Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

You Have to Protect Your Core

August 7th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In 2003 Dan Sarewitz and I wrote an article titled “Wanted: Scientific Leadership on Climate” (PDF). In that article we made the following brash assertion:

What happens when the scientific community’s responsibility to society conflicts with its professional self interest? In the case of research related to climate change the answer is clear: Self interest trumps responsibility.

Our argument was that the scientific community sought to take care of its own interests first while “the needs and capabilities of decisionmakers who must deal with climate change have played little part in guiding research priorities.”

If you need any evidence that little has changed in the five years since we wrote that article, have a look at this story by Andy Revkin in today’s New York Times. The article discusses the termination of the Center for Capacity Building at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the nation’s largest government-supported atmospheric (and related) sciences research lab.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research, an important hub for work on the causes and consequences of climate change, has shut down a program focused on strengthening poor countries’ ability to forecast and withstand droughts, floods and other climate-related hazards.

The move, which center officials say resulted from the shrinking of federal science budgets, is being denounced by many experts on environmental risk, who say such research is more crucial than ever in a world with rising populations exposed to climate threats.

In e-mail exchanges, these experts said the eliminated program, the Center for Capacity Building, was unique in its blend of research and training in struggling countries.

The Center for Capacity Building (still online at was created in 2004. It built on decades of work by its director, Michael Glantz, a political scientist who has focused on the societal effects of natural climate extremes and any shifts related to accumulating greenhouse gases.

What were the budget implications of this Center?

Altogether, the eliminated program had an annual budget of about $500,000. The budget for the entire atmospheric research center is $120 million.

According to data from the NSF (p. 384 of this PDF), the primary funder of NCAR, the NSF contribution to the NCAR budget for FY2009 is expected to grow by 9.5%, and the lab’s budget is projected to grow by about $13 million over the next decade. NSF explains (emphasis added):

In FY 2009, GEO support for NCAR will increase by $9.0 million, to a total of $95.42 million to: accelerate efforts in provide robust, accessible, andinnovative information services and tools to the community; enhance NCAR’s ability to provide to researchers world-class ground, airborne, and space-borne observational facilities and services; increase our understanding of societal resilience to weather, climate, and other atmospheric hazards; and increase efforts to cultivate a scientifically literate and engaged citizenry and a diverse and creative workforce.

So why did NSF have to cut a large part of its commitment to the social sciences? Cliff Jacobs, NSF program officer responsible for NCAR, explained the decision as follows:

Clifford A. Jacobs, the National Science Foundation’s section head for the atmospheric research center and related programs, said the decision did not mean that the center was interested only in basic physical climate science.

“This came as a very, very difficult decision,” Dr. Jacobs said. “You have to protect your core activities, but as budgets keep shrinking you have to redefine your core.”

In this case “shrinking” must mean “not growing as fast as we would like” since the budget has obviously not been decreasing in size. Let this be a reminder that as we often enjoy discussing the politics of the left and the right, some of the the most damaging politics are found in the battle among disciplines within academia. Unfortunately, in this case the collateral damage extends far beyond academia:

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Dr. Glantz said that he was let go Monday and that three other researchers were also losing their jobs. One, Tsegay Wolde-Georgis, left a similar program at Columbia University less than a year ago to work with Dr. Glantz. Dr. Wolde-Georgis’s focus is bolstering the ability of African nations to anticipate and withstand drought and other climate shocks.

I look forward to the day when serving the needs of decision makers becomes part of the “core” in the leading institutions of the atmospheric sciences.

Sloppy Work by the CCSP

August 5th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs); of the United States Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) are supposed to represent the absolute best reviews of the state of climate science from the world-leading United States research enterprise. With more than $30 billion invested in climate research over the past two decades, the SAPs represent the most important summary documents in U.S. climate science. The CCSP explains the significance of these reports:

These reports will provide current evaluations of the identified science foundation that can be used for informing public debate, policy development, and operational decisions, and for defining and setting the future direction and priorities of the program.

An unprecedented process of review was established to keep political appointees far from the reports. However, the significance of the effort and the rigorous review has not been sufficient to result in a quality synthesis report, which in its release for public comment is marred not only by incomplete analysis and selective presentation of science, but also, by plain old sloppiness.

