Archive for July, 2005

A Few Comments on Today’s Climate Hearing

July 21st, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This morning the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on “Climate Change Science and Economics“. I have read through the testimonies of Panel 1 and there is little surprising or new to be found. I do have a 3 more or less random comments below.

1. Nobel laureate Mario Molina states, “Recent estimates indicate that stabilizing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the equivalent of twice the pre-industrial value of 280 ppm carbon dioxide provides only a 10-20 per cent chance of limiting global average temperature rise to 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Put another way, this means that the odds that average global temperatures will rise above 4 degrees is 80 to 90 percent. Unless society starts taking some aggressive actions now, we are well on our way to reaching perhaps even a tripling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels with far greater adverse economic and environmental consequences. The risks to human society and ecosystems grow significantly if the average global surface temperature increases 5 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Such a large temperature increase might entail, for example, substantial agricultural losses, widespread adverse health impacts and greatly increased risks of water shortages. Furthermore, a very high proportion of the world’s coral reefs would be imperiled and many terrestrial ecosystems could suffer irreversible damage. The risk of runaway or abrupt climate change also increases rapidly if the average temperature increases above about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It is possible, for example, that the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets will melt, raising sea levels more than ten meters over the period of a few centuries. It is also possible that the ocean circulation will change abruptly, perhaps shutting down the Gulf Stream.”

Comments such as this suggest to me that the international climate policy community is living a lie. Specifically,


Making Sense of University (Re)Organization

July 20th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

John V. Lombardi, chancellor and a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has a great essay on making sense of the seeming nonsense of the bureaucratic structure of universities. He writes,

“How universities are organized can confuse not only the sympathetic, casual observer of higher education but students and staff members as well… Insiders know, however, that all of these organizational permutations reflect not only significant changes in the universe of knowledge but also internal structures of personality, politics, money and power as well as the external pressures of fad, fashion or funding. Academic reorganization is a frequent exercise on university campuses, and often generates tremendous controversy because each effort signifies a potential for gain or loss in academic positioning for money, power and prestige. Although, to outsiders, the warfare that these reorganizations frequently provoke can often appear out of proportion to the stakes involved, insiders know that organizational structure can influence internal distributions of resources. Even more importantly for many faculty and students, the organizational structure serves as a prestige map.”

Read the whole essay.

Realism on Climate Change

July 20th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This week at the XXV International Population Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, in Tours, France, Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics presented a very interesting paper that presents some refreshingly clear thinking on climate change. Dyson’s conference presentation is titled, “Development, population, climate change: some painful conclusions.”

Here is the abstract to Dyson’s paper prepared for the conference:

“On development, demography and climate change: The end of the world as we know it?

Tim Dyson

London School of Economics

Paper prepared for Session 952 of the XXVth Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, Tours, 18-23 July, 2005


Adopting a holistic stance, the present paper attempts to provide fresh perspective on global warming and climate change. It does so by considering most major sides of the issue, and, quite consciously, it does so from a distance. Essentially, five main points are made. First, that since about 1800 economic development has been based on the burning of fossil fuels, and this will continue to apply for the foreseeable future. Of course, there will be increases in the efficiency with which they are used, but there is no real alternative to the continued – indeed increasing – use of these fuels for purposes of economic development. Second, due to momentum in economic, demographic, and climate processes, it is inevitable that there will be a major rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 during the twenty-first century. Demographic and CO2 emissions data are presented to substantiate this. Third, available data on global temperatures, which are also presented, suggest strongly that the coming warming of the Earth will be appreciably faster than anything that human populations have experienced in historical times.


Barton- Boehlert Context

July 19th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Congress has a history, and history shapes context. One factor underlying the Barton-Boehlert spat is no doubt the fact that in the early 1990s Mr. Boehlert was staunchly against the Super-Conducting Supercollider (SSC), a project that he helped to terminate which would have been built in the district of Rep. Joe Barton.

