30 November 2011

The Climate Fix Now Available in Paperback

The Climate Fix is out in paperback.  Don't be the last person to understand why climate policy is in collapse ... run, don't walk, to your local bookstore or online retailer and get your copy today ;-)

28 November 2011

A New US Hurricane Record

On December 4, 2011 it will have been 2,232 days since Hurricane Wilma made landfall along the Gulf coast as a category 3 storm back in 2005. That number of days will break the existing record of days between major US hurricane landfalls, which previously was between 8 Sept 1900 (the great Galveston Hurricane) and 19 Oct 1906. Since there won't be any intense hurricanes before next summer, the record will be shattered, with the days between intense hurricane landfalls likely to exceed 2,500 days.

If you are in the insurance or reinsurance business and want to stir up a little constructive mischief, you should ask your favorite catastrophe modeling firm or ratings agency to show you the mathematics behind their estimate of the probability of zero intense hurricane landfalls from 2006 to present (both made at the time and what they'd say today). (Hint: Zero. Zip. Nada.).

This remarkable streak has to end sometime, and likely won't be repeated anytime soon.

24 November 2011

Universities and Big Time Athletics

As you sit down to enjoy a fun weekend of college football, here is a short piece of mine in the New York Times Room for Debate on the significance of the realignment scramble underway among college football conferences.  I'll bet that you didn't know that college football is a 100% government creation;-)


Ignorance is Bliss

[UPDATE 2 11/30: Here are several remarkable statements from climate scientists, one from the emails showing Kevin Trenberth calling for Chris Landsea to be fired for holding the wrong views and and a comment today from Gavin Schmidt justifying gatekeeping in climate science on political grounds. With comments like that, who needs emails?;-)]

[UPDATE: Ross McKitrick has a timely op-ed and report (PDF) out on IPCC reform. McKitrick's report, as with the concerns I've raised, are not about the substance of the science, but rather, with the institutions.  He writes:
[I]t is not about science. It is about the policies, procedures and administrative structures in the IPCC.
This is a distinction that appears lost by much of the media and science community alike.]

I don't expect to spend much further time on the latest batch of UEA emails, though from what I've seen there is plenty to keep interested parties busy for a while (and further serious problems for individual climate scientists). I cannot understand how anyone can still think that the IPCC does not need major reform, beginning with a comprehensive and immediate implementation of the recommendations of the IAC. Yet, there are apparently plenty of people in the media, in science and of course on blogs who argue (unconvincingly) that there are absolutely no problems whatsoever in institutions of climate science. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

I'll leave this issue with the following vignette from the emails. In May 2005, I gave an invited lecture at the University of East Anglia on the need for the IPCC to be reformed. This is when I was working on my book, The Honest Broker, and it was also just about a month before Kevin Trenberth and Phil Jones decided in ad hoc fashion to keep out of the IPCC's assessment of extreme events a peer-reviewed paper I had led on hurricane and climate change.

