31 July 2009

Please Read Climate Progress

It'd sure be nice if people who disagree could debate policy questions based on the merits of the issue. Of course, this is not reality. I have been amused to see Joe Romm, a blogger for the Center for American Progress, find himself unable to respond to the policy arguments that I make, and thus find himself having to instead engage in ever more shrill and personal attacks on me. Most recently he has falsely accused my university of violating my academic freedom by shutting down our blog, Prometheus. They of course did no such thing, and when a reader of both of our blogs called him on it he could not provide the goods (because there aren't any). Does anyone who even remotely knows me think that such a thing would occur and I'd be silent about it?;-) Now Joe says that my positions about climate change are not really my positions, that I am pretending to hold these positions. It is of course much easier to debate someone's views when you just make those views up for them.

To give Joe a bit of a break, he has a role to play for CAP as a bulldog cheerleader for the Waxman-Markey bill. His salary depends upon playing this role which of course explains his about-face on Waxman-Markey and its genesis in the USCAP proposal. The democratic process is full of people on all sides of the aisle who believe that the world is comprised only of us and them and gaining victory over "them" does not mean playing fair, or abiding by the norms of intellectual debate that we in academia find appropriate. It is of course one reason why many people find politics so distasteful. Others like to watch it for the same reason that cage-fights gain a large following -- for some, fights are fun to see, and the blogosphere is no different than anywhere else people interact. The bottom line is that if we academics want to swim in choppy political waters, we have to accept that we can't do so without getting wet.

Joe's increasingly desperate attacks are a good sign that he sees my views as being compelling (or else why attack?) and his inability to confront them head-on a sign that my views are pretty solid. But as with much in the climate debate, things don't work as people would like: Ever since Joe has gone on the rampage about my views, demanding that the media not talk to me and people ignore my views, it seems that my inbox is has been flooded with requests for interviews and to provide commentaries. (Apparently, some in the media don't like being ordered what to do and who to talk to, go figure!;-) Sales of The Honest Broker jump as well. So in the post-modern world of policy debates, you can make stuff up and try to shout people down, but all you really do is draw more attention to their views.

If Joe decides to engage in substantive debate, he is welcome to do so here. If he does not, and wants instead to issue demands to the media and offer what my "real" views are, rather than the ones I actually espouse, well, that is fine by me. I'm pleased for people to read what I write here and also to read Climate Progress (which I strongly encourage) and come to their own conclusions about the arguments that they encounter.

Space Policy Realism

A member of a US government panel examining the future of space policy had this to say yesterday:
“In fact, it is unclear whether NASA has the financing for any scenarios that do anything important beyond low-Earth orbit prior to 2020,” said Christopher F. Chyba, a Princeton professor of astrophysics and a panel member. “If we really want to do this, we have to provide a realistic budget for it. Otherwise, let’s be clear about the limits placed on us by the actual budget.”
NASA has never been too good at living within a budget, or accepting the fact that there is not a strong mandate for the establishment of human colonies elsewhere in the solar system. After Apollo NASA tried to get get around budget and political realities, leading to the mess that it finds itself in today. The story is told in the following paper:

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157.

Welcome Guardian Readers

If you arrived here after reading my "Magical Solutions" piece via the Guardian Environmental Network, welcome. Here is a link to my evaluation of the UK Climate Change Act referenced in the commentary.

30 July 2009

Make Money, Sound Impressive. Magic.

From today's FT:

After graduating from Oxford in 1992, Garth Edward did relief and development work for the United Nations in Africa for four years and another year at UN headquarters in New York. But he found the consensus-based UN a "frustrating environment if you want to do things, not discuss things".

In 1998, at the age of 28, he took a job with an asset management company in New York and set up a greenhouse gas trading desk for it. He found he was not just making more money on Wall Street than he was at the UN - he also felt he was doing more good. "Sitting in a room talking with a bunch of people doesn't sound very impressive," he says. "Funding wind farms that reduce emissions by x amount of tons does."

Later in the article Mr. Edward explains that kowtowing to environmental values can only be taken so far:
Although Mr Edward of Citigroup himself came from an NGO background, he now runs a team of typical commodities traders who previously traded coal, gas and electricity. "They would be able to sit on any desk," he says. "If we were hiring someone to be an emissions trader, environmental credentials would be a minor factor compared to commercial competence."

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that so many carbon traders used to work at Enron. Louis Redshaw, who is now the head of environmental markets at Barclays Capital, spent four years working for Enron in London and set up its renewable energies desk. Enron alumni have also ended up on trading desks at other investment banks. Although the company was not involved directly in carbon trading, it pioneered trading in other emissions such as sulphur dioxide.

Make money and save the planet. Sounds magical.

29 July 2009

On "Magical Solutions"

I have a commentary up over at Yale Environment360. Here is how I begin:
Fifty years ago, political scientist Harold Lasswell explained that some policies are all about symbolism, with little or no impact on real-world outcomes. He called such actions “magical solutions,” explaining that “political symbolization has its catharsis functions.” Climate policy is going through exactly such a phase, in which a focus on magical solutions leaves little room for the practical.
Please visit Yale e360 and read it, and then come back. You are welcome to leave comments (positive or negative) here or there. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

PS. Some of the data in the essay about Japan's climate policy proposals comes from a paper of mine just submitted. If you would like a copy, please send me an email request:

Pielke, Jr. R. A. 2009 (under review). Mamizu Climate Policy: An Evaluation of Japanese Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets, Environmental Research Letters.

28 July 2009

NOAA Explains the Global Temperature "Slowdown"

An advance copy of NOAA's Annual State of the Climate Report has been made available (as low-res PDF here). In it is a box that seeks to explain why it is that global temperatures have not increased since January 1, 1999 (pp. 23-24). The report observes:
Observations indicate that global temperature rise has slowed in the last decade (Fig. 2.8a [ed.- above, caption below]). The least squares trend for January 1999 to December 2008 calculated from the HadCRUT3 dataset (Brohan et al. 2006) is +0.07±0.07°C decade–1—much less than the 0.18°C decade–1 recorded between 1979 and 2005 and the 0.2°C decade–1 expected in the next decade (IPCC; Solomon et al. 2007). This is despite a steady increase in radiative forcing as a result of human activities and has led some to question climate predictions of substantial twenty-first century warming (Lawson 2008; Carter 2008).

El Niño–Southern Oscillation is a strong driver of interannual global mean temperature variations. ENSO and non-ENSO contributions can be separated by the method of Thompson et al. (2008) (Fig. 2.8a). The trend in the ENSO-related component for 1999–2008 is +0.08±0.07°C decade–1, fully accounting for the overall observed trend. The trend after removing ENSO (the "ENSO-adjusted" trend) is 0.00°±0.05°C decade–1, implying much greater disagreement with anticipated global temperature rise.

