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?

7 thoughts on “Top Five Climate Essays of 2014

  1. My top of mind essay is Ethics and Climate Change Policy by Peter Lee. He points out how truth is compromised on both sides because the debate has become so polarized.

    “On this discursive battlefield it has become accepted practice – often among people who should know better – to foster negative attitudes that are characterised by a failure to recognise or acknowledge where opponents make valid points or ask legitimate questions. The consequence is a dilution of truth on all sides, with claims and counter-claims frequently being overstated and under-justified, thereby creating ethical dilemmas for everyone who is interested in making decisions about the future of our planet and the welfare of its occupants, human and otherwise. In turn, this leads to a loss of interest and trust in scientific claims on climate issues by citizens around the world who might otherwise be more engaged with a subject that affects everyone.”

    Click to access Lee-Ethics-climate-change.pdf

    Also noteworthy was Dr. Judith Curry’s remarkably cogent testimony before the Senate EPW Committee.

    “Good judgment requires recognizing that climate change is characterized by conditions of deep uncertainty. Robust policy options that can be justified by associated policy reasons whether or not anthropogenic climate change is dangerous avoids the hubris of pretending to know what will happen with the 21st century climate.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I urge you to not let the eco radicals drive you out of the debate.

    ” It was an important experience for me and for my thinking about my desire to continue doing climate-related research (much diminished). ”

    You have been a voice of reason and sanity. Please keep it up.


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