Archive for October, 2006

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change: A Comment by Richard Tol

October 31st, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Richard Tol, a prominent economist with appointments at Hamburg, Vrije and Carnegie Mellon Universities, has written a review of The Stern Report, which we are happy to make available for comment and discussion.

Richard’s review can be downloaded here as a Word file.

Stern’s Cherry Picking on Disasters and Climate Change

October 30th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Stern Report has this passage on p. 131:

The costs of extreme weather events are already high and rising, with annual losses of around $60 billion since the 1990s (0.2% of World GDP), and record costs of $200 billion in 2005 (more than 0.5% of World GDP). New analysis based on insurance industry data has shown that weather-related catastrophe losses have increased by 2% each year since the 1970s over and above changes in wealth, inflation and population growth/movement. If this trend continued or intensified with rising global temperatures, losses from extreme weather could reach 0.5 – 1% of world GDP by the middle of the century. If temperatures continued to rise over the second half of the century, costs could reach several percent of GDP each year, particularly because the damages increase disproportionately at higher temperatures.

The source is a paper prepared by Robert Muir-Wood and colleagues as input to our workshop last May on disasters and climate change. Muir-Wood et al. do report the 2% trend since 1970. What Stern Report does not say is that Muir-Wood et al. find no trend 1950-2005 and Muir-Wood et al. acknowledge that their work shows a very strong influence of 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the United States. Muir-Wood et al. are therefore very cautious and responsible about their analysis. Presumably this is one reason why at the workshop Robert Muir-Wood signed on to our consensus statements, which said the following:

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions . . . In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

The Stern Report’s selective fishing out of a convenient statement from one of the background papers prepared for our workshop is a classic example of cherry picking a result from a diversity of perspectives, rather than focusing on the consensus of the entire spectrum of experts that participated in our meeting. The Stern Report even cherry picks from within the Muir-Wood et al. paper.

Why does this matter? The Stern Report uses the cherry-picked information as the basis for one of its important conclusions about the projected costs of climate change(on p. 138),

The costs of climate change for developed countries could reach several percent of GDP as higher temperatures lead to a sharp increase in extreme weather events and large-scale changes.

To support its argument the Stern Report further relies on a significantly flawed report from the Association of British Insurers, which we critiqued here. Its presentation of the future costs of disasters and climate change is highly selective to put it mildly.

I haven’t yet read the whole Stern report, but if its treatment of disaster costs and climate change – an area where I do have some expertise – is indicative of its broader analysis, then Richard Tol’s comment in the open thread would appear to be on target.

Open Thread on UK Stern Report

October 29th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, focused on climate policy, is going to be released tomorrow and I’m sure, like everyone else, we’ll be discussing it. Until then I thought I’d open a space for anyone who is interested in discussing it or offering relevant pointers. The pre-release media coverage is already pretty interesting. When released, the report will be available here.

Origin of Phrase –Basic Research–?

October 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I am looking for the earliest reference to the phrase “basic research.”

I’ll start off the bidding with:

J. Huxley. 1935. Science and Social Needs. Harper & Bros. Publishers, New York.

Recap: Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages

October 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We’ve had an interesting discussion this week on the historical relationship of Atlantic sea surface temperatures and U.S. hurricane damage. I began by asking:

What Does the Historical Relationship of Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature and U.S. Hurricane Damage Portend for the Future?

This post provides a recap of the week’s discussion.


Another Policy-Related Faculty Position at CU-Boulder

October 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder announces that it is recruiting a tenure-track Assistant Professor in Environmental Ethics. We are particularly interested in candidates with strong interdisciplinary interests and the ability to teach graduate and undergraduate courses in environmental ethics and the role of values in environmental policy-making. Candidates specializing in any areas of research and disciplinary background are welcome to apply. An earned terminal degree in the field of research specialization is required. The ability to interact with other departments is desirable. The Program is described at . Applicants should send a dossier that includes a CV and a statement of research and teaching interests, and arrange for three letters of reference to be sent, to Environmental Ethics Search Chair, Environmental Studies Program, 397 UCB, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309-0397. Review of completed applications will begin December 1, 2006, but applications will be accepted until the position is filled. The University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.

