Category Archives: Climate Science Op-Eds

The Need For Precise Definitions In Climate Science – The Misuse Of The Terminology “Climate Change”

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UPDATE JUNE 17 2012

My son had an insightful discussion on this subject in his post

The Narrow Defintion of Climate Change

where he refers to two of his papers

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2005. Misdefining ‘‘climate change’’: consequences for science and action, Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 8, pp. 548-561.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2004. What is Climate Change?, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer, 1-4.

*********ORIGINAL POST*************

The terminology in the field of climate and environmental science is filled with jargon words and the misuse of definitions. I have posted on this issue before with respect to the terms “global warming” and “climate change” in my posts

The Media (and Presidential Candidates) Remain In Error On The Distinction Between Global Warming And Climate Change

and

Recommended Definitions of “Global Warming” And “Climate Change”

To properly define these two terms, I recommended

Global Warming is an increase in the global annual average heat content measured in Joules.

Climate Change is any multi-decadal or longer alteration in one or more physical, chemical and/or biological components of the climate system.

Today’s post is to further elaborate on the terms that are used.

With respect to the terminology “climate change“, this term is being extensively used to mean “anthropognic caused changes in climate” from nearly “static” climatic conditions; e.g. see the figure below [source of image]

This is why  terminology such as “climate stabilization” is misused; e. g. see

Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts Over Decades to Millennia (2010)

where this National Academy report writes

This new report from the National Research Council concludes that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have ushered in a new epoch where human activities will largely determine the evolution of Earth’s climate.

However, as documented in another Academy report

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

and summarized in the article

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.

the natural causes of climate variations and changes are important, as are the human influences. The human climate forcings involve a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.

As reported in the NRC (2005) report and written  in the Pielke et al 2009 article with respect to human climate forcings

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, other first-order human climate forcings are important to understanding the future behavior of Earth’s climate. These forcings are spatially heterogeneous and include the effect of aerosols on clouds and associated precipitation [e.g., Rosenfeld et al., 2008], the infl uence of aerosol deposition (e.g., black carbon (soot) [Flanner et al. 2007] and reactive nitrogen [Galloway et al., 2004]), and the role of changes in land use/land cover [e.g., Takata et al., 2009]. Among their effects is their role in altering atmospheric and ocean circulation features away from what they would be in the natural climate system [NRC, 2005]. As with CO2, the lengths of time that they affect the climate are estimated to be on multidecadal time scales and longer.

With respect to natural climate forcings and feedbacks, in the article

Rial, J., R.A. Pielke Sr., M. Beniston, M. Claussen, J. Canadell, P. Cox,  H. Held, N. de Noblet-Ducoudre, R. Prinn, J. Reynolds, and J.D. Salas,  2004: Nonlinearities, feedbacks and critical thresholds within the Earth’s  climate system. Climatic Change, 65, 11-38.

we wrote

The Earth’s climate system is highly nonlinear: inputs and outputs are not proportional, change is often episodic and abrupt, rather than slow and gradual, and multiple equilibria are the norm.

Thus, the assumption of a stable climate system, in the absence of human intervention, is a mischaracterization of the behavior of the real climate system.

“Climate change’ is, and always has been occuring. Humans are now adding to the complexity of forcings and feedbacks, but change has always been a part of the climate system.

Thus, rather than using terminolgy such as “climate change” [which has come to mean the human caused part mostly due to added greenhouse gases], I recommend just using the term “climate” or “climate system”. When change is discussed, the specific component that is being discussed should be presented, such as an increase in annual averaged surface air temperatures, a decrease in the length of growing season etc.  Phrases such as “changes in regional and global climate statistics” could be used.

There is a very important reason to scrap the use of “climate change” by the impacts community. Key societal and environental resources, such as water, food, energy, ecosystem function, and human health respond to climate not just to an incremental change in the climatic conditions.

Another misused term is “global change“, when really what is almost always meant is a local and/or regional change in the environmental conditions, including from climate. The  accurate terminology should be “environmental change“.

Thus, my recommendations are to replace terminology such as climate change, climate stabilization, climate distruption and global change with accurate terminology. With respect to impacts on key resources, climate is one of the stressors, not just the “change” part. When changes in climatic conditions are discussed, present the actual climate variable(s) that are being altered.

