Archive for June, 2005

Consensus on Hurricanes and Global Warming

June 16th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

“[T]here is no sound theoretical basis for drawing any conclusions about how anthropogenic change affects hurricane numbers or tracks, and thus how many hit land.” K. Trenberth, Science, 17 June 2005

Last winter, Chris Landsea caused a flap when he resigned from the IPCC claiming that Kevin Trenberth, the lead author of the IPCC chapter that he was contributing to, had made unfounded statements about hurricanes and global warming in a press conference organized by Harvard to allege a connection between the U.S. hurricane damages of 2004 and human-caused climate change. (Disclaimer: As most regular readers know, Landsea is a long-time collaborator of mine.) In this week’s Science, Trenberth has an essay on hurricanes and climate change that should put this issue to rest. Trenberth’s essay clearly vindicates Landsea’s actions, and, in my opinion, it would not be inappropriate for IPCC officials who failed to support Landsea (Rajedra Pachauri and Susan Solomon) to issue him a public apology. But don’t hold your breath.

Let’s take a quick look at Trenberth’s essay and explain why it vindicates Landsea.


Wise Words on Science Policy

June 15th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I missed this March, 2004 speech given by Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Science Committee, but it recently crossed my desk and is worth highlighting. The speech (he calls it a “lecture” and you’ll see why below) was given to DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Here are a few interesting excerpts:

“First, don’t start by assuming that folks in Washington are out to get scientists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, in the proposed fiscal 2005 budget, science agencies are slated to receive some of the largest increases – less than I’d prefer, but more than other agencies. Just about everyone on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would like to do as much as possible for science – especially for the physical sciences, which have been going through a period of relative neglect as funding for biomedical research has skyrocketed in recent years. So don’t start by assuming that Washington’s goal is to harm or ignore science. Here’s another approach not to take. Don’t tell Members of Congress that you’re different because you’re not looking to help yourselves in the short-run; you’re looking for money that is a long-term investment for the entire nation. Sure, science funding is just that sort of investment. But so are education and road building and defense spending and human space flight; the list of possible investments goes on and on. And guess what? Congress is not besieged by groups asking for money that they describe as necessary to help their own narrow interests in the short run. The argument that science funding is a long-term national investment does nothing to set scientists apart. All that sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks they’re making a unique argument.”

So what should scientists do?


A New Easily Digested Summary on Climate Actions

June 14th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Thank god for the colored fishwrap. If the USA Today hadn’t told me today that “The debate is over: Globe is warming” (link), I’d have to keep posting on Prometheus, hunting for nuggets of insight on the current state of consensus.

My snickering on USA Today headline writing aside (I think I prefer The Onion), Dan Vergano does a decent job of summing up some recent corporate attitudes and actions on climate change. None of it is surprising; a few of us had expected the American corporate machine to start moving on climate change when they realized that their international business interests were at stake post-Kyoto (link). But the article tries to go inside the heads of some affected corporations and includes this pearl from Big Coal:

” ‘On the business side, it just looks like climate change is not going away,’ says Kevin Leahy of Cinergy, a Cincinnati-based utility that reports $4.7 billion in annual revenue and provides electricity, mostly generated from coal, to 1.5 million customers. Most firms see global warming as a problem whose risks have to be managed, he says. ”

This is what some climate/science policy people have been saying for a while. We’re beyond the science and now into the risk realm. That is, we’ve identified a risk, which implies both knowledge and uncertainty. The risk, however you perceive it, isn’t going away. So you better decide whether you want to be proactive or indifferent. This is boilerplate for regular readers of Prometheus, but it is interesting to hear a representative of “the problem” say the same thing.

The article is also interesting for trotting out the now infamous Rick Piltz, attributing to him expertise in energy conservation (he did publish a paper about it in 1989), without really showing whether Vergano actually interviewed Piltz for the article. It will be interesting to watch whether Piltz becomes a recognized and oft-quoted expert on climate change for the next two weeks. (While Revkin gets to sit back and bask in the glory of originality. Nice job, Andy.)

