Characterising Pielke (Jr)

RP Jr seems to find himself frequently mischaracterised, most recently by the AZ Daily Star. But how can this be? With language so precise, what room for misunderstanding could there be? Well...

Roger objects to it being said that he has "been critical of the view that human-caused global warming represents a major environmental threat."; this "grossly mischaracterizes" his views. Why would anyone think he held such views? Because of stuff like "the independent effects of changes in societal vulnerability are larger than the independent effects of changes in storm intensity by a factor of between 22 to 1 and 100 to one" I suppose. Or indeed the fires letter, which makes the obvious point that fire policy is probably relevant. And his rebuttal is odd: viz: "To the contrary, much of my research for the past 15 years has been focused on options for dealing with global warming, and in particular, the role of science in policy". Why not "To the contrary, I do indeed believe that GW represents a major env threat"?

As near as I can tell, RP *is* indeed rather critical/skeptical of the idea that GW is a major env threat, at least as measured against the other threats out there (and who knows, I might be too :-).


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Surely one can keep in their mind at the same time the notion that global warming represents a serious environmental threat, but is not the most important factor in hurricane damage?

It is exactly this sort of all-or-nothing categorization that I object to. You and I have had this conversation about a half-dozen times. Global warming is a major environmental threat. It is not the most important factor in hurricane damages.

It is too much to ask journalists and bloggers to appreciate that there are more views out their than the cartoonish images of right-wing skeptics and left-wing alarmists?

[Sure, there is more to life than hurricanes, there is wildfires.. In what area would you say was the most important env threat that GW represents? -W]

One is amused at being reminded of the discussion last summer between William and the other Pielke (which sadly has been partly removed from RPSr's blog, and which I'm therefore happy I preserved for posterity):

[Its a shame the comments got deleted there (who would do such a thing?). As I recall it, I eventually let SP Sr off a bit lightly. I deny its tribal - I just wanted to know what he thought, and never really got a good answer to the last-30-y-stuff. FWIW, RP Sr isn't currently on List of scientists opposing global warming consensus but was talked about a bit recently -W]


1. Abupt, unpredicted climate change. See this paper of which I was a co-author:

Alley, R.B., J. Marotzke, W. D. Nordhaus, J. T. Overpeck, D. M. Peteet, R. A. Pielke Jr., R. T. Pierrehumbert, P. B. Rhines, T. F. Stocker, L. D. Talley, and J. M. Wallace, 2003: Abrupt Climate Change, Science, 299:2005-2010.

2. There is a list?! Now that is actually quite scary. A consensus is a measure of central tendency, it has a fat part and tails like any distribution. It is not a litmus test of tribal allegiance, which is exactly what political function such a list serves.

[The list is there because people insist on having lists of things. The amusing thing is that the language issue keeps comig up - there are various people who obviously are fairly septic, but they have often used such poor language that its hard to know exactly what position they do take.

As for abrupt, unpredicted: I'd regard that as perhaps a rather poor answer... is that the best you can do? Suppose we were able to rule it out... what then? -W]

Roger, you are making the all-to-common mistake of taking "consensus" to mean "absolute agreement about everything".

I think RC did a good thing by explicitly laying out just what they mean when they say consensus, and it is exactly how I would define it. It is also what everybody I have read who shares the "consensus" view means by it as far as I can tell. It is only those who fall in the "denialist" or "septic" categories who try to make it into the strawman of "there is absolute agreement about everything" so they can turn around and laugh at it.

FWIW, the "consensus" position most definately does *not* include GW is causing stronger hurricanes or GW is a major factor in hurricane damage increases.

The consenus as outlined by RC is the same kind as the consensus about plate tectonics being real. If geology were being thwarted for entirely political ends I would find very useful a list of Plate Tectonics Sceptics.

Not scary, useful. And no it is not like putting yellow stars on all Jews in Nazi Germany. More like putting uniforms on all inmates at a prison facility.

Dear Coby, I am stunned and pleasantly surprised that you start to distinguish consensus from scientific evidence, and I wonder whether William Connolley will need 50 or 250 years to join you.


Thanks, but when I write that "A consensus is a measure of central tendency, it has a fat part and tails like any distribution" I explicitly am rejecting the notion that consensus means "absolute agreement about everything". So I do reject your characterization of my views.

