Archive for March, 2005

Reaction to UPI Climate Commentary

March 22nd, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

UPI’s Dan Whipple writes an interesting weekly commentary on climate change. This week he writes about the long-term implications of climate change. In this week’s essay Whipple is off base on two important points. He writes,

“… nations have to decide what, if anything, to do to deal potentially destructive changes. Some argue to invest now to cut off greenhouse-gas emissions at the source, thereby reducing future impacts, Others counter that the money is better spent fashioning adaptations to a warmer world. Even if the skeptics are correct — and humans can easily adapt to global warming — those adaptations are going to cost money. Climate science actually is challenging the conventional way of thinking about investing in the future — something economists, the guardians of thought about long-term money, are loath to admit. Applying traditional economic tools, such as the discount rate, to investing in the amelioration of global warming, you quickly discover that you cannot justify even a tiny investment to stop or slow it.”


Old Wine in New Bottles

March 18th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Science magazine has published two articles this week that suggest that “the wheels of global climate change are in motion, and there is little we can do to stop them, at least in the short-term.” These articles, which no doubt are quality science done by accomplished researchers, suggest to me that discussion of climate change increasingly recirculates the same stories and same reactions – a clear sign of gridlock.

There are several relevant points here. First, while the new studies may add some details, the notion that we are committed to changing the climate is an old story. For example, in 1995, Pekka E. Kauppi wrote in Science that the goal of the Framework Convention on Climate Change was either “unattainable or irrelevant … If GCM projects are right, the climate will change, there will be dangerous effects and the Convention objective will be unattainable” (Science, 220:1454). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 1996 that “even with the most ambitious abatement policy, some climate change seems likely to occur” (WGIII, p. 188). And I wrote (PDF) in 1998, “even under a scenario of aggressive mitigation most experts expect climate change.”

Second, new studies reconfirming that we are committed to changing the climate is easily spun by both sides of the current political debate. For example, The Denver Post reports that Gerald Meehl, lead author of one of the two studies in Science this week (the other study was authored by Tom Wigley), “hoped the results are interpreted as cause for action, not pessimism.” On the other side Steve Milloy writes at, “[Wigley’s results] purport to show that global warming would still occur even if we completely stopped emitting greenhouse gases… neither Kyoto nor Son of Kyoto will accomplish anything — other than, of course, driving the world, particularly developing countries, toward economic ruin.” I’ve seen no interpretations that suggest that the new studies suggest that we need a fundamentally new approach to climate. (See this commentary by Steve Rayner for an example of what a new approach might look like.)

The recirculation of “news” on climate is an obvious sign that debate and discussion remains stuck in a cul-de-sac.

Defending Kass but Confirming the Conflict

March 18th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

On Tech Central Station James Q. Wilson, a member of the Prsident’s Council on Bioethics, has a response to Iain Murray’s TCS essay that criticized Leon Kass for advancing “political strategy aimed at achieving certain policy goals [that] renders his position as an honest broker on the issue untenable.” Wilson’s defense of Kass simply dodges the central issue and in the process implicitly confirms the impropriety of Kass simultaneous trying to serve as honest broker and lobbyist. (For background on our discussion of see this post and this post.)

Wilson writes that the Bioethics Council works hard to consider and present a wide range of views, “I have never encountered a more fair-minded chairman than Kass nor a Council composed of so many truly gifted (though philosophically divided) Council members… Try to think of another presidential council that has ever reflected such a wide range of views and expressed them with such clarity. Typically, a presidential body gets its marching orders from the White House and is composed of people whom one can predict will respond to those expectations.” This is certainly wonderful to hear but does not speak to Kass’ role in advancing a legislative agenda while serving as the Council’s chair.

On Kass’ role lobbying Congress for a particular set of policies, Wilson somewhat disingenuously characterizes Kass’ actions as normal scholarly activity, “It is especially unfair to say that Kass suffers from a conflict of interest. The charge seems to rest on a press account that Kass will work with a writer to publish some new arguments in a respectable journal.” Wilson’s interpretation of Kass’ activities is contrary to Kass’ own characterization of his activities in the Washington Post article that Wilson cites:


More on Politics and Bioethics

March 16th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week we made the case that the development and promotion of a “legislative agenda” by Leon Kass, the chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, meant that he was (mis)using his role as the Council’s chair to advocate a special interest agenda.

“If Kass wants to be a political advocate, then he should resign his position of the Bioethics Council and join one of the many conservative advocacy groups that are truly independent of the Bioethics Council. If he wants to serve as an honest broker to the nation as chair of the Bioethics Council, then he should recognize that this means deferring his desire to serve as a political advocate advancing special interests. But he does have to choose, because he can’t do both.”

This week the Washington Post reports that Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) has asked the Inspector general of HHS to investigate Kass’ actions,


Transcript of Marburger Interview

March 15th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We have up on our website a transcript of our 14 February 2005 public interview with John Marburger, science advisor to President George W. Bush. Here are some excerpts:

On climate change:

“After the President announced that he would not support the Kyoto Protocol early in 2001, there was a lot of criticism and the President turned to the National Academies and asked them to make a study, which they did in record time, informing him about the validity of the science in the documents that supported the Kyoto Protocol. And before his first trip to Europe in 2001, in July, I guess, or June, the President made a speech to which I commend to all of you. You should go on the White House website and look at the President’s speech of June 11, 2001 where he states what the policy is very, very clearly. And he states in his speech, number one, the climate is changing, the surface temperature of the earth is warming, there is a greenhouse effect, Co2 is a greenhouse gas, it has increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and it is caused by human activity. He goes on to say that the connection between this massive increase in Co2 and specific aspects of climate change that may impact humans is difficult to infer from the existing things. It requires modeling, the Earth’s system. But, he goes on to say that is no reason not to take action. He says the U.S. is prepared to take responsibility for its emissions, and he announces the formation of two programs: one climate change science program, which re- focuses the climate change science activities that had existed there before that, into a sort of a goal- oriented program, and a second one, which is very little acknowledged but which is more important, to invest in a climate change technology program to develop technologies that will replace our existing energy technologies and reduce or eliminate the emission of Co2 into the atmosphere. All of those things are in the speech, and subsequently he has made proposals that have turned into approximately $2.9 billion dollars per year of investment in new technologies to reduce or eliminate the emissions of Co2 into the atmosphere. And yet people can talk about nothing but the Kyoto Protocol, and I think that’s very frustrating to him. It’s frustrating to me, because if the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol were totally implemented, even if the U.S. participated, it would make negligible difference to the climate by the end of this century that we’re currently living in. In order to make a difference to the climate, you have to introduce a very different way of generating and using energy than we do now. There simply isn’t any way to do it. You have got to change things very dramatically. We have a very big job ahead of us. Every country is going to have to use new technology, either to remove the Co2 from emissions from hydrocarbon burning power plants or to use some other way, some alternate method, of energy generation. So, this is what we have got to do and I think that we should get on with it and not get hung up over the Kyoto Protocol.”

On the UCS and Waxman reports on the misuse of science:


How to Increase Fuel Efficiency

March 14th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and 24 bipartisan co-sponsors have introduced a bill in Congress that calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the accuracy of its protocol for estimation of vehicle fuel economy (i.e., as measured in miles-per-gallon, mpg). According to a press release issued by Representative Johnson’s office,

““America’s car buyers deserve truth-in-advertising when they buy a new car,” said Johnson, who introduced the bill with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and over two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors. “The current EPA tests clearly mislead car buyers. Car buyers think they’re getting better mileage on the road and a better deal at the pump than they really are. This common-sense bill requires the EPA to update its 30-year-old tests to reflect today’s driving conditions.” The tests used by the EPA to measure fuel economy – the city/highway gas mileage figures that appear on a new car’s sticker – are 30-years-old and are based on car technology from the late 1970s and 1980s. According to government and auto industry experts, the tests produce gas mileage rates that are inflated from anywhere between 10% and 30%. The inflated rates mislead consumers into thinking they are getting better mileage on the road, and a better deal at the gas pump, than they really are.”

Data should be accurate, who is going to argue with that?


Malaria and Science Policy

March 11th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to a report in a new study in Nature suggests that.

“The threat to human health posed by the deadliest form of malaria has been significantly underestimated, especially for regions outside Africa, according to research published today (10 March) in Nature. The study suggests that the Plasmodium falciparum parasite caused 515 million cases of malaria in 2002 – nearly double the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate — and threatens some 2.2 billion people worldwide.”

The Nature paper has started a bit of a “row” over WHO estimates according to The New Scientist which reports,

“Has the World Health Organization underestimated the world’s malaria problem? By as much as 50%, according to researchers in Kenya. Not true, the WHO itself insists. At stake is the credibility of the WHO’s anti-malaria programmes. In this week’s Nature (vol 434, p 214), Bob Snow and colleagues from the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi calculate that there were 515 million new cases of malaria worldwide in 2002. This is almost double what they quote as the WHO’s official figure of 273 million cases. Snow claims that international efforts to control malaria are being damaged because the WHO is underestimating the problem. The WHO disputes this analysis. The figure of 273 million comes from its 1999 World Health Report. The following year it revised its official estimate to between 300 and 500 million cases – roughly the same range as Snow’s 300 to 660 million – and that is the figure the WHO says it has been working with ever since.”

The Nature study raises some very basic questions about resource prioritization in areas of research and implementation. Snow et al. write in Nature,

“Interest in mapping the global distribution of malaria is motivated by a need to define populations at risk for appropriate resource allocation and to provide a robust framework for evaluating its global economic impact … Inadequate descriptions of the global distribution of disease risk make it impossible to determine priorities and advise funding agencies appropriately. Redressing these deficiencies with robust data must be a priority if international agencies are to understand the size of the challenge set by their targets over the next ten years.”

How can we make effective decisions about research priorities if we have inaccurate knowledge of important dimensions of the problem that the results of research are supposed to be addressing? This is a fundamental obstacle to effective science policy decision making, but one that can be addressed, as Snow et al. argue, through research itself.

Book Review in Nature

March 11th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In the current issue of Nature I have a very positive review of Nature’s Experts: Science, Politics, and the Environment by Stephen Bocking (Rutgers University Press: 2004). In the review I write,

“In this excellent book on environmental science and politics, Stephen Bocking grapples with a problem that he characterizes as a riddle: “How can science be part of the political process yet separate?” Or more specifically: “How can we ensure that scientific research provides the information we need to pursue our environmental values and priorities (whether these relate to exploitation or to protection) without science itself becoming subject to the conflicts and controversies of environmental politics?” For decades, the riddle posed by Bocking was answered through a widely shared conceptual model about the role of science in society, presented most influentially in Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report to government, Science: The Endless Frontier.”

Read the whole review here.

Politics and Bioethics Advice

March 9th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Imagine for a moment that the President convenes an advisory committee to provide guidance on the future of the Hubble Space Telescope. The committee is created by executive order and a chair of the committee is selected based on her extensive experience with NASA. The charge to the committee is not to develop consensus recommendations but to fully and fairly explore a range of options and their consequences.

Consider further that the chair of the committee decided to get together with some of her close friends outside the committee in the aerospace industry to develop a white paper advocating a single approach to dealing with Hubble that would advance the interest of her friends, writing in the white paper “we now have an chance to advance our special interests over others and we should take advantage of this opportunity.”

From where I sit this would be completely inappropriate behavior by the committee chair. She would seeking to exploit her position as an honest broker providing guidance to policy makers by using her role as committee chair to gain advantage in political debate. Honest brokering in support of common interests is simply incompatible with political advocacy in support of special interests. The committee chair has to choose.

Back to the real world. Yesterday’s Washington Post reported a situation exactly parallel to the scenario described above. In the real world case, it is the President’s Council on Bioethics whose chair is Leon Kass. The Post reports,


Cherry Picking, CBA, GAO and EPA

March 8th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report yesterday critical of the cost benefit analysis (CBA) used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as justification for its proposed approach to the control or mercury. The GAO found,

“GAO identified four major shortcomings in the economic analysis underlying EPA’s proposed mercury control options that limit its usefulness for informing decision makers about the economic trade-offs of the different policy options. First, while Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance directs agencies to identify a policy that produces the greatest net benefits, EPA’s analysis is of limited use in doing so because the agency did not consistently analyze the options or provide an estimate of the total costs and benefits of each option… Second, EPA did not document some of its analysis or provide information on how changes in the proposed level of mercury control would affect the cost-and-benefit estimates for the technology-based option, as it did for the cap-and-trade option. Third, EPA did not estimate the value of the health benefits directly related to decreased mercury emissions and instead estimated only some secondary benefits, such as decreased exposure to har!
mful fine particles. However, EPA has asked for comments on a methodology to estimate the benefits directly related to mercury. Fourth, EPA did not analyze some of the key uncertainties underlying its cost-and benefit estimates.”

At issue here is the inevitable conflict between having an agency responsible for developing an honest-broker approach to inventing and considering policy options while at the same time having a clear preference for one of those options. This sets the stage for a clear conflict between analysis and advocacy. It is a bit like putting an intelligence agency under the Department of Defense. As the Washington Post reported today, “the EPA had tipped the scales to favor the market-based plan.”

The GAO’s recommendation to EPA to reconsider their cost-benefit analysis does not appear to go far enough in dealing with the structural reforms needed to insure the institutional independence and authority needed to proffer analyses free from political suasion.