Top Five Climate Essays of 2014

Here is a list of what I am calling my top 5 climate essays of 2014. No doubt there are others that deserve mentioning, but these are the ones that come to mind this morning. These essays are chosen because the stand out to me in some way, which I describe below. All are focused in some way or another on the climate policy debate as it occurs in the public sphere. Were I to pick essays or papers on various aspects of climate science I’d have a different list. In the comments, I welcome suggestions for other essays of 2014 worth reading and remembering.

5. Dan Sarewitz, It’s the End of the World as We Prefer it and I Feel … Stupid.

In his characteristic style, ASU’s Dan Sarewitz explains that the debate on climate change has become intolerant and narrow. Climate change is important, but so too are other issues. Key excerpt:

…the climate-change-as-apocalypse orthodoxy thereby radically narrows the range of viewpoints we are willing to tolerate and the range of options we are willing to consider for dealing with complex challenges to our well-being like natural disasters and infectious disease and poverty and civil strife.

4. Matt Nisbet, Engaging in Science Policy Controversies

This is a long essay, adapted from a book chapter, from a leading scholar on communication in science and policy. Nisbet brings fresh thinking, empirical analyses and an unwillingness to be cowed to provide some sharp insights on the nature of the climate debate. Key excerpt:

no matter how knowledgeable and adept the expert community might be in applying research to their public engagement efforts; resolution of intensely polarized debates take years, if not decades to resolve; and requires the different sides in a debate to give ground, negotiate and compromise.

3. Martin Lewis, Eco-Authoritarian Catastrophism: The Dismal and Deluded Vision of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

Lewis provides a devastating critique of a recent book, and in the process identifies much that has gone off kilter in the climate debate. Lewis recognizes that there are excesses on all sides of the climate debate, but he focuses his attention on those climate advocates who do much to hurt their cause. Key excerpt:

This essay addresses only one side of this spectrum, that of the doomsayers who think we must forsake democracy and throttle our freedoms if we are to avoid a planetary catastrophe. Although it may seem paradoxical, my focus on the green extreme stems precisely from my conviction that anthropogenic climate change is a huge problem that demands determined action. Yet a sizable contingent of eco-radicals, I am convinced, consistently discredit this cause.

2. Roger Pielke, Jr., Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change

I add this essay not because it is either novel (it wasn’t) or particularly well-written (ho-hum). Rather, as you probably know this essay prompted a coordinated backlash against FiveThirtyEight and me (sordid details here). It was an important experience for me and for my thinking about my desire to continue doing climate-related research (much diminished). Two direct consequences of the episode are this blog, where I can ring-fence my climate work, and a new book on disasters and climate change. The substance in the essay was straight out of the IPCC and thus scientifically solid. It was the response to it that makes it memorable for me.

Key excerpt, which looks solid after another year of below average global disaster losses:

When you read that the cost of disasters is increasing, it’s tempting to think that it must be because more storms are happening. They’re not. All the apocalyptic “climate porn” in your Facebook feed is solely a function of perception. In reality, the numbers reflect more damage from catastrophes because the world is getting wealthier. We’re seeing ever-larger losses simply because we have more to lose — when an earthquake or flood occurs, more stuff gets damaged.

1. Richard Tol, Hot Stuff, Cold Logic

Richard Tol has written a clear and powerful essay on climate policy. It really deserves to be widely read. It is a challenging piece and sure to make you think, and may even make you angry. You can’t ask for much more than that. Key excerpt:

In sum, while climate change is a problem that must be tackled, we should not lose our sense of proportion or advocate solutions that would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, common sense is sometimes hard to find in the climate debate.

These are my top five. How about you?

The Hartwell Approach to Climate Policy

Beginning in 2010, shortly after the debacle that was the Copenhagen climate talks, researchers at Oxford University and LSE organized a series of meetings to  open up a broader discussion about climate policy. The most well-known of these efforts was the 2010 Hartwell Paper (here in PDF), so named for the English country house in Buckinghamshire where the meeting took place.  Now, Steve Rayner (Oxford) and Mark Caine (formerly LSE) have published a book called “The Hartwell Approach to Climate Policy.”

For faculty who teach climate politics, the book offers a nice compendium of thinking over the past 25 years which has been both critical of the mainstream approach to climate policy and largely on target in that critique. Here is the book blurb from Routledge:

The Hartwell Approach to Climate Policy presents a powerful critique of mainstream climate change policies and details a set of pragmatic alternatives based on the Hartwell Group’s collective writings from 1988-2010. Drawing on a rich history of heterodox but increasingly accepted views on climate change policy, this book brings together in a single volume a series of key, related texts that define the ‘Hartwell critique’ of conventional climate change policies and the ‘Hartwell approach’ to building more inclusive, pragmatic alternatives.

