"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nice Review of Pielke's New Book

It's something of a lucky break R Pielke Jr's latest book was lost in the shuffle of the failed effort at a PR explosion for Lomborg's movie. A double dud. Still the book is out there.

There's a first rate short review of Roger's book by science journalist David Levitan, of whom I had not heard until just now, at the IEEE spectrum. It summarizes the whole Lomborg/Pielke position nicely. Here's the best part:

If Pielke’s first tenet is the completely unrealistic and potentially counterproductive divorce of science from policy, his second, as evidenced by the meager carbon price, seems to be aiming low in the name of political expediency. He suggests five bucks only because it seems feasible and cites the support of Exxon Mobil’s CEO as evidence. Seriously, Exxon Mobil. "The precise amount of the tax itself—whether $5 per metric ton, or $10, or only $3—is less important than that the tax be implemented at the highest price politically possible," Pielke writes.

Such "pragmatism" amounts to bargaining ourselves down in advance of the bargaining that we have to do with others. Pielke’s carbon price will force fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil to do absolutely nothing differently. Pielke admits this, noting that the point is simply to raise money for renewable energy technology innovation. Such a path, though, ignores the vast scientific consensus that we need to start lowering emissions yesterday.

Absolutely perfect. That's about the best two paragraph summary of Pielke Jr's meanderings I can imagine. Congratulations and thanks to Dave Levitan.


Anonymous said...

Probably want to link to the review, no?

Anonymous said...

Then again, how different is Pielke's prescription from whatever master plan Obama's currently putting into action?

-- frank

Hank Roberts said...

Counting down to the "I have been misunderstood ...." refudiation post.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Ouch! That review must have stung when Pielke read it!

manuel moe g said...

Ah, glorious disinfecting sunlight. God bless the pithy book reviewer.

But I wish to raise a point about science and politics.

The Denialists assume zero sensitivity to carbon dioxide released from consuming fossil fuels, work backwards, and cast away the scientific facts in contradiction.

The Pielke-Kloor-Superfreakonomists assume 1000 years from now we will have resumed exponential economic growth with only a tiny dip from global climate disruption, work backwards and find the only thing simultaneously magical enough (to cure) and plausible enough (to allow us to continue to consume with no sleep lost): a theoretical technological silver bullet. They continue to work backwards and cast away the scientific facts in contradiction.

Then we have the "reasonable" people who assume 1000 years from now mankind will be in a stable steady-state economic system with pervasive better-than-good living conditions, work backwards to the necessary elevation, today, of scientific elites deciding all allocations of resources of significance. They continue to work backwards and cast away the social/political/economic facts in contradiction.

If I had to pick one school of delusion, I would pick the last, but I am not sure that the last is demonstratively better. We all know that working backwards from what we wish to prove, and casting away facts in contradiction is fallacious. I guess there is some evidence of humans changing, and very little evidence of scientific laws changing, so the last school of delusion seems somewhat pardonable.

The last time that the atmosphere had more heat energy than the oceans could quickly absorb to temper, humans were in small hunter/gatherer bands of around 30 members, right? The nice climate of the Holocene led to the Neolithic agricultural revolution let to today, and now the heat energy from burning fossil fuels will go less to gentle warming and more to extreme weather events, damaging modern agriculture and transportation/communication infrastructure faster than it can be timely and economically repaired, with the effect of the onset of the First World War, the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the Black Death all rolled into one. Why is this extreme view of the near-ish future any less plausible than the three schools of delusion above? There is ample evidence that humans will tolerate horrible events (of predictable scope) to take their horrible toll.

This predicts that consumption of fossil fuel will increase in a futile jockeying for position before the last crippling catastrophes. Which we see with the political impossibility of agreements for restraint like the Kyoto Protocol. It is rational, in the absence of possibility of cooperation to under-consume in the short term.

Adam said...

Beautiful summary of extant philosophies on climate change and its amelioration, Manuel.

Is the Pielke/Kloor/Freakonomics delusion any closer to sanity than the Morano/Watts/Monckton one? Is smallpox not as bad as rabies?

David B. Benson said...

Adam --- Some survived smallpox. Nobody survives rabies, without treatment that is.

manuel moe g said...

Let me put it more plainly:

Pielke Jr. believes in magic, knows he must call that magic "technology" for reasons of persuasion, and ignores scientific facts in conflict with his magic.

We, who place our hopes in scientific communication, believe in humanity's preference to rational argument over comfortable delusion, which we might as well call the Tooth Fairy, because there is zero evidence for both. And we ignore social/political/economic facts in conflict with our Tooth Fairy.

My question is: why is our belief in the Tooth Fairy better than Pielke's belief in magic?

I put our position in very pessimistic terms, granted, but the question still stands.

Is there any evidence-based analysis in contradiction with Clive Hamilton's take in _A Requiem for a Species_?



David B. Benson said...

Kevin E. Trenberth's review of the book:
Fixing the Planet?

Steve L said...

moe -- it's not clear to me that the Kyoto protocol was politically impossible anywhere but in the US Congress. Isn't Europe on track to meet its targets?

Anonymous said...


"We, who place our hopes in scientific communication"

Maybe MT does, but I don't. And there are certainly many other people who don't either. There's been talk of boycotting Koch products, of suing the Obama administration, of flooding denialist officials with FOI requests, you name it.

The problem is that few of these ideas seem to have advanced beyond the stage of talking the talk, and even then only on a small scale.

So what will it take to seriously destabilize the Koch Bullshit Machine™? Blessed if I know!

-- frank

manuel moe g said...

Frank: > So what will it take to seriously destabilize the Koch Bullshit Machine™? Blessed if I know!

Too much credit given to the Koch Bros. If their fortune vanished tomorrow, nothing would change.

