Archive for November, 2007

Not Ambitious Enough

November 14th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman has a column lamenting the failure of politicians to enact a gasoline tax following 9/11. I am a strong supporter for a dramatically increased gasoline tax in the United States. The problem with Friedman’s proposed gasoline tax is that it is not ambitious enough.

Here are some data:


More Intellectual Disrobing, Please

November 13th, 2007

Posted by: admin

No calls for burlesque here…the phrase is a quote from John Dewey in his book Experience and Nature (1925, Chicago: Open Court):

“An empirical philosophy…is an intellectual disrobing. We cannot permanently divest ourselves of the intellectual habits we take on and wear when we assimilate the culture of our own time and place. But intelligent furthering of culture demands that we take some of them off, that we inspect them critically.”

In my last post, and some of my others on Prometheus, I have – if only implicitly – been encouraging such periodic, if not perpetual, divestiture and inspection. I want to do the same with this post. Instead of a call to rethink the perpetual appeals for a president that pays attention to science, I want to look at calls for revisiting science policy. I am in favor, but I think such proposals are, ironically, in need of the very intellectual disrobing they are advocating.

As an example, I point out this New York Times profile of former National Academy of Engineering President Bill Wulf on the occasion of his departure from that post earlier this year. (I should note that I did work for the National Academies, and staffed two different panels Dr. Wulf participated in.) While much of his comments focus on what he calls the ecology of innovation (something I may visit in a subsequent post), I want to point out some of his complaints about technology policy that could use some intellectual disrobing. That they take place in the midst of calls for essentially the same thing is not unique in policy.


Geotimes Interview

November 12th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Geotimes has an interview with me online about The Honest Broker.

The interviewer, Nicole Branan, has this to say about the book:

Any scientist would benefit from reading this book, as it is an eye-opener about the scientist-policymaking relationship.

Buy one for yourself and as the holiday season approaches, don’t forget all of your scientist friends!

Waxman vs EPA; Hansen vs Carbon

November 8th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Congressman Henry Waxman excoriated EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson yesterday for the agency’s approval of a new coal-fired power plant in Utah, charging that the move “is the climate equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire.”

In his opening statement at the beginning of a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Waxman said, “The approval of new power plants without carbon controls is irresponsible; it is indefensible; and it is illegal.”

In charging illegal behavior by the EPA, Waxman must be referring to the Supreme Court Decision in April finding that the agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Never mind that the court did not exactly order the EPA to set mandatory limits. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the petitioners ask EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles under §202 of the Clean Air Act? Last I looked, coal power plants were not mobile.


Sokal Revisited – I Smell a Hoax

November 7th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Benny Peiser sent around on his CCNet list a link to the following paper:

Carbon dioxide production by benthic bacteria: the death of manmade global warming theory? Journal of Geoclimatic Studies (2007) 13:3. 223-231.

It has the following statement within the text:

Moreover we note that there is no possible mechanism by which industrial emissions could have caused the recent temperature increase, as they are two orders of magnitude too small to have exerted an effect of this size. We have no choice but to conclude that the recent increase in global temperatures, which has caused so much disquiet among policy makers, bears no relation to industrial emissions, but is in fact a natural phenomenom.

These findings place us in a difficult position. We feel an obligation to publish, both in the cause of scientific objectivity and to prevent a terrible mistake – with extremely costly implications – from being made by the world’s governments. But we recognise that in doing so, we lay our careers on the line. As we have found in seeking to broach this issue gently with colleagues, and in attempting to publish these findings in other peer-reviewed journals, the “consensus” on climate change is enforced not by fact but by fear. We have been warned, collectively and individually, that in bringing our findings to public attention we are not only likely to be deprived of all future sources of funding, but that we also jeopardise the funding of the departments for which we work.

We believe that academic intimidation of this kind contradicts the spirit of open enquiry in which scientific investigations should be conducted. We deplore the aggressive responses we encountered before our findings were published, and fear the reaction this paper might provoke. But dangerous as these findings are, we feel we have no choice but to publish.

Shocking, it seems. But call me a skeptic skeptic – I’m calling this a hoax.

NAS Student Forum on Science and Technology Policy

November 7th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Full details here . . .

On January 4-5, 2008, the National Academies are sponsoring a two-day public forum intended for students, postdoctoral fellows, and recent graduates interested in studying and careers in science and technology policy.

The forum will feature both invited presentations and interactive discussions that will bring together a cross-section of government, academia, and industry to address practice and opportunities of the science and technology profession.

Apply here!

Have questions or comments? Email us at

An appreciation of Mr. Bloomberg

November 5th, 2007

Posted by: admin

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now out in favor of a carbon tax (see also this post by Charlie Komanoff). This is significant because it makes him one of the very few nationally-prominent (or at least nationally-known) politicians to stake out for a C tax over cap-and-trade.

Bloomberg’s support for a C tax is important both because he is seen as a technocrat’s technocrat and because he presides over eight million carbon consumers. Unfortunately, as Redburn illustrates well in his article, carbon tax proponents have more than an uphill battle to get their way on climate mitigation legislation.

It’s not that the carbon tax or cap-and-trade? debate is over already (which, really, would be before it even began), it’s that there is a strong perception in the community that it is over. Wonky types (which in my usage are political realists, not optimists), especially those with some influence on the policy development process, have been telling me personally and conference crowds (like this one) that it’s all over and cap-and-trade is a done deal. This perception might be more important than (the way I see) reality, which is that nobody wants to deal with this problem and because of this, all options are still on the table. It’s not that I am full bore on the C-tax train either, but I would like to see an honest, complete national debate on the two approaches before the “elites” declare the policy problem solved. In particular, I would love to see this issue come out during primary debates for both parties, to at least introduce the average Joe to the issue. Of course, the vagaries of carbon economics will be viewed by party handlers as too nuanced and difficult to explain during debate, but I’ll preemptively call bullshit on that line. Try us.


Individual Behavior and Climate Policy

November 2nd, 2007

Posted by: admin

Michael Vandenbergh and Anne Steinemann have a paper forthcoming in the NYU Law Review called “The Carbon Neutral Individual.” (a preprint is available on SSRN.)

In this paper, Vandenbergh and Steinemann assess the carbon dioxide output under the direct control of individuals and households, such as driving, space heating, household electricity use, and find that this accounts for 32% of US carbon dioxide emissions. The authors do not attempt a comprehensive footprint (something that would include indirect carbon emissions from manufacturing commodities, grow food, etc.) but focus on those things where the carbon dioxide emissions are most directly connected to the individual’s action (getting in the car or adjusting the thermostat).

The paper notes that just the individual and household carbon emissions in the U.S. are greater than the total emissions of any other nation save China.


Confronting Disaster Losses

November 2nd, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

From today’s Science:

L. M. Bouwer, R. P. Crompton, E. Faust, P. Höppe, and R. A. Pielke Jr. 2007. Confronting disaster losses, Science 318, 753.

Here is an excerpt from the Supporting Online Material:

Societal change and economic development are mainly responsible for increasing losses in recent decades, as convincingly shown in analyses of long-term records of losses (S1). After adjusting for societal changes, resulting time series accurately reflect documented trends (or lack thereof) and variability consistent with the observed climatological record of weather events (S1, S5). This implies that the net result of the adjustments has to a significant degree successfully removed the signal of societal change from the loss record. . .

Within the next 20 years projected changes in the intensity and frequency of extreme events—depending on the time scale and hazard—remain uncertain. The most severe effects of human-caused climate change are expected in the second half of the century
(S6). In the immediate future, disaster losses will increase as a result of societal change and economic development, independent of climate change.

We’ll provide the full text as soon as it is posted on our site. Meantime, subscribers to Science can find it here.

UPDATE: Full text here in PDF.