Archive for April, 2009

Five Perspectives on Geoengineering, Including Mine

April 30th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Seed Magazine has five short perspectives on geoengineering up at their site, including my own. Here are the others whose perspectives are presented:

Will the Future Be Geo-Engineered? Our Panel Responds:

* Alex Steffen, environmental journalist and entrepreneur
* Robin Bell, marine geophysicist
* Ken Caldeira, geochemist
* Roger Pielke Jr., climatologist political scientist
* Maria Ivanova, environmental justice advocate

Link to Seed here. Comments welcomed.

FYI, I’ve asked them to correct my expertise. they must have me confused with someone else. [Update: Now corrected. Thanks Seed.]

Funding Opportunity on the Scientific Workforce

April 30th, 2009

Posted by: admin

I make note of this particular grant opportunity because it’s supported by the National Institutes of Health.  When thinking about research on modeling the scientific workforce, the NIH would not necessarily be the first agency that comes to mind.  But the NIH has significantly more resources than most other federal research agencies – at one point its budget for physical sciences research was larger than the physical sciences research budget of the National Science Foundation.

You can read the Request For Applications for detailed information, but here are some important points.


Nature Feature on Air Capture

April 30th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This week’s Nature has a feature on air capture by Nicola Jones (as well as two other features on climate change). Here is an excerpt:

“Nobody doubts it’s technically feasible,” says [Columbia University's] Frank Zeman, now director of the Center for Metropolitan Sustainability at the New York Institute of Technology. Increasingly it looks like air capture will be needed. Efforts to limit CO2 emissions will need to be strengthened massively if they are to keep concentrations from reaching dangerous levels, so there may be little choice but to remove some of the CO2 already in the air (see page 1091) or cool the planet in other ways (see page 1097). “Without having something that is carbon negative, the possibility of avoiding high levels of CO2 is basically zero,” says Peter Eisenberger, former director of the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and co-founder of the air-capture company Global Thermostat.

The article cites my work on air capture as well, and if you came here looking for my paper, you can find it here. Here is one of the things I said in the article:

Such a scenario is within the realm of possibility, but it demands an increase in energy production just at a time when we should be trying to break our energy addiction. For some, that’s a critical problem. Every dollar spent on air capture instead of shifting to renewables is “a long-term loss to society”, says Mark Jacobson of Stanford University in California. His concern is that researching a ‘get out of jail free’ card for climate change would provide an excuse to continue unabated emissions.

That worry is voiced by many, but it is also dismissed by many. “For some people there’s concern that if there’s hope that air capture will work, it reduces the incentive to reduce emissions,” says Pielke. “That makes as much sense as saying we shouldn’t have open heart surgery because it stops people from lowering their cholesterol. We need both.”

No one argues that air capture is a cure-all. Eisenberger sees it as a necessary bridge to get us more painlessly to our goal of a renewable energy economy. Despite the ‘reasonable’ price tag of air capture, it is still cheaper, and more sensible, to capture large-industry pollutants at source and to reduce energy use. “Air capture would be a back-stop technology to fill in the gap between what we can achieve and what our goals are,” says Pielke.

Susan Solomon (Apparently Does Not) Enters Political Fray Over Coal

April 30th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[UPDATE: Based on the below acknowledgment of a mistake by the Sierra Club and a request from Susan Solomon I have changed the title of this post.

From Todd Sanford

I am writing this as an Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group to correct errors in an earlier post on Prometheus regarding Susan Solomon's involvement with a Sierra Club sponsored event. Dr. Solomon was asked and agreed to give a public lecture on the science of climate change only with no further agenda items for the event. However, due to poor communication on the part of the Club additions were made to the event including mention of their Beyond Coal campaign which was subsequently sent out as an email announcement. This was done without informing Dr. Solomon. The local Sierra Club group sponsor has now removed the Beyond Coal campaign portion from the event. ]

I was surprised to receive the email copied below. In it the Sierra Club announces an evening with Susan Solomon — a colleague of mine here at CIRES, widely respected scientist and chair of IPCC Working Group I for the AR4 — as part of their “Beyond Coal” campaign.

You are invited…

Global Science: Local Action
A presentation by Susan Solomon and Will Toor

Click here to RSVP to this very special event and experience not to be missed.

Join us for a special evening with Nobel Peace Prize
winner and climate scientist, Dr. Susan Solomon.

More information on our presenters:

Dr. Solomon first drew international attention when she published her research on the ozone hole in our atmosphere; she helped identify the “smoking gun” connecting CFCs to the growing hole. She co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2008, Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2007 Dr. Solomon and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore, for their efforts to awaken the world to the risks of climate change.

Because the Sierra Club is about solutions as much as it is about causes, we’ve also asked Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor to speak. Commissioner Toor most recently helped pass Boulder County’s ClimateSmart Loan Program, which helps home and business owners to get loans for energy-efficient additions to their properties. Toor will discuss this and other actions attendees can take so they can be part of the Cool Cities solution to global warming.