Caption to Figure 2.8a: Monthly global mean temperature anomalies (with respect to 1961–90 climatology) since 1975, derived from the combined land and ocean temperature dataset HadCRUT3 (gray curve). (top blue curve) The global mean after the effect of ENSO that has been subtracted is also shown, along with (bottom blue curve, offset by 0.5°C) the ENSO contribution itself. Least squares linear trends in the ENSO and ENSO-removed components for 1999–2008 and their two std dev uncertainties are shown in orange.
To explore how rare an event it is to observe no warming over a period of more than a decade the authors ran a climate model (HadCM3) and compared the statistics from those runs to the observations as follows:
Ensembles with different modifications to the physical parameters of the model (within known uncertainties) (Collins et al. 2006) are performed for several of the IPCC SRES emissions scenarios (Solomon et al. 2007). Ten of these simulations have a steady long-term rate of warming between 0.15° and 0.25ºC decade–1, close to the expected rate of 0.2ºC decade–1. ENSO-adjusted warming in the three surface temperature datasets over the last 2–25 yr continually lies within the 90% range of all similar-length ENSO-adjusted temperature changes in these simulations (Fig. 2.8b). Near-zero and even negative trends are common for intervals of a decade or less in the simulations, due to the model’s internal climate variability. The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate.
What does this mean? It means that model realizations with a long-term trend of 0.15 to 0.25 degrees warming per decade also show periods longer than a decade with no warming. How common are such periods? NOAA answers this question as well:
The 10 model simulations (a total of 700 years of simulation) possess 17 nonoverlapping decades with trends in ENSO-adjusted global mean temperature within the uncertainty range of the observed 1999–2008 trend (−0.05° to 0.05°C decade–1).
Lets see if I can sort this out probabilistically (readers please comment on the following math). In 10 x 70 years of simulation there are potentially 610 different decades (because you can't start a decade in the final 9 years of each simulation). If we subtract from the 610 the 170 decades that would begin as a member of the set of 17, as well as the 153 decades that would begin within the 9 years that precede each of the 17 decades (thus avoiding an overlap) that leaves a total of 287, allowing 278 potential decades. So 17 non-overlapping decades out of a set of 278 + 17 = 295 total decades is 5.8%. This is indeed larger than 5% but not by very much. It is safe to say, if my math is correct. of course, that even in the HadCM3 model simulations 10 years without warming is a rare event.

NOAA concludes by explaining that this discussion is moot anyway:
These results show that climate models possess internal mechanisms of variability capable of reproducing the current slowdown in global temperature rise. Other factors, such as data biases and the effect of the solar cycle (Haigh 2003), may also have contributed, although these results show that it is not essential to invoke these explanations. The simulations also produce an average increase of 2.0°C in twenty-first century global temperature, demonstrating that recent observational trends are not sufficient to discount predictions of substantial climate change and its significant and widespread impacts. Given the likelihood that internal variability contributed to the slowing of global temperature rise in the last decade, we expect that warming will resume in the next few years, consistent with predictions from near-term climate forecasts (Smith et al. 2007; Haines et al. 2009).
Until the "slowdown" reverses you can expect that people will continue to talk about it. Kudos to NOAA for being among the first to explicitly state what sort of observation would be inconsistent with model predictions -- 15 years of no warming.

Climate Activists in Denial

Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, has an incisive column today on the state of international climate politics. He begins:

The phrase “climate change denier” has a nasty ring to it. It links those who dispute mainstream science on global warming with “Holocaust deniers”. They are not just wrong, it implies, they are evil.

But the climate change lobby is in the grip of its own form of dangerous fantasy. It is in denial not about science – but about international politics.

And he concludes:

The state of international negotiations presents a huge dilemma for climate change activists. Most genuinely believe that a failure to achieve an international agreement in Copenhagen would be catastrophic. But they also know that, even if a deal is reached, it is likely to be feeble and ineffective. If they admit this publicly, they risk creating a climate of despair and inaction. But if they press ahead, they are putting all their energy into an approach that they must know is highly unlikely to deliver.

It is a horrible dilemma. But, in difficult situations, it is best to start by facing facts.
We recently offered an analysis of how climate policy might get back on course, starting with a clear-eyed recognition of the failure of the current approach and proceeding to outline a pragmatic way forward.

You can read that essay here:

Prins, G., Cook., M., Green, C., Hulme, M., Korhola, A., Korhola, E.R., Pielke, Jr., R., Rayner, S., Sawa, A., Sarewitz, D., Stehr, N., and H. von Storch, 2009. How to get climate policy back on course. Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Oxford University and London School of Economics, The Mackinder Programme, LSE.

27 July 2009

Joe Romm vs. John Kerry

UPDATE 28 July: Welcome Climate Progress readers!

Joe Romm has claimed that someone shut down my original blog. You might ask him, who shut down Pielke's blog? That is a bald-faced lie from Joe. Someone please call him on it.

On whether or not John Kerry (or Nancy Pelosi -- "just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs. Let's vote for jobs.") has "pretended" that the "overwhelming reason" for the legislation is jobs?

Joe and I will have to agree to disagree on that one. The factual record speaks pretty clearly.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) explains why passing cap-and-trade is so important:
...this bill is really a bill for the transformation of the American economy. This bill is about jobs — clean energy jobs that stay here in America, that pay people decent salaries.
Joe Romm explains that Senator Kerry is insulting his peers and the American public with his pretend arguments:
Frankly, it is an insult to the public — and to members of Congress — to pretend that the overwhelming reason we are doing this bill is clean energy and jobs.
That is all the Democrats need on cap-and-trade, their loudest cheerleader calling them liars about the promise of jobs. No green jobs? Say it ain't so, Joe.

Normalized Earthquake Damage and Fatalities in the United States: 1900-2005

At long last Vranes and Pielke (2009) has appeared. We estimate that a recurrence of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake would result in $39-$328 billion in damage and 3,000-24,000 deaths. See the paper for details. For those of you wanting to compare earthquakes to hurricanes, we estimate as much as $450 billion in cumulative losses 1900 to 2005, while Pielke et al. 2008 (PDF) estimate about $1,100 billion in cumulative hurricane losses over the same period. Though the largest potential earthquake in our dataset is as much as twice the largest potential hurricane. This makes for some interesting questions about loss mitigation investments, including R&D.

There is no trend in the dataset over time. However, if you start the analysis in 1970 you will find a dramatic trend in the normalized losses that vastly exceeds the rate of increase in population or wealth (see Figure 6, reproduced in color above). We conclude that this can only be explained by increasing greenhouse gases. OK, that was a joke (referring to those who would apply the same logic to hurricanes based on a similar bit of data mining;-).

It is a big paper with lots of data and analyses, and undoubtedly just a first offering from the academic community on this interesting and largely unexplored topic. Here is the abstract:

Normalized Earthquake Damage and Fatalities in the United States: 1900–2005
Natural Hazards Rev. Volume 10, Issue 3, pp. 84-101 (August 2009)

Damage estimates from 80 U.S. earthquakes since 1900 are “normalized” to 2005 dollars by adjusting for inflation, increases in wealth, and changes in population. Factors accounting for mitigation at 1 and 2% loss reduction per year are also considered. The earthquake damage record is incomplete, perhaps by up to 25% of total events that cause damage, but all of the most damaging events are accounted for. For events with damage estimates, cumulative normalized losses since 1900 total $453 billion, or $235 billion and $143 billion when 1 and 2% mitigation is factored, respectively. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire adjusts to $39–$328 billion depending on assumptions and mitigation factors used, likely the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history in normalized 2005 values. Since 1900, 13 events would have caused $1 billion or more in losses had they occurred in 2005; five events adjust to more than $10 billion in damages. Annual average losses range from $1.3 billion to $5.7 billion with an average across data sets and calculation methods of $2.5 billion, below catastrophe model estimates and estimates of average annual losses from hurricanes. Fatalities are adjusted for population increase and mitigation, with five events causing over 100 fatalities when mitigation is not considered, four (three) events when 1% (2%) mitigation is considered. Fatalities in the 1906 San Francisco event adjusts from 3,000 to over 24,000, or 8,900 (3,300) if 1% (2%) mitigation is considered. Implications for comparisons of normalized results with catastrophe model output and with normalized damage profiles of other hazards are considered.
You can access the paper here or here in PDF.

John Kerry Grants the China Argument

Writing in an op-ed in the FT today Senator John Kerry (D-MA) concedes a political reality:
Today we need China to forgo the carbon-intensive industrial processes that fuelled the west in the 19th and 20th centuries and to pioneer the clean technologies of the 21st. Sceptics are right that if China does not reciprocate, our domestic efforts will be for naught.
China no doubt would respond, "When you forgo carbon-intensive industrial processes you let us know." Of more parochial interest, Kerry's statement that U.S. efforts will be for "naught" without Chinese reciprocation will surely be read back to him many times in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere.

