A Quick Guide to Pielke Jr. on Climate

This will be the last post on the short life of this blog. As friends and colleagues know, I have been on a glide path out of the climate field for a while now, mainly because I have had my say and as a scholar I am ready to move on to more fertile fields of study. This is a decision that I made long before the events of the past week. I had thought I’d just quietly fade away on the issue, but after the events of the past week, that obviously isn’t happening!

So to be clear: I am no longer conducting research or academic writing related to climate, I am not available for talks, and on the climate issue I have no interest in speaking with reporters or giving testimony before Congress. This is not a problem for me or the issue. The field is rich and full of smart people doing interesting work, and the topic will for a long time remain scientifically important and politically significant. I’ve been privileged as a scholar to have been able to participate in the debate, along with great colleagues with whom I’ve collaborated and learned from, and to have our views been heard at the highest levels of both science and policy. As a policy scholar I could not ask for any more.

If you wish to know my views on climate, you can easily find them here:

  • The Climate Fix (2011) – a book about climate science, policy and politics;
  • Disasters and Climate Change (2014)- A short book summarizing the state of the science;
  • The Hartwell Approach to Climate Policy (2015) –  an edited volume introducing the broader intellectual tradition to which my work has contributed;
  • Peer reviewed research, 1988-2014: dozens of papers with dozens of colleagues on many aspects of the climate issue, science, policy, politics. Google scholar has them here and most can be found for download on my University of Colorado website;
  • Commentary – I have written commentary on various aspects of the climate debate in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today and many other places. These too can be found at my University of Colorado website.
  • Blogging – I have blogged on climate since 2004, at times almost daily. You can see my views evolve, mature and change over that period at:

Going forward, if I have anything further to discuss or report about the Congressional investigation of my work, it’ll be over at Roger Pielke, Jr.’s Blog where I will of course continue to write about science, innovation and politics. I do keep getting encouraged to do a 2nd edition of The Honest Broker, so perhaps that is still in the cards. If I do feel compelled to comment on climate issues, not likely, but if so, it will be on Twitter @RogerPielkeJr.

For the past few years the bulk of my academic attention has been focused on issues related to the governance of sport (as my Twitter followers know). I will continue to be blogging on that subject at The Least Thing, which is also the title of a book that I am completing this spring. People argue a lot about sports issues too. We policy scholars tend to gravitate to such issues. Thanks for reading!

I am Under “Investigation”

As some of you will already know, I am one of 7 US academics being investigated by US Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) who is the ranking member of the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Rep. Grijalva has sent a letter to the president of my university requesting a range of information, including my correspondence, the letter is here in PDF.

Before continuing, let me make one point abundantly clear: I have no funding, declared or undeclared, with any fossil fuel company or interest. I never have. Representative Grijalva knows this too, because when I have testified before the US Congress, I have disclosed my funding and possible conflicts of interest. So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.

For instance, the Congressman and his staff, along with compliant journalists, are busy characterizing me in public as a “climate skeptic” opposed to action on climate change. This of course is a lie. I have written a book calling for a carbon tax, I have publicly supported President Obama’s proposed EPA carbon regulations, and I have just published another book strongly defending the scientific assessment of the IPCC with respect to disasters and climate change. All of this is public record, so the smears against me must be an intentional effort to delegitimize my academic research.

What am I accused of that prompts being investigated? Here is my crime:

Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr., at CU’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has testified numerous times before the U.S. Congress on climate change and its economic impacts. His 2013 Senate testimony featured the claim, often repeated, that it is “incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”

The letter goes on to note that John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, “has highlighted what he believes were serious misstatements by Prof. Pielke.” (For background on this see here and here.) My 2013 testimony to the Senate is here and House is here in pdf (Q&A following hearing here and here). The testimony was the basis for my recent book on Disasters & Climate Change.

Congressman Grijalva doesn’t have any evidence of any wrongdoing on my part, either ethical or legal, because there is none. He simply disagrees with the substance of my testimony – which is based on peer-reviewed research funded by the US taxpayer, and which also happens to be the consensus of the IPCC (despite Holdren’s incorrect views).

Adam Sarvana, communications director for Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic delegation, reinforced the politically-motivated nature of the investigation in an interview:

“The way we chose the list of recipients is who has published widely, who has testified in Congress before, who seems to have the most impact on policy in the scientific community”

Let’s see – widely published, engaged with Congress, policy impact — these are supposed to be virtues of the modern academic researcher, right? (Here in PDF is my view on the importance of testifying before Congress when asked. I still think it is important.)

I am pleased that some colleagues with whom I have had professional disagreements with in the past have condemned the investigation via Twitter, among them Eric Steig (of Real Climate), Bob Ward (LSE) and Simon Donner (UBC). This shows some real class. In contrast, Michael E. Mann, who I defended when a Virginia politician came after him, used the “investigation” as a chance to lob childish insults my way via Twitter. Some things you can always count on in the climate arena!