Consider these three examples:

1. Doctored Image. As first mentioned in the comments on this site by Mark Bahner, and shown conclusively by [UPDATED] a commenter at Climate Audit and further discussed by Anthony Watts the report contains a photoshopped image (above) of flood damage in a section discussing precipitation. Not long ago Andy Revkin in consultation with his editors at the New York Times removed a doctored photo of a “wall of coal” when shown to have been altered by Peabody Coal which provided the image — you’d think that the CCSP would have quality control standards at least as high as a leading newspaper. But in this case the CCSP appears to have intentionally procured a doctored image, since it is available for purchase with a clear disclaimer. Anyone should know that presenting a doctored image is not a good idea in a scientific report.

2. Cribbed, Outdated, Misleading Figure. At Climate Audit, Steve McIntyre and his commenters indicate that the CCSP report reproduces an old figure (above) from the Arctic Climate Assessment report that splices paleoclimate temperature proxies and the modern instrument record, despite expert views that such splicing should not be done. Setting aside the substantive objections, how can the CCSP claim to be an assessment of the latest science when it simply cribs dated materials from other another report with data ending 10 years ago, when that same record goes through the present?

3. Hijacked Executive Summary But what is most troubling is the fact that the Executive Summary of the report repeats much of what the report’s non-governmental editor, Susan Joy Hassol calls her “Elevator Speech” of her personal political preferences on climate change. I personally agree with much of what she says, however the issue is not the details of the substance, but rather, how it is that the report’s editor was able to insert her personal policy preferences into the Executive Summary of the single most important report of the U.S. CCSP.

Below is a slide from one of Ms. Hassol’s lectures on climate change, delivered in the fall of 2006 (PDF). Below that image is am image of the first page of CCSP executive summary. I’ve color coded similar, and in some cases verbatim, phrases. The logic and substance of the two documents is remarkably similar and not at all scientific, but advocacy focused. Advocacy is appropriate in many contexts, and Ms. Hassol’s views are perfectly legitimate, but I expect to see neither political advocacy nor the editor’s personal views in the executive summary of the scientific research covered by the US CCSP Synthesis Report.

The CCSP explains that its authors should be technical experts:

Lead and contributing authors of the synthesis and assessment products are scientists or individuals with recognized technical expertise appropriate to a product. Lead and contributing authors may be citizens of any country and be drawn from within or outside the Federal government (e.g., universities or other public or private sector organizations). These individuals shall be acknowledged experts, known through their publication record and relevant accomplishments and contributions to their field. Lead authors are responsible for the content of the synthesis and assessment products that are submitted to the CCSP Interagency Committee for review.

The CCSP established a rigorous process for the writing and editing of its reports in order to limit the ability of political appointees to massage the report in desired directions. But apparently the CCSP review process has left a gaping hole for a single non-governmental, non-technical, non-expert to shape the report in politically desirable ways.

On an issue as high politicized as climate change, where bloggers and others are paying close attention, the inclusion of a doctored image, the cribbing of an old, misleading figure, and the inclusion of an editor’s personal views in the guise of a science assessment is remarkable, even in a draft for public comment. Even if the excuse is plain old sloppiness, the report is a big fat black eye for the world’s leading climate science program.

Joel Achenbach on Weather Extremes

August 3rd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In today’s Washington Post Joel Achenbach has a smart and nuanced piece on weather extremes and climate change. The attribution of weather events and trends to particular causes is difficult and contested.

Equivocation isn’t a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, “Maybe.”

For Achenbach’s efforts he gets called stupid and a tool of the “deniers”. Such complaints are ironic given that Achenbach explains how foolish it is to put too much weight on extreme events in arguments about climate change:

the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn’t need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science is the best weapon for persuading the public that this is a real problem that requires bold action. “Weather alarmism” gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They’re happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don’t expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism “leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather.”

There’s an ancillary issue here: Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade and so on. You don’t need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico — an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts — isn’t caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

Some folks may actually get the notion that the planet will be safe if we all just start driving Priuses. But even if we cured ourselves of our addiction to fossil fuels and stabilized the planet’s climate, we’d still have an environmental crisis on our hands. Our fundamental problem is that — now it’s my chance to sound hysterical — humans are a species out of control. We’ve been hellbent on wrecking our environment pretty much since the day we figured out how to make fire.

This caused that: It would be nice if climate and weather were that simple.