26 July 2009


From Nature Geoscience comes this less-than-titillating abstract:

Nature Geoscience
Published online: 26 July 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo587

Constraints on future sea-level rise from past sea-level change

Mark Siddall, Thomas F. Stocker & Peter U. Clark

It is difficult to project sea-level rise in response to warming climates by the end of the century, especially because the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to warming is not well understood1. However, sea-level fluctuations in response to changing climate have been reconstructed for the past 22,000 years from fossil data, a period that covers the transition from the Last Glacial Maximum to the warm Holocene interglacial period. Here we present a simple model of the integrated sea-level response to temperature change that implicitly includes contributions from the thermal expansion and the reduction of continental ice. Our model explains much of the centennial-scale variability observed over the past 22,000 years, and estimates 4–24 cm of sea-level rise during the twentieth century, in agreement with the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change1 (IPCC). In response to the minimum (1.1 °C) and maximum (6.4 °C) warming projected for AD 2100 by the IPCC models, our model predicts 7 and 82 cm of sea-level rise by the end of the twenty-first century, respectively. The range of sea-level rise is slightly larger than the estimates from the IPCC models of 18–76 cm, but is sufficiently similar to increase confidence in the projections.

Nothing to see here, move along.

24 July 2009

Condemning Conformity, Celebrating Skeptics

At the New York Times Nicholas Wade cites the views of Thomas Brouchard, a noted psychologist, to engage in a larger discussion of the incentives not just to conform to consensus views in the scientific community, but to silence those who don't happen to share those views:

“Academics, like teenagers, sometimes don’t have any sense regarding the degree to which they are conformists.”

So says Thomas Bouchard, the Minnesota psychologist known for his study of twins raised apart, in a retirement interview with Constance Holden in the journal Science.

Journalists, of course, are conformists too. So are most other professions. There’s a powerful human urge to belong inside the group, to think like the majority, to lick the boss’s shoes, and to win the group’s approval by trashing dissenters.

The strength of this urge to conform can silence even those who have good reason to think the majority is wrong. You’re an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of “expert” they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you’ll bear the less comfortable label of “maverick,” which is only a few stops short of “scapegoat” or “pariah” . . .

If the brightest minds on Wall Street got suckered by group-think into believing house prices would never fall, what other policies founded on consensus wisdom could be waiting to come unraveled? Global warming, you say? You mean it might be harder to model climate change 20 years ahead than house prices 5 years ahead? Surely not – how could so many climatologists be wrong?

What’s wrong with consensuses is not the establishment of a majority view, which is necessary and legitimate, but the silencing of skeptics.
Bonus points for the first commenter to provide a link to Nicholas Wade being called a "denier."

The IPCC Wants to be an Honest Broker

The excerpt below comes from a report of an IPCC scoping meeting for AR5 held in Italy a few weeks ago (PDF at p. 18).
In the future, the IPCC should assess and communicate risks in such a way that civil society, policymakers, and business can discuss practicable and consistent alternatives and include them in the collective decision-making process. Hence, the IPCC needs to strengthen its position of an "honest broker" that presents policy-relevant alternatives without prescribing decisions for politics, civil society, and business. The exploration of available alternatives should be supported by expert workshops that would allow the business community and civil society to share their knowledge with the scientific community. However, the honest broker role is only possible if WGIII explores multiple scenarios for managing the climate problem. Instead of emphasizing one pathway to a low-carbon economy, it should emphasize to policy-makers that there are many ways. Therefore, WGIII should also internally explore self-consistent extreme scenarios (e.g. scenarios with an extreme expansion of nuclear or renewable energies) and assess their social, economic and technical implications. This seems to be a much more effective way to communicate risks to policy-makers as it encourages adequate thought surrounding distinct alternatives and variable representations of the problem. Forming a consensus about policy options is a task for policy-makers - scientists should try to explore the implications of scenarios in a consistent way.
Such a role would be a very useful step forward for the IPCC, and a marked change from the role taken by its leadership in recent years, which has been to advocate for particular policies that are not evaluated or even discussed by the IPCC.

23 July 2009

Quote of the Day

. . . fear of the unknown and our desire for certainty lead us to throw ourselves into the arms of perceived ‘experts’ ... We trust quantitatively flavoured constructs to escort us away from the gloomy reality of unmeasurable uncertainty.
Pablo Triana in his new book Lecturing Birds on Flying, on the role of quantitative financial models in global finance, as reviewed in today's FT

22 July 2009

Much Ado About Very Little

Conservatives are going after John Holdren, President Obama's science advisor, based on some things that he wrote more than 30 years ago. In a nice overview of the controversy, Michelle Goldberg writes at The American Prospect,
On July 10, a Web site called Zombietime published scans of various offending passages from the textbook, Ecoscience. Reading them, it's hard not to conclude that the authors looked kindly on government-mandated limits on fertility. "In today's world, however, the number of children in a family is a matter of profound public concern," they wrote. "For example, no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent people from having more than two children?

Elsewhere, the authors consider the possibility of adding a sterilant to "drinking water or staple foods." Ultimately, they decide that the risk of side effects "would, in our opinion, militate against the use of any such agent," though there's something disturbing about the equanimity with which they consider it. They also toy with draconian proposals for encouraging "responsible parenthood," including mandating that all "illegitimate" births be put up for adoption and requiring pregnant single women to marry or have abortions.

The political right predictably seized on the opportunity -- for instance, at Fox News James Pinkerton goes way over the top,
That's right, there's a genuine big shot inside the White House who has advocated the sort of population-control policies that we associate with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and power-drunk mad scientists in science-fiction movies. And President Obama appointed him . . .
The attacks on Holdren have motivated a formal response from Holdren's office, seeking to distance him from the comments in the book with the Ehrlichs:
This material is from a three-decade-old, three-author college textbook. Dr. Holdren addressed this issue during his confirmation when he said he does not believe that determining optimal population is a proper role of government. Dr. Holdren is not and never has been an advocate for policies of forced sterilization.
Again, writing at The American Prospect Goldberg is right on the mark when she warns liberals against reflexivly trying to rewrite history, calling out in particular Chris Mooney, who implausibly and somehwhat laughably seems to think that the Ehrlichs and Holdren were against coercive population control policies. (Mooney increasingly seems to have trouble with simple facts.) Goldberg's reasoned views are worth quoting at length:
Few liberals paid much attention, and some of those that did dismissed the whole thing. At Scienceblogs.com, Nick Anthis argued that if the story sounds "just a bit too absurd to be true," that's because it is. He linked to a piece by Chris Mooney, a writer who has done invaluable work fighting right-wing attacks on science. "The book is three decades old; Holdren isn't its first author; it takes a stance against such policies; and neither Holdren nor the Ehrlichs support these policies today, either," wrote Mooney. "Couldn't we talk about something that's actually important and contemporary?"

These defenses seem a bit reflexive. No one, after all, is denying the authenticity of these quotations, and there's little point in pretending that they aren't morally outrageous. What's worse, hysteria over overpopulation in the 1970s did real damage to today's fight against global warming. Since the deadly catastrophes predicted by people like Ehrlich never came to pass, conservatives can argue that environmentalists cried wolf once before and are now doing so again.

