Unpublished Letter to the San Francisco Chronicle

March 27th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A few weeks ago Henry Miller had an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that discussed our recent commentary in Nature on adaptation (PDF). We sent in a letter in response that for whatever reason the Chronicle decided not to publish. So we have reproduced it here:

Dear Editor-

We appreciate that Henry Miller (Sunday, March 11, 2007) highlighted our recent commentary in Nature magazine which called for greater attention to adaptation in climate policy. In that article we argue that advocates of mitigation (i.e., reducing greenhouse gas emissions) frequently go too far when they present energy policies as an alternative to societal adaptation to the impacts of a changing climate. Unfortunately, Dr. Miller commits an equally grave mistake by suggesting that adaptation can take the place of mitigation. Any effective approach to climate policy will require that we both mitigate and adapt. The urge to present adaptation and mitigation as somehow in opposition is a reflex shared by those on opposing sides of the debate over greenhouse gas emissions. On climate policy we must walk and chew gum at the same time.

Roger Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado
Gwyn Prins, London School of Economics and Columbia University
Steve Rayner, Oxford University’s James Martin Institute
Daniel Sarewitz, Arizona State University

14 Responses to “Unpublished Letter to the San Francisco Chronicle”

  1. TokyoTom Says:

    I see the spin cycle is already on.

    As Miller has published variations on this article in two other places, you have a couple more bites at this apple, before your “insightful article” is taken as support for the ironically alarmist and self-serving right-wing propositions that:

    - “Reductions in the burning of fossil fuels sufficient to have even a modest impact would stifle economic growth and plunge the world into chaos.”

    - “emissions reduction has become an article of faith in the church of radical environmentalism”

    - “Such doctrinaire activism is inimical to resilience; it jeopardizes our survival as individuals and our success as a society.”

    - “unimaginative, short-sighted politicians and venal activists have conspired to limit our options, constrain economic growth and make real solutions elusive.”

    Even though Miller acknowledges that “there is plenty of blame to go around”, he saves it all for venal activists and those feckless politicians – science- and logic-challenged short-term thinkers who care mainly about scoring political points – who have abandoned the supposedly rational prior policy of climate change denial and entanglement.

    Apparently none of the blame should be allocated to the statist corporations that have manipulated and stalled the debate or to the politicians and “think tanks” such as the Hoover Institution that have provided them cover by pieces such as this, which still refuse to even acknowledge that AGW is a problem that should be addressed in any way other than by government inaction, and surprisingly evince no support even for any of the tasks of adaptation – such as removing incentives that encourage development on the coasts, elimination of subsidies to fosil fuels or tackling the job of coordinating development in the third world.

    If you want to stop providing fuel for gasbags like Miller, you might want to consider providing a little more prominence to your objections that you are being misused.



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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Tom for your comments. However I will disappoint you I am sure with my response.

    We stand 100% behind our article. It offers no support for the various claims that you assert.

    Rather than criticizing we who have published an analysis that is solid (you haven’t disagreed, e.g.), you might target some of your ire to the SFC who refused to print our letter or those who would mischaracterized what we have said.

    Complaining about uncomfortable knowledge is unlikely to be a winning strategy. Sorry!


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  5. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, you’re not responding to what I wrote.

    My point was to suggest that, as you are clearly being misused to advance an agenda that you do not agree with – as you note in your letter and response to me – then perhaps you should protest a tiny bit more.

    I thought that it was clear that my “ire” WAS directed at those who are taking advantage of your piece; I set forth the talking points from Miller’s op-ed simply to make it clear how your article, which is cited with approval, is being used for propositions that presumably are not your own and do not wish to take credit for.

    These are not “various claims that [I] assert”, but what Miller is trying to establish. If your article doesn’t support them, perhaps you ought to say that a little more clearly (as your letter focusses on stating that mitigation is also needed). Failure to stand up clearly here will damage your call for more emphasis on adaptation, by leading some to see you as an ally of denialists and thus to discount your policy suggestions.

    That was my point.

