On Sunday, this blog received an instructive (and anonymous) comment that accidentally landed in the spam folder. It’s from someone who works in U.S. state government on water-related issues (likely in the West). The comment is part of this thread, which was lively until all the typical jousting and preening by combatants overwhelmed it. I’m featuring the comment as a stand-alone post because it offers an unvarnished perspective of someone on the ground level of government, who is positioned at the intersection of science and policy.
I work in state government on water resources management. I interact a fair amount with federal and other state officials regarding climate change mitigation and adaption policies. Executive government, in this country and elsewhere, is focused, nearly exclusively, on issues of AGW adaptation and mitigation. Much of the debate I observe on this and kindred blogs is no longer that relevant to this work.
Michael Tobis’s posts here have it about right in terms of how the policy community has ample evidence to be obliged to move forward on mitigation and adaptation (Especially as the suite of ‘solutions’ are easily justified for other reasons and are not as deleterious economically or socially as some would claim.) [[KK: I believe the writer is referring to this comment.]]
This is not to say that transforming global energy production and consumption isn’t a massive set of challenges. But no one could dispute that the pace of technological and scientific evolution has been extraordinary since WWII (if not since the late 19th century.). Why would one assume that pace is going to slow now? It will continue to be rapid, perhaps even more so.
From the perspective of government in general, the risks of inaction on CC are huge and must be addressed now as best as possible. The science issues that inspire so much angst among the skeptics, eg Mann et al.’s composite proxies work, or analysis of met station data globally , simply don’t have much play in our current concerns and calculations.
I don’t agree with Dr. Curry’s theses, but, given her sincerity she provides a useful triangulation point for policy folks seeking to assess the impact of scientific uncertainties on current and future policy, management, planning decisions, including how ideologues of all stripes respond to and manipulate those uncertainties. With all due respect (it’s not easy!) such triangulations could be done better, and are being done better by others. [[KK: I'm very keen for the writer to suggest who some of these "others" are. Perhaps readers can offer names? Additionally, I'm not sure which "theses" the writer is referring to, but this, this, this, and this are among the comments Judith Curry contributed to that thread.]]
Those others just don’t spend a lot of time playing in the blogosphere. Despite all your energy and interest, much of the blogosphere discussion on climate science is a little limited with regard to how science/policy interfaces work and continue to evolve. Many of you must realize that those who write incessantly about climate change on blogs don’t number more than a couple of hundred. Those observing are larger in number and many, I hope, are those who actually will have to make the legislative and executive decisions that over time will determine our collective future. It would be good to keep in mind that such readers are pretty skilled and experienced at separating the wheat from the chaff, and in assessing risks to public health, safety, and welfare from a systemic perspective.
Fundamentally, the use of science to advance particular political positions is hardly unique to climate policy. It occurs continually in every public policy domain.
Having said that, here’s my truncated take on the sciences relevant to CC: In my experience, with regard to AGW the policy consequences of our current state of scientific knowledge and data, the risk spectrum, are unusually clear. The debates y’all are engaged in are particularly heated because the outputs of contemporary climate and geosciences are extraordinarily consequential for human civilization, not because the science itself is imbued with unusually significant uncertainties (and certainly not fraud).
I have a modest proposal: let’s get Paul Ehrlich and Stewart Brand on tour. If we want to have a real debate on how to address climate change, decarbonize energy, feed the world, etc., let’s get these two icons of environmentalism together, on the same stage, at college campuses, town halls, and YMCA’s.
Because Ehrlich and Brand, each who helped popularize environmentalism when the movement was in its early 1970s heyday, now offer two very different paths to sustainability. Ehrlich, in a recent PloS Biology essay, says overconsumption is dooming the human race and the earth. The larger problem, though, he argues, is that we’re like addicts who can’t stop the self-destruction. So we need help.
To that end, Ehlrich lays out the rationale for an intiative called the Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior. In PloS, he writes:
The admittedly ambitious aim is to change human behavior to avoid a collapse of global civilization.
That is indeed ambitious. What we’re talking about here is a re-engineering of the human mind. Whereas Stuart Brand, in his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, advocates a re-engineering of the earth to make it more habitable for ourselves. To that end, Brand offers four “environmental heresies,” which he laid out in this July 2009 TED talk.
What I like most about Ehrlich’s Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior project is that it intends
to generate a global discussion of the human predicament, what people desire, and what goals are possible to achieve in a sustainable society.
So let’s have that discussion. A great way to fuel it would be to bring two of the biggest legends in environmentalism together on a speaking tour, where they can debate their respective approaches to sustainability.
In recent days, I’ve been conducting Q & A’s via email with authors of The Hartwell Paper, a provocative essay that lays out “a new direction for climate policy.” Today’s interview is with Hartwell co-author Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and whose new book, The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming, will be published this September.
As stated in The Hartwell Paper’s Executive Summary, the authors begin from this premise:
It is now plain that it is not possible to have a “˜climate policy’ that has emissions reductions as the all encompassing goal. However, there are many other reasons why the decarbonisation of the global economy is highly desirable. Therefore, the Paper advocates a radical reframing””an inverting””of approach: accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic.
The Paper therefore proposes that the organizing principle of our effort should be raising up of human dignity via three overarching objectives: ensuring energy access for all; ensuring that we develop in a manner that does not undermine the essential functioning of the Earth system; ensuring that our societies are adequately equipped to withstand the risks and dangers that come from all vagaries of climate, whatever their cause may be.
Last week, I explored with Hartwell co-author Steve Rayner the notion of climate change as a “˜wicked problem,’ in which the complexities of addressing it would seem to require a higher level of public debate. Subsequently, as I wrote in that post,
this implies that there can’t be a real policy shift until there is a paradigm shift in the way climate change is publicly discussed.
I pick up this theme with Roger Pielke, Jr. in today’s Q & A.
Q: After years of “staying the course” in Iraq, the Bush Administration late in its second term booted Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, the architect of what was widely deemed a failing military strategy in Iraq. A similar reappraisal later took place with respect to Afghanistan. I wonder if there is a corollary with international climate policy.
What I’m getting at is this: the U.S. approach on two war fronts changed considerably after officials on the inside decided that a new direction was necessary. So if climate policy has to be radically reframed, as The Hartwell paper argues, then it stands to reason that some key people on the inside–who are driving the institutional process””have to wave the red flag and admit failure. They have to be the ones to call for a new approach to climate policy. Do you agree and if so, who are the people best positioned in climate policy and political circles to engineer such a turnabout?
RPJ: This is a question about the ability of the political process to self-correct in the context of climate policy. To use your analogy, we can identify a failed military strategy based on fairly objective criteria, using real-world data (such as combat deaths). I don’t think that climate policy has much in common. Consider that the approach proposed under the Framework Convention on Climate Change is nearly 20 years old and global emissions are still rising, with no sign of abating, yet many policy makers and advocates insist that we must stay the course. So real-world data on policy failure is not leading to a change of course
Still, it is possible that changing course could take place via a strong demonstration of leadership that points in a new direction. I think this is unlikely. The more likely way that reframing will occur is incrementally in the direction of more pragmatic approaches (perhaps along the lines we recommend in The Hartwell Paper) with claims made that this is what was intended all along. The recent coalition government in Britain provides a good example of this sort of political dynamic. Before the election David Cameron (Conservative) said that a coalition would lead to all sorts of bad outcomes. After the election when a coalition was the only way forward, it became his preferred model for a new politics. David Cameron became Prime Minister; however the policy framework had changed dramatically.
The reality is that we are going to muddle through on emissions reductions policies whether we like it or not. There will be no grand agreement with enforceable targets and timetables — though many may continue to pursue such an agreement for a while. Given that we are going to muddle through, the only real policy question is if we choose to do so intelligently and intentionally, or simply as the result of coping with policy failure. So far climate policy has been about the latter, but I am optimistic that the former may take root. We’ll end up in the same place regardless, just later and more inefficiently if we take the latter path.
Q: Invoking the Climategate controversy and the Copenhagen meltdown, you and your co-authors write: “The Crash of 2009 presents an immense opportunity to set climate policy free to fly at last.” In case anyone missed the point, the Executive Summary ends on this note:
The Hartwell Paper follows the advice that a good crisis should not be wasted.