This issue of terminology has been important as we work to complete the 5 volume set of books for Elsevier titled

“Climate Vulnerability  – Understanding and Addressing Threats to Essential Resources”. 2013:  Eds  R.A. Pielke Sr., Faisal Hossain, Dev Niyogi, George Kallos, Jimmy Adegoke, Caradee Y. Wright, Timothy Seastedt, Katie Suding and Dallas Staley. Elsevier

which will appear early in 2013. Our edits for the chapters have required us to address the improper use of the terminology by some of the authors. The current weblog post is intended to alert others to the frequent mischaracterization of the climate system.

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A Summary Of Why The Global Annual-Average Surface Temperature Is A Poor Metric To Diagnose Global Warming

Figure from Ellis et al 1978

The use of a global average surface temperature trend as a diagnostic to monitor global warming is, at best a crude approach, and at worst an erroneous tool for that purpose.  This post  summarizes why.

First, to describe global warming, let’s use the seminal paper

Ellis et al. 1978: The annual variation in the global heat balance of the Earth. J. Geophys. Res., 83, 1958-1962

While the specific values they reported in their paper can be updated with the newer data since 1978, the framework and general conclusions are equally valid today. Excerpts read [highlight added] – with their figure 4 presented at the top of this post:

A graph of the global components is shown in Figure 4 . It shows that the rate of ocean storage is in close agreement with the net radiation flux except for the months of January and February. (This disagreement may be due in large part to possible errors in southern hemisphere ocean data).

The annual variation in the earth’s net radiation balance may largely be accounted for by considering the effects which the present day earth-sun geometry and the asymmetrical distribution of continents between the northern and southern hemispheres have on the net radiation balance. The orbit of the earth about the sun is such that the earth is closest to the sun in January and farthest from the sun in July. This creates an annual 11.2 W per meter squared amplitude variation in the solar flux received by the planet earth. This variation is a purely external driving mechanisms, since it depends only on earth-sun geometry.

When a value of 30.4% (Table 2) for annual mean global albedo is used, the annual 11.2 W per meter squared amplitude variation of incoming solar flux translates into an approximate 7 .8 W per meter squared variation in absorbed solar flux at the top of the atmosphere.

Atmospheric data show an annual cycle in the global average near-surface temperature with an amplitude of 2C [Van Loon,1972]. Maximum and minimum values are found in July and January, respectively. This temperature variation may be interpreted as an amplitude variation of 7 W per m squared in the long-wave flux emission to space if typical atmospheric emissions are considered and all temporal variations in the intervening atmosphere are ignored [Ellis,1977]. This effect in the long-wave flux combines with the effect in the absorbed flux to give a 15 W per meter squared amplitude variation in the annual net radiation balance profile.

The global ocean can maintain equilibrium by an average change in its heat content between times of maximum storage and maximum release of less than 1C over a 50-m-thick layer.

Unfortunately, instead of basing a global warming analysis on the framework such as in the Ellis et al 1978 paper, the long-term annual-averaged, global surface temperature trend is typically used as the icon to describe global warming (e.g. see). The value of +2C is often presented as a threshold beyond which major climate disruption will occur (e.g. see).

However, there are fundamental problems with the use of the global surface temperature anomaly to diagnose global warming.  I have presented one of this issues in the post

Torpedoing Of The Use Of The Global Average Surface Temperature Trend As The Diagnostic For Global Warming

where I wrote

1.  If heat is being sequestered in the deeper ocean, it must transfer through the upper ocean. In the real world, this has not been seen that I am aware of. In the models, this heat clearly must be transferred  (upwards and downwards) through this layer. The Argo network is spatially dense enough that this should have been see.

2. Even more important is the failure of the authors to recognize that they have devalued the use of the global average surface temperature as the icon to use to communicate the magnitude of global warming.  If this deeper ocean heating actually exists in the real world, it is not observable in the ocean and land surface temperatures. To monitor global warming, we need to keep track of the changes in Joules in the climate system, which, as clearly indicated in the new study by Meehl and colleagues, is not adequately diagnosed by the global, annual-averaged surface temperature trends.

and that

A final comment on this paper, if heat really is deposited deep into the ocean (i.e. Joules of heat) it will dispersed through the ocean at these depths and unlikely to be transferred back to the surface on short time periods, but only leak back upwards if at all. The deep ocean would be a long-term damper of global warming, that has not been adequately discussed in the climate science community.

