by Judith Curry
A few things that caught my eye this past week.
Conservative bias to IPCC projections (?)
TDC has an extensive article that discusses a recent study conducted by Naomi Oreskes, with subtitle “Checking 20 years of proections by the [IPCC] finds that the group has consistently underestimated the pace and impacts of climate change – with severe consequences for the public it is tasked to inform.” Excerpts:
“We’re underestimating the fact that climate change is rearing its head,” said Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of key sections of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports. “And we’re underestimating the role of humans, and this means we’re underestimating what it means for the future and what we should be planning for.”
The conservative bias stems from several sources, scientists say. Part can be attributed to science’s aversion to drama and dramatic conclusions: So-called outlier events – results at far ends of the spectrum – are often pruned. Such controversial findings require years of painstaking, independent verification.
Yet some events in nature are dramatic, conclude University of California, San Diego, history and science professor Naomi Oreskes and Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer, co-authors of the study looking at the IPCC’s bias. “If the drama arises primarily from social, political or economic impacts,” they wrote, “then it is crucial that the associated risk be understood fully, and not discounted.”
Oreskes, Oppenheimer and their co-authors argue the conservative bias pervades all of climate science.
Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, sees no need for the IPCC to do anything differently. “The burden of communication falls on policymakers, not scientists,” he said. Scientists are responsible for providing the hard data. It is up to policymakers to lead, connect the dots, and explain to the public the necessity of responding to global warming.
But the consequences of a conservative bias by climate scientists can be significant, others like Oreskes note. A society blind to the full range of potential outcomes, particularly the most disruptive, can remain apathetic to the need for change, pushing hard decisions off into the future.
“The next report shows every sign of being even more conservative than the previous ones,” said Trenberth. Instead of 10 lead authors per chapter, 14 or 15 scientists will have a say, making consensus-building harder.
“That builds in more conservatism, caveats, and wiggle room,” Trenberth said.
IPCC’s internal rules and deadlines have also been tightened, preventing the inclusion of some of the most up-to-date studies, he added.
Penn State’s Mann also feels that IPCC higher-ups, fearful of being attacked by climate skeptics, have “bent over backwards” to allow greater input from contrarians. “There’s no problem in soliciting wide views that fairly represent … a peer group community,” he said. “My worry is that they are stacking the deck, giving greater weight to contrarian views than is warranted by peer-reviewed literature.”
Well, +10 points to Andrew Dessler, for making a relatively sensible statement. It seems that the others are frustrated that the IPCC AR5 isn’t sufficiently alarmist.
The Climate Scofflaw
The COP at Doha has been rather unremarkable, with the possible exception of the escapades of Christopher Monckton.
Foreign Policy has an interesting article on climate change policy titled Climate Scofflaw, subtitled “Is the U.S. really the impediment to a universal compact on global warming?” Some excerpts:
According to theInternational Energy Agency, U.S. emissions have dropped 7.7 percent since 2006 — “the largest reduction of all countries or regions.” And in the coming years, as both new gas-mileage standards and new power-plant regulations championed by the Obama administration kick in, policy will drive the numbers further downwards; U.S. emissions are expected to fall 23 percent between 2002 and 2020. Apparently Obama’s record on climate change is not quite as calamitous as reputation would have it.
The real failure of U.S. policy has been, first, that it is still much too timid, and second, that it has not acted in such a way as to persuade developing nations to take the truly difficult decisions which would put the world on a sustainable path.
What, then, can Obama do that is equal to the problem? He can invest. [H]e can tell the American people that they have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the future, for themselves and for people everywhere. He can propose — as he hoped to do as part of the stimulus package of 2009 — that the U.S. build a “smart grid” to radically improve the efficiency of electricity distribution. He can argue for large-scale investments in research and development of new sources of energy and energy-efficient construction technologies and lots of other whiz-bang things. This, too, was part of the stimulus spending; it must become bigger, and permanent.
The reason Obama should do this is, first, because the American people will (or could) rally behind a visionary program in a way that they never will get behind the dour mechanics of carbon pricing.
Finally, there’s leverage. China and India may not do something sensible but painful, like adopting carbon pricing, because the United States does so, but they will adopt new technologies if the U.S. can prove that they work without harming economic growth.
The fog of war
Bill Hooke has a thought provoking post titled The fog of war . . . and the Hurricane Sandy forecasts and emergency response. Excerpts:
Wikipedia tells us that the fog of war is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one’s own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign.
Any emergency manager will tell you that something similar happens in emergency response, even if there is no human adversary. The nature, location, extent and strength of an approaching storm can be known only to a certain point. Emergency managers work with the general public as opposed to well-trained and disciplined troops. The best plans become useless early on.
The National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service headquarters, and NWS field offices, as well as federal, state, and local emergency managers and their private-sector partners operated at different levels in this environment in the days and hours leading up to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the New Jersey coast.
Unsurprisingly, the results were less than perfect.
That said, we are left with a twofold problem, which none of the current dust-up will cure. The first is that the complaints have been confined to the forecasters and the responders…those who were operating in the fog of war. The fog will be there the next time as well, and will once again thwart any and all efforts at perfection. [Even if it won’t thwart second-guessing after the fact.]
The real battleground; the real arena? Years of sunny days all along the middle-Atlantic and New England coast, when an entire population (You. Me. All of us) made short-sighted decisions about land use and building codes, about the deployment and extent and quality of critical infrastructure ranging from roads and utility lines to subway construction.
The real question? Why did we, when we knew better, make the flawed decisions and investments we did over all those years?
Bill Hooke has a second gem of a post this week titled Crucial Conversations. It is based upon a book with the same title, and also this youtube video: Crucial Conversations Explained in 2 Minutes – You Tube. Excerpts from Bill Hooke’s post:
Turns out, according to the video, that crucial conversations have three defining features: High stakes. Strong emotions. Different opinions.
According to the video, the goal in conversations like these is to get unstuck…and to do that, we apparently need everyone’s input. We’re told to start by examining our own hearts and motives. We’re then supposed to look for signs that the conversation has become crucial, in the three senses: high stakes, strong emotions, differences of opinion. At such a transition, the conversants stop feeling safe, and shut down. By being sensitive, we can consciously recreate a safe environment, and ensure that our narratives don’t trigger negative emotions but are positive instead…and thus re-open the discussion. We can learn to state our views in ways that are direct but respectful. And get the views of others on the table as well. And then we’ll be able to move from conversation to action.
If you take the time to watch the video, which says all this more eloquently than I ever could, you, like me, will be struck by the fact there’s no escape clause. There’s nothing to the effect that “If you’re in the right, then you can skip/ignore these rules, because you have the truth on your side.”
That omission is anathema to many people, not least among them scientists. Everything we learned in all our formal training…all the mathematics and all the experiments and observations and data and statistics…every aspect of logic and analysis tells us that to be right is to hold the trump card. Nothing else matters.
We claim to be evidence-based beings. Our experience teaches us anew every day that proclaiming truth and then seeking to build relationships and trust doesn’t seem to work. We are more than stuck.
We need to reverse the order. We need to start with building relationships and trust. Then we don’t have to proclaim truth. We won’t be the only ones, the voices crying in the wilderness.
I found this article to be quite interesting, and very different from the other climate change communication strategy proposals that are floating around (including at the recent AGU meeting). I have been trying some of the strategies proposed by Crucial Conversations over the past 3 years in my engagement with the public on climate change. Those who are self proclaimed arbiters of the ‘truth’ about climate change seem to regard me (at best) as a dupe (e.g. the infamous Scientific American article and survey). But I remain convinced that this is the best way forward.