30 November 2009

Don Monroe on The Honest Broker

Don Monroe alerts me to his very well written review of The Honest Broker. He writes:
Pielke's short, readable book provides a helpful guide for what we can hope for in policy debates involving science, and how scientists can most productively contribute. What we can't hope for is a single, science-endorsed answer to complex issues that trade off competing interests and conflicting values. For that, we have politics.
More on THB here and here.

Australia's Climate Policy

I've been waiting a few months to finish up an analysis of the implications of the proposed Australian ETS for the decarbonization of Australia's economy (along the lines of my UK and Japan case studies) so I can that submit it for publication. The analysis is pretty much done, but it would be nice to have at least some stability in the politics before putting it out. It is as if the Australian government has no concern about the needs of my academic publication schedule.

Anyway, there are huge goings on down under today (here and here). The opposition Liberal Party has seen a revolt and a new leader voted in in circumstances of high drama -- by just one vote, apparently a "donkey vote" at that (FYI, that is Tony Abbott, new Liberal leader in the photo above, just after the vote). This leadership election was immediately followed by a vote on the ETS, which the Liberal Party voted convincingly to oppose the legislation. What this means for Australian climate policy is unclear, at least to me, as it appears to imply either a deferral in the ETS vote until February or it being voted down in the near term. If the latter then Prime Minister Rudd would be empowered to call a rare double dissolution election, which opinion polls suggest Labor would win convincingly. I haven't yet considered the broader implications for cap and trade in the US or Copenhagen/Mexico City.

All of this is to say, that my paper analyzing Australian decarbonization policy won't be finished up for a few more weeks yet, at the very least. Anyone wanting a draft copy can email me at pielke@colorado.edu. I'd welcome the commentary from our Aussie readers in the comments, especially expert perspectives.

Evaluation of RMS Hurricane Damage Forecast 2006-2010

In the spring of 2006 (and annually since), a company called Risk Management Solutions (RMS) issued a five year forecast of hurricane activity (for 2006-2010). RMS predicted that U.S. insured hurricane losses would be 40% higher than average the historical average. RMS is the global leader in so-called "catastrophe modeling." Their loss models are used by insurance companies to set rates charged to homeowners, by reinsurance companies to set rates they charge to insurers, by ratings agencies for evaluating risks, and others.

In 2007 I produced an initial verification of the RMS forecast based on comparing actual losses over two hurricane seasons with the prediction, and suggested that the forecast was already off track. Wih the end of the 2009 North Atlantic hurricane season today, we now have 2 more years of data (for a totoal of 4 years) to use in evaluating the 5-year 2006 RMS forecast. The figure below shows the RMS forecast in the context of the historical average (insured) losses and the actual losses, all expressed on an annual basis. All data comes from the ICAT Damage Estimator and insured losses are calculated as 50% of total losses. (Note that 2009 had essentially no losses.) The figure at the top of this post shows the same data on a cumulative basis.

For the first four years the RMS 2006 forecast has obviously performed poorly, when compared to the historical average. If the forecast is to be evaluated on an annual basis -- which is how I interpret the intent of RMS -- then the forecast is a bust regardless of what happens in 2010, as the historical record has already proved superior in 3 of the five years 2006-2010. If the forecast is to be viewed cumulatively over five years (which I understand is not the intent of RMS) the forecast can still be interpreted as a success if 2010 sees $23 billion or more in insured losses, or a $46 billion season. There are 7 of 110 years in our dataset that saw this much or more damage, giving about a 6% chance of such an event based on climatology.

For further reading:

I participated in the 2008 RMS expert elicitation and provided a critique of it here and the expert elicitor responded (not on behalf of RMS though) here. I argue why it is that 5-year predictions are a poor substitute for the historical record in this peer-reviewed paper:
Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2009. United States hurricane landfalls and damages: Can one-to five-year predictions beat climatology?, Environmental Hazards, Vol. 8, pp. 187-200.

29 November 2009

No Ice Water for You

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the "policy neutral" IPCC (does anyone take this seriously?), suggests that responding to climate change means dramatically changing our unsustainable lifestyles:

Hotel guests should have their electricity monitored; hefty aviation taxes should be introduced to deter people from flying; and iced water in restaurants should be curtailed, the world's leading climate scientist has told the Observer.

Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that western society must undergo a radical value shift if the worst effects of climate change were to be avoided. A new value system of "sustainable consumption" was now urgently required, he said.

"Today we have reached the point where consumption and people's desire to consume has grown out of proportion," said Pachauri. "The reality is that our lifestyles are unsustainable."

With the head of the IPCC saying that you can't have ice water in restaurants, the opponents to action on climate change can probably go on vacation. They just can't buy advocacy of this quality.

If the climate science community is going to reverse the perception that it is a highly politicized clique, then it will at some point be necessary to reign in the IPCC leadership from being overt political advocates.

CRU on Global Temperature Data

The Times had an article yesterday reporting the old news that CRU did not have in its possession the original station data from some locations that comprise its global temperature index. I am quoted in the Times article as follows:
“The CRU is basically saying, ‘Trust us’. So much for settling questions and resolving debates with science,” he said.
The quote comes from a blog post I put up last August when CRU announced that it did not have some of the original station data. Here is the full context of my quote:
CRU has in response to requests for its data put up a new webpage [NOTE: Apparently this page is no longer up on the CRU emergency server] with the following remarkable admission (emphasis added):
We are not in a position to supply data for a particular country not covered by the example agreements referred to earlier, as we have never had sufficient resources to keep track of the exact source of each individual monthly value. Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.
Say what?! CRU has lost track of the original data that it uses to create its global temperature record!? Can this be serious? So not only is it now impossible to replicate or reevaluate homogeneity adjustments made in the past -- which might be important to do as new information is learned about the spatial representativeness of siting, land use effects, and so on -- but it is now also impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. CRU is basically saying, "trust us." So much for settling questions and resolving debates with empirical information (i.e., science).
Today I received an email from a climate scientist of CRU-email fame complaining about my quote in the Times. He says that the national meteorological services have the original data, suggesting that I was misrepresenting the situation. I replied to him as follows:
I would suspect that there are some very profound disciplinary differences in the handling of data here between the community I am from and yours. If, for instance, an economic research unit were releasing analyses of global economic activity in support of policy claimed to not hold the original country data -- instead saying, well the countries have it -- that would be highly problematic.

My advice to you and your colleagues is that the defense that you present in your email to me is not a very good one. Rather, I suggest instead being open and simply saying that in the 1980s and even 1990s no one could have known that maintaining this data in its original form would have been necessary. Since it was not done, then efforts should be made to collect it and make it available (which I see CRU is doing). Ultimately, that will probably mean an open-source global temperature record will be created. If you believe -- and I see no reason to suspect otherwise -- that such an open-source analysis will confirm the work of Jones et al., then you should be welcoming it with open arms.
Obviously, CRU should have taken these steps long before the present circumstances, but regardless, they are now moving towards greater responsiveness and transparency. When the data is available in its original form those skeptical of climate science can then do the temperature math themselves out in the open where everyone can see their work. If the global numbers come out as CRU has presented over the years, then it will strike a blow to skepticism about global temperature trend records produced by CRU and restorse a good deal of credibility to this area of climate science. At that point, the fellow who emailed me and his colleagues can rightly boast of their integrity and say "told ya so." Until then, a defensive, circle-the-wagons approach is probably not the best course of action. But old habits die hard.

