Archive for August, 2007

Twenty years of public opinion about global warming

August 29th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Matt Nisbet has a good paper out now about polling results on global warming. The pdf is here and general paper link here.

The polling supports what we’ve been saying for a while: the public is there. They believe (even if they think the scientific consensus isn’t as strong as it really is).

The science community has been freaking out for years about trying to answer the “we’re screaming at them about this problem, why aren’t they doing anything about it???” question. The stock answer from climate scientists is either about skeptics sowing doubt, or the problem is too complicated, or something like that, but it usually comes down to, “the public just isn’t convinced that it’s a problem.” Matt’s paper shows that clearly the public is aware of global warming and does think it is a problem.

So why are we (through our electeds) still not doing anything about it then? Because even the public realizes that the solutions are very, very difficult and will probably mean considerable pain. (And no politician wants to inflict pain on his/her constituents.) Perhaps the collective is making its own collective calculation: a world without potentially disruptive-to-catastrophic global warming or a world without coal-fired electricity and 20mpg family sedans?

This is really my insidious way of making a strong plea to the climate science policy (funding) community: stop spending money on GCMs. Start spending those billions we spend on basic climate research on climate solutions. We do not need 21 models feeding the IPCC process to see the risks. In a resource-limited science funding world, we know enough already about how climate works to see the risks.

What we don’t see is how we’re going to shovel ourselves out of this mess. We would do quite well to quit crying about science budgets, climate skeptics and inaccurate media representations and finally turn our energies to usable, useful science for a very uncertain future. Our politicians and policymakers will listen if we give them useful solutions, especially if we work with them to figure out what kind of information is useful to them. They will continue to NOT listen if we decide to pad our status quo by indefinitely giving them journals filled with GCM studies and 500-page IPCC reports that are all science and no ways out.

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Nature

August 23rd, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Some quotes from the 23 August 2007 issue of Nature, which has a review of The Honest Broker by Andrew A. Rosenberg from the University of New Hampshire (subscribers can see it here).

Happily, the book by Roger Pielke, Jr. on the engagement of scientists in policy offers a pithy, insightful basis for discussing the contributions scientists can make to advising policy makers. . .

This is a clear, thought-provoking book that helps move us away from thinking of science as ‘pure’ and distinct from policy. It would make an excellent basis for a graduate seminar. It isn’t a textbook, but a think-piece, and we all need to consider carefully our responsibility to engage as scientists in policy making.

Buy your copy today!

New Changnon paper on winter storm losses

August 20th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Keeping in line with similar research being done here on hurricanes (Roger and colleagues) and earthquakes (me), Stanley Changnon has a new paper out on winter storm losses. The abstract:

Winter storms are a major weather problem in the USA and their losses have been rapidly increasing. A total of 202 catastrophic winter storms, each causing more than $1 million in damages, occurred during 1949–2003, and their losses totaled $35.2 billion (2003 dollars). Catastrophic winter storms occurred in most parts of the contiguous USA, but were concentrated in the eastern half of the nation where 88% of all storm losses occurred. … The time distribution of the nation’s 202 storms during 1949–2003 had a sizable downward trend, whereas the nation’s storm losses had a major upward trend for the 55-year period. This increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of significant temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities. Increases in storm intensities were small in the northern sections of the nation, but doubled across the southern two-thirds of the nation, reflecting a climatic shift in conditions producing intense winter storms.

The interesting zeroth- or first-order conclusion is that when using damage trends as a proxy for climatic trends, no climatic trends can be seen in hurricanes while a strong one can be seen in winter storms. From the latest Pielke et al. hurricane paper:

…it should be clear from the normalized estimates that while 2004 and 2005 were exceptional from the standpoint of the number of very damaging storms, there is no long-term trend of increasing damage over the time period covered by this analysis.

Whereas from the Changnon paper on winter storms:

Significant temporal increases in storm losses, storm sizes, and storm intensity have occurred in the United States. The national increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of the increases over time in storm sizes and intensities. The marked temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities were greatest across the southern two-thirds of the nation.

Center interim Director Dr. William Lewis testifies before House Committee

August 20th, 2007

Posted by: Ami Nacu-Schmidt

Center interim Director Dr. William (Bill) Lewis testified at an oversight hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources on July 31. The topic was “Crisis of Confidence: The Political Influence of the Bush Administration on Agency Science and Decision-Making“. Dr. Lewis testified about his experience as chair of the Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin (“Klamath Committee”). His testimony is available here.

A Technology Assessment Revival?

August 17th, 2007

Posted by: admin

A recent Issue of the American Institute of Physics‘ Science Policy News revisited a topic addressed in one of the earliest Prometheus posts – the Office of Technology Assessment, or OTA. You can review a brief history and archived reports online. Ever since its demise in the mid 90s there has been a regular attempt to revive the body, which provide technology assessment and related policy analysis to Congress. Legislation has been introduced on more than one occasion to revive the body, or some similar capacity, but the bills have not gotten very far in Congress.

The AIP piece notes that in the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Reports that accompanied their respective Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, there is language to provide the Government Accountability Office with technology assessment capacity. As usual, the amounts differ between the two chambers, but it is a relatively small amount ($2.5 million in the House report, $750,000 plus four full-time employees in the Senate report). Read the relevant sections of the Senate report (pages 42-43) for a better idea of what this technology assessment function might resemble.

Given limited budget resources, and lingering baggage from the demise of the OTA, placing technology assessment in the GAO has its advantages. The agency has a strong reputation for non-partisanship and independence. It has a small group of expertise within its Center for Technology and Engineering. It has tested a pilot technology assessment program since 2002, with at least 3 reports produced so far:

Technology Assessment: Protecting Structures and Improving Communications during Wildland Fires. GAO-05-380. Washington, D.C.: April 2005
Technology Assessment: Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Protection. GAO-04-321. Washington, D.C.: May 28, 2004.
Technology Assessment: Using Biometrics for Border Security. GAO-03-
174. Washington, D.C.: November 15, 2002.

Please don’t pop the champagne corks just yet. The language is connected to appropriations bills that have not been approved – yet. Previous efforts to provide similar resources to GAO have met with limited success. This kind of approach has been tried since at least the FY 2002 budget, usually getting cut from the final appropriations bill. The House Science Committee hearing from last July showed few serious Congressional signs of interest in developing a new body for technology assessment, or a technology assessment function for an existing body. And this committee is the closest thing to a consistent source of support the science and technology policy community has on the Hill.

So again, a policy outcome desired by many in the science and technology policy fields could fail. Unlike the recently passed competitiveness legislation (which took two sessions and a concerted behind the scenes effort with industry), it would be especially self-serving to generate a National Academies Report arguing for increased technology assessment capacity. If this is truly needed, how should the community make its case (its tactics), and what is the case to make (its argument)?

The Honest Broker Reviewed in Science

August 17th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Some quotes from the review of The Honest Broker by Georgetown University’s Nathan Hultman appearing in the 17 August 2007 issue of Science:

“In The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Roger Pielke Jr. successfully illuminates these challenges to science and scientists.”

“Pielke’s framework provides a helpful starting point for investigating factors that complicate the science-society relationship. . . Pielke deftly shows how scientists selections among these options can affect outcomes.”

“[T]he book’s direct language and concrete examples convey the concepts to a wide audience. By categorizing different roles in the often vexed but necessary relations between scientists and their social world, Pielke clarifies choices not only for scientists but also for the diverse members of democratic society, for whom scientific perspectives are an essential component of better policy.”

Buy your copy today!

New Publication

August 17th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Mistreatment of the economic impacts of extreme events in the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, in press, corrected proof.

Full text here in PDF.