In the paper

Barnett, T.P., D.W. Pierce, and R. Schnur, 2001: Detection of anthropogenic  climate change in the world’s oceans. Science, 292, 270-274

they wrote

“…..a climate model that reproduces the observed change in global air temperature over the last 50 years, but fails to quantitatively reproduce the observed changed in ocean heat content, cannot be correct. The PCM [Parallel Climate Model] has a relatively low sensitivity (less anthropogenic impact on climate) and captures both the ocean- and air-temperature changes. It seems likely that models with higher sensitivity, those predicting the most drastic anthropogenic climate changes in the future, may have difficulty satisfying the ocean constraint.”

This text, as well as the Ellis et al 1978 study, seem to have been forgotten by the climate modeling community.  In the post

“World Ocean Heat Content And Thermosteric Sea Level Change (0-2000), 1955-2010″ By Levitus Et Al 2012

Levitus et al concluded that

The world ocean accounts for approximately 90% of the warming of the earth system that has occurred since 1955.

One third of the observed warming occurs in the 700-2000 m layer of the ocean.

The heat content of the world ocean for the 0-700 m layer increased by 16.7×10**22 J corresponding to a rate of 0.27 W per meter squared (per unit area of the world ocean) and a volume mean warming of 0.18ºC

The obvious conclusion should be to the climate community that

  • Using a global annual-averaged surface temperature trend  is only a small part of the analysis used to create figure 4 in Ellis et al. Their framework requires the absolute value of temperatures both spatially and temporally in order to construct a global annual-average surface long wave emission.
  • Seeking to diagnose the magnitude of global warming (as represented by an annual average global radiative imbalance of the ocean-land-atmosphere using a global average surface (~2m) temperature trend) is fundamentally flawed. If ~90% of the heating is in the oceans, what is the value of diagnosing global warming using the land portion of the surface temperature record even if it did not have a warm systematic associated with the minimum temperatures as we have reported on.
  • The annual variation in the radiative imbalance is on the order of 3o Watts per meter squared. Diagnosing a multi-decadal chane in its mean annual value to the order of tenths of a Watt per meter squared is hard enough using long-term annual-averaged changes in ocean heat storage change. Trying to do this with the surface temperatures in values of tenths of a degree C, even up to 2C, with its large spatial and temporal variations, is an even more difficult task.

My recommendation to the climate community is that an updated version of the figure at the top of this post be presented for as many years as possible.  With the new data, such as the more robust Argo data and satellite monitoring of tropospheric temperatures and top of the atmosphere radiative fluxes, this should become the gold standard of monitoring global warming. The use of the global annual-averaged surface temperature trends for this purpose would be relegated to where it deserves to be – an historical relic.

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Climate Science Malpractice – The Promotion Of Multi-Decadal Regional Climate Model Projections As Skillful

If a company developed a drug for the treatment of a disease but did not do clinical tests, it would not be prescribed by reputable physicians. Indeed, there are claims by pill companies that promote health benefits, yet the Federal Drug Administration requires adding

“This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease”?

There is a clear analog with multi-decadal climate model predictions where no skill has been shown in hindcast predictions of changes in multi-decadal regional climate statistics.  As we have reported in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., and R.L. Wilby, 2012: Regional climate downscaling – what’s the point? Eos Forum,  93, No. 5, 52-53, doi:10.1029/2012EO050008

“It is ….. inappropriate to present [multi-decadal regional climate forecasts]…… to the impacts community as
reflecting more than a subset of possible future climate risks.”

Skill in multi-decadal regional climate model predictions of changes in climate statistics has not been shown (i.e. there are no “clinical trials” to show that the approach is robust) .

For future studies in the literature and media releases to present their results as anything more than a model sensitivity experiment (and that they should only be interpreted as, at best, a subset of what is plausible for the future climate), they would be guilty of climate science malpractice.

As just one text example of what this means, statements such as “temperatures will increase by 1C”, for example, should be written as “temperatures could increase by 1C”.  The use of the term “will” indicates a certainty in the climate prediction which is not correct.  The term “could” means the prediction is plausible.

Also, if they still insist on presenting their model results in figures with decadal time periods on them (e.g. 2040-2049, etc), they must make it clear that the results are intended to improve our understanding of climate processes and not an actual forecast for those decades that should be used by the impacts community to represent the envelope of what the regional climate will be decades from now.