28 November 2009

Eduardo Zorita on Climategate

Eduardo Zorita, a climate scientist at the GKSS Resaerch Center near Hamburg , Germany, has posted these comments up on his website:
Why I think that Michael Mann, Phil Jones and Stefan Rahmstorf should be barred from the IPCC process
Eduardo Zorita, November 2009

Short answer: because the scientific assessments in which they may take part are not credible anymore.

A longer answer: My voice is not very important. I belong to the climate-research infantry, publishing a few papers per year, reviewing a few manuscript per year and participating in a few research projects. I do not form part of important committees, nor I pursue a public awareness of my activities. My very minor task in the public arena was to participate as a contributing author in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

By writing these lines I will just probably achieve that a few of my future studies will, again, not see the light of publication. My area of research happens to be the climate of the past millennia, where I think I am appreciated by other climate-research 'soldiers'. And it happens that some of my mail exchange with Keith Briffa and Timothy Osborn can be found in the CRU-files made public recently on the internet.

To the question of legality or ethicalness of reading those files I will write a couple of words later.

I may confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU-files. They depict a realistic, I would say even harmless, picture of what the real research in the area of the climate of the past millennium has been in the last years. The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.

These words do not mean that I think anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. On the contrary, it is a question which we have to be very well aware of. But I am also aware that in this thick atmosphere -and I am not speaking of greenhouse gases now- editors, reviewers and authors of alternative studies, analysis, interpretations,even based on the same data we have at our disposal, have been bullied and subtly blackmailed. In this atmosphere, Ph D students are often tempted to tweak their data so as to fit the 'politically correct picture'. Some, or many issues, about climate change are still not well known. Policy makers should be aware of the attempts to hide these uncertainties under a unified picture. I had the 'pleasure' to experience all this in my area of research.

I thank explicitely Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn for their work in the formulation of one Chapter of the IPCC report. As it destills from these emails, they withstood the evident pressure of other IPCC authors, not experts in this area of research, to convey a distorted picture of our knowledge of the hockey-stick graph.

Is legal or ethical to read the CRU files? I am not a layer. It seems that if the files had been hacked this would constitute an illegal act. If they have been leaked it could be a whistle blower action protected by law. I think it is not unethical to read them. Once published, I feel myself entitled to read how some researchers tried to influence reviewers to scupper the publication of our work on the 'hockey stick graph' or to read how some IPCC authors tried to exclude this work from the IPCC Report on very dubious reasons. Also, these mails do not contain any personal information at all. They are an account of many dull daily activities of typical climatologists, together with a realistic account of very troubling professional behavior.

Mike Hulme on Climategate

These comments by Mike Hulme of UEA (location of CRU) were originally posted at DotEarth:

The key lesson to be learned is that not only must scientific knowledge about climate change be publicly owned — the I.P.C.C. does a fairly good job of this according to its own terms — but the very practices of scientific enquiry must also be publicly owned, in the sense of being open and trusted. From outside, and even to the neutral, the attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. To those with bigger axes to grind it is just what they wanted to find.

This will blow its course soon in the conventional media without making too much difference to Copenhagen — after all, COP15 is about raw politics, not about the politics of science. But in the Internet worlds of deliberation and in the ‘mood’ of public debate about the trustworthiness of climate science, the reverberations of this episode will live on long beyond COP15. Climate scientists will have to work harder to earn the warranted trust of the public - and maybe that is no bad thing.

But this episode might signify something more in the unfolding story of climate change. This event might signal a crack that allows for processes of re-structuring scientific knowledge about climate change. It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.

It is also possible that the institutional innovation that has been the I.P.C.C. has run its course. Yes, there will be an AR5 but for what purpose? The I.P.C.C. itself, through its structural tendency to politicize climate change science, has perhaps helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of knowledge production - just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive.

GRL and James Saiers

Having seen his name mentioned in the CRU emails as a possible "skeptic" needing to be removed from the editorial board of GRL, I contacted James Saiers, Professor of Hydrology at Yale University, to see what he had to say about all this. He emailed me the following response which I post with his permission:
I haven’t looked for, and don’t intend to look for, my name in the CRU emails, but one of my colleagues did alert me to an email written by Wigley in which he suggested that, if I were a climate skeptic, then steps should be taken to get me “ousted.” Wigley’s suggestion stems, I believe, from the publication of a GRL paper (by McIntyre and McKitrick) that criticized certain elements of Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick paper. This paper caused a bit of a stir and because I oversaw the peer review of this paper, I assume that Wigley inferred (incorrectly) that I was a climate-change skeptic. I stepped down as GRL editor at the end of my three-year term, long after the excitement over the McIntyre and McKitrick paper had passed. My departure had nothing to do with attempts by Wigley or anyone else to have me sacked.

27 November 2009

China's Carbon Intensity Pledge

China has put some numbers on its carbon intensity pledge -- that is, its aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP. China has promised to reduced its carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45% by 2020. While a few folks have been fooled (or are trying to fool you) into thinking that it is meaningful, others including the Obama Administration are not fooled. The reality is a bit more subtle and complex than either of these perspectives.

The head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change , Yvo de Boer spun the announcement as a breakthrough:
"The US commitment to specific, mid-term emission cut targets and China's commitment to specific action on energy efficiency can unlock two of the last doors to a comprehensive agreement. Let there be no doubt that we need continued strong ambition and leadership,"
In The New York Times, the Obama Administration was a bit less enthusiastic:
A senior Obama administration official said that the United States had pressed hard for a public commitment from China and was relieved that it had delivered. But the official, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the matter, called the carbon intensity figure “disappointing,” and said that the administration hoped it represented a gambit that would be negotiated upward at Copenhagen or in subsequent talks.
Understanding the various receptions of the proposed target from China requires understanding a bit of the geopolitical context. Europeans simply want the US and China to come to the table talking about numbers, so any proposal is a step forward. Meantime, the US wants to avoid being cast as the international climate bad guy so will do whatever it can to portray its own proposed 17% cut from 2005 levels as more ambitious that China's intensity target.

But what do the numbers actually mean?

A 40-45% cut in carbon intensity in China is essentially business-as-usual as projected by the IEA. According to the IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 (p. 350), here are China's GDP and CO2 projections under its BAU "reference scenario" (with GDP in 2008 PPP dollars):

2007 -- 6.1 GtC and $7.6T
2020 -- 9.6 GtC and $18.8T

These numbers result in a decrease in carbon intensity of GDP of 40% by 2020 (from 2007 values, China's pledge is off a 2005 baseline, so right in the middle of the 40-45% range).

Other analysts have seen the proposal as little more than a promise to achieve business as usual, from the NYT:

Michael A. Levi, director of the climate change program at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the target announcement disappointing because it did not move the country much faster along the path it was already on.

“The Department of Energy estimates that existing Chinese policies will already cut carbon intensity by 45 to 46 percent,” Mr. Levi said. “The United States has put an ambitious path for emissions cuts through 2050 on the table. China needs to raise its level of ambition if it is going to match that.” Some environmental advocates have also said that the substance of Mr. Obama’s announcement on Wednesday was weak as well.