Here is the abstract of my May 2005 talk given at UEA:
~~~~ All Welcome~~~~
3 May 2005
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - honest broker or political
advocate? Understanding the difference and why it matters

Roger A. Pielke, Jr
Centre for Science & Technology Policy Research
University of Colorado, USA
4-5pm, Zuckerman Institute Seminar Room, UEA

The IPCC was created in the late 1980s to provide guidance to policy makers on climate change. Roger argues that since that time, the IPCC has seen its mandate and behaviour change from providing a guide to policy options to a much more narrow focus in support of a particular option at the center of intense political debate. This process has been accompanied by some in the IPCC leadership taking a more prominent role as participants in climate politics. All indications suggest that the fourth assessment will continue in this trend of narrowing it focus to advocate a particular approach to climate policy over other possible responses. This talk will explain the important differences between the IPCC serving as an "honest broker" and serving as a "political advocate." Roger will also explore the consequences for climate policy of these various alternatives, arguing that the IPCC is an important institution and that its role as an honest broker is worth preserving.
The new emails show Phil Jones' reaction to the announcement of my upcoming talk:
subject: Pielke !!!

This is all I need ! Must try and be somewhere else !
Jones was somewhere else during my talk, as were most all of the IPCC WG I folks at UEA. There is of course nothing wrong with scholars who don't like other scholars, or choose to close themselves off to hearing different or challenging perspectives.  Academics are like that sometimes ;-) This vignette is only meaningful in the context of the subsequent and arbitrary decision to keep our work out of the part of the IPCC overseen by Jones/Trenberth. That decision was not based on a careful assessment of the science, much less a rigorous process of review, but based on somewhat more pedestrian criteria.

The issue here of course is not whether or not our paper was included, but the process that was employed to make that decision. It is hard to reconcile the much touted IPCC review process with the arbitrary and even petty process that, in this case at least, was actually employed.

So if one wishes to understand the dynamics behind where the IPCC went off course, my advice is to look a bit less in the direction of big-time climate politics (though there is that), and more in the direction of petty academic politics.  How petty academic politics came to play a notable role in big-time climate politics through institutions of science is an overlooked aspect of the institutional failure of the IPCC, and a key part of the story revealed by the emails.

23 November 2011

FOIA2011 on The Shameful Paper

[UPDATE: Andy Revkin started an email discussion with relevant parties on this post and the following response from Kevin Trenberth and my rejoinder are part of that exchange. Posted here with Revkin's permission.


I am just back from travel and I have not seen any of the new batch of emails yet.  Whatever is there is highly selective.

The full story wrt the hurricanes is given on this web page and all the related links:


The paper by Pielke et al was not pertinent to the material in Chapter 3 and neither it nor the Anthes et al paper were included.  It did not deal with physical science topics included in chapter 3 and was countered by Anthes et al.   There is a huge trail of emails between the Anthes et al authors and the editors of BAMS related to all this and the difficulties we had even getting a comment published.

Far more shameful is the fact that of the 5 papers listed at the bottom of the page given above, not one was included in SREX!

SREX is a sham. 

My reply to Trenberth:
 Hi Kevin-

The webpage that you link to does not discuss Pielke et al. 2005.

The section of IPCC Chapter 3 (3.8.3) that is relevant deals with hurricanes and climate change.  Pielke et al. 2005 is a peer-reviewed literature review of ... hurricanes and climate change. I have no problem with your objections to the paper, however I find the decision making process employed to exclude it from your chapter a bit lacking.

Given that you were a co-author of Anthes et al. 2005 critical of Pielke et al. 2005 at the time you were deciding what literature to include in the IPCC, did you ever think that it may have been good sense to recuse yourself on this topic?  Lest one get the impression that you were waging a bit of a personal or academic vendetta against others?

Your comments on SREX help to underscore this.

Perhaps the IPCC should have better procedures in place under such circumstances.

All best,

SREX was a sham!?! Whoa.]

[Note: This post has been updated to link to the Chapter 3 of the IPCC AR4 WG I which was responsible for reviewing the science of hurricanes and climate change.]

Long time readers will recall that  in 2004 and 2005 (before Katrina), I led an interdisciplinary effort to review the literature on hurricanes and global warming. The effort resulted in a peer-reviewed article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (here in PDF).

That paper, despite being peer-reviewed and standing the test of time (as we now know), was ignored by the relevant part of the IPCC 2007 that dealt with extreme events. Thanks to the newly released emails from UEA (hacked, stolen, donated, or whatever) we can say with certainty why that paper was excluded from the IPCC 2007 report Chapter 3 which discussed hurricanes and climate change. Those various reviews associated with the release of the UEA emails that concluded that no papers were purposely kept out of the IPCC may want to revisit that particular conclusion.

First though, a bit of backstory ...

Upon our paper's acceptance for publication by BAMS in 2005 Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at NCAR here in Boulder and the person (along with Phil Jones) in charge of the 2007 IPCC AR4 chapter that reviewed extreme events including hurricanes, said this in the Boulder Daily Camera (emphasis added) about our article:
I think the role of the changing climate is greatly underestimated by Roger Pielke Jr. I think he should withdraw this article. This is a shameful article.
Trenberth personally disagreed with the paper, which is fine and appropriate -- academics disagree about the most trivial stuff all the time.  To get a sense of this issue, here is what we concluded in the "shameful article"and Trenberth disagreed with (more on Trenberth's views below):
