Archive for April, 2006

Al Gore’s Bad Start and What Just Ain’t So

April 28th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


The image above is taken from the homepage of Al Gore’s new movie. If the imagery is indicative of the role of science in its presentations of policy options, then the case for action on climate change is going to suffer a setback. Reducing smokestack emissions, or any CO2 emissions, is simply not an effective tool of hurricane disaster mitigation.

Often on these pages we have made the case that the debate that rages over hurricanes and climate change is largely irrelevant to climate policy, even as it used as a symbol in climate politics. The reason for the insensitivity of policy to this debate is the overwhelming influence of societal factors in driving trends in the growth in disaster losses even under assumptions that global warming has significant effects on hurricanes. We have made the case in a wide range of fora and in a wide range of ways, and yet, it seems that the urge to use hurricanes as a justification for climate-related energy policies is just too appealing, despite its grossly unsupportable scientific grounding. It does not matter whether or not scientists can establish a link between global warming and hurricanes – it won’t affect how we think about climate policy.

More evidence for this perspective is provided in a recent news story about the insurance and reinsurance industries,


Cutler and Glaeser on Why do Europeans Smoke More Than Americans? Part II

April 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This is a second post discussing a paper by two Harvard economists, David Cutler and Edward Glaeser, available at the National Bureau of Economic Research that raises some interesting questions about the role of science and advocacy on the smoking issue. In this post I’d like to ask some questions about Figure 3 in that paper, reproduced below. For me, Figure 3 raises some really interesting questions about the relationship of science, advocacy, and societal outcomes for which I really have no answers for. I am hoping that Prometheus readers can point me to serious, scholarly literature that might explain what is shown in figure 3.


Cutler and Glaeser on Why do Europeans Smoke More Than Americans? Part I

April 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The relationship of scientific research, industry advocacy, government action, and public behavior on smoking is frequently cited in discussion and debate, but I have actually seen little empirical research that backs up the various claims that are often made on this issue. Two Harvard economists, David Cutler and Edward Glaser, have a paper available at the National Bureau of Economic Research that raises some interesting questions about the role of science and advocacy on the smoking issue.

A few points it seems can be taken as fact:

1. smoking is a health hazard
2. The smoking industry for many years engaged in an active campaign to suggest that smoking is not a health hazard
3. Smoking is addictive
4. Smoking rates, and the change in those rates, are different in different parts of the work

Cutler and Glaeser seek to untangle some aspects of this last point by asking “Why do Europeans Smoke More Than Americans?” The answer that Cutler and Glaeser provide it turns out is complicated, and in my view fundamentally flawed. Here is what they claim in their abstract:


Tenure, University of Colorado, and the Local Newspaper

April 25th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Many of my colleagues at the University of Colorado are convinced that our local Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera, carries some grudge against the university. Today’s front page headline in the Camera on the release yesterday of a report on tenure here does not hurt their case:

CU tenure flawed: Independent study says it is too hard to fire tenured professors

Here is how the Chronicle of Higher Education headlined their coverage of the same report:

Outside Report Applauds Tenure System at U. of Colorado

Interesting difference in perspective. For those interested in the tenure report itself, you can find it here.

What We Discussed in Class Today

April 25th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Science and Technology Policy – ENVS 5100
In Class Assignment
April 25, 2006

You will be divided into 3 groups. You have 3 case studies written in the form of assertions/arguments about professional roles and responsibilities. The cases are related to space policy, bioethics, and climate change.

Please read and discuss the cases until 12:30. We will the reconvene as a class and discuss the cases among the group.

Questions to consider:

Do you agree with the arguments made in the essays? Why or why not?

What implications are raised for the individuals involved in the cases?

What implications are raised for the institutions involved in the cases?

What advice would you give to the participants?

What would you do?

Climate and Societal Factors in Future Tropical Cyclone Damages in the ABI Reports

April 24th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last year the Association of British Insurers released several reports on damages from extreme weather events and climate change. Since then, I’ve seen the reports cited as evidence of (a) a climate change signal has been seen in the disaster record, and (b) the importance of greenhouse gas reductions as a tool to modulate future disaster losses.

Unfortunately for those citing the ABI reports in these ways, the actual content of the reports supports neither of these claims. A close look at the ABI report shows that it actually supports the arguments that we have made on the relationship of extreme weather events and damage trends. And there is at least one significant error in the report, which serves as a reminder why as valuable as such “grey literature” can be, it is always important to put complex research through a process of rigorous peer reviews. Here are all the gory details (and I do mean all!):


Conflicted about Conflicts of Interest?

April 23rd, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

On climate change, do the media, scientists, and commentators treat possible conflicts of interest equally across the political spectrum? Based on the anecdote reported below, it appears not.

First the precedent. Imagine if a prominent non-scientist responsible for editing official government reports on climate change was at the same time being paid to engage in advocacy work related that that issue. You and I would probably have some concerns, no? This situation is not so far from a true story.


BBC on Overselling Climate Science

April 21st, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The BBC has a really excellent half-hour program on the overselling of climate science. A short news story accompanies the program, but it is really worth listening to the program in full, and it is available here. The program makes a compelling case that climate science has, in many instances, been oversold. A central focus on the program is the path between scientific publication, official press release, and media reporting. The BBC program finds fault at all three stops. I have a few thoughts on the program after the jump.


New Article and Podcast

April 20th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

What does British philosopher Stephen Toulmin have in common with George Bush’s science advisor John Marburger?

My latest column for Bridges is out and is titled, “Science Policy Without Science Policy Research.” This time the folks at the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC have also produced a podcast, which can also be heard online. See the essay, hear the podcast, and learn the answer to the question posed above here. The entire issue of Bridges is worth your attention.

Some Simple Economics of Taking Air Capture to the Limit

April 20th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A while back we discussed the notion of “air capture” which refers to the direct removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and referenced the work of David Keith at the University of Calgary. David has an excellent paper on this in the journal Climatic Change, available here, and David’s views on my earlier post can be found here.

With this post, I’d like to engage in some simple math on the economics of air capture. Think of this exercise a bit like the mathematician’s tendency to take things to their limit. In a policy sense, exploring air capture is also a bit like taking things to the limit. If climate change is defined as a problem of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (and other greenhouse gases), then it is logical that the solution would be to stop that increase, and some form of air capture is a logical way to do that (please note that I have not said anything about technical feasibility or economic efficiency). The exercise below explores what sort of costs air capture implies using the lower end of Keith’s cost estimates of $200 per ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere (the upper end is simply 2.5 times higher, for those interested in those numbers). I’d like to motivate some discussion on this subject, because I’d like to understand it further. A central question that I have been pondering is: Given the numbers below, why isn’t air capture technology at the center of debate on climate change?

If the end of the world is at risk, as some have warned, should a politically-neutral technology (i.e., requires no change in behavior, no complicated negotiations, no oversight or compliance regimes, no carbon markets, nada) that may cost as little as 1% of today’s global GDP (yes, a big number I realize) at least be on the table with other options of similar magnitude costs, but with huge political obstacles to their implementation? At a minimum why isn’t air capture technology research at the center of the governmental investment in climate change technologies? I remain completely baffled by this oversight in the policy debate.

Here is the math: