Turning the Big Knob:
An Evaluation of the Use of Energy Policy to Modulate Future Climate Impacts

Roger A. Pielke, Jr. and Roberta Klein

Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
National Center for Atmospheric Research*

Daniel Sarewitz

Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes
Columbia University

May 22, 2000

Energy and Environment, 11 255-276

*The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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Conventional wisdom on climate change policy is straightforward: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will avoid the increased frequency and magnitude of climate impacts on environment and society that might occur if emissions are not controlled. The proponents of conventional wisdom widely consider energy policy to be the main policy tool available to decision makers to intentionally modulate future climate impacts. In this paper we challenge the notion that policy makers should intentionally use energy policy to modulate future climate impacts. The paper argues that policy makers may well make large changes in energy policy (and future emissions) without significantly affecting future climate impacts. In other words, even if a theoretical case could be made that energy policy could be used intentionally to modulate future climate, other factors will play a larger role in creating future impacts and are arguably more amenable to policy change. To illustrate this conclusion, the paper presents a sensitivity analysis under the assumptions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the case of tropical cyclones. One implication of the paper's conclusions is that policy responses to extreme weather events should be decoupled from considerations of energy policy. This decoupling is not intended to diminish either the importance of responding to climate change or of energy policy. Rather, it is to emphasize that there are many responses under the rubric of "adaptation" that could play a much more effective role in reducing societal vulnerability to losses. One of the implications of this change is that scientific uncertainty need not stand in the way of effective "action" because the measures proposed make sense under any future climate scenario.

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