This book tells of the story of how and why conventional climate policy has failed and, drawing from lessons learned, how it can be renovated. It does so by weaving together three strands of analysis. First, it highlights why the mainstream approach, as embodied by the Kyoto Protocol, has failed to produce real world reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and delayed real meaningful progress on climate change. Second, it explores the underlying political, economic, and technological factors which form the boundary conditions for climate change policy but which are often ignored by policy makers and advocates. Finally, it lays out a novel approach to climate change guided centrally by the goal of uplifting human dignity worldwide—and the recognition that this can only succeed if pursued pragmatically, economically, and with democratic legitimacy.

With contributions from leading scholars in the field, this work presents a original critique of climate policy and a constructive primer for how to improve it.

And here are the contents:

  •  Introduction: Another Book on Climate Change Policy? Steve Rayner and Mark Caine

  • Part 1. The Road Not Taken

  • 1. Sections 1, 3, and 6 from Managing global climate change: a view from the social and decision sciences Steve Rayner

  • 2. Politics and the Environment Gwyn Prins

  • 3. A Cultural Perspective on the Structure and Implementation of Global Environmental Agreements Steve Rayner

  • 4. Global Climate Change: An Atmosphere of Uncertainty Dan Sarewitz

  • 5. Zen and the Art of Climate Maintenance Steve Rayner and Liz Malone

    Part 2. An Emerging Critique

  • 6. Rethinking the Role of Adaptation in Climate Policy Roger Pielke Jr.

  • 7. Prediction and Other Approaches to Climate Change Policy Steve Rayner

  • 8. Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock Dan Sarewitz and Roger Pielke Jr.

  • 9. Just Say No To Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets Frank Laird

  • 10. Social Science and the Absence of Nature: Uncertainty and the Reality of Extremes Reiner Grundmann and Nico Stehr

  • 11. How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse Dan Sarewitz

  • 12. Disasters, Death, and Destruction: Making Sense of Recent Calamities Roger Pielke Jr.

  • 13. What Drives Environmental Policy? Steve Rayner

  • 14. Lifting the Taboo on Adaptation Roger Pielke Jr. et al

    Part 3. The End of the Pipe: An Epistemological Break

  • 15. The Death of Environmentalism Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

  • 16. Time to Ditch Kyoto Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner

    Part 4. From Climate Crisis to Energy Challenge

  • 17. Dangerous Asumptions Roger Pielke Jr. et al

  • 18. Let the Global Technology Race Begin Isabel Galiana and Chris Green

  • 19. Intro to Why We Disagree About Climate Change Mike Hulme

    Part 5. The Hartwell Paper

  • 20. The Hartwell Paper Gwyn Prins et al

    Part 6. Beyond Hartwell

  • 21. A New Strategy for Energy Innovation John Alic et al

  • 22. Liberalism’s Modest Proposals Dan Sarewitz

  • 23. Climate of Failure Roger Pielke Jr.

  • Afterword Steve Rayner and Mark Caine

Tropical Cyclones in the Western North Pacific



Thanks to Brian in the comments of a previous post for noting that one of my graphs was poorly labelled. Above are two graphs showing (top) landfalls of major hurricane strength in the Western North Pacific and (bottom) landfalls of hurricane strength in the Western North Pacific.

Data comes from Weinkle et al. 2013.

Typhoons in the Philippines


Writing in the New York Times today Coral Davenport makes a strong claim about typhoons in the Philippines:

A series of scientific reports have linked the burning of fossil fuels with rising sea levels and more powerful typhoons, like those that have battered the island nation.

I am unaware of any scientific report that has linked the burning of fossil fuels to more powerful typhoons, whether they have hit the Philippines or not. Via Twitter I have challenged Davenport to substantiate her claim (she is correct about sea level rise).

That’s not really fair of me, because she can’t. The graph at the top of this post comes from a 2009 paper by Kubota and Chan (here and here), which concluded “no trend is found.”

Below is a graph from a post I did last year when the exact same false claims were made following the disastrous landfall of Haiyan. That data comes from the Weinkle et al. dataset of global landfalls. It shows all landfalls in the western North Pacific, the region which includes the Philippines.

No matter how you parse the data, on climate time scales tropical cyclones, including the most powerful ones, have not become more common in the Philippines, the western North Pacific or on planet Earth. Last year I wrote in the Guardian that the science of tropical cyclones (and disasters more generally) provides a great test case study in adherence to scientific integrity when data is inconvenient.

To learn more, please have a look at my new book which summarizes the state of the science.

My New Blog on Climate

Starting today my occasional blogging and musings on climate issues will occur here. The title of this blog comes from my 2011 book. For more background please see:

My academic and other writings can all be found here and here. You are welcome to participate here by commenting, asking questions or making requests. I expect that blogging will be light to occasional as I am working on other issues these days.