So far, I have been contacted by only 2 reporters at relatively small media outlets. I’d say that the lack of interest in a politician coming after academics is surprising, but to be honest, pretty much nothing surprises me in the climate debate anymore. Even so, there is simply no excuse for any reporter to repeat incorrect claims made about me, given how easy I am to find and just ask.

The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt, I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject. I am a full professor with tenure, so no one need worry about me — I’ll be just fine as there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists. Actually, I can: “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.”

When “witch hunts” are deemed legitimate in the context of popular causes, we will have fully turned science into just another arena for the exercise of power politics. The result is a big loss for both science and politics.

The Precipitous Decline in US Flood Damage as a Percentage of GDP

USFloods.GDPThe graph above is an update from a version I first showed in Congressional testimony in 2013 (PDF). It shows US flood damage (as recorded by the NWS in 2013 $) as a proportion of US GDP (as recorded by the OMB, also in 2013 $, Table 10.1 here).  The graph starts in 1940 because this is the start of the OMB GDP dataset.

The US is prone to very large flood events, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in losses. However, the trend since 1940 is striking. As the nation has seen its economic activity expand by a factor of almost 13, flood losses as a proportion of that activity have dropped by about 75%.

Please don’t use this data to say anything about the incidence of flooding in the US or changes in climate. For that, I urge you to look at data and research, discussed here. You’ll find very little evidence of increasing flood frequency or magnitude either in the US or globally. Regardless, the diminishing economic impact of floods in the US is undeniable.

Future Trends in Carbon-Free Energy Consumption in the US, Europe and China

At The Breakthrough Institute (where FYI I am a Senior Fellow) last December, Arthur Yip has produced a very nice analysis. The graph above shows the implications of various policy commitments for future trends in the proportion of energy consumption from carbon-free sources for the US, Europe and China. Such an analysis requires making a range of assumptions, which obviously could be made differently (e.g., Europe will be 11% nuclear in 2030).

The graph above shows that the US, Europe and China have expressed an intention to put into place policies that will support a continuation of a long-term trend in the decarbonization of energy consumption. However, even if these policies are 100% successfully implemented, they will only decrease the world’s reliance on fossil fuels by a small amount in 2030 (FYI, today’s proportion is about 87%, where it has been for about the past 20 years).

“Success” at the upcoming Paris negotiations has come to mean locking in this general approach. While people will no doubt continue to enjoy debating about and witnessing to climate policies, the fact is, at the meta-level, that debate is pretty much over. Climate policy has entered its middle aged years.

Yip’s full analysis, including a focus on China, goes into a lot more detail. Have a look here.

What Does the Peer-Reviewed Literature Say About Trends in East Coast Winter Storms?


The image above comes from a 2001 paper by Hirsch et al. (here in PDF) titled, An East Coast Winter Storm Climatology. The top curve shows all East Coast winter storms, and the bottom shows the most intense storms. for the period 1948 to 1997.

As the figure implies, they concluded in that analysis:

the frequency of ECWS show a downward tendency over the study period but at insignificant levels. One test found a decreasing trend in strong ECWS significant for an alpha = 0.10.

So there was no trend 1948 to 1997, or a slightly downward trend. This is interesting because over the latter half of that period one analysis (Willett et al. 2010) found an increase in the water content of the lower atmosphere over the US East Coast. So those who argue for a simple relationship between increasing water content of the atmosphere and storm strength, data do not support such a claim over this multi-decadal period, in this region.

In 2010 Frankoski and DeGaetano published an update to Hirsh et al. 2001, extending data through 2006. They concluded:

No significant time-dependent trends were identified for precipitation or snowfall from East Coast Winter Storms or for the percentage of precipitation or snowfall from East Coast Winter Storms.

Such research is likely why the IPCC AR5 concluded in 2013:

In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extra-tropical cyclones since 1900 is low.

What that means in climate-speak is that the detection of trends in winter storms has not been achieved. It also means that the IPCC has not attributed any trends to human influences. Detection and attribution are explained in some detail in my recent book.

You can of course find fringe views on both detection and attribution out there on the internet (carefully cherry picked).  There are also plenty of smart folks trying to do their own analyses without referencing the IPCC or the peer reviewed literature on the subject. Minority views and amateurs are legitimate and worth hearing, as they can add valuable new perspectives. But if these folks really wanted to contribute to scientific understandings they should seek to publish their alternative theories in the peer reviewed literature.

No one – least of all those who consider themselves professional journalists – should confuse these alternative perspectives for what is found in the peer-reviewed literature and the assessments of the IPCC.

For further reading, see Vose et al. 2014 and Wang et al. 2008.

Fascinating Climate Policy PhD of a Member of the European Parliament

Correction: Korhola’s term in the European Parliament ended in 2014. She is now “first alternate.”

Eija-Riitta Korhola is a rare politician. She was a long-serving member of the European Parliament from Finland as a member of the European People’s Party, the largest block in the legislature. She has also recently completed an academic dissertation for a PhD in a policy field that she specializes in – climate policy. I can’t recall ever hearing of another politician completing a PhD while in office. Rare indeed.

