Monday, July 22, 2013

Roger Pielke presents his view on climate change and disasters in a committee of the US Senate

On 18 July 2013 Roger Pielke jr was invited to a hearing "CLIMATE CHANGE: IT’S HAPPENING NOW" of the COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS of the UNITED STATES SENATE  His prepared testimony is available on the Senate's web-page. Here we present his "take-home points" as well as a general assessment on man-made climate change and how it is communicated. In the full document there are several pages of additional evidence, mostly in the form of diagrams and many references to scientific literature (in our quote below, we have taken out all references for allowing easier reading).

"Take-Home Points 
  • It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases. 
  • Globally, weather-related losses ($) have not increased since 1990 as a proportion of GDP (they have actually decreased by about 25%) and insured catastrophe losses have not increased as a proportion of GDP since 1960. 
  • Hurricanes have not increased in the US in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900. The same holds for tropical cyclones globally since at least 1970 (when data allows for a global perspective). · Floods have not increased in the US in frequency or intensity since at least 1950. Flood losses as a percentage of US GDP have dropped by about 75% since 1940
  • Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined. 
  • Drought has “for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U. S. over the last century.” Globally, “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.” 
  • The absolute costs of disasters will increase significantly in coming years due to greater wealth and populations in locations exposed to extremes. Consequent, disasters will continue to be an important focus of policy, irrespective of the exact future course of climate change."
"Because the climate issue is so deeply politicized, it is necessary to include several statements beyond those reported above. 
  • Humans influence the climate system in profound ways, including through the emission of carbon dioxide via the combustion of fossil fuels. 
  • Researchers have detected and (in some cases) attributed a human influence in other measures of climate extremes beyond those discussed in this testimony, including surface temperatures and precipitation. 
  • The inability to detect and attribute changes in hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and drought does not mean that human-caused climate change is not real or of concern. 
  • It does mean however that some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research. 
  • Such false claims could undermine the credibility of arguments for action on climate change, and to the extent that such false claims confuse those who make decisions related to extreme events, they could lead to poor decision making. 
  • A considerable body of research projects that various extremes may become more frequent and/or intense in the future as a direct consequence of the human emission of carbon dioxide 
  • Our research, and that of others, suggests that assuming that these projections are accurate, it will be many decades, perhaps longer, before the signal of human-caused climate change can be detected in the statistics of hurricanes (and to the extent that statistical properties are similar, in floods, tornadoes, drought). 
The remainder of this written testimony provides data and references to support the claims made in the “take-home points” above. The “take-home points” are broadly supported by peer-reviewed research, US governmental assessments of climate science and the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Special Report on Extreme Events (IPCC SREX 2012)"


Anonymous said...

"Der Kleinunternehmer" (KU)

Hans von Storch said...

Roger manages the dilemma, many of us see us in, very well - namely opposing the catastrophe rhetoric, while avoiding to be understood as supporting claims that the concept of man-made climate change would be false or irrelevant. In the aftermath of my SPIEGEL interview last month, I was subject to massive false claims that I had adopted "skeptical" positions. When I was recently interviewed by a very conservative TV(-internet)-host Ezra Levant, I was also confronted with this dilemma - I think I did it about well.

The bottom line is that it is a real challenge to steer between the extremists - namely conveying the key message "man-made climate change is real and a serious issue", but that both, the catastrophe rhetoric and the claim, that the understanding that mankind is changing climate is false or even a hoax, are misleading and are, or will eventually, be counterproductive.

Anonymous said...

This weather related losses in relation to the GDP thing is utter bullshit since the former is included in the latter. Who wants an economy driven by human catastrophes?

hvw said...

Arcticio, you don't get it. Normalizing climate change impact with GDP is pure genius:

1) We get rid of those pesky impacts that cannot be monetized: Less impacts!

2) Using such metrics, we can mediate climate change impacts simply by making GDP increase faster. This is perfectly in line with the main ideological slant of all upright defenders of freedom, happiness and American values. In other words: Finally we have a climate change mitigation measure that is "politically feasible"!

