More From the Federal Government’s Top Something-or-Another

Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has apparently been reading Roger Pielke Jr.:

The head of the nation’s weather and climate research agency says the biggest challenge facing the world is population growth and people’s desire to live in coastal areas where they can be endangered by storms.

“I believe that the population issue is huge,” Conrad Lautenbacher said Thursday. “And it’s not just the U.S., there are six billion … getting up to seven billion people on the Earth and they all want to live in coastal zones.”


  1. Don’t think anyone ever argued that settlement into coastal zones won’t lead to increased losses, and Roger agrees that increased hurricane intensity/number and rising sea level would also increase losses. He’s in stage 2/3 denial about whether the later would matter.

    To ignore the AND is to accept the damage. Jim Hansen had the right of this administration and Lautenbach in his talk this week at the National Press Club:

    “I think its more of listening to people who are saying things that are comfortable. So they listen to a science fiction writer, I forget his name…. Michael Crichton, I think we have scientists who have been studying this problem and know what they are talking about and it would be worthwhile to spend a little more time paying attention to them.”

    At this point, whether he realizes it or not Roger is functioning as an enabler for a very sick policy.

  2. Eli- As long as John is waving the red flag … just call me the puppetmaster;-) Any evidence for this: “Roger is functioning as an enabler for a very sick policy”?

    I wish that our work enabled someone’s political agenda — but we’ve yet to find the political champion for mitigation and adaptation to proceed in parallel (see my 2006 Congressional testimony), but we’re optimistic. In the work I do we mostly evaluate policy analyses on their substantive merits (e.g., would their implementation lead to desired societal outcomes?), and not so much by who it enables or not (e.g., who gains political traction?). Evaluation of policy analyses simply by whose agenda it favors is of course the very essence of the pathological politicization of science. We should all be so lucky that the Bush Administration would accept the views we’ve been advancing on climate policy (also I note, consistently since Mr. Bush was hanging out with the Texas Rangers).

    Good policy is good policy no matter who advocates it. If a Bush appointee wants to highlight the importance of coastal settlement for understanding vulnerability to disasters in the face of social and climate change, well, good for him! It is the right thing to do.

    One of these days it would be great if you might take the time to engage some of my work on a substantive basis, rather than your (mistaken) impressions of some hidden political agenda involving the Trilateral Commission and black helicopters 😉


  3. It is useful to ask why we are in this fix and a large part of the answer is that while the handwriting has been on the wall a long time, there has been a purposeful effort to obfusticate which has imposed a huge procrastination penalty. Roger, a great deal of the opposition you are encountering comes from your unwillingness to acknowledge this. As Myanna Lahsen said in a paper from your institute:
    ….Since the early 1990s, the U.S. public has been subjected to numerous media-driven campaigns to shape understandings of this widely perceived threat. Political interests have instigated an important part of these campaigns, frequently resorting to ethically problematic tactics to undermine attempts at policy action designed to avert or reduce the threat. The disproportionate influence of such interests suggests the need for a more level political playing field characterized by more equalized access to power and influence.

    Oh yes, I am a bunny, we use pink helicopters.

  4. Eli — you’d make more sense if you could prove that without Exxon-funded thinktanks trying to obscure on climate change that we’d have strong abatement/mitigation policies in place by now. But we wouldn’t, and if you think we would you’re delusional. Clinton and the R-congress of the 90’s didn’t stop a strong movement on climate change or energy efficiency legislation or anything else related b/c of some whisper (or shout) campaign on uncertainties in climate science. Nor was addressing climate change stalled during the Bush II regime b/c of a couple of “skeptics” saying that climate change science was all BS. I’d love to see you make a strong case — hell, any case — that without a “purposeful effort” to “obfusticate” by a science policy academic (or by anybody for that matter) that we would right now have a climate-meaningful carbon tax or cap-and-trade in place.

  5. Kevin, Eli finds himself in an equivalent position to Thomas Knudson, when beat about the head by Pielke playmates Michaels, Knappenberger and Landsea:

    —-“Michaels et al. (2005, hereafter MKL) recall the question of Ellsaesser: “Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.”—-

    The bunny is powerful but has lost his time machine keys and misplaced the license to change history. Absent that there is no way of proving what you demand. However the case that there was an organized, well funded and successful attack on climate science whose purpose and effect was to stop any action is made in Myanna’s paper and elsewhere.