Korhola’s dissertation is titled, “The Rise and Fall of the Kyoto Protocol: Climate Change as a Political Process” and can be found here in PDF. It makes for fascinating reading. Below are a few excerpts from the preface.

On her early advocacy for climate policy as a politician:

I was not the only one, but without doubt,I was one of the first Finnish politicians to knowingly push the issue of climate change and its threats onto the political agenda. In 1994, I published my first effusions in Vihreä Lanka, a weekly green newspaper, to which I had contributed as a columnist for five years. In the 1999 European elections, my main topics were climate change and development issues. “It won’t pay off, these themes will not attract the public”, was the feedback, which I nonchalantly ignored with the thought of not wanting to make calculations about these kinds of issues. I was worried about the effects of climate change on nature and society. I read the warnings issued by various environmental organisations.

On her unique perspective:

I focus on the problem of climate change, because in this field,I hold, besides the status of a researcher,the position of an expert who has also gained some legislative experience. I start from the assumption that a dual role will not automatically degrade the quality of the research. At least, this dual experience could be utilised and tested as a rare opportunity: my experience of 15 years with an active role in the field of climate policy of the Union – which still perceives itself as a forerunner in combating climate change – constitutes a particular vantage point.I am thinking of the EU’s most important climate instrument, emissions trading, in particular. At its different stages, I have been serving in various key positions, and therefore, I am able to offer an insider’s view from a legislator’s point of view.

Things changed:

When I entered politics, I wondered why climate change was not discussed at all. The time then came when I began to wonder, if it was possible to talk about anything without being forced to mention climate change.

Her view on EU climate policy:

In my study I agree with those who regard the UN’s strategy – and the EU’s follow-up strategy – not only as ineffective but also harmful. The reason can be found in both the wickedness of the problem–i.e.the fact that it is hard to intervene in it in the first place – and that the selected problem-solving model has failed, as the problem’s wicked nature has not been recognised. The attempt to resolve it has been based on an assumption that it is a one-dimensional,tame problem. However, as the saying goes, a wicked problem requires wicked solutions. The matter has been worsened by a lack of knowledge and expertise. Because I was present, I can testify that, for instance, when the Members of the European Parliament(at that time altogether 632 MEPs) voted on issue of emissions trading, I could easily count the number of those who knew something about the matter with the fingers of my two hands.

Like many people who have critiqued climate policy, she finds that critique is not welcomed:

Unfortunately, the political atmosphere is ideological to such an extent that criticism towards the chosen means is very often interpreted as climate scepticism.

She has some hard words for European environmental groups:

Another conclusion of mine is as scathing as my previous reference to the 20-year delusion [of UN climate policy]. It concerns the environmental movement. I suggest that the movement has, above all, failed in its strategy to combat climate change, but also quite often in its other environmental policies. Again, good intentions do not guarantee a wise strategy. The environmental movement regards economic growth as an enemy of the environment although practice has proven that in precisely those quarters of the world where economic well-being prevails and basic needs are satisfied, people are more interested in taking care of their environment. Poverty, in its turn, is the biggest environmental threat,although it has been romanticised in environmentalist rhetoric.

She includes one of her blog posts in which she offers a view that policy making should be robust to scientific debates:

I have come to think that a good politician should rather be a ”climate agnostic”. In principle, it does not matter, what conclusion science comes to: if the legislation we make is good enough, one does not have to take sides; except the side of consideration and quality. Climate policy should be so robust, sturdy and of such good quality that it does not struggle with the uncertainty factors and differences of opinion within science.

This is a similar view to that which I express in The Climate Fix.

There is much, much more in the dissertation. For those wanting the bottom line, jump to pp. 291-296 for a concise summary of conclusions.

If you are interested in an insider’s perspective on European climate policy or just interested in how a real-world, elected decision maker grapples with the complexity of climate policy, the entire dissertation is well worth reading.

Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls, 1970-2014


Above is an update on the data first presented in Weinkle et al. 2013, courtesy of Ryan Maue (@ryanmaue). The graph shows the number of landfalling tropical cyclones worldwide for 1970 through 2014. The data is broken down into weak (S/S category 1 and 2) and strong (S/S categories 3+) storms. For the definition of a landfall and other methodological details, please see the paper.

Some interesting points:

  • 2014 had 10 total landfalls. This is second lowest (tied with 4 other years) since 1970. The lowest was 1978 with 7.
  • The past four years have seen 50 total landfalls, the lowest four-year total since 1982. 1978-1981 had the lowest, with 41.
  • The annual averages over 1970-2015 are: 15.3 total, 10.5 Cat 1&2, 4.7 Cat 3+.

If you are interested in more data on global tropical cyclone activity, please visit Ryan Maue’s Global Tropical Cyclone Activity page. From that page, below are trends in all tropical cyclones of hurricane strength, not just those that make landfall.