Category Archives: Climate Science

Tall Tales in the New York Times

Roger Pielke Jr. is an authority on the evidence for climate change signals in tropical storm intensities. See for example here. Roger also maintains a watch for rubbish published in the media or the academic literature. A current standout example is this NY Times silliness:

I’ve made peace with the fact that many people want to believe things utterly unsupported by data, such as what Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in today’s New York Times, that intense storms and floods have become three times more common and increasing damage from such events is evidence of human caused climate change. Of course, people believe a lot of silly things that data don’t support — like President Obama is a Muslim with a fake birth certificate, vaccines cause autism, and climate change is a hoax, just to name a few on a very long list. While such misplaced beliefs are always disconcerting, especially so to academics who actually study these issues, such misjudgments need not necessarily stand in the way of effective action. So it is not worth getting too worked up about tall tales.

But even so, it is still amazing to see the newspaper of record publish a statement like the following about Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies:


Read the whole thing »

Reversing the direction of the positive feedback loop: Part II

Climate scientist Judith Curry is a brave woman. On 4 Nov Judith was at Purdue University, preparing for a panel discussion with Andy Revkin and Roger Pielke Jr. on “Beyond Climategate.” She posted a preview of her talk, focusing on “The positive feedback loop” – excerpt:

(…) I think the dynamics are much more complicated, and can only be understood by considering the ever vexatious feedback loop. There has been a particularly toxic positive feedback loop between climate science and policy and politics, whose direction has arguably been reversed as result of Climategate.

The scientists provided the initial impulse for this feedback loop back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The enviro advocacy groups quickly saw the possibilities and ran with it, with the scientists’ blessing. The enviro advocacy groups saw the climate change issue as an opportunity to enlist scientific support for their preferred energy policy solution. Libertarian think tanks, the traditional foes of the enviro advocacy groups, began countering with doubts about the science. International efforts to deal with the climate change problem were launched in 1992 with the UNFCCC treaty.

That post generated a comment-storm, so Judith has posted a Part II with a more in depth discussion of her framing:

(…) The previous post was written for the Purdue event, I had 10-15 minutes to make a statement. I put forth an argument (the feedback loop) with premises. To many, the premises I put forth seem self evident. Others are demanding “proof” and “evidence” of my premises. My argument, and the premises that it is based on, are offered up for discussion on this blog.

Are any of you tired of the endless debate over who is hero and who is villain in the scenario unfolded in the CRU emails? Even if we were to get rid of all of the “objectionable” characters on both sides of this, would climate science be fixed? Would we have sensible energy policies? No and no. And we can’t frame/narrate/communicate our way out of this either. The problems and the issues are much bigger: geopolitics, economics, clashes of values. An extremely wicked problem for which science does not provide a solution.


So far Judith has about 500 comments on Part I, and as I write 378 comments on Part II.

Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research

Two of the bright lights in the climate change arena are Ken Caldeira and David Keith, who jointly lead the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER). The fund is setting a strong example for transparency on both inputs and outputs. Bill Gates is providing the funding (personally, not the Gates Foundation). Here are a couple of Q/A examples from the FICER information page:

Q. What is the source and size of the fund? Who administers the fund?

A. Since its inception in 2007, FICER has given out grants to 13 research projects and various scientific meetings totaling $4.6 million. Internationally known climate scientists Dr. David Keith of University of Calgary and Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution select projects that receive support from the fund. While Mr. Gates provides input from time to time on the fund, Drs. Keith and Caldera make final decisions on projects.

Q. Does the fund support research into geoengineering? Does the fund support research into “clean energy”?

A. Yes, the fund supports research into both geoengineering and clean energy, as well as basic climate science research. The directors of the fund believe that society should be spending many tens-of-billions of dollars per year developing and deploying affordable, scalable, near zero-carbon energy sources.

“Geoengineering” is a term that different people use in different ways. Some proposed technologies, for example capturing and sequestering excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, attempt to address the root causes of climate change. These approaches are relatively uncontroversial. Other proposed technologies, for example solar radiation management (SRM) attempt to reduce the effects of climate change but don’t address the root causes. SRM aims to cool the planet, for example by adding reflective aerosols (small particles suspended in air) to the stratosphere where they will reflect some incoming sunlight, cooling the planet. These approaches, which would be a human intervention in the climate system with potential environmental risks, are more controversial.

However, much important research into these approaches, such as computer modeling, laboratory experiments, or passive observations of nature, can be done without any interference in the climate system. This research is as important in determining which geoengineering technologies have limited efficacy, scalability or unacceptable environmental risks as it is in finding viable solutions, and the fund supports these kinds of projects. Further, research will help inform the development of much needed international conventions for any geoengineering field tests.

Q. Does the fund support field testing of geoengineering?

A. FICER has not supported and will not support any field tests of methods that introduce new kinds of interference into the climate system (e.g., solar radiation management, ocean fertilization). We are in favor of field testing industrial processes that can remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Review of The Climate Fix in the Financial Post

Roger Pielke Jr’s new book is out, and highly favorable reviews are beginning to appear. The Terence Corcoran review in the Financial Post is well written — I recommend it. A big plus is that FP also published an excerpt from the book, focused on prof. Pielke’s “iron law” of climate policy.