Nevertheless, it's worthwhile to understand the context in which Holdren and the Ehrlichs were writing. It doesn't excuse them, but it does go a ways toward explaining how a decent person could have supported such awful ideas. In the 1970s, it was widely accepted by most serious people that overpopulation was a major planetary emergency. Many expected imminent widespread starvation, global upheaval, and mass death. "Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership, may, in turn, determine whether we can resolve successfully the other great questions of peace, prosperity, and individual rights that face the world," wrote George H. W. Bush in 1973. (Indeed, Bush was nicknamed "Rubbers" because of his obsession with family planning.)

And yet there was a growing sense that things weren't moving fast enough and that Malthusian disasters lurked on the horizon. In 1975, a then-classified National Security Council report outlined the dangers that rapid population growth posed to global stability. The report recommended expanding access to voluntary methods of family planning, but under the heading "An Alternative View," it broached the case for coercion. A "growing number of experts," it said, were predicting widespread food shortages and other "demographic catastrophes … in the words of [British scientist and writer] C.P. Snow, we shall be watching people starve on television." The conclusion of this view, it said, "is that mandatory programs may be needed and that we should be considering these possibilities now." It's not surprising that these ideas made it into a comprehensive textbook, since they were very much in the air.

Steven Sinding, a Columbia professor and the former head of both International Planned Parenthood and of the population division at USAID, knew Holdren during those years and shared his concerns.

The Ehrlichs, he says, "were among the leaders in this country of people who were sounding the alarm about the population explosion. Holdren was very much a part of that group. At the time, this was not regarded as radical. It was regarded as intellectuals who were really very serious about the threat of overpopulation and were speculating about alternative approaches to population control," a term then in vogue.

Of course, the fact that such views were taken seriously hardly exonerates those who espoused them. Nevertheless, it does help us understand why a young scientist might entertain them. More important, though, is the fact that Holdren seems to have changed with the times and that he went on to help those working against the population control paradigm.

If anything, the episode is a minor embarrassment for Holdren, whose long and distinguished career has resulted in a change in perspective over time, but also leaving evidence of formerly held views in the academic record. It shows that conservatives are pretty desperate for slime, but also perhaps smelling blood in the water with the ongoing legislative stumbles over health care and cap and trade. But while it is of some minor interest, it is pretty much a non-issue from the standpoint of contemporary policy debates.

In researching this issue I came across an article by Ehrlich and Holdren on population growth and technology from 1969 in which they suggest that investing in vasectomies rather than building nuclear power plants might be a better investment. Sounds kind of silly 40 years later (though surely some will write in the comments that their ideas remain sound;-) Here is how they end that article:
The decision for population control will be opposed by growth-minded economists and businessmen, by nationalistic statesmen, by zealous religious leaders, and by the myopic and well-fed of every description. It is therefore incumbent on all who sense the limitations of technology and the fragility of the environmental balance to make themselves heard above the hollow, optimistic chorus-to convince society and its leaders that there is no alternative but the cessation of our irresponsible, all-demanding, and all-consuming population growth.
Holdren (and his colleagues) turned to to be wrong on this issue. So what? It is an occupational hazard in policy analysis. The important thing is that Holdren seems to have learned from that experience and now holds different views. Good for him.

21 July 2009

A War on Science Policy?

Chris Mooney has a commentary up at The Huffington Post that is full of information that is just wrong. First, he gets budget figures wrong by a factor of about 50:
. . . Sputnik. The first Earth-orbiting satellite, beeping at us from above, inspired stark competitive fears in the nation: Were we falling behind in technology? Would the Soviets fire on us from the skies, and if they tried, could we stop them?

In response, the U.S. Congress jacked up the budget of the recently formed National Science Foundation to $134 million, an increase of nearly $100 million in just one year. And that was just the beginning -- NSF's budget continued to explode in subsequent years, so that by 1962-1963 it had reached $12.2 billion.
Well, no. NSF's budget was not jacked up by nearly $100 million in a year, and in 1962 it was $261 million and 1963 $321 million.

Mooney then complains that:
In sum, the policies and cultural changes unleashed in the wake of Sputnik shaped the course of American science for decades -- and made us world leaders. But then, something went very wrong. Science budgets stopped rising and began to fall.
Again, no. Science budgets did not increase for "decades." Science budgets increased until 1967, as the graph below from AAAS (in PDF) clearly shows.

The wind-down of NASA funding was the reason for the peak in the 1960s. Budgets declined until 1975 when they began a long and sustained period of increase, accelerated most dramatically under the presidency of none other than George W. Bush. Before anyone gets too excited about this data, it is important to recognize that R&D spending has essentially tracked overall government spending since the late 1960s. As government spending has gone up, so too has R&D spending. Policy makers have displayed a remarkable consistency in strong support for science over almost a half century (see figure below from AAAS and this PDF). Mooney's assertion that budgets have been falling is not supported by the evidence.

Mooney advances an argument suggesting that science has fallen in stature from a golden age:
More broadly, our culture changed vastly since the mid-twentieth century. Science became much less cool, scientists ceased to be role models, and kids aren't rushing home anymore to fire rockets from their backyards.
This also is simply not supported by evidence. The 2008 NSF Science and Engineering Indicators presented data on public attitudes about science, and not only is science perceived to be cool, it always has been. Here is what NSF reports:

Public confidence in the leaders of the scientific community is one indicator of public willingness to rely on science. At a minimum, such confidence is ordinarily a prerequisite for taking scientific knowledge seriously in personal and public matters.

Since 1973, the GSS has tracked public confidence in the leadership of various institutions, including the scientific community. The GSS asks respondents whether they have "a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all" in institutional leaders. In 2006, the percentage of Americans expressing "a great deal of confidence" in leaders was higher for the scientific community than for any other institution except the military. Conversely, the percentage expressing "hardly any confidence at all" was lower for scientific leaders than for leaders of any other institution about which this question was asked (table 7-7table.).

Throughout the entire period in which this question has been asked, the percentage of Americans expressing a great deal of confidence in the leaders of the scientific community has fluctuated within a relatively narrow range, hovering between 35% and 45% (appendix table 7-20Excel.). In contrast, for some other institutions, confidence has been more sensitive to current events: the percentage of Americans professing a great deal of confidence in military leaders changed more between 2004 and 2006 than the comparable percentage for science leaders changed between 1973 and 2006.

Mooney's essay is full of incorrect information and flawed assertions. Is he waging a war on science policy?

This Doesn't Jibe With My Experience

Ken Caldeira of Stanford University explains how scientists who show that common wisdom is flawed receive a welcome, even celebrated, reception in the scientific community:
The reality of science is that a scientific career is made by showing that all the people around you believe something that’s not true. If a scientist could provide evidence that the climate theory is incorrect and that global warming is not a product of human activities, he or she would be held up as the Darwin or the Einstein of climate science. We’re highly incentivized to show that all our colleagues are wrong. If we could come up with good evidence that they’re wrong, we would be out there publishing it.
My experience publishing peer-reviewed work that has yet to show evidence of a greenhouse gas signal in the disaster loss record has yet to celebrated by the climate science community, but if Caldeira's views of the dynamics of the scientific community are correct, then it is only a matter of time;-)

More from India -- Ten Times GDP

The head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri says in the interview above that:
India is in no position to accept caps.
Is this just part of a well-coordinated bargaining position in advance of the Copenhagen talks later this year? No. Research conducted by Dr. Pachauri's group at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) concludes that India needs as much as $11.9 trillion to transition to a "low-carbon economy" over the next 25 years. To put this number into context, it is 10 times India's current GDP.

If policy makers believe Pachauri's TERI analysis, then of course India is not going to commit to reducing emissions, unless the developed countries show up with a multi-trillion-dollar+ blank check. These numbers also help to explain Indian skepticism over Hillary Clinton's claim that following a low carbon growth path can help grow the Indian economy.

(Thanks S. M.)

