A Comment On The Nature Article – “Time To Raft Up- Climate Scientists Should Learn From The Naysayers And Pull Together To Get Their Message Across, Says Chris Rapley”

There is an interesting Nature article which was published this week

Rapley Chris, 2012: Climate science: Time to raft up.  Nature. 488, 583-585 doi:10.1038/488583a

with the subtitle

Climate scientists should learn from the naysayers and pull together to get their message across, says Chris Rapley.

In this Nature Comment, Chris Rapley makes a serious fundamental error, in my view.  He writes that

“….the voices of dismissal are trumping the messages of science.”

However, in my view, that is not the correct way to frame the problem. One reason that there has been little progress in effective climate policy is that the message on climate science that is presented to the public and policymakers is incorrectly too narrow. Climate issues, as influenced by human activities, are much more than a global average surface temperature anomaly threshold.

The issue of whether limits should be sought on atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is not all there is to the role of humans in the climate system, nor should climate mitigation and adaptation risks not consider the variations and longer term trends in the natural climate system. As Dan Sarewitz and my son said with respect to risks from adding too much CO2 into the atmosphere “We know enough!” on the threat from added CO2.

My son’s book

The Climate Fix by Roger A. Pielke Jr.

makes this case convincingly.

However, the added CO2, as important as it is, is but a part of what humans are doing to the climate.

The need for this broader viewpoint has been emphasized in international and national assessments;

Kabat, P., Claussen, M., Dirmeyer, P.A., J.H.C. Gash, L. Bravo de Guenni, M. Meybeck, R.A. Pielke Sr., C.J. Vorosmarty, R.W.A. Hutjes,             and S. Lutkemeier, Editors, 2004: Vegetation, water, humans and the climate: A new perspective on an interactive system. Springer, Berlin, Global Change – The IGBP Series, 566 pp.

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp.

but the leadership of the climate science community who are communicating with policymakers and the public are ignoring these assessments.

This was the reason we wrote our paper [of which all of the authors are AGU Fellows]

Pielke Sr., R., K.  Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D.  Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E.  Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J.  Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases.   Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American   Geophysical Union.

As just two examples, first in my post from yesterday

Follow Up On The AMS Statement On “Climate Change’

after a set of e-mail exchanges, Danny Rosenfeld agreed that

1. On a regional scale, the aerosols can be the dominant anthropogenic climate forcing.

2. On a global scale, the aerosols might be in par with the GHG. We just don’t know

In our paper,

Pielke Sr., R.A., A. Pitman, D. Niyogi, R. Mahmood, C. McAlpine, F. Hossain, K. Goldewijk, U. Nair, R. Betts, S. Fall, M. Reichstein, P. Kabat, and N. de Noblet-Ducoudré, 2011: Land  use/land cover changes and climate: Modeling analysis  and  observational evidence. WIREs Clim Change 2011, 2:828–850. doi: 10.1002/wcc.144

the abstract reads

This article summarizes the changes in landscape structure because of human land management over the last several centuries, and using observed and modeled data, documents how these changes have altered biogeophysical and biogeochemical surface fluxes on the local, mesoscale, and regional scales. Remaining research issues are presented including whether these landscape changes alter large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns far from where the land use and land cover changes occur. We conclude that existing climate assessments have not yet adequately factored in this climate forcing. We conclude that existing climate assessments have not yet adequately factored in this climate forcing. For those regions that have undergone intensive human landscape change, or would undergo intensive change in the future, we conclude that the failure to factor in this forcing risks a misalignment of investment in climate mitigation and adaptation.

The public is more perceptive of reality than is often realized. It is the neglect of proper consideration of the actual diversity of climate science issues that, I feel, explains at least part of what Chris reported in the Nature article as

A recent UK survey found that about one-third of the public agrees with the statement “We can trust climate scientists to tell us the truth about climate change” and that about one-third disagrees.

As a way forward, we have proposed a different approach that is in summarized in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing  with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and  Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press.

where our abstract reads

We discuss the adoption of a bottom-up, resource–based vulnerability approach in evaluating the effect of climate and other environmental and societal threats to societally critical resources. This vulnerability concept requires the determination of the major threats to local and regional water, food, energy, human health, and ecosystem function resources from extreme events including climate, but also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risks can be compared with other risks in order to adopt optimal preferred mitigation/adaptation strategies.

This is a more inclusive way of assessing risks, including from climate variability and climate change than using the outcome vulnerability approach adopted by the IPCC. A contextual vulnerability assessment, using the bottom-up, resource-based framework is a more inclusive approach for policymakers to adopt effective mitigation and adaptation methodologies to deal with the complexity of the spectrum of social and environmental extreme events that will occur in the coming decades, as the range of threats are assessed, beyond just the focus on CO2 and a few other greenhouse gases as emphasized in the IPCC assessments.

The adoption of the bott0m-up, contextual vulnerability approach fits better with the concept of the “honest broker” as discussed in my son’s book

The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics by Roger A. Pielke Jr.

than does the current climate science leadership’s excessively narrow top-down, outcome vulnerability approach. In my view, the “naysayers” include this leadership, as exemplified by the new AMS Statement on Climate Change.  I recommend rewriting what Chris Rapley writes to

Climate scientists should include the diversity of perspectives on the role of humans and natural processes and pull together to get this broader message across.

Then, perhaps, by using the bottom-up, contextual vulnerability approach, we can then finally make progress not only on the CO2 issue, but also on all of the other aspects of risks from the climate system.

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