Archive for May, 2007

Here comes the rain, kids. NASA administrator says global warming ain’t no stinking problem.

May 30th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Hat tip (and bow and all praise thee) to Mr. Fleck who passed it along. NPR just sent out a press release previewing a Steve Inskeep interview airing on tomorrow’s Morning Edition with NASA Administration Michael Griffin. The title of the press release? How about


Ok. The rest of the press release goes on to say [my bolds]

May 30, 2007; Washington, DC – NASA Administrator Michael Griffin tells NPR News that while he has no doubt “a trend of global warming exists, I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”

In an interview with Steve Inskeep airing tomorrow on NPR News’ Morning Edition, Administrator Griffin says “I guess I would ask which human beings – where and when – are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.”

Oh my. Here is the transcript that NPR released:


The messy and messier politics of AGW solutions

May 29th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Back on May 2nd I wrote about the looming coal vs. global warming fight in Congress. Today the NY Times put the issue up as its lead article (at least in the national edition). Edmund Andrews covers the issue well, bringing out various issues of price, competing priorities and constituent politics. (To recap my post: despite Senate ENR staffers trying to paint a rosy picture about a four-bill markup of some easy and no-brainer energy packages, coal state Senators still made a big stink about mandating coal synfuels.)

This is an issue setting itself up well (and early) to be one of the major boondoggles in crafting policy that effectively brings down GHG emissions. It essentially pits energy independence goals against GHG reduction goals when they should be addressed simultaneously in the same direction. Smart policy will reduce exposure to global warming risk and energy provenance issues together; bad policy will allow the two issues to battle each other.

The elephant in this room, only hinted at in Andrews’ article and only briefly mentioned in my post, is setting government targets for specific fuels. Coal state Members want to write into any energy/climate legislation either mandated volume purchase targets for liquefied coal fuels or heavy subsidies for the industry. But the coal-to-liquid conversion process releases a lot of carbon dioxide, and when confronted with this, coal supporters point out that carbon dioxide can be captured during the process and sequestered (known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS).

The key here is “can be” as in can be captured. It should be appended with “but won’t” unless any legislation mandating or heavily subsidizing liquefied coal also provides a mandate that any fuel derived from coal captures CO2, and also provides the subsidies to make that CCS possible. Will legislators go that far? Listening to Congress, especially the language coming out of Jeff Bingaman’s committee, I’ve heard a lot of discussion of subsidies to build synfuel plants and a lot of discussion about mandating fuel quotas or providing generous per-gallon tax credits, but nothing about also footing the bill for CCS. Keeping in mind that some lawmakers already want to give coal synfuels a $0.50/gal subsidy before even considering the carbon capture issues, requiring carbon CCS on the coal synfuel process means pricing coal synfuels well out of economic competitiveness.

The coal issue illustrates again the problems with government picking winners and losers instead of setting generalized targets to be met across a wide swath of economic players. Doing this with ethanol has already led to a international socioeconomic backlash, rightly or wrongly drawing in Mexican citizens decrying the rising price of the corn they depend upon for food. Anything close to a mandate for coal synfuels will mean a new avenue for climate change politicization. Have we learned yet from past lessons? Edmund Andrews hints that we probably haven’t:

But some energy experts, as well as some lawmakers, worry that the scale of the coal-to-liquid incentives could lead to a repeat of a disastrous effort 30 years ago to underwrite a synthetic fuels industry from scratch.

When oil prices plunged in the 1980s, the government-owned Synthetic Fuels Corporation became a giant government albatross that lost billions and remains a symbol of misguided industrial policy more than 25 years later.

End of the Line . . .

May 16th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

After three years of blogging, I have decided to take an extended break that just-so-happens to coincide with my sabbatical leave. Oh, I’ll be promoting my book here and there, but I won’t be posting regularly. It has been a fun experience, even with the obvious downsides, but it is time to close this chapter.

Prometheus, I hope, will continue to provoke and irritate, as is our custom, so don’t go far!

The Importance of the Development Pathway in the Climate Debate

May 16th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today I am testifying before the House Committee on Science and Technology of the U.S. Congress. In my testimony I argue that we should pay attention to development paths in addition to the mitigation of greenhouse gases. You can see my testimony in full here in PDF.

A full reference:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2007. Statement to the House Committee on Science and Technology of the United States House of Representatives, The State of Climate Change Science 2007: The Findings of the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, 16 May.

Upcoming Congressional Testimony

May 15th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I will be testifying before the House Committee on Science and Technology on Wednesday of this week. I’ll post my written testimony here beforehand.

