustrations. We seem to have been graced with the presence of a number of very talented and thoughtful observers in the audience. Anyway, have a look.

UPDATE: Another report here.

09 February 2010

Jerry Ravetz on Climategate

Jerry Ravetz, a giant among scholars in the history and philosophy of science and someone who I am happy to call a friend and colleague, has written a thoughtful essay on the remarkable events that have unfolded in climate science of recent months. Here is an excerpt:

The total assurance of the mainstream scientists in their own correctness and in the intellectual and moral defects of their critics, is now in retrospect perceived as arrogance. For their spokespersons to continue to make light of the damage to the scientific case, and to ignore the ethical dimension of Climategate, is to risk public outrage at a perceived unreformed arrogance. If there is a continuing stream of ever more detailed revelations, originating in the blogosphere but now being brought to a broader public, then the credibility of the established scientific authorities will continue to erode. Do we face the prospect of the IPCC reports being totally dismissed as just more dodgy dossiers, and of hitherto trusted scientists being accused of negligence or worse? There will be those who with their own motives will be promoting such a picture. How can it be refuted?

And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science. The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection. What sort of chaos would then result? The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary.

Jerry's article is thoughtful and worth your time. Jerry sends another strong message as well with his choice of venues where he chose to publish the essay.


The New York Times has an article today about the issue of conflicts of interest and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC. I thought that it might be worth sharing what the U.S. National Academy of Sciences says about conflicts of interest, as an example of how one leading scientific advisory body sees the issue as related to advice related to government regulation (full document here in PDF). If the IPCC decided today to adopt the NAS guidelines, would Dr. Pachauri be judged to have conflict(s) of interest? I think that the answer is pretty obvious.
It is essential that the work of committees of the institution used in the development of reports not be compromised by any significant conflict of interest. For this purpose, the term "conflict of interest" means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it (1) could significantly impair the individual's objectivity or (2) could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization. Except for those situations in which the institution determines that a conflict of interest is unavoidable and promptly and publicly discloses the conflict of interest, no individual can be appointed to serve (or continue to serve) on a committee of the institution used in the development of reports if the individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed.

The term "conflict of interest" means something more than individual bias. There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee.

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

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

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

This disclosure form is used for any committee that will be used by the institution in the development of one or more reports to be provided by the institution to a sponsoring agency for use in a government regulatory process. For such projects, the focus of the conflict of interest inquiry is on the identification and assessment of any interests that may be directly affected by the use of such reports in the regulatory process.

For example, if this institution were conducting a study of proposed modifications in the government regulation of a particular application of biotechnology, the focus of the conflict of interest inquiry would be on the identification and assessment of any interests that would be directly affected by that regulatory process if the institution's report were to provide the basis for regulatory action or inaction. The concern is that if an individual (or others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests) has specific interests that could be directly affected by the regulatory process, the individual's objectivity could be impaired.

Such interests could include an individual's stock holdings in excess of $10,000 in a potentially affected biotechnology company or being an officer, director, or employee of the company. Serving as a consultant to the company could constitute such an interest if the consulting relationship with the company could be directly affected or is directly related to the subject matter of the regulatory process.

An individual's other possible interests might include, for example, relevant patents and other forms of intellectual property, serving as an expert witness in litigation directly related to the subject matter of the regulatory process, or receiving research funding from a party that would be directly affected by the regulatory process if the research funding could be directly affected or is directly related to the subject matter of the regulatory process and the right to independently conduct and publish the results of this research is limited by the sponsor. Consideration would also need to be given to the interests of others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests -- particularly spouses, employers, clients, and business or research partners.