Pielke on Climate #10

quote-the-white-house-is-a-bully-pulpit-theodore-roosevelt-67-54-41Welcome to issue #10 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 continue to help me defray the costs of several trips where I have had the chance to develop and present new talks. I am unfunded on this topic.
  • Contributions are much appreciated.
  • 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, oh-so-common in discussing climate, then you will be muted or ignored.

With that . . .

Talk on “Extreme Weather and Extreme Politics”

  • Earlier this month I gave a talk at the University of Minnesota.
  • It was my first public talk on climate since being “investigated” by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) in 2015.
  • It is also the first and only invitation I’ve received to give a public talk on climate at a US university since 2015.
  • Before that I received about 2-3 invitations per month.
  • Delegitimization works.
  • You can see my slides from Minnesota at
  • Much of what I presented (and more) will appear in the 2nd edition of Disasters and Climate Change.
  • Below I document a key episode in my own experience that I have never looked back on in detail.
  • The timeline is of use to me, shared here for anyone else who might be interested.

A Look Back at the Holdren-Pielke Debate of 2014

  • One of the more bizarre experiences I’ve had in the climate debate was when President Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, posted a weird, 6-page screed about me on the White House web site.
  • Here is a reconstruction of and look back at those events, and an evaluation how they look from vantage point of 2018.
  • This look back is mainly just for me, as when you are in the spin cycle it can be hard to see what has happened at the time.
  • The Holdren episode ultimately led to me being investigated by a member of Congress with a major impact on my life and career.
  • I’ve not taken a close look back at this episode, it’s time for me to document exactly what transpired. If you are not interested, this would be a good place to take the exit ramp.
  • In July 2013, I testified before the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on extreme events.
  • You can see my 5 minute statement below and read my full written testimony here in PDF. That testimony was widely discussed.
  • I followed that testimony up with similar testimony before the US House a few months later, in October 2013.
  • I wrote a blog post explaining that the science on these issues was solid. Even so I argued that “zombie science” (to the contrary) would always be with us.
  • On February 14, 2014, Holdren was quoted as saying: “We really understand a number of the reasons that global climate change is increasing the intensity and the frequency and the life of drought in drought-prone regions. This is one of the better-understood dimensions of the relationship between global climate change and extreme weather in particular regions. . . There are other, more subtle, ways climate change may be affecting the prevalence of drought; scientists are still arguing about those. The three I just described are more than enough to understand why we are seeing droughts in drought-prone regions becoming more frequent, more severe and longer.”
  • Two weeks later Dr. Holdren was asked about these statements by Senator Jeff Sessions before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the same committee that I had testified before the previous July.
  • The full exchange between Sessions and Holdren can be found here, but below are the key excerpts.
  • After some sparring on what Dr. Holdren said or didn’t say a few week previous, Senator Sessions said:
    • “Well, let me tell you what Dr. Pilkey (sic) said, who sat in that chair you are sitting in today just a few  months ago, he is a climate impact expert, and he agrees that  warming is partly caused by human emissions. But he testified “It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that  disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or  droughts have increased on climate change time scales either in  the United States or globally.”
  • Holdren replied with a delegitmization effort, saying that I was
    • “not  representative of the mainstream scientific opinion on this  point. And again, I will be happy to submit for the record  recent articles from Nature, Nature GeoScience, Nature Climate  Change, Science and others showing that in drought-prone regions droughts are becoming more intense.”
  • Of course, Holdren was incorrect.
  • My views are 100% consistent with those of the IPCC, the very definition of “mainstream scientific opinion.”
  • Holdren promised to submit scientific evidence for the hearing record in support of his views, Sessions said he looked forward to it.
  • Three days later Holdren’s missive about me was posted on the White House website, titled Drought and Global Climate Change: An Analysis of Statements by Roger Pielke Jr ” (here in PDF).
  • Holdren singled out just 2 statements that I had made in my testimony:
    • “It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.”
    • Drought has “for the most part, become shorter, less, frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century”. Globally, “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.”
  • The quotes in blue above are from the US National Climate Assessment (former) and a Nature paper (latter) on global drought trends.
  • Holdren explained his objections:
    • “I replied that the indicated comments by Dr. Pielke … were not representative of mainstream views on this topic in the climate-science community; and I promised to provide for the record a more complete response with relevant scientific references. “
  • The slide below shows the entirety of my discussion of drought in my 2013 Senate testimony, which consisted only of quotes from the IPCC, the US CCSP and an image from the CCSP report.PielkeUMN04182018
  • Holdren did not mention hurricanes, floods or tornadoes in his 6 pages of response.
  • Holdren’s response blew up the internet (or at least the tiny part of it involving issues related to climate).
  • When the White House posts 6 pages about you, it gets noticed.
  • For my part, in response wrote a blog response which you can read here.
  • In that post I noted:
    • “It is fine for experts to openly disagree. But when a political appointee uses his position not just to disagree on science or policy but to seek to delegitimize a colleague, he has gone too far.”
  • This was, as far as I am aware, the first time that a Science Advisor to the US President used his platform to seek to delegitimize an academic with whom he disagreed.
  • I am aware of no such comparable use of the authority and reach of the White House against a researcher.
  • The fact that I was singled out by the president’s science advisor was not reported on or commented on by the mainstream scientific media. Leading scientific organizations said nothing.
  • I found this pretty amazing, but c’est la vie.
  • If John Marburger, say, had gone after James Hansen, it’d have been a story.
  • I responded more forcefully in an article in The New Republic a few days later.
  • None of this mattered, I quickly learned that a lone academic is no match for the bully pulpit that is the White House and the powerful echo chamber of the online climate debate.
  • A few weeks later the campaign to have me removed as a writer for 538 was underway and 11 months later the investigation motivated by Rep. Raul Grijlava (D-AZ), which he indicated was the result of Holdren’s missive, was launched.
  • One of my close colleagues said to me at the time: “I’d love to come to your defense, but I don’t want them coming after me.”
  • Fair enough.
  • Let’s quickly take a look at the state of the science in 2018 on drought.
  • The 2017 US National Climate Assessment, prepared under the direction of John Holdren in the last months of the Obama Administration and released after Donald Trump became president concluded the following about drought:
    • “drought statistics over the entire CONUS have declined … no detectable change in meteorological drought at the global scale”
    • “Western North America was noted as a region where determining if observed recent droughts were unusual compared to natural variability was particularly difficult.”
  • Right.
  • It was an interesting experience.
  • I’m still here.