    While you can find it on the shelf behind you, others can find excerpts and a links to the entire paper on
    Rabett Run
    . We might recommend another paragraph from her paper
    My critique is focused on the money-dominated machinery that seizes on the dozen dissident scientists, a machinery that (1) owes its success to the unequal distribution of financial resources and political influence, (2) often resorts to techniques that deceive rather than illuminate the citizenry, and (3) gives disproportionate influence to a minority of scientists and to non-peer-reviewed opinions on the part of the latter. The ways in which the dissident scientists are used by such vested interests illustrate the value of scientific authority as a political resource and the extent to which such scientific authority can be simulated. Such abuses of scientific authority (described further below), in turn, underscore the need for a general public equipped to identify them and to distinguish between better and worse sources of scientific information (i.e., the relatively greater reliability of the IPCC over a coalition of industry groups with vested interests in a fossil fuel dependence). Since the abuses are designed to be concealed, they are not easily identified. Publics also need to develop critical distance to the objectivist discourses commonly deployed by scientists and other actors on both sides of the issue.

  6. Eli/Ricky Henderson — no doubt there was a well-coordinated, well-funded “obfustication” campaign on climate change. And Myanna is right, but it doesn’t mean that legislative or executive action on AGW has been delayed because of it. The much more significant thing delaying action on AGW was Al Gore getting robbed in Florida.

  7. Kevin, I think you and Roger are trying to defend a hopeless proposition. There has been a well funded and organized campaign to stop or delay action on climate change. The costs of this delay are high and will increase as the mitigation/adaptation expense begins to bite.

    I gather you now concede those points and only question whether policy would have followed the same course without the campaign. This is indeed a very weak thread to rely on, indeed, almost childish, if one concedes as you do that AGW is a serious problem and costs are imposed by procrastination. (Gee mom, the cookie jar was on the edge of the counter and would have fallen anyhow if I didn’t push it)

    I point out that you cannot go back in time to test this assertion, but, we do have some examples to look at including emissions in France (early nuclear adaptor with 1/3 less CO2 emissions than Germany and the UK. That the original policy was motivated by energy independence is besides the point. Good policy often has pleasant surprises), California energy intensity and CO2 emissions as compared to the rest of the US (originally motivated by smog problems and later by ghg emissions and energy independence).

    In short, not only can emissions be lowered, but it has been done and obviously the costs were neutral, or indeed negative, unless you want to argue that France has prospered less than the as a whole or CA less than the US as a whole. Care to try that one

    Eli Rabett
    The Bunny’s pink helicopters
    bring jellybeans to your neighborhood.

  8. Eli-
    If you’re going to call Michaels, Knappenberger and Landsea “Pielke playmates”, then you have to include GFDL’s Tom Knutson (I assume that’s who the “Knudson, Knutsen, Knutson” you refer to is) in that list. Tom was the primary climate/hurricane person that Roger invited to the Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop at Hohenkammer last year.

  9. Eli- I give in, you are right! If over the past several years that you have been stalking me, had I only accepted your unassailable logic and reasoning and given up my obfuscatory ways, then we’d be well on our way to a carbon-free world. I am the enabler of sick policy!

    I’d say more but I am off to an ExxonMobil/Opus Dei/Trilateral Commission meeting to decide whether Mitt, John, or Rudy gets the nomination (you’ll find out next year) and gets the opportunity to lose to Gore — and as you well know by now, no decisions get made without first consulting the enabler;-)

    PS. FYI, I have never collaborated with PM/CK, but I have with CL/TK, but Eli, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good slime;-)

  10. Roger, I didn’t say Roger Pielke Jr. now did I.

    Calling Eli a believer in pink helicopters, the Equilateral Commission and Auris Dei (can’t you get anything right) is marginal but all this pales compared to the gross unfairness of labeling a bunny a stalker. What are you, a carrot?

    But we need not be so fond of puns as to go much further. Let us use this opportunity to deal with some concrete issues raised in this discussion:

    1. Do you agree or disagree that there has been an organized, well-financed effort to stop or delay action on AGW? (My answer is that this happened)

    2. Do you believe that that action has been effective or do you claim that the same policy path would have been followed in any case. (My answer is that the campaign was effective and a different policy path would have been followed, although it would not have completely met the challenge. If nothing else I can point to the tobacco case as an exemplar)

    3. Do you believe that any level of GHG CO2 equivalent mixing ratios would be so dangerous/costly as to be avoided through serious mitigation. If so where (My answer is 550-600 ppm, although to avoid that action will have to be taken almost immediately. In this I differ significantly with Tol and Nordhaus on when we have to start although not the end point.)

    4. What level of GHG mixing ratios can be dealt with through adaptation? (My answer is 450-500 at most but there will have to be mitigation to prevent the mixing ratio from rising above this. )

    5. Do you believe that practical ameliorations will be available to reduce net forcing in the face of large GHG forcings and positive feedbacks (water vapor/ice albedo) (My answer is no, and certainly not at lower cost than reducing GHG emissions)

    6. $1000 says no one wins Branson’s prize by 2025 (I’m probably near dead by then anyhow). You want the other side of that? I can leave the obligation to the hares.

