Comments On The Hill’s Post “Scientists Ask Congress To Put Aside Politics, Take ‘Fresh Look’ At Climate Data”
By Dr. Roger Pielke Sr.
There is an article in The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog on February 1 2011 by Andrew Restuccia titled [h/t/ Bob Ferguson]
The news article starts with the text
More than a dozen scientists took aim at climate skeptics in a letter to members of Congress late last week, calling on lawmakers to put aside politics and focus on the science behind climate change.
In the Jan. 28 letter, 18 scientists from various universities and research centers called on lawmakers to take a “fresh look” at climate change.
“Political philosophy has a legitimate role in policy debates, but not in the underlying climate science,” the scientists said in the letter. “There are no Democratic or Republican carbon dioxide molecules; they are all invisible and they all trap heat.”
Other excerpts from the news article read [with my comments right below each excerpt]
“The scientists took aim at climate skeptics. “Climate change deniers cloak themselves in scientific language, selectively critiquing aspects of mainstream climate science,” the scientists said. “Sometimes they present alternative hypotheses as an explanation of a particular point, as if the body of evidence were a house of cards standing or falling on one detail; but the edifice of climate science instead rests on a concrete foundation.”
Actually, the focus almost exclusively on the radiative effect of CO2 and a few other grenhouse gases is a house of cards. As we documented in our paper (in which each author is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union)
Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell, W. Rossow, J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian, and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American Geophysical Union
“In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, other first-order human climate forcings are important to understanding the future behavior of Earth’s climate. These forcings are spatially heterogeneous and include the effect of aerosols on clouds and associated precipitation [e.g., Rosenfeld et al., 2008], the influence of aerosol deposition (e.g., black carbon (soot) [Flanner et al. 2007] and reactive nitrogen [Galloway et al., 2004]), and the role of changes in land use/land cover [e.g., Takata et al., 2009]. Among their effects is their role in altering atmospheric and ocean circulation features away from what they would be in the natural climate system [NRC, 2005]. As with CO2, the lengths of time that they affect the climate are estimated to be on multidecadal time scales and longer.
Therefore, the cost-benefit analyses regarding the mitigation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases need to be considered along with the other human climate forcings in a broader environmental context, as well as with respect to their role in the climate system.”
“The evidence predominantly suggests that humans are significantly altering the global environment, and thus climate, in a variety of diverse ways beyond the effects of human emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2…….Because global climate models do not accurately simulate (or even include) several of these other first-order human climate forcings, policy makers must be made aware of the inability of the current generation of models to accurately forecast regional climate risks to resources on multidecadal time scales.”
The failure of this group of climate scientists to consider this broader perspective illustrates their inappropriately narrow view of climate including the role of humans in affecting it, as well as of other social and environmental threats as discussed in the weblog post
The Hill post also writes
“Congress should, we believe, hold hearings to understand climate science and what it says about the likely costs and benefits of action and inaction,” the scientists wrote. “It should not hold hearings to attempt to intimidate scientists or to substitute ideological judgments for scientific ones.”
The letter of January 28, 2011 to the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate is from
John Abraham, University of St. Thomas
Barry Bickmore, Brigham Young University
Gretchen Daily,* Stanford University
G. Brent Dalrymple,* Oregon State University
Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M University
Peter Gleick,* Pacific Institute
John Kutzbach,* University of Wisconsin-Madison
Syukuro Manabe,* Princeton University
Michael Mann, Penn State University
Pamela Matson,* Stanford University
Harold Mooney,* Stanford University
Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University
Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Richard Somerville, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Warren Washington, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University
George Woodwell,* The Woods Hole Research Center
*Member of the National Academy of Sciences
The letter is reproduced in the news article and has the following excerpts which I will comment on.
First, two excerpts separated by a few paragraphs illustrates an inconstant claim of the above individuals. They write
“It is not our role as scientists to determine how to deal with problems like climate change. That is a policy matter and rightly must be left to our elected leaders in discussion with all Americans. But, as scientists, we have an obligation to evaluate, report, and explain the science behind climate change.”
but then later state
“We and our colleagues are prepared to assist you as you work to develop a rational and practical national policy to address this important issue.”
It’s actually hard to find a more self-contradictory statement!
The next excerpt is
“But no one who argues against the science of climate change has ever provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.”
The authors of the letter do not even define what is “the science of climate change”. From the context of the letter, however, they clearly mean the dominance of the radiative effect of CO2 and a few other gases as being the primary forcing that alters long-term weather statistics and other aspects of the climate. However, it is straightforward to refute this hypothesis as we did in our paper listed above [Pielke et al, 2009] where we documented that the hypothesis
Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and are dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the most important of which is CO2. The adverse impact of these gases on regional and global climate constitutes the primary climate issue for the coming decades.
has been rejected.
The only hypothesis that has not been rejected is
“Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.”
We agree that “human activity is changing the climate” e.g. see
(Adopted by the AMS Council on 2 November 2010)
but this statement documents that the influence of humans on the local, regional and global scale is much more than due to the radiative effect of CO2 and a few other greenhouse gases. The narrow perspective presented by the authors of the letter to Congress is not supported by the current scientific knowledge.
The next excerpt is
“Climate change deniers cloak themselves in scientific language, selectively critiquing aspects of mainstream climate science. Sometimes they present alternative hypotheses as an explanation of a particular point, as if the body of evidence were a house of cards standing or falling on one detail; but the edifice of climate science instead rests on a concrete foundation. As an open letter from 255 NAS members noted in the May 2010 Science magazine, no research results have produced any evidence that challenges the overall scientific understanding of what is happening to our planet’s climate and why.”
Without commenting on their very inappropriate use of the term “denier”, their claim that “no research results have produced any evidence that challenges the overall scientific understanding of what is happening to our planet’s climate and why”, is blatantly wrong. Examples of major international assessment reports that refute their claim include
Kabat, P., Claussen, M., Dirmeyer, P.A., J.H.C. Gash, L. Bravo de Guenni, M. Meybeck, R.A. Pielke Sr., C.J. Vorosmarty, R.W.A. Hutjes, and S. Lutkemeier, Editors, 2004: Vegetation, water, humans and the climate: A new perspective on an interactive system. Springer, Berlin, Global Change – The IGBP Series, 566 pp
National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp
In National Research Council (2005) it is written
“…..the traditional global mean TOA radiative forcing concept has some important limitations, which have come increasingly to light over the past decade. The concept is inadequate for some forcing agents, such as absorbing aerosols and land-use changes, that may have regional climate impacts much greater than would be predicted from TOA radiative forcing. Also, it diagnoses only one measure of climate change—global mean surface temperature response—while offering little information on regional climate change or precipitation. These limitations can be addressed by expanding the radiative forcing concept and through the introduction of additional forcing metrics. In particular, the concept needs to be extended to account for (1) the vertical structure of radiative forcing, (2) regional variability in radiative forcing, and (3) nonradiative forcing.”
“Regional variations in radiative forcing may have important regional and global climatic implications that are not resolved by the concept of global mean radiative forcing. Tropospheric aerosols and landscape changes have particularly heterogeneous forcings. To date, there have been only limited studies of regional radiative forcing and response. Indeed, it is not clear how best to diagnose a regional forcing and response in the observational record; regional forcings can lead to global climate responses, while global forcings can be associated with regional climate responses. Regional diabatic heating can also cause atmospheric teleconnections that influence regional climate thousands of kilometers away from the point of forcing. Improving societally relevant projections of regional climate impacts will require a better understanding of the magnitudes of regional forcings and the associated climate responses.”
“Several types of forcings—most notably aerosols, land-use and land-cover change, and modifications to biogeochemistry—impact the climate system in nonradiative ways, in particular by modifying the hydrological cycle and vegetation dynamics. Aerosols exert a forcing on the hydrological cycle by modifying cloud condensation nuclei, ice nuclei, precipitation efficiency, and the ratio between solar direct and diffuse radiation received. Other nonradiative forcings modify the biological components of the climate system by changing the fluxes of trace gases and heat between vegetation, soils, and the atmosphere and by modifying the amount and types of vegetation. No metrics for quantifying such nonradiative forcings have been accepted. Nonradiative forcings have eventual radiative impacts, so one option would be to quantify these radiative impacts. However, this approach may not convey appropriately the impacts of nonradiative forcings on societally relevant climate variables such as precipitation or ecosystem function. Any new metrics must also be able to characterize the regional structure in nonradiative forcing and climate response.”
The authors of the letter to the Members of Congress have failed to communicate these issues to them in their communication.
The authors of this letter to Congress clearly are advocates for particular policy actions based on their (in my view) inaccurately narrow view of the role of humans within the climate system. They are trying to claim they are only focusing on the science issues, but even a casual examination of their letter shows they are advocates. They still, unfortunately, have not read my son’s book
Pielke, R. A. Jr, 2007: The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2007) should be required reading to determine the role that each AGU member wants to serve with respect to their interface with the political process.
in order to educate them on the role they have chosen when interfacing with policymakers.