Conference for Grad Students on Science Policy

October 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Science & Technology in Society:
An International Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference

Sponsored by:
The American Association for the Advancement of Science
Arizona State University, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes
George Mason University
The George Washington University
Virginia Tech

When: March 31 – April 1, 2007
Where: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Headquarters,
Washington, DC

Abstract Deadline: January 16, 2007

This annual conference provides a venue for graduate students from Science & Technology Studies, Science & Technology Policy, Environmental Studies/Policy and related fields to present and receive constructive feedback on their research. In developing the agenda for the conference, the organizing committee’s primary goal is to create a forum that encourages intellectual exchange between STS, S&T Policy and Environmental Studies/Policy by assembling diverse and exciting panels around similar themes. As such, the committee will accept the strongest proposals on issues relevant to either field, and build the agenda around them. The agenda for last year’s conference ( provides examples of common themes
and topics that may be covered this year. In addition to presenting papers, students will have the opportunity to interact with each other and prominent scholars and professionals related to their field(s) of interest. Every year we invite prominent figures from both STS and S&T Policy to deliver keynote addresses. Because we draw participants from all over the world, this conference is an excellent opportunity for young scholars aspiring to work in academic, governmental, or non-governmental settings to build both national and international networks for future research and collaborations.

The conference organizing committee welcomes submissions of abstracts (up to 250 words) for a 15-minute presentation. Please submit abstracts and contact information to our website at by January 16, 2007. Notification of abstract acceptance will be given by February 7, 2007.

Information concerning area lodging and registration is posted on the conference website. Travel funds are available for a limited number of presenters. Indicate your need for travel funds when submitting your abstract. For further information, either e-mail or visit the conference website at

Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages, Part 5

October 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Widely respected hurricane expert Jim Elsner of FSU has posted a lengthy response to these posts over at his blog. I’d encourage interested readers to have a look. This exchange reminds me of a quote attributed to John von Neumann speaking on statistics, “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” It also serves as a good reminder that Dan Sarewitz’s notion of an “excess of objectivity” is alive and well even when one is dealing with 34 data points. Let me start by acknowledging that Jim and I are going to agree to disagree and interested readers will have to judge the merits of our arguments themselves.


Atlantic SSTs vs, U.S. Hurricane Damage, Part 4

October 25th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I am happy to report that after follow-up by Jim Elsner, I have been able to come close to replicating his results. However, the replication does not add much support to the hypothesis that Atlantic SSTs are related to normalized U.S. hurricane damage. Here is why.

First, in his paper (properly cited as Jagger et al., here in PDF) Elsner reports that their analysis was “able to explain 13% of the variation in the logarithm of loss values exceeding $100 mn using an ordinary least squares regression model.” Their analysis focused on insured losses and ours is on total losses. Their analysis is in 2000 US dollars and ours in 2005 US dollars. Because insured damages are roughly half the total economic losses, and inflation, wealth, population increase by about 5-7% per year, it makes sense to use a cut-off of $250 million for our dataset rather than $100 million – thanks to the reader who made this observation. (This has the effect of eliminating about 70% of the data, an important point which I will return to later, but for now we are simply replicating the earlier results). With the dataset parsed in this fashion we get the following results.


Atlantic SSTs vs. US Hurricane Damage, Part 3

October 24th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Following up a continuing conversation with hurricane expert Jim Elsner, this post presents an analysis of Atlantic May-June SSTs versus normalized damage 1950-2005, but only including storms which had >$100 million in damage and storms of hurricane or greater strength, as recommended by Jim. As the graph below shows [10-25-06 update -- analysis superceded by Part 4 here], the results of this analysis show no relationship.

[10-25-06 graph reposted in part 4 with >$250M threshold]

I’d welcome Jim’s response, but for now I remain unambiguous in my conclusion that there is no relationship between SSTs and normalized damages. If Jim provides his data, I’d be happy to reconcile the different results, and perhaps my views will change. Until then, I necessarily must go with what the available data shows, which is quite unambiguous.