20 July 2009

The Next IPCC

Speaking of the role of the next IPCC assessment report, due in 2014, its chair again strongly suggests that the role of the assessment process is to legitimate political decisions:
The group's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said he believes governments will look to the report for "validation ... of their own decisions" being made now.
But what if they make bad decisions?

ETS Lost at Sea

A British NGO called Sandbag has released a quantitative analysis of the effects of the current recession on the ETS -- Europe's version of cap-and-trade, and has found the program to be seriously flawed. Sandbag claims that (here in PDF),
Targets for the Emissions Trading Scheme were already weak and have now been further undermined. . . At the moment the ETS embodies a reversal of the polluter pays principle, where instead polluters are being paid to do nothing to reduce their emissions.
Their critique rests on the fact that there are too many permits available in the European system to lead to a meaningful cap. Too many permits results from an overallocation and also surplus permits resulting from the current economic recession. Sandbag recommends that the caps be tightened and made more real. Good luck with that.

Tim Yeo, member of the UK Parliament, comments on the report's significance:
These findings confirm what many have begun to suspect. Although emissions trading remains conceptually valid, in practice the EU ETS has not succeeded in driving investment in low-carbon technology.
If the ETS is not driving investment in low carbon technology, then what is the point?

19 July 2009

India Stands Firm

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on some public tensions between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh over India's role in climate mitigation (see also the news report from the Times of India in the video above). The article is worth reading in full, however here is an excerpt that I'd like to focus on:
As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. "It is not true that India is running away from mitigation," he said. But "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets." "No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more out of poverty," Clinton countered. "We also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainability that will lower significantly the carbon footprint." Both sides appearing to be playing to the Indian audience, with Ramesh taking the opportunity to reinforce India's bottom line. Before the visit, U.S. officials were acutely aware that the Indian government has faced criticism at home for making what they considered relatively modest concessions on reducing greenhouse emissions earlier this month at a meeting of major economies. A leaked e-mail from former Indian negotiator Surya Sethi to other negotiators -- in which he asserted the decision would make India poorer -- generated a firestorm here.

Clinton was prepared to argue that countering climate change could actually lift India's economy, not undermine it. U.S. officials also believe, as one put it, that "developing countries are willing to do more than they are willing to agree to."
Here is where the logic of the US position breaks down: If "countering climate change" (whatever was meant by that phrase) did in fact lead to a "lifting" of India's economy, then there would be no need for India to sign on to targets and timetables for emissions targets, as it would make sense to take those actions anyway, since India has repeatedly and forcefully explained that increasing economic growth is its top priority. But India does not see those actions as "lifting" growth, either because they don't actually lift growth or India does not believe that they do. Either way, signing on to emissions reductions commitments is not in the cards for India.

What has India agreed to do? As explain by Minister Ramesh in the video above, India has committed to the Bali Action Plan of the UN FCCC, which includes this text:
(i) Measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed country Parties, while ensuring the comparability of efforts among them, taking into account differences in their national circumstances;

(ii) Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner;
India accepts that they will take "actions" but they will make no "commitments." What is not up for debate is India's desire to achieve economic growth. So what is needed in efforts to slow emissions growth in India is to ensure that India has options available for "action" that can accelerate the decarbonization of its economy as it grows. This means technology. Talk of "commitments" to targets and timetables for emissions reductions is just a waste of time, as it has proven over and over again. Listen particularly to chief US negotiator Todd Stern in the video above and then Minister Ramesh, and you'll see strong evidence for the inescapable impotence of the emissions reduction targets and timetables approach to mitigation.

17 July 2009

About that 2 Degrees Target From the G8 Summit

Here are two different views. First, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from PIK in Germany finds much to be excited about, as reported in Nature, he is
. . . actually quite enthusiastic about the G8’s two degrees target, which he believes will breathe new life into international climate politics.

“Now we can calculate precisely how much greenhouse gas we can still afford to emit if we don’t want to exceed a given probability of getting into dangerous territory,” he says.
An envoy to the Indian Prime minister sees somewhat less precision in the agreement:
While the 2 degree is a compromise, PM's special envoy Shyam Saran told journalists in Italy, "We do not regard this as an arithmetical target; we regard this as a political decision because there is a great deal of uncertainty with respect to what would be the actual rise in temperature, what would be the consequences of that rise of temperature."
What does the agreement mean? Well, what do you want it to mean?

16 July 2009

Some Blogs of Note

In case these are not on your radar screen:

Cspawn -- Science and technology policy commentary from the CSPO early career crowd

CSPO Soapbox - More commentary from the CSPO folks

Pascophronesis- Where blogger extraordinaire David Bruggeman set up shop post-Prometheus

The Warmest Day Ever

Global surface temperatures have increased dramatically in recent days. As can be seen in the figure above from the UAH website, July 14, 2009 is the warmest day ever in their dataset, which dates to 1998 (the little box on the red line shows the July 14 value). July 14th may or may not have been the warmest day ever, however it does portend an end to the debate over global "cooling."

15 July 2009

Nevermind That Pesky Reality

Allianz, a global insurance company based in Germany, and WWF have teamed up to provide a ranking of G8 members performance on greenhouse gas emissions (here in PDF), which sounds like a useful thing to do. However, WWF doesn't believe in nuclear power as a matter of ideology, and therefore rather bizarrely refuses to acknowledge the presence of nuclear power as a matter of ontology. Here is what the report says about how it accounts for nuclear power in its rankings:
WWF does not consider nuclear power as a viable policy option, due to its costs, radiotoxic emissions, safety and proliferation impacts. In this report focusing on climate policies, a policy approach that favors the use of nuclear power is hence adjusted. The indicators emissions per capita, emissions per GDP and CO2/kWh are adjusted as if the generation of electricity from nuclear power had produced 350 gCO2/kWh (emission factor for natural gas). A country using nuclear energy is therefore rated as a country using gas, the most efficient fossil fuel.
What did I learn from this report? Not much, other than the fact that anyone doing business with Allianz had better read the fine print.

(H/T BP)

Mexico 2010

In 2009 forget Copenhagen and in 2010 forget South Africa. It is Mexico 2010 where the action will be according to the latest expectations-lowering/setting from the Obama Administration, from Platts:
Jonathan Pershing, the US deputy special envoy for climate change, on Monday downplayed hopes that UN-led talks set to conclude in December in Copenhagen will result in a final climate change agreement.

"[The talks] won't fail, but [they] will likely be inadequate," Pershing said in remarks to the Committee on America's Climate Choices in Washington.

Congress last year directed the National Academy of Science to establish the committee to investigate issues related to climate change and make recommendations about possible responses. The panel is scheduled to release four reports this year and a final report sometime in 2010.

Pershing told the group that although there is great deal of political pressure to accomplish something from the talks, the reality will be that the components and analysis of any results will be left for the next UN-led meeting, set for 2010 and possibly held in Mexico. Recommendations from Copenhagen will provide "real space for doing an agreement," he said.

Faith-Based Research

A Guest Post by Dan Sarewitz of ASU, cross-posted with the CSPO Soapbox

“Faith based research is okay, shoddy research is common, but the two interact and end up ... in PNAS?”1

Now that the debate over health care reform is beginning to heat up, expect to hear a loudening chorus of voices insisting that the key to the future health of Americans is more research funding for the National Institutes of Health. An early salvo in this direction was published recently in the flagship publication of the National Academies (of science, engineering, and medicine), PNAS.

The article2 is an extraordinary exercise in statistical distortion. It’s basic points are these: (1) Rising expenditures on NIH research correlate with rising indicators of health in America; (2) As Americans get (on average) older, the economic well-being of the nation increasingly will depend on them to lead economically productive lives; (3) this, in turn, will demand better health interventions for an aging population; therefore, (4) NIH budgets need to keep up with this economic imperative. The paper concludes: “the size of NIH expenditures relative to GDP should quadruple to about 1% (≈$120 billion) and be done sufficiently rapidly (10 years) to compensate for the slowing growth of the U.S. labor force.”