Sierra Club staff will also discuss specifics about our Beyond Coal campaign, including plans for the conversion of the nearby Valmont coal plant into a cleaner energy source for Boulder and how you can become involved in the campaign.

This is going to be a very special event and an experience not to be missed.

See you there,

Roger Singer
Sierra Club

P.S. Please forward this email invitation to your friends!

Susan has studiously avoided such open advocacy in the past, so her decision to associate with the Sierra Club’s campaign is notable. The only question is whether her advocacy is to be overt or stealth. I wrote about this dynamic a few years ago in a different context:

. . . from the perspective of the individual scientist deciding to align with an interest group, it should be recognized that such a decision is political. There is of course nothing wrong with politics, it is how we get done the business of society, and organized interest groups are fundamental to modern democracy. Nonetheless, an observer of this dynamic might be forgiven for thinking when they see scientists self-select and organize themselves according to political predispositions that different perspectives on scientific issues are simply a function of political ideologies. We can see how contentious political debates involving science become when filtering science through interest groups is the dominant mechanism for connecting science to policy.

I hope that Susan does more such advocacy. It is good that political views are in the open, rather than hidden behind science. At the same time, we still need honest brokers:

It is this condition of dueling special interest scientists that leads to a second perspective, and that is an institutional approach to providing science advice in a way that is not filtered through a particular special interest agenda. It is this very condition that gives legitimacy to government science advisory panels, National Academy committees, and professional societies. But the role such groups as honest brokers is in my view endangered.

The Need for Mitigation…in Orbit

April 29th, 2009

Posted by: admin

According to Wired Science, NASA craft had to dodge orbital debris four times in 2008.  Given that on average NASA and the ISS need to avoid orbital debris once a year, this is a noticeable uptick in incidents.  This doesn’t count classified missions or the efforts of other spacefaring nations, so the number is likely higher.

Part of the problem comes from two recent incidents, a collision and a missile test by the Chinese.  Both events significantly increased the amount of debris in orbit.  As the Wired Science article indicates, this debris increase has already forced change in a Shuttle mission involving the Hubble Space Telescope and forced International Space Station personnel to take cover in a Soyuz capsule as protection against a possible collision.  While some of the testimony at the Congressional hearing on this issue held earlier this week seemed to downplay the issue, should China or other countries become regular spacegoers, or increase their satellite activity, the need to avoid debris will increase.  It might be wiser to establish some protocols for removing debris before it provokes an incident.

Everyone Else is Doing It

April 29th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The WSJ today has an interesting article on seasonal forecasting of hurricanes (i.e., timescales under a year, unlike the 1-5 year predictions discussed here over the past week). The track record is not great:

Yet even as academics, government agencies and private industry crowd into the forecasting arena, they’re bumping up against obstacles that may render accurate forecasting so far ahead of time impossible. Some forecasts are based on past years with similar patterns, but the climatology record doesn’t go back far enough to lend much confidence. And it’s hard to even detect these weather patterns far in advance — even giant patterns that determine the intensity of a season. El Niño, or warming of Pacific Ocean waters, tends to suppress hurricanes; La Niña, unusually cold Pacific waters, tends to increase storm activity. Yet neither of these seasonal effects can be predicted with much reliability before the late spring.

“Until you really get into the spring and the weather patterns start to set up, it’s really hard to get any kind of decent forecast as to what’s going to go on in the summer and fall,” says Chuck Watson, who works on forecasts of damage from hurricanes. Anytime before spring, “You might as well throw a dart.”

Or hire a gibbon and a trance medium to compete with the dart thrower. That was the stunt dreamed up by reporter Bo Petersen of the Post & Courier of Charleston, S.C., in 2007, after several years of more straightforward reporting of professionals’ ultimately errant forecasts. The trance medium beat out Mr. Petersen, the gibbon, the dart thrower — and the pros. This comedic contest was borne out of a serious problem, according to Mr. Petersen: “The sense we got from emergency-management people here is that the forecasts had been so wrong that they were hearing from the public, ‘Why should we pay any attention to this stuff?’ “

Are gibbons monkeys? I digress. If seasonal forecasts have such little skill, which is acknowledged by some who issue them, then why do forecasters hold press conferences announcing them? Mr. Watson explains:

But why publish press releases and even, in some cases, hold press conferences? “Part of the reason we even do our press conference and release our data is, well, everyone else is,” Mr. Watson says. He adds that research funders generally encourage the publicizing of the fruits of their grant money: “From a funding and research standpoint, you’ve almost got to release it,” Mr. Watson says. “It’s part of that game.”

This reminds me of a cute, perhaps apocryphal story about Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow:

As a weather forecaster in the Second World War, Arrow and his colleagues were told that their commanding officer needed a long-term forecast. The forecasters knew from experience that such forecasts had little scientific basis, and related this up the chain of command. The reply that came back was this: no matter, the general needs the forecast for planning purposes.