To summarize, claims of linkages between global warming and hurricane impacts are premature for three reasons. First, no connection has been established between greenhouse gas emissions and the observed behavior of hurricanes . . . Second, the peer-reviewed literature reflects that a scientific consensus exists that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small in the context of observed variability . . . And third, under the assumptions of the IPCC, expected future damages to society of its projected changes in the behavior of hurricanes are dwarfed by the influence of its own projections of growing wealth and population . . . While future research or experience may yet overturn these conclusions, the state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.
In the newly released emails there is a 2005 exchange between Trenberth and Phil Jones about this paper which shows them deciding together to exclude the paper from the IPCC for "political" reasons, and it was indeed excluded.

Jones to Trenberth on 22 June 2005:

I'll read the Pielke et al piece for BAMS that came over the skeptic email today. Presumably we'll get forced to refer to it [in the 2007 IPCC report].
Trenberth replies:
Don't see why we should refer to the Pielke piece. It is [n]ot yet published. It is very political and an opinion.
Jones soon comes around, despite noting its peer-reviewed status:

Read the article on the new patio at home with a glass of wine. I thoroughly agree that we don't need to refer to it. Wrote that on it last night. It is very political. Several sentences and references shouldn't be there. I don't know who was supposed to have reviewed it - maybe Linda [Mearns] will know, as she used to or still does have something to do with BAMS. The inference in the email (from whence it came) is that it has been accepted !

The gatekeeping of the IPCC process is abundantly clear, and the shadowy suggestion that they can find out who the reviewers are from another colleague is a bit unsettling as well.

Here is some further background on the "shameful paper," which despite being ignored by the the IPCC, has been cited 179 times according to Google Scholar and appears to be consistent with the most recent IPCC report on the subject.

Even though the IPCC in 2007 didn't see the paper as worth discussing, a high-profile team of scientists saw fit to write up a commentary in response to our article in BAMS (here in PDF). One of those high-profile scientists was Trenberth.

Trenberth and his colleagues argued that our article was flawed in three respects, it was they said,
. . . incomplete and misleading because it 1) omits any mention of several of the most important aspects of the potential relationships between hurricanes and global warming, including rainfall, sea level, and storm surge; 2) leaves the impression that there is no significant connection between recent climate change caused by human activities and hurricane characteristics and impacts; and 3) does not take full account of the significance of recently identified trends and variations in tropical storms in causing impacts as compared to increasing societal vulnerability.
Our response to their comment (here in PDF) focused on the three points that they raised:
Anthes et al. (2006) present three criticisms of our paper. One criticism is that Pielke et al. (2005) “leaves the impression that there is no significant connection between recent climate change caused by human activities and hurricane characteristics and impacts.” If by “significant” they mean either (a) presence in the peer-reviewed literature or (b) discernible in the observed economic impacts, then this is indeed an accurate reading. Anthes et al. (2006) provide no data, analyses, or references that directly connect observed hurricane characteristics and impacts to anthropogenic climate change. . .

In a second criticism, Anthes et al. (2006) point out (quite accurately) that Pielke et al. (2005) failed to discuss the relationship between global warming and rainfall, sea level, and storm surge as related to tropical cyclones. The explanation for this neglect is simple—there is no documented relationship between global warming and the observed behavior of tropical cyclones (or TC impacts) related to rainfall, sea level, or storm surge. . .

A final criticism by Anthes et al. (2006) is that Pielke et al. (2005) “does not take full account of the significance of recently identified trends and variations in tropical storms in causing impacts as compared to increasing societal vulnerability.” Anthes et al. (2006) make no reference to the literature that seeks to distinguish the relative role of climate factors versus societal factors in causing impacts (e.g., Pielke et al. 2000; Pielke 2005), so their point is unclear. There is simply no evidence, data, or references provided by Anthes et al. (2006) to counter the analysis in Pielke et al. (2000) that calculates the relative sensitivity of future global tropical cyclone impacts to the independent effects of projected climate change and various scenarios of growing societal vulnerability under the assumptions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This series of exchanges was not acknowledged by the IPCC even though it was all peer-reviewed and appeared in the leading journal of the American Meteorological Society. As we have seen before with the IPCC, its review of the literature somehow missed key articles that one of its authors (in this case Trenberth, the lead for the relevant chapter) found to be in conflict with his personal opinions, or in this case "shameful." Of course, there is a deeper backstory here involving a conflict between my co-author Chris Landsea and Trenberth in early 2005, prompting Landsea to resign from the IPCC.

So almost seven years after we first submitted our paper how does it hold up? Pretty well I think, on all counts. I would not change any of the conclusions above, nor would I change the reply to Anthes et al. Science changes and moves ahead, so any review will eventually become outdated, but ours was an accurate reflection of the state of science as of 2005.

Papers and links

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch, 2005. Hurricanes and global warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 86:1571-1575.

Anthes et al. 2006, Hurricanes and global warming: Potential linkage and consequences, BAMS, Vol. 87, pp. 623-628.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C.W. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver, R. Pasch, 2006. Reply to Hurricanes and Global Warming Potential Linkages and Consequences, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 87, pp. 628-631, May.

18 November 2011

A Few Comments on the IPCC SREX Report

The IPCC SREX report came out today and there were no surprises in the report itself.  Here are a few thoughts on the report.

Most importantly, the IPCC should be congratulated for delivering a message that cannot have been comfortable to deliver.  The IPCC has accurately reflected  the scientific literature on the state of attribution with respect to extreme events -- it is not there yet, not even close, for events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, bushfires and on other topics there remain enormous uncertainties.  That is just the way that it is, so that is indeed what the IPCC should have reported.

