Tag Archives: climate change

A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.

Summary: Here is a powerful presentation by Professor Roger Pielke Jr. that provides missing background for the flood of stories about climate change accompanying the UN Conference of Parties in Paris (COP21). The events he describes show how the public policy debate has been conducted, why it failed — and point to fixes necessary if we are to prepare for the future. This is the second in a series attempting to understand the final chapters of the campaign to get public policy measures to fight climate change.

“It is not their wrongness so much as their pretensions to rightness that have brought economic predictions and the theory that underlies them into well-deserved contempt.”
— Peter Medawar in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice: and Other Classic Essays on Science (1981).

Learn from mistakes

Contents

  1. Introduction.
  2. His Presentation.
  3. Conclusions.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.
  6. Upsetting the President’s science adviser.
  7. His book about extreme weather.

(1)  Introduction

The debate about the public policy response to climate change began (to pick a date) with James Hansen’s Senate testimony 26 years ago, and went into hyperdrive with Gore’s speech ten years ago predicting a “time of consequences” (with, among other things, more Katrinas). It consists of a thousand smaller stories, which future historians will study with interest to learn why this great movement failed despite its strong support from the Left, academia, journalists, and the major science institutions.

Few more of these more clearly reveal the answer than activists’ response to  “Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change”, a mild article in 538 by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research). It’s telling story about “noble lie” corruption in the climate science, and the scurrilous behavior of activists to advance their political agenda.

Now that the policy debate has largely burnt out (e.g., see James Hansen’s rant about Obama), with the COP-21 party in Paris providing its wake, Pielke tells this story. It’s important to understand. Climate change has not stopped (it’s raised and destroyed civilizations for millennia), and we remain unprepared for even the repeat of past weather — let alone whatever the future holds for us. We have to learn from our mistakes in order to do better in the future.

Roger Pielke with the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Photo by Casey A. Cass – U of Co

(2)  His presentation

Introduction from his website

“Just over a week ago I gave a keynote lecture to the VWN – de Vereniging voor Wetenschapsjournalistiek en -communicatie, the Dutch Association of Science Journalists. My talk told the story of some of my experiences over about 20 years working on the subject of disasters and climate change.

“… my work attracted many critics who did not like what the research showed — in particular, the challenges that peer-reviewed research and the conclusions of the IPCC posed to linking rising disaster costs to human-caused climate change. In particular, more than a few journalists/activists (in collaboration with a few scientists) took it upon themselves to delegitimize my work and work to drive me from participation in the public debate. Ultimately, with the help of politicians like John Holdren and Rep. Raul Grijalva, they succeeded.”

Click on the icon in the lower right corner to enlarge the presentation…
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Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions

Summary: Scientists and journalists bombard us with news about the coming climate catastrophe, described as certain unless we drastically change our economy. This has plunged many into despair. The hidden key to these forecasts is RCP8.5, the worst case scenario of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report — often erroneously described as the “business as usual” scenario. Understanding this misuse of science reveals the weak basis of the most dire warnings (which set the mood at the Paris Conference), and helps explain why the US public assigns a low priority to fighting climate change despite the intense decades-long publicity campaign.

“We’re going to become extinct. Whatever we do now is too late.”
— Frank Fenner (Prof emeritus in microbiology at the Australian National U); Wikipedia describes his great accomplishments), an interview in The Australian, 10 June 2010.

Climate nightmares

In the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report four scenarios describe future emissions, concentrations, and land-use. They are Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), the inputs to climate models that generate the IPCC’s projections. Strong mitigation policies lead to a low forcing level of 2.6 W/m2 by 2100 (RCP2.6). Two medium stabilization scenarios lead to intermediate outcomes in RCP4.5 and RCP6.0.

RCP8.5 gets the most attention, with its bold and dark assumptions (details here). It is a useful and important scenario, a warning of what might happen if the 21st century goes badly. It should spur us to act. Unfortunately, “despite not being explicitly designed as business as usual or mitigation scenarios” RCP8.5 has often been misrepresented as the “business as usual” scenario — becoming the basis for hundreds of predictions about our certain doom from climate change.

The result of this (part of a decade-long campaign) is widespread despair among climate scientists and more broadly, among Leftists. This misuse of RCP8.5 is a triumph of propaganda, but polls show its ineffectiveness (with climate change ranking at or near the bottom of public policy concerns). Yet each month brings more of the same.

What future does RCP8.5 describe?

“In 2002, as I edited a book about global climate change, I concluded we had set events in motion that would cause our own extinction, probably by 2030. I mourned for months …”
— “Apocalypse or extinction?” by Guy McPherson (Prof Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology, U AZ), Oct 2009.

The papers describing the RCP’s clearly state their assumptions, unlike most of those that follow them. RCP8.5 describes a bleak scenario, a hot and dark world in 2100 (since it’s powered by coal, perhaps literally dark) — even before considering the effects of climate change. Below are the key points, with graphs from “The representative concentration pathways: an overview” by Detlef P. van Vuuren et al in Climatic Change, Nov 2011.