The paper includes four graphs (figure 2), each of which shows a curve of rising funding level over time for a particular NIH research institute, and a curve showing death rates from the diseases that each institute focuses on. On three graphs (heart disease and the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; stroke and the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and cancer and the Cancer Institute) death rates show declines, and funding rates show increases. A second set of graphs (figure 3) correlates “acceleration of mortality declines” with funding thresholds achieved at these three institutes. An additional graph (figure 4) shows that total NIH funding trends and national death rate trends can be closely correlated, even to the extent that periods of rapid or slow growth in NIH budgets correlate with rapid or slow declines in overall death rates.

As aggravating (and common) as it is when scientists use illogical or unscientific arguments to promote science, it’s perhaps even more irritating when they employ bad or deceptive scientific arguments. Let me just point out a few problems with this paper, and highlight a few issues that it raises.

There are many pathways to good health, many variables that contribute to good health, and complex, incompletely understood relations among these pathways and variables. Standard of living, level of education, access to affordable medical care, levels of income equity, diet, climate, and other factors all have been shown to have a bearing on public health outcomes. Claiming a direct causal relation between health outcomes and a single variable (in this case, NIH funding) without considering how other variables may be contributing to the outcome is inherently misleading. To understand why this is so, imagine that the Clinton Administration’s efforts in the mid-1990s to implement meaningful health care reform had actually succeeded, so that in the ensuing 15 years, millions of more people had had access to affordable health care than has actually been the case. The resulting improvements in health of the average American would have occurred independently of whatever was going on with the NIH budget. But a similar analysis to the one in the PNAS paper would have shown the same strong correlations between NIH budget increases and the enhanced health outcomes; the key causal role of changing health policy would be invisible.

A variant of this hypothetical case is on display in countries that actually do make an effort to provide health care access for all citizens. As recently summarized in an article in the June 25th issue of The Economist, “Comparisons with other rich countries and within the United States show that America’s health-care system . . . provides questionable value for money and dubious medical care.”3 The fact is that in many countries (such as Canada, Japan, and many European nations) with equitable, population-wide access to medical care, not only do people live longer, healthier lives than in the U.S., but less money (per capita) is spent on both health care and biomedical research.

The authors state that the fit between total NIH funding and death rate curves (their Figure 4) explains “98% of the variation of age-adjusted mortality rates. Although [this] does not prove causation it makes the search for alternate explanatory variables of equal power difficult.” Nonsense. Given the authors don’t look at any other variables, they cannot test the real-world validity of their correlation. This is an act of faith, not science; it is a classic formula for generating spurious correlations. For example, given that budgets for pretty much everything have gone up during the last fifty years, and that budget trends across government programs tend to track one another, there are no doubt many other budget curves that could be nicely matched to the death-rate curve. And in any case we have seen already that other countries can deliver better health to their citizens for less money and with less research—so even if the correlation had some validity, it would merely underscore the inequity and inefficiency of the U.S. system.

The paper further errs by attributing to NIH (and the NIH budget) activities and outcomes that in fact had little to do with NIH. For example, the authors state that, in addition to medical interventions, “public health initiatives against smoking, and promoting screening for breast and colon cancers, led to the initiation of U.S. cancer mortality reductions in 1990,” but of course such crucial public health activities are largely outside the domain of NIH. Moreover, the paper gets its history wrong when it notes that “Total cancer mortality rates did not decline until 1990, 25 years after the identification of the effect of smoking on lung and other cancers....” Well, actually, it was more like 50 years, because the earliest studies to connect smoking and lung cancer were conducted not by NIH-funded scientists but by Nazi scientists in the run-up to World War II.4 By the logic of the PNAS paper, then, ought we to be crediting the Nazi health science agenda with whatever progress has been made on reducing lung cancer, rather than the incredibly protracted and difficult public health campaign (that, for the most part, NIH had nothing to do with) aimed at getting people to cut down on smoking?

Obviously my point is not that NIH does not contribute to the nation’s health in important ways, but that the contribution—one of many, many variables—cannot, in theory or practice, be teased out by discovering correlations between budget trends and health trends. This sort of analysis contributes to the notion that funding policy for NIH amounts to health policy for the nation. We’ve already tried that trick. After the failure of health care reform during the Clinton Administration, the government’s fall-back policy was to double NIH’s budget between 1998 and 2003. Surprise: health care costs continued to skyrocket, millions of more people became disenfranchised from an ever-more-unaffordable health care system, and more and more municipalities and corporations began to sink under the mounting obligation of providing unaffordable health care for their employees and pensioners. How much healthier might the nation have been if these trends had been reversed (even if NIH funding had stayed flat!)?

One final point: Imagine a publication in a prestigious journal claiming that pharmaceutical company revenues were strongly correlated with positive public health outcomes—that the more drugs the companies sold, the healthier the nation became. And imagine that the authors concluded, based on their analysis, that government policies should therefore encourage pharmaceutical profits, e.g., by extending patent lives or providing tax credits to the industry. And now finally imagine that the authors of the paper acknowledged that their research had been supported by millions of dollars of research funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Would this paper have any credibility? Could it even be published?

The PNAS article recommends a ridiculous four-fold NIH budget increase over the next decade. The article also includes, on the bottom of the first page, in small print, this statement: “The authors declare no conflict of interest.” Yet the first author of the paper was described in an August 21, 2002 New York Times article5 as “among the 10 biggest recipients of National Institutes of Health grants,” and the research reported in the PNAS article was also NIH supported. What’s the difference between the hypothetical case and the real one?

About the Author: Daniel Sarewitz is the co-director of CSPO.

1 Comment offered by a colleague who, having yet to achieve tenure, prefers to remain anonymous (which in itself raises the obvious question of how the tenure process is protecting freedom of expression—but that’s another post). I thank this same invisible person for help with this Soapbox post.

2 Manton, K., Gu, X-L, Lowrimore, G., Ullian, A., and Tolley, H.D., 2009, “NIH funding trajectories and their correlations with U.S. health dynamics from 1950 to 2004,” PNAS 106(27): 10981-10986.

3 “Heading for the Emergency Room”, 2009, The Economist, June 25, p. 75.

4 Proctor, R. The Nazi War on Cancer, 2000, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

5 Zernike, K., 2002, “Duke Repays $700,000 in Grant Money and Reports a Swindle, The New York Times (August 21).

Pay Attention to Germany

Some recent events in Germany are worth noting for how they might influence EU climate policies. First, the reemergence of debate over nuclear power, which is like to be a central factor in the next election:

The emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor in northern Germany has thrust worries about atomic safety back on to the political agenda ahead of a national election that will decide the fate of the country’s nuclear plants.

Roland Koch, a key ally of Angela Merkel, the chancellor, vowed on Monday that “there would be no change” to the Christian Democrats’ electoral pledge to extend the lifespan of reactors.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister and the Social Democratic party’s candidate for chancellor, has used the incident to emphasise the SPD’s commitment to a phase-out of nuclear power.

“I really can’t comprehend why the CDU says nuclear power provides eco-energy for the 21st century and, as such, makes itself the mouthpiece of the nuclear lobby,” he said. The SPD lags behind the CDU, its coalition partner, by about 15 percentage points in polls.

Although the failure of a transformer at the 1,346Mw Krümmel nuclear facility on July 4 did not endanger the public, revelations that Vattenfall, the Swedish utility, failed to install a monitoring device or promptly inform its regulator have caused alarm.

The incident is a setback for the energy industry after a brief period when pro-nuclear arguments on prices and climate change had begun to carry weight in Germany.

Second, the German Constitutional Court has made it more difficult for EU institutions to legislate policies compelling binding commitments by member nations:
Germany’s constitutional court takes a clear stance on sovereignty. Ultimate authority always has to rest in a single place – and that is the member state for now. If you wanted to transfer sovereignty to the EU, you would have to dump your national constitution and adopt a European version in its place. As this is not going to happen, the court, in effect, ruled that all sovereignty in the EU is national. Power may be shared, but sovereignty may not.
If Germany decides not to go nuclear, then that makes decarbonization much more difficult. If decarbonization of the German economy becomes more difficult, it will become more difficult for the entire EU.

14 July 2009

Monbiot Discovers Math, Puts it to Good Use

George Monbiot has discovered something important. The simple math of proposed emissions reductions policies does not work. He writes in the Guardian on Tuesday:

Last week the G8 summit adopted the UK's two key targets : it proposed that developed countries should reduce their greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 to prevent more than two degrees of global warming. This meant that it also adopted the UK's key contradiction, as there is no connection between these two aims. An 80% cut is very unlikely to prevent two degrees of warming; in fact it's not even the right measure, as I'll explain later on. But let's work out what happens if the other rich nations adopt both the UK's targets and its draft approach to carbon offsets.

Please bear with me on this: the point is an important one. There are some figures involved, but I'll use only the most basic arithmetic, which anyone with a calculator can reproduce.

The G8 didn't explain what it meant by "developed countries", but I'll assume it was referring to the nations listed in Annex 1 of the Kyoto protocol: those that have promised to limit their greenhouse gases by 2012. (If it meant the OECD nations, the results are very similar.) To keep this simple and consistent, I'll consider just the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, as listed by US Energy Information Administration. It doesn't publish figures for Monaco and Lichtenstein, but we can forgive that. The 38 remaining Annex 1 countries produce 15bn tonnes of CO2, or 51% of global emissions. Were they to do as the UK proposes, cutting this total by 80% and offsetting half of it, they would have to buy reductions equal to 20% of the world's total carbon production. This means that other countries would need to cut 42% of their emissions just to absorb our carbon offsets.

But the G8 has also adopted another of the UK's targets: a global cut of 50% by 2050. Fifty per cent of world production is 14.6bn tonnes. If the Annex 1 countries reduce their emissions by 80% (including offsets), they will trim global output by 12bn tonnes. The other countries must therefore find further cuts of 2.6bn tonnes. Added to the offsets they've sold, this means that their total obligation is 8.6bn tonnes, or 60% of their current emissions.

So here's the outcome. The rich nations, if they follow the UK's presumed lead, will cut their carbon pollution by 40%. The poorer nations will cut their carbon pollution by 60%.

Are poor countries actually going to cut their emissions? No. You can do the math from there.

Does NASA's James Hansen Still Matter in Climate Debate?

ClimateWire has a remarkable article with the above title. It suggests that because James Hansen is opposed to cap and trade legislation that his views no longer matter. Apparently the only views that matter are those that support cap and trade. From the article:

When Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, showed up at a briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday, it was with little fanfare and minus the presence of national television networks.

The man termed "the father of global warming" has irked many longtime supporters with his scathing attacks against President Obama's plan for a cap-and-trade system. Now, a leading Republican climate skeptic is considering calling Hansen as a witness at upcoming Senate hearings. A House Democrat, meanwhile, labeled Hansen's Capitol Hill appearance yesterday "irrelevant." With landmark climate legislation heading to the Senate after passage in the House last month, the friction surrounding Hansen raises questions about what role, if any, the Iowa-born scientist will play in the upcoming debate.
When Hansen was all about death trains and stopping coal plants and so on, the media loved him, as did many advocates. Now that he is espousing unpopular views, that is to say, views counter to those held by many in the media and other advocates, he is suddenly poison?

Thank goodness we have the media to protect us from dangerous ideas.

UK Energy Policy in the Doldrums?

From the FT Energy Source, an excerpt from a new CBI report on UK energy policy in advance of a government report due out tomorrow:
The picture that emerges is unsettling. Faced with concerns over how quickly new nuclear will progress through the planning and licensing system, and the possibility that even coal plants that are compliant with existing EU environmental regulation may be forced to close early by the proposed Industrial Emissions Directive, generators have little choice but to prepare to build a second wave of gas-fired plants (ie in addition to the 8GW currently under construction) to keep the lights on before new nuclear and some CCS coal plants start to come onto the system in the 2020s. Wind will be built in quantity given the subsidies available, but probably not to the extent envisaged by the government to meet the EU-set Renewables Target.
The FT explains:

This, they say, will reduce carbon emissions as coal plants close and ‘keep the lights on’. But the CBI argues it will be unsustainable beyond the 2020s. Their primary concern is that a great deal of new gas capacity will be built: 8GW are already under way and their modelling suggests another 17GW will be built as existing plants age and coal plants look more likely to be shut down early. The CBI says this will make the UK vulnerable to expensive and insecure international gas markets, and will pose a problem for storage. (Part of the expense is also because the UK has more power plants up for retirement than its neighbours.) The CBI also says this gas-fired boom would make 2020 targets reachable, but not 2030 levels, as carbon reduction gains will flatten out in the 2020s once the gas power stations are up and running.

Wind, the CBI says, will contribute to the increase in gas-fired plants as they will be needed to supplement wind’s intermittency. The CBI also argues this will also contribute to price volatility, while offshore wind, they say, requires too much expensive infrastructure, including the cost of connecting to the grid.

13 July 2009

Two Decades of No Warming, Consistent With . . .

Over at Real Climate they are busy giving climate skeptics reason to cheer:
We hypothesize that the established pre-1998 trend is the true forced warming signal, and that the climate system effectively overshot this signal in response to the 1997/98 El Niño. This overshoot is in the process of radiatively dissipating, and the climate will return to its earlier defined, greenhouse gas-forced warming signal. If this hypothesis is correct, the era of consistent record-breaking global mean temperatures will not resume until roughly 2020.
Imagine, twenty-two or more years (1998 to ~2020) of no new global temperature record. What would that do to the debate?

Real Climate does say something very smart in the piece (emphasis added):
Nature (with hopefully some constructive input from humans) will decide the global warming question based upon climate sensitivity, net radiative forcing, and oceanic storage of heat, not on the type of multi-decadal time scale variability we are discussing here. However, this apparent impulsive behavior explicitly highlights the fact that humanity is poking a complex, nonlinear system with GHG forcing – and that there are no guarantees to how the climate may respond.
As I've argued many times, uncertainty is a far batter reason for justifying action than overhyped claims to certainty, or worse, claims that any possible behavior of the climate system is somehow "consistent with" expectations. Policy makers and the public can handle uncertainty, its the nonsense they have trouble with.

11 July 2009

Buy This Book

Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia has a new book out with Cambridge University Press titled, Why We Disagree About Climate Change. It will be on my fall syllabus (hint, hint incoming students). I asked Mike why people should read his book and he responded with the following. Do read it, it is excellent.
Why We Disagree About Climate Change - the plot

Climate change is not 'a problem' waiting for 'a solution'. It is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon which is re-shaping the waywe think about ourselves, about our societies and about humanity's place on Earth. Why We Disagree About Climate Change is a book about this idea of climate change ... where it came from, what it means to different people in different places and why we disagree about it. It is a book which also develops a different way of approaching the idea of climate change and of working with it.

