“Disasters & Climate Change”, an important new book illuminating the debate

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).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change

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.

Newsweek: global warming hoax
Article about crazy people, Newsweek, 13 August 2007

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).

Being a mensch, Prof Pielke has continued his work in climate science. Being a rational man, he’s diversified into something more highly regarded by the crowd in our version of Plato’s Cave: sports.

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.

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change is available at Amazon..

Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr

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.

Truth Will Make You Free

For More Information

(a)  Reference Pages about climate on the FM sites:

  1. The important things to know about global warming
  2. My posts
  3. Studies & reports, by subject
  4. The history of climate fears

(b)  Posts about Prof Pieke Jr’s publications about climate impacts:

  1. Nate Silver goes from hero to goat, convicted by the Left of apostasy, 25 March 2014
  2. The Left stages a two minute hate on Nate Silver, Roger Pielke Jr (& me), 29 March 2014
  3. 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:

  1. Ignorance and propaganda about extreme climate change, 10 July 2012
  2. A look behind the curtain at the news of extreme climate events in the US, 22 August 2012
  3. Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional? (plus important info about US hurricanes), 28 October 2012
  4. Has global warming increased the frequency & virulence of extreme weather events?, 10 February 2013
  5. The Oklahoma tornadoes can teach us about our climate, and ourselves, 22 May 2013
  6. The IPCC gives us straight talk about Extreme Weather, 4 October 2013
  7. The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen?, 15 October 2013
  8. A summary of the state of climate change and extreme weather, 12 December 2013
  9. Some good news about our changing climate. Enjoy it, for it might not last long., 12 September 2014
  10. Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate, 30 October 2014





36 thoughts on ““Disasters & Climate Change”, an important new book illuminating the debate”

  1. It’s been 32 years of costly debate now and if time actually is running out to save the planet then we need absolute certainty from science saying it is “proven” and “100% certain”. Not unless there is a climate scientist that is willing to say their scientific method prevents them from saying it’s “proven”.
    But if science can’t say “proven” before we sacrifice ourselves the angry weather gods then it’s not a crisis.
    This planet lover is happy it was all a sick and tragic exaggeration.

    1. Meme mine,

      If you wait for certainty, you will never get it. It is a rare quality in most aspects of life, except when responding to the past (e.g., after the storm huts).

      Success comes from sensible precautionary measures, which abound in climate policy (but hidden amidst the poo-throwing by Left and Right). There are obvious measures to take, given what scientists know today.

      * Preparing for reoccurrence of past extreme weather. It’s quite irresponsible that we’re not prepared today for 100-year weather (e.g., NYC almost totally unprepared, as Sandy — a mild storm over long time horizons, showed).

      * Converting to alternative energy sources, both cleaner (esp than coal) and diversifying away from diminishing petroleum reserves. These are long-life infrastructure, so this planning must be on multi-generational horizons — and include robust and sustained R&D funding.

    2. Just in case their is still anyone left alive that doesn’t know this already;

      ‘Mememine’ is a well known paid astro-turfer for the denial industry.
      He spams the same identical gish gallops of the most absurd nonsense to any and every publication and blog that includes the word “climate” in the header.

      He posts to about 40 threads under around 5 or 6 different screen-names and his total number of spam posts under the sceen-name ‘mememine69’ alone is nearly 10,000.

      Yep – 10,000 near identical posts.

      His real name is Paul Merrifield and he is an obese 60 year old loser from Niagra Falls now living in London, Ontario.
      It has been explained to him a hundred times that the scientific method deals in the balance of probabilities and not absolutes. He usualy just does a ‘drive-by’ posting and doesn’t even attempt to refute the proof that he is posting BS.

      I always report him as spam whenever possible.

      He often changes his name but he is instantly recognisable from the same old posts week in week out.

      Just shows what intelligent people are up against when there exist repulsive individuals who are prepared to threaten ours and our childrens future for his ideological beliefs and whatever pennies the carbon corporations toss to him.

