Summary: Here’s a recommendation about a brief, powerful, and timely book about climate change (one of the great public policy issues of our time).
Review of The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change
by Roger Pielke Jr.
Let’s cut to the chase. There are two important things to know about this book. First, this is a valuable contribution to the public debate about climate change, a brief, clearly written, thoroughly documented description of state of the knowledge about one aspect of climate change: the current trends in disasters. It’s essential reading for any layperson interested in this vital issue, no matter what your political tribe. It’s especially valuable as assertions that we’re suffering the effects of extreme climate have become frequent page-one features in the news media. Prof Pielke shows the research and benchmarks the research vs the most recent conclusions of the IPCC.
His conclusion about the science (spoiler):
This short volume has sought to answer a straight-forward question: Have disasters become more costly because of human-caused climate change? Only one answer to this question is strongly supported by the available data, the broad scientific literature, and the assessments of the IPCC:
“No. There is exceedingly little evidence to support claims that disasters have become more costly because of human-caused climate change.”
Of course, a lack of evidence does not prevent people from believing in God, aliens, or for that matter, a small celestial teapot orbiting the Sun in the asteroid belt. People may indeed have very good reasons for believing in any of these things for which data and observational evidence are unsupportive, unavailable, or inconclusive. The issue of disasters and climate change will be no different. And of course, science evolves. There may be future research which overturns present understandings. If and when that happens, our assessment of what the science says should change accordingly.
Thus, the conclusions presented here should be interpreted as an indication of the current state of scientific understandings, and not a prediction of what a future scientific assessment might say in the years to come. Nonetheless, one point should be abundantly clear. The evidence available today points to a clear answer to the central question at the focus of this short volume: Human-caused climate change has not led to a detectable increase in the costs of disasters.
But the climate is changing. It would be a mistake to conclude that because the evidence shows that human-caused climate change has not led to demonstrable in-creases in the costs of disasters that (a) climate change is not occurring, or (b) we need not worry about it.
In this regard, those advocates for action who claim to see the influence of climate change do themselves no favors by stretching and sometimes going beyond what science can support. Sure, you can get attention and news coverage with assertions that changes in climate are leading to more disasters. But over the long term, are such strategies worth the risk of exaggerating what science can actually show with evidence?
The rest of the book is imo even more useful to citizens, an analysis of the public policy debate — written by someone who’s been in the trenches. He rates the players, describes the issues and the alternatives, and gives sound advice on how scientists can best influence citizens and public officials. His recommendations for framing the issue are an expanded version of his 2012 Foreign Policy article “Climate of Failure“, using the “Kaya Identity” — a useful math identify showing the variables we can change to stabilize atmospheric carbon (see a useful calculator here)
I’m quite familiar with these matters, and I learned a lot from this.
The more important question
The second thing to “know” is that nobody cares. While climate science advances at the maddeningly irregular pace typical of all science (fast ahead, then slow, backwards, jump ahead, repeat), the public policy debate appears to have been subsumed by our irrational tribal rites (so well seen long ago by Jonathan Swift, as in his accounts of our elections and foreign policy). As a result public policy on this vital subject has become paralyzed by the debate between It’s a Hoax and We’ll all die unless we abandon Capitalism! Neither tribe cares that their view has little support in either the reports of the IPCC Working Group I (the climate scientists) or their peer-reviewed literature. Much of the public has tuned out, with climate change low on their list of worries (Gallup is the latest poll to show this).
Prof Pielke Jr has personal experience with this tribal poo-flinging. His article for Nate Silver’s data-centric 539 website received a venomous rebuttal from the Left, the equivalent of drowning out his voice by chants of “Two legs bad, four legs good” (largely ignoring his citations of the literature and IPCC; details below). His discussion of the Kaya Identity was attacked by noted economist Paul Krugman, whose (best as I can tell) political ideology prevented him from understanding it (see the story at Pielke’s website).
Buy his book to learn about our world, to become more informed in one of the great political issues of our time, and to encourage him to continue this work (i.e., show that there are rational people in America). It’s a small step on the long road to re-taking the reins of America.
About the author
Roger Pielke, Jr. was a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder, and Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now with the He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. Before joining the faculty of U CO, from 1993-2001 Roger was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research, and in 2012 he received the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America.
Pielke has been the author, co-author or co-editor of 7 books, including The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics published by Cambridge University Press (2007) and The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell you About Global Warming (2010).
Some important things to remember about global warming
Please read this before commenting about my views about global warming and climate change. It also has links to the key posts on the FM website on this topic.
For More Information
(a) Reference Pages about climate on the FM sites:
- The important things to know about global warming
- My posts
- Studies & reports, by subject
- The history of climate fears
(b) Posts about Prof Pieke Jr’s publications about climate impacts:
- Nate Silver goes from hero to goat, convicted by the Left of apostasy, 25 March 2014
- The Left stages a two minute hate on Nate Silver, Roger Pielke Jr (& me), 29 March 2014
- Weather & climate change: how to interpret our past in order to prepare for our future, 2 April 2014 — Links to Pielke’s papers about climate impacts.
(c) Posts about the extreme weather:
- Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
- A look behind the curtain at the news of extreme climate events in the US, 22 August 2012
- Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional? (plus important info about US hurricanes), 28 October 2012
- Has global warming increased the frequency & virulence of extreme weather events?, 10 February 2013
- The Oklahoma tornadoes can teach us about our climate, and ourselves, 22 May 2013
- The IPCC gives us straight talk about Extreme Weather, 4 October 2013
- The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen?, 15 October 2013
- A summary of the state of climate change and extreme weather, 12 December 2013
- Some good news about our changing climate. Enjoy it, for it might not last long., 12 September 2014
- Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate, 30 October 2014