Well, that works both ways, since this is what Senator Kerry said the day he unfurled the long-awaited Senate climate bill:
This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs, and a bill to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and protect the air our children breathe and the water they drink.
Since the Senate climate bill contains all the policy levers you criticize in The Hartwell paper, I’m assuming that you don’t agree with Kerry’s rhetorical use of the oil spill. Still, if you can seize on a crisis, why can’t Kerry? So I’m wondering if the blatant use of
any crisis (which is bound to be politicized) as a policy springboard, is a smart thing to do, if you want to have a serious debate on the merits of energy and climate policy.
RPJ: It is well established that policy change can occur when “windows of opportunity” are opened, enabling new policies to be
enacted. Examples include Sputnik, 9/11, Three Mile Island, Hurricane Katrina, and so on. So there is no problem with the use of a crisis as an opportunity for action ““ in fact, it is in the aftermath of such crises that the public often demand action.
The more important question is whether the proposed actions can actually address the problem claimed to being addressed. The problem with the Senate climate bill is that it will not do the things being advertised by Senator Kerry. The fact that the bill is variously characterized as leading to energy independence, jobs, end of reliance on foreign oil and improving air and water pollution indicates what a mishmash of a bill this has become. Note what is missing in that description ““ carbon dioxide and climate change! The bill is DOA, and this is no doubt due, in part, to the fact that it cannot do the things that it is being advertised as doing.
I have long maintained that action on accelerating the decarbonization of the US (or global) economy will not occur unless short-term costs are reconciled with short-term benefits. The rhetoric that Kerry uses reflects an understanding of this principle, but the policy instrument that he is advocating is simply not up to this task. The fact that the House and Senate Bills have to include a bunch of “sweeteners” for fossil fuels indicates the basic problem. We think that the approach proposed in The Hartwell Paper offers a better chance to match up short-term costs and benefits in a way that enables an acceleration of the decarbonization of the economy, a way to build resilience in communities and recognition of the diversity of human influences on the climate system. Whether it is our approach that is ultimately taken or some other, progress won’t be made until this challenge of reconciling short-term costs and benefits is met, and current proposals fall well short.
The challenge is thus one of policy design, which has received short shrift in the climate debate. Unfortunately, more attention is paid to arguing about climate science, media coverage of climate, and the need for a global agreement under the Climate Convention than discussing possible alternative policy designs. In fact, those proposing alternative policy designs are often criticized in the debate as distracting attention or worse. In the long run, policy failure will create opportunities for change, the only question is how long the long run will be!
Since Last November, Georgia Tech climate researcher Judith Curry has criticized the groupthink tendencies of a subset of the climate science community. So I’m not surprised to see her echo this sentiment by William Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton University, in his recent congressional testimony:
We need to establish a Team B of competent scientists, charged with questioning the party line. The DoD and the CIA do this, there was a devil’s advocate (promoter fidei) for sainthood, why not the same for climate change?
However, in her comment over at this thread, Curry didn’t include Happer’s sentence preceding his Team B suggestion:
Global-warming alarmists have tried to silence any who question the party line of impending climate apocalypse.
Now this may be a subtle distinction on my part, but I see political advocates as the leading front of global warming alarmism, not climate scientists. I’m not so sure there is a “party line” of imminent climate doom that climate scientists have bought into, notwithstanding the likes of James Hansen. (Also, it’s really more the political advocates who attempt to silence anti-alarmists.) You could argue that climate scientists enable the political alarmism by not forcefully challenging the advocates on their claims. But if I read Curry’s endorsement of Happer’s suggestion correctly, she’s essentially saying that this Team B would serve as a check on the groupthink within the climate science community:
Well arguably the closest thing we have to a “Team B” is the Heartland Climate Conference on Climate Change, which was held last week in Chicago. The conference received almost no coverage by the MSM.
On that last note, it bears mentioning that previous Heartland assemblages have been covered by the MSM. One of the hallmarks of these prior conferences was political agitprop. So I think the press this time around just assumed it was going to be another annual bashing of climate scientists and Al Gore. In that sense, I think the lack of coverage this year is more a reflection of the perspective journalists have of those prior Heartland gatherings.
Still, however wrong Happer may be on his other points, that doesn’t make the Team B concept illegitimate. Of course, judging by those non-existent WMD’s, there’s no guarantee that a Team B (which existed in the CIA and DoD in the runnup to the Iraq War), can counteract groupthink and bad decisionmaking.
UPDATE: Bart Verheggen has a very useful take on why there is so much resistance to the Heartland group.
In the zero-sum climate change debate, there’s not much political space to discuss stopgap measures that would go a long way towards addressing climate change now. Take the issue of black carbon (also known as black soot), a noxious pollutant in developing countries that emanates from inefficient cooking stoves. Here’s a revelatory passage from a 2009 NYT story by Elisabeth Rosenthal:
While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming “” especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
In the Hartwell Paper, which I first discussed earlier this week, the authors suggest prioritizing action on “non-CO2 forcing agents,” such as black carbon. The paper argues that addressing this significant (though under-discussed) pollutant can 1) help build necessary political traction for climate policy, 2) vastly improve public health and 3) substantially reduce greenhouse gases in the short-term.
Oddly, though, the paper doesn’t offer any policy recommendations for eradication of black carbon emissions. So via email, I asked Hartwell co-author Atte Korhola, a professor of environmental change at the University of Helsinki, to elaborate on why we should take black carbon seriously in the climate debate, and to offer some concrete actions that can help reduce the harmful soot.
Atte Korhola: Black carbon is a ubiquitous product of incomplete combustion, formed by natural forest fires, motor vehicles, coal plants and myriad other sources. According to current estimates diesel combustion and residential fuel use (from coal, wood and agricultural debris) each produce roughly one quarter of the total emissions of soot; another 40% comes from wildfires and controlled agricultural burning; various industrial sources make up the remainder.
Soot contains both black carbon and light-colored particles that cool the planet. Smoke produced by sources such as cooking stoves and diesel engines tends to be rich in darker particles, so the pollution control focus should be on sources dominated by black carbon, such as residential combustion of solid fuels and high-emitting diesel engines, that have a stronger warming effect than others such as biomass burning, which is generally dominated by organic carbon.
Reducing black-carbon emissions isn’t really a technical problem “” modern stoves and filters can do most of the work “” so much as an issue of governance and resources. New combustion techniques and after-treatments often reduce particle emissions by several orders of magnitude in provision of the same service. Simply replacing solid fuels in home cooking stoves in developing countries with cleaner fuels and combustion technologies can lead to dramatic improvements in health and is eminently feasible. Actions may be fundable as part of general aid programs or under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Much of the focus should be on developing countries. Governments should already be working to clean up diesel emissions and to improve cooking stoves especially in southeast Asia, where the health problems are most acute. But also industrialized nations could clean up fossil fuels further and reduce agricultural emissions at home. Emissions in the developed parts of the world are dominated by transportation sources such as heavy duty diesel trucks.
Addressing BC emissions from public transport is likely to be a promising way to reduce climate interference. For example, some studies have reported that the fuel switching policy (e.g. to natural gas) resulted in a dramatic reduction in BC emissions from buses, e.g. in India.
According to conservative estimates, one ton of black carbon causes about 600 times the warming of one ton of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years. Unlike carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, black-carbon particles remain in the air for just a matter of weeks. So, in principle, efforts to eliminate emissions could quickly reduce the warming power of this pollutant.
In April of 2009, a week after Rosenthal’s NYT article on black carbon was published, there seemed to be some bi-partisan agreement on tackling the problem. More recently, though, the issue in the U.S. debate has become inextricably bundled with pending (and virtually paralyzed) congressional climate legislation. On this note, it bears mentioning that the Hartwell paper suggests we
need to separate the policy frameworks and interventions for attending to shortlived versus long-lived climate forcing agents.
Several weeks ago, a varied group of distinguished scholars released a provocative treatise, called The Hartwell Paper: A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009. It got a decent splash of media coverage. The Economist wrote an excellent overview and analysis. The BBC’s Richard Black posted a respectful and mildly critical review.