      1. Leslie,

        Thank you for the background info on meme. Unfortunately the comments to most of the 4 score or so posts about climate on the FM are similar to his. Laypeople with fixed ideas, scraps of knowledge, holding tight to their tribe’s beliefs like a rat to his cheese.

        I doubt than any one commenter here, Left or Right, has been influence one jot by my citations of the IPCC or peer-reviewed literature. It’s like discussing transubstantiation with a doctrinaire Roman Catholic. One can admire the firmness of their faith while considering the discussion to be a waste of time.

        Such is 21st C America. While we pointlessly bicker, our ruling elites steer the ship. Sometimes, at night, I wonder if it’s better that way.

    3. I’m not a climate scientist but I have enough scientific background to be happy to tell you “their scientific method prevents them from saying it’s ‘proven’.” If you don’t understand that, you have no business commenting on the validity of scientific hypotheses.
      Or perhaps you would like to explain how the “law of gravity” is proven. Or how F=MA was proven. Until it was disproven by Einstein. And how Einstein’s theory of relativity is now proven.

  2. Let’s add some common sense to the contention that climate change does not increase costs of natural disasters. Recent hurricanes are occurring in oceans that are 3 to 4 degrees warmer. Warmer waters increase hurricanes intensity by adding more heat and water vapor to the storm.
    Stronger storms cause more damage which increases costs to repair the damage.

    1. Fran,

      The data is quite clear on the subject: tropical storms are increasing neither in frequency or intensity. That you appear not to agree with either the IPCC or peer-reviewed literature — so confidently — is part of the science communication puzzle that has attracted so much attention.

      As for the future, there is (so far as I can see) no clear consensus on this among climate scientists, as there are too many variables. How long will the pause in surface atmosphere continue (estimates range out to 2 decades)? How will warming effect the various forms of extreme climate? Both the IPCC’s special report on extreme climate (SREX, 2012) and Fifth Assessment Report’s Working Group I (AR5 WG1, 2013) came to few firm conclusions.

      I suggest you read the SREX Summary for Policymakers:

    2. It’s just a flat out lie that costs aren’t increasing. All the evidence clearly shows that it is.
      Here is just one of a hundred sources – mainly from the re-insurance company research that shows that, as usual, the denial industry shills have no compunction about telling bare faced lies.
      You have to bear in mind that they have no shame and will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect their income stream and future assets.


      1. Leslie,

        As I and a thousand others have said, people should give quotes when giving responses. Otherwise comments quickly become a cacophony.

        “It’s just a flat out lie that costs aren’t increasing.”

        Who says such a thing? Not Roger Pielke Jr., the subject of this post.

      1. Leslie,

        This is a common trope of laypeople: pointing to increasing dollar total to prove something is growing worse. It’s absurd. Due to the combined effects of inflation and economic growth, almost all economic numbers increase over time.

        Reliable economic analysis compensates for this by use of ratios to show trends. In this case, annual disaster losses as a fraction of national income (losses as a fraction of national assets would be better, but income is measured more accurately than asset values).

  3. Seriously? You “believers” can tell little children the worst crisis imaginable is “proven” but science can’t?
    Now that is why it’s called “belief”.

    Prove any climate scientist has ever said the scientific method won’t let them say “proven”.

    1. Meme mine,

      “Prove any climate scientist has ever said the scientific method won’t let them say “proven”.”

      That’s a reading FAIL. I said that forecasts about the future are not provable in most aspects of life, including climate science.

      Easy test: find a statement in the IPCC’s AR5 WG1 which they describe as “proven”. They are certain about simple (i.e., narrow, basic) aspects of climate science. But even statements about the past are stated with some uncertainty. Even the foundational state of the climate science consensus:

      “It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

      Forecasts are stated with higher or far higher uncertainties.

  4. Editor,

    The problem is to get away from fossil fuels without killing the economy, and as a consequence a high fraction of the humans alive today.

    A government that took the steps needed would be replaced with one that reversed the previous one.

