Welcome to issue #8 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues, and the first installment of 2018. 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.
- Thanks to those of you who have contributed! These funds have helped me defray the costs of several trips where I have had the chance to develop and present new talks related to climate.
- 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’d like to engage or critique, consider a comment, Tweet @ me (@rogerpielkejr) or send an email. I am happy to discuss or debate. I’ve had great feedback on these newsletters.
- Also, if you have a pointer or tip, please send that along as well. Anonymity guaranteed for those who want it.
- Social media warning: if you choose to call me names or lie about me (looking at you Michael E. Mann), oh-so-common in discussing climate, then you will be muted or ignored.
With that, some of what I found interesting since last time, with a focus on expanding a bit on a recent article and talk . . .
2017 Disasters in Review
- I have a new essay up at Risk Frontiers (Sydney) titled, Weather-related natural disasters 2017: Was this a reversion to the mean?
- The new essay bookends one from last summer titled, Weather-related Natural disasters: Should we be concerned about a reversion to the mean?
- In my latest I look at the disasters of 2017 and put them into economic and climatological context.
- The graph at the top of the post is new. It shows global weather disasters as a percent of global GDP, using two measures of weather disaster losses (Aon Benfield and Munich Re) and an dataset on GDP from the World Bank. I’ve updated this graph for many years and will continue to do so.
- The graph shows that 2017 was a big disaster year, mainly due to the 3 major hurricanes in the Atlantic. There was only one other major hurricane that made landfall worldwide in 2017 (details).
- The graph also shows that since 1990 the overall trend in disasters as a proportion of GDP is down. That means that the world is getting wealthier faster than disaster losses are increasing. This is good news, and so far at least, contrary to various projections, such as that famously made by the Stern Review more than a decade ago (as I explained back in the day).
- One reason for the depressed weather-related losses over more than a decade, even with 2017, has been the paucity of landfalling US hurricanes. The intense hurricanes of 2017 broke a remarkable streak.
- Below is a graph updated from Weinkle at al. 2012 (courtesy @RyanMaue)showing total global landfalls of tropical cyclones at hurricane and major hurricane strength.
- There is no overall trend, and you can see that in 7 of the past 9 years the world has been at or below the long-term average for major hurricanes. If you look at our paper and the accompanying data, you’ll see that we have data for some global basins back well before 1970.
- Buckle up, we are not quite regressed to the mean.
- I am co-author on a just accepted paper (in BAMS) led by @PhilKlotzbach landfalling US hurricanes. More to come on that in a future newsletter (see the abstract here on Twitter), but for now, have a look at these graphs from the paper on US hurricane and intense hurricane landfalls since 1900.
Tokyo Talk on Integrated Assessment Models
- Last week I gave a talk in Tokyo at the 2018 ALPS International Symposium — Towards long-term, deep emissions reductions hosted by METI and RITE (and special thanks to Keigo Akimoto).
- You can see my full talk here in PDF and also on Twitter.
- It was really fun for me to be able to spend some time with Prof. Yoichi Kaya (shown speaking at the Symposium above) of “Kaya Identity” fame and the inspiration for much of the technical analysis in The Climate Fix.
- The talk is long and somewhat technical and references many peer reviewed papers, so I’ll only discuss a two extensions to the talk here.
- The talk focuses on a number of “fudge factors” in IAMs, specifically assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization, misuse of RCP 8.5 in climate impact studies and the dependence on BECCS in scenarios. Three other assumptions I could have included are temperature overshoot assumptions, estimates of climate sensitivity and misleading definitions of what constitutes “energy access.”
- First extension: We identified the importance of assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization in IPCC scenarios more than a decade ago (Pielke, Wigley and Green 2008).
- Even though a solid piece of research, our 2008 paper and me specifically were the subject of a furious and sustained attack by the Center for American Progress, such as Joe Romm’s “Why did Nature run Pielke’s pointless, misleading, nonsense?” (the first of dozens of such pieces).
- With hindsight it seems clear that our paper in 2008 was the trigger for a long effort to drive me out of the climate debate (funded by Tom Steyer with lots of behind-the-scenes help from activist climate scientists)
- Anyway, taking a look back at our research, and updating it in my Tokyo talk, I observe that heroic assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization not only survived our critique, but have since thrived. They showed up in the following set of IPCC scenarios (the RCPs) and now in the most recent set of scenarios (SSPs).
- Such assumptions are like a narcotic in the climate debate. They give the impression that the climate policies at the center of international climate diplomacy might actually work, even as evidence of their failure should seem obvious.
- Second extension: In the talk I reference a paper by MIT’s Kerry Emanuel as an example of the misuse of RCP 8.5. I cannot overstate how egregiously bad this is.
- Emanuel’s paper is so bad not simply because it uses RCP 8.5. Rather it is so bad because its estimate of the impacts of climate change on Hurricane Harvey in 2017 are entirely a function of projected impacts in 2100., which he then divided by 6. Had Emanuel used any of the other scenarios out to 2100, then estimated 2017 impacts would have been much less. That’s right, the arbitrary choice of a 2100 emissions scenario determines the impacts of climate change from 1980 to 2017.
- As explained in detail in my 2 books on climate (which in turn draw upon the IPCC and many, many peer reviewed papers), there is excellent and robust science on human influences on climate. Make no mistake, this science is robust and performed with integrity.
- However, the continued misuse of RCP 8.5 to generate scientifically unsupportable estimates of climate impacts places climate advocates in a position of promoting dodgy science to support political advocacy originally grounded in solid science.
- Seriously, Why do this? Scientifically empty studies based on RCP 8.5 legitimately give climate science a bad name.
- In my talk I pick on Emanuel, but he has lots of company. Below is a figure from a Bloomberg story just yesterday on a new paper by Justin Ritchie and Hadi Dowlatabadi that critiques RCP 8.5, showing, much as I do in my talk, the love of RCP 8.5 in the climate impacts literature. It’s endemic.
Bottom Line: The Emperor’s Clothes
- The three assumptions that I highlight in my talk support three political stances reinforcing the status quo:
- First, the costs of status quo climate policies are low
- Second, the costs of inaction are already extremely high
- Third, climate diplomacy is on track because a future, unproven, massive technology will save us
- Without these assumptions, each of these political stances is questionable — or at least, should be opened to questioning.
- While important assumptions go unchallenged and challenging questions go unasked, the IPCC is about to release a report on 1.5 degrees (fantasy land).
- I’ll close this installment with two slides from my talk on the actual magnitude of the challenge posed by stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at any low level.
- The emperor’s clothes, though, they are lovely.