Even for those studies that present their results as sensitivity studies, their paper should have an FDA-like disclaimer;

“The multi-decadal regional climate model results presented in this paper have not shown skill at predicting changes in multi-decadal climate statistics. The model results in our study should not be used to quantify the envelope of the risks from climate to societal and environmental resources in the coming decades. Our model sensitivity results are provided only to assist in improving our understanding of climate processes.  “

Without this disclaimer in papers, assessments and other communications which report on multi-decadal regional and local simulations of changes in climate statistics, they are committing climate science malpractice.

This label, of course, can be avoided if the researchers provide  quantitiative model and observational  comparisons of multi-decadal regional and local predictions of changes in climate statistics, and show them to be skillful in terms of what metrics are needed by the impacts community. I invite anyone who has published such a study to present a guest post on this weblog alerting us to such a robust scientific study.

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The Reason We Need To Agree Which Of Three Fundamentally Different Hypotheses Regarding The Role Of Human In The Climate System Is Correct

In our paper

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.

we examined three hypotheses regarding the role of humans in the climate system. Only one can be correct. The three hypotheses are:

  • Hypothesis 1: Human influence on climate variability and change is of minimal importance, and natural causes dominate climate variations and changes on all time scales. In coming decades, the human influence will continue to be minimal.
  • Hypothesis 2a: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and involve a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to, the human input of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most, if not all, of these human influences on regional and global climate will continue to be of concern during the coming decades.
  • Hypothesis 2b: Although the natural causes of climate variations and changes are undoubtedly important, the human influences are significant and are dominated by the emissions into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, the most important of which is CO2. The adverse impact of these gases on regional and global climate constitutes the primary climate issue for the coming decades.

We concluded that Hypotheses 1 and 2b are rejected based scientific evidence.  Only Hypothesis 2a agrees with the scientific evidence.

In a July 5 2011 post by Mike Hulme titled

You’ve been framed: six new ways to understand climate change

he wrote

There are many ways to frame the phenomenon of climate change. Some may be more engaging and some more helpful than others. Some may play looser with the facts. And yet no frames – even those that remain faithful to the facts – can be entirely neutral with respect to the effects that they generate on their audiences.

Take the opening item in The Conversation’s recent climate change series Clearing up the Climate Debate.

This open letter boldly states its framing narrative: “The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes. Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.”

Fact. Nothing to challenge there.

My Comment:  This statement in Clearing up the Climate Debate , however, does not tell anything about the distinction between Hypothesis 2a and 2b.  It is a flawed statement, therefore, because it is so incomplete.  What is implicit in their statement, however, is that human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominate climate forcing (i.e. that accept hypothesis 2b).

Mike Hulme continues

But how about this alternative?

“The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions, land use changes and aerosol pollution are all contributing to regional and global climate changes, which exacerbate the changes and variability in climates brought about by natural causes.  Because humans are contributing to climate change, it is happening now and in the future for a much more complex set of reasons than in previous human history.”

I’m confident too that none of my climate science colleagues would find anything to challenge in this statement.

My Comment: This is hypothesis 2a which is the only one that can not be refuted, as reported in Pielke st al 2009 and NRC 2005.

Mike continues

And yet these two different provocations – two different framings of climate change – open up the possibility of very different forms of public and policy engagement with the issue. They shape the response.

The latter framing, for example, emphasises that human influences on climate are not just about greenhouse gas emissions (and hence that climate change is not just about fossil energy use), but also result from land use changes (emissions and albedo effects) and from aerosols (dust, sulphates and soot).

It emphasises that these human effects on climate are as much regional as they are global. And it emphasises that the interplay between human and natural effects on climate are complex and that this complexity is novel.

My Comment: I agree with Mike Hulme, except that the first provocation is much too narrow and should be summarily rejected.  Policy responses based on a limited focus on greenhouse gas emissions, as a mechanism to influence how humans are impacting climate, will result in poorly thought out policy responses. 

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What Does “Climate Change” Mean? Does A Lack Of Preciseness In Its Definition Discourage Effective Discussion Of The Risks From Climate On Key Societal And Environmental Resources?

The term “climate change” is used by the media, funding agencies and in professional journals (e.g. see and see) but without a clear and adequate definition as to what this term means.  Here are a few definitions

1. Dictionary.com – climate change – a long-term change in the earth’s climate, especially a change due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature: Melting glaciers imply that life in the Arctic is affected by climate change.