The consensus perspective of the community is represented not by RC, but by the IPCC. It is worth noting that someone like Jim Hansen (by his own admission) falls outside the IPCC consensus (using the Wikipedia list criteria) or in the skinny part of one of the tails (using my description) on things like certainty in attribution of global temperture trends to CO2 and future sea level rise (Hansen is more bullish than IPCC). Now I don't see Hansen appearing as someone "skeptical" of the IPCC. Not that there is anything wrong with that, science benefits from diversity of views. At the same time it can be very useful for the rest of us to have a sense of the distrubution of those views at a particular point in time. But one-tailed lists are something else altogether.

I would further note that in my own area of exeprtise, best represented by IPCC WGII, I reject the IPCC consensus on a few subjects. Why? because the IPCC got a few things wrong. Should I send in for my prison uniform?

I'd agree that such lists are useful. They are useful for people who would rather not think about the legitimate diversity in climate science and would rather simply be told who the good guys are and bad guys are. Your disturbing metaphor about criminals and prisons makes this pretty clear.

Hi Roger,

I wasn't very clear, sorry. My point is that you are attacking the same strawman as the right-wing talking heads and lately Lindzen is his WSJ od-ed.

I agree with you in a qualified way that the IPCC, not RC, represents the consensus. The qualification is that this is a 5yr old snapshot. To my knowledge, RC does not make any representations that are at odds with the IPCC.

Your further discussion of consensus and diversity ignores one aspect of science, and that is progression and direction. James Hansen may turn out to be wrong, but he is leading, not dragging his feet, this is a crucial difference. If science does not follow his path and he refuses to acknowledge his demonstrable mistakes he is then in a different boat.

And FWIW, I think it is more than obvious that Pat Michaels, Fred Singer and the Idsos have nothing to do with legitimate diversity, your justifiable admiration of the concept notwithstanding. I admire the concept of free speech, that does not mean tha I must admire and embrace every odious expression of bigotry that comes with it. I do not advocate punishment or supression of "climate change sceptics" but I have no problem calling a spade a spade, nor do I understand why you should.

Just to add some context to the thread, because clear definitions are important, this is what RC describes as the "consensus" and what I always mean by it:

- The earth is getting warmer
- People are causing this
- If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue…

Quibbles and qualifications are of course part of getting a finer understanding, but this is the high level, take home message.

To my knowledge, RC does not make any representations that are at odds with the IPCC

This should have read "representations of the consensus".

I believe this is where I came in. Let us look at the first sentence of Roger Pielke Jr.'s first post

"Surely one can keep in their mind at the same time the notion that global warming represents a serious environmental threat, but is not the most important factor in hurricane damage?"

Note the tense and the adjective:

So Roger, is global warming AN important factor in hurricane damage currently? If not, does it CURRENTLY play any role?

If present trends continue WILL global warming become the MOST important factor in hurricane damage?

Is there valid modeling to show that hurricane intensity is increasing due to global warming?

And please, do not respond with a reading list.

Eli states the questions needed to understand that, I think. I was trying to write the same query, asking clarification.

"One worm in one apple doesn't affect the taste of the cider much."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 09 Jul 2006 #permalink

Since Roger has not answered my questions, let me point out that his posts have contained substantial retreats on the issue of anthropically caused increases in cyclone intensity. He obviously now believes that this is true, but is unwilling to explicitly state this in view of the past written positions he has taken.

Finally, I can't resist taking a shot at "A consensus is a measure of central tendency, it has a fat part and tails like any distribution" which, as we all know is not true for politicized issues. As the limerik says....

There was a wee lass from Devizes
Who had breasts of two different sizes,
One was so small,
It was nothing at all
The other was big and won prizes

He has a new gig?

"A recent study of 30-year space shuttle program concluded that once the program retires this year, NASA will have spent nearly $200 billion on its 135 space shuttle missions....
The recent analysis, performed by science policy expert Roger Pielke Jr., and research associate Radford Byerly, concluded that the average fleet are factored in."

I wonder what that means.…

[Not new, but old. Space shuttle stuff was RP Jr's first policy experience, from what I recall of his bio -W]