Pielke on Climate #9

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There was collusion. The image above of course comes from my infamous article that led the Center for American Progress to orchestrate a well-organized campaign to have me fired as a writer for FiveThirtyEight. Bizarrely, that campaign against me came to light via John Podesta’s hacked emails, released by Wikileaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Below, I’ll share some new research on floods and tropical cyclones which further buttress the findings of that 2014 article that caused so much of a stir. It’s still as scientifically accurate today as it was then. Facts first.

Welcome to issue #9 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. 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 already 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, 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, Justin Gillis), oh-so-common in discussing climate, then you will be muted or ignored.

With that . . .

Upcoming Talk at the University of Minnesota

  • On April 18th at 7pm I’m giving a talk at the University of Minnesota
  • The title is “Extreme Weather and Extreme Politics” and here is a short abstract:
    • In 2017, three major hurricanes struck the United States, causing as much as $200 billion in damage and considerable loss of life. Whenever extreme weather events occur, assertions are made about possible connections to human-caused climate change. We need not rely on assertions as there is a robust body of research and evidence available. I’ve studied extreme weather the damage that it causes for the past 25 years. I’ve also had a front row seat to the so-called “climate wars” — the highly politicized, often nasty and always passionate debate over human-caused climate change. This talk will present consensus science and data on the role of human-caused climate change in trends in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, in the United States and around the world. I’ll also describe the significant challenges I faced in simply trying to present this science to policy makers and the public. The bottom line? Scientific integrity matters, regardless of your politics. All sides in the climate debate should do better. I’ll suggest how.
  • I’ll post up more details as they are available, and slides and video after.
  • Follow me on Twitter for updates

Are We Finally Moving Past the Delegitimization of Climate Realism?

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  • Last month I posted up some slides illustrating the actual scale of the challenge of decarbonizing the global economy to a level consistent with low concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 450 ppm or lower. See above also.
  • The 450 ppm level is consistent with the oft-discussed, little understood 2 degree Celsius temperature target.
  • I’m not alone in pointing out the “Emperor’s new clothes” tenor to much of climate discussions.
  • For instance, last week Technology Review wrote an article about a 2003 paper by Ken Caldeira, Atul Jain and Marty Hoffert which explained that the world would need more than 1 megawatt of carbon-free energy (measured as consumption, not capacity) installed every day for many decades to achieve low stabilization targets.
  • The Technology Review article explained that we are not on that pace. Shocking I know. In fact, the challenge has actually become more daunting over the past 15 years (see my figure above), due to the dramatic expansion of fossil fuel energy over that time.
  • So why is it that a 2003 paper is newsworthy in 2018? Why doesn’t every one know the real magnitude of the challenge?
  • One important reason is that the work of Mary Hoffert (in particular) became the focus of a highly political campaign of delegitimization during the decade of the 2000s. Leading this campaign at that time, surprising I’m sure, was the Center for American Progress and Joe Romm — the very same organization that worked so hard to squelch my research on disasters.
  • The campaign to distort understandings of the actual magnitude of the decarbonization challenge focused on the so-called “stabilization wedges” of Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, published in 2004 in response to Caldeira et al. 2003.
  • The goal of the misinformation campaign was to make decarbonization look easier and cheaper than it actually was, presumably to dupe the public and policy makers into taking quick action.
  • In 2008, Pacala explained openly the political motivation behind their “wedges” analysis: “The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it.”
  • At the time, the administration of George W. Bush was calling for more research into energy technologies as a centerpiece of their approach to climate. While no one would mistake the Bush administration for climate activists, their focus on energy R&D was not wrong.
  • Pacala and Socolow, and their fellow travelers, did not like this policy approach: “I saw it as an unhealthy collusion between the scientific community who believed that there was a serious problem and a political movement that didn’t. I wanted that to stop and the paper for me was surprisingly effective at doing that. I’m really happy with how it came out.” (This episode is documented in greater depth in The Climate Fix.)
  • The “stabilization wedges” were used as the putative basis for the labeling of anyone who called for investments in energy technology as a climate denier or Bush supporter. There was one true truth and no deviation was allowed.  I know because I was a focus of the delegitimization campaign.
  • Misinformation campaigns are not sustainable.
  • Today, (mostly) everyone agrees that we need significant advances in energy technology to begin making progress towards decarbonization goals. This point is so much agreed that people find it hard to believe that climate activists ever thought anything differently, much less enforced a now-discredited view on energy technology.
  • So fifteen years after Caldeira et al. published their 2003 paper on the magnitude of the decarbonization challenge (and Marty Hoffert’s and colleagues published research before that), it is finally OK to discuss the fact that we simply don’t have all the technology we would need to achieve low stabilization targets without the climate capos looking to end your career. It seems pretty dramatic as I write that. Well, it was.
  • Bottom line: whatever successes climate deniers may have had in limiting action on carbon-free energy technology development and deployment, they received a huge assist from climate activists who pursued a false narrative for more than a decade which emphasized that climate was simply a political, not a technological problem.
  • The good news: The emperor’s new clothes are being seen for what they are.emperor