President Bush also used a carbon intensity target with goals based on achieving business as usual, and his administration was skewered (and rightly so) for trying to couch business as usual 9BAU) as some sort of meaningful emissions reduction policy. The difference between the Bush Administration's carbon intensity goals and those promised by China are that the Bush Administration based its targets on historical BAU whereas China has its based on BAU inclusive of a set of very aggressive energy efficiency goals. I recently had a correspondence in Nature questioning China's BAU trajectory (more details here and here and here). While the IEA numbers suggest a less aggressive version of BAU than do China's domestic numbers, they still imply an annual average rate of decarbonization of China's economy of about 3.7% per year.

A focus on carbon intensity of economic activity is a step in the right direction. At the same time, policy makers and analysts should not be distracted by the details of China's promises in the context of various BAU reference scenarios. What matters is the actual annual rate of decarbonization in coming years, and to discern this will require good data on both emissions and economic activity. If China can sustain a rate of decarbonization of 3.7% per year or more that would be a very impressive achievement. However, if China is going to continue to grow its economy at 9% per year, it is obvious that much more would need to be done to address ever growing emissions.

Bottom line? China's decarbonization target is indeed very similar to some versions of BAU, suggesting a lack of ambition. At the same time these versions of BAU already have rapid rates of decarbonization built in, so much so that I am skeptical about their realism. Even so, discussions about climate these days are more focused on politics than policy, so the exact details of China's emissions policy probably matter less than how its promises are perceived and spun in the negotiating process.

25 November 2009

Redefining Peer Review

In 2005 Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann, of Real Climate and CRU email fame, carefully explained that the process of peer review is a messy, incremental way to advance knowledge in fits and starts:
The current thinking of scientists on climate change is based on thousands of studies (Google Scholar gives 19,000 scientific articles for the full search phrase “global climate change”). Any new study will be one small grain of evidence that adds to this big pile, and it will shift the thinking of scientists slightly. Science proceeds like this in a slow, incremental way. It is extremely unlikely that any new study will immediately overthrow all the past knowledge.
They explained that even when results are published that do not stand the test of time, the process of peer review can successfully winnow out those arguments with the greatest merit:
. . . even when it initially breaks down, the process of peer-review does usually work in the end. But sometimes it can take a while.
With this perspective as background, one of the most damning aspects of the CRU emails was the behind-the-scenes efforts of the activist scientists to -- in their own words -- "redefine what the peer reviewed literature is."

Peer review as related to scientific publishing is a process in which experts are asked to judge the appropriateness of a paper for publication in a scientific journal. It is often cursory and focused on the merits of an argument, rather than a detailed replication or decomposition of the data or methods. Peer review does not mean that a result is right or will stand the test of time, but that it has met some minimal standards of acceptability for publication. The scientific community is replete with vignettes about papers that were rejected for publication in one venue only to be published elsewhere and which later turned out to be seminal. Similarly, every so often even Science and Nature find themselves in trouble with a paper that is badly wrong or even fraudulent. But despite these shortcomings in the process, peer review is widely viewed much as Winston Churchill viewed democracy: the worst possible system except for all the others.

Peer review works because over the long-term good ideas win out, and this process happens organically and through a decentralized process. Peer review takes place through many independent journals, with editing and reviewing conducted by many independent scholars from a diversity of disciplinary and experiential backgrounds, and with their own idiosyncratic biases and views. No one group or perspective owns the peer review process, and that diversity is part of its core strength. Truth -- meaning a convergence to agreement on scientific questions -- thus is a product of the peer review process over time. Of course the path to truth can be convoluted and indirect. For instance, it used to be true that there were 9 planets in our solar system. Now that is less true.

Some issues relevant to decisions are characterized by uncertainties and contested certainties making the distribution of scientific views not readily apparent simply by looking at the sprawling literature. In such situations a formal assessment can provide a useful perspective on the degree of consensus or disagreement among relevant experts on various claims. Such assessments are nothing more than a snapshot in time, as science is continuously evolving. When done well, an assessment will reflect the full range of views held by relevant experts, including minority views (see PDF), as well as the connections of scientific understandings to alternative possible courses of action.

Now back to the CRU emails. The emails show a consistent pattern of behavior among the activist scientists to redefine peer review in accordance with their own views of climate science. In doing so, they sought to turn the entire notion of peer review on its head.

The emails show a group of scientists frustrated with the peer review process, seeking to change how it is practiced. How so? The emails indicate concerted efforts to reshape the peer review process by managing and coordinating reviews of individual papers, by putting pressure on journal editors and editorial boards, by seeking to stack editorial boards with like-minded colleagues, by arranging boycotts of journals and other actions involving highly questionable ethics. But we might wonder why these scientists would take such steps to change peer review if, as Schmidt and Mann explained at Real Climate -- "peer review usually does work in the end." Why depart from a process that works? The answer is obvious: the short-term politics of climate change.

The activist scientists decided that the peer review process would work better in service of their political agenda if it used "truth" to determine whose views would be allowed to be published in the literature and reflected in assessments. In this case "truth" simply means the views deemed acceptable among the activist scientists and their close clique of colleagues. In an interview with NPR Real Climate's Gavin Schmidt defended this very backwards view of peer review:

Journals are supposed to be impartial filters that let good ideas rise to the top and bad ideas sink to the bottom. But the stolen emails show that a group of scientists has decided that's not working well enough. So they have resorted to strong tactics — including possible boycotts — to keep any paper they think is dubious from reaching the pages of a journal.

"In any other field (a bad paper) would just be ignored," says Gavin Schmidt at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "The problem is in the climate field has become extremely politicized, and every time some nonsense paper gets into a proper journal, it gets blown out of all proportion."

Most of the papers Schmidt and his colleagues object to challenge the mainstream view of climate science. Schmidt says they may be wrong or even deceptive, but they are still picked up by politicians, pundits and businesses who are skeptical of climate change.

So Schmidt suggests that in order to short circuit the ability of their political opponents to cherry pick and blow out of proportion studies that the activists scientists did not agree with, they saw a convenient short cut: Simply reshape the peer review system such that those papers don't ever appear or go unmentioned in scientific assessments.

The problem with this strategy, of course, is that many climate scientists (and presumably others inside and outside of the scientific establishment) are unwilling to cede ownership of the "truth" to a small clique of scientists. In fact, peer review exists in the first place because there are no short cuts to the truth, and any such short cut will inevitably fail. Consider that the efforts revealed in the CRU emails to manage the peer reviewed literature went well beyond efforts to prevent so-called "skeptical" papers from being published, but included a focus on papers that fully accepted a human influence on climate, but which offered views that differed in some degree (e.g., here) from those preferred by the activist scientists. The emails reveal activist scientists busy extolling the virtues of peer review to journalists and the public, while at the same time they were busy behind the scenes working to corrupt the peer review process in a way that favored their views on the science and politics of climate change. Here we have a case study in the politicization of climate science by climate scientists.

The clique of activist scientists sees absolutely nothing wrong in what they are doing -- they are after all justifying their actions in terms of "truth" in support of the greater good. And the issue is made even more complex because those who share the political agenda of the activist scientists are ready to join their peer review coup whereas those opposed to that political agenda are happy to try to exploit for political gain the scientists' ethical lapses and failure to appreciate their role in politicizing climate science. So much of the discussion gets wrapped up in these distractions, rather than the issue of the integrity of climate science.