Patriotism + Defense of the Homeland are powerful enough to convince a nation to "under-consume", but environmental stewardship for the benefit of future generations is not powerful enough.

Anonymous said...


"Too much credit given to the Koch Bros."

I disagree. I think the terms of discourse will be vastly different without all the Koch-funded nonsense.

But anyway, what do you suggest as a course of action, if 'let's try to convince the public using boring science and facts' doesn't do the job? From the looks of it, you come awfully close to proposing that we should just let the disaster take their toll, and train hard to become bandits in a future dystopia.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

I take the side of the semi-serious skeptics here. Yes, they may be obsessed with surface stations and minutiae of observations, and they may be unfairly nasty and vicious on occasion. But they are right about one thing.

The didactics of the topic have been dreadful. The sliver of the population ready and willing to learn the material must be served, and their opinion is crucial.

It's terrible that the relationship with serious hobbyists is so wretched, and the fault is not all theirs. They underestimate the amount of work involved: those of us trained in the field as well as some other, more rigorously taught discipline like engineering, have had plenty of occasion to be unhappy about the way the teaching materials are constructed.

I am sure propaganda wars will go on forever, but there is still a lot of room for people telling the truth.

dhogaza said...

"Kevin E. Trenberth's review of the book"

It's behind the Science magazine paywall ...

David B. Benson said...

dhogaza --- > paywall
Sorry about that. The review was certainly far from complementary.

Michael Tobis said...

Juicy bits from Kevin Trenberth's paywalled piece:

"Certain sections of Pielke's book contain a lot of spin. For instance, in his discussion of tradeoffs between the economy and the environment, he offers an “iron law of climate policy”: “when environmental and economic objectives are placed into opposition with one another in public or political forums, it is the economic goals that win out.” An example that he might have mentioned, but does not, is President George W. Bush's 2001 rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would hurt the economy. In considering the scope of this law, however, Pielke treats economic and environmental gains as mutually exclusive. Although his law may hold when that premise is accepted, Pielke does not acknowledge that the imposition of a price on carbon emissions can be offset with reductions in taxes elsewhere and made revenue neutral. Nor does he allow for innovative implementation strategies (e.g., increases in efficiency to offset added initial costs) that remove the head-to-head conflict between environmental and economic gains. By painting the issue as black and white, Pielke reaches flawed conclusions."

"his logic about IPCC bias against adaptation is contorted: He objects to Working Group III's favoring of mitigation (which is, after all, its mission) while ignoring Working Group II (whose mission is adaptation). His claims that “the science of climate change becomes irrevocably politicized” because “[s]cience that suggested large climatic impacts on Russia was used to support arguments for Russia's participation in the [Kyoto] protocol”—as if there would be no such impacts and Russia would be a “winner”—look downright silly given the record-breaking drought, heat waves, and wildfires in Russia this past summer."

"ielke believes that there has been “systematic misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change … in the leading scientific assessments produced to inform policy,” an action that he blames on “political dynamics.” Only by dismissing any role of climate change in the increasing frequency or magnitude of disasters around the world is he able to make such outlandish claims. He goes on to say that “using disasters to advocate for mitigation policies is misguided at best and misleading at worst” and has led to “some of the most egregious errors in leading scientific assessments of climate change.” Pielke's faulty premise drives his subsequent arguments. His utter failure to adequately appreciate climate science and the implications of its projections for the future means that The Climate Fix falls far short of adequately addressing major issues."

"Unfortunately, The Climate Fix often toys with the truth and uses highly selective evidence to bolster its case, further politicizing climate change science. "

The Trenberth piece also favorably reviews Eli Kinitsch's "Hack the Planet".

Anonymous said...

MT, but what you're doing is to redefine the problem in a bogus way.

moe's point was 'we can't convince the world en masse to adopt climate regulation merely by communicating the boring facts'.

In reply, you essentially propose that we define our target audience to be the section of the public who will be convinced by boring facts, and then say 'Mission accomplished!'

Now, the Koch Bullshit Machine may be big and powerful and hard to destabilize, and that's a problem. But what I see as the real problem is that you (and moe) insist on treating it as sacrosanct and inviolable.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

frank, no. I am defining MY PART of the problem.

I think without properly addressing the people who are accessible by factual arguments we lose a great deal more than the margin. Those people are especially influential in evaluating science in and for their communities.

I do not think that communicating science as science at all levels of sophistication is sufficient, given contemporary levels of education and understanding. I don't know whether it ever will be.

But I strongly believe it is necessary, and that those who argue against it are doing a disservice.

manuel moe g said...

Frank: > Now, the Koch Bullshit Machine may be big and powerful and hard to destabilize, and that's a problem. But what I see as the real problem is that you (and moe) insist on treating it as sacrosanct and inviolable.

Not really my view. I see Koch Bros as a symptom, not a cause. They are preaching a comfortable message to masses that crave comfortable messages. We, however, have a uncomfortable truth to communicate, and that is difficult or impossible, Koch Bros or no.

Perhaps, like MT is saying, battling the Koch Bros is necessary, but not sufficient.

My honest worry: because, realistically, it is politically/socially/economically impossible to slash fossil fuel emissions, those that comprehend the truth about climate disruption should *over-consume* to prepare their children for 2070.

[I admit, this is a hysterical way to put it. With clear priorities, this is a world of superabundance, even if you halve the pie a hundred times. My wife and I make time to teach our child healthy eating habits (home cooking, etc.), and to model for our child the ability to make moral choices, make long term plans, and live economically and happily. Cheap to do this, and we feel no want or lack. The best way to limit my carbon footprint over my whole lifetime is to lose this tire around my waist, so I don't have to avail myself upon expensive medical interventions later. There is no rational economic analysis that requires me to wear a sackcloth and eat bitter herbs and sleep in the open air.]