And the U.S. Climate Change Science Program recently issued a report with the following conclusions:

1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.

2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation , there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms.

5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.

6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

In the climate debate, you would have to be pretty foolish to allow any argument to hinge on claims about the attribution of observed extreme events to the emissions of greenhouse gases. But as we’ve noted here on many occasions, for some the climate debate is a morality tale that cannot withstand nuance, even if that nuance is perfectly appropriate given the current state of understandings. But given the public relations value of extreme events in the climate debate, don’t expect Achenbach’s reasoned view to take hold among those calling for action. Like the Bush Administration and Iraqi WMDs, for some folks sometimes the intelligence that you wish existed trumps the facts on the ground.

The New Abortion Politics

August 1st, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The deepest pathologies in the climate policy debate can been seen in this comment in today’s NYT column by Paul Krugman:

The only way we’re going to get action [on climate change], I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral.

This strategy of characterizing one’s political opponents as immoral is of course is part and parcel of the debate over abortion (which is why I call such politics “abortion politics” in The Honest Broker). In the climate debate the litmus test for having the proper morality (i.e., defined as not “standing in the way of action,” by being a “denier” or “delayer” or [insert derisive moral judgment here]) is by holding and expressing (and not questioning) certain acceptable beliefs, such as:

*Not questioning any consensus views of the IPCC (in any working group)

*Not supporting adaptation

*Not emphasizing the importance of significant technological innovation

*Not pointing out that policies to create higher priced energy are a certain losing strategy

Deviation for these beliefs is, blasphemy — heresy! Or as Paul Krugman recommends . . . immoral.

Climate change is the new locus of the U.S. culture wars. Unlike the abortion issue which was turned into a referendum on morality by the political right, the climate issue is fast becoming a referendum on morality by the political left. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Ocean Encroachment in Bangladesh

July 31st, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


My first reaction upon seeing this story was that someone was having some fun. But it doesn’t seem like benthic bacteria . . . So this article from the AFP comes as a surprise, and a reminder that forecasting the future remains a perilous business. With news like this, it seems premature to dismiss skepticism about climate science as fading away, far from it, expect skeptics of all sorts to have a bit more bounce in their steps.

DHAKA (AFP) – New data shows that Bangladesh’s landmass is increasing, contradicting forecasts that the South Asian nation will be under the waves by the end of the century, experts say.

Scientists from the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) have studied 32 years of satellite images and say Bangladesh’s landmass has increased by 20 square kilometres (eight square miles) annually.

Maminul Haque Sarker, head of the department at the government-owned centre that looks at boundary changes, told AFP sediment which travelled down the big Himalayan rivers — the Ganges and the Brahmaputra — had caused the landmass to increase.

The rivers, which meet in the centre of Bangladesh, carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment every year and most of it comes to rest on the southern coastline of the country in the Bay of Bengal where new territory is forming, he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that impoverished Bangladesh, criss-crossed by a network of more than 200 rivers, will lose 17 percent of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel says 20 million Bangladeshis will become environmental refugees by 2050 and the country will lose some 30 percent of its food production.

Director of the US-based NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, professor James Hansen, paints an even grimmer picture, predicting the entire country could be under water by the end of the century.

But Sarker said that while rising sea levels and river erosion were both claiming land in Bangladesh, many climate experts had failed to take into account new land being formed from the river sediment.

“Satellite images dating back to 1973 and old maps earlier than that show some 1,000 square kilometres of land have risen from the sea,” Sarker said.

“A rise in sea level will offset this and slow the gains made by new territories, but there will still be an increase in land. We think that in the next 50 years we may get another 1,000 square kilometres of land.”

Mahfuzur Rahman, head of Bangladesh Water Development Board’s Coastal Study and Survey Department, has also been analysing the buildup of land on the coast.

He told AFP findings by the IPCC and other climate change scientists were too general and did not explore the benefits of land accretion.

“For almost a decade we have heard experts saying Bangladesh will be under water, but so far our data has shown nothing like this,” he said.

Draft CCSP Synthesis Report

July 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has put online for public comment a draft version of its synthesis report ( here in PDF), and I suppose the good news is that it is a draft, which means that it is subject to revision. But what the draft includes is troubling in several respects.


