Blog Archive

Monday, March 31, 2014

Exxon to World: Drop Dead!

Oil Company Believes World Will Fail To Limit Climate Change to Safe Levels

by David Turnbull, Oil Change International, March 31, 2014
Ford_to_City_Exxon_Spoof v2

WASHINGTON, DC —ExxonMobil released its carbon asset risk reports on Monday, in response to investor demand.

“If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading these reports, let me offer you a shorter version: Exxon to World: Drop Dead,” said Stephen Kretzmann*, Executive Director of Oil Change International.

Exxon’s report, “Energy and Carbon – Managing the Risks” flatly states “we do not anticipate society being able to supplant traditional carbon- based forms of energy with other energy forms, such as renewables, to the extent needed to meet this carbon budget.”

Oil Change International Executive Director Stephen Kretzmann responded with the following:

“ExxonMobil is saying it doesn’t believe governments will keep their internationally agreed commitments to limit climate change to safe levels. This should not come as any surprise. Of course they don’t believe governments are going to address climate change adequately — they are in fact betting billions on the failure of climate and clean energy policy.  And they’re shoring up their bet by buying politicians and spending millions to sow doubt and promote inaction.

Still, these report represent the beginning of the next phase of the climate fight.  Exxon is no longer ignoring or denying climate science.  Now it is denying that the American people and people around the world have the will and the power to change our futures and save our children.  

They are wrong and we look forward to proving it to them.”

Together with The Other 98% and Environmental Action, Oil Change International runs the “Exxon Hates Your Children” campaign, targeting the billions in government subsidies Exxon and other fossil fuel companies receive each year. More can be found at:

*email:, 202-497-1033

Leiter Reports: Rochester Institute of Technology issues stronger statement in support of Professor Torcello

RIT now issues stronger statement in support of Professor Torcello

from Leiter Reports - A Philosophy Blog, March 31, 2014
Here.  Our earlier coverage was here.  Special thanks to all those who took the time to write to the RIT Administration, your efforts have produced a good result!
UPDATE:  Professor Torcello writes:
I am confident that your letter and the letters of other supportive academics proved an important counterbalance to the conservative campaign of harassment. I have no doubt that such letters helped give my administration the appropriate encouragement they needed to take a stronger stand. 
One reason I think a statement like this is so important is that if universities were to routinely issue a public acknowledgment of the scientific consensus on climate change in response to faculty harassment it would remove some of the incentive deniers have to instigate their campaigns in the first place. Universities still hold a significant level of institutional authority in the mind of many citizens so such statements affirming the existence of scientific consensus are meaningful in the public sphere. It is my hope that this new statement will get some attention in academic circles as an example of the sort of full-throat statement appropriate for universities to make in defense of faculty targeted by conservative propagandists. I hope some people will write thanking the RIT for taking a stronger stance. I have no doubt that some conservatives will be writing in again offering the opposite view. 