    But there *might* be a solution. It’s been kicked around and even some serious money spent on it since 1968. That’s power satellites. Those tap sunlight out in geosynchronous orbit and beam it to the ground. The problem is for power satellites to make sense the cost of lifting parts to GEO has to come down by a factor of 100, from $20,000/kg to $200/kg.

    It’s not easy, but the UK government has funded Reaction Engines to take the first steps.

    1. Keith,

      I too share your enthusiasm about space solar power, as one of techs that should be funded by expanded R&D.

      This class of solutions lies in the distant future — with the debate on their economic effect probably a matter for a future generation.

      “The problem is to get away from fossil fuels without killing the economy”

      Nicely said! Hence the importance of agreeing on the timing and magnitude of climate change. Unfortunately there is a consensus among climate scientists about aspects of the past, but little consensus about the future.

      IMO the research process being used today is unlikely to produce useful conclusions in a useful time. I recommend more funding, using multi-disciplinary trams (e.g., including statisticans), borrowing processes from the drug development process (e.g., detailed outside review of data and methods, unlikely the cursory “pal review usual in academic science).

      1. Editor,

        “Distant future.”

        Reaction Engines has committed to delivering Skylons at one a month staring in 2021. If you stick this number into an economic spreadsheet, along with the ground power beaming station being ready by the time around 1200 flights have been made, then the first power satellite comes on line in 2023. Even undercutting coal, the profit from this venture is so high that with reasonable growth fossil fuels would be totally displaced by early to the mid 2030s.

        It’s too big to be anything but a government project. And there is a lot of risk. Besides the technical risk (fairly low) there is the risk that someone will solve the energy problem some other and cheaper way.

        This is only incidentally a way to deal with climate problems. It’s mainly a proposal to make the world much richer.

        This is slightly out of date: http://theenergycollective.com/keith-henson/485571/power-satellite-progress

        VASIMR engine are too heavy, but arcjets will work. David MacKay mentioned it: http://withouthotair.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/solar-power-from-space.html

        I don’t expect the US to get involved. Too much shale gas.

      2. Keith,

        I applaud your enthusiasm, but I’d like to see an outside evaluation of that timing. Speaking as a layman, it seems unrealistic.

        In 7 years they’ll begin rapid launchings using presently non-existent launch infrastructure to build solar power stations that are as yet theoretical. Starting today with microscopic funding.

        Apollo — a less ambitious program — took 8 years, run with one of the largest funding levels of any R&D project in world history.

        Color me skeptical.

      3. Editor,

        If you want to go over the spreadsheet and assumptions yourself, just ask. Skylons flights are not like launching rockets, they take off from and land on a runway.

        “Microscopic funding” The UK government gave Reaction Engines a $100 million dollar grant. They parlayed that into $350 million with private investment. That’s just for the engine development, and it was after they had demonstrated the hardest part of the program, fabricating and testing the precoooler for the engine. I followed that development for years and was skeptical till they built and tested one. That happened around the time I visited them two years ago.

        The power satellite project has already been under consideration for more than a generation, it started in 1968. I got involved in 1975. If it can’t undercut coal, then, in my opinion, it’s not worth doing. It’s also not worth talking about starting in another 30-40 years. That’s beyond the point I expect humans to be concerned.

  5. The ads surrounding your content are inappropriately sexy and distracting. Hard to take the content seriously in that environment. I suggest you find a way to eliminate them if anyone cares to follow you for the subject matter you offer.

    1. Recovery Diva,

      I don’t understand your objection. Look at other websites: most have the same tacky ads, because most use the same free website platforms (i.e., the basic service is free; we pay for the add-ons). Not all of us can afford to pay for no-ad platforms.

      If you hit the tip jar, I’ll use the funds to reduce or eliminate the ads.

      Also, do you judge TV shows by the quality of the ads?

  6. How close to the point of no return from complete unstoppable warming will science lead us before they finally say their “possible threat to the planet” is now “PROVEN” to be a global climate crisis?