This week, I’ve been conducting email exchanges with several of the Hartwell authors, and I’d like to start posting these Q & A’s today. But first, I thought this passage from The Economist overview would serve as a helpful introduction:
The degree to which debates about climate change have become debates about climate-change science reflects the fact that this way of looking at the issue presents “the science” as a reason to act; those who want action thus have an interest in exaggerrating the conclusions or certainty of the science, and those who do not wish to act are incentivised in the opposite direction.
The Hartwellites do not disagree with the science in general and certainly don’t think there is no reason to act. They simply doubt that action along this one axis (carbon-dioxide reduction) can ever be made politically compelling. Instead, their oblique strategies (not derived from the useful tool of that name created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, though they would probably approve) are to concentrate on easy opportunities and efficiency, energy and dignity.
The Hartwell paper argues that only a “radical reframing” of the approach to climate policy will achieve true “decarbonisation of the global economy.” In future posts this week, I’ll delve into how the authors propose to achieve this decarbonisation. Today, I want to focus on the argument they make for a conceptual reframing of the public debate.
To this end, there is a fascinating section in the Hartwell paper that talks about how it was an early mistake to frame climate change in the emerging public discourse as a conventional environmental problem. Instead, the paper asserts that climate change should be understood as a ‘wicked’ problem. The authors write:
Originally described by Rittel and Webber in the context of urban planning, ‘wicked’ problems are issues that are often formulated as if they are susceptible to solutions when in fact they are not. Technical knowledge was taken as a sufficient basis from which to derive Kyoto’s policy, whereas ‘wicked’ problems demand profound understanding of their integration in social systems, their irreducibly complexity and intractable nature.
I take this to mean that, until we stop viewing climate change as simply an environmental problem, we can’t have a smart debate on climate change, much less a smart policy to address it.
If so, this implies that there can’t be a real policy shift until there is a paradigm shift in the way climate change is publicly discussed. So I put this to Hartwell co-author, Steve Rayner, Director of Oxford University’s Institute for Science Innovation and Society.
Q: Shouldn’t we be talking a lot more about climate change as one of those ‘wicked’ problems, and how can we do that?
The first application of the Rittel and Webber formulation to climate that I am aware of was my Jack Beale Memorial Lecture in Sydney in 2006. Mike Hulme picks up the term in his book: Why we disagree about climate change, for which I wrote the Foreword.
So, “Yes” we do need to get people to appreciate the fact that climate is not a “problem” to be “solved” in any conventional sense. How would we know when it was “solved”? And in any case since “climate kills” already, what is so special about the status quo? We could save countless lives and improve living conditions of at least 2 billion people by better climate adaptation in the present.
So why the obsession with the incremental damage that is projected to occur in the future while we ignore present losses? Answer: because prophesies of doom are seen by some as effective ways to coerce desired behavior about all sorts of things in the present – although I disagree that this is sustainable.
As I mentioned at the outset, I will be posting Q & A’s on various aspects of the Hartwell Paper the rest of this week. I do encourage people to have a look at the paper–it is reader-friendly. Additionally, some of the points Rayner made above are put into larger context by this passage in the conclusion:
The aim of this paper has been to reframe the climate issue around matters of human dignity. Not just because that is noble or nice or necessary–although all of those reasons–but because it is likely to be more effective than the approach of framing around human sinfulness–which has just failed. Securing access to low-cost energy for all, including the very poor, is truly and literally liberating. Building resilience to surprise and to extremes of weather is a practical expression of true global solidarity. Improving the quality of air that people breathe is an undeniable public good. Such a reorientation requires a radical rethinking and then reordering of the climate policy agenda.
I welcome discussion of this effort to recast climate change as a “wicked problem” and hope that some of the Hartwell authors can join in.
UPDATE: Do check out the dynamic comment thread, where Andy Revkin makes a confession (and also a tart observation on journalistic peer review); John Fleck calls out a frequent critic of the science press; and Judith Curry corrects some blogospheric “misconceptions” of the media’s coverage of climate issues.
Let me make this quick, because according to Joe Romm, your eyeballs are already starting to wander:
As I’ve noted many times, a lot of people don’t actually get far past the headline and subhed.