Kerry Emanuel: Tail Risk vs. Alarmism

by Kerry Emanuel, Climate Change National Forum, March 31, 2014

The American Association for the Advancement of Science just published a statement on climate risk (link) on which I am a co-author. This statement has several aims, one of which is to highlight the importance of societal risk in the low-probability tail of the climate change probability distribution. I would like to take this opportunity to explain why we think it necessary to talk about tail risk, and the road blocks we scientists face in doing so.
Tail risk is a concept that everyone is familiar with at some level. To take a rather obvious example, suppose an 8-year-old girl comes to a busy street which she must cross to catch her school bus. Unsure what to do, she asks an adult bystander for advice.  The adult replies that, most probably, she will make it across the street unharmed.
Image by Will Mego via Flickr (link).
Any other reasonable adult listening to such advice would regard it as radically incomplete. Surely, no one would encourage the girl to cross the street if there were a 1% chance that she would be run over. The most probably outcome is, in this example, largely irrelevant. But here there is very little downside to walking the girl up the street to where there is a traffic light.
In assessing risk, one has to estimate the probability distribution of the event (car colliding with girl), convolve that with an outcome function (girl likely dies if hit), and account for the cost of mitigation (take 5 minutes to walk to a traffic light). In the realm of climate change, climate scientists are the ones charged with estimating the event risk, while other disciplines (e.g., economics, engineering) must be brought to bear on estimating outcome, and the costs of mitigating the risk or adapting to it.
In assessing the event risk component of climate change, we have, I would argue, a strong professional obligation to estimate and portray the entire probability distribution to the best of our ability. This means talking not just about the most probable middle of the distribution, but also the lower probability high-end risk tail, because the outcome function is very high there. For example, here is an estimate of the probability distribution of global mean temperature resulting from a doubling of CO2 relative to its pre-industrial value, made from 100,000 simulations using an integrated assessment model. (We use this here as an illustration; it should not be regarded as the most up-to-date estimate of global temperature increase probabilities.)
Temperature rise probability distribution for a doubling of CO2. Figure from Chris Hope, University of Cambridge
Figure from Chris Hope, University of Cambridge.
More or less in agreement with the most recent IPCC report, the most probable “middle” of the distribution runs from about 1.5 oC to about 4.5 oC , while there is a roughly 5% probability of temperature increases being less than about 1.8 oC and more than about 4.6 oC. But, given the corresponding distributions of rainfall, storms, sea level rise, etc., the 5% high-end may be so consequential, in terms of outcome, as to be justifiably called catastrophic. It is vitally important that we convey this tail risk as well as the most probable outcomes.
But there are strong cultural biases running against any discussion of this kind of tail risk, at least in the realm of climate science. The legitimate fear that the public will interpret any discussion whatsoever of tail risk as a deliberate attempt to scare people into action, or to achieve some other ulterior or nefarious goal, is enough to make almost all scientists shy away from any talk of tail risk and stick to the safe high ground of the middle of the probability distribution. The accusation of “alarmism” is quite effective in making scientists skittish in conveying tail risk, and talking about the tail of the distribution is a sure recipe to be so labelled.
Predictably, the AAAS statement evoked just such responses. For example, in her climate blog (link), Judith Curry states that “…..these particular experts seem more alarmed than the expert authors of the IPCC report (well, the WG1 anyways), citing many very low probability events as something to be alarmed about……When scientists become alarmists, I don’t think it helps public opinion.” And this, from Roger Pielke (Sr.): “This AAAS report is an embarrassment to the scientific community.”
Judy Curry is right that the IPCC working group 1 (WG1) almost entirely avoids the issue of tail risk (which is one reason that the AAAS felt compelled to do so), and Drs. Pielke and Curry speak for most scientists in expressing the fear of embarrassment in any discussion of low probability events. After all, by their very definition, such risks are unlikely to be the outcome. If we want to be admired by our descendants, the best strategy is to stick with the peak of the probability distribution, and with high probability, we can then ridicule those “alarmists” who warned of the tail risks, just as the adult who advises the girl to cross the street will, in all likelihood, be able after the fact to chastise the one who counseled against it.
And yet. Does the dictum to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” not apply to climate scientists? If we omit discussion of tail risk, are we really telling the whole truth?
So far it has been difficult to quantify tail risk beyond that implied by figures such as the one above, which resulted from running an integrated assessment model many times with many combinations of parameters varied across plausible ranges. We have also tried to use paleoclimate data and the observed response of climate to large volcanic eruptions to narrow down the probability distribution. A wild card in climate risk assessment is the problem of abrupt, irreversible climate change, which evidence in ice cores and deep sea sediments suggests are general features of past climate variations. We also have to be mindful that the graph above and many risk assessment studies use the canonical doubling of CO2 as a benchmark, whereas we are currently on track to triple COcontent by the end of this century. (As a rough measure of global temperature change under triple CO2, multiply the values on the horizontal axis of the figure by 1.5.) Unless we find a way to extract carbon from the atmosphere, the climate risks would become alarmingly high (and not just in the tails) in the 22nd century, even if we stopped emissions by the end of this century.
Do we not have a professional obligation to talk about the whole probability distribution, given the tough consequences at the tail of the distribution? I think we do, in spite of the fact that we open ourselves to the accusation of alarmism and thereby risk reducing our credibility. A case could be made that we should keep quiet about tail risk and preserve our credibility as a hedge against the possibility that someday the ability to speak with credibility will be absolutely critical to avoid disaster. What do you, the reader, think?