  11. Eli –

    You have avoided the simple question posed by your initial comment in this thread. What evidence, specifically, did you have in mind when you said Roger “is functioning as an enabler for a very sick policy”?

  12. Eli- Thanks for the substantive questions:

    1) Agree

    2) Don’t know. It is not clear to me that there is any quantifiable relationship between political advocacy, policy commitments, and greenhouse gas emissions (except as you point out those policies implemented for non GHG reasons which have GHG effects, a big lesson there). For the flip side look at Europe. The actual effects of post-FCCC GHG mitigation advocacy and policies on real-world GHG emissions in Europe, where there is no serious organized opposition to GHG policies, is pretty hard to see. One thing they teach us in policy school is to be careful about policy evaluation by counter factual. Data is always better.

    3) 450, though likely not in the cards. 550-600 also unlikely. As you know I don’t think that this is the best way to frame the problem or think about action. It is a little like saying, would you prefer a poverty rate of 10% or 8%? Well, lower is better, the question is how do you get there? Not by arguing about ideal poverty rates I’d say. The stabilization rate we get will be the result of many individual policies justified on their own merits, not a top down target, which is exactly as policies are in fact developing around the US and elsewhere.

    4) Poorly posed — adaptation will occur whatever the level of CO2 is – 950? Yes. 1500? Yes. Much adaptation is needed at 380 ppm. Adaptation and mitigation are not trade-offs but complements. Adaptation is needed at any levels of GHG concentrations. See our recent Nature piece.

    5) Available? Yes, already available. Worth doing? No.

    6) What about Jim Hansen’s proposed reverse-CO2 biomass factories across the red states with pipes leading all the way down to below the sea floor? I have no idea. But if top down carbon concentration management is in the cards, this is the ticket.

    Lets hope that the above enables some policies . . . 😉

  13. Point 2: The organized campaign against action on AGW produced qualitatively different US energy policies. Quantitative measures of might have beens are not on offer.

    (Note to John – if one maintains that the actions of the denialists should be ignored because they had no effect they carry no responsibility for their actions. While the Exxons will have to be at the table, they should have to work hard to earn trust and good will and bear costs in proportion to their responsibility. )

    Claims wrt the EU are tricky. First, Kyoto and the fccc give no credit for good emissions policies before ~1990. Second, because the answer depends on which EU. Almost all of the increase in the EU 15 has been in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece. Per capita GHG emissions from the non-Warsaw pact EU is substantially below the US. You could make the same point wrt to the states in the US, which shows both policies which must be adopted and the places where we must concentrate.

    This is a good example how one must look at data in detail to make policy and that mixing things together is good for making sausage.

    3. If 450 ppm will cause damage above the cost of mitigation, why not adopt policies that aim to bring us there? If policy never achieves its objectives why bother making policy?

    (Note to John – here is one of the areas that while conceding the obvious the policy recommendation is never mind, or time will take care of it, two answers which advance the denial agenda. It ain’t gonna happen by magic)

    4. Societies cannot pre-adapt and post-adaptation is futile, just chasing a moving target. Adaptation can only aim at a stable situation which you can only reach in this case by a goal driven policy. Arguments about adaptation and mitigation and amelioration have to start from this recognition.

    6. Hansen’s idea aims at smokestacks which are all CO2 and H2O (they can be very clean with few particulates). Branson
    was talking about extracting from air. As I recall you were quite enthusiastic about some Canadian scheme for this, thus the bet offer. Hansen himself puts a ~50 year estimate before sequesterization becomes practical and recommends a moratorium on coal power plant construction till them. I would not go quite so far, allowing watt/watt substitution for more efficient coal burning plants. You could haggle on 100% power or 110%.

  14. Eli-

    On #3:

    “If policy never achieves its objectives why bother making policy?”

    Indeed. (See my paper on “Misdefining Climate Change” which says the same thing in 8,000 words)

    On #4:

    “Societies cannot pre-adapt and post-adaptation is futile”

    So well said, you might have a future in the Bush administration as a public relations official;-)

    On #6:

    Slide 22 here:

    This is indeed taking CO2 from the air (via ethanol-based electricity generation) and storing it under the ocean, with a resulting negative effect on atmospheric concentrations, hence Hansen calling the idea negative CO2. Otherwise known as air capture.

    As far as enthusiasm, there is a difference in discussing interesting ideas in order to expand the scope of available choice from advocating specific solutions to the exclusion of all others. Some ideas are uncomfortable and challenging, and maybe even bad, but so what? The distinction is explained here:

    Do make sure that the Mrs. and all the lab rabbits have a copy (or 3) 😉

  15. Roger, have you listened to the Hansen’s presentation that uses the slide? or noted the two lines at the bottom?

    “Solution not near”
    “Must slow down emissions”

    On #4 I agree that I was cryptic, practically Ari like, but a somewhat longer version is

    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.