12 thoughts on “Pielke on Climate #10

  1. Roger –

    You say:

    This was, as far as I am aware, the first time that a Science Advisor to the US President used his platform to seek to delegitimize an academic with whom he disagreed.

    From your description above, it looks like Sessions was the one brought your name, and your scientific views, forth. Do you think that fact (if true) is relevant to your characterization of what Holden did?

    Also, did Holden seek to delegitimize an academic, or did he express a view (which could be wrong) characterizing an academic’s expressed views in science. Those don’t seem to me as one and the same, although, of course, they aren’t mutually exclusive. But it might be important to not describe the latter as the former. What steps do you take to avoid such a conflation?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joshua,

      You guys crack me up. Yes, a Republican cited my testimony. And that is a good thing, because my testimony was not just straight out of the IPCC, but my decades of work have helped in some small way to buttress that IPCC consensus. More Rs should cite the IPCC. I’ve consistently testified to this point, most recently last year.

      Holdren is not dumb. By characterizing me “out of the scientific mainstream” he was lying. It is that simple. It is of course fine to hold outlier views, which Holdren’s were and still are, science is better for it. But it is not OK to lie about the views of others, especially using the megaphone of the White House.

      I included a section in my testimony titled “To Avoid Any Confusion”

      Click to access 2013.20.pdf

      Read it, confusing?
      Yet, even though he said he read my testimony, Dr. Holden was apparently still confused.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You guys crack me up.

    Wtf does that mean?

    Not sure why you’re personalizing the discussion.

    Anyway, I found the logic of your post to be dubious. So I questioned it. Should logic be above questioning?

    I assume from your “you guysing” me and labeling me in with “you guys, ” that you think that you know something about my views on climate change or how it should be addressed?

    If so, I suspect that you’re wrong about that.

    Scientists should test their conclusions. If you’re drawing one, please lay it out What is it that makes me one of “you guys” other than I think that (in this case your) dubious logic should be challenged?


    Liked by 1 person

  3. . Yes, a Republican cited my testimony. And that is a good thing,

    I wasn’t suggesting this Sessions citing your testimony as good or bad. My point was that Holden addressed your testimony because Sessions brought up the topic of your testimony. As such, your characterization of Holden, in responding on the topic of your testimony, might not be “seeking to deligitimize an academic” as you describe, but seeking to characterize your scientific views.

    That does NOT imply that he was correct in HOW, he characterized your scientific opinions, or that it is OK if he did so incorrectly.

    I think it is important to be careful and precise about when, and how, the science gets personalized. In my observations, sometimes there is a problem with people being targeted in a personalized fashion, and sometimes there is a problem when people self-victimize, and sometimes there is a problem stemming from an unfortunate mixing of the two.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course Holdren referred to me because Session cites my testimony to him. To be charitable, I would guess that JH wasn’t aware that my testimony was straight out of the IPCC. Regardless, when he characterized me as being not representative of mainstream opinion, he was 100% wrong. Rather than admit that later, when asked to back up his clims, he doubled down with his ridiculous memo. That memo led to a farcical congressional investigation of me. These are just facts.


  4. Roger,

    Your post sent me off to find a comment by Dr. Holdren, from back in my undergraduate days (70’s), where he stated his concern with how our society seemed to be focused more on marketing and planned obsolesce than on what we currently call sustainable practices. I haven’t found the specific reference, but it stuck with me all these years on the importance of having feedback loops in place to see how claims were doing over time.

    From my perspective it appears that Dr. Holdren, Dr. Romm, etc. didn’t want the feedback you were providing on how serious the C part of “C”AGW was tracking as it was inconvenient to the marketing plan.

    I did find a 2016 reference/post by John Tierney- http://www.city-journal.org/html/real-war-science-14782.html – that had a reference(s) on Dr. Holdren that you have likely already discussed in one of your Policy classes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All I can say is, “Wow!”🤓😂. As a far left ultra liberal, the groupthink, tribal unintellectual dogmatizing that I find to be standard among my fellow travellers is profoundly distressing. But when you are out to save the world, ends justify the means, right? It comes down to the fact that most people aren’t that interested in science, and that includes scientists when their cherished beliefs are challenged!

    Liked by 1 person

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