3) Climate change induced damages increase the GDP. You see this, but your interpretation is wrong: Climate change kind of mediates itself: Less need for intervention!

Two words of caution:

Be careful to use this trick only on very large economies, global or at least US-size, because it could backfire when used on a domain such as, say, Morocco.

In case someone criticises this because "global warming impacts happen on a regional or local scale and should be assessed on that level to make sense", be prepared to change the topic in an elegant way.

You see, Arctico, it's all in your head. Everything is fine, don't worry, and don't let global warming stop you from doing your share to increase the GDP, as we from the ROPFUC (Roger Pielke Fun Club) do!

Hans von Storch said...

Folks, I guess it would be helpful - at least as a intellectual exercise - to examine how damages would develop if climate would not change. A background of this is that if you deconstruct the rising costs of damage related to land-falling hurricanes in the US during the last century, you find that social development is the main and dominant driver.

And, sure, "global warming impacts happen on a regional or local scale and should be assessed on that level to make sense" - effect-wise this is true - it certainly aggregates up to larger scales as well, because the driving climatic variables are mostly of larger scale. "Global" mean temperature is a suitable metric to code the change, impact-wise it is a useless quantity. (On the other hand, "global mean temperature" is a powerful weapon for alarmists and deniers to try to silence the other.)

Articio and hvw - your reaction seemed to be one of immediate anger about Roger's analysis. Would it be worth to spell out with less anger but more complete, what made you so angry?

Greg House said...

Hans von Storch said: "...opposing the catastrophe rhetoric, while avoiding to be understood as supporting claims that the concept of man-made climate change would be false or irrelevant. ...
The bottom line is that it is a real challenge to steer between the extremists ..."


Lieber Herr von Storch,

wenn jetzt "Alarmisten" sagen würden "2+2=9" und "Skeptiker" kontern mit "2+2=7", dann wäre es kein Extremismus zu sagen "2+2=4".

Erstaunlich, wie es in der Klimawissenschaft irgendwie untergegangen ist, was fast alle Menschen prinzipiell wissen, nämlich dass kein Körper sich an eigener Wärme erwärmen kann. Der "Treibhauseffekt" wie er von dem IPCC dargestellt wird, bedeutet genau das Gegenteil, nämlich dass die Abstrahlung von der Erdoberfläche durch die "Treibhausgase" auf sie zurück geleitet wird und wärmt sie dann zusätzlich bzw. ihre Abkühlung verlangsamt. Das, Herr von Storch, ist physikalisch unmöglich. Ich meine, absolut unmöglich, geht gar nicht.

Vielleicht sieht es nach möglich aus, ich kann es verstehen, wenn man sich mit "Erdtemperaturen" beschäftigt, aber rein physikalisch - nein, unmöglich.

Um hier Platz zu sparen, verweise ich Sie gerne auf diese Ausführung von mir (die nachfolgende Diskussion zu lesen ist auch empfehlenswert): .

hvw said...

@Hans von Storch,

What is wrong with RPj's "testimony" here? Maybe not that much. I can't find the question, request, or topic description that theses testimonials were expected to illuminate. In case the question was "What do you know about historic trends of GPD normalized weather related disaster loss records, excluding high temperature and coastal high water related ones, for the USA and globally, and what do you believe is their connection to global warming? Please refrain from statements of uncertainty and avoid to mention trends in raw geophysical variables, such as extreme precipitation, storm track location, etc., which your expertise does not allow you to translate into monetized loss-values. Also avoid to mention regionally increasing trends (such as related to droughs) if you can mention decreasing trends for other regions instead. Under no circumstances present calculations for projected future losses.", then the answer is largely ok, I guess.

You can't assess the usefulness and truthfulness of an answer if you don't know the question. When you ask us "as a intellectual exercise - to examine how damages would develop if climate would not change", what specific question do you have in mind? An exercise that should us prepare to better deal with what question exactly? Is there really a worthwile problem or an interesting open question that stands chances of being answered regarding "[loss incurred by] land-falling hurricanes in the US during the last century" in the context of global warming?