    1. The onus is on the skeptic at some point after multiple assertions of the inadequacy of the evidence to specify what evidence would be sufficient to constitute “proof”. If you are looking for some kind of geometric or mathematical proof, or if you are looking for some sort of control experiment with two identical planets, one with CO2 rising and one without, or you’re looking for a 1.00 correlation between CO2 level and temperature, you should make that clear. Otherwise, the theoretical scientific method, although not always honored in practice, is to specify your criteria for “rejecting the null hypothesis” a priori, in order to avoid bias, rather than after getting the results back and then deciding.

      1. Gzucker,

        I agree on all points.

        Here is a somewhat unrelated question on my list of things to research. Popper established refutation as one of the key elements of a theory in science. What can refute the current climate science consensus theory?

        The repeated failure since the theory took current shape in the 1990s of forecasts for both global surface temperature warming and specific extreme weather events (e.g., increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms) does not seem to have had much effect on the scientists involved. Although we are talking only about 10 – 15 years, there seems to no specified time horizon at which some aspects of the theory will get declared broken.

        Also odd to a layman, all weather appears to have some (not a majority) claiming it validates their theory. Warm or cold, wet or dry, etc. This all seems quite ad hoc.

        From a procedural sense, the failure to establish clear forecasts and falsification tests seems like a institutional flaw. I suspect (guessing) this is one reason for the lack of public support.


    2. Indeed, as you note, this gold standard of setting a defined criterion for success a priori to avoid biased decision a posteriori seems to be still lacking in the AGW theoretical realm, other than in general nonquantitative predictions.
      At this point, I’d say the most solid evidence for AGW is that models with no AGW term can fit the historical climate but diverge wildly starting in the proverbial 1970s or thereabouts. But it’s early enough in the study of this slow process that precise prediction is not assured.

  7. While technically Roger Pielke Jr. is not a climate change skeptic or denier he is not a climate scientist but a political scientist who defends climate change deniers and attacks climate scientists, intemperately and often inaccurately. At other times he more temperately argues for moderate conservative reporting. He himself is ideologically driven, for example he defended the Bush administration’s political speech shutdown of government scientists and has defended extreme climate denier Sen. Inhofe.
    “Roger Pielke, Jr. is the single most disputed and debunked person in the entire realm of people who publish regularly on disasters and climate change. He trashes the reputation of any scientist who even suggests that there is the tiniest link whatsoever between climate change and extreme weather” – Dr. Joe Romm. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/02/28/205559/foreign-policys-guide-to-climate-skeptics-includes-roger-pielke-jr-meanwhile-andy-revkin-campaigns-for-him-to-be-an-ipcc-author/
    Intemperate debates can become even more intemperate with people who might partially agree with you but still trash people on “your” side.
    There is a continuum in the climate change debate and those who can be described as in the middle can also be fairly attacked when they are wrong and when they are clearly biased by their own ideologies.

    1. Eleming,

      Joe Romm accusing someone of intemperate personal attacks! The mind reels. The pot calling the kettle black. Romm’s stream of consciousness sound bites about complex issues reads well to the faithful, but is a example of why climate change has sunk to the bottom of most polls asking people to rate importance of public policy issues. It’s the fury of activists who realize they’re losing (an even clearer example is their tirades against the surface temperature pause , while scientists discuss its causes and forecast its duration).

      Romm’s post is self-refuting since he is attacking Andy Revkin’s characterization of Pielke Jr. Revkin — journalist of the widely cited NYT Dot Earth column — is one of the few figures highly respected by scientists on both sides of the climate debate. Choosing who to believe, Revkin or Romm, is not a contest, except of course for true believer activists.

      More broadly, Romm’s attacks are just chaff. None of his hysterics will be remembered when this is over. All that counts is the peer-reviewed literature, and reports (like the IPCC’s) based on that. The attacks on Pielke Jr’s work tend to ignore this (and seldom cite peer-reviewed work in rebuttal), which is an implied admission that it’s well within the relevant mainstream.