ROFL - Unnatural disaster: Roger Pielke, Jr.’s writing is an embarrassment to Nate Silver’s new venture

by David Auerbach, Slate, March 31, 2014

Nate Silver at SXSWi in 2009.
Nate Silver is still backing the wrong horse.
Photo courtesy Randy Stewart/Flickr
I come to praise Nate Silver, not to bury him. In this case, I want to congratulate him for taking the first step toward the eventual firing of Roger Pielke, Jr., author of one of the most heavily criticized pieces to date on Silver’s somewhat beleaguered new site, FiveThirtyEight. Pielke’s March 19, 2014, piece, “Disasters Cost More than Ever—But Not Because of Climate Change,” has been slammed for faulty data, ideological bias, and poor statistical work, leading Silver to publish a conditional defense of the article. Silver admits to some sloppiness in the piece and has said that FiveThirtyEight will publish a rebuttal. These are good steps, but Silver is still backing the wrong horse, and the sooner he dumps Pielke (who’s also a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder), the better.

Issues around climate change and disaster statistics are so complicated—far more complicated than election polling—that you might be tempted to think that, as Silver says, “The debate is hard for us to adjudicate without turning to experts for help.” Silver is wrong. On Pielke’s own terms, even under the most charitable interpretation, his article is an embarrassment. It does not take a trained statistician to see what’s wrong with Pielke’s article, just some old-fashioned critical thinking.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Pielke’s stats on natural disaster frequency and natural disaster cost are absolutely right. (Granted, no one seems to think this.) Let’s only focus on Silver’s statement: “The central thesis of the piece was that although these costs are increasing, the rise can be accounted for by the growing wealth of the global population, rather than by a rise in the number of disaster events due to climate change.” The article fails to make a coherent case even for that modest thesis.
Here is Pielke’s “killer” graph, intended to show that disaster costs are not growing relative to GDP:
This graph only spikes when bad things happen to white people. (Or Japan.)
Consider what is being measured: the aggregate total of disaster costs vs. the global GDP. As we all know, global wealth isn’t distributed evenly. “Wealthy countries hold all of the sway in worldwide cost estimates,” Pielke writes. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the two deadliest disasters by far during the time period of the graph—both in the hundreds of thousands of deaths—don’t produce any spikes whatsoever, and belong to “average” years. Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in around 2,000 deaths, produced that large 2005 spike. This graph isn’t measuring deaths, of course; just economic damage to property and productivity.
So let’s say Lex Luthor causes California to fall into the ocean. The graph will spike like mad. Let’s say Dr. Magneto causes half of Africa to fall into the ocean. The graph will show a mild bump. Pielke decided that aggregating all the costs together for world GDP vs. world disaster costs would be more illuminating than breaking it down even on a continent-by-continent basis. I won’t speculate on his motives here. (Everyone else has already done that for me: Climate Science Watch concludes his goal is to “dismiss the wide array of evidence linking climate change to extreme weather,” while climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli says Pielke is known for “downplaying the links between global warming and extreme weather.”) But this graph hardly seems like the most relevant measure of the impact of natural disasters.
In an attempt to make this graph meaningful (or at least less offensive), Pielke pulls a bait and switch. He writes that increased disaster costs mean that fewer people are dying: “The data show an inverse relationship between lives lost and property damage.” Pielke seems to be implying that as GDP goes up, property damage goes up—even assuming that the number of disasters stays constant—but the lives lost in disasters will go down. There is a correlation, Pielke says, between being rich and being safe in a disaster; the richer the country, the fewer the lives lost when a disaster hits.
“There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses,” Pielke writes; richer countries are “better able to deal with disasters”—Pielke doesn’t say why, but presumably through better infrastructure, safer buildings, greater population mobility, early warning systems, and the like.
So what started as an argument that increased disaster costs aren’t as bad as they seem has turned into an argument that increased disaster costs are actively good. We should be happy if disasters are destroying more Fabergé eggs, because people with Fabergé eggs probably live in earthquake-proof houses.
So Pielke is arguing for two opposing theses: First, that disaster costs haven’t actually gone up that much (it’s not climate change’s fault!); and second, that disaster costs are still going up but that’s a good thing (fewer lives lost!). In other words, it’s a Goldilocks situation: Disaster costs are going up just right.
This is preposterous. The graph only shows two variables, while Pielke is making an argument about three variables: disaster cost, economic growth, and disaster occurrence. The graph conflates disaster cost with disaster occurrence, making it impossible to individuate trends in either. A spike shows that an expensive disaster happened (bad!) but that disaster costs went up (good!). No spike shows that only cheap disasters happened (also bad!), but disaster costs stayed down (also good!).
Compared to the Munich Re data or the IPCC report on which Pielke drew, Pielke’s graphs look closer to USA Today infographics than serious statistical work.
While Pielke is fiddling with GDP numbers and celebrating the wealthy, the second half of the IPCC report, just released yesterday, concludes that climate change risks destabilizing human society and that the projections are grave. Evidently that part didn’t grab Pielke.
From the IPCC 2013 report
Too complicated for FiveThirtyEight?
From Munich Re
At first glance, Pielke just seems to be dumbing down the material, but the internal contradictions in his article make it look far closer to intellectual dishonesty, collapsing variables and muddying the waters. (For example, why is he using a graph whose two biggest spikes come from earthquakes when he’s ostensibly talking about climate change? Is he proposing a heretofore unknown link between earthquakes and climate? Scoop!) The good thing about intellectual dishonesty is that errors beget errors. Sneaky statistical manipulation often bubbles up into conceptual incoherency, as it did in Pielke’s article and now in Silver’s defense of it. There is no need to debate the evidence because the article collapses on its own terms.
Silver seems to realize that he fell down here, and so I hesitate to criticize him too heavily. Silver constitutes such an improvement on horserace journalism that you can bet Politico and Daily Caller are rubbing their hands with glee to see Paul Krugman and Nate Silver turning on each other—it’s even better than Twitter turning on Stephen Colbert. Statistics experts Cathy O’Neil and Deborah Mayo have made some serious criticisms of Silver’s own work, but given the state of much punditry today, the perfect remains the enemy of the good—or at least the enemy of the better-than-Politico. When Leon Wieseltier praises George Will (a pundit whose views on climate change make Roger Pielke look like Al Gore) as superior to Silver, it’s enough to make me drop to my knees and beg Silver not to throw in the towel. Please, Nate, cut Pielke loose and stay the course.