The IPCC has already been criticized by those who apparently would have preferred a less accurate message that hyped up the science, such as Joe Romm and Stefan Rahmstorf. I do agree with Rahmstorf that the IPCC should release its full report at the same time as it releases the SPM, but he knows as well as I what the literature says on this subject.

More generally, the reaction to the report has fallen out perfectly predictably. Those wanting to hype the report focus exclusively on its predictions of the future whereas those wanting to downplay it focus on the uncertainties. There is something here for everyone!

There was one interesting change related to the statement on the state of attribution with respect to normalized disaster losses.  The draft said:
"Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change, particularly for cyclones and floods (medium evidence, high agreement)."
The final version took out the emphasis on cyclones and floods and put in a content free clause -- a good example of how the IPCC process can reduce information content:
“Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement).”
It is of course true that a role for climate change has not been excluded in attribution studies -- of course, the IPCC also did not exclude a role for solar influences, cosmic rays or for that matter, evil leprechauns.  What the draft said with respect to floods and cyclones remains the case, hiding it from view doesn't make it go away. What silliness.

Richard Klein, a colleague and a friend, is also a SREX lead author. He  left a comment at Joe Romm's blog soon after it was posted that  Joe has refused to post so far (as if anyone needed to learn more about how these guys operate):
Dear Joe, you know very well that the IPCC bases its findings on science, not on opinion polls of US Americans. Over the past week, while participating in the IPCC session in Kampala, I've been amazed to read the various opinions of 'experts' who weren't involved in the drafting process or even as a reviewer. While the summary of the report was still being discussed and had not yet been released (this will be done today at 1.30 pm local time in Kampala), these 'experts', either on their own accord or prompted by the media, chose to misrepresent both the report's findings and the process by which the IPCC arrived at these findings.

I have been impressed with the rigour with which my co-authors have assessed the climate science of both observations and projections of extreme weather and climate events. I am also impressed with the solid discussions that took place among governments and between governments and authors this week. The governments were keen to ensure an unbiased interpretation and presentation of the findings of the climate scientists, as well as those stemming from the assessment of experiences of disaster risk management at local, national and global levels, and of the opportunities to manage future climate extremes and reduce vulnerability.

Your reaction to the report's findings reflects badly on you and calls into question the sincerity of your previous enthusiastic defence of the IPCC.
Will better reporting of the science by the IPCC change anyone's opinion on climate change? Probably very few people.  But it may have allowed the IPCC to take an important step in the direction of renewed credibility.

16 November 2011

Why is Britain the Global Leader in Reality TV Shows?

According to The Economist the United Kingdom dominates the reality TV industry:
Hollywood may create the world’s best TV dramas, but Britain dominates the global trade in unscripted programmes—quiz shows, singing competitions and other forms of reality television. “Britain’s Got Talent”, a format created in 2006, has mutated into 44 national versions, including “China’s Got Talent” and “Das Supertalent”. There are 22 different versions of “Wife Swap” and 32 of “Masterchef”. In the first half of this year, Britain supplied 43% of global entertainment formats—more than any other country (see chart).
Why is Britain so dominant in reality TV?

The answer, you might be surprised to learn, is government innovation policy. Again, The Economist:
Like financial services, television production took off in London as a result of government action. In the early 1990s broadcasters were told to commission at least one-quarter of their programmes from independent producers. In 2004 trade regulations ensured that most rights to television shows are retained by those who make them, not those who broadcast them. Production companies began aggressively hawking their wares overseas.
A key aspect of innovation success has actually been the ability to shield innovators from the immediacy of the market, thus creating a space for novelty, and also for failure:
Many domestic television executives do not prize commercial success. The BBC is funded almost entirely by a licence fee on television-owning households. Channel 4 is funded by advertising but is publicly owned. At such outfits, success is measured largely in terms of creativity and innovation—putting on the show that everyone talks about. In practice, that means they favour short series. British television churns out a lot of ideas.
Reality TV offers some interesting lessons for success in innovation and the conditions that help to make that success possible, both absolutely and in a competitive market context.

14 November 2011

Leaked Text of IPCC Extremes Report

Has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finally gotten the issue of extreme events right?  Maybe so. At the BBC Richard Black says that he has a copy of the forthcoming IPCC extremes report and shares some of what it says prior to being considered by governments this week:
For almost a week, government delegates will pore over the summary of the IPCC's latest report on extreme weather, with the lead scientific authors there as well. They're scheduled to emerge on Friday with an agreed document.

The draft, which has found its way into my possession, contains a lot more unknowns than knowns.
He  describes a report that is much more consistent with the scientific literature than past reports (emphasis added):
When you get down to specifics, the academic consensus is far less certain.
There is "low confidence" that tropical cyclones have become more frequent, "limited-to-medium evidence available" to assess whether climatic factors have changed the frequency of floods, and "low confidence" on a global scale even on whether the frequency has risen or fallen.

In terms of attribution of trends to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, the uncertainties continue.

While it is "likely" that anthropogenic influences are behind the changes in cold days and warm days, there is only "medium confidence" that they are behind changes in extreme rainfall events, and "low confidence" in attributing any changes in tropical cyclone activity to greenhouse gas emissions or anything else humanity has done.