Preview of The Honest Broker

May 15th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Google provides a limited preview of The Honest Broker.

State of Florida Rejects RMS Cat Model Approach

May 11th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to a press release from RMS, Inc. the state of Florida has rejected their risk assessment methodology based on using an expert elicitation to predict hurricane risk for the next five years. Regular readers may recall that we discussed this issue in depth not long ago. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

During the week of April 23, the Professional Team of the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology (FCHLPM) visited the RMS offices to assess the v6.0 RMS U.S. Hurricane Model. The model submitted for review incorporates our standard forward-looking estimates of medium-term hurricane activity over the next five years, which reflect the current prolonged period of increased hurricane frequency in the Atlantic basin. This model, released by RMS in May 2006, is already being used by insurance and reinsurance companies to manage the risk of losses from hurricanes in the United States.

Over the past year, RMS has been in discussions with the FCHLPM regarding use of a new method of estimating future hurricane activity over the next five years, drawing upon the expert opinion of the hurricane research community, rather than relying on a simplistic long-term historical average which does not distinguish between periods of higher and lower hurricane frequency. RMS was optimistic that the certification process would accommodate a more robust approach, so it was disappointed that the Professional Team was “unable to verify” that the company had met certain FCHLPM model standards relating to the use of long-term data for landfalling hurricanes since 1900.

As a result of the Professional Team’s decision, RMS has elected this year to submit a revised version of the model that is based on the long-term average, to satisfy the needs of the FCHLPM.

This is of course the exact same issue that we highlighted over at Climate Feedback, where I wrote, “Effective planning depends on knowing what range of possibilities to expect in the immediate and longer-term future. Use too long a record from the past and you may underestimate trends. Use too short a record and you miss out on longer time-scale variability.”

In their press release, RMS complains correctly that the state of Florida is now likely to underestimate risk:

The long-term historical average significantly underestimates the level of hurricane hazard along the U.S. coast, and there is a consensus among expert hurricane researchers that we will continue to experience elevated frequency for at least the next 10 years. The current standards make it more difficult for insurers and their policy-holders to understand, manage, and reduce hurricane risk effectively.

In its complaint, RMS is absolutely correct. However, the presence of increased risk does not justify using an untested, unproven, and problematic methodology for assessing risk, even if it seems to give the “right” answer.

The state of Florida would be wise to err in the decision making on the side of recognizing that the long-term record of hurricane landfalls and impacts is likely to dramatically understate their current risk and exposure. From all accounts, the state of Florida appears to be gambling with its hurricane future rather than engaging in robust risk management. For their part, RMS, the rest of the cat model industry, and insurance and reinsurance companies should together carefully consider how best to incorporate rapidly evolving and still-uncertain science into scientifically robust and politically legitimate tools for risk management, and this cannot happen quickly enough.

Reorienting U.S. Climate Science Policies

May 10th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week the House Committee on Science and Technology held an important hearing on the future direction of climate research in he United States (PDF).

The major scientific debate is settled. Climate change is occurring. It is impacting our nation and the rest of the world and will continue to impact us into the future. The USGCRP should move beyond an emphasis on addressing uncertainties and refining climate science. In addition the Program needs to provide information that supports action to reduce vulnerability to climate and other global changes and facilitates the development of adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be applied here in the U.S. and in other vulnerable locations throughout the world.

This refocusing of climate research is timely and worthwhile. Kudos to the S&T Committee.

For a number of years, Congressman Mark Udall (D-CO) has led efforts to make the nation’s climate research enterprise more responsive to the needs of decision makers (joined by Bob Inglis (R-SC)). Mr. Udall explained the reasons for rethinking climate science as follows:


–It’s sort of a screw-up–

May 9th, 2007

Posted by: admin

From the LA Times today:

California homeowners are rejecting new rebates for solar power equipment, saying the state has made installing the rooftop panels far more costly than expected.

As a result, Public Utilities Commission reports show a decline of 78% in rebate requests in the first three months of this year, compared with last year, and the solar installation industry says it is threatened with collapse across much of California.

At issue is a requirement the state added Jan. 1 for getting a rebate under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roofs program. Applicants must first sign up for costly pricing plans offered by utilities that charge more for their electricity during hours of peak demand.


Should the Gates Foundation fund Policy Research?

May 9th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Well, according Hannah Brown writing in BMJ the answer is “yes” (h/t It turns out that simply investing money in scientific research or technology development is not sufficient to realize benefits on the ground. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already changed he world for the better, and has much future potential, so it is good that it is learning the limitations of the so-called “linear model” of science and society sooner rather than later. Here is an excerpt from Brown’s commentary: