Pielke on Climate #6


Welcome to issue #6 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. The above image comes from a recent public opinion survey on climate change from AP/NORC (here in PDF). The data shows that the Iron Law of Climate Change is alive and well. People are willing to pay some economic price for action on climate change, but that willingness is extremely limited. Only 12% of Americans say that they’d be willing to pay $75 per month, and only 52% say they be willing to pay $1 per month. The Iron Law provides a very useful boundary condition for thinking about policy design.

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 appreciate the perspective, consider the tip jar to your right.
  • 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.
  • 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 5 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 November.

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

Emissions intensity assumptions and projections

  • Pretis and Roser (2017) conclude that “global emission intensity (fossil fuel CO2 emissions per GDP) rose in the first part of the 21st century despite all major climate projections foreseeing a decline.”
  • This analysis further confirms the work we did in Pielke et al. (2008) (“Dangerous Assumptions” here in PDF) in which we argued that “IPCC assumptions for decarbonization in the short term (2000–2010) are already inconsistent with the recent evolution of the global economy.”
  • Our 2008 paper was the subject of a sustained effort of delegitimization by the Center for American Progress and members of the media. The image below is from 2008, near the start of CAP’s 170+ article effort to delegitimize my work over many years.CAPJoe
  • Despite this effort by CAP and fellow travelers, it looks like the IPCC has now adopted our recommended approach going forward, based on the Kaya Identity decomposition of emissions. See Riahi et al. (2017), from which the figure below right is taken (the panel on the left is from Pielke et al. 2008). Sometimes it takes a while, but good science stands the test of time.dc-blog
  • Watch out for loose talk of emissions and GDP having “decoupled” (no, they haven’t) and pay attention instead to quantified rates of decarbonization, decomposed into energy intensity (energy/GDP) and carbon intensity (carbon/energy). Ultimately progress towards stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is best measured by rates of decline in C/GDP.


  •  In July, I warned in an essay at Risk Frontiers that bigger disasters we coming. I didn’t know that they’d be coming so soon.
  • Phil Klotzbach of CSU has the active 2017 North Atlantic hurricane season into historical perspective.dmn3m6mvwaafjk5
  • Klotzbach puts these numbers into a Norther Hemisphere persepctive, and the active season turns into a pretty ordinary one.dmrep7hvwaay3yt
  • It is very preliminary, but based on estimates from AIR Worldwide for losses from this year’s hurricane season, we can estimate (assuming total = 2x insured) that they will total about $300B (US and beyond).  If we add in another $100B for other events (earthquakes, floods, fires, etc.) that would take the world to about 0.4% of global GDP, making 2017 the costliest disaster year (as % GDP) since 2005.
  • Of course, 2017 could yet exceed 2005.
  • On the mainland US, hurricane damage could exceed $150B. However, it is important to understand that the US NWS keeps separate tabulations for flood damage and hurricane damage, so Harvey in particular will have its accounts in two categories. This doesn’t matter to those who suffered the impacts of Harvey, but it does have some implications for research that tries to compare impacts over time in apples-to-apples fashion.
  • Here is a sneak-peak at a table from a paper in progress in which we are updating our normalized hurricane loss dataset through 2017. At this point, it looks like both Harvey’s and Irma’s total costs will put them into the top 10 of normalized US losses, but not into the top 5. If flood losses are indeed determined not to be apples-to-apples with this dataset, then Harvey could fall out of the top 25. Our paper will be submitted in December, after hurricane season.diulileumaem0h8
  • The response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico continues to stand out as a remarkable failure of US governing and leadership. How can the US government be so incompetent and the president so callous? Remarkable on both counts.

Ocean Heat Content and Science Ethics

  • Last month a group of scientists published an article in EOS (newsletter of the AGU) with a fantastic idea: “we suggest that scientists and modelers who seek global warming signals should track how much heat the ocean is storing at any given time, termed global ocean heat content (OHC)” (Cheng et al. 2017). Brilliant.
  • In a companion piece in The Guardian one of the article’s co-authors, John Abraham, explained, “This finding should help change the way we talk about global warming.” Damn straight.
  • But . . . As anyone familiar with climate science should well know, the idea to monitor ocean heat content as a metric of human-caused global warming that is far better than surface temperatures was first presented by my father in 2003 in BAMS.
  • Perhaps Cheng et al. simply discovered this new “finding” on their own. Yeah, no.
  • Pielke Sr. engaged in many years of advocacy for the use of ocean heat content  as a metric of global warming on his blog, most notably with Cheng et al. co-author Kevin Trenberth. See: here, here, here, here, here and here — just for a few. So Trenberth was fully aware of the intellectual history of this idea. Trenberth was among a number of scientists to criticize the idea. And yet Pielke Sr. persisted.
  • In August of 2016, Pielke Sr. corresponded with Cheng, and observed cordially that several of Cheng and colleagues’ papers had failed to cite properly his early work on OHC.
  • Cheng responded just as cordially: “I’m so sorry we fail to cite your papers, I will read those paper and do cite in our future studies” (sic). So Cheng was also aware of the intellectual history of the idea and had expressed an intent to properly cite that history in the future.
  • OK, mistakes happen, references are sometimes overlooked. Yeah. no.
  • On September 27, 2017, Pielke Sr. emailed Barbara Richman, EOS Editor in Chief, to inquire about the citation oversight. Richman responded with this (emphasis added): “Earlier today I talked to several of the authors of [Cheng et al. 2017] and asked if they would consider updating their Opinion with additional references. They have expressly stated that they do not wish to do so.
  • No shit, Sherlock — That is the problem here.
  • In parallel, as a test of the system I emailed the AGU Ethics Committee,  noting my concern about the “wholesale appropriation of ideas first presented in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 2003 by Roger Pielke Sr.” The AGU Ethics Committee helpfully explains to its members that “An ethical writer ALWAYS acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her work.”
  • ALWAYS (got that?)
  • The AGU Ethics Committee sent my note to Barbara Richman (I kid you not) to adjudicate and to respond. She of course summarily dismissed the concern, explaining: “Eos is not a research journal, and therefore, it is not necessary to document meticulously all sources.” So NOT ALWAYS? I have a hard time squaring this with the AGU Ethics guidelines, but whatevs.
  • In 1868 Dr. J. Marion Sims explained what is going on here:  “For it is ever so with any great truth. It must first be opposed, then ridiculed, after a while accepted, and then comes the time to prove that it is not new, and that the credit of it belongs to some one else.”
  • Pielke Sr.’s academic record speaks for itself. Unfortunately, in the vicious world of climate science, it has to. Climate science ain’t beanbag.

Until next time …

36 thoughts on “Pielke on Climate #6

  1. Great info here but shame about the drive-by commentary on the Puerto Rico response linking, of all things, a CNN article. As someone actually involved in hurricane recovery work (non-gum’ment), people need to know, and appreciate, that Puerto Rico is a rather unique situation and the gum’ment’s response, if anything, is excessive and wasteful. It is my observation that rather too much attention is being paid to the mitigation of predictably negative press even as no expense seems to be spared in providing aid in what was already akin to a third-world infrastructure.


    1. One thing I’ve noticed regarding these lengthy blog posts is the obligatory swipe at the president. We get it, Pielke, you don’t like Trump. Pointing to a CNN article (of all news sources, really?) and then espousing that he’s doing a horrific job shows you have a niggardly grasp of the facts regarding the PR disaster.

      The San Juan mayor complaining about no power, food, and water as she stands in front of pallets of food and water wearing a custom-made T-shirt claiming people are dying (none were and she had to backtrack). Where did she find a T-shirt maker in a town without power, fuel, water, food, lighting? Did the reporter bring it down with him?

      Then she’s wearing yet another T-shirt only days later that says “Nasty.” Again, how does this mayor have time to print these shirts up for TV interviews with sympathetic CNN reporters even as it’s reported she hasn’t attended a single FEMA emergency planning meeting. Or the missing food and water FEMA delivered across the country that was confiscated by local officials (thugs) and sold to desperate P.R. residents?

      Meanwhile, CNN won’t show or dismisses the PR governor singing the federal government’s praises (as well as many other PR mayors) and for the excellent job FEMA is doing. Now, why would CNN not focus on that talking point? Read Sharyl Atkinson’s Art of the Smear if you don’t yet get it. PR is a corrupt island run by corrupt utilities and corrupt officials with third-world infrastructures and $9 billion in existing debt liabilities.

      PR wants the federal government to rebuild its entire power and electrical grid, landlines, water and sewer systems, local roads and bridges, and anything else it can throw on its wish list. The MSM wanted this to be “Trump’s Katrina” and through artfully crafted smears, have succeeded. And that idiotic out-of-left-field bullet point proves that point. Other than that, interesting climate stuff.


  2. Glad to see you are still monitoring the situation. I have followed your work for over ten years, I started when Florida jacked up their home insurance rates after the 2005-2006 seasons when insurers dropped historical damage records in favor of climate models for future disaster costs.

    The media coverage of the recent hurricanes is equally frustrating and predictable. 12 years without a major hurricane landfall and the first one (two) that hit and we are back to the “new normal” mantra. I laughed out loud when I just read your statement “Regression to the mean is going to cause a freak out. Guaranteed.”.

    My favorite media statement of all was an Atlantic article on Sept 27th: “This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been an increase in storms over the last century, only that you can’t find it in the data.”.

    One interesting aspect of the recent hurricanes is how building code changes in Florida after Andrew in 1992 may have reduced damages with Irma. It is likely structural damage was significantly reduced with simple things such as how roof decks are nailed and an implementation of a stricter inspection process. If this can be shown to be true then these are examples of a big ROI on disaster robustness that anyone can support.


  3. I’m bothered by the survey question posed about the willingness to pay to combat climate change:

    Q36. Suppose a proposal was on the ballot next year to add a monthly fee to consumers’ monthly electricity bill to combat climate change. If this proposal passes, it would cost your household $[X] every month. Would you vote in favor of this monthly fee to combat change, or would you vote against this monthly fee?

    There’s no mention of what this fee would accomplish, or claim to accomplish. If it paid for a program which would extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, maintaing current concentrations — that might well be worth the higher prices (in my estimation). But if it were used solely for virtue-signaling, or to reduce only the US contribution to emissions, I’d likely vote against such a proposal even at a low rate. In fact, a $1/month charge is likely to do nothing except fund a new bureaucracy. Is there a better way to phrase a survey question, in order to elicit information about the perceived value of climate change efforts?


  4. It appears that you would prefer if climate science were less vicious (correct me if I’m wrong). Here we have a situation in which a group are suggesting something that was once suggested by Roger Pielke Sr – using OHC to assess global warming. This would seem – to me, at least – to be fundamentally a good thing; a chance to reach some kind of agreement. Instead, it appears that you would prefer to highlight that they didn’t give due credit and appear to be suggesting some kind of ethical violation. Did you consider possibly using this as an opportunity to build some bridges?


    1. You are new to this issue, so you may have missed the bridge-building years. Though you may recall that when you came to this issue a few years back I mailed you a copy of my book with an offer to engage a substantive discussion. You responded by saying you were too busy to read it and then the usual blog/twitter attacks etc. So yeah, building bridges, not a bad idea though.


      1. Roger,
        I’m not that new to the issue, and your description of what happened with regards to your book is – IMO – somewhat nuanced, which is maybe part of the point. We can all feel justified in our reluctance to engage, or justify our responses, on the basis of some past injustice. My question was more to do with whether you had some reason for selecting to complain about their supposed oversight and implying an ethics lapse, rather than using this as an opportunity to build some bridges. I don’t want to over-interpret your response, but I take it that any attempt to build bridges is unlikely.


  5. For my part, the day I had to go to the police because one of your climate colleagues threatened me and my family with violence is probably the point where bridge building with you guys was done. But keep up the good fight, there are surely still a few academics who haven’t fallen in line out there to harass and bully. I see you’ve decide to go after Kevin Folta now, outstanding … to achieve better equity, I can suggest Alice Dreger and Amy Cuddy also. Go get ‘em.


    1. For my part, the day I had to go to the police because one of your climate colleagues threatened me and my family with violence is probably the point where bridge building with you guys was done.

      1. Being threatened with violence is utterly objectionable. It shouldn’t happen, and I condemn it in the strongest possible way.

      2. Implying that it had anything to do with me is also objectionable.

      I think we are now done. I had the impression that maybe you really were interested in improving the dialogue. You clearly are not. I think you are horribly confused about which one of us is keeping up the good fight.

      FWIW, the post about Kevin Folta (which I didn’t write) was about openly acknowledging one’s role, something I had thought you too promoted (I will admit, however, that I was somewhat concerned – rightly it may seem – in having a post that covered issues related to GMOs). My interest, however, in discussing this any further is now non-existent. I wish I was surprised about how this has turned out. Sadly, I am not.


  6. I have great dialogue with many climate scientists all the time, many in person and many online. They just don’t happen to be in your little clique of merry vigilantes. I am perfectly happy to leave you guys to your campaigns of personal and professional destruction. Good luck with it. But no, I’m not interested in playing along with today’s “good cop.” Find another target for your online fun.


    1. Find another target for your online fun.

      FWIW, this wasn’t much fun. It’s not every day that someone stoops low enough to suggest that I was associated with something as awful as threatening someone and their family with violence. You’ve outdone yourself which – as you can probably work out – is not intended as a compliment. Anyway, I will leave it at that and chalk this up as a lesson learned.


  7. No, I absolutely didn’t suggest that you were involved with threatening me. Not even close.

    Nice try. Anyone can read this thread and see that you’ve completely made that up. Standard MO though. Next step will be for you to write a blog post promoting this lie and it gets added to the canon. I know how you guys work. It’s predictable and tiresome. But I’m now used to it. Drop us a link when your post is up, will you?


    1. Next step will be for you to write a blog post promoting this lie and it gets added to the canon.

      No, I don’t plan to do that. This exchange has been unpleasant enough without taking it any further.

      FWIW, if you didn’t want to associate me with something that appalling, maybe you shouldn’t have claimed it was one of my climate colleagues and ended the sentence with you guys. I have never done, been associated with, or suggested that anyone else do any such thing. In fact, I have no idea who did it, and – unless my memory serves me wrong – I was unaware of it having happened until you mentioned it a few comments ago. I think threatening other people and their families is a terrible thing to do and I am sorry you had to go through that. That doesn’t, however, excuse you suggesting that I’m somehow associated with people who would do such a thing. Anyway, I’ll aim to leave it at that. It’s not as if I expect much better these days, despite having thought that maybe there was some possibility of it being so.


  8. –> “maybe you shouldn’t have claimed it was one of my climate colleagues”

    Sorry, but it was indeed one of your climate colleagues that led me to go to the police.
    That is just a fact.

    You are also associated with people who have tried to have me fired from multiple jobs, people who lie about me in public and to journalists, people who have contacted my graduate students, people who have (successfully) sought to have me disinvited from professional talks, and some other unprofessional things. If you are unaware of such behaviors among your colleagues, then I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news to you. You are associated with these folks too, even if you never engaged in these actions yourself — maybe you just cheerlead online from a position of ignorance. Yay.

    Be careful about demanding that I behave in certain ways when you clearly have absolutely no idea what has transpired on this issue.


    1. Be careful about demanding that I behave in certain ways when you clearly have absolutely no idea what has transpired on this issue.

      I’m not demanding anything. My initial comment was simply a question, not a demand.

      Also, I do indeed have no idea what transpired. That’s the point. It has nothing to do with me. Nothing whatsoever. I object strongly to you associating me with it in any way. However, it seems clear that you’re quite happy to apply guilt by association and very unlikely to withdraw your association, so I will endeavour to not comment again. I should probably have known better, but I do sometimes live in hope. Thanks for bringing me back down to Earth, I guess.


  9. Well, if you don’t want to be associated with people who act like those with whom you are associated, then maybe ask them to change their behavior to somewhat higher standards, or find some other associates. Of course, I’m sure that there are some “very fine people” in your merry band of climate vigilantes, even if some are unaware of the dirty work of others.

    One just has to have a look at your blog, with its ridiculous post on Kevin Folta to see the “game” you are playing with people’s lives and careers — It’s character assassination while providing a forum for even more vitriol heaped on someone who has already had quite a bit. No, it’s absolutely not a threat of violence, but given that Folta has already had to go to the FBI due to threats against him and his family, I do wonder how in the world you could be thinking that it is a good idea to raise further online intensity over this guy. Maybe its fun, maybe it gets clicks, maybe the vigilantes cheer. Who knows?


  10. Roger,
    Okay, since the Kevin Folta post seems to have got you up in arms, I’ll post one more comment. What in that post is vitriolic (or in some way inappropriate)? I would appreciate you pointing it out, because clearly you’re seeing something that I’m not.


  11. I don’t have to because Steven Mosher already did:

    this for example is not an argument.
    call someone screwy.
    condescendingly call them dear.
    then given them orders about how they should act.

    It’s pure internet incitement, red meat for the vigilantes, with no other purpose other than to get people worked up in opposition to somebody else. I know about this, as your blog search says you’ve written 52 posts that mention me or my father. We are super cool and interesting, no doubt, but seriously? You are getting into Joe Romm territory here. Go make someone else’s life difficult. Scratch that. Just stop trying to make other people’s lives difficult as entertainment (or whatever you think you are accomplishing), which is exactly what you are doing with Folta.

    Of course, it’s your blog, do what you want.


  12. Roger,
    So, essentially nothing then? You’ve even highlighted a comment that was criticial of the post. In fact, quite a few comments were critical, so it’s hard to see how it got people worked up in opposition to someone else. Just for clarity, I don’t have any problems with Kevin Folta or any desire to get people worked up against him.

    I won’t bother asking you to try again, because the outcome will almost certainly not be any different.


  13. Dr. Peilke,

    I think there are some people who underestimate the importance of keeping a good record of the intellectual history of an idea. This was drummed into me as a grad student. Our craft is ideas and maintaining a proper accounting is important. I read your father’s papers,mostly for the citations because he is rather fastidious and complete. I understand the slight he must feel. I can’t understand the oversight, and the refusal to cite after it was pointed out is just petty or lazy,or worse. I’ve been treated differently so YMMV.

    The other day I was musing about a new system for science papers. We all know the standard sections.. data, methods, conclusions. I would propose a formal CLAIMS section. Where, as in a patent, Definitive claims are laid out and numbered. Issues of “prior art” could even be addressed mechanically. Meh, prolly never happen.

    As for bridge building. When people are talking about bridge building that means they are not interested in bridge building. Builders just shut up and build.


      1. I’m not finding where Cheng or Abraham claim originality of the idea, “we suggest that scientists and modelers who seek global warming signals should track how much heat the ocean is storing at any given time, termed global ocean heat content (OHC)”.

        Neither do I find where your father claimed it as an original idea in his BAMS 2003 article. Indeed, in that note he cites Ellis, J. S., T. H. Vonder Haar, S. Levitus, and A. H. Oort, 1978: The annual variation in the global heat balance of the earth. J. Geophys. Res., 83, 1958–1962. which states in the final sentence of the abstract:

        The net energy gain and loss by the planet within a year is stored and released within the system primarily by the oceans.

        Vonder Haar and Oort make a stronger case two years prior in their 1976 paper:

        From the evidence presented above it seems obvious that the oceans play a crucial role in determining the climate on earth. One of the major tasks for the near future will be to obtain representative measurements of the oceanic transports in situ through large-scale international observational programs. It is hoped that the present paper will help focus such efforts. In addition, numerical models of the ocean circulations will hopefully improve to the point that realistic transport values will be computed, and that thereby the role of different scales of motion will be shown.

        My read is that even in the 1970s the idea that oceans played a role in climate variability due to its overwhelming capacity for heat storage relative to the rest of the system was not novel, but that what was new were emerging capabilities to detect and quantify it albeit with noted limitations.


      2. Brandon, Thanks. The argument in Pielke 2003 was not that the oceans store heat, of course that was well known, but rather, it seems to be the first to point out that ocean heat content itself could be used to diagnose TOA radiative imbalance on multi-year time scales.


  14. I could not help but notice that Riahi et al. (2017) failed to cite your earlier 2008 paper. Is that another example of failing-to-acknowledge-an-earlier-pielke-paper?


  15. Wheels are constantly being reinvented without citing previous work. For example the back-propagation algorithm for training neural networks.


    For a bit of perspective, according to Google Scholar, Dreyfus’ paper is cited 57 times, Werbos’ 1982 book is cited 133 times (his dissertation about 5K though), Rummelhart, Hinton and Williams Nature paper 35321 times and the “PDP book” that also contains the algorithm another 18930 times. There have been plenty of papers written by very competent and honest scientists that have cited e.g. RHW but not Werbos or Drefus. AFAICS the PDP book doesn’t cite Werbos and Werbos doesn’t cite Dreyfus (note this isn’t a criticism of any of them, they are all excellent scientists). How far back do you need to go in every paper?

    On the rare occasions it happens to me, I am not unduly bothered about it, as I know I have done the same to others in the past (for a start, I have cited Werbos, but not in every paper I’ve published that involved back-prop).


      1. I didn’t say it was O.K., I was just pointing out that this happens to more or less every academic to some extent, and getting this wound up about it is probably not doing you any good.

        I can see I am clearly not welcome here, so I will leave it there.


  16. My 2 cents: Dr Pielke Sr is one of the few people that I trust in this debate as an honest broker. I wouldn’t have read all of your books if he hadn’t first recommended “The Climate Fix” on another site. The only reason I have to question him is that he gave me A’s in grad school, but I suppose that everybody is allowed a few mistakes like that. 😉

    Quick question: It’s good to know how much people are willing to spend on climate change, but is there a good analysis or two on what we are already spending?


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