Roger Pielke Jr. describes the distorting of climate science

Summary: Scientists and journalists play a vital role in the public policy debate about climate change, explaining the reports of the major climate agencies. Here Roger Pielke Jr. describes an example of how they too often misrepresent those findings, distorting the debate and feeding the public’s loss of confidence in science as an institution.

About those exaggerations in the media about climate.

No exaggeration here! From Scientific America. AZRainman/Flickr
No exaggeration here! From Scientific America. AZRainman/Flickr

 

Pielke on Climate” – part 2 of 3.

About the misreporting of experts’ reports.

By Roger Pielke Jr. at The Climate Fix.

Posted with his generous permission.
Lightly edited.

 

Introduction.

Welcome to issue #7 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. As a reminder, my day-to-day research or writing is focused on sports governance and various issues of science policy. But I’ve written a fair bit on the topics of climate and energy over the past 25 years, including two recent books and a boatload of academic papers, and I’m paying attention. So caveat lector {reader beware}! …

The US National Climate Assessment and Weather Extremes.

The 4th US National Climate Assessment {NCA} was published a few weeks ago, and it is worth reviewing what it says about trends in extreme weather events. In short, the NCA supports arguments I’ve been making for many years.

  • “Cold extremes have become less severe over the past century.”
  • “Changes in warm extremes are more nuanced than changes in cold extremes.” (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Here are trends in cold spells, warm spells and heat waves 1900 to present from the report.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) concluded that it is very likely that human influence has contributed to the observed changes in frequency and intensity of temperature extremes on the global scale since the mid-20th century. …In general, however, results for the contiguous United States are not as compelling as for global land areas , in part because detection of changes in U.S. regional temperature extremes is affected by extreme temperature in the 1930s.”

Emphasis added, and yes, that means weak attribution.  {Ed. – See the graphs!}

“Figure 6.4. Observed changes in cold and heat waves in the contiguous United States. The top panel depicts changes in the frequency of cold waves; the middle panel depicts changes in the frequency of heat waves; and the bottom panel depicts changes in the intensity of heat waves. …”

Figure 6.4: Observed changes in cold waves in the contiguous United States.

Figure 6.4: Observed changes in warm waves in the contiguous US.Figure 6.4: Observed changes in heat waves in the contiguous US.

  • “…there is still low confidence that any reported long-term (multidecadal to centennial) increases in TC {tropical cyclone} activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities …
  • “A particular challenge in quantifying the existence and intensity of {tornado} events arises from the data source …
  • “Analysis of {winter} storm tracks indicates that there has been an increase in winter storm frequency and intensity since 1950. …
  • “drought statistics over the entire CONUS have declined …
  • “no detectable change in meteorological drought at the global scale. …
  • “Western North America …where determining if observed recent droughts were unusual compared to natural variability was particularly difficult …
  • “IPCC AR5 did not attribute changes in flooding to anthropogenic influence nor report detectable changes in flooding magnitude, duration, or frequency …
  • “{In the US| increasing & decreasing flooding magnitude but does not provide robust evidence that these trends are attributable to human influences… no formal attribution of observed flooding changes to anthropogenic forcing has been claimed …
  • “a number of precipitation metrics over the continental United States has been examined; however trends identified for the U.S. regions have not been clearly attributed to anthropogenic forcing …”

The data says what it says. There is precious little evidence that extremes have become worse in the US since at least 1900, with the exception of more winter storms since 1950 and overall fewer cold spells. Attribution {for these trends} is weak to nonexistent.

Despite the evidence there is a drumbeat of news stories and various claims that weather disasters are getting worse. For instance, the New York Times article on the release of the report contained this statement…

“In the United States, the report finds that every part of the country has been touched by warming, from droughts in the Southeast to flooding in the Midwest …”

{In it} Michael Mann, the same professor suing his critics for being wrong about scientific claims says this:

“Whether we’re talking about unprecedented heat waves, increasingly destructive hurricanes, epic drought and inundation of our coastal cities, the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle“

Both the NYT characterization of the report and Mann’s claims are irrefutably incorrect according to the report. These are just a few of many similar examples of claims that are contrary to the NCA related to extreme weather.

Claiming that the weather has gotten worse is today an important cultural shibboleth related to climate science. It’s not supported by the evidence but it serves an important role in the political debate over climate. Another weakened norm, I suppose.

————– Tune in tomorrow for the concluding chapter of this article. ————–

The posts in this series

  1. Institutional decay in climate science.
  2. More misreporting of experts’ reports.
  3. The Politics of Inconceivable Scenarios.
Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr.

About the author

Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder. He was Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now Director of the Sports Governance Center in the Dept of Athletics. Before joining the faculty of the U of CO, from 1993-2001 he was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America.

His page at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has his bio, CV, and links to some of his publications. His website has links to his works, and essays about the many subjects on which he works.

He is also author, co-author or co-editor of seven books, including The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (2007), The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (2010), The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (2014), and The Edge: The War against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports (2016).