Everywhere you Look, There It Is: Zombie Climate Scenario RCP 8.5

  • Last month, I explained the misuse of RCP 8.5 (a fantastical emissions scenario dismissed in the scenarios that underlie the IPCC) to generate implausible scenarios of our climate future;
  • Yes, like a zombie, RCP 8.5 continues to be characterized as “business as usual” and used as a baseline for climate projections;
  • RCP 8.5 is appealing because its use in climate models generates big changes to the climate in the distant future, which helps fill a demand for climate porn;
  • You can’t always see the presence of the scenario, because it gets buried in the details as reporting on climate goes from peer-reviewed research to press release to news story to aggregation to Tweet to your eyes and brain;
  • For instance, last week the New York Times had an article about how sea levels will soon swallow Easter Island. Sad, Scary. And also, manipulative, based on Zombie Climate Scenario RCP 8.5.
  • Follow the links, and you will discover that the NYT article is ultimately based on a scenario of sea level rise by 2100 that is two times higher than the highest scenario of the IPCC.
  • How do you get such an outlier scenario?  RCP 8.5 of course.
  • Sea level rise is real, is influenced by greenhouse gases and is inexorable. We will have to adapt to it and it can be influenced (but not stopped) if carbon dioxide levels are stabilized at low levels. All of this is true. These truths however do not justify zombie science.
  • In another example, writing at the Manhattan Institute @oren_cass explains that scenarios used to generate future climate impacts used as a primary basis for the calculation of “social costs of carbon” not only ignore the potential for human adaptation (I thought we were past this?), but they rely on … RCP 8.5 of course.
  • A new study in Climatic Change concluded that identifying the signal of human-caused climate change in tropical cyclone damage to 2100 would not be possible, due to the large amplitude of variability in storms. The lack of signal occurs even under scenarios of RCP 8.5. This story did not get any media mention that I’m aware of; its not climate porn.
  • Bottom line: Scientific, media or policy reports that reply on RCP 8.5 are selling you something, and it isn’t the truth.

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

  • Research keeps accumulating that shows that so far at least, the rising costs of weather disasters are not a result of weather extremes that have become more common or intense due to climate changes resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases (or really, anything else either).
  • Yet, a committed and influential group of climate scientists and journalists persist with a narrative that disasters are being driven by climate change.
  • There have been some important new papers published on the empirical record of weather extremes, which reinforce the conclusions of IPCC AR5 and SREX (and the US National Climate Assessment).
  • Here are a few that crossed my desk with key quotes:
    • Archfield et al. 2016: “Anticipated changes in flood frequency and magnitude due to enhanced greenhouse forcing are not generally evident at this time over large portions of the United States for several different measures of flood flows.”
    • Magini et al. 2018: “the picture of flood change in Europe is strongly heterogeneous and no general statements about uniform trends across the entire continent can be made”
    • Hodgkins et al. 2017: “the number of significant trends in major-flood occurrence across North America and Europe was approximately the number expected due to chance alone . . . For North America and Europe, the results provide a firmer foundation for the IPCC finding that compelling evidence for increased flooding at a global scale is lacking”
  • After last year’s US hurricanes there were frequent claims that flooding from hurricanes has become worse due to climate change. Fortunately, we can look at the empirical record of flooding from US hurricanes to evaluate such claims. Turns out, they are false.
    • Aryal et al. 2018: “No statistically significant trends in the magnitude or frequency of [tropical cyclone] floods … We do not detect statistically significant trends in the magnitude or frequency of TC floods.”
    • This is consistent with the overall record of US hurricanes. Klotzbach et al. 2018: “since 1900 neither observed [continental US] landfalling hurricane frequency nor intensity show significant trends, including the devastating 2017 season.”
  • Dare I to state the bottom line here, which stands as strong as ever?
  • Bottom line: Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change
  • I am happy to debate anyone, anytime, anyplace on this subject. Funny thing, no one does, they just call names. Go figure.

Final note for those who read to the bottom: The 2nd edition of The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (ASU/CSPO) is now in press. Stay tuned …

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5 thoughts on “Pielke on Climate #9

  1. Hi Roger –

    Some questions.

    1) Do you think that in balance, wthout significant resources devoted to adaptation and/or significant steps taken towards mitigation, the scientific evidence suggests that continuing/increasing anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are likely to play a causal role in increasing damages (e.g. costs, lives lost, dislocated populations, etc.) due to increases in imfrequency/intensity of extreme weather events?

    2) A related question. Could you speak to the limitations of using damages as a % of GDP as a metric for evaluating the risks of extreme weather in association with ACO2 emissions?

    3) A related question. Do you think there is a downside potential of relying too heavily on damages as a % of GDP as a window for evaluating the risks of increases in frequency/intensity of severeweather events in association with continuing/increasing ACO2 emissions?

    Like

    1. Joshua,

      Some replies:

      1. Yes, see IPCC. Also see our papers on this related to TCs.
      2. Don’t use disasters/GDP as a metric of extreme weather. The metric is important (It is included as a target indicator under the UN SDGs) but it is not a proxy for climate or weather data. If you want to understand risks of extreme weather, look at weather and climate data.
      3. Again, don’t use economic data to evaluate weather frequency/intensity, use weather and climate data directly.

      For more depth see my book on this, which goes into gory detail on all this. Thx

      Like

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