Free Enterprise but not Free Speech

July 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The management of the Free Enterprise Action Fund have thrown their hat into the ring seeking to limit what can be said or claimed in the context of climate change. In this case they have asked the U.S. government’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to pass judgment on whether certain claims by companies can be considered false and misleading, and thus in violation of securities laws of the U.S. government.


A brief account of an aborted contribution to an ill-conceived debate

July 25th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A guest post by Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch

The July 2008 newsletter of the American Physical Society (APS) opened a debate concerning the IPCC consensus related to anthropogenic induced climate change. We responded with a brief comment concerning the state and changing state of consensus as indicated by two surveys of climate scientists. Data was presented concerning climate scientists assessments of the understanding of atmospheric physics, climate related processes, climate scientists level of agreement with the IPCC as representative of consensus and of the level of belief in anthropogenic warming. (The full manuscript is available here .) Our comment was summarily dismissed by the editors as polemic, political and unscientific. The following is a brief account of this episode.


Adaptation Policies for Biodiversity: Facilitated Dispersal

July 18th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of Queensland University and colleagues have an important article on “Assisted Colonization and Rapid Climate Change” in this week’s issue of Science (pdf). The author’s argue:

Rapid climatic change has already caused changes to the distributions of many plants and animals, leading to severe range contractions and the extinction of some species (1, 2). The geographic ranges of many species are moving toward the poles or to higher altitudes in response to shifts in the habitats to which these species have adapted over relatively longer periods (1-4). It already appears that some species are unable to disperse or adapt fast enough to keep up with the high rates of climate change (5, 6). These organisms face increased extinction risk, and, as a result, whole ecosystems, such as cloud forests and coral reefs, may cease to function in their current form (7-9).

Current conservation practices may not be enough to avert species losses in the face of mid- to upper-level climate projections (>3°C) (10), because the extensive clearing and destruction of natural habitats by humans disrupts processes that underpin species dispersal and establishment. Therefore, resource managers and policy-makers must contemplate moving species to sites where they do not currently occur or have not been known to occur in recent history. This strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches.

The strategy flies in the face of conventional conservation approaches due to the numerous risks associated with the introduction of invasive species. The authors fully acknowledge these risks.

The world is littered with examples where moving species beyond their current range into natural and agricultural landscapes has had negative impacts. Understandably, notions of deliberately moving species are regarded with suspicion. Our contrary view is that an increased understanding of the habitat requirements and distributions of some species allows us to identify low-risk situations where the benefits of such “assisted colonization’” can be realized and adverse outcomes minimized…

…One of the most serious risks associated with assisted colonization is the potential for creating new pest problems at the target site. Introduced organisms can also carry diseases and parasites or can alter the genetic structure and breeding systems of local populations…

…In addition to the ecological risks, socioeconomic concerns must be considered in decisions to move threatened species. Financial or human safety constraints, for example, may make a species’ introduction undesirable. It is likely to be unacceptable to move threatened large carnivores or toxic plants into regions that are important for grazing livestock…

These risks do not invalidate the authors’ major point. If we want to conserve current biodiversity in a changing climate, we will likely need creative alternatives to current conservation approaches. Facilitated dispersal of species is one option that deserves consideration in specific conservation contexts. However, it is far from a silver bullet.

Replications of our Normalized Hurricane Damage Work

July 14th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This post highlights two discussion papers that have successfully replicated our normalized hurricane damage analyses using different approaches and datasets. Interestingly, both papers claim a trend in losses after normalization, but do some only by using a subset of the data – starting in 1950 in the first case and 1971 and the second case. Our dataset shows the same trends when arbitrarily selecting these shorter time frames, however, as we reported, we found no trends in the entire dataset.

If you’d just like the bottom line, here it is:

I am happy to report that Nordhaus (2006) and Schmidt et al. (2008) offer strong confirmatory evidence in support of the analysis that we have presented on adjusting U.S. hurricane losses over time. What do these studies say about the debate over hurricanes and climate change? Well, almost nothing (despite the unsuccessful effort by Schmidt et al. to reach for such a connection). There is no long-term trend in the landfall behavior of U.S. hurricanes, so it is only logical that there would also be no long-term trends in normalized damage as a function of storm behavior. Those looking for insight on this debate will need to look elsewhere. If it is to be found, such a linkage will be found in the geophysical data long before it shows up in the damage data, as we asserted at our Hohenkammer workshop.

Please read on if you are interested in the details.