2.  The EPA

Climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment. Greater energy efficiency and new technologies hold promise for reducing greenhouse gases and solving this global challenge. EPA’s website provides information on climate change for communities, individuals, businesses, states, localities and governments.

and from EPA FAQ

How are the terms climate change, global warming, and global change different?

The  term climate change is often used as if it means the same thing as the term  global warming. According to the National Academy of Sciences, however, “the  phrase ‘climate change’ is growing in preferred use to ‘global warming’ because  it helps convey that there are [other] changes in addition to rising  temperatures.” Climate change refers to any distinct change in measures of  climate lasting for a long period of time. In other words, “climate change”  means major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting  for decades or longer. Climate change may result from:

  • natural factors, such  as changes in the Sun’s energy or slow changes in the Earth’s orbit around the  Sun;
  • natural processes  within the climate system (e.g., changes in ocean circulation);
  • human activities that  change the atmosphere’s makeup (e.g, burning fossil fuels) and the land surface  (e.g., cutting down forests, planting trees, building developments in cities  and suburbs, etc.).

Global  warming is an average increase in temperatures near the Earth’s surface and in  the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Increases in temperatures in our Earth’s  atmosphere can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming  is probably the most talked about climate change we are experiencing, but is  just one of many changes along with precipitation levels, storm intensity, etc.  Global warming can be considered part of climate change along with changes in  precipitation, sea level, etc.

Global  change is a broad term that refers to changes in the global environment,  including climate change, ozone depletion, and land-use change.

3.  IPCC – Climate change

Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.
Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines “climate change” as:  “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”. The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between “climate change” attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition, and “climate variability” attributable to natural causes.

These diverse definitions need to be more focused, if we are going to build an agreement among scientists, policymakers and the public as to what is meant when the term “climate change” is used.    In Chapter 6 in the book

Climate Fix – What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming 2010 by Roger A. Pielke Jr. Basic Books

there is a very insightful discussion of the subject as to what is meant by the term “climate change” and the resulting confusion and misunderstandings when more than one definition is used.  As written on page 145 of Climate Fix, in relation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” definition,

“The IPCC adopts a broader definition of “climate change” that is more scientifically accurate. Claims that climate policy should be based on the work of the IPCC typically fail to recognize that the policy community has rejected the most fundamental statement of the IPCC on the issue – the very definition of “climate change”.

On Judy Curry’s weblog Climate Etc, she has reported on an article by Richard Betts in her post 2 perspectives on communicating climate science where Richard writes

But climate science is not a single-issue subject.  It is not carried out solely to see whether cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed or not.  A further and increasingly important issue is to understand the changes and variability we are seeing in order to help us live with the ever-changing weather and climate…..discussions need to move on from being anchored in the usual one-dimensional policy debate.

Both Judy and I agree 100% with Richard’s post.

I would like to add to this discussion here.  First, as I presented in my post

Recommended Definitions of “Global Warming” And “Climate Change”

Climate Change is any multi-decadal or longer alteration in one or more physical, chemical and/or biological components of the climate system…..Thus climate change includes, for example, changes in fauna and flora, snow cover, etc which persists for decades and longer. Climate variability can then be defined as changes which occur on shorter time periods.

In addition, when assessing the vulnerability of key resources (such as water resources, food, energy, human health and ecosystem function) with respect to climate (as well as the threat from all environmental and social risks) the questions we need to ask are, as presented in our article

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.

1. Why is this resource important? How is it used? To what stakeholders is it valuable?

2. What are the key environmental and social variables that influence this resource?

3. What is the sensitivity of this resource to changes in each of these key variables? (This may include but is not limited to, the sensitivity of the resource to climate variations and change on short (days); medium (seasons) and long (multi-decadal) time scales).

4. What changes (thresholds) in these key variables would have to occur to result in a negative (or positive) outcome for this resource?

5. What are the best estimates of the probabilities for these changes to occur? What tools are available to quantify the effect of these changes? Can these estimates be skillfully predicted?

6. What actions (adaptation/mitigation) can be undertaken in order to minimize or eliminate the negative consequences of these changes (or to optimize a positive response)?

7. What are specific recommendations for policymakers and other stakeholders?

In this context, climate change is just one of a multitude of threats. Building a consensus among the diverse policy and political viewpoints based on the above 7 questions will be easier that continuing to force a one-dimensional view of climate change (either as narrowly defined by the UNFCCC) or more broadly by the IPCC) onto the policy and political communities.