MUST READ: Kerry Emanuel responds to Roger Pielke's 538 article

by Kerry Emanuel, FiveThirtyEight, March 31, 2014

As someone who has spent some time looking at changes in the incidence of hurricanes around the planet, I have been asked to provide a response to Roger Pielke, Jr.’s article “Disasters Cost More Than Ever — But Not Because of Climate Change,” published at FiveThirtyEight earlier this month.
Let me begin by saying that I am sympathetic to Pielke’s emphasis on the role of changing demographics in increasing damages from natural disasters. This is a serious problem that could be addressed by wiser policies. For example, in the United States, policies regulating insurance and providing federal flood insurance and disaster relief have the effect of subsidizing risk-taking, and the recent repeal of large sections of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Federal Flood Insurance Reform Act shows just how difficult it is to reform these risk-inducing policies.
Having said that, I’m not comfortable with Pielke’s assertion that climate change has played no role in the observed increase in damages from natural hazards; I don’t see how the data he cites support such a confident assertion. To begin with, it’s not necessarily appropriate to normalize damages by gross domestic product (GDP) if the intent is to detect an underlying climate trend. GDP increase does not translate in any obvious way to damage increase; in fact, wealthier countries can better afford to build stronger structures and to protect assets (for example, build seawalls and pass and enforce building regulations).1 A grass hut will be completely destroyed by a hurricane, but a modern steel office building will only be partially damaged; damage does not scale linearly with the value of the asset.
More seriously, a casual inspection of both graphs (normalized and non-normalized damage over time) presented by Pielke leads me to question the statistical significance of either. This is hardly surprising, since 23 years is not a very long time to detect trends in natural hazard damages, whether such trends are caused by demographics or by climate change. A 2012 study2 by London School of Economics researchers Fabian Barthel and Eric Neumayer looked at damage trends normalized by GDP, a measure they used because others are not universally available. For Germany and the United States, with 29 and 36 years of data, respectively, they detected “statistically significant upward trends in normalized insured losses from all non-geophysical disasters as well as from certain specific disaster types,” but for the globe as a whole, with 19 years of data available, they could find no significant trends.
Since the U.S. alone accounted for roughly half the insured losses over this period, the significance of the longer U.S. record and lack thereof in the shorter global record suggests that 20 years may be too short to detect significant trends. The increasing normalized trends in the U.S. were evident in convective storms, winter storms, flooding events and high temperature-related losses, and were almost statistically significant for hurricanes at the conventional 95% confidence level.3 In view of data like this, it’s very hard to accept Pielke’s confident assertion that “[n]o matter what President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron say, recent costly disasters are not part of a trend driven by climate change.”
There is an even more significant problem with Pielke’s analysis. In a nutshell, he addresses trend detection when what we need is event risk assessment. The two would be equivalent if the actuarial data was the only data available pertaining to event risk. But that is far from the case; we often have much more information about risk.
Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Suppose observations showed conclusively that the bear population in a particular forest had recently doubled. What would we think of someone who, knowing this, would nevertheless take no extra precautions in walking in the woods unless and until he saw a significant upward trend in the rate at which his neighbors were being mauled by bears?