(These terms have specific meanings in IPCC-speak, with "very likely" meaning 90-100% and "likely" 66-100%, for example.)

And for the future, the draft gives even less succour to those seeking here a new mandate for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions, declaring: "Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability".

It's also explicit in laying out that the rise in impacts we've seen from extreme weather events cannot be laid at the door of greenhouse gas emissions: "Increasing exposure of people and economic assets is the major cause of the long-term changes in economic disaster losses (high confidence).

"Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change."
None of this is a surprise to me, and it won't be to regular readers of this blog. After working for more than a decade on this issue with many colleagues around the world, it is indeed satisfying to see the climate science community on the brink of finally get this topic right, after botching it at almost every previous opportunity.

But before declaring victory, it is worth noting Black's expectation that governments will be pressing for different conclusions because money is at stake:
Developing countries like the fact that under the UN climate process, the rich are committed to funding adaptation for the poor.

Yet as the brief prepared for the Dhaka meeting by the humanitarian charity Dara shows, it isn't happening anywhere near as fast as it ought to be.

Only 8% of the "fast-start finance" pledged in Copenhagen, it says, has actually found its way to recipients.

It's possible - no, it's "very likely" - that the IPCC draft will be amended as the week progresses, and presumably the governments represented at the Climate Vulnerable Forum will be asking their delegates to inject a greater sense of urgency.
The good news about the leaked document is that efforts to alter the text will be noticed. Based on Black's report, it seems that the IPCC has at long last done the right thing on extreme events and climate change.  It will be most interesting to see the reactions.

Frozen Technology and Agricultural Production

In a recent issue of Nature Foley et al. survey global agricultural production and report what is on balance a highly optimistic message.  I found particularly interesting their use of the concept of "yield gap" defined as:
the difference between crop yields observed at any given location and the crop’s potential yield at the same location given current agricultural practices and technologies.
The concept is similar to the notion of a "frozen technology" baseline used in Pielke et al. 2008 (PDF) related to energy technologies.

If the world is to increase agricultural production it can do so by (a) expanding production area, and (b) increase productivity per unit area.  The increase in production per unit area (b) can be further broken down into (b1) improving productivity using existing technologies and (b2) advancing the productivity frontier.  The concept of "yield gap" refers to (b1) or the diffusion of existing technologies, and usefully helps to distinguish potential gains that might, in principle, be attained without technological advances and those that depend upon such advances.

Foley et al. explain:
Much of the world experiences yield gaps (Supplementary Fig. 4a) where productivity may be limited by management. There are significant opportunities to increase yields across many parts of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, where nutrient and water limitations seem to be strongest (Supplementary Fig. 4b). Better deployment of existing crop varieties with improved management should be able to close many yield gaps . . .

Closing yield gaps could substantially increase global food supplies. Our analysis shows that bringing yields to within 95% of their potential for 16 important food and feed crops could add 2.3 billion tonnes (531015 kilocalories) of new production, a 58% increase (Fig. 3). Even if yields for these 16 crops were brought up to only 75% of their potential, global production would increase by 1.1 billion tonnes (2.831015 kilocalories), a 28% increase.
As in other areas of technology in society, agricultural production depends on technologies that should be thought of as integrated technological-social-political systems. Foley et al. explain:
Closing yield gaps require overcoming considerable economic and social challenges, including the distribution of agricultural inputs and seed varieties and improving market infrastructure.
In a comprehensive assessment of the outlook for food production Fisher et al. 2009 (PDF) concluded:
It is common that when world grain prices spike as in 2008, a small fraternity of world food watchers raises the Malthusian specter of a world running out of food. Originally premised on satiating the demon of an exploding population, the demon has evolved to include the livestock revolution, and most recently biofuels. Yet since the 1960s, the global application of science to food production has maintained a strong track record of staying ahead of these demands. Even so, looking to 2050 new demons on the supply side such as water and land scarcity and climate change raise voices that “this time it is different!” But after reviewing what is happening in the breadbaskets of the world and what is in the technology pipeline, we remain cautiously optimistic about the ability of world to feed itself to 2050 . . .
Their cautious optimism was expressed as a function of expectations that appropriate policies are put in place and implemented, including a sustained commitment to agricultural R&D.

11 November 2011

This is What Victory Looks Like

The Obama Administration has put off a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until immediately after the 2012 election.  At that point a newly elected Republican president will be able to quickly approve it or President Obama can do the same without concern for an upcoming election.

Bill McKibben, leader of the pipeline opposition, writes:
[T]he President sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster.
Kill the project?  Here is what the State Department actually says (emphasis added):
Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of TransCanada’s application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska.
A revised pipeline routing around the Sand Hills (where few people live anyway) will easily deal with this issue and fulfill the State Department's re-review. In calling for the delay, Obama has deftly turned opposition from among his base into a key asset. If he loses the election he can always blame his base for not doing enough and if he wins, he will have the mandate to do what is in the best interest of the country, not just his base.  Almost Clintonesque in its political brilliance and simplicity.

To wit -- McKibben now says:
The President deserves thanks for making this call -- it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash.
And follows it up with an empty threat that perhaps reveals more than intended:
Some in our movement will say that this decision is just politics as usual: that the President wants us off the streets -- and off his front lawn -- until after the election, at which point the administration can approve the pipeline, alienating its supporters without electoral consequence. The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built; if there’s a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it’s that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line.
Let's return to this February, 2013 and see if "victory" still smells as sweet -- when plans re-emerge for crude oil flowing south, regardless of who wins the election.

The Limits of Precaution

The FT has a nice piece which highlights our fundamental ignorance of the long-term health effects of low levels of radiation exposure.  When precautionary policies are not cost-free, how then do we manage our ignorance?  Here is an excerpt:
In May, radiation safety researcher Toshiso Kosako tearfully resigned as a scientific adviser to Japan’s prime minister after the government decided to set the limit for exposure in schools at 20 millisieverts a year, a level usually applied to nuclear industry workers. “It’s unacceptable to apply this figure to infants, toddlers and primary school pupils,” Professor Kosako said.

But Wade Allison of Oxford university says the 20mSv a year limit for evacuation could safely be raised by a factor of five, arguing that the principal health threat posed by the Fukushima Daiichi crisis is “fear, uncertainty and enforced evacuation”.

Underlying such stark differences lies a lack of clarity about what radiation does to the body at doses below 100mSv per year, the level at which an increase in cancer becomes clearly evident in epidemiological surveys. Prof Allison and many other scientists believe that, below a certain threshold, radiation is likely in effect to do no harm to health at all. However, the mainstream assumption is that even very low doses carry some risk, even if it is not yet measurable.

The result has been highly precautionary limits on artificial radiation exposure, such as an international safety standard for the public of just 1mSv in a year. That is less than half the exposure most people receive naturally from background radioactivity in rocks, soil and building materials, and from cosmic rays. This may make sense in normal times – but it means that in a crisis people tend to assume exposure above the limit is dangerous. The problem for authorities is that it is next to impossible to judge exactly at what point it will be safer to move a population away from the radiation or to limit its exposure by, for example, keeping children indoors and closing schools. Such moves themselves have health risks: evacuation can kill the elderly and thrust younger people into unemployment. Disrupted education can mar children’s future careers. Loss of exercise habits makes people vulnerable to illness and obesity.
As is often the case, the FT suggests that the antidote for ignorance is science, so that we might better understand the health risks of radiation exposure. More research is of course a good idea, but in the context of decision making, what if certainty is not forthcoming and our decision making remains clouded by ignorance?

10 November 2011

What is the Goldilocks Price for Food?

Over at Global Dashboard, David Steven asks a serious question by juxtapositioning FAO's views when food was cheap (a bad situation as it dampened income, innovation and employment) versus its views when food became more expensive (also a bad situation as it forces millions into chronic hunger).

Is there a "Goldilocks"  price for food?  If not should innovation policy and food supply for those in the greatest poverty be to some degree counter-cyclical?  Keynesian food policies, anyone?

08 November 2011

The New Eugenics from the Looney Left

Chris Mooney, the author and blogger who once alleged a Republican "war" on science, is going back to that well one more time with a new book (above). In it he "explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things."

Mooney writes:
"[T]here might be a combination of genes acting together that somehow predispose us to have particular politics, presumably through their role in influencing our brains and thus our personalities or social behaviors ..,"
Mooney promises to explain:
"[T]he real, scientific reasons why Republicans reject the widely accepted findings of mainstream science, economics, and history—as well as many undeniable policy facts."
Gee, with an understanding of the "real, scientific reasons" behind such a disability perhaps scientists might develop some sort of medicine or gene therapy for "Republicanism." The search for such a cure would not occur for political reasons of course, but for humanitarian reasons. The obvious mental impairments suffered by these misguided and genetically inferior people are of course not their fault, but perhaps aided by science we can help them.

In all seriousness, if you want to know something about the pathological politicization of science in the US, consider that Mooney (who holds a bachelor's degree in English, and is probably a swell guy) is on the Board of Directors of the prestigious American Geophysical Union and is frequently hired by the National Science Foundation to teach scientists how to communicate.

I wonder how well telling half the American populace that they are genetically/psychologically/mentally inferior will communicate?

What is Wrong with America? Ferguson vs. Sachs

Jeff Sachs takes Niall Ferguson to the woodshed in this exchange. Sachs however falls short in his argument as it is not enough to call for more investment by governments, but it is also necessary to explain what those investments will be -- specifically, not in generalities like education and science and technology. Pointing to Europe as a model of success in governance is probably not the best analogy to apply these days, either.

Sachs wins this debate.

Dreams not Nightmares

Some of the most fervent advocates for action on climate change spend a lot of time trying to stop things and telling policy makers what not to do. The battle over Keystone XL is just the latest example in a strategy focused on limits and saying "No!." The battle over cap and trade was much the same.

As Nordhaus and Shellenberger once wrote (PDF):
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an “I have a nightmare” speech instead.

In the absence of a bold vision and a reconsideration of the problem, environmental leaders are effectively giving the “I have a nightmare” speech, not just in our press interviews but also in the way that we make our proposals. The world’s most effective leaders are not issue-identified but rather vision and value-identified. These leaders distinguish themselves by inspiring hope against fear, love against injustice, and power against powerlessness.

A positive, transformative vision doesn’t just inspire, it also creates the cognitive space for assumptions to be challenged and new ideas to surface.