Some of his recent publications.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, all posts about Roger Pielke Jr., and My posts about climate change, and especially these …

  1. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  3. A status report on global warming. Much depends on the next few years.
  4. Good news for the New Year! Salon explains that the global climate emergency is over.
  5. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
  6. News misreporting a big GAO report about climate change.
 The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

… see Pielke’s book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. See my review. Here is the publisher’s summary…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”

8 thoughts on “Roger Pielke Jr. describes the distorting of climate science

    1. Songhees,

      Since I disagree with the premise, I’m uninterested in such material. The IPCC, the major climate agencies, and the peer-reviewed literature provide more than adequate information.

  1. I am under the impression climate change is about “Mean average temperature increase” globally.

    I notice that most of the climate deniers, seem fixated with localized weather patterns.My uncle who farms in Minnesota being one of them. I guess you could say that there isn’t much difference in the contiguous United States, but that doesn’t explain glacial calving in Antarctica, or loss of polar ice.

    As an eminent scientist, would you say that a loss of one million acres per year of rainforest to logging has had no effect on weather patterns? It has been well documented that the Amazon has influenced weather as far north a Washington state.

    As far as I have been able to determine, nobody has said much about “extremes”, but rather “intensities” of certain types of weather. I believe there is a difference.

    Maybe you should go and visit some of the Inuit villages that are going to need to move because of increased sea levels and tell them, “Hey, there hasn’t been any real change in extremes since 1900.” It is one thing to sit in a nice clean office that is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter and thumb your nose at facts, but quite a different proposition when you must live out in the open environment and cope with what is happening. The biggest deception in human history is not about climate change, but rather how specious arguments have supplanted evidence. Everyone is entitled to their own “opinion”, but not to their own “truth”.

    1. Timothy,

      Seldom have I seen so many factual errors in one comment.

      “I am under the impression climate change is about “Mean average temperature increase” globally.”

      False. I doubt you can find any support for that belief in the work of the IPCC or major climate agencies — since they say the exact opposite. First, climate change is about the many aspects of climate — not just temperature. Which is why discussions refer to “climate change” not “global warming” (or in your words, “Mean average temperature increase”). Second, most of the data collected is geographically specific, as is a large fraction of the research about climate dynamics and effects.

      “I notice that most of the climate deniers, seem fixated with localized weather patterns.”

      False. Most “deniers” discuss the greenhouse effect and problems with global temperature data.

      “but that doesn’t explain glacial calving in Antarctica”

      Meaningless. It’s not clear from the available evidence if the total mass of the antarctic ice cap is stable or decreasing. Also, the rate of “calving” by itself means nothing. An increase in the mass of the ice cap would increase the rate of calving (i.e., faster growth, more calving), as would other factors.

      “nobody has said much about “extremes”, but rather “intensities” of certain types of weather.”

      Grossly false. To pick just one, see some of the many predictions made after Katrina for more major hurricanes.

      “Maybe you should go and visit some of the Inuit villages that are going to need to move because of increased sea levels and tell them, “Hey, there hasn’t been any real change in extremes since 1900.” ”

      Maybe you should try and relate your statements to something actually in the post, rather than give strawman attacks.

      “Everyone is entitled to their own “opinion”, but not to their own “truth”.”

      Since most of what you’ve said is false, that is good advice — that you should follow.

    2. There is a difference between skepticism and alarmism.

      Those Inuit villages were established during the Little Ice Age when it was much colder for nearly 300 year’s, during a Solar Minimum. The Solar Maximum started and ended that Cold Period that has Warmed ever since then up to about 18 Year’s ago where a Hiatus of Global Temperature has occurred. But even that is false.

      Globally there has been a removal of weather monitoring stations in the colder area’s of the Northern Hemisphere that leave the warmer area’s monitoring stations as a majority, that has biased the Global Temperature to Warming, where reality is a Global Cooling within that Hiatus. The Polar Ice has been increasing for over 20 year’s and when Ice is put into water the level of the water is displaced upward effecting the shoreline where those villages are, that you speak of.

      There is zero evidence of CO2 as a trace gas effects on temperature. That’s where you have to look at the bigger picture over the past 4 billion years of Earth having an atmosphere. The only real effects of increased CO2 is Bio-Mass sequestration creating a Greener Flora and more populated Fauna Earth.

    3. John,

      “There is zero evidence of CO2 as a trace gas effects on temperature.”

      All you need do is prove that the world’s scientists are wrong — then fame and fortune awaits!

      “Those Inuit villages were established during the Little Ice Age”

      Do you have a supporting cite for that? It’s a plausible theory, but let’s have evidence before accepting it.

      “during a Solar Minimum. The Solar Maximum started and ended that Cold Period”

      That’s a theory, and one held by a minority of scientists studying the LIA. Do not state it as fact.

      “The Polar Ice has been increasing for over 20 year’s”

      No, it has not.

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