So, are you ignoramuses still with me? Now a common refrain on Romm’s blog is that the mainstream media is just drop-dead dumber than dumb when it comes to reporting and writing on climate change. At least once a week he calls attention to another supposed foul-smelling abomination (in a subhead, of course):
Worst News Article Ever Published on Global Warming?
Many climate advocates and climate scientists couldn’t agree more with Romm. One climate blogger, who is starting to sound like Howard Beale, thinks the press is easily manipulated. An environmental ethics philosopher is sympathetic to “Hide the Decline” climate scientists because…well, you read (emphasis added):
More likely to me, and more defensible in many ways, is that Mann and others were fudging the findings in order to “smooth them out” so that they were easier to read, so that their findings would not be misinterpreted by a lazy and apathetic press, so that an anomalous line wouldn’t distract from the overarching observation, which is that there is persistent change.
What ungrateful bastards we are!
At this point, you might be tempted to conclude that journalists are screwing up the biggest story of the century, that the world is on a collision course with climate doomsday because a bunch of hacks are falling down on the job. Or rather, is it because we’re not imploring everyone to stick their heads out the window every night and scream:
I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!
But wait, the Air Vent’s Jeff Id, no doubt speaking for many climate skeptics, says we are doing exactly this. And by god, it’s costing us our jobs, too! Here he is, explaining:
Perhaps if reporters stopped turning out a constant stream of alarmist, envirowhacko drivel like this link, they and the NY Times, LA Times, MSNBC, CNN, ABC and every other politically left media outlet wouldn’t have such financial difficulty.
Yeah, I guess the internet has nothing to do with that, after all. Whew. What a relief. All we have to do is stop spitting out “alarmist, envirowhacko drivel” and funders will magically reappear! Yay.
So there you have it. I now hope you understand, courtesy of Joe Romm and Jeff Id, why climate journalism is a rotting carcass.
[UPDATE: Jeff Id is pissed that I'm equating him with Romm. We've had a spirited exchange over at his site.]
UPDATE: Skeptics are still grousing about RPJR, but he’s still taking it all in stride. And now, it appears that Steve McIntyre is with Roger on this one, much to the disappointment of Climate Audit fans.
Sometimes I think Roger Pielke Jr. is like Spock. His logic is often unassailable but it can leave people cold. In recent days, he’s infuriated many climate skeptics for insisting that those twin totems of Climategate– Mike’s Nature Trick & Hide the Decline– doth not rise to the level of scientific fraud. A hive of skeptics swarmed all over him, faster than you can say Algore.
I wondered if he would be able to withstand it, then I did a little checking and see here that he’s already endured their Trick & Decline venom. Sure the skeptic swarm was even angrier this time around, but Roger shrugged if off again. He did, however, oblige them a second follow-up post, (with a cherry on top).
Now some quick insidery context: people who have followed this controversial issue know that the divergence between tree ring data and the temperature readings was discussed in journal papers and thus certainly not a secret. The problem is that it was seemingly smoothed over for an IPCC presentation. Back in December, Roger lays down his gauntlet here:
Is the truncation of the divergence by the IPCC “scientific fraud”?
Here is why. First, the IPCC is not engaged in research. It apparently violated its own terms of reference when it allowed scientists to re-process data from the peer reviewed literature. So the IPCC clearly violated its own norms. However, even in violating its own norms, because it is not a research organization, it is very hard to say that it engaged in scientific fraud.
But even if the IPCC was a research organization, the selective omission of data might be a questionable practice but hardly rises to any level of misconduct, which generally refers to fabrication, falsification or plagiarism. There is no evidence of that here. Just cherrypicking, perhaps egregious leading ultimately to misrepresentation, but nonetheless cherrypicking. It can appear unseemly when revealed (which is why it is not a good idea to do so in the first place), but misconduct? No.
Did it engage in any other kind of “fraud”? Well now we are into the area of semantics. As The authors of the IPCC TAR chapter under discussion clearly wanted to present information that (a) best positioned their work for inclusion in the SPM, and (b) avoided giving “skeptics” ammunition. So they stage managed the process to present a picture that they thought best conveyed the storyline that they wanted. Was this fraud? I see no evidence for such a claim. Again, misrepresentation but not fraud.
