Pielke on Climate #5


Welcome to issue #5 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. The above image comes from an essay I have in press titled “Climate Change as Symbolic politics in the United States,” which I’ll share in due course. The image shows a “word cloud” for President Obama’s Rose Garden comments on the Paris Agreement and those of President Trump in the Rose Garden. They were speaking in the exact same location about the exact same policy, but they clearly live in different symbolic realities.

As a reminder, my day-to-day research or writing is focused on sports governance and various issues of science policy. But I’ve written a fair bit on the topics of climate and energy over the past 25 years, including two recent books and a boatload of academic papers, and I’m paying attention. So caveat lector!

A few things to say up front:

  • If you don’t like what I write or don’t like me, then don’t read it – no big deal, I’m just a professor with a blog.
  • If you appreciate the perspective, consider the tip jar to your right.
  • And thanks to those of you who have tipped – very much appreciated
  • If you’d like to engage, consider a comment, Tweet @ me (@rogerpielkejr) or an email. I am happy to discuss or debate. I’ve had great feedback on the first 4 issues.
  • Also, if you have a pointer or tip, please send that along as well.
  • Social media warning: if you choose to call me names or lie about me, oh-so-common in discussing climate, then you will be blocked or ignored.

The next edition of this newsletter will come in October.

With that,  some of what I found interesting over the past month . . .


    • There has obviously been a lot of interest in hurricanes, with several Caribbean islands devastated by Irma and the US hit by 2 Category 4 storms in quick succession, Harvey and Irma. And the Atlantic remains active.
    • I had an op-ed in the WSJ on policy actions needed going forward to improve preparation for and responses to disasters. This was not an op-ed about climate policy. I recommended:
      • Disaster review boards, to evaluate what went wrong (and right)
      • Resilient growth, drawing on appropriate experts to develop smarter
      • Enhance federal capacity, focused on NWS, FEMA etc.
    • The issue of hurricanes and climate change has morphed almost entirely to one of symbolism and signaling, even among many scientists, especially those who ware more vocal and political. There is not a lot of room for meaningful discussion on this subject. But nonetheless, here are a few thoughts:
      • Let’s simply postulate that (a) climate change makes all hurricanes worse than they otherwise would have been. Full stop. (Of course, “climate change” doesn’t do anything, the phrase has now become shorthand for “the emissions of carbon dioxide.”)
      • This leads us to a bit of a logic problem: (b) Neither tropical cyclones globally, Atlantic hurricanes overall, US landfalls nor US normalized damage has gotten worse (that is more frequent or intense) over climate time scales. (Don’t take it from me, this is straight out of the IPCC and US government’s National Climate Assessment)
      • So a logic test: Explain (a) in the context of (b). Though I am pretty sure that the answer is “Denier.”)djn5vb7u8aakdeg
      • Often missed issue in climate science discussions: If you predict something bad will occur in 2080-2100 (worse hurricanes!) and you then claim see it in 2017 (Harvey, irma! Told you so!), that does not prove you “right” — it actually says your prediction is wildly off base.
      • Where I stand: accelerating the decarbonization of the global economy was important before the hurricanes struck. It is still important. Efforts to convince the public or policy makers to drastically change energy policy based on hurricanes is a fool’s errand. But good luck with it. When that doesn’t work, we will still be here with better ways forward. Good ideas will eventually win out, it may just take a while.
    • Here is an excellent overview of Harvey’s economic impact. The storms caused massive destruction. However, they are unlikely to alter the dynamics of the global reinsurance market which has had a deficit of costly disasters over the past decade.
    • We’ve got work in progress on this issue, as below.



Other misc climate stuff

  • Paris. With its latest comments and reported comments on the Paris Agreement he Trump Administration is doing what the Trump Administration does: signaling confusion and incompetence.
    • The White House stated yesterday: “the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”
    • This statement doesn’t even make sense in English.
    • This doesn’t make policy sense as the US is already free to set its own “terms” under Paris as is every other country.
    • I Trump Admin actions on other issues are considered indicative, its just a matter of time before Trump signals that the US has rejoined because the international community responded to his forceful demands. In reality nothing will have changed.
  • Do you want to know the origins of the 2 degree temperature target that underpins much of climate policy discussions and action?
    • As is often the case, it is an arbitrary round number that was politically convenient. So it became a sort of scientific truth. However, it has little scientific basis but is a hard political reality.
    • Jaeger and Jaeger (2011) explain that it came from “a marginal remark in an early paper about climate policy”
    • That “marginal paper” was a 1975 working paper by economist William Nordhaus (here in PDF and a second version is from 1977, with the figure shown below). At p. 23, “If there were global temperatures of more than 2 or 3 C. above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.”nord-1977
    • Nordhaus’ claim was sourced to climatologist Hubert Lamb (1972) who in turn calculated long-term variations in temperature based on record kept in Central England.
    • So: The 2 degree temperature target that sits at the center of current climate policy discussions originated in a local, long-term record of temperature variation in England, which was adapted by an economist in a “what if?” exercise.
    • The 2 degree target is today far more politically “real” than its grounding in science or policy. That won’t change, but it is nonetheless a fascinating look at the arbitrariness of policy and how it is that issues are framed shapes what options are deemed relevant and appropriate.
    • As an example, check out this paper just out today in Nature — it argues that we can emit more than we thought and still hit a 1.5 degree temperature target. People will argue about the results, many because of its perceived political implications. But this argument is only tenuously related to actual energy policies, instead it is related to how we should think about arguments that might be used to motivate people to think about energy policies and thus demand action and so on. Tenuous, like I said.
  • Glen Peters explains why carbon capture and sequestration is a necessary part of any climate policy focused on deep decarbonization. It is neither a popular nor widely discussed issue outside a few specialists.
  • Finally for now, new polling indicates that climate change is not a high public concern in many parts of Europe:

7 thoughts on “Pielke on Climate #5

  1. ” why carbon capture and sequestration is a necessary ” Physical chemistry shows that any useful process for capturing and storing CO2 will require more energy than was released burning the carbon initially. Physical capture in the exhaust of a power plant would be relatively simple, but it’s only about 1/3 of the CO2 produced. Besides, who would want to live near a deep well capping off 100 million tons of CO2 as a supercritical fluid? or a 100 million wells with one ton apiece.

    The only two safe ways to store CO2 in large quantities- recycle it or bury it. Both require an excess of the energy originally released to work, essentially doubling or tripling the cost per unit. Algal production of biofats has the same problem as solar panels- large quantities of materials and a dispersed, inefficient, collecting system. The other safe way is reacting CO2 to form carbonates such as CaCO3. Farming diatoms fertilized with CO2 would be an elegant method once the CO2 was captured, transported, spread, and managed. There likely would be major other environmental effects.

    Serious environmentalists are unwilling to allow anything that changes an environment in any measurable way. In any event, the planet already appears to be sequestering a lot of CO2 in increased forestation, expanding grassy plains, more plant mass, and reduced water usage by the CO2 fertilized plants.


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