RCP8.5 assumes breaks in long-term trends for population growth and technological change, the opposite of the usual base case for planning. See this post for a more detailed look at it.

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A way to break the gridlock on the climate change debate

Summary: The public policy debate about climate change consists largely of people tossing confetti at one another, with the reasonable people either pushed to the sidelines or buried. There is a simple step that both sides can agree on, with the potential to break the gridlock. Here’s a brief version of my proposal.

Trust can trump Uncertainty.”
Presentation by Leonard A Smith (Prof of Statistics, LSE), 6 February 2014.

The most important graph from the IPCC’s AR5

Figure 1.4 from the IPCC's AR5

Figure 1.4 from AR5: Estimated changes in the observed globally and annually averaged surface temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990 (in °C) since 1950 compared with the range of projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Click to enlarge.

After 26 years of debate, US public policy on climate change remains paralyzed. Polls show that it ranks near the bottom of American’s concerns. We even remain poorly prepared for a repeat of past extreme weather, such as a major hurricane hitting an East coast city – let alone future climate. Both sides rehash their arguments, accomplishing nothing.

Climate scientists can begin to restart the debate and rebuild public confidence: re-run the climate models from the first three IPCC assessment reports (ARs) with actual emission data (from their future). See if they can show that models predict the observed global temperatures with reasonable accuracy. The cost of this project would be small compared to the overall funding of climate research and a dot compared to the potential costs of climate change.

The famous “spaghetti graphs” — one the most-cited graphics from the ARs — shows the forecast of models used in each report vs. actual global average atmospheric temperature. They tell us little, as in the above graph from the most recent AR. It packs too much information into one graph, but does not show what we most want to know: the accuracy of their forecasts. Each line represents a temperature forecast with specific assumptions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

How well do the models work if input with accurate GHG emissions? The answer can provide a fair test of the major climate models, one acceptable to both sides in the policy debate. A brief explanation of the models shows why.

{Read the full article at Climate Scepticism.}

“In an age of spreading pseudoscience and anti-rationalism, it behooves those of us who
believe in the good of science and engineering to be above reproach whenever possible.“
P. J. Roach, Computing in Science and Engineering, Sept-Oct 2004 — Gated.

Other posts in this series

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. A new response to climate change that can help the GOP win in 2016.
  3. The full version: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.

Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate & win: test the models!

Summary; Public policy about climate change has become politicized and gridlocked after 26 years of large-scale advocacy. We cannot even prepare for a repeat of past extreme weather. We can whine and bicker about who to blame. Or we can find ways to restart the debate. Here is the next of a series about the latter path, for anyone interested in walking it. Climate scientists can take an easy and potentially powerful step to build public confidence: re-run the climate models from the first 3 IPCC reports with actual data (from their future): how well did they predict global temperatures?

“Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory — an event which would have refuted the theory.”
— Karl Popper in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963).

The most important graph from the IPCC’s AR5

Figure 1.4 from the IPCC's AR5

Figure 1.4 from AR5: Estimated changes in the observed globally and annually averaged surface temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990 (in °C) since 1950 compared with the range of projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Click to enlarge.

A similar proposal to mine, but more complete: “Climate predictions and observations“, Roger Pielke Jr., Nature Geoscience, April 2008.

Why the most important graph doesn’t convince the public

Last week I posted What climate scientists did wrong and why the massive climate change campaign has failed. After 26 years, one of the largest longest campaigns to influence public policy has failed to gain the support of Americans, with climate change ranking near the bottom of people’s concerns. It described the obvious reason: they failed to meet the public’s expectations for behavior of scientists warning about a global threat (i.e., a basic public relations mistake).

Let’s discuss what scientists can do to restart the debate. Let’s start with the big step: show that climate models have successfully predicted future global temperatures with reasonable accuracy.

This spaghetti graph — probably the most-cited data from the IPCC’s reports — illustrates one reason for lack of sufficient public support in America. It shows the forecasts of models run in previous IPCC reports vs. actual subsequent temperatures, with the forecasts run under various scenarios of emissions and their baselines updated. First, Edward Tufte probably would laugh at this The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — too much packed into one graph, the equivalent of a Powerpoint slide with 15 bullet points.

But there’s a more important weakness. We want to know how well the models work. That is, how well each forecast if run with a correct scenario (i.e., actual future emissions, since we’re uninterested here in predicting emissions, just temperatures). Let’s prune away all those extra lines on the spagetti graph, leaving forecasts from 1990 to now that match the actual course of emissions.

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Despair: so common these days, so good for the 1%

Summary:  Despair at the confident predictions of doomsters has become an almost defining characteristic of both Left and Right in America, as documented in so many posts here. Nothing but abject servitude serves the 1% better.  Here’s an example, looking at the effects of the quarter-century-long campaign predicting doom from climate change.