    As for your article itself, I had a few comments that I did not have time to post. I will try to come back later.

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  7. Harry Haymuss Says:

    Re “Reductions in the burning of fossil fuels sufficient to have even a modest impact would stifle economic growth and plunge the world into chaos.”

    Consider this. Find out if your power company is buying power made from coal, or natural gas. Then look at the price difference per therm, convert to watts, and then calculate the difference between what you are paying for natural gas powered electricity vs. what it would be for coal powered electricity.

    Now, imagine what you would do with that extra disposable income.

    See, it’s already happening. It’s hurting us.

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  9. TokyoTom Says:

    Harry, as there are reasons why utilities burn oil and gas, and since there are no restrictions now on CO2 releases, might one suppose that these other reasons might be driving the use of these other fuel sources, and that utilities are not simply ripping off customers for the benefit of oil and gas suppliers?

    What Miller offers and you recite is a strawman. To lower CO2 emissions one must capture carbon, not reduce the burning of fossil fuels. There are ways to do this without dooming modern industrial civilization. It may mean that fossil fuel-generated power and internal combustion engine fuels cost more, but the result will be a shift into lower-carbon resources and greater efficiency in use and production of energy. Japan and some parts of Europe already get much more GDP per BTU than we do – because of higher energy prices.

    More on coal from AEI/Wall Street Journal here: http://www.aei.brookings.org/policy/page.php?id=284.

    But you fail to address the issues raised by Roger’s letter and by the Miller piece – does it make fair use of Roger’s essay and does it correctly blame enviros and politicians (Dems?) for damaging America’s ability to adapt to climate change?

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  11. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks for your follow up. Apologies if I misinterpreted your comments.

    My views on climate policy are quite well known and I have not been shy in advancing them (e.g., see my 2006 Gov’t Reform Cmte testimony). Those who want to characterize my work as you have are misrepresenting it as badly as Miller did. I recognize that some people want to advance adaptation as an exclusive alternative to mitigation, and similarly some want to advance mitigation exclusive to adaptation. In this context it is difficult to argue as we have that mitigation and adaptation should co-exist — we will likely make no one particularly happy, and will surely motivate comments like your tired invocation of “denialists”. That is the state of the climate debate, and it is how most research in this field is viewed – through a pre-exisiting political lens.

    When I see misuse of our work, I’ll use this forum as I have in the past, and with this post. Today or tomorrow I will post up a response (and our reply) to our Nature essay that errs in the other direction. It is a tough gap to shoot, but we’re trying our best. I’d simply ask that you evaluate our work on its merits, which in this case you have not done.


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  13. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, you are right to conclude that I have not evaluated your work on the merits – because I haven’t offered an evaluation of it at all yet (although I hope to some time!).

    Rather I have noted that the degree to which your essay is being misused is more significant that which you complain of in your letter. I find it puzzling that this should elicit a reaction directed towards me.

    And I have not “characterized” your work, except to assert that it cannot fairly be used to support the quoted propositions that Miller makes. But if I misunderstand, and you do indeed agree with Miller on any of the points I quoted, perhaps you could clear that up?

    By the way, I have no problem at all with the argument that BOTH mitigation and adaptation are needed, since obviously we cannot turn the climate on a dime, nor would it wise even to try to do so. My problem is with pundits such as Miller, who show no real interest in either mitigation or adaptation.

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  15. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Tom- Thanks. If your concern is with Miller’s treatment of our paper, then I’d suggest that a letter from you to the SF Chronicle is the best route to air your views. Complaining that our own efforts to set the record straight don’t meet your standards sounds to me like you are criticizing us and not Miller! Our efforts won’t please everyone, I am sure, but please do give us a little credit. Thanks.

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  17. Nosmo Says:

    Roger, Tom is critisizing you, however it is suposed to be constructive criticism. You may be wise to consider it. If your views are often missused and abused, you are being much less effective then you could be. It strikes me as somewhat analogous to your criticisms of climate scientists understanding of the politics.