I deliberately present climate change as an idea to be debated, refined and used, as much as I that treat it as a physical phenomenon that can be observed, quantified and measured. These two ways of seeing climate change are very different. As we have slowly and, at times, reluctantly realised that humanity has become an active agent in the re-shaping of physical climates around the world, so our cultural, social, political and ethical practices are re-interpreting what climate change means. Far from simply being a change in physical climates - a change in the sequences of weather experienced in given places - climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences. And as this idea meets new cultures on its travels and encounters the worlds of politics, economics, popular culture, commerce, international diplomacy and religion - often through the interposing role of the media - climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes.

Drawing upon my 25 years of work as a professional climate change researcher, university educator and public commentator, in Why We Disagree About Climate Change I examine this mutating idea of climate change. I do so using the concepts, tools and languages of the sciences, social sciencesand humanities and the discourses and practices of economics, politics and religion. As climate change is examined from these different vantage points it becomes possible to see that depending on who one is and where one stands the idea of climate change carries quite different meanings and seems to imply quite different courses of action. Our discordant conversations about climate change reveal at a deeper level all that makes for diversity, creativity and conflict within the human story - our different attitudes to risk, technology and well-being; our different ethical, ideological and political beliefs; our different interpretations of the past and our competing visions of the future. If we are to understand climate change and if we are to use climate change constructively in our politics, we must first hear and understand these discordant voices, these multifarious human beliefs, values, attitudes, aspirations and behaviours.

Straight Talk

From Rajendra Pauchuri, head of the IPCC, describing on the BBC the G8 agreement on climate change as:
"inept" "sloppy" "ridiculous"
From Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd caught by an open mike in private comments to Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen:
Right now I don't think we are on track to get an agreement at Copenhagen.
NASA's Jim Hansen on Waxman-Markey:
It's less than worthless, because it will delay by at least a decade starting on a path that is fundamentally sound from the standpoints of both economics and climate preservation.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upon returning from the G8:
There is a lot of pressure on India and China on the issue of climate change. We have to resist it.
It would seem that Benny Peiser's handicapping of international climate policy in the Financial Post is on target:
[I]t would appear that after years of inflamed global warming alarm, we are beginning to see a period of sobering-up, where national interests and economic priorities are overriding environmental concerns and utopian proposals.

Is Peiser wrong?

One of these days there just might be demand for an alternative approach.

10 July 2009

Gratz on July Hurricane Damage

Over at the ICAT Damage Estimator blog Joel Gratz has an overview of historical July hurricane damage. Check out the site while you are there, it will be a hit once storms show up this year. Here is an excerpt from Joel's post:

On July 5, 1916 the “Middle Gulf Coast” hurricane made landfall near the Alabama/Mississippi border as a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 m.p.h. The storm surge in Mobile, AL was measured at almost 12 feet, and water inundated the entire business district. If this storm were to strike in 2009 it would cause an estimated $13.8 billion in damage – more than five times that of Dennis. This amount of damage is comparable to Hurricane Frances ($11.8 billion) that struck Florida in 2004 or Hurricane Rita ($11.3 billion) that struck Texas and Louisiana in 2005.

Some other notable July damage information:

  • $33.7 billion of all current (2009) damages occurred in the month of July. This is only 2.4% of all damages and is actually just a bit less than the month of June.
  • 20 of the 235 damaging landfalls in the U.S. since 1900 occurred in July. This is about 8.5% of landfalls.
  • Of the 20 landfalls in July, five were Tropical Storms, seven were Category 1 storms, and there were four of each Category 2 and Category 3 strength.

09 July 2009

Only 6% of Scientists Self-Identify as Republicans

Thanks to Matt Nisbet for pointing me to a new Pew Report on opinions about and of scientists. He has a nice overview of broader take home messages here. In taking a quick look at the report I was surprised to see that only 6% of scientists identify themselves as Republicans, see below. It puts an interesting twist on the conflicts between the Bush Administration and the scientific community. For more on the partisan proclivities of the scientific community see Dan Sarewitz's excellent recent piece on "The Rightful Place of Science" (PDF).

A Response to Jim Watson

In the Guardian today, Jim Watson at the University of Sussex responds to our essay "Climate Policy Back on Course"(PDF). His opening lines are not so constructive:
A new breed of climate sceptic is becoming more common. This new breed is not sceptical of the science, but of the policy response.
Fortunately, he moves on to a more substantive critique of our views, which is most welcome. However, his defense of an approach focused on targets and timetables for emissions reductions is substantively flawed.

First, he cites Tony Giddens as an authority to back his claims of the primacy of emissions reductions targets and timetables. But Giddens offers precious little in the way of actual support -- from his recent book 'The Politics of Climate Change" Giddens writes (pp. 106-107):
A different approach is needed from the one prevalent at the moment. . . Most initiatives that have successfully reduced emissions so far have been driven by the motivation to increase energy efficiency, rather than to limit climate change. This observation applies to whole countries as well as regions, cities and the actions of individuals. It should still be the lead principle today, since great efficiency ipso facto reduces emissions. . . The fundamental problem at the moment is to make clean energy sources competitive with fossil fuel energy sources, whether through public provision of subsidies or through technological advance.
This perspective seems pretty consistent with what we have written.

With the appeal to authority out of the way, lets take a look at Watson's substantive critique:

Simply supporting cleaner, low-carbon technologies is not enough and is naive. Experience shows that pushing technologies with funding is just one part of a complex picture. There also needs to be a market for these technologies so that businesses and individuals adopt them. Markets for low-carbon technologies need to be created through a combination of carbon prices and regulations. Without them, a lot of good technology investment will go to waste.

The emphasis on energy efficiency in the report is welcome, but not thought through. Almost all assessments of climate mitigation pathways conclude that energy efficiency should be done first because it saves us money. However, making energy production and use more efficient is not as easy as it seems, and can have unintended consequences. The "rebound effect" happens because the savings are used for other energy-consuming activities. This seldom makes energy efficiency a waste of time, but emissions caps are needed to limit such rebounds.

This argument is somewhat off-target and does not contradict what we have written. We establish in our paper that there are two -- and only two -- ways to decarbonize the global economy, and that is through improving efficiency and decarbonizing energy supply. The debate is (or should be) about the most appropriate means to achieve those goals. Watson thinks that a cap on emissions will force those goals to be achieved. We believe that a direct focus on efficiency and low carbon energy supply makes far more sense.

Why? David Victor from Stanford explains the general problem:
I think the approach of setting binding emission targets through treaties is wrongheaded because it “forces” governments to do things they don’t know how to do. And that puts them in a box, from which they escape using accounting tricks (e.g., offsets) rather than real effort.
In contrast to the current approach, focused on emissions, imagine an approach to climate policy in which nations were debating targets and timetables for improvements in energy efficiency and the pace of deployment for low carbon energy supply rather than emisisons reduction targets or even more disconnected from policy, global average temperature targets.

What Watson should have done instead of focusing on efficiency and decarbonization of energy supply, where there is little disagreement, is to explain why it is that an indirect approach is better than a direct approach. He does not do this, leaving us needing to believe that there is some alchemy in the setting of a target that can compel actions better than a direct approach can. As we argue in our paper, indirect approaches are doomed to failure, and the track record so far supports this argument. Why should we expect things to be different in the future?

The reality is that a commitment to reduce emissions necessarily implies progress with respect to improvements in energy efficiency and decarbonization of energy supply (see Pielke 2009). At the same time a singular focus on targets and timetables for emissions reductions obscures the challenge in lieu of making promises that may satisfy cathartic needs but no one knows how to keep. We are arguing for a more direct, a more transparent, and thus more achievable focus for climate policy. Why will a less direct approach do better?

If decarbonization of the global economy consistent with stabilization targets is actually to occur then it will necessarily have to occur through progress in energy efficiency and decarbonization of energy supply. Period. Given that this is the case, why don't we just cut to the chase rather than making things more complicated than necessary?