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Recommended Reading “Hurricanes and Global Warming” By Christopher W. Landsea

I highly recommend the “Opinion Piece” by Chris Landsea that is available at “Hurricanes and Global Warming”.   This insightful write-up is prepared by a world-class hurricane scientist.

Chris makes a prediction based on his view of climate science research. He writes

How May Hurricane Activity Change in the Future?

Again, all of this is not to say that manmade global warming is not real, nor unimportant. My reading of the research does suggest to me that there has been and should continue to be warming of the earth’s climate due to the greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide and methane. And that there should be changes to hurricanes caused by this manmade global warming. But as described earlier, simply linking hurricanes to global warming is not sufficient. Quantifying the changes is critical for understanding how such alterations will affect mankind and coastal ecosystems.

My interpretation of the climate change research suggests the following – assuming that there is a significant 2-3°C (4-6°F) global warming due to business-as-usual emissions (which is not a guarantee):

Overall Tropical Storm and Hurricane Changes Due to Global Warming by 2100

Frequency: Numbers may see a moderate decrease (~25%)
Wind (Intensity): Small increase (~3% stronger)
Storm Surge: Small increase (~3% higher) produced by the hurricane (but also must add on additional amount from overall sea level rise)
Rainfall: Moderate increase per cyclone (~10% within ~325 km [200 mi]), but reduced overall numbers may offset increase per cyclone
Genesis Location/Track: Somewhat uncertain, but no indications of large changes

These overall changes that may occur are relatively tiny and are several decades away, in my opinion. These conclusions are similar, though slightly smaller, than those indicated by a review panel of the topic of hurricanes and global warming that was recently published in Nature Geophysics in which I participated.

What is much more important is the massive population buildup along the U.S. coastline and in countries of the Caribbean and Central America. Such increases in coastal inhabitants (not global warming) make mankind dramatically more vulnerable to hurricanes today than in the past with thousands at risk of injury or death along with damage totals in the tens of billions of dollars when a strong hurricane strikes. As an example, this figure shows the combination of Florida’s coastal county population along with major hurricane strikes by decade during the 20th Century.

While Chris has much more confidence than I have in the ability to predict future climate, I certainly agree with his conclusion that “[w]hat is much more important is the massive population buildup along the U.S. coastline and in countries of the Caribbean and Central America. Such increases in coastal inhabitants (not global warming) make mankind dramatically more vulnerable to hurricanes today than in the past.”

My son is an expert on this subject, and he discusses this subject in our book

Pielke, R.A., Jr. and R.A. Pielke, Sr., 1997: Hurricanes: Their nature and impacts  on society. John Wiley and Sons, England, 279 pp

as well as in his more recent publications; e.g.

The Climate Fix.

I recommend readers look at the entire write-up that Chris has prepared.

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The Proposed Multi-Dimensional Growth Of The EPA In Climate Science

There is a news article by  of Fox News titled

EPA Ponders Expanded Regulatory Power In Name of ‘Sustainable Development’

which includes the text [highlight added]

“Environmental impact assessment tends to focus  primarily on the projected environmental effects of a particular action and  alternatives to that action,” the study says. Sustainability impact assessment  examines “the probable effects of a particular project or proposal on the  social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainability”—a greatly  expanded approach.

One outcome: “The culture change being proposed here will require EPA to conduct an expanding number of assessments.”

As a result, “The agency can become more  anticipatory, making greater use of new science and of forecasting.”

The catch, the study recognizes, is that under the  new approach the EPA becomes more involved than ever in predicting the  future.”

In my post on May 15 2009

Comments On The EPA “Proposed Endangerment And Cause Or Contribute Findings For Greenhouse Gases Under The Clean Air Act”

I wrote

I have generally supported most EPA actions which have been designed to support environmental improvement. These regulations have resulted in much cleaner water and air quality over the past several decades; e.g. see

National Research Council, 2003: Managing carbon monoxide pollution in meteorological and topographical problem areas. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 196 pp.

However, the EPA Endangerment Findings for CO2 as a climate forcing falls far outside of the boundary of the type of regulations that this agency should be seeking.

The EPA on April 17, 2009 released this finding in “Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act”.

This report is a clearly biased presentation of the science which continues to use the same reports (IPCC and CCSP) to promote a particular political viewpoint on climate (and energy) policy).

The text includes the statements

“The Administrator signed a proposal with two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

Action

“The Administrator is proposing to find that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. This is referred to as the endangerment finding.

The