    I was getting at #4. Some day soon (annual reports due/papers) I will sit down and expand on this in 8K words. OTOH some things require only a few.

  16. Eli –

    I appreciate it that over at your place you’re able to airbrush out the blemishes, but you seem to have accidentally airbrushed out some of the substance of the exchange as well, creating (no doubt unintentionally) a somewhat misleading picture of the exchange. You triggered the whole “black helicopters” discussion with this: “[W]hether he realizes it or not Roger is functioning as an enabler for a very sick policy.” No doubt the omission in your post was inadvertent, but you still haven’t explained the evidence in support of the assertion.

  17. Well, let me do that then! I’ll even keep it real short…

    It makes perfect sense from a purely academic standpoint for RP Jr. to talk about a mix of mitigation and adaptation, and even to focus on the latter if he has nothing new to say about the former. The problem is that Congress is chock full of politicians who are either adaptation denialists (meaning of course denialists who use the very real need for adaptation as an excuse to not mitigate) or are amenable to such arguments. Thus a great emphasis on mitigation over adaptation is required in order to get Congress to take mitigation steps that are perceived to involve any pain. I know that Roger is very aware of the low-hanging mitigation fruit and has written about it extensively, but to all appearances he has become bored with beating his head against that wall and now finds adaptation more interesting. If he stuck to obscure journals rather than venues such a Nature, Congressional committees and op-eds, I would have no problem. IOW, it’s not a matter of his ideas being wrong but rather one of where and how he promotes them. “Enabler of a sick policy” is harsh but apt IMHO.

    What’s a better approach? Jim Hansen, e.g., emphasizes the hell out of mitigation and pretty much never talks about adaptation without linking it to mitigation. My great dislike for Roger’s “honest broker” concept is in part because as he defines it Hansen isn’t one. (He is certainly an honest broker as I would define it relative to the UNFCCC “avoiding dangerous climate change” since policy options that emphasize adaptation at the expense of mitigation won’t do that, but of course Roger dislikes the UNFCCC too.)

    In response to Kevin’s points, I don’t think it’s possible to deconvolute the Bush regime, the former Republican majority and the denial industry, except to say that obviously we would be a lot farther along today if either or both of the former had not been in place for the last six years. Europe isn’t a good barometer since their behavior can be more or less characterized as desperate flopping around trying to figure out the best way to leverage the US into meaningful activity. The reality is that the large needed steps won’t be taken without leadership by the US and at least substantial participation by China (arguably plus India), and the latter won’t happen without the former.

  18. “there are six billion … getting up to seven billion people on the Earth and they all want to live in coastal zones.”

    Want to live in coastal zones?

    Do they have a choice in the matter?

    Perhaps in the US, but in most of the rest of the world, no.

    How about those people who live in Tuvalu? Do they have choice about whether they live in a coastal zone? Or the people in Bangladesh? A good part of the country is a coastal zone, for goodness sake.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I am quite sure the problem is not going to be solved by simply telling people that they can not live/build on the coast because a very large number of people in the world depend on the ocean for their livelihood.

    Perhaps we could just jack Tuvalu up on stilts and build a dike around Bangladesh?

    It makes perfect sense to emphasize mitigation over adaptation at this point (as people like Hansen have done) because of the huge lead time on mitigation.

    The time issue is less pressing with adaptation

  19. Steve-

    This comment made my day:

    “If he stuck to obscure journals rather than venues such a Nature, Congressional committees and op-eds, I would have no problem. IOW, it’s not a matter of his ideas being wrong but rather one of where and how he promotes them.”

    George W. Bush couldn’t have said it better about Jim Hansen 😉

    FYI, for what I actually say about the notion of “honest broker”:

  20. *If only* you worked for me, Roger.

    Sorry, the book thing’s not happening. Just now I’m sporadically reading a history of the Byzantine Empire, and I’m finding that to be more than enough exposure to medieval thinking.

  21. John, please feel free to put your comment over at Rabett Run, but I thought that I made pretty clear what I meant. Steve Bloom puts it more clearly than I did, but entirely captures my meaning. If no one objects, I would like to post your, Steve and Roger’s replies as an update.

  22. Keep trying to educate people, will y’all?

    I just read the next-decades plan for a large international professional business, predicated among other things on the information they got from one of those strategic-business-plan consulting firms.

    Said consultants had a short list of known facts.

    Among them, the number of coal burning plants China’s got funded and planned (accurate enough from what I’ve read)

    And the length of time CO2 stays, on average, in the atmosphere: 100 years.

    Think I could convince them to look it up? Nope.

    Don’t finger me please, I still need to eat for a few more years.

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