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


  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…

(3)  Conclusions

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

For more about the events Pielke describes — the firestorm over his accurate description of the findings of the IPCC and the peer-reviewed literature — see The Left stages a two minute hate on Nate Silver, Roger Pielke Jr. (& me) and Nate Silver goes from hero to goat, convicted by the Left of apostasy.

These tactics won many battles for activists, but lost the war. Now we have to understand what went wrong and try again. Climate change is ever-present in history, and today we remain poorly prepared even for the repeat of past extreme weather — let alone whatever the future holds for us.

(4)  Other posts in this series

  1. The bottom line: How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
  3. Thursday: The 5 stages of grief for the failure of the climate change campaign.
  4. Next week: The climate change crisis, as seen from 2100 AD.

(5)  For More Information

To learn more about Roger Pielke Jr., see his page at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. It has his bio, CV, and links to his publications for a general audience.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also see these posts about the campaign for public policy action to fight climate change — how it went wrong and how it can be fixed…

  1. Ten years after Katrina: let’s learn from those predictions of more & bigger hurricanes.
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Politifact tells us about American politics and science. We should listen.
  4. A new response to climate change that can help the GOP win in 2016.
  5. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.

(6)  What so upset the President’s science adviser?

Here is a video of the fifteen words that so upset John Holdren, the President’s science advisor (slides 15-16) from Pielke’s testimony (pdf) before the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now” on 18 July 2013. See Holdren’s rebuttal, which Pielke demolishes here (showing that Holdren’s charges are baseless rhetoric). It’s another example of how the climate change debate degenerated into farce.

(7) For a better understanding of extreme weather…

To learn more about the state of climate change see his book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (2014).  Here is my review.

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