The sustainability of climate science depends upon our ability to distinguish the health of the scientific enterprise from the politics of climate change. The need to respond to climate change (which I support) does not justify sacrificing standards of scientific integrity for political ends. In fact, as the events of the past week show, when standards of scientific integrity are compromised, the political consequences can be double edged.

20 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

All my best for a Happy Thanksgiving to the readers and commenters on this blog! Posting will be light at best during the holiday week (until November 30), but please feel free to comment away (and please forgive any lags in clearing comments).

CRU-Gate: Climate Conspiracy or Much Ado About Nothing?

UPDATE: Real Climate explains that it is in fact much ado about nothing.

So by now everyone is aware of the emails leaked/hacked/TBD from CRU. While the significnace of these emails has yet to be determined, it seems that they are indeed real, based on these comments from Phil Jones of UEA, who is involved in many of the emails. Here is an interview just published by TGIF (PDF):
The internet is on fire this morning with confirmation computers at one of the world’s leading climate research centres were hacked, and the information released on the internet. A 62 megabyte zip file, containing around 160 megabytes of emails, pdfs and other documents, has been confirmed as genuine by the head of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, Dr Phil Jones.

In an exclusive interview with Investigate magazine’s TGIF Edition, Jones confirms his organization has been hacked, and the data flying all over the internet appears to have come from his organisation. “It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago that someone had hacked into our system and taken and copied loads of data files and emails.”

“Have you alerted police?”

“Not yet. We were not aware of what had been taken.”

Jones says he was first tipped off to the security breach by colleagues at the website RealClimate.
“Real Climate were given information, but took it down off their site and told me they would send it across to me. They didn’t do that. I only found out it had been released five minutes ago.” The files were first released from a Russian fileserver site by an anonymous tipster calling him or herself “FOIA”, in an apparent reference to the US Freedom of Information Act. The zip file contains more than a thousand documents sitting in a “FOIA” directory, and it prompted speculation that the information may have been in the process of being compiled for consideration of an information act request.

Jones, however, says the files were not contained in a “FOIA” directory at the Climate Research Unit. “No. Whoever is responsible has done that themselves.” “I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I’ll have to talk to other people here. In fact, we were changing all our passwords overnight and I can’t get to my email, as I’ve just changed my password. I’ve gone into the Climate Audit website because I can’t get into my own email. “It’s completely illegal for somebody to hack into our system.”
While the significance of the emails has yet to be determined, there are some questions already being asked:
In one email dating back to 1999, Jones appears to talk of fudging scientific data on climate change to “hide the decline”:
From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley ,mann@[snipped], mhughes@[snipped]
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
Cc: k.briffa@[snipped],t.osborn@[snipped]

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

Thanks for the comments, Ray.

Cheers, Phil
Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit
TGIF asked Jones about the controversial email discussing hiding “the decline”, and Jones explained he was not trying to mislead. “No, that’s completely wrong. In the sense that they’re talking about two different things here. They’re talking about the instrumental data which is unaltered – but they’re talking about proxy data going further back in time, a thousand years, and it’s just about how you add on the last few years, because when you get proxy data you sample things like tree rings and ice cores, and they don’t always have the last few years. So one way is to add on the instrumental data for the last few years.”

Jones told TGIF he had no idea what me meant by using the words “hide the decline”. “That was an email from ten years ago. Can you remember the exact context of what you wrote ten years ago?”

The other emails are described by skeptic commentators as “explosive”, one talks of stacking the peer-review process to prevent qualified skeptical scientists from getting their research papers considered.
Surely lots more to come on this.

18 November 2009

Meantime, In the Real World

As people wonder if the Copenhagen conference will lead to any significant outcomes, the dramatic expansion of carbon-intensive infrastructure continues with little apparent worry about the effects of climate policies. From a quick tour of news from Asia over the past day or so:

From India:
JSW Steel Ltd., India’s third- biggest producer, may spend $500 million buying coal mines overseas to secure supplies for its local expansion.

The company is seeking mines in nations including Australia and South Africa, Managing Director Sajjan Jindal said in an interview in Mumbai. JSW Steel plans to source half of its coal overseas, he said.

Indian steelmakers are expanding as local demand is expected to grow by about 10 percent in the second half of this financial year. JSW Steel is looking at new locations after failing to find coking coal at its exploration project in Mozambique.

The company plans to raise capacity by more than 33 percent to 10 million metric tons at its Vijayanagar plant in South India by 2011 as demand from customers including Larsen & Toubro Ltd. and GMR Group increases, Jindal said in the interview yesterday. Later, JSW aims to build a mill in West Bengal state with an initial 3 million ton capacity, he said.

And also from India:
Top Indian power-equipment maker Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL.BO) said on Wednesday it has signed a joint-venture pact to build a 1,600 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

The power plant at Khandwa will be equipped with supercritical technology, which helps lower coal consumption and leads to lower emissions.

State utility Madhya Pradesh Power Generation Co Ltd and BHEL will initially have an equal share in the joint venture. Their stakes will later be diluted to 26 percent each, with the rest held by financial institutions and other partners, BHEL said.

BHEL has been promoting joint ventures with state utilities to set up and operate supercritical thermal power plants. It has set up joint ventures with the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Earlier this month, leading Indian power producer NTPC (NTPC.BO) said it would set up a 2,640 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant under a pact with the Madhya Pradesh state government and the MP Power Trading Co.
And from Bangladesh:
Bangladesh plans to set up a fund that will invest as much as $10 billion in energy and power projects within the next decade to resolve an electricity shortage, a senior official said.

The 11-month-old government also is seeking to attract about $4 billion of investments in power plants and a liquefied- natural-gas import terminal, and will meet potential investors in London, New York and Singapore in December, said Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, 64, energy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed who also holds the post of energy minister.

“The potential demand for electricity is maybe twice as much as we are producing now,” Chowdhury said in an interview in Dhaka yesterday. “It’s not just trying to meet today’s gap; it’s trying to stay ahead of the curve, which is going to be very difficult.” . .

The fund will invest in the equity and debt of coal, oil and gas companies as well as power projects along with companies, he said. The government is still working on the structure of the fund, including how it will be securitized and whether it will be traded, he said.
From Australia:
The Federal Government has put Waratah Coal’s proposed $7.5 billion ‘China First’ coal project in the fast-lane, yesterday granting it Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status.

According to the company’s chief executive Peter Lynch, MPF status will the give the central Queensland development access to a more a timely and efficient approvals process.

Waratah, owned by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, is planning to build a thermal coal mine near Alpha, in the Galilee Basin.
The lesson from these vignettes? The world needs more energy. Much more. Reducing emissions is the wrong focus, the expansion of carbon free energy is more appropriate. But until the costs of alternatives are lower than fossil fuels then news stories like the above will continue to appear around the clock and around the world.

How Climate Scientists Talk to Each Other on Email

A very prominent climate scientist, who writes from a .gov address, sends this to my father after my father simply responded to a scientific query from another climate scientist who put the .gov guy (his colleague) on the distro list (along with a bunch of others, including me):

Please remove me from your email distribution list. I have no desire to communicate with you. Ever.

That message comes across a bit like sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "I'M NOT LISTENING I'M NOT LISTENING". Climate science has a few remarkable human beings in it, that is for sure.