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  19. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Nosmo, I’d probably react less strongly to Tom had he actually taken the time to engage our short paper rather than some reaction to the paper. Of course, I could be better at communicating, but I’ve no illusions that that alone would address misrepresentations of our work.

    That being said, I do not perceive my work to be often misused and abused, certainly not any more than any other academic involved in political issues, and probably less, especially since we’ve watchdogged such things via this blog. However, a few people sure like to make a lot of hay from those few instances, trying to use them to impeach my work. That itself is part of the political dynamic at work here …


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  21. Nosmo Says:

    Fair enough. But here is another constructive criticism. Your letter did not get printed because it is much too bland. If you would have accussed (or atleast strongly implied) Miller of distorting your views you would probably have been published. The chronical is my local paper and your letter, and I would have predicted they would not publish it as it stands.

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  23. TokyoTom Says:

    Roger, aah, now I see – you think that I am one of those “few people [who] sure like to make a lot of hay from those few instances, trying to use them to impeach my work”!

    So when I actually bother to read the piece of spin that your letter addresses and to point out that your work is being misused much more badly than your bland reply acknowledges, you choose not to comment on the “spin cycle” or how best to deal with it, but to attack me as the messenger – as it must be my nefarious purpose to impeach your work! I guess I have obviously touched a sore spot.

    Of course you get to choose how you respond when your work is hijacked to serve someone’s agenda (and it’s not my job to take up that task for you). However, to attack me for pointing it out – which is a perfectly fair thing to do – seems to be more than a little perverse.

    You say to Nosmo that you’d “probably react less strongly to Tom had he actually taken the time to engage our short paper rather than some reaction to the paper”, but isn’t this post precisely about you trying to set a part of the record straight and NOT about the substance of your paper?

    You are correct to read me as suggesting that you might wish to respond to Miller’s misuse of you paper more strongly; that indeed was precisely my point. It seems to me that much of the pro-adaptation punditry is really a “do-nothing” prescription that strikes not only at mitigation but at the adaptation measures you suggest as well.

    My sense that this may be worth addressing more strongly may simply be wrong, and the best way to address it is precisely the course you are adopting. But as long as you are being misinterpreted or misquoted by articles such as this (and Broad’s), I’m not sure how I do you a disservice either in pointing it out or asking how you deal with this phenomenon.



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  25. Mark Bahner Says:

    Hi Roger,

    You (y’all ;-) ) write, “Unfortunately, Dr. Miller commits an equally grave mistake by suggesting that adaptation can take the place of mitigation. Any effective approach to climate policy will require that we both mitigate and adapt.”

    What scientific or economic evidence do you have that “any effective approach to climate policy will require” mitigation?

    It seems to me y’all’s statement that “any effective approach to climate policy will require” mitigation is statement of collective personal opinion, rather than a statement backed by science and economics.

    For example, I assume y’all agree that no politically plausible mitigation (i.e., reduction of GHG emissions):

    1) will have any significant effect on the number of people who die from malaria in this century?

    2) will have anything but a small fractional effect on the amount of hurricane damage in the next 50 years?

    3) will create even a 3 inch difference in the amount of sea level rise over the next 50 years?

    It was those three issues—malaria, hurricanes, and sea level rise—that Henry Miller used in his opinion piece. If he correctly represented your views on those issues, I don’t see where he “misrepresented” you. Where do y’all see mitigation as being “required”?


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  27. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks. I think that you know well enough that my own view is that energy policies are not good tools for modulating future deaths and damages related to climate impacts. The threat of climate change, were it only limited to these marginal effects, might effectively be dealt with through adaptation. The reason mitigation is important is because of potential large and irreversible effects on the earth system, and not marginal changes. These risks are nonzero and may be precisely unknowable. But that doesn’t mean that they do not exist. Prudence would suggest that we act in ways to reduce the risk, especially if such actions confer other benefits at the same time. We argue that adaptation and mitigation are different policy responses that address different problems. Miller suggests that adaptation is a substitute for mitigation. That is simply incorrect.

    For an elaboration of these points see my testimony last year here: