Roger Pielke Jr. describes the climate follies

Summary: Here Roger Pielke Jr. gives example of our dysfunctional climate policy debate. Three decades of this has produced neither policy action nor a public that considers it a high priority. When will activists learn? Pielke is optimistic. Let’s hope he is right.

What’s up in the Climate Follies – part 1

By Roger Pielke Jr. posted at The Climate Fix.
Posted with his generous permission. Lightly edited.

There was collusion.

Tacloban in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan - 21 November 2013
The rubble from Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippine city of Tacloban on 21 November 2013. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.

Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change.

Published at FiveThirtyEight on 19 March 2014.

That is my infamous article that led the Center for American Progress to orchestrate a well-organized campaign to have me fired as a writer for FiveThirtyEight. Bizarrely, that campaign against me came to light via John Podesta’s hacked emails, released by Wikileaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Below, I’ll share some new research on floods and tropical cyclones which further buttress the findings of that 2014 article that caused so much of a stir. It’s still as scientifically accurate today as it was then.

Editor’s Note: I documented this campaign of misinformation. I pointed out the bogus nature of the accusations, and was in turn attacked with the usual activists’ cheap shots. It was another demonstration of why they after three decades they have achieved so little political success.

Are We Finally Moving Past the Delegitimization of Climate Realism?

Pielke Jr. at ALPS, 9 February 2018.
Slide from presentation by Pielke Jr. at Alternative Pathways toward Sustainable development and climate stabilization (ALPS), 9 February 2018. Click to enlarge.

Last month I posted up some slides illustrating the actual scale of the challenge of decarbonizing the global economy to a level consistent with low concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 450 ppm or lower. See the above slide. The 450 ppm level is consistent with the oft-discussed, little understood 2 degree Celsius temperature target. I’m not alone in pointing out the “Emperor’s new clothes” tenor to much of climate discussions.

For instance, last week Technology Review wrote an article about a 2003 paper by Ken Caldeira, Atul Jain and Marty Hoffert which explained that the world would need more than 1 megawatt of carbon-free energy (measured as consumption, not capacity) installed every day for many decades to achieve low stabilization targets. The Technology Review article explained that we are not on that pace. Shocking I know. In fact, the challenge has actually become more daunting over the past 15 years (see my figure above), due to the dramatic expansion of fossil fuel energy over that time.

So why is it that a 2003 paper is newsworthy in 2018? Why doesn’t every one know the real magnitude of the challenge?

One important reason is that the work of Mary Hoffert (in particular) became the focus of a highly political campaign of delegitimization during the decade of the 2000s. Leading this campaign at that time, surprising I’m sure, was the Center for American Progress and Joe Romm — the very same organization that worked so hard to squelch my research on disasters.

The campaign to distort understandings of the actual magnitude of the decarbonization challenge focused on the so-called “stabilization wedges” of Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, published in 2004 in response to Caldeira et al. 2003.

The goal of the misinformation campaign was to make decarbonization look easier and cheaper than it actually was, presumably to dupe the public and policy makers into taking quick action.

In 2008, Pacala explained openly the political motivation behind their “wedges” analysis: “The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it.”

At the time, the administration of George W. Bush was calling for more research into energy technologies as a centerpiece of their approach to climate. While no one would mistake the Bush administration for climate activists, their focus on energy R&D was not wrong.

Pacala and Socolow, and their fellow travelers, did not like this policy approach:

“I saw it as an unhealthy collusion between the scientific community who believed that there was a serious problem and a political movement that didn’t. I wanted that to stop and the paper for me was surprisingly effective at doing that. I’m really happy with how it came out.”

This episode is documented in greater depth in The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming.

The “stabilization wedges” were used as the putative basis for the labeling of anyone who called for investments in energy technology as a climate denier or Bush supporter. There was one true truth and no deviation was allowed. I know because I was a focus of the delegitimization campaign.

Misinformation campaigns are not sustainable.

Today, (mostly) everyone agrees that we need significant advances in energy technology to begin making progress towards decarbonization goals. This point is so much agreed that people find it hard to believe that climate activists ever thought anything differently, much less enforced a now-discredited view on energy technology.

So fifteen years after Caldeira et al. published their 2003 paper on the magnitude of the decarbonization challenge (and Marty Hoffert’s and colleagues published research before that), it is finally OK to discuss the fact that we simply don’t have all the technology we would need to achieve low stabilization targets without the climate capos looking to end your career. It seems pretty dramatic as I write that. Well, it was.

Emperor's New Clothes

The bottom line.