Despair

Edvard Munch’s “Despair” (1894).

Assessing the record, and alarmists’ responses to it

Gore correctly predicted a “time of consequences”, but got the details backwards. He quoted Churchill’s 1936 warning about Hitler, given less than 3 years before the invasion of Poland. What have we seen 10 years after Gore’s speech, and 26 years after James Hansen’s Senate testimony)? Few of the predicted horrors have appeared.

The world is a fraction of a degree C warmer. The record pause in hurricane landfalls continues, global numbers and energy of hurricanes has not risen, number of severe tornadoes, area burned in wildfires, number of extremely hot days in the US, the extent of arctic sea ice, Antarctic sea ice, and area of global sea ice — most metrics of extreme weather have remained stable or within historical norms during the past decade (more details here and here). Nor is there evidence we’ve hit the “tipping point”, despite passing so many deadlines during the past 30 years.

Even the air temperature has frustrated Gore’s predictions, as the pause continues in its second decade while scientists debate its causes. The somewhat ramshackle global surface air temperature networks showed a peak of hundredths of a degree in 2014 (and YTD 2015), less than their error bars; the two satellite-based networks show no record for 2014 (details here).

The consequences: a loss of credibility for the climate change activists, as the US public rates it among the least serious threats (see polls by Pew Research and by Gallup). Historians might see this as one of the most incompetent publicity campaigns ever.

Instead of learning and adapting from their failure, climate activists have doubled down. They ratchet up their claims about future doom, with journalists’ support. Often contrary to the IPCC’s findings, as in these articles about the “methane monster”. And as in this gem…

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How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016

Summary: Republicans have adopted a purely negative platform for dealing with climate change, a difficult to explain policy that puts them in opposition to most scientists. This post describes an alternative platform, one that is consistent with their principles, easy to explain, appealing to undecided voters, and cuts through the chaff of factional bickering. It’s the kind of policy that helps create coalitions that win elections.

“… a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
— Martin Luther King’s speech “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington on 31 March 1968.

Republicans Flag

Contents

  1. GOP weakness on climate change
  2. An agenda for the 21st century.
  3. Conclusions.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For more information.

(1) The Republicans’ weak stance on climate change

The Republicans have ceded the politics of climate change to the Democrats. The only mention of it in the 2012 Republican platform is trivial…

“Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates “climate change” to the level of a “severe threat” equivalent to foreign aggression.”

So far the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates have little to say about it. I see no policy statements about climate change on the issues pages of campaign websites for Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.

Carly Fiorina says that the solution to climate change is “innovation not regulation”, without many details (her website points to video clip here, and here). She also says — logically — that California should have prepared better for the drought — although her specific recommendations are illogical: more dams and water infrastructure (ineffective and too expensive to cope with multi-year droughts) and massive destruction of California’s ecology (e.g., damage to key species such as the delta smelt — calling it unimportant because it’s a “small fish”).

When questioned, Republican candidates tend to respond with evasions and half-understood techno-babble (even if they understood it, the public would not) — or just deny the problem (see responses at the CNN debate). There is a better way, one consistent with their commitment to a strong defense and a sound infrastructure for America.

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Alaska’s climate scientists tell us the rest of the news, what Obama forgot to mention

Summary: Obama journeys to Alaska and says things. Our journalist-stenographers reprint this as news. They do not consult local experts, and so miss an important part of the story. This post gives you the rest of the news.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Alaska temperatures 1949-2014

From the Alaska Climate Research Center. Click to enlarge.

The great oddity of the climate change campaign is the disinterest of journalists in reporting it well. Stories about our certain doom often omit vital context (e.g., burning off the world’s fossil fuels means the 21st century relies on coal for energy, like the 19thC), forget to mention the IPCC when it disagrees with alarmists (e.g., about the danger of a methane apocalypse), and ignore the host of research facilities studying relevant aspects of our changing world.

We see that last factor at work in journalists’ reporting about Obama’s climate campaign tour of Alaska. Google News shows no stories in the mainstream news mentioning the findings of the Alaska Climate Research Center. I have posted their work in response to previous panicky stories about Alaska melting in 2009, in 2013, and again here.

Here is their Temperature Changes in Alaska page (updated annually; red emphasis added). It’s quite clear.

“This page features the trends in mean annual and seasonal temperatures for Alaska’s first-order observing stations since 1949, the time period for which the most reliable meteorological data are available. The temperature change varies from one climatic zone to another as well as for different seasons. If a linear trend is taken through mean annual temperatures, the average change over the last 6 decades is 3.0°F.

“… Considering just a linear trend can mask some important variability characteristics in the time series. The figure at right shows clearly that this trend is non-linear: a linear trend might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 during this time period. The figure shows the temperature departure from the long-term mean (1949-2009) for all stations. It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the 5-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976.

“The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2009, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase. Synoptic conditions with the positive phase tend to consist of increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.”

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