The point here is that the number of bears in the woods is presumably much greater than the incidence of their contact with humans, so the overall bear statistics should be much more robust than any mauling statistics. The actuarial information here is the rate of mauling, while the doubling of the bear population represents a priori information. Were it possible to buy insurance against mauling, no reasonable firm supplying such insurance would ignore a doubling of the bear population, lack of any significant mauling trend notwithstanding. And even our friendly sylvan pedestrian, sticking to mauling statistics, would never wait for 95% confidence before adjusting his bear risk assessment. Being conservative in signal detection (insisting on high confidence that the null hypothesis is void) is the opposite of being conservative in risk assessment.
When it comes to certain types of natural hazards, there are more bears in the woods. For example, there is a clear upward trend in overall North Atlantic hurricane activity by virtually all metrics, over the past 30 years or so, though the cause of this is still uncertain. But given that only about a third of Atlantic hurricanes strikes the U.S., hurricanes do damage during a very small fraction of their typical lifetimes, and only intense hurricanes (a small fraction of the total) do significant damage, the amount of hurricane data pertinent to U.S. damage is a tiny fraction of the entire database of North Atlantic hurricanes. Thus it is hardly surprising that the upward trend in U.S. hurricane damage is of only marginal statistical significance, and Pielke’s own analysis shows that it takes several decades for such a trend to emerge.
This does not mean that there is no underlying change in the risk, and the priors we have in this case point to a significant increase in such risk. One would be foolish to make plans that have to deal with U.S. hurricane risk without accounting for the evidence that the underlying risk is increasing, whether or not actuarial trends have yet emerged at the 95% confidence level.
This is particularly so when one accounts for another form of prior information: theory and models. While some disagreement remains about projections of the weakest storms, which seldom do much damage, both theory and models are now in good agreement that the frequency of high category hurricanes should increase, as should hurricane rainfall and the flooding it produces.
Looking ahead, I collaborated with Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn and his colleagues in estimating global hurricane damage changes through the year 2100, based on hurricanes “downscaled” from four climate models. We estimate that global hurricane damage will about double owing to demographic trends, and double again because of climate change. These projections are not inconsistent with what we’ve been seeing in hurricane data and in economic damage from hurricanes. Besides this study, there are robust theory and modeling results that show increased risk of hydrological extremes (floods and droughts) and heat-related problems.
Some of these predicted trends are beginning to emerge in actuarial data. Governments, markets and ordinary people are beginning to account for the increased risk. Those who wait for actuarial trends to emerge at the 95% confidence level before acting do so at their peril.
*Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written three books and co-edited two others along with dozens of research papers on climate, oceans and the atmosphere.

Interesting interview on Radio EcoShock about how we may have crossed over into the danger zone already

You can always listen to this in the background, but perk up at about minute 14:38, when he starts talking about the amount of methane currently coming out of the thawing subsea permafrost on the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf, in the Laptev Sea region (and this doesn't even mention the methane currently tied up below the subsea permafrost):

New York Times: Is Canada Tarring Itself?

by Jacques Leslie, The New York Times, March 30, 2014

Credit:Kristian Hammerstad

Start with the term “tar sands.” In Canada only fervent opponents of oil development in northern Alberta dare to use those words; the preferred phrase is the more reassuring “oil sands.” Never mind that the “oil” in the world’s third largest petroleum reserve is in fact bitumen, a substance with the consistency of peanut butter, so viscous that another fossil fuel must be used to dilute it enough to make it flow.