Whatever successes climate deniers may have had in limiting action on carbon-free energy technology development and deployment, they received a huge assist from climate activists who pursued a false narrative for more than a decade which emphasized that climate was simply a political, not a technological problem.

The good news: The emperor’s new clothes are being seen for what they are.


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., about coal, about the RCPs, and My posts about climate change, and especially these …

 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.”

7 thoughts on “Roger Pielke Jr. describes the climate follies”

  1. I think with the benefit of hindsight, the data has shown the Dr Pielke was correct. He can take some satisfaction that he has been vindicated and increased his credibility by not yielding to groupthink. The problem is that many of the people who were active in the campaign against him, are still trying to use the same tactics nowadays to others – Judith Curry being a prominent example.

    The quote attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” And like you say, this has been very much an own goal by the activists.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “He can take some satisfaction that he has been vindicated”

      True. But more important is that the activists succeeded in their campaign to drive him out of this field.

      “The problem is that many of the people who were active in the campaign against him, are still trying to use the same tactics nowadays to others”

      More broadly, they are still the dominant voices in the media and politics about climate policy.

      “The quote attributed to Albert Einstein ”

      People attribute it to Einstein as a quasi-complement (“It takes an Einstein to see my flaws.”) But it is a quote from Alcoholics Anonymous, people who know everything about dysfunctionality.

  2. When will activists learn?

    They won’t, things have gone past the point where this edifice can be allowed to fall. Too many reputations at stake, too much ideology bound up in it. You only have to look at the way the left have colonised the climate debate to see it’s not about the science or the practicalities any more.

    It’ll be like the long litany of failed socialist states. They *never* fail because of fundamental flaws in socialism as it is implemented, corruption, cronyism and general bad management, it’s always because they were sabotaged by the neo-liberals and corporations desperate to prevent the establishment of a socialist paradise. There are times when I think socialists ought to be hit with a copy of Animal Farm until they cry uncle.

    Ditto for the failure to decarbonise. The plan isn’t flawed, its constantly sabotaged by the shadowy forces of capitalism.

    To an extent, I blame the right for not grasping the nettle early and getting the debate shifted from the science to the practicalities of implementation. We spent too long fighting a battle on dodgy proxies, crap weather stations and the way the the temperature record has been ‘improved’ beyond all recognition. It opened the way for ‘denier’ status being applied to anyone who stepped outside the consensus. The zero effect of Climategate should have been a big enough signpost.

    Pielke and a few other academics have tried to shift the debate and been hounded and vilified for their trouble. All credit to him for sticking with it. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but…

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Sadly, your prediction seems likely to prove true. The public policy debate is gridlocked, and neither side shows any interest in changing that. There are ways to test the climate paradigm, but the activists don’t want to take the risk and the skeptics are too dysfunctional to organized and make rational proposals.

      As I have written many times, the climate will resolve the debate. That might prove to be an expensive solution.

    2. Dear Mr Crook,

      SC: When will activists learn?

      They won’t because they can’t. It’s not a matter of evidence. It’s a matter of belief. And I don’t say this as a knock against them or anyone in particular, I say it as observation of my own folly. Follies. I wish I had spent the better part of a lifetime with a more open mind and be persuaded by actual evidence placed before me — and I was trained as a scientist and an engineer. It’s almost worse to be pseudo-scientific in outlook because you think your faith is actually fact. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. As our host says in this instance:

      LK: As I have written many times, the climate will resolve the debate. That might prove to be an expensive solution.

      With very best regards,


    3. I doubt very much that the climate will be the arbiter, things have gone too far for that, and even when presented with provably false claims most people aren’t going to fact check them because life is too short.

      This blog post details three recent BBC faux pas.

      My main concern is that either people will think things are hopeless and give up or, worse, accede to extremist policies because they think there’s no alternative. I regularly swap blog comments with people who, while they agree that we’ve never had it so good, are convinced that its all downhill from here and that our grandchildren will be significantly worse off than we are. They’re all happy to propose one child style policies, some even seem to think that we need a global pandemic to sort things out…

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        We can only guess at the future, but I believe that climate will be the final arbiter. Either some of the doomsters’ prophecies come true in the next decade — in the 30-40 year period after the campaign began. Or nothing big happens, and Climate Doomsterism goes the way of Peak Oil Doomsterism.

        You refer to a smaller but still important question: short-term political response. I’ve long said that only bad luck (for them) has prevented the Left from getting much of the climate policies they want. Esp the long hurricane “drought” and the warming “pause.” But a big year for extreme weather — perhaps just random chance — might panic the US people. That’s happened often enough. But even then the policies won’t survive without more support from climate change.

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