Cost-Free Cap and Trade

April 29th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) adds to a long series of comments by Democrats that emphasize cost as a crucial criterion for evaluating cap and trade legislation, and specifically, that there should be no costs:

“There should be no cost to the consumer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Wednesday. She vowed the legislation would “make good on that” pledge.

Of course, cost-free cap and trade defeats the purpose of cap and trade which is to raise the costs of energy, as explained to Congress by Robert Greenstein, of the non-profit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Fighting global warming requires policies that significantly restrict greenhouse gas emissions. The most cost-effective ways to do that are to tax emissions directly or to put in place a “cap-and-trade” system. Either one will significantly raise the price of fossil-fuel energy products — from home energy and gasoline to food and other goods and services with significant energy inputs. Those higher prices create incentives for energy efficiency and the development and increased use of clean energy sources. But they will also put a squeeze on consumers’ budgets, and low- and moderate income consumers will feel the squeeze most acutely.

PCAST Members Announced

April 28th, 2009

Posted by: admin

In what may become tradition of burying the interesting policy stuff on the same day as a politically savvy move, the Obama Administration announced on Monday who the remaining members of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) will be.  It had already been announced that Eric Lander and Harold Varmus will join Presidential Science Adviser Holdren as co-chairs of PCAST.  Dr. Landren directs the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and holds appointments in biology faculties at both schools.  Dr. Varmus is a fomer NIH Director and currently heads the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

I’ll list the other members after the jump, and you can look at more complete bios on the PCAST website (which, sadly, is woefully thin for the launch of the new Council).  Two points worth noting: a higher percentage of PCAST members have backgrounds in life science fields than in the past; and a few PCAST members have served in government S&T positions before.


No Trends in Hurricane Landfalls in Mexico: 1951-2008

April 28th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Yesterday I provided reference to studies showing that there have been no trends in tropical cyclone landfalls for the U.S., Australia, and East Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Phillipines). I requested any information on Mexico and the Indian Ocean. Graciela Raga from Mexico City promptly sent me an email with reference to a paper by Jauregui (2003, Atmosphera; Climatology of landfalling tropical storms and hurricanes in Mexico) with data through 2000. Chris Landsea at the National Hurricane Center graciously sent me data 2001-2008, allowing me to create the following graph, showing no trends in Mexico (combined Atlantic and Pacific landfalls).

Now I need data for the regions around the Indian Ocean for complete global continental coverage.

Maybe Next Year?

April 28th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Hill reports that some Congressional Democrats are thinking that cap and trade legislation might be best considered in 2010:

The House may not vote on a climate change bill this year, according to a high-ranking Democratic leader.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told The Hill on Monday that leaders could opt not to bring a climate measure to the floor if the bill has little chance of passing the Senate.

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), had previously indicated they would pass a climate bill through the House by the August congressional recess.

The competing allegiances of Van Hollen — charged with leading Democrats into what is arguably their most challenging election cycle since 1994 and serving as a policy hand to Pelosi — were on display during his interview with The Hill.

Van Hollen, 50, became the highest-ranking House Democrat to say that even if an agreement is reached, the House may not vote on a cap-and-trade bill if the bill appears to have little hope of clearing the upper chamber.

“The first thing we need to do is see whether we can come together around a consensus position in the committees in the House, and that’s what we’re working on. And then, of course, if we were able to arrive at that, the question is whether you would take it to the floor, or do you wait to see if anything develops on the Senate side,” Van Hollen said.

“The chances of doing cap-and-trade in the Senate are much more difficult. We recognize that,” he added.

For a Democratic Caucus that has made the enactment of climate change legislation one of its highest priorities — Pelosi has called climate change the issue of her generation — the admission from a Democratic leader that the House may not vote on a long-awaited but controversial cap-and-trade bill this year is significant.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) suggests that the goal for legislation to pass has slipped as well:

Pelosi has also been stressing that the consensus-building work is well under way, and that negotiations should not be mistaken for the lack of an agreement.

“We couldn’t pass a bill, nor would it be appropriate to pass a bill … that was a penalty to some states,” Pelosi said last Wednesday at an event commemorating the 39th Earth Day.

“That’s why, as we go forward with this, it’s a consensus-building [process],” she continued. “As we always do in our caucus, we build consensus, hopefully in a bipartisan way, as we go forward with energy.”

At the same time, the Speaker laid down a marker that, at least rhetorically, was different from previous commitments to pass Waxman’s bill through the House this year.

“It is my commitment that by the time we observe the 40th Earth Day next year, that we’ll have made substantial progress toward energy independence, toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and reversing the climate crisis.”

I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that there will be little stomach among Democrats for a bruising debate over cap-and-trade 6 months before a mid-term election. Republicans, on the other hand, probably welcome the new schedule.