I suspect that others may have a different view, and perhaps some of this is more than semantic. But let me say this. If the IPCC finds itself in a situation where people are debating whether its activities are best characterized in terms of misrepresentation or fraud, then that is not a good place to be.
Late last week, when this debate erupted anew on Roger’s blog and elsewhere, skeptics hammered Roger for falling back on semantics: the meaning of academic misconduct. Yesterday, he tried putting the issue to rest, picking up where he left off in December:
The facts of what happened here should not be controversial. A group of scientists associated with the IPCC decided to simplify the presentation of paleo-climate data in orger to convey a “tidy message” and to try to avoid the “skeptics” some “fodder” with which to have a “field day.” Of course, those plans backfired pretty badly!
Roger goes on to reiterate that,
The actions by the IPCC scientists to “hide the decline” were a form of cherrypicking.
And his final (semantic) judgment, with a moral thrown in for the still unconvinced:
This episode is not about scientific fraud — at least in the way that I understand the concept to be defined in the academy. This episode if one of several –too many — in which the IPCC was found to be risking its credibility to present a “tidy story.” Hopefully, the scientific community has learned that a desire for tidiness should not trump an overarching concern for maintaining the credibility and legitimacy of expert advice, even if that means presenting the science alongside uncertainties and complexities.
But there are lessons here for critics as well. It is reasonable to feel betrayed, angry and upset that the experts tried to play you for a fool. But making wild accusations of fraud and calling for legal sanctions (and worse) simply diminishes your own credibility and represents an ironic sort of overreach.
End of story? I don’t think so. And that’s because some prominent skeptics like Steve McIntyre strongly believe that “Hide the Decline” has not been adequately addressed (if at all) in any investigations so far. Here’s McIntyre last month, after the Oxburgh report was released:
Without specifically mentioning the famous “trick “¦to hide the decline”, Oxburgh subsumes the “trick” as “regrettable” “neglect” by “IPCC and others”.
But watch the pea under Oxburgh’s thimble.
The Oxburgh Report regrettably neglected to highlight the fact that CRU scientists Briffa and Jones, together with Michael Mann, were the IPCC authors responsible for this “regrettable neglect” in the Third Assessment Report. They also regrettably neglected to report that CRU scientist Briffa was the IPCC author responsible for the corresponding section in AR4.
Oxburgh pretends that the fault lay with “IPCC and others”, but this pretence is itself a trick. CRU was up to its elbows in the relevant IPCC presentations that “regrettably” “neglected” to show the divergent data in their graphics.
It is also untrue that CRU authors, in their capacity as IPCC authors, “regrettably” “neglected” to show the divergent data in the IPCC graphics. The Climategate emails show that they did so intentionally ““ see for example IPCC and the Trick, which show awareness on the part of CRU scientists that showing the decline would “dilute the message” that IPCC wanted to send. The eventual IPCC figure, as reported here on a number of cases, gave a false rhetorical message of the veracity of the proxy reconstructions.
CA readers are also well aware that IPCC and Briffa were categorically asked by one AR4 reviewer (me) to disclose the divergent data. CRU’s Briffa refused, saying only that it would be “inappropriate” to show the data in the graphic. They didn’t “neglect” to show the divergent data from the Briffa reconstruction. This was a considered decision, carried out in AR4 despite pointed criticism.
Yes, the decline had been disclosed in the “peer reviewed literature”. Indeed, that was how I became aware of the trick ““ long before Climategate and why, as an AR4 peer reviewer, I asked that IPCC not use the trick once again in AR4.
IPCC presentations are how the climate science community speaks to the world. Climate scientists, including CRU scientists, have a far greater obligation of full, true and plain disclosure in IPCC reports than even the specialist literature. Oxburgh pretends that (partial) disclosure of adverse results by CRU in specialist literature is sufficient. It isn’t. There was a continuing obligation to disclose adverse results in IPCC graphics.
CRU scientists acted as IPCC authors. The complaint about the trick arose out of how CRU scientists carried out their duties as IPCC authors.
In this respect, the Oxburgh report is a feeble sleight-of-hand that in effect tries to make the public think that the “trick” was no more than “regrettable” “neglect” by the “IPCC and others” ““ nothing to do with CRU. In other words, Oxburgh is using a trick to hide the “trick”.