Of course, this would be just a bit of silliness, but the unnamed scientist above has a major role in international and national climate science assessments, and is undoubtedly an active peer reviewer. Do you think based on that email he is going to give my father's scientific work a fair shake? And to the extent he is representative of a broader set of individuals, climate science is a deeply troubled institution of science. Makes me glad to be a social scientist.

Condoms for Climate

The climate debate has plenty of signs of complete inanity, but these signs are increasingly coming from groups that should probably know better. Take the case of the UN Population Fund, which is arguing that free condoms can help to slow greenhouse gas emissions:
The battle against global warming could be helped if the world slowed population growth by making free condoms and family planning advice more widely available, the U.N. Population Fund said Wednesday.

The agency did not recommend countries set limits on how many children people should have, but said: "Women with access to reproductive health services ... have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse gas emissions."

"As the growth of population, economies and consumption outpaces the Earth's capacity to adjust, climate change could become much more extreme and conceivably catastrophic," the report said.

What effect will free condoms have on emissions and, ultimately, on climate change?

The U.N. Population Fund acknowledged it had no proof of the effect that population control would have on climate change. "The linkages between population and climate change are in most cases complex and indirect," the report said.

It also said that while there is no doubt that "people cause climate change," the developing world has been responsible for a much smaller share of world's greenhouse gas emissions than developed countries.

Still, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the U.N. Population Fund's executive director, told a news conference in London on Wednesday that global warming could be catastrophic for people in poor countries, particularly women.

"We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster," she said.

In three weeks, a global conference will be held in Copenhagen aimed at reaching a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial countries to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea that family planning should be justified in terms of reducing emissions is, in my view, utter nonsense. Family planning policies are important in their own right, and to justify them in terms of climate change cheapens both the climate change agenda and the family planning agenda. Fortunately, this perspective is widely shared:

"It requires a major leap of imagination to believe that free condoms will cool down the climate," said Caroline Boin, a policy analyst at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank.

She also questioned earlier efforts by the agency to control the world's population.

In its 1987 report, the U.N. Population Fund warned that once the global population hit 5 billion, the world "could degenerate into disaster." At the time, the agency said "more vigorous attempts to slow undue population growth" were needed in many countries.

According to Boin, "Numerous environmental indicators show that with development and economic growth we are able to preserve more natural habitats. There is no causal relationship between population density and poverty."

In this month's Bulletin, the World Health Organization's journal, two experts also warned about the dangers of linking fertility to climate change.

"Using the need to reduce climate change as a justification for curbing the fertility of individual women at best provokes controversy and at worst provides a mandate to suppress individual freedoms," wrote WHO's Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum and Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan.

The dynamics going here have been well-chronicled by Mike Hulme, who has suggested that much of the debate about climate change is not really about what we can do about climate change, but what climate change can do for us. Helping to sell family planning is probably not among those things.

UPDATE: A reader writes in noting this from The Economist a few weeks ago:
Lastly, a special case: China’s one-child policy, which began nationwide in the early 1970s. China’s population is probably 300m-400m lower now than it would have been without it. The policy (which is one of population control, not birth control) has had dreadful costs, including widespread female infanticide, a lopsided sex ratio and horrors such as mass sterilisation and forced abortions. But in its own terms, it has worked—20m people enter the workforce each year, instead of 40m—and, to the extent that China is polluting less than it would have done, it has benefited the rest of the world.
People can legitimately disagree on whether the benefits of such policies exceed the costs. However,you can put me down on the side of believing (quite strongly) that they do not.

Good Intentions, Horrible Optics

In today's Boulder Daily Camera:

On their first day together as a new board of nine elected officials, the Boulder City Council started with light stuff: curing the planet's climate crisis and advocating global nuclear disarmament.

The council on Tuesday night unanimously voted to support a two-person delegation heading to Copenhagen, Denmark, next month to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties.

How is the city going to pay the costs of sending its delegation to Copenhagen? By using proceeds from the Boulder's carbon tax.

Boulder is paying an estimated $2,500 for the trip, including airfare and meals. The money will come from the city's carbon-tax fund. To cut down on costs to taxpayers, the city employees will be staying at a private residence and riding bicycles to and from the conference, city spokesman Patrick von Keyserling said.

"It's a very reasonable amount," von Keyserling said of the costs to attend. "It's an international stage for Boulder to share best practices for municipalities."

Whatever you think about Boulder's ambitions to reduce emissions, the real lesson from this episode is that policy makers easily fall prey to engaging in all sorts of activities under so-called "emissions reductions policies" that have absolutely nothing to do with reducing emissions. And whatever the merits of going to Copenhagen are, the trip will do nothing to help Boulder meet its Kyoto goals, which is why the carbon tax exists in the first place. If the city values demonstrating its global leadership and vision (and why not?), it should probably earmark some funds for exactly that purpose. A more politically savvy Council would have taken the funds from elsewhere in the City budget, or better yet, secured external sponsorship of some sort.

On a more positive note, a letter-writer in the Camera today notes that since its passage in 1985, Boulder's non-nuclear policy has thus far prevented a nuclear attack on the city, so perhaps Boulder's delegation to Copenhagen can return with similar success.

17 November 2009

Top 10 Hurricane Losses: AIR and Pielke et al. 2008

AIR-Worldwide has released an interesting top-10 list of the largest U.S. insured hurricane losses if each historical hurricane had occurred with 2009 exposures. Here are those values:

And here is a similar list of top-10 total damaging storms in the Pielke et al. 2008 (PDF) database as updated to 2009 values in the ICAT Damage Estimator:

There are 8 storms that overlap in the two lists, which we should expect to be different for several reasons. First the AIR-Worldwide list is insured damage and ours is total damage. Second, their list includes business interruption and demand surge and ours does not. This being the case, the AIR-Worldwide list has prompted us to take a second look at the 1947 Fort Lauderdale storm, which has losses that may be underestimated in the NHC database. It appears as 22nd in our 2009 list with an adjusted $16.4B in total losses.

Soon I'll take a look at the AIR-Worldwide earthquake list and see how that compares to our normalized earthquake losses (here in PDF).

Told Ya So

In 2005 I wrote that it was just a matter of time before air capture -- the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- was going to move to the center of climate policy debates. Since that time I have been following the issue closely and even doing a bit of research on it (PDF). Today, Nature reports on the final results of a major European research project called Ensembles:

Carbon dioxide emissions will have to be all but eliminated by the end of this century if the world is to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2 ºC, scientists warned yesterday. And it might even be necessary to start sucking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The findings are the culmination of five years work by Ensembles, a major European research consortium led by the UK Met Office Hadley Centre and involving 65 other research institutes worldwide. In the first study of its kind, scientists in the project used a variety of the latest global climate models to determine the reductions needed to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases, termed CO2 equivalents, at 450 parts per million. That level, which offers a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature rise under 2ºC, is the goal of European climate policy.

The results suggest that to achieve that target, emissions would have to drop to near zero by 2100. One of Ensemble's models predicted that by 2050, it might also be necessary to introduce new techniques that can actually pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Here is what Ken Caldeira says:

The results suggest that simply switching to renewable sources of energy may not be enough to stabilize emissions. "It's clear that if we continue our current emissions trajectory and we want to stay at 450 parts per million, we'll need to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere," says atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, who works at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California. That could mean deploying new techniques for capturing carbon, such as biochar, reforestation or air filtering, on a massive scale.

