Archive for December, 2007

China’s Growing Emissions

December 16th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to this paper by two researchers at the University of California carbon dioxide emissions in China are projected to grow between 11.05% and 13.19% per year for the period 2000-2010. What does this mean? I hope you are sitting down because you won’t believe this.

In 2006 China’s carbon dioxide emissions contained about 1.70 gigatons of carbon (GtC) (source). By 2010, at the growth rates projected by these researchers the annual emissions from China will be between 2.6 and 2.8 GtC. The growth in China’s emissions from 2006-2010 is equivalent to adding the 2004 emissions of Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia to China’s 2006 total (source). The emissions growth in China at these rates is like adding another Germany every year, or a UK and Australia together, to global emissions. The graph below illustrates the point.

Think about that.

China Emissions.png

Parable About the Precariousness of Monoculture

December 16th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In today’s New York Times magazine there is an interesting article by Michael Pollan on the consequences of technological innovation in pursuit of ever more efficiency in agricultural production. Here is an excerpt:

To call a practice or system unsustainable is not just to lodge an objection based on aesthetics, say, or fairness or some ideal of environmental rectitude. What it means is that the practice or process can’t go on indefinitely because it is destroying the very conditions on which it depends. It means that, as the Marxists used to say, there are internal contradictions that sooner or later will lead to a breakdown.

For years now, critics have been speaking of modern industrial agriculture as “unsustainable” in precisely these terms, though what form the “breakdown” might take or when it might happen has never been certain. Would the aquifers run dry? The pesticides stop working? The soil lose its fertility? All these breakdowns have been predicted and they may yet come to pass. But if a system is unsustainable — if its workings offend the rules of nature — the cracks and signs of breakdown may show up in the most unexpected times and places. Two stories in the news this year, stories that on their faces would seem to have nothing to do with each other let alone with agriculture, may point to an imminent breakdown in the way we’re growing food today.

The stories that he discusses are pig farming and bee pollination. The bottom line according to Pollan?

Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.

Chris Green on Emissions Target Setting

December 14th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Chris Green, an economist from McGill University (Canada), has written an op-ed for the Global and Mail explaining why he thinks that the setting of long-term emissions targets just kicks the can down the road. This is sure to be an unpopular opinion among many in the climate debate, but ultimately I think he is right. Here is an excerpt:

It is not difficult to set forth the outlines of a potentially effective climate policy. Unfortunately, what may be effective is not necessarily politically acceptable. It now seems that the main barrier to an effective climate policy is the obsession with emission targets — a legacy of the Kyoto Protocol. Emission targets stand in the way of concentrating on actions whose payoff is mainly beyond the targeted time frame. Worse, because of an effective effort by climate-change “campaigners” to portray the Kyoto Protocol as humankind’s last best hope on climate change, emission targets have now taken on a life of their own, particularly in political arenas susceptible to grandstanding behaviour. The evidence is all around us.

The fundamental problem with mandated emission reduction targets is that they focus on ends rather than on the technological means of achieving those ends. Because targets are assessed only rarely in terms of what is doable but usually in terms of what pressure groups think ought to be done, target-based policies lack credibility in virtually the same proportion in which they are politically popular. The Conference of the Parties session in Bali will indicate whether there is a sufficient number of countries prepared to say that the target-setting emperor has no clothes, and are ready to put a moratorium on this failed approach to climate policy.

The op-ed is distilled from a longer piece from the magazine Policy Options, and a PDF of that essay can be found here. It is well worth a read regardless of your views on the climate issue.

A Question for the Media

December 14th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I’ve generally thought that the media has done a nice job on covering the climate issue over the past 20 years. There are of course leaders and laggards, but overall, I think that the community of journalists has done a nice job on a very tough issue. However, there are times when I am less impressed. Here is one example.


Nature magazine, arguably the leading scientific journal in the world, published a paper this week by two widely-respected scholars — Gabriel Vecchi and Brian Soden — suggesting that global warming may have a minimal effect on hurricanes. Over two days the media — as measured by Google News — published a grand total of 3 news stories on this paper. Now contrast this with a paper published in July in a fairly obscure journal by two other respected scholars — Peter Webster and Greg Holland — suggesting that global warming has a huge effect on hurricanes. That paper resulted in 79 news stories stories over two days.

What accounts for the 26 to 1 ratio in news stories?

Reality Check

December 13th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

From Alan Zarembo writing in the LA Times today, this dose of reality:

Here’s a recipe to head off the worst effects of global warming:

1. Start with 30 new nuclear power plants around the world.

2. Add 17,0000 wind turbines, 400 biomass power plants, two hydroelectric dams the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam, and 42 coal or natural gas power plants equipped with still-experimental systems to sequester their carbon dioxide emissions underground.

3. Build everything in 2013. Repeat every year until 2030.


It’s an intentionally implausible plan presented this week by the International Energy Agency to make a point: For all the talk about emissions reductions, the actual work is way beyond what the world can achieve.

As delegates from 190 countries gather here on the Indonesian island of Bali to negotiate a “road map” for the successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, some experts are wondering whether the meeting has lost touch with the reality of tackling climate change.

So far, the thousands of delegates have been consumed by a debate over caps on emissions of greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of global warming.

The United States and China — the two biggest carbon polluters, each accounting for about 20% of worldwide emissions — have opposed any hard caps.

But while the debate continues, the most fundamental question of what it will take to achieve meaningful reductions has gone largely forgotten.

Fun With Carbon Accounting

December 12th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Dieter Helm of Oxford has a very interesting paper (PDF) on trends in carbon dioxide emissions in the UK (via Climate Feedback) when they are measured from a consumption basis versus the production basis used under the Kyoto Protocol. Here is an excerpt from the paper:

On the UNFCCC basis, UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 15% since 1990. In contrast, on a consumption basis, the illustrative outcome is a rise in emissions of 19% over the same period. This is a dramatic reversal of fortune. It merits an immediate, more detailed and more robust assessment. It suggests that the decline in greenhouse gas emissions from the UK economy may have been to a considerable degree an illusion. Trade may have displaced the UK’s greenhouse gas appetite elsewhere. . .

The UK’s record against the UNFCCC greenhouse gas indicator is impressive, achieving a fall in emissions between 1990 and 2005. It has already beaten its Kyoto target of 12.5% by 2008–12. Against its own domestic goal of a 20% CO2 reduction by 2010, progress has been
less impressive. The UK’s CO2 emissions have risen slightly recently, and last year lay only 5.3% below 1990 levels. This is despite the fact that the UK’s climate change policy programme focuses effort on tackling CO2.

All of the above figures were produced on a territorial accounting basis. When the account is extended to the Office for National Statistics’ residents’ basis, by including international transport and overseas activities, the picture looks worse. Emissions fell by only 11.9%, as shipping and international aviation boomed. Furthermore, airline passengers and firms from the UK consumed more greenhouse gases during their visits and activities abroad than overseas visitors and firms did in the UK, weakening the UK’s overall performance when these trade activities are included. The trend is an adverse one.

Yet, even this extended scope of measurement does not represent the true picture of the UK economy’s impact on the climate. To understand the UK’s true impact, the greenhouse gas accounts should be reported on a ‘consumption basis’. On this basis, all greenhouse gases embodied in UK consumption are counted, and by adding greenhouse gases embedded in imports and subtracting greenhouse gases embedded in exports, the crude calculations presented here suggest that UK emissions have been rising steeply. Between 1990 and 2003 the crude calculation indicates a rise of 19%.

Waxman’s Whitewash

December 12th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

One of the themes that I have tried to develop on this blog is that policy arguments should be well founded. So along these lines I have on a number of occasions taken issue with the approach of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to issues associated with how the Bush Administration manages scientific information and scientists in pursuit of its political agenda.

In my view Mr. Waxman’s investigative approach has been sloppy and unsophisticated, meaning that in some respects his investigation has come to embody those very same characteristics that he has complained about in the Bush Administration, namely, cherry picking of information, selective reliance on friendly experts, and misrepresenting facts. Some people who have heard my complaints naively assume that I am defending the Bush Administration. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I am a strong critic of many (or more likely most) Bush Administration policies, including how they have handled issues of science communication. My critique of Mr. Waxman’s efforts stems from my frustration that it has fallen far short of its potential to improve policies involving science, and instead, represents only so much political red meat, furthering partisan differences and serving to reduce that very small space in political discussions for policy analyses.

Here is a perfect example of Mr. Waxman’s sloppiness.

In his report he points to a few emails — including those from Republican staffer in the Senate, and political appointees in NOAA — expressing an interest in making FEMA look bad and also “killing” the hurricane-climate issue. From this Mr. Waxman sees that then-director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield (with whom I have collaborated on the issue of hurricanes and global warming) testifies before Congress that he see no evidence of linkage of hurricanes and climate change and thus assumes that natural variability still dominates. Mr. Waxman assumes correlation-is-causation and writes in his report, “this political motivation seems to have impacted NOAA testimony and talking points.”

Well, it turns out that they did not talk to Max Mayfield to ask his views, but ABC news did:

For example, Mayfield’s written testimony read in part: “the increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations/cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming.”