Here’s Roger on the FP review. And following are a couple of choice paragraphs from the excerpt on the “iron law”

(…) Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics called the contortions of policymakers on energy policy “gloriously incoherent” after observing their behaviour at preparatory meetings immediately preceding the 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan. In a morning session, Prins relates, policymakers discussed ways to lower the costs of gasoline brought on by the massive run-up in oil prices in 2007 and 2008. Then in the afternoon they reconvened to consider ways to increase the costs of gasoline through caps or taxes to address ever-growing greenhouse-gas emissions around the world.

A 2009 U.S. poll helpfully illustrates the iron law of climate policy. The poll asked respondents about their willingness to support a climate bill in the U.S. Congress at three different annual costs per household. At US$80 per year a majority said that they would support a bill. But at US$175 per year, support dropped by almost half, with a majority expressing opposition to such a bill. At US$770 per year opposition exceeds support by a ratio of about 10 to one.

Our new iPad arrives here in Australia tomorrow. The first ebook that will be loaded is the Kindle edition of The Climate Fix!

Rathenau Institute Report on IPCC and the Politicization of Climate Science

Too much emphasis in the climate debate has come to lie on scientific substantiation or proof of the end of the world–  Rathenau Institute.

Roger Pielke Jr. alerts us to an important analysis of the politicization of climate science. The new report mirrors many of the same criticisms of the linear model that are covered in The Honest Broker and in Roger’s soon to be released The Climate Fix. That a leading Dutch think tank is now arguing the same case makes me just a tiny bit more optimistic.

Newton and sea level rise

Thanks to Eduardo at Die Klimazweibel I now have a much better understanding of regional sea level rise. This is not new work, but certainly is rarely discussed by big media. The consequences of Greenland or Antarctic glacier melting are not what you might think.

By how much would sea-level rise if the Greenland ice sheet disappears ? Probably quite a lot, but not in Germany, or in North Western Europe for that matter. There, sea level would virtually unaffected. To formulate it a bit provocatively, Greenland is for Western Europeans irrelevant. They should be rather observing Antarctica more closely.

Global sea-level rise is caused about by several factors, among which the most important the expansion of the water column due to rising ocean water temperatures and the melting of the polar ice-sheets. Both effects are obvious and do not require further explanation. However, the shrinking of the polar land-ice masses does not lead to a sea-level rise uniformly distributed over the globe. Quite the contrary, its fingerprint is substantially heterogeneous. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, most of the sea-level rise would occur in the southern Hemisphere. If, on the other hand, it is the West-Antarctic Ice sheet that collapses, Nature’s wisdom would produce a targeted maximum of sea-level rise right in front of the White House. This surprising effect is caused by very well-known physics – gravitational attraction – but it is seldom found in the public discussion of global sea-level rise.

Read more »

On the irrelevance of the "hockey stick" fight

This is for climate science and/or climate policy geeks only. Back on November 21st, 2005, Roger Pielke, Jr. wrote a post that (I think) nicely summarized the irrelevance of the tussle over Michael Mann’s hockey stick reconstruction of proxy temperature data. Roger began with this:

A few weeks ago we posed a challenge to both parties involved in the so-called “hockey stick” debate to explain why the rest of us ought to care about the debate. We asked, “so what?” We received responses from Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick while everyone on the other side declined to participate, though a few showed up in the comments. Here I’d like to offer a few assorted reflections on the responses and the subsequent discussion.

1. First, thanks to Steve McIntyre (SM) and Ross McKitrick (RM) for providing thoughtful responses. The responses motivated a healthy discussion and for me provided some greater insight into the dynamics of the ongoing debate within the climate community not just over the hockey stick, but broader issues as well.

2. Interestingly enough, the response from SM is completely in agreement with RealClimate contributors Stefan Rahmsdorf (SR) and William Connelley (WC) that the “hockey stick” debate is pretty much irrelevant to the scientific question of whether or not greenhouse gases will affect the future climate. Consider:

SR: “The discussions about the past millennium are not discussions about whether humans are changing climate; neither do they affect our projections for the future.”

WC: “Why is this fight important to the rest of us? the answer is: you shouldn’t. It isn’t..”

SM: “I’m inclined to agree that, for the most part, the Hockey Stick does not matter to the great issue of the impact of 2xCO2.”

This agreement is interesting because it means we can move beyond the often invoked assertion that the hockey stick is the keystone supporting the entire scientific basis of climate science. Others may assert that the hockey stick is a scientific keystone, but apparently not the principals involved in this debate.