Caldeira adds that action now could be a better option. If people stop building new CO2-emitting devices within the next decade, they could achieve the same result at a lower cost.

Any bets on whether or not people will "stop building new CO2-emitting devices within the next decade"? As I have often said, no one really knows the possibilities of air capture (chemical, biological, geological) and sequestration at scale, and we won't until a greater effort is devoted to it. But whether you like it or not, the slow pace of mitigation policies to meaningfully deflect trajectories from business-as-usual means that air capture is gaining traction as a policy option, and will continue to do so. It is not at the center of debates over climate -- yet -- but it is moving closer.

G20 Humanitarian Priorities

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies asked the governments of the G20 about their top humanitarian priorities (PDF), results shown in the figure above.
As an initial question, the governments were asked: “What does your government consider to be the three greatest ‘humanitarian’ challenges facing the international community?"
The leading priority was "climate change." Poverty and food security did not even make the top 3 on the list. As these are "humanitarian challenges," I wonder how responding to climate change differs from responding to the other issues on the list.

Short Essay on Experts in Policy and Politics

I have a short essay on scientists in policy and politics up at www.publicsector.co.uk titled, Improving the contribution of experts in policy and politics. Here is an excerpt:
In recent weeks we have seen a range of conflicts between scientific experts and governments. In the United Kingdom the dismissal of David Nutt, chair of the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), for making statements perceived to undercut government drug policies has received considerable criticism from the scientific community. In Australia, the government's primary research organization intervened in the peer review process to attempt to stop the publication of an economic analysis critical of emissions trading programs, which the Rudd Government is currently championing. And in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency has sought to limit what two of its experts can say as private citizens about their professional experience when being critical of U.S. climate policies.

What is going on here?
Find the rest here and The Honest Broker here (in the UK) and here (in the US).

16 November 2009

Better Recheck That List

UPDATE 3/3/13 The owner of the list mentioned in this post emails and provides a comment below notifying me that the paper was finally removed.

UPDATE 11/11/11 By email, Professor Russell Dickerson, University of Maryland has asked that I add his comment to this post:
After repeated communication with the authors of http://www.populartechnology.net I have concluded that the content of the site is intentionally inaccurate and misleading.  That list a paper on which I am a coauthor as "skeptical."  Our paper supports the view that man-made climate change is a substantial danger to human health and the environment. The site refused to remove our paper(s) from their list after repeated written requests to do so.
My attention has just be called to a list of "450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of "Man-Made" Global Warming." A quick count shows that they have 21 papers on the list by me and/or my father. Assuming that these are Hypothesis 1 type bloggers they'd better change that to 429 papers, as their list doesn't represent what they think it does.

Does this Math Add Up?

Fatih Birol, chief economist for the IEA, was asked about the twin challenges of providing electricity for those without access around the world and the need to reduce emissions.
Climate change and Energy and Poverty are indeed two key challenges the energy world is facing today, and I do believe that a major international concerted effort can deliver a solution with co-benefits for both the issues. Bringing electricity to everyone by 2030 would require electricity generation in 2030 to be only 3% higher than generation in our Reference Scenario. An annual additional investment of $35 billion would be sufficient to meet this challenge. Also impact on energy-related CO2 emissions is disproportionately modest compared with the number of people affected. If the generation fuel mix to supply the additional demand were that of the 450 Scenario, the increase in energy-related global CO2 emissions would be a mere 0.9% by 2030. Alleviating poverty can and must be part of an international effort for fighting Climate Change.
Does this math add up? No. Here are some details:

According to the IEA,
Based on a detailed country-by-country database updated for this Outlook, we estimate that in 2008 the number of people without access to electricity was 1.5 billion or 22% of the world’s population.
The IEA suggests that this number will be cut to 1.3 billion by 2030. The IEA 2030 450 scenario has 26.4 GtCO2 in 2030 (2.4 GtCO2 less than 2007). So 0.9% of this is 0.24 GtCO2. So the IEA is arguing that electricity can be provided to 1.3 billion people by 2030 and it will add only 0.24 GtCO2. Somehow I don't find that to be credible.

By contrast, if each of those 1.3 billion people had average emissions at the 2007 world average of 4.4 tCo2 they would add about 5.72 GtCO2 to the 2030 total, or an increase of 14% over the Reference Scenario.

What this exercise shows is that you can have a lot of fun with Reference Scenarios and Stabilization Scenarios, none of which is too closely connected to the real world. To suggest that access to electricity for 1.3 billion people can be provided at a marginal emission increase of 0.24 GtCO2 is misleading at best, and yet another example of how international assessments serve to dramatically understate the magnitude of the decarbonization challenge.

The Paradox of Apocalypse Fatigue

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have an interesting article up at Yale360 on public opinion and climate change. Here is an excerpt:
Perhaps we should give the American public a little more credit. They may not know climate science very well, but they are not going to be muscled into accepting apocalyptic visions about our planetary future — or embracing calls to radically transform “our way of life” — just because environmentalists or climate scientists tell them they must. They typically give less credit to expert opinion than do educated elites, and those of us who tend to pay more attention to these questions would do well to remember that expert opinion and indeed, expert consensus, has tended to have a less sterling track record than most of us might like to admit.

At the same time, significant majorities of Americans are still prepared to support reasonable efforts to reduce carbon emissions even if they have their doubts about the science. They may be disinclined to tell pollsters that the science is settled, just as they are not inclined to tell them that evolution is more than a theory. But that doesn’t stop them from supporting the teaching of evolution in their schools. And it will not stop them from supporting policies to reduce carbon emissions — so long as the costs are reasonable and the benefits, both economic and environmental, are well-defined.
And for those wanting to use science as a tool to turn up the alarm, N&S argue that there exists a central paradox:
In fact, the louder and more alarmed climate advocates become in these efforts, the more they polarize the issue, driving away a conservative or moderate for every liberal they recruit to the cause.

These same efforts to increase salience through offering increasingly dire prognosis about the fate of the planet (and humanity) have also probably undermined public confidence in climate science. Rather than galvanizing public demand for difficult and far-reaching action, apocalyptic visions of global warming disaster have led many Americans to question the science. Having been told that climate science demands that we fundamentally change our way of life, many Americans have, not surprisingly, concluded that the problem is not with their lifestyles but with what they’ve been told about the science. And in this they are not entirely wrong, insofar as some prominent climate advocates, in their zeal to promote action, have made representations about the state of climate science that go well beyond any established scientific consensus on the subject, hyping the most dire scenarios and most extreme recent studies, which are often at odds with the consensus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
I wouldn't be surprised to see reactions to the N&S piece along the lines that the science is alarming and demands that we act now. Given the arguments about the effect of this strategy on public opinion made by N&S, that would be an ironic response indeed. Instead, it is important to recognize what public opinion allows, rather than continually emphasize that which it does not:
What is arguably most remarkable about U.S. public opinion on global warming has been both its stability and its inelasticity in response to new developments, greater scientific understanding of the problem, and greater attention from both the media and politicians. Public opinion about global warming has remained largely unchanged through periods of intensive media attention and periods of neglect, good economic times and bad, the relatively activist Clinton years and the skeptical Bush years. And majorities of Americans have, at least in principle, consistently supported government action to do something about global warming even if they were not entirely sold that the science was settled, suggesting that public understanding and acceptance of climate science may not be a precondition for supporting action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Until this last point is appreciated by advocates, including the most outspoken activist scientists, even efforts made in the best faith to motivate action by arguing politics through science are not just unlikely to work, but have the opposite effect to that intended. That is the paradox of apocalypse fatigue.