Mayfield, however, denies that anyone told him to alter his testimony as the Waxman report suggests.

“I want the record to show that no one forced me to say anything on the subject of climate change and tropical cyclones that I didn’t believe at the time,” Mayfield told ABC News.

“I accept the fact that global warming is real,” Mayfield said. “Most meteorologists with knowledge of tropical cyclones think that there will be some impact from global warming on hurricanes. The debate is over how much of an impact.”

He says he never heard from anyone on the committee about the incident. “No one ever asked me about the context in which my testimony was given. No one from this committee or any other Congressional committee ever asked me if I was improperly pressured to change my testimony,” Mayfield said.

What does Mr. Waxman’s committee do? They went back and quietly re-wrote the report after it was released and incorporated Max Mayfield’s comments to ABC news. (Link to most recent version in here in PDF.) On the one hand, it is good to see that Mr. Waxman’s Committee has corrected the factual record. But on the other hand it is sloppy, at best, to try to cover up your mistakes by rewriting history, which included removing the false claims by the Oversight Committee in the original release of its report. A more appropriate approach would have been to issue a correction or a new press release.

Is the bumbling by the Waxman Committee proportionate to the missteps by the Bush Administration? Certainly not. But they embody the exact same dynamics of manipulating information for political gain. If Congressional oversight is only about scoring political points, then it will do little to improve actual decision making in government. And on that basis, Mr. Waxman has let slip a perfect opportunity to improve science policies. And that is why I am so critical.

AGU Powerpoint with Steve McIntyre

December 10th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Here is a link to a PPT file providing an overview of a paper by Steve McIntyre and I titled, “Changes in Spatial Distribution of North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones,” which he will be presenting this week at the AGU meeting.

Here are our conclusions:

Spatially descriptive statistics can contribute to analysis of controversial hurricane issues.

There has been no statistically significant increase in cyclone activity in the western Atlantic basin; the entire increase in measured storm and hurricane activity has taken place in the mid-Atlantic;

Lack of trend in landfall and normalized damage reconciles perfectly with lack of trend in western quartile storm and hurricane indices

The eastward shift cannot be attributed merely to earlier detection.

The shift could be technological or climatological or some combination; there is no plausible statistical basis for saying that the shift to the mid-Atlantic is not as important or relevant as the overall increase.

If the trend only occurs in the mid-Atlantic, should policy-makers care?

Comments welcomed.


December 10th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This comment from former Bush Administration official John Bolton is telling, reported in the LA Times,

U.S. intelligence services attempted to influence political policy by releasing their assessment that concludes Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Der Spiegel magazine quoted Bolton on Saturday as alleging that the aim of the National Intelligence Estimate, which contradicts his and President Bush’s position, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran.

“This is politics disguised as intelligence,” Bolton was quoted as saying in an article appearing in this week’s edition.

When new information does not provide support for policy justifications that you have been making, it simply must be politicized. When it provides support for your arguments, of course, it is free from political influence. It was not long ago that intelligence, according to Mr. Bolton’s standards, was apparently unpoliticized (ahem). From the archive of The New York Times:

Now John R. Bolton, nominated as United Nations ambassador, has emerged as a new lightning rod for those who saw a pattern of political pressure on intelligence analysts. And this time, current and former officials are complaining more publicly than before. . .

Some of them are prompted by antipathy to Mr. Bolton, some by lingering guilt about Iraq. Some, perhaps, are nervous about the quality of current intelligence assessments at a time of new uncertainties about North Korea’s nuclear program, and ambiguous evidence about whether it is moving toward a nuclear test.

One of those critics, Robert L. Hutchings, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, made the point in an e-mail message, even as he declined to discuss Mr. Bolton in specific detail. “This is not just about the behavior of a few individuals but about a culture that permitted them to continue trying to skew the intelligence to suit their policy agenda – even after it became clear that we as a government had so badly missed the call on Iraqi W.M.D.,” Mr. Hutchings said. The most recent criticism of Mr. Bolton to emerge comes from John E. McLaughlin, the former deputy director of central intelligence, who has told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Mr. Bolton’s effort to oust a top Central Intelligence Agency analyst from his position in 2002 breached what should be a barrier between policy makers and intelligence analysts.

Now I have no idea whether the newest National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. on Iran is politicized or not, but I do know that its reception reflects a disturbing tendency to substitute criteria of political efficacy for information quality in making judgments about the quality of guidance provided by experts, an argument I develop in The Honest Broker.

It is of course one thing for a die-hard partisan like John Bolton to engage in such behavior, but it is quite another, and of greater concern, when the experts themselves start playing that game.

Hillary for President

December 10th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

After this wise move, what more could you possibly need to know?