There is much more detail, and exhausting nitpicking in the comments, so continue reading…

How the Science of Global Warming Was Compromised

Der Spiegel has done a nice job assembling the history of the politicization of climate science. The article concludes:

(…) However, it seems all but impossible to provide conclusive proof in climate research. Scientific philosopher Silvio Funtovicz foresaw this dilemma as early as 1990. He described climate research as a “postnormal science.” On account of its high complexity, he said it was subject to great uncertainty while, at the same time, harboring huge risks.

The experts therefore face a dilemma: They have little chance of giving the right advice. If they don’t sound the alarm, they are accused of not fulfilling their moral obligations. However, alarmist predictions are criticized if the predicted changes fail to materialize quickly.

Climatological findings will probably remain ambiguous even if further progress is made. Weingart says it’s now up to scientists and society to learn to come to terms with this. In particular, he warns, politicians must understand that there is no such thing as clear results. “Politicians should stop listening to scientists who promise simple answers,” Weingart says.

Roger Pielke Jr. is engaging readers on some of the contentious points, such as “hide the decline”. There is more detail and background in Climategate: Steve McIntyre examines The “Trick” in Context:

Roger looks at Steve McIntyre’s examination of the “trick”. It does not tell us that the warming trend is false. But it does reveal that the IPCC inner circle put a lot of energy into spin.

The Hartwell Paper: climate policy for the real world

What would be the best outcome from Bali? It would be a post-Kyoto regime that ditches universalism with respect to mitigation efforts: Fewer than 20 countries are responsible for about 80% of the world’s emissions. It would make a serious commitment to technological innovation. And it would agree to spend as much time and money on adaptation as on mitigation.

…Adaptation is central to any serious climate response strategy. We have to deal with the amount of change to which the climate system is already committed due to past emissions, as well as the increasing amount of people and property that are already in harm’s way. Just as the Dutch built their dikes to survive in a hostile environment, the Bangladeshis need to be protected from storm surges and the Filipinos from flooding today.

For over a decade, adaptation was kept off the policy agenda by those who feared it would attenuate support for reducing emissions. Yet any reduction in greenhouse-gas concentrations would take decades. Adaptation has a faster response time cycle and a closer coupling with innovation and incentive structures. It thereby confers more protection more quickly on more people, especially the poor currently dependent on marginal ecosystems.

Those selected paragraphs introduced my earlier post Kyoto Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy, which celebrated the 2007 LSE/Oxford paper of the same title by Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner [PDF]. I continue to believe today that these papers offer a policy path that could actually work – unlike the failed Kyoto model.

The second blockbuster joint LSE/Oxford  paper was released 6 July 2009. How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course [PDF], is authored by a formidable dream team. Inverting the concept of an “ad hominem attack”, my defense would highlight the ten additional expert coauthors who have joined Prins and Rayner. Here by example are just a few names familiar to those who have been seeking a practical policy framework: Christopher Green, Mike Hulme, Roger Pielke, Jr, Dan Sarewitz and Hans van Storch. The report exhorts policy leaders to drop the failed Kyoto-style framework and instead focus directly on decarbonizing global energy systems by applying the Kaya Direct Approach.

Now in May 2010 we have the third joint LSE/Oxford publication The Hartwell Paper. The author team has grown to fourteen, and the concepts are further refined. Though I have to say that the “crash of 2009″ validates the methodology developed in the first two papers:

Climate policy, as it has been understood and practised by many governments of the world under the Kyoto Protocol approach, has failed to produce any discernable real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in fifteen years. The underlying reason for this is that the UNFCCC/Kyoto model was structurally flawed and doomed to fail because it systematically misunderstood the nature of climate change as a policy issue between 1985 and 2009. However, the currently dominant approach has acquired immense political momentum because of the quantities of political capital sunk into it. But in any case the UNFCCC/Kyoto model of climate policy cannot continue because it crashed in late 2009.

I hope the new paper generates serious debate on its recommendations. Whatever the outcome, the “Kaya Direct” approach must be the foundation.

(…) Underlying all is the degree to which the “Kaya Direct” model can help restore public trust. The restoration of public trust, as we observed at the beginning of this paper, is the indispensible prerequisite for any productive action at all on the vital, complex and hitherto badly misunderstood and mismanaged subject of climate policy.

UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. links to an Economist editorial on the Hartwell Paper. Roger’s blog will be a very good place to monitor progress on the debate.

The value of long-term predictions

Very interesting… Klimazweibel just posted a “be humble” look-back at 1970′s US energy consumption forecasts. This is certainly “consistent with” Seekerblog’s tagline thanks to physicist Neils Bohr “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”.

Keep in mind that the much-improved energy efficiency of the US economy is the result of 30 years of compounding of the average annual improvement in efficiency, which last time I looked was around 1.8%.

(…) I stumbled by chance upon another set of predictions, this time for US energy consumption, all of the issued in the 70′s with 2000 as time horizon. Some were more accurate than others, but there is clearly a bias.
From Craig et al., Can History teach us? A retrospective examination of long-term energy forecasts for the United States. Annu. Rev. Energy and Environment 27, 83(2002)

It seems that ‘Be humble’ is a good advice most of the time

[From The value of long-term predictions]