Betting on Climate

June 14th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Placing bets on the future state of the climate makes sense, but in a research mode, not just in public displays of “calling out” particular opponents. Several commentators here on Prometheus have directed our attention to discussions of “betting on climate,” that is, putting one’s money where one’s mouth is when making claims about the future state of the climate. James Annan, a scientist at the Frontier Research Center for Global Change in Japan, has been trying unsuccessfully to get prominent climate skeptics on the record in the form of a bet. Mark Bahner has responded by trying unsuccessfully to get James Annan on the record with some sort of bet.

This recent flurry of calling people out (reminds me of elementary schoolyard brawls – “I’m faster than you!” “No you’re not!” “Prove it!” “Meet you after school on the playground!”) no doubt has a high element of drama. Ronal Bailey takes credit for starting the betting flurry when he apparently misquoted MIT’s Richard Lindzen discussing what odds he would take on a bet on the future state of the climate. Underlying all this, as Bailey observes, is the now legendary story of the Erlich/Simon wager which in spite of assertions to the contrary is widely viewed as a vindication of Simon’s perspectives over Ehrlich’s – of cornucopian correctness and catastrophist error. This is where the drama comes from, as bettors who call people out by name probably see themselves immortalized in future history with a publicly-visible betting victory like Julian Simon experienced.

I think that while such chest thumping displays are certainly entertaining, they tell us little about the broader state of uncertainty among experts or the public. But there is something important here that should not be overlooked. Betting, or more accurately a betting market, can tell us a lot about the state of uncertainty across a large body of experts. In 2001 I wrote an essay on “prediction markets,” here is an excerpt:


The Good Explanation – Apologies

June 13th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Welcome to the weblog… as I sat down to write a disgruntled letter to Donald Kennedy tonight, I went through my old email and discovered that it was Nature, not Science that rejected our hurricane paper without review.

My apologies for the error and for creating short-lived false hopes for conspiracy theorists. We call it like we see it here, especially when we are in error (surely won’t be the last time). Meantime, do read the various papers on hurricanes and climate change, a comparison will be informative.

Interesting Coincidence

June 13th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


New Paper on Hurricanes and Global Warming

June 10th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We heard earlier this week that a short paper we had started on during last year’s hurricane season has now been accepted for publication in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society after successfully completing peer review. With the paper we seek to provide a concise, largely non-technical, scientifically rigorous, globally inclusive, and interdisciplinary perspective on the state of current understandings of hurricanes and global warming that is explicitly discussed in the context of policy. As new research findings are reported in peer-reviewed journals on tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and climate change (global warming), and a corresponding public debate undoubtedly continues on this subject, we thought that it may be useful to provide a forest-level perspective on the issue to help place new research findings into a broader context.

The paper can be found here:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, K. Emanuel, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch, in press. Hurricanes and global warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. (PDF)

Here is an excerpt:

“… claims of linkages between global warming and hurricanes are misguided for three reasons. First, no connection has been established between greenhouse gas emissions and the observed behavior of hurricanes (IPCC 2001; Walsh 2004). Yet such a connection may be made in the future as metrics of tropical cyclone intensity and duration remain to be closely examined. Second, a scientific consensus exists that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small in the context of observed variability (Knutson and Tuleya 2004, Henderson-Sellers et al 1998), while the scientific problem of tropical cyclogenesis is so far from being solved that little can be said about possible changes in frequency. And third, under the assumptions of the IPCC, expected future damages to society of its projected changes in the behavior of hurricanes are dwarfed by the influence of its own projections of growing wealth and population (Pielke at al. 2000). While future research or experience may yet overturn these conclusions, the state of knowledge today is such that while there are good reasons to expect that any connection between global warming and hurricanes is not going to be significant from the perspective of event risk, but particularly so from the perspective of outcome risk as measured by economic impacts.”


Issues of Integrity in Climate Science

June 9th, 2005

Posted by: admin

Rick Weiss reports in the Washington Port today about a study appearing in the latest Nature on scientific integrity (link and link).

Two points I’d like to make:

1- The study was done on NIH-funded scientists and so doesn’t immediately lend much insight into integrity in climate science (not that Prometheus is focused away from health sciences, but the expertise of the authors trend toward Earth and space sciences, so most posts are in that realm). Health sciences researchers have different challenges in collecting and interpreting data than do Earth scientists. It’s not too much of a stretch to point out that climate science is based on interpreting the past and the future while hoping that both shed light on the present (the present is weather, after all). Medical studies are almost wholly focused on the present. While this perhaps is a subtle distinction, my feeling is that it is likely crucial in how it affects the integrity of research processes.