Here is what Mr. Boelhert said about the project in 1991:

“Whose priority is the SSC, anyway? Not the nation’s struggling young scientists, who are starving for individual-investigator grants across a wide variety of fields. Not the nation’s scientific societies, who support the SSC only to the extent that other needs are met first. Not the nation’s leading corporations, who see the SSC as having fewer industrial spinoffs than any other big-science project. Not the House of Representatives, which voted last year to discontinue the project if it was going to cost the federal government more than $5 billion. The SSC is a priority for only three groups: for Texas officials–and we can all understand that–who obtained a giant public works project for their state; for DOE officials, who would rather continually break promises made to Congress than cancel the project; and for a relatively small group of researchers in an esoteric field, who, understandably, think their research is more important than anyone’s.”

For his part, Mr. Barton took the loss of the SSC hard, as suggested by this news article in Science:

“Memories of the failed Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) die hard, particularly in Texas. Representative Joe Barton (R), who represents the area that was to be the SSC’s home, vowed last week to oppose the $450 million contribution that the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to make to another high-energy physics research project, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Barton, a member of the House Science Committee but not its energy subcommittee, may not have much control over DOE funding. But his statement will play well with constituents, and it concerns DOE officials. The Europeans “didn’t help us, and they went out of their way to stop the SSC,” Barton complained in a 6 March hearing of the subcommittee. “I’ll be beep-beep-beeped if we’ll send a dollar to Europe.” Barton said that while he does not oppose U.S. scientists working at CERN, he does take issue with the DOE-CERN agreement, which requires the United States to help build portions of the acceler! ator and its detectors through 2004. (The National Science Foundation would chip in about $80 million.) Barton wants the United States to have more administrative oversight at CERN, and he wants the Europeans to promise to assist in building future U.S. facilities. “One congressman can raise a lot of sand,” he warned DOE energy research chief Martha Krebs, who was testifying before the panel. “I know where the bodies are buried, and I intend to dig them up,” said Barton, who left immediately after making his statement.”

Prepackaged News, Scientific Content and Democratic Processes

July 19th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last February the Government Accountability Office criticized the Bush Administration for its use of “prepackaged news stories.” (See this Washington Post report.). Yesterday’s Washington Post had an interesting story on how the Environmental Protection Agency has been paying The Weather Channel to produce prepackaged news stories on environmental issues. The Washington Post reported,

“The Environmental Protection Agency paid the Weather Channel $40,000 to produce and broadcast several videos about ozone depletion, urban heat problems and the dangers of ultraviolet radiation as part of the Bush administration’s efforts to inform the public about climate change, agency records show.”

This is interesting for several reasons. First, it certainly plays against stereotype to hear that the Bush Administration is engaged in covert propaganda on climate change. In addition, a university professor and NRDC official who looked at the news stories found them to be scientifically accurate. It makes me wonder, only partially tongue-in-cheek, how the UCS folks will handle this situation; I can see the headline in their next report, “Bush Administration Guilty of Covertly Promoting Accurate Science on Climate Change.” More realistically, I would expect that this situation involving EPA and TWC will be completely ignored by those involved in the debate over the “integrity of science” even though this situation involves a breach of law by agencies under the Bush Administration. Why? It doesn’t fit the larger framing! of the issue of the misuse of science by opponents of the Bush Administration. This situation makes things more complicated and thus will be easier to ignore.


Article on Democracy and Bush Science Policy

July 19th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Eric Laursen has an interesting article on science policy in Z Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

“A good many critics on the progressive side – not so much scientists as public policy researchers who study scientific process and outcomes – argue that the U.S. scientific community is in denial since much, if not most, of its work is inherently political and pretending otherwise is only going to make it harder. Debates about genetically engineered food and the future uses of biotechnology and nanotechnology, not to mention the study of stem cell research and AIDS, have cracked open the protective shell that’s traditionally allowed scientists to operate in isolation from most political scrutiny. Science is not just science anymore and if the work its practitioners cherish is going to go forward, they’ll have to embrace a more democratic model for framing, approving, and reviewing projects and allocating resources. Otherwise, critics warn, the right will use government’s control of the purse strings on most large-scale scientific research to mold a new agenda that decimates these fields and awards more and more of the kitty to projects with overtly military and commercial purposes. Moreover, the debate is not just about the utility of “pure” science and the social impact of sex research anymore. The rise of new fields like biomedecine and nanotechnology has shifted scientists’ focus to the basic building blocks of matter and human life, potentially enabling them to radically transform the natural world. If a way isn’t found to involve the larger community directly in the scientific decision-making process, “democracy” could be reduced to irrelevancy.”