13 November 2009

Jobs and "Climate Light"

The comments in this Politico story on the climate bill may hint at whats to come, jobs, jobs, jobs and an inevitable focus on "climate light":

An aggressive White House push on jobs and deficit reduction in 2010 may be yet another sign that climate-change legislation will stay on the back burner next year.

“There is a growing chorus in the party that thinks we should be doing more to spur job creation and not necessarily tackle cap and trade right now,” said a moderate Democratic Senate aide.

White House officials told POLITICO on Friday that President Barack Obama plans curb new domestic spending beyond jobs programs and focus on cutting the federal deficit next year.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has hinted that Democrats plan to take up a job-creation bill, in the wake of the announcement of a 10.2 percent unemployment rate. In the House, some lawmakers are beginning to push a major highway bill for next year to focus on job creation.

None of this is promising for a major climate change bill. . .

Other moderate Democrats have pushed Reid to take up a “climate light” bill that focuses only on energy provisions included in the legislation — leaving the cap-and-trade provisions to be dealt with after the economy recovers.

The Energy and Natural Resources committee passed an energy bill with bipartisan backing in June. Dorgan and other say the vote signaled that a package including renewable fuels mandates, energy-efficiency measures, and increased domestic exploration could attract significant Republican support.

“Good policy is going to be left behind by the insistence that the climate change bill has to be done first or together,” warned Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

Obama and Democratic supporters of the bill have repeatedly said that legislation would create millions of new green jobs by providing incentives for businesses to invest in green technologies.

They also note that the Senate bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is deficit neutral, largely due to a Senate rule that prohibits major bills from adding $5 billion to the federal deficit in any of the five decades following its enactment.

“There’s just no credible way to turn these deficit-neutral bills into definitively-negative decisions for our country, especially since energy remains a top priority for the Obama administration and for the American people,” said a House Democratic aide close to the bill.

Aides say that legislation currently being drafted by Kerry and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) will also be deficit neutral and focus on economic growth.

“If environmental policy is not good business policy, you'll never get 60 votes,” said Graham. “So my goal is to try to make sure that we fashion environmental policy that will create millions of new jobs for Americans who are desiring to have new jobs.”

McKitrick on Amplification Ratios

Ross McKitrick has added his two cents on the criticisms raised by Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate, and they show what a tempest in a teapot this all is (bold added):
AMPLIFICATION RATIOS: I was drawn into the dispute between Gavin Schmidt and Klotzbach et al. (see Pielke Sr.) over the latter paper's conclusion that the surface temperature record over land has a warm bias for the purpose of measuring global warming. I was cited in Klotzbach et al. as the source of a claim that the GISS model exhibits amplification over land of about 1.2. I should not have been cited, since all I did was report in an email to John Christy the average trop/surf trend in Gavin Schmidt's own GISS data pertaining to my 2007 surface temperature analysis. The information source, in other words, was Schmidt himself, not me; and in any case I did not provide it as a personal communication for the purpose of a journal article (which I did not know was being written). Phil Klotzbach and his coauthors have issued a correction on this point. In subsequent correspondence with Gavin Schmidt he reported to me that he had corrected an error his original IJOC archive and also that the GISS model classifies land differently than CRU so some of the 440 grid cells are actually over ocean in his model. He supplied me with the GISS landmask. I have recomputed the original results using the corrected data and the GISS landmask. The cosine-weighted amplification ratio over land is about 1.106 and over ocean is 1.602, where 'land' and 'ocean' are according to the GISS landmask applied to the 440 grid cells used in my 2007 paper.
So in the paper we used an amplification of 1.2 based on calculations done earlier this year as described above. Subsequently, Gavin computed a value that was apples to our oranges and arrived at 0.95. Ross McKitrick just now re-computes a value that is more apples-to-apples and arrives at 1.1. We have shown that our conclusions are insensitive to the choice of 1.2 and 0.95 and you can easily conclude that using 1.1 instead won't matter either to the conclusions.

It is virtually certain that Gavin will contest the new number from McKitrick. Does it matter to me which one is judged to be most appropriate? From the standpoint of the analysis of Klotzbach et al., no. This sort of dispute won't be resolved on blogs, but in the peer reviewed literature where it belongs.

In other news, we've been informed by Ben Santer that our paper contains a referencing error (i.e., Santer et al. 2005 is used in the introduction where it should instead be Santer et al. 2000) and a typo (i.e., it reports a "p-test" rather than a "t-test"). We regret these errors, but certainly appreciate the close reading. We hope that the substance of the paper receives similar close attention. Once again, I hope that Gavin submits his critique of our paper's analysis and conclusions to the scientific literature, and if his work improves upon our work leading to better understandings, then good for science.

12 November 2009

IMechE Report on UK Climate Policy

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in the UK has released a hard-hitting report on the state of the UK Climate Change Act. IMechE says:
To decarbonise the nation and achieve the 80% reduction in GHG output by 2050, the UK will need to undertake a monumental task at a scale it has never seen before, reducing carbon output per unit of GDP by over 5% annually until 2050. Between 2001 and 2006, we achieved an average of 1.3% annual reduction, but in more recent years, progress has been far more limited. Globally, while the UK, is one of the better performing nations. France has the most decarbonised economy among the large developed nations – through its move towards nuclear power as the predominant source of electricity generation.

For the UK to be on track to achieve the emission reductions required by the Climate Change Act, it would have to become as carbon efficient as France by about 2015; which magnitudinous challenge would require the equivalent of the UK constructing and putting into service about 30 new nuclear power stations in the next five years, while retiring an equal amount of coal-fired generation!

The report has been picked up by the UK media, which reports the following response from the Government:
"The Institute of Mechanical Engineer's can't do, won't do attitude is sending out a defeatist message ahead of the crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen. The truth is that if we act now we can not only beat climate change but gain from the green benefits that will flow in terms of jobs and investment from going low carbon."
If some of the numbers in the report sound familiar, it is because it relies a good deal on my analysis of UK climate policy:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2009. The British Climate Change Act: A Critical Evaluation and Proposed Alternative Approach, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 2.

AIR Responds to My Critique of the ABI Report

Peter Dailey of AIR Worldwide, who led the analysis in the ABI report that I critiqued earlier today, has been kind enough to provide a response to my comments. Here they are in full, and I'll offer some reactions in the comment. But first, here is Peter, who I'd like to thank very much for providing a quick and thoughtful response:

Thanks for your recent blog comments on the ABI study. To avoid confusion, let me clarify a few things for you and your readers.