2- Despite what I write above, the authors of the Nature article (Martinson et al.) make a point relevant for climate studies:

“Our findings suggest that US scientists engage in a range of behaviours extending far beyond FFP [fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism] that can damage the integrity of science.”

Ethical and value issues have been raised repeatedly in the climate sciences (if you’re not a regular reader of Prometheus, just spend ten minutes in the archives), but in the published literature the problem has been often portrayed as a problem of the selective construction and interpretation of models (see the Paul Edwards paper and his citations in Science as Culture, 1999, 8(4), 437-472.).

Edwards points out in his paper that:


Andy Revkin Responds

June 9th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[Note- This comment received by email from Andy Revkin, in response to a "heads up" from me, is posted with his permission (granted in a subsequent email to the one below). It is a response to my critique of his story in yesterday's NYT - RP]

“Actually I kind of like it!

You do realize, though, that the norms of journalism still require me to cover something like this, right?

Sadly, the White House is so hermetically sealed on such matters that it has essentially created such stories by making scraps of tea-leaf-like information noteworthy.

Piltz is far less significant than the documents themselves. And while the edits are subtle, as I explained, they create a different tone than the one that was there before. And tone does matter in policy debates, doesn’t it?

Also, i interviewed some members of the NRC review panel and they were none too happy to see how the report they assessed was ‘pre-spun’ to heighten uncertainties. even the most careful reviewer would be apt to read thru some of these changes and never realize the overall pattern created in the document.

Every White House edits reports. No brainer. But shouldn’t the characterization of the state of science be assessed by those in the White House with scientific background, i.e, OSTP? Why an ex-oil lobbyist with an economics bachelor’s degree?

As for Our Changing Planet 2004-5, same deal. This admin, whether by inattention or on purpose, can’t seem to get its story straight on the science of climate change, in part, perhaps, because it’s petrified of crossing that next bar and accepting there is a human influence (even though you seem to think they’d have more strategies to fall back on to avoid co2 curbs).

I might consider letting you post this.”

Manufactured Controversy

June 8th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today’s New York Times has an article by Andy Revkin on the role of a Bush Administration official who edited two high level climate reports, one the annually issued “Our Changing Planet” (past editions here) which provides a very broad overview of climate research in the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the other is the Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). For several reasons I believe that this news story, which will no doubt be warmly welcomed by some, is pretty weak stuff.

Here is why, point-by-point:

1. The Bush Administration has clearly shown willingness to cherry pick and even mischaracterize information in pursuit of its political agenda. The most obvious example is its misuse of intelligence leading to the Iraq war. So it does make sense for outsiders to carefully watch how the Bush Administration uses information in support of its agenda. No problem there.

2. Of the two reports Revkin finds that a high level official edited, one report, the CCSP Strategic Plan was subsequently twice comprehensively reviewed and revised by a scientific committee convened by the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC committee endorsed the scientific content of the plan and recommend that it be implemented “with urgency.” Whatever effects the Bush official’s edits had on the plan did not stop the NRC from endorsing its scientific content. Thus, we should conclude that the edits were not particularly significant or they did not remain in the final version.

3. In contrast to today’s story, the NYT and Andy Revkin reported in August 2004 that the release of the FY 2005 Our Changing Planet represented a “striking shift” in the Bush Administration’s stance on climate change – toward accepting the science. I didn’t buy that argument then, and commented, “the 2003 edition of Our Changing Planet, while perhaps somewhat more staid in comparison to the 2005 report, nonetheless contains numerous references to human-caused climate change and predictions of its future, negative impacts. The USGCRP is after all a multi-billion research program motivated by evidence that humans are causing climate change and the desire to develop policy responses. It is hard to see what the news here is. The fact that the 2005 report echoes much of the language of earlier reports does not seem to me to be a striking change or motivated by any possible “shift in focus” of the Bush Administration.” Revkin can’t have it both ways — Our Changing Planet cannot both serve an example of the Bush Administration’s acceptance of climate science and its misuse of climate science.