Read the whole thing here.

Palmer on Partisanship in Science Policy

July 18th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The July issue of Ogmius, our Center’s newsletter, is now out and it features an essay by Bob Palmer, recently retired minority staff director of the House Science Committee.

Bob’s essay is titled Science Policy: The Victim of Partisan Politics and he writes in his essay,

“The Federal government is not responding to the many political challenges of the day – energy, environment, health care, global economic competition – whose resolution would greatly benefit from the wise application of S&T. When politics is overly fettered by partisanship, so is science – in the sense that its legitimate role in opening up more room for negotiations and the development of policy options is severely limited. This unfortunately is the niche that science policy occupies today.”

Read the whole thing here. (We’d welcome responses to this essay either here on Prometheus or published as a letter to the editor in the next issue.) In our next newsletter, we expect to have a companion piece by David Goldston, current majority staff director for the House Science Committee. Stay tuned.

Letter from Boehlert to Barton

July 18th, 2005

Posted by: admin

July 14, 2005

The Honorable Joe Barton
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I am writing to express my strenuous objections to what I see as the misguided and illegitimate investigation you have launched concerning Dr. Michael Mann, his co-authors and sponsors.

First, your Committee lacks jurisdiction over this matter. Both the National Science Foundation and climate change research are under the purview of the House Committee on Science. This is in no way my central concern about your investigation, but I raise it at the outset because it may have legal implications as you proceed. Jurisdiction is also relevant because the insensitivity toward the workings of science demonstrated in your investigative letters may reflect your Committee?’s inexperience in the areas you are investigating.

My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious.


Column in Bridges

July 18th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I have a column just out in the current issue of Bridges, a publication of the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, D.C. The title of my essay is “Science Academies as Political Advocates,” a subject discussed here on Prometheus not too long ago.

Here is the opening:

“What role should national science academies play in policy and politics? One answer to this question was provided last month when eleven national science academies sent a letter to “world leaders, including those meeting at the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005″ advocating a number of specific policy actions on climate change. The letter, from science academies in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, indicates that these national science academies perceive one of their roles to be overt political advocacy. As the public has demanded a closer connection of science with society, the action of the science academies is part of a broader trend for scientists and scientific institutions to become more involved in the political fray on a wide range of issues involving science. While each individual scientist has a very personal decision to make about whether or not to engage in political advocacy, the! re are real risks for the scientific enterprise when science academies become political advocates.”

Read the whole thing here.

Space Shuttle Return to Flight

July 13th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

United States space policy remains bound by NASA’s decades-old “vision” of voyaging to Mars that shapes everything from agency priorities to its political machinations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is George Bush’s “vision” – it was also his father’s and Ronald Regan’s, but really it has been NASA’s vision, whispered into the president’s ear. Perhaps Richard Nixon is the only President not to be swayed by NASA’s lobbying for a commitment to go to Mars. Of course, NASA worked around Nixon with its “next logical steps: shuttle-station-Mars” that got us to where we are today. For those interested in some history on the shuttle and space station program that develop these political dynamics, here are a few resources:

On costs of the shuttle program, see this tabulation — to date over $150 billion and counting.

On why the space shuttle developed as it did, see this analysis:

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

On the dynamics of the space station program:

Brunner, R., R. Byerly, Jr., and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 1992: The Future of the Space Station Program. Chapter in Space Policy Alternatives, edited by R. Byerly, Westview Press, Boulder, 199-222. (PDF)