GDP growth was used as a proxy for increases in the number and value of properties insured, and the period of 10 years was selected to illustrate in a simple way how a relatively small annual growth rates (say from 2.5 to 6%) compound over time. We did not project 35 or 65 years of GDP because over that long of a period, uncertainties attributed to changing exposure concentrations in hazardous areas, changes in building codes and vulnerability, new or updated man-made defenses, and other factors including GDP itself will be significant and cannot be predicted over such an extended period. Also, public adaptation could also change, such as reversing migration patterns which currently trend toward areas of risk. All of these factors, and the interactions amongst them, are largely uncertain.

The report clearly points out that the time element of predicting climate change was removed by instead associating changes in risk to changes in global temperatures. Of course, the natural question arises, “When will these temperature changes occur?” There is an appendix specifically devoted to answering this and other related questions. The time frames associated with a 2°C (4°C) rise are quite wide, and by no means does the report conclude that 35-years (65-years) is the consensus. If we had computed a 35-year or 65-year growth rate based on current changes in GDP, some would have argued that the resulting changes are misleading for many reasons, not the least of which is the reality of the current economic crisis where many GDP rates are negative.

Perhaps it would have been more precise to say:

Over a 10 year period of 2.5% growth (as an estimate of GDP in the UK), the compounded increase is 28%. The sensitivity of the catastrophe model results to this level of change in insured values for the 4°C scenario is as follows:

Insured 100-year (1.0% annual probability) Great Britain flood losses would rise by 38%, compared to 30% without GDP growth considered

Over a 10 year period of 6.0% growth (as an estimate of GDP in China), the compounded increase is 80%. The sensitivity of the catastrophe model results to this level of change in insured values for the 4°C scenario is as follows:

Insured 100-year (1.0% annual probability) China typhoon losses would rise by 16%, compared to 9% without GDP growth considered

Even here, with all the percentages and probabilities involved, it can be confusing and the main point can be lost in the translation. To be clear, there was no intention to mislead. In fact, I hope you will find that the climate model and catastrophe model results are quite sensible. As you well know, bringing economic conditions into the analysis leads to a great deal of uncertainty. For example, regional growth changes will certainly not follow the UK average. While this study does address several socio-economic factors related to climate change, it will naturally lead to more questions, and to more research, both of which fuel a healthy debate.

One of the key goals of this study was to dig into these complex interactions between climate science and risk management more deeply than in the 2005 study, but trying to predict how all of the moving parts will change over many decades, and moreover how individuals will respond to these changes is beyond its scope. Certainly, I hope you agree that exposure trends which exist today cannot be extrapolated very far into the future just as exposure trends of the early to mid-1900s do not apply today.

We greatly appreciate your comments, and are always looking for ways to better communicate these highly complex but extremely important issues for industry and society.

Hyper-Partisanship, Cartharsis and Non-Skeptical Heretics

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger continue their sequence of excellent analyses of what has gone wrong in the climate debate with a post focused on the hyper-partisan nature of the climate debate. The piece is worth reading in full, but the ending is especially on target:

Democratic partisans, liberals and greens have spent much of the last eight years tearing out our hair about all the ways the hyper-partisan it's-all-a-hoax! Republicans have blocked action on climate. These complaints may have been cathartic, but they have not been productive. We have not had and cannot have any impact on Republicans, and our partisan apocalypse talk and our sacrifice-now agenda are obviously alienating the vast, moderate middle.

The work of holding Republican obstructionists, anti-government extremists, and right-wing conspiracy mongers to task is work for principled conservatives, not liberals. The work of greens and liberals is to challenge the Democratic demagogues, the left-wing bullies, and the Climate McCarthyites who narrow and polarize the debate in ways that make effective policy action all but impossible. If we can hold our own hyper-partisans to account then fair-minded conservatives might do the same. For until the establishment and the grassroots on both left and right learn to say no to Joe Romm and to Glenn Beck, hyper-partisanship is here to stay.

What "left-wing bullies" (like Joe Romm) have done is turn the tactics that they have used on the "hyper-partisan it's-all-a-hoax! Republicans" onto anyone and everyone that they see any disagreement with. This has the metaphorical effect of painting themselves into a very small political corner. Nordhaus and Shellenberger do a nice job of explaining how Romm and his fellow travelers work to establish "the partisan identity of any given thing, whether it be a new technology, policy, or analysis." And guess what? If you try really hard to distinguish yourself from reasonable folks who share most of your views and might appeal to the "vast, moderate middle," you just might succeed!

The strong reaction by hyper-partisans to a New York Times article by Andty Revkin a few years ago exemplifies this behavior. Revkin wrote:

A third stance is now emerging, espoused by many experts who challenge both poles of the debate.

They agree that accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases probably pose a momentous environmental challenge, but say the appropriate response is more akin to buying fire insurance and installing sprinklers and new wiring in an old, irreplaceable house (the home planet) than to fighting a fire already raging.

“Climate change presents a very real risk,” said Carl Wunsch, a climate and oceans expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It seems worth a very large premium to insure ourselves against the most catastrophic scenarios. Denying the risk seems utterly stupid. Claiming we can calculate the probabilities with any degree of skill seems equally stupid.”

Many in this camp seek a policy of reducing vulnerability to all climate extremes while building public support for a sustained shift to nonpolluting energy sources.

They have made their voices heard in Web logs, news media interviews and at least one statement from a large scientific group, the World Meteorological Organization. In early December, that group posted a statement written by a committee consisting of most of the climatologists assessing whether warming seas have affected hurricanes.

While each degree of warming of tropical oceans is likely to intensify such storms a percentage point or two in the future, they said, there is no firm evidence of a heat-triggered strengthening in storms in recent years. The experts added that the recent increase in the impact of storms was because of more people getting in harm’s way, not stronger storms.

There are enough experts holding such views that Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist and blogger at the University of Colorado, Boulder, came up with a name for them (and himself): “nonskeptical heretics.”

“A lot of people have independently come to the same sort of conclusion,” Dr. Pielke said. “We do have a problem, we do need to act, but what actions are practical and pragmatic?”

This approach was most publicly laid out in an opinion article on the BBC Web site in November by Mike Hulme, the director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in Britain.

Dr. Hulme said that shrill voices crying doom could paralyze instead of inspire.

“I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama,” he wrote. “I believe climate change is real, must be faced and action taken. But the discourse of catastrophe is in danger of tipping society onto a negative, depressive and reactionary trajectory.”
I have often explained that I am not a big fan of using the term left-middle-right to describe the views of experts as expertise has many more dimensions and nuances than this simple framework. I do not claim that my views are in the "middle" of the extreme right or left, because they are not a matter of splitting the difference or triangulation. I have different views (as I think Ted and Michael would claim as well). They are not in the middle of the left and right, but they are better than those views from the standpoint of political action and policy outcomes. Thus, I do like the language of a "third perspective."

But in terms of describing the views of the public, it is entirely reasonable to say that the U.S. public is comprised mainly by people who are not on the fringe right or extreme left, so "vast, moderate middle" is an entirely fair characterization. The "vast, moderate middle" does not respond so well to hyper-partisan appeals (unless it is to reject them).

Yet, to win the hearts and minds of the American public and most decision makers depends up appealing to this vast, moderate middle. While there is plenty of cartharis involved in serving up red meat for the most ideological, this is almost certainly a strategy doomed to fail if the goal is to appeal to the vast, moderate middle. Efforts to demonize those seeking to appeal to this middle are only going to reinforce the pathologies of the hyper-partisan climate debate, and push that middle further away.