Of course, advocates for action on climate change may think that they are doing something important in trying to stop US approval for an oil pipeline from Canada, but unfortunately, they are not.  Michael Levi has more along these lines here.

07 November 2011

PwC UK on Decarbonization

Pricewaterhouse Cooper's has an excellent new report out that looks at trends and projections in decarbonization of the global and national economies. Those familiar with The Climate Fix will find much that is very familiar in this analysis.  Below are a few top line conclusions.

On the recarbonization of the global economy:
In the last 10 years, most countries have reduced the carbon intensity of their economies – albeit too slowly (at on average 0.7% per year). In 2010, however, this decarbonisation trend went into reverse.
On UK climate targets:
Scale of emissions reductions facing UK are now the equivalent to switching off power for three months every year to 2020
On the bottom line:
The results call  into question the current likelihood of  our global decarbonisation ever  happening rapidly enough to avoid 2 degrees of global warming. But 2011 has  thrown up a second challenge as well.  The events of the Arab Spring have  shown the social, economic and political  necessity of delivering not just low  carbon growth, but growth that delivers  on the basic needs, including power, of  the billions at the bottom of the pyramid.
You can download the report here. (Note: I do have a question about the accuracy of their 2010 Australian emissions data which I will ask the authors about.)

06 November 2011

Real Climate Walks Back

At Real Climate Stefan Rahmstorf has a non-responsive response to my earlier critique of the RC11 paper on the Russian heat wave. While he does not address any of my substantive critiques, he does walk back his earlier statements about attribution (video interpretation shown above;-).

Here is a quick rejoinder to the new post:

1. Red Herring - Stefan claims that he is accused of:
"hyping up the number of [heat] records." 
With this, he is introducing a red herring as his idealized ball and urn stuff is probability 101. It is not the paper's mathematics that are problematic, but its argument and conclusions.

2. Avoidance - By following the red herring, Stefan ignores the four cherry picks that I discussed in my critique: Linear trend, station, data set, and non-linear trend. But you don't have to believe me -- NOAA scientists have put up a devastating critique of RC11 here -- a web site that I see Stefan failed to acknowledge, link to or offer a response to.

3. Walk Back - Ultimately, Stefan takes a big step back from their original strong statement about attribution and how it impeached earlier research, now writing
"Our statistical approach nevertheless is not in itself an attribution study" 
 This is a big difference from what they had earlier claimed:
"With this conclusion we contradict an earlier paper by Dole et al. (2011), who put the Moscow heat record down to natural variability." 
Dole et al. was actually an attribution study. Logically, if RC11 "is not itself an attribution study," then it can hardly contradict the conclusions of Dole et al. on attribution.

Now Stefan seems to agree:
This method does not say anything about the physical cause of the trend process – e.g., whether the post-1980 Moscow warming is due to solar cycles, an urban heat island or greenhouse gases. Other evidence – beyond our simple time-series analysis – has to be consulted to resolve such questions.
So, Dole et al., while certainly not the last word on this subject, are not in fact contradicted by RC11.

Thus,we are all in agreement!

02 November 2011

A New Study on Insured Losses and Climate Change

The global reinsurer Munich Re has received a lot of attention for its press releases on climate change, such as this statement issued one year ago:
A month before the start of the world climate summit, Munich Re is drawing attention to the strong probability that there is a connection between the large number of weather extremes and climate change. The reinsurer has built up the world’s most comprehensive natural catastrophe database, which shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally, loss-related floods have more than tripled since 1980, and windstorm natural catastrophes more than doubled, with particularly heavy losses from Atlantic hurricanes. This rise cannot be explained without global warming.
Munich Re also said via press release:
[I]t would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.
A new paper is forthcoming in the journal Climatic Change in 2012 helps to shed some additional light on such claims. The new paper -- titled  "A Trend Analysis of Normalized Insured Damage from Natural Disasters" by Fabian Barthel and Eric Neumayer of the London School of Economics -- is a follow on to their earlier work which was published last November (and if you read that one, the new study won't be surprising).

Here is what the new paper concludes based on its examination of weather-related losses from the Munich Re global dataset  from 1980 to 2008 (emphasis added):
[At a global scale] no significant trend is discernible. Similarly, we do not find a significant trend if we constrain our analysis to non-geophysical disasters in developed countries . . .

Convective events, i.e. flash floods, hail storms, tempest storms, tornados, and lightning, deserve closer attention since these are likely to be particularly affected by future global warming (Trapp et al. 2007, 2009; Botzen et al. 2009) and there is some evidence that past climatic changes already affected severe thunderstorm activity in some regions (Dessens 1995; Kunz et al. 2009). Figure 7a shows that there is no significant trend in global insured losses for these peril types. Similarly, there is no significant trend in insured losses for storm events (Figure 7b), tropical cyclones (Figure 7c) or precipitation-related events (Figure 7d).
They do find a positive trend in insured losses in the US since 1973, and for specific phenomena such as hurricanes and floods, for which longer-term data sets show no upwards trends for either phenomena (and which Barthel and Neumayer acknowledge). Interestingly, they also claim to find a positive trend in insured losses from convective events in the US (including tornadoes), which is in sharp disagreement with our recent work on normalized tornado losses, which finds a dramatic reduction in  both economic losses and strong tornadoes since 1950 (in fact, even the non-normalized economic losses show a downward trend). They also find upward trends in storm losses in the western part of Germany. The acknowledge that both regional trends might be associated with simple variability or how they adjust for insurance penetration -- it will be interesting to reconcile our tornado work with theirs (ours focuses on total damage).

Based on their analysis they conclude (emphasis added):
