The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change – Book Review

The Climate Wars go on. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, to express a strong opinion on the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming (a.k.a. AGW or colloquially, climate change) immediately invites scorn, no matter what opinion is presented.

Among the academics in this fray is Roger Pielke, Jr. He has been on the faculty at the University of Colorado since 2001, is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program, and is Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.  As I mentioned when I reviewed his book, The Climate Fix, a few years ago, he is one of the few atmospheric science academics who has also worked in the catacombs of Washington policy making.

The central theme of his short book is to provide evidence that the increasing cost of weather disasters is a poor metric for detecting climate change. His book is successful.

Pielke writes in a way that is welcoming to the non-scientist, immediately expressing his motivations for writing it. The politicization of this subject is wildly out of control, and the media’s handling of the subject certainly does not help.

He describes the heat he has taken from those most vocal in the climate change community. Whether or not that is deserved is a function of each individual’s view of the subject. Like many heated subjects in the public sphere, climate change has devolved into chest-thumping misrepresentations of other people’s views.  So to be clear, Pielke answers the most basic questions:

Is climate change real?  Yes.

Does climate change have human causes, notably from the emission of greenhouse gases? Yes.

Does human-caused climate change pose risks, perhaps significant ones, for life on earth? Yes.

Does a price on carbon make sense? Yes.

Does current science suggest that episodes of extreme heat and intense rainfall may be increasing in some areas as a consequence? Yes.

Perception is everything. Graphic imagery of weather disasters that repeatedly shows up in media reports, whether from television or the internet, always gives us pause.  It is human nature to want to blame damaging weather on something.  Decades ago, it simply was labeled an Act of God.  Now, there is a drive to blame humanity. Paradoxically, the latter is probably true. Not because humanity has necessarily changed the weather, but because of how much (and how poorly) we have built in the weather’s way.

The most dramatic of these events are hurricanes and tornadoes.  Pielke convincingly demonstrates the rising cost of damage from these weather events is due to population growth and the infrastructure development that follows.

In an act of good faith, Pielke gives credit to the work of the IPCC. He does not fall lazily into IPCC bashing. Instead, he repeatedly cites their reports to further support his individual work.

Personally, I was happy to see him opine on why this subject has become so politicized. Much of that discussion reinforces the Iron Law of Climate Policy as mentioned in The Climate Fix.

Intriguing is his discussion of those who are not convinced about AGW.  I was curious to read his section, But What About Deniers?

That section took a more philosophical turn, describing how those who argue for immediate action on climate change are going about it the wrong way.  He acknowledges “there are enough data and interpretations to offer support to most any political agenda,” and continues about the “pathological obsession of many climate campaigners with the climate skeptics.

But he also states that “the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won, and not by the skeptics.

Perhaps that is my biggest disagreement with Pielke. As fond as I am of his work, I am not at the point which I can nod my head in agreement with his conclusion in that section:

“Climate skeptics are not all powerful and may not even be much relevant to efforts to decarbonize the global economy. They are not the reason that we haven’t solved the climate change problem, but they are an easy explanation for more than twenty years of failed campaigning.”

Of course they are not all powerful, but they unquestionably have influence, at least here in the United States. I also agree that they are not the sole reason for the failed climate campaigning, but I see them as a perplexing piece of a disorganized jigsaw puzzle. Admittedly, that is a tough statement to make, because many skeptics (or climate agnostics, or whatever you would call those who do not believe humans are playing any role in warming the planet) are friends and colleagues.

Maybe it’s because Pielke lives in Boulder, Colorado and I live in Lynchburg, Virginia. Social customs are a bit different in those cities, you know.

Having said that, and with all the chaff floating around this subject, Pielke’s work is better than most at approaching it with a clear head. Climate change is real. There are certain risks we are undertaking. More financial losses are to be expected. But to only use dollar amounts as a metric to measure climate change is fundamentally incorrect. That signal has not shown up in the dataset… yet.


For more on information on the book, visit the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.


About seansublette

Meteorologist at Climate Central. Broadcast meteorologist in Virginia from 1995 to 2015. Born and raised in Richmond, VA. Penn State alumnus. Loves baseball and the rock band Rush. Views are independent of my employer. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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