Roger’s most vociferous detractors in the blogosphere often accuse him of playing footsie with climate skeptics. Here’s a clearcut case where the two are locking horns. It’ll be interesting to see who prevails on this politically charged, high-octane issue.
There’s an intriguing, somewhat dispiriting profile by David Owen in the current New Yorker ($ubscription) of an idealistic, enviro-minded inventor who wants to do good in the world, but is having a hard time overcoming the “limits of innovation.”
The subject of the piece is Saul Griffith, who as recently as 2004 was a Ph.D. student at MIT. By all accounts he’s brilliant–heck, that same year he won a $500,000 MacArthur “genius grant” for an eyeglass invention that the judges thought would bring cheap, corrective lens to poor communities around the world.
It didn’t work out that way, and eventually the gifted inventor turned his attention to energy–how to make it both clean and affordable. Again, things haven’t worked out as he hoped, and now Griffith is thinking that the solution to climate change lies not with technology but human behavior.
He’s also become pretty cynical. Here’s some friendly fire that is sure to singe greenies from Berkeley to Boston:
I know very few environmentalists whose heads aren’t firmly up their ass. They are bold-facedly hypocritcal, and I don’t think the environmentalism as we’ve known it is tenable or will survive. Al Gore has done a huge amount to help this cause, but he is the No. 1 environmental hypocrite. His house alone uses more energy than an average person uses in all aspects of life, and he flies prodigiously. I don’t think we can buy the argument anymore that you get special dispensation just because what you’re doing is worthwhile.
The kicker is a beaut, and shows that Griffith is as brutally honest with himself:
Right now, the main thing I’m working on is trying to invent my way out of my own hypocrisy.
I’m a little late to this Wired profile on Energy Secretary Steven Chu, since I just started reading the May issue last night. For hardcore Chu watchers, probably not much is new, but the piece by Daniel Roth is still worth a read, if only to be reminded that the battle against global warming is being fought on many levels, some of which are not openly discussed much.
For example, the theme of the profile is Chu’s pragmatism, so here’s a meaty, revealing passage on his approach to both China and coal:
Chu’s philosophy can, of course, irritate environmentalists. One of the topics they clash over most is coal: a dark, nasty substance that is utterly crucial to the energy supplies of both the US and China but that, per unit of energy, releases roughly 40 percent more carbon dioxide than gasoline does.
Chu has called coal his “worst nightmare.” But the energy secretary also knows the big countries won’t abandon it. So he has turned his attention to what’s called clean coal. The theory: After the rocks are heated, the CO2 would be pumped deep underground instead of into the atmosphere.
For now, clean coal is hypothetical. But because Chu wants us to figure out a way to make it happen, he announced in spring 2009 that the DOE would channel $1 billion into FutureGen, a carbon-capturing power plant planned for Illinois. And not surprisingly, one of his next priorities has been getting China and the US to commit to clean coal projects together.
But even thinking about clean coal infuriates environmental hard-liners. Jeff Biggers is a prominent author who writes about Appalachia, a region ravaged by coal mining. “This is where Chu is a failure,” Biggers says. “He can’t look anyone straight in the face and say that within 10 years we’ll be able to capture carbon emissions.”
Chu can, however, say that he has no time for chasing all-or-nothing proposals, or ones that nobody is going to buy into. He sees the need to act now and to act fast. And most important, to act in a way that will bring China along. According to Chu, the old way to solve environmental problems was to say “Eat your peas, they’re good for you.” The new way is to invent clean energy technology and say “If you do this, you’re going to be richer, you’re going to be happier. And it turns out that it creates jobs, and oh, by the way, you have to do it anyway.”
a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact””human, environmental, economic, political””of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new public-affairs show Need To Know.
It’s a great idea, and I’m rooting for it to have a big journalistic impact. But why, oh why, did they launch this thing without an accompanying blog to trumpet the stories? This is what I don’t get about my print magazine colleagues: they produce excellent content and yet all too often let it disappear into a black hole. For pete’s sake, put up a blog at Climate Desk, so these pieces have a forum where they can be chewed on and discussed (and distributed) more widely than they will be on a static website.