Climate change neither is nor should be the main concern for the insurance industry. The accumulation of wealth in disaster-prone areas is and will always remain by far the most important driver of future economic disaster damage. . . 

What the results tell us is that, based on the very limited time-series data we have for most countries, there is no evidence so far for a statistically significant upward trend in normalized insured loss from extreme events outside the US and West Germany. . .

[W]e warn against taking the findings for the US and Germany as conclusive evidence that climate change has already caused more frequent and/or more intensive natural disasters affecting this country. To start with, one needs to be careful in attributing such a trend to anthropogenic climate change, i.e. climate change caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Our findings reported in this article could be down to natural climate variability that has nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change. Such natural climate variability may well explain our finding of a significant upward trend in insured loss from hurricanes in the US, for example. . .
They offer several other methodological cautions about the interpretation of the few trends that they found, and quite appropriately.

But the most interesting part of their study is not their conclusions, which are both a valuable contribution to this area of research and perfectly consistent with the growing literature on this topic, but rather, what is found in the acknowledgments (double emphasis added):
The authors acknowledge support from the Munich Re Programme “Evaluating the Economics of Climate Risks & Opportunities in the Insurance Sector” at LSE.
My favorite press spokesman at LSE, Bob Ward, also gets an acknowledgment.

So the next time that Munich Re wants to attribute the growing toll of disaster losses to climate change, or you see someone citing Munich Re saying as much, they might be reminded of the Munich Re funded (and peer-reviewed) research which tells quite a different story than that found in press releases.

The Simple Math of 7 Billion

01 November 2011

Anatomy of a Cherry Pick

[UPDATE: NOAA has a detailed and informative new webpage up on the Russian heatwave that responds specifically to claims made by RC11 and Real Climate.  The new NOAA analysis provides information entirely consistent with the arguments laid out below.]

Given the great interest in my earlier post on the recent PNAS paper by Rahmstorf and  Coumou (RC11), I have decided to summarize various issues for those who are interested and would like to continue the discussion.

NOAA has posted up some very interesting graphs of temperature change in Russia, which are extremely useful for documenting the extreme cherry picking found in RC11 which claimed as a top line result an 80% probability that the Russian heat wave was caused by a general warming trend.

The graphs above show linear trends (top) and statistical significance (bottom) for any combination of start and end date 1880 to 2010 for the GISS dataset. At the NOAA website linked above you'll find similar graphs for the other available datasets. These graphs are the opposite of cherry picking.

These graphs also help us to clearly identify the various cherries that fill the bowl that is RC11. Here is a quick summary:

1. Linear trend cherry pick. In western Russia (a large region that includes Moscow, defined as 50-60N and 35-55E) there are no statistically significant warming trends to present since 1880 (look at the huge area of white in the lower right hand part of the bottom graph) and actually since anytime before the 1930s.

RC11 are able to argue for a long-term linear trend by beginning their analysis of the Russian heat wave from 1910, which you can see from the top graph is one of the selected locations in the top graph where there is a positive trend. They explain that 1910 was chosen because it reflects 100 years, a nice round number.

2. Station cherry pick. But even that linear trend, though positive, is not significant in the region. So RC11 perform another example of slectivity by focusing attention on one station -- Moscow -- rather than the broader partial-continent-sized area that was the focus of the paper that RC11 seeks to refute. In a blog post (but not in the paper) Rahmstorf appears to want to discount the entire lack of warming over western Russia based on a claim of a single improper station adjustment in a single data set. It is not a coincidence that this analysis did not appear in the paper as it is a stretch, even for PNAS.

3. Data set cherry pick. RC11 look only at the NASA GISS dataset and its adjustment, even though there are multiple other datasets that use different adjustments. Do they really want to imply that based on claims about one station's adjustments in GISS data that all data sets for the entire region are flawed? Ironically enough, they may find some sympathy for such arguments in Anthony Watts Surface Stations work! ;-) By contrast, the information provided by NOAA shows that the lack of long-term warming can been seen in western Russia across the various temperature records, which utilize distinct adjustment procedures.

4. Non-linear trend cherry pick. With linear trends on a shaky foundation, RC11 adopt  in their analysis an unconventional "non-linear trend" unique to the climate attribution literature. The "non-linear trend" is really just a highfalutin smoothing procedure that makes history irrelevant -- that outside 15 years before and after the year in question. The effect of the highfalutin smoothing is essentially equivalent to using the linear trends over a much shorter period (i.e., that appear in the top right corner of the top graph above) where there has been strong and significant warming.

The consequence of these various selective choices in the methodology of RC11 leads them to conclude:
We conclude that the 2010 Moscow heat record is, with 80% probability, due to the long-term climatic warming trend.
As explained above, there is no long-term warming trend. There is a short-term warming trend, which may not even reach climate time scales of 30 years or longer.

What RC11 is, in a nutshell, is an analysis that does the following:
RC11 takes a short term trend, along with an estimate of variability, calculates the probability that particular thresholds will be exceeded over a 10 year time frame.
That is it -- This is probability textbook ball and urn stuff, padded with a lot of faux complexity.

That some climate scientists are playing games in their research, perhaps to get media attention in the larger battle over climate politics, is no longer a surprise. But when they use such games to try to discredit serious research, then the climate science community has a much, much deeper problem.

Postscript: For those new here, I believe that the human influence merits our concern and we should be taking various actions. This post should be read in the context of issues of climate science policy, not climate policy per se.