Or, has someone just picked a question that sounds relevant to the untrained ear and that can be answered by reiterating decade old knowledge in a way that evokes an impression of "assessments of global warming impacts are overstated" in the casual listener?

Hans von Storch said...

hvw - which question I mean "When you ask us "as a intellectual exercise - to examine how damages would develop if climate would not change", what specific question do you have in mind? " - just that one, how would the damages due to phenomenon X develop if the statistics of such events would not change? X could be landfalling hurricanes in the US, tornadoes on Fehmarn, storm surge events in Hamburg; heavy downpour in Copenhagen - or other Xs you like.

Hans von Storch said...

Somehow revealing how we come under pressure from both sides, in #6 and #7. Sure, #6 is off-topic, and should be deleted, but the "argument" is so weak that we should leave it as an example of the wishful thinking in the milieu of the Saxonian Denier-club.

#7 does not like, it seems, "an impression of "assessments of global warming impacts are overstated" - overstatements of impacts are frequent, as I had to learn during more than 20 years of observing the field. More overstatements among interested parties, less among publicly visible scientists, even less among rank-and-file scientists. Coastal sea level is one of these cases. On the other hand, underassessments are rare - apart of by deniers, who often declare that there would be no impact at all.

hvw said...

Hans von Storch,

the answer to each of the examples you mention would involve a prediction of highly specific (event and location wise) changes in vulnerability and exposure. I guess each would be good for a Masters or even PhD thesis in some field that is different from climate science. I'd be surprised if (Re)-insurance companies would not already have come up with such studies.

My question stands: "How do such consideration help in informing policy makers or society in general with respect to policy/planning measures that arise from global warming"? Because that is the context here, and in US Senate hearings, or not?

Another question that arises from your question is: "What are the implict value judgements, ideological convictions, side-effects and constraints to meaning that arise from confining oneself to assessing only directly monetizable damage to infrastructure"? Doesn't such a choice not also serve to exclude less quantitatively oriented expertise, such as the one coming from Ethnologists, for example?

MikeR said...

By the way, Dr. Pielke's testimony reminded me to see how the Wikipedia pages present Hurricane Sandy, and tropical cyclones
What I saw caused me to try for a few days to get some of Dr. Pielke's references into the pages, especially the IPCC SREX. You'll see if you look at the pages that I did not succeed very far, especially on Hurricane Sandy (you can see the talk page with miker613). Others are apparently a lot happier with theories by various researchers that explain how Sandy was caused by global warming, and not so much with major sources like the IPCC and NOAA saying that we have no basis even to think that we can detect a positive trend (so far).

It's not easy to make changes on wikipedia on controversial pages, unless you're very determined and there are a lot of you.

MikeR said...

Whoa. I complained "bitterly"? Really? I noted that it is difficult to make changes.
And, as you'll see if you read the Talk page, I suggested the Pielke reference, but I _really_ suggested the SREX reference and the NOAA reference, which in the end were not allowed, and which are badly needed. The article continues to skip the main opinion, which is that no trend has been verified, and just plunges into various theories on how Sandy was caused by global warming.
In the middle of the discussion is this bizarre argument, several times repeated, that I have no scientific reference that Sandy specifically was not caused by global warming, and it would be against Wikipedia guidelines to include scientific references that no tropical storm is caused by global warming - because the logical inference would be original research. So what can we do: sadly, there is no choice but to mislead readers by skipping all that.

I do think that the tropical storm article was improved.

And I'm Pielke. Are you angling to get into Lewandowsky's next paper?

Hans von Storch said...

MikeR - please do not play with the identity of others. Correct your false statement "I'm Pielke.", or at least clarify which "Pielke" you are claiming to be.

MikeR said...

Sorry - I was being sarcastic, responding to the comment above me. That's what I meant by the reference to Lewandowsky, that the commentor goes in for conspiracy-type theories. I am not Pielke.