Pielke on Climate #12

IMG_0120Welcome to issue #12 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. As a reminder, my day-to-day research and teaching is primarily 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.

Now that I’m no longer being investigated by Congress, the subject of a billionaire’s delegitimization campaign or receiving threats I’ve decided to start again writing a bit more on climate issues. So caveat lector!

A few things to say up front:

  • If you appreciate the perspective, consider the tip jar to your right.
  • 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 otherwise unfunded on this topic.
  • As such, contributions are much appreciated and will be put to professional use.
  • If you don’t like what I write or don’t like me, then don’t read what I write – no big deal, I’m just a professor with a blog.
  • On the other hand, 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 so far.
  • Social media warning: I’m happy to engage with anyone, but if you choose to tone troll me, call me names or lie about my views or writings (oh-so-common in discussing climate), then you will be muted or ignored. I am blocked on social media by some academics and journalists in the climate area (e.g., Mann, Hayhoe, Brulle, Mooney, Gillis …) and if the views I present are just too disturbing, there is always that option. It’s OK, such action by professionals says more about the blocker than about my views.
  • Also, if you have a pointer or tip on climate science or policy, please send that along as well. Anonymity guaranteed for those who want it.
  • Lastly, thank you for reading!

With that . . .

Opening Up the Climate Policy Envelope

I have a new paper out today in Issues in Science and Technology. The paper is freely available here in PDF.  Here is the citation:

  • R. Pielke Jr., “Opening Up the Climate Policy Envelope,” Issues in Science and Technology 34, no. 4 (pp. 30-36, Summer 2018).

Please do visit Issues online here for lots of excellent writing on topics in science and technology policy. You can also follow them on Twitter @ISSUESinST.

The paper is my first major climate policy paper since The Climate Fix. In it I seek to unravel (at least a part of) what has been a long-time policy puzzle: Why is it that after more than 25 years of failure in climate policy leaders in the climate movement continue to pursue essentially the same strategies that have failed over and over?

To be very clear, by “failures in climate policy” I am referring narrowly to efforts to accelerate decarbonization of the global economy, which is technically the ratio of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP. Of course climate policy writ large has achieved many things, often positive. But evidence indicates that accelerating the rate of global decarbonization is not among these things.

Here is evidence for the claim of climate policy failure (more details in Issue #11).Slide09

Looking more closely at the relevant levers of the Kaya Identity, it is easy to see that neither energy intensity nor carbon intensity has seen an acceleration in their decline in the era of global climate diplomacy. (In the case of carbon intensity, there hasn’t even been a decline in recent decades.) More discussion can be found in Issue #11.Slide13

Evidence of policy failure to date seems unambiguous.

In my new paper I describe the concept of a “policy envelope” analogous to the idea of a “flight envelope”:

For an aircraft to fly it must operate within a flight envelope, the combination of conditions such as airspeed, altitude, and flight angle necessary for successful
operation. For a specific approach to climate action to succeed, it must operate within a policy envelope, the combination of policy design and political, economic, technological, and other conditions necessary for the approach to be effective.

In climate policy, for decades enormous effort has been expended in protecting the “policy envelope” of possibilities, the outcome of which might be called policy lock -in. Part of the dynamics at play here of course has been the effort to scientize the issue by making it about belief in the catastrophic potential of human-caused climate change. Hence the tiresome name-calling and sometimes cult-like proselytizing: Denier! Alarmist! Climate Disinformer! This is part of the story, and perhaps the most obnoxious, but probably is not the most important. These dynamics are not the focus of my paper.

My paper takes a look at a more subtle, more technical and arguably more consequential mechanism for the policy lock-in that characterizes climate policy. That mechanism is the role of integrated assessment models and the assumptions that underpin them in creating a restricted policy space for considering alternative policy actions. Remarkably, that policy space has narrowly centered on climate policy business as usual (that is the FCCC, Kyoto, Paris) and excluded alternative approaches even as evidence accumulates that what the world is doing is not bearing much fruit.

My paper highlights a few of these important assumptions, which are well past the point of looking fantastical in the sense that if you are aware of them, you really cannot believe that they are remotely plausible. It thus takes some serious effort in denial — the far more important form of climate denial I argue — to advocate climate policy business as usual with a straight face.

I argue for opening up the policy envelope to consider a wide range of new possibilities in hopes that climate policy might perform better than it has in the past.

I wrote the paper to be read, to be debated, to be argued over. So I’d welcome your comments and questions, here or on Twitter @RogerPielkeJr.

Once again, thanks for reading!