Never mind, too, that the process that turns bitumen into consumable oil is very dirty, even by the oil industry’s standards. But say “tar sands” in Canada, and you’ll risk being labeled unpatriotic, radical, subversive.

Performing language makeovers is perhaps the most innocuous indication of the Canadian government’s headlong embrace of the oil industry’s wishes. Soon after becoming prime minister in 2006, Stephen Harper declared Canada “an emerging energy superpower,” and nearly everything he’s done since has buttressed this ambition. Forget the idea of Canada as dull, responsible and environmentally minded: That is so 20th century. Now it’s a desperado, placing all its chips on a world-be-damned, climate-altering tar sands bet.

Documents obtained by research institutions and environmental groups through freedom-of-information requests show a government bent on extracting as much tar sands oil as possible, as quickly as possible. From 2008 to 2012, oil industry representatives registered 2,733 communications with government officials, a number dwarfing those of other industries. The oil industry used these communications to recommend changes in legislation to facilitate tar sands and pipeline development. In the vast majority of instances, the government followed through.

In the United States, the tar sands debate focuses on Keystone XL, the 1,200-mile pipeline that would link Alberta oil to the Gulf of Mexico. What is often overlooked is that Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

After winning an outright parliamentary majority in 2011, Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party passed an omnibus bill that revoked or weakened 70 environmental laws, including protections for rivers and fisheries. As a result, one proposed pipeline, the Northern Gateway, which crosses a thousand rivers and streams between Alberta and the Pacific, no longer risked violating the law. The changes also eliminated federal environmental review requirements for thousands of proposed development projects.

President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL, expected later this spring, is important not just because it will determine the pipeline’s fate, but because it will give momentum to one side or the other in the larger tar sands battle. Consequently, the Canadian government’s 2013-14 budget allocates nearly $22 million for pro-tar-sands promotional work outside Canada. It has used that money to buy ads and fund lobbyists in Washington and Europe, the latter as part of a continuing campaign against the European Union’s bitumen-discouraging Fuel Quality Directive.

Beginning in 2006, Mr. Harper pledged to promulgate regulations to limit carbon emissions, but eight years later the regulations still have not been issued, and he recently hinted that they might not be introduced for another “couple of years.” Meanwhile, Canada became the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, in 2009 it signed the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord, which calls for Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17% beneath its 2005 level by 2020. According to the government’s own projections, it won’t even come close to that level.

Climate change’s impact on Canada is already substantial. Across Canada’s western prairie provinces, an area larger than Alaska, mean temperatures have risen several degrees over the last 40 years, causing releases of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and drying wetlands. The higher temperatures have led to the spread of the mountain pine beetle, which has consumed millions of trees. The trees, in turn, have become fodder for increasingly extensive forest fires, which release still more greenhouse gases. Given that scientists now think the Northern Hemisphere’s boreal forests retain far more carbon than tropical rain forests like the Amazon, these developments are ominous. At least the Harper government has indirectly acknowledged climate change in one way: It has made a show of defending the Northwest Passage, an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that winds through Canadian territory.

Nevertheless, the Harper government has shown its disdain for scientists and environmental groups dealing with climate change and industrial pollution. The government has either drastically cut or entirely eliminated funding for many facilities conducting research in climate change and air and water pollution. It has placed tight restrictions on when its 23,000 scientists may speak publicly and has given power to some department managers to block publication of peer-reviewed research. It has closed or “consolidated” scientific libraries, sometimes thoughtlessly destroying invaluable collections in the process. And it has slashed funding for basic research, shifting allocations to applied research with potential payoffs for private companies.

With a deft Orwellian touch, Canada’s national health agency even accused a doctor in Alberta, John O’Connor, of professional misconduct — raising “undue alarm” and promoting “a sense of mistrust” in government officials — after he reported in 2006 that an unusually high number of rare, apparently tar-sands-related cancers were showing up among residents of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from the tar sands. A government review released in 2009 cautiously supported Dr. O’Connor’s claims, but officials have shown no interest in the residents’ health since then.

