It’s Not Just CO2

Finally found the time this evening to tack a comment onto a post at Roger Pielke Sr.’s blog, in which he suggested the media hasn’t been writing about a new NAS report because it “is inconvenient for those who view the radiative effect of human-caused CO2 increases as the dominant forcing of climate change.”

Roger’s been flacking this report in his blog, and I finally felt needled enough by his complaint about a lack of media coverage to read it. (And by “read it,” I mean “read the executive summary.”) It raises some interesting issues that are relevant to the climate writing I’m trying to do – the need to better understand effects at the regional level.

He’s wrong, I think, to blame the lack of media coverage on some sort of bias in favor of a simplistic picture of CO2 forcing. That assumes greater sophistication on the part of the reporters covering this issue than I think is the case. The more likely explanation, as I suggested in the comments, is that it’s a nuanced report with no obvious “bang them over the head” take-home point. Or William Connolley’s explanation may the right one – that we’re just stupid: “The media wouldn’t have a clue what it was about.”

If I were to write about it, though, I’d have grabbed at something different than what I think Roger wants me to. The report suggests that some of the secondary climate forcings that are not terribly well understood, especially tropospheric aerosols and land use changes, are significant at a regional scale: “Improving societally relevant projections of regional climate impacts will require a better understanding of the magnitudes of regional forcings and the associated climate responses.”

As I’ve written before, I’m a consumer of climate science trying to help inform policy choices at the regional level. This is the sort of thing I need.


  1. Hi John. Shiny new format… and comments!

    When I said “The media wouldn’t have a clue what it was about” I was of course referring to the picture of the media in my head, not to your good self.

    But seriously, wading through the different concepts of radiative forcing is difficult stuff (I’ve never done it properly) and its unsellable to the public at large. What RP is in danger of trying to sell to the public is yet another “oh they’ve got it all wrong, because their metric is no good…, so lets not worry about it at all” type story.

  2. It should not go unmentioned that RP Sr. is also misrepresenting the recommendations of the NRC report. The report does *not* recommend dumping global mean surface temp.

    On the regional stuff, which everyone agrees is important and is in fact being worked on by many, he doesn’t like anything anyone has actually done so far because (of course) it’s all getting done using GCMs. The fact that there’s currently no alternative to using GCMs seems unimportant to him.

    His latest idea is that because ocean heat content changes are scientifically more important that surface temps (true enough), reporters should be convinced to talk about climate change in terms of the former and apparently not even mention the latter. The mind boggles. I do worry about what sort of damage he’ll try to do when the AR4 comes out, as to all appearances that’s what he’s preparing for.

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