by Judith Curry
Some new books that I’ve been reading, by Roger Pielke Jr., Rud Istvan, George Marshall and James Gleick.
Roger Pielke Jr
RPJr has published a new book Disasters & Climate Change. See amazon.com paperback is $4.99, I understand that a Kindle version is coming very soon. From the blurb:
In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.
The book is short, only 122 pages, but is informative, lucidly written, and has some very good insights. The science is fully congruent with the IPCC Reports on the topic of weather disasters and climate change. The book provides some particularly important insights on the politicization of this issue.
From Chapter 1, Science’s Legitimacy Wars:
In recent years, advocates for action on climate change have enlisted disasters as a leading theme of advocacy campaigns, ultimately focused on motivating political action on energy policy. A turn to this strategy has occurred despite a broad consensus in the scientific literature that the evidence for connections between climate change and disasters is incredibly weak, as reflected in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This chapter provides an interesting history not only of the co-opting of weather disasters into the climate change wars, but notably RPJr’s experiences in the climate wars:
My surprise was that my colleagues were asking me to downplay and to even misrepresent my own research because it was viewed as being inconvenient in the advocacy effort on climate change. My work had found no evidence of a sig-nal of human-caused climate change in the growing toll of losses from floods, hurricanes, and other extremes. While I had concluded that actions to reduce emissions of green-house gases made good sense, I also believed that pointing to the latest disasters in advocacy for action went beyond what the science could support, and thus should be avoided.
The issue of disasters and climate change is a canonical example of “noble cause” corruption in science.
He also discusses the Nate Silver affaire, with this summary statement: These critics were creating their own reality in order to engage in outright character assassination.
The middle chapters present a lucid explanation of the scientific questions surrounding disasters & climate change, including data analysis, how to reason about the data, and issues of detection and attribution
IMO, the most insightful chapter is 6 What About Climate Policy and Politics? There are some real gems in this chapter:
So what if the science of disasters and climate change is exaggerated in public debates and by some scientists?
I have two answers to the “so what?” question. One is that whatever passionate advocates and partisans may say in political debates, upholding scientific in-tegrity means that someone must take responsibility for scientific accuracy. The public places great trust and credibility in the scientific community, which could easily be put at risk.
A second response to the “so what?” question is that an approach to climate policy centered on associating disasters with greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to succeed.
Apocalyptic visions are a bit like addictive drugs. Upon repeated usage, the dosage needs to be upped to achieve the same effect. In this way, efforts to politicize connections between greenhouse gases and extreme events have a tendency to go well beyond what science can support. With fervent advocates ready to attack any-one who steps out of line, as they did when I wrote for FiveThirtyEight, there can be significant obstacles for inde-pendent experts to weigh in when claims are made well beyond that which science can support.
Since RPJr does not apparently disagree with the IPCC AR5 in any substantive way, why the vehement character assassination? His narrative, while wholly consistent with the IPCC, is ‘inconvenient’ for the disaster-climate change narrative, which picked up steam following Hurricane Katrina. Further, scientists that disagree with Pielke’s analysis of the policy and politics of climate change (e.g. Hartwell, Breakthrough Institute) work to assassinate his character or attempt to discredit his scholarship, rather than state that they disagree with his policy analysis and politics.
In this vein, I found one of the jacket blurbs from John Michael Wallace: “While Roger Pielke, Jr. and I hold quite different views on the policy implications of climate change, we are in agreement that the public is not well served by the politicization of climate science or by excessive emphasis on the role of global warming as a contributor to today’s weather disasters.” So there is at least one honest scientist that can separate his politics from the science.
Rud Istvan has published a new book Blowing Smoke: Essays on Energy and Climate [amazon]. I wrote the foreword, here are some excerpts:
Istvan’s insightful and incisive writing in Blowing Smoke tackles a diverse array of topics related to climate and energy that are highly relevant to the current public debate. His writing is accessible to the public who may not have the inclination, the time, or the ability to dig deep into the literature and emerge with a simple factual ‘big picture’.
Blowing Smoke provides up-to-date analyses of many of the most important topics of relevance to the public debate on climate change. What I find unique about Istvan’s writing is that he combines the perspectives of a lawyer and an entrepreneur – a keen sense of due diligence with regards to evidence, an ability to find weaknesses in others’ arguments, and the ability to analyze policies and technologies for their feasibility. And all of this is spiced with a bit of humor and a writing style that makes these complex topics interesting and understandable.
Blowing Smoke is an important contribution to the public understanding of the debate on climate change and energy. I trust you will find it rewarding.
Last August, George Marshall published a provocative book entitled Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change [amazon].
George Marshall studies the psychology of climate change denial; he blogs at climatedenial.org and he is the founder of a climate change charity, the Climate Outreach Information Network.
Marshall is clearly a ‘warmist’, and has this to say about me in the book:
Opponents of action, such as the skeptical climatologist Judith Curry, emphasize the ‘whole host of unknown unknowns that we don’t even know how to quantify.’
Ok, if you can get past all that, this is a REALLY good book. It’s not exactly obvious to me how to pitch this to the skeptical Denizens, but I will take a shot. Marshall interviewed a very wide range of people and actually LISTENED to them. The book is insightful and funny, a very entertaining read. This article from the WaPo best captures the book, excerpts:
In 42 short chapters, Marshall also covers some less-obvious ground. For instance, you might think that surviving a weather disaster would raise your alert level on climate change. Not always — near-misses give people a sense of invulnerability. What’s more, after a community floods or burns to the ground, people just want to get their lives back to normal and not worry about some even larger threat.
You might think that having kids would turn your attention toward the mess you might be leaving them. Nope. The optimism bias kicks into high gear, enhancing your view of your eco-legacy. Plus, you’re too busy changing diapers to worry about the long-term benefits of recycling.
You might think that environmental campaigns reminding people to be green would, well, make people green. But they communicate individual responsibility, and thus blame, which leads to resentment. One study found that conservatives were less likely to buy a low-energy light bulb when the package said “protect the environment.” And people who do buy such light bulbs feel morally licensed to use them more, countering the gains.
You might think that climate-change deniers are short on scientific literacy. But everyone’s heard the facts about greenhouse gases. At this point, deniers are actually better versed in science than are accepters. Rather, political forces shape their attitudes. Marshall quotes the ethicist Clive Hamilton: “Denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information.”
Marshall takes some good pokes at the likes of Shell Oil and the televangelist Joel Osteen (who refused to talk with him about climate change), but he’s best when provoking his own side. He quotes one e-mail from Live Earth, an organization fostering environmental awareness, suggesting that heart-shaped candy boxes be recycled as backpacks for dolls. (Carbon-neutral, here we come!) He rips apart a TV spot for its overkill in depicting a possible ecological disaster arising from too much CO2 in the atmosphere, complete with a drowning puppy. Marshall quotes a strategist calling the ill-considered ad “about as much use as a marzipan dildo.” Research shows that among people who think the world is fair, apocalyptic messages reduce belief in climate change, because climate catastrophe seems so unjust.
I haven’t seen this book discussed on any skeptic blogs, I hope that this review will stimulate some skeptics to look at this book, there is a great deal to be learned from it.
I just got around to reading Gleick’s book Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman [amazon]. I’m a long standing fan of Richard Feynman, having read his two wonderful autobiographies. Gleick’s book provides more of a scientific and historical context to Feynman’s research, and provides insight into how Feynman actually approached his science. This is a really good book.
I’ve often wondered how RF would react to the climate change debate; we’ll never know. However two figures that featured prominently in Gleick’s book are Freeman Dyson and Murry Gell-Mann, both of whom have made statements about climate change:
Two different perspectives, both defensible.
Moderation note: Please keep your comments on topic, discussing these books and the broader issues they raise, or other relevant books of interest.