More Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere

My first serious exposure to Roger Pielke Jr.’s work was at an American Meteorological Society meeting in Albuquerque in 2001. He gave a talk laying out the basic thrust of his hurricane vulnerability argument: that societal changes (essentially building stuff on the beach) are the dominant variable in the societal hurricane risk equation. It’s an argument he and Dan Sarewitz lay out here.

I’ve long thought the argument also applies to climate change and drought in the southwest. So I took advantage of their Nature paper to sketch out the issue in the weekend Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s population is projected to increase 33 percent by 2030— an extra 650,000 people, all needing water to work and live.

In addition, scientists say that even if we slash greenhouse gas emissions now, Earth’s climate will keep changing for decades as it catches up to what we have already put into the air.

“No matter what greenhouse gas reduction policies the world agrees to, those policies will not have an effect on the climate for decades,” Pielke said.

That means residents of the West must focus as much on how we use our water as on what we put out our tailpipes, Pielke said in an interview.


  1. The IPCC confronted this issue some time ago in a position paper for the AR4 “Scientific assessment of the inter-relationships of Mitigation and Adaptation” by Saleemul Huq and Michael Grubb published in August 2003. It has been the subject of considerable thought, although the setup usually used in these discussions is that adaptation is completely ignored, which it has never been except perhaps on certain blogs. The problem with an adaptation only (or now reduced to primarily, one should be happy for small progress) strategy is

    “a complete absence of mitigation or related efforts at sustainable development would imply that atmospheric concentrations and temperatures continue increasing towards the high impact and risk zones of Figure 2. The far greater impacts involved would then be much harder to adapt to, with higher risks of events which adaptation could not realistically ameliorate.”

    I posted on this in October, concluding with

    “So, here again we ask, where is the learned and rabid comment upon this report which is the bases of the AR4 dealing with these issues.”

  2. This is for your list, John:

    The pernicious and dangerous thing about RP Jr. et al is the focus on adaptation while blithely ignoring efficiency steps that can be taken immediately, to say nothing of conservation. My strong suspicion is that grants in the science policy biz are a bit easier to come by if one skips ahead to adaptation. It’s interesting that the terms conservation and efficiency make no appearance in the Nature aricle. The term “mitigation” is used quite a bit, but somehow it’s not quite the same. Then there’s this very strange last paragraph:

    “But defining adaptation in terms of sustainable development does not fit comfortably into the current political framework of the climate change problem. By introducing sustainable development, one is forced to consider the missed opportunities of an international regime that for the past 15 years or more has focused enormous intellectual, political, diplomatic and fiscal
    resources on mitigation while downplaying adaptation. Until
    adaptation is institutionalized at a level of intensity and
    investment at least equal to those of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol, climate impacts will continue to mount unabated,
    regardless of even the most effective cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.”

    There are so many things wrong with this it’s hard to know where to begin, but one thing it does is explain why the authors dislike Jim Hansen’s ideas so very much. Also, if it’s true that the there’s been a vast international machine chugging away on efficiency and conservation (which as forms of mitigation are somehow in conflict with adaptation!?) in recent years, somehow I just up and missed it completely.

    Let me state the following proposition: The only metric we will have for telling whether the global warming problem is being taken seriously is when we see substantial steps toward efficiency and conservation being taken. When it comes to seeing the science policy crows play a constructive role in moving the debate in that direction, I won’t hold my breath.

  3. Correction: Science policy “crows” was a proofreading failure on my part (should have been “crowd”). It does make for an interesting image, though.

  4. Guys –

    I wrote a story about this, localized to New Mexico, for a simple reason. The vast climate change apparatus spun up in New Mexico over the last two years has produced a sweeping set of recommendations focused on greenhouse gas reductions. The analytical documents prepared to buttress the effort discussed the implications of climate change for our state’s long term water supplies. But the policy response ignored any adaptation – explicitly because of a fear that discussion of adaptation would reduce the perceived need for mitigation. In other words, my not-so-little anecdote provides an existence proof for the very argument Roger, Dan and colleagues are making.

  5. “I’ve long thought the argument also applies to climate change and drought in the southwest.”

    Actually, John, I don’t think it’s the same argument. One argument is that increasing vulnerability is more important than changes to risk due to climate change. (I am inclined to believe this is true for hurricanes.) Another argument is that we are already committed to increased risks due to climate change and we should prepare for it. (I am inclined to believe this is true for drough.) In both cases reducing vulnerability may be the answer, but the role of climate change in generating the risks may be different.

  6. My problem to the north, similar to John’s problem, is that the amenities drive population growth but the water is the limiting factor [I prefer reagent here for the visual].

    What we need to remember is that in the future we will be receiving environmental refugees and need to accomodate them, too. Some parts of the globe will be receiving more than others, but all will have changed socioeconomic and socioecological impacts that our recent history has shown we can’t deal with. We can’t manage tiny disturbances in our society – how are we going to deal with increasing climate impacts?

    We’d better figger it out soon and ignore the quibblers who say because we don’t have precise information, this is an excuse to continue to quibble. We can start now.

    We can ignore people who say we can’t start now.



  7. John, your Journal piece included the following:

    [Jim Norton, one of the state officials heading up the effort, agrees with Pielke that adaptation is critical. But there was a fear, Norton said, that too much emphasis “could sort of divert attention away from solving the problem of growing greenhouse gas emissions.”]

    Having briefly resided in Santa Fe (the, then, spiritual center of the Universe) I appreciate Norton’s reflecting on the seemingly conflicting attention to adaptation but it was so evident then and certainly now that Central New Mexico is living beyond its ‘water’ means.

    Diminishing snow pack in the Rockies and San Juans with earlier spring melt and runoff will become the norm and increased economic development and population growth will tilt the water management efforts towards crisis. I also believe the rush to covert coal and oil shale to liquid fuels will be unstoppable as peak oil and oil producing nations continue their demise.

    Adaptation to water scarcity will become essential for New Mexico and the costs of water conservation and additional water impoundments will become paramount.

    There is no either/or for states in the Southwest. Projections of diminishing snowpack and dryer conditions will foster tough water reallocation decisions that might discourage new arrivals, building permits and land use. That is adaptation of the first order.

  8. Thanks, first glance shows that they tried for the low hanging (negative cost) fruit first, and that the net would be Kyoto by 2020 (1990 emissions) at essentially zero cost. That does not seem so vast to me.

  9. By “vast” I did not mean the scale of the greenhouse gas reduction effort itself. I meant the endless meetings of large numbers of people across the vastness of New Mexico’s political and economic spectrum.

  10. As I recall, the recommendations are pretty close to the “middle ground” report you pointed me to from the National Commission on Energy Policy a month or so ago which makes me wonder if it was used as a template.

    Your point about vast being it took a lot of meetings and a lot of people, appears to me about what it takes to get anything agreed, not just about climate change and is not the first thing that I thought of when I saw vast. As to the need for a lot of meetings and people to get anything going, well, yeah.

    However, I would propose Rabett’s Rules for Climate Policy Makers:

    1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
    2. Mitigation responds to future losses
    3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
    4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

  11. I lived in Tucson for a while back in the early 90’s and noted at the time that there is a bizarre “conservation” mentality at work: “Conserve in order to make more development possible”. They were asking the average person to cut back on their water use so that more golf courses and other resorts could open up.

    When in Tucson, I myself took long showers and generally used more water than I needed precisely because I figured the best way to kill the development beast was to dessicate it. I don’t think I succeeded but it made me feel like I was doing my part.

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