Dr. O’Connor’s experience intimidated other doctors, according to Margaret Sears, a toxicologist hired by the quasi-independent Alberta Energy Regulator to study health impacts in another region near the tar sands operation. Dr. Sears reported that some doctors cited Dr. O’Connor’s case as a reason for declining to treat patients who suggested a link between their symptoms and tar sands emissions.

The pressure on environmentalists has been even more intense. Two years ago Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (who this month became finance minister) declared that some environmentalists “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest” and “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists. And Canada’s tax-collecting agency recently introduced rigorous audits of at least seven prominent environmental groups, diverting the groups’ already strained resources from anti-tar-sands activities.

Few Canadians advocate immediately shutting down the tar sands — indeed, any public figure espousing that idea risks political oblivion. The government could defuse much tar sands opposition simply by advocating a more measured approach to its development, using the proceeds to head the country away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon, renewables-based future. That, in fact, was the policy recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, eminently moderate independent research group founded by another right-leaning prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1988. The Harper government showed what it thought of the policy when it disbanded the Round Table last year.

*Jacques Leslie is the author, most recently, of “A Deluge of Consequences: A Riveting Adventure in the High Himalayas.”

Justin Gillis, NYT: The Worst Is Yet To Come [IPCC's most sobering report yet]

by Justin Gillis, The New York Times, March 30, 2014

Greenland'­s immense ice sheet is melting as a result of climate change. Credit Kadir van Lohuizen from The New York Times.

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, center, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Credit Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press
And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. 

The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.

The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound.

It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.

The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers.

In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.

“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.

The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.

“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.

Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
Tracks were flooded at Grand Central Station in October 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.

The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.

But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food.

The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.

The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a days-long editing session in Yokohama.

The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.

The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.

Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.

Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.

For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.

The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.

David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.

Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

From PowerShift in Nova Scotia

Displaying 13500342424_f8248217bd_b.jpg

Eli Rabett: Stealth Issue Advocate Pielke

Sorry, readers, I just can't help it -- this one is pretty funny, what with Roger the Dodger being skewered on his own words, as it were:

by Eli Rabett, Rabett Run, March 29, 2014

Roger Pielke Jr's turn on the pole has not been pleasant, either for Roger, or Nate Silver and bunnies can go here there and everywhere to read about it.  Some of the reads are funny, some are.... . well they just are. but Eli and Ethon (who is looking remarkably fat and sleek recently) would like to point to an interesting thing that Nate Silver wrote over at 538:
Roger’s article also contained an implicit policy recommendation in its closing paragraph. Whether or not the recommendation was justified by Roger’s thesis and evidence, we generally prefer to avoid these kind of recommendations, and instead allow readers to draw any policy conclusions for themselves.(em added ER)
That last paragraph reads:
When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control. There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses. As countries become richer, they are better able to deal with disasters — meaning more people are protected and fewer lose their lives. Increased property losses, it turns out, are a price worth paying.
You don't have to be a bunny to see that Nate is right. So where does this put Roger, in Roger's taxonomy of the pure scientist, the science arbiter, the honest broker, the issue advocate and the stealth issue advocate, which he describes as follows:
"stealth issue advocacy" occurs when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are really seeking to advance a political agenda. When such claims are made, the authority of science is used to hide a political agenda, under an assumption that science commands that which politics does not. However, when stealth issue advocacy takes place, it threatens the legitimacy of scientific advice, as people will see it simply as politics, and lose sight of the value that science does offer policy making.
And he does not consider "Stealth Issue Advocacy" a good thing.  Nonono.  And he is not shy about saying whom he considers such, c'mon down Mike Mann, and you Gavin Schmidt, and the Real Climate Crew, and Roger is not right complimentary about this.

Roger and friends have long tried to pose as the "honest brokers," but as Eli has long pointed out, this is empty rhetoric no matter how many books it sells.  What it really is is an attempt to control the Overton Window.  But, of course, what Roger and the rest of the Impact Denialists (Roger, Tol, Lomborg, etc.) have been doing all along is preparing the fall back position for when the fact that the climate is changing because of what people are doing becomes clear to the public and governments.

Nate may not be the innocent waif he plays of TV.