  8. Several years ago my state climatologist debunked the media hype that tornadoes frequency was increasing due to global warming. He accounted for the increase in identified tornadoes based on technological improvements in radar. He accounted for the population increase meaning more “eyes” with cell phone report tornadoes than in the past. He did these things to prevent a skewed comparison between past data and newer data.

    Pielke Jr. has been a pioneer in doing similar adjustments to data to account for population and wealth increases as they relate to storm damage as FM has mentioned in a comment above by factoring inn GDP. The terminology is data normalization and without it we can’t compare apples of the past to current apples so to speak. My understanding of Pielke Jr’s. normalization technique hit home for when I saw my state climatologist normalizing for tornado comparison. Now when I review NOAA data of insurance data I look first to see if they account/normalize for factors that can skew data and if they don’t, I dismiss the findings as skewed.

  9. New to the site… as such sites go on this particular topic – well done, editor! Nicely moderated.

    My background includes some formal study of meteorology, and lots of applied science, from dropping things on my toe to basic nuclear theory and application. But am I an “expert”? Nope. That said, somewhere along the way I learned to think – for myself.

    Re the “AGW” issue… there was a lot of hoo-ha in the media about the issue – so I went to the source of the hoo-ha – the IPCC. I read and understood most of the stuff in IPCC Reports #1 & 2. After finishing these I came to the conclusion that based on the representations in them and the methodology they used, the people who wrote them either were not scientists, or went to really bad schools. (For proof of this – look at the methodology of determining the levels of Solar Forcing and it’s level of responsibility for GW, and the determination of how continuing data was to be gathered in differing conditions – such as urban, jungle, etc.) Apparently the term “scientific method” means nothing to the people at the IPCC.

    I came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the data used was in no way “scientific” due to corruption of the accretion methodology of the data points used to make judgments on the issue. ie this led me to realize that the authors of the IPCC “reports” had concluded the result before the first data was even assembled. Again – NOT scientific.

    So, having dismissed the validity of the IPCC, I looked at the issue from my own understanding of “weather” and the known cyclical history of weather and climate. To establish a range of “naturally occurring” (as opposed to anthropogenic) climate, I looked at known facts – such as that beneath the ice cap on Antarctica, sample drilling has revealed the remains of tropical vegetation. I deduced that either a. this was caused by a former global tropic period, or b. by continental drift – which moved what is now Antarctica from an equatorial zone. So… no help.

    So I went to recorded history – which gives us wide swings in natural variation of climate. From ice ages to semi-tropical climate as far north as Greenland. From the “Little Ice Age” to the near melting of ice cover on the North Pole.

    I concluded that the range of natural variability of climate – is extreme. Therefore anyone who seeks to postulate major climatic shifts based on a mere 100 (or less) years of change has his head on the wrong end of his body and should remove said head from its hiding place below the lower terminus of his/her spine.

    Global warming? Maybe. Man-caused? That cannot be determined at this time, or for some time in the future. So should the world of mankind be radically changed because of a few whackos who claim to have “THE” truth about something that there is insufficient data for? Nope. Should we listen to these people? Sure… for a while… until they grow tedious via meaningless repetition of nonsense, or until they begin to make sense via the application of valid PROVABLE science.

    I also consider that, since the Sun is what it is, and since it can safely be said that it is the MAJOR driver of all climate on the Earth (a point that the IPCC would disagree with), if we wish to make prognostications of future climate changes, we should first apply known facts about solar cycles. Given known facts about such – I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here in forecasting about a 50 year or greater (from the present) cooling cycle for Earth. And no… it’s NOT anthropogenic – but we WILL all be affected by it. And it is my conclusion that we should be thinking more about not seriously polluting the earth while not freezing to death than roasting. (The known effects of GW – more food and Oxy. Of cooling – the opposite.)

  10. Pingback: Josh on Pielke Jr. and Mann-ichean paranoia in Climate Science | Watts Up With That?

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