Comment By Roger A. Pielke Sr. on the “AMS Policy Statement on Geoengineering the Climate System” – An Example Of Conflict of Interest

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) released its AMS Policy Statement on Geoengineering the Climate System on July 20 2009.

The statement begins with the text

“Human responsibility for most of the well-documented increase in global average temperatures over the last half century is well established. Further greenhouse gas emissions, particularly of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, will almost certainly contribute to additional widespread climate changes that can be expected to cause major negative consequences for most nations.

“Three proactive strategies could reduce the risks of climate change: 1) mitigation: reducing emissions; 2) adaptation: moderating climate impacts by increasing our capacity to cope with them; and 3) geoengineering: deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system. This policy statement focuses on large-scale efforts to geoengineer the climate system to counteract the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”

This statement represents a very narrow view of the role of humans in the climate system (e.g. see). The main purpose of my comment, however, is to document a clear bias and conflict of interest by the AMS, and, in particular, its current president, Tom Karl.

Last spring (May 2009), I and a number of colleagues were invited to write a draft policy statement for a new AMS Policy Statement on Inadvertent Weather Modification. Danny Rosenfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the chair.  The members of the committee are

Robert Bornstein (AMS member/Acad.)
William Cotton  (AMS member/Acad)
Graham Feingold  (AMS Member Scientist/NOAA)
Roger Pielke Sr. (AMS member/ Acad)
Daniel Rosenfeld (AMS member/Acad.)
Marshall Shepherd (Former AMS Council/Acad)
AMS Board Chair: Andy Detwiler  (AMS chair, Wx Mod.)
AMS Board Chair: Greg McFarquhar  (AMS chair, Cloud Physics)

We iterated on this draft and produced the following statement

AMS Policy Statement on Inadvertent Weather Modification [Draft]

Clear evidence exists that human activity affects various weather phenomena at many space and time scales and, therefore, has major socio-economic impacts. These impacts include effects of the anthropogenic emissions of gases and aerosols into the atmosphere, and changes in land use.

The human influences include three main types:

1.) Emission of well-mixed greenhouse gases and other trace gases into the atmosphere
2.) Emission of aerosols into the atmosphere
3.) Land management and land cover change.

The atmosphere, including the boundary layer, is a nonlinearly coupled part of the climate system that responds to changes in gases, aerosol, and land surface usage in ways that include effects on water resources, air quality, and solar and wind energy production. Surface fluxes are modified indirectly by increased aerosol loading, or by gases such as CO2 and nitrogen deposition (which affect vegetation dynamics), and these in turn affect convection, cloud formation, and surface winds. Surface deposition of soot may be modifying ice-melt rates in high latitudes, with implications for reduction in ice-caps and sea-level rise.

Land management and land cover change (e.g., irrigation, deforestation, dry land agriculture, and urbanization) can be either deliberate or haphazard. These changes affect surface fluxes more directly and modify local and regional atmospheric circulations that in turn, for instance, modify air pollution dispersal, as well as precipitation and other aspects of weather, underscoring the coupled nature of the system.

Over pristine oceans, emissions from ship stacks have been observed to dramatically influence the extent and persistence of local cloud cover, and hence the amount of solar radiation reflected back to space and the incidence of radiation at the surface. Pollution aerosol can change cloud composition and thereby precipitation amounts and intensity; and in the aggregate, these changes can affect water resources and ecosystems at a range of temporal and spatial scales.

The cumulative manifestation of these inadvertent weather modifications results in a climatic alteration that is superimposed on the global backdrop of climate variability and change. The understanding of inadvertent weather modification issues is thus necessary for understanding the sources, triggers, and response mechanisms of climate change. The goal of this statement is first to highlight inadvertent weather modification as a major issue that can have unanticipated and undesirable socio-economical consequences, as nations move toward alternative energy sources as well as to consider geoengineering as a tool to deliberately alter weather and climate. This statement will support efforts to quantify environmental costs and societal vulnerability from the following: the emission of well-mixed greenhouse gases and other trace gases into the atmosphere; the emission of aerosols into the atmosphere; and land management practices and land cover change.

This quantification, in turn, is essential to support correct decisions in developing planning, emission controls, and mitigation and adaptation strategies. In an effort to inform Congress, key decision-makers, and the media about the impacts of inadvertent weather modification and potential required actions, this writing committee will address the following concepts in crafting the statement:

Uncertainty: Uncertainty in the impacts of emitted gases and aerosols, and of changes in land use on weather and climate, are common causes for ignoring these potential impacts and forestall targeted actions to counter effects from anthropogenic activity. This committee will therefore address these concerns in the following ways:

• Comment on the state of the science (from peer-reviewed sources) in which impacts (or lack thereof) of anthropogenic gases, aerosols, and changes in land use are demonstrated.

• Comment on the linkage between the state of the science of inadvertent weather modification and understanding climate variability and change, advertent weather modification, and geoengineering.

• Mention concerns in areas, including, for example, the socio-economic impacts of inadvertent weather modification, changes in water resources, changing behavior of severe storms, decreased wind and solar energy power, poorer ventilation of polluted areas, trans-political boundary pollutant transport, and associated concerns for states and nations, and then indicate where trans-political cooperation has been helpful in reducing unintended consequences (e.g., acid rain or stratospheric ozone).

Mitigation: Mitigation (or avoidance of unintended consequences) requires a basic understanding of how inadvertent modification impacts the environment. This committee will highlight these impacts by commenting on the following:

• Evidence of regional changes in weather patterns and their teleconnection globally as a result of anthropogenically-driven inadvertent modification.

• How advances in scientific and engineering understanding can minimize the causes or build the technology to counter adverse impacts.

Adaptation: Adaptation has to be made with respect to impacts that cannot be easily mitigated. The committee will identify needs that include:

• Adaptation of crops and water utilization.

• Heightened protections from the possibility that inadvertent weather modification might increase the risks of floods and severe weather events.

Recommendations: Due to impediments in understanding the uncertainty and risks associated with inadvertent weather modification, the committee has the following recommendations:

• Advocate further research leading to improved understanding of the impacts of inadvertent weather modification through well-constructed research programs.

• Consider ways to coordinate efforts between inadvertent and intended weather modification research and how inadvertent impacts effect intended weather modification attempts and vice versa.

• Link the research on inadvertent weather modification to the broader question of climate variability and change.

• Identify potential ways to mitigate/adapt to inadvertent weather modification outcomes.

• Address ethical issues concerning how policy can handle these activities through a comprehensive research program.

Upon the completion of our draft, the AMS procedure that was supposed to be followed is listed below as was communicated to us by the AMS when we submitted our final draft:

1) Ideally, within the next week or so, both statements should be in final form and will be sent to the AMS Council for electronic voting. (this can take up to 2 weeks).
2) Moving forward…here are the horizons on the “Statement Clock”:  AMS Council has 14-days to review/approve precis (If they do not approve, again…we’ll work on new changes). If approved, then the committee has 2 months to write and finalize draft of ~750 words (per statement).

-[The] finalized draft is submitted to an AMS editor for 7 days (with modification as needed) and sends to AMS Council. If Council approves, then sends electronically to AMS Community for comment (posting lasts: 30 days)

-Writing committee must respond to each comment (or groupings of comments if they are thematic in subject) and sen[t] back to Council

-Council has 2 months to review comments. If Council agrees with your comments, then statement is instantly approved. If Council does not agree, then Council may hold a conference call to rectify looming issues.

-In the rare event that disputes remain open, then the committee is dissolved and the process begins anew with a new committee.

However, we were told the Council could not resolve by e-mail and that the motion on this draft was tabled until their Fall meeting. Tom Karl, who is the current President of the AMS, was strongly in favor of tabling.

The publication of the AMS Policy Statement on Geoengineering, yet deferring a vote on a policy statement on inadvertent weather modificaton which clearly conflicts with the geoengineering statement, indicates the very real biases and abuse of their positions at the leadership level of the AMS. 

The vote on the draft was clearly deferred so Tom Karl and his colleagues could publish the geoengineering policy statement including their press release, without dealing with a conflicting view. The delay of completion of the statement of inadvertent weather modification also means it will not be available for consideration prior to the Copenhagen meeting on climate in December. I suspect this was part of the reason to delay consideration of our draft statement on inadvertent weather modification.

 This is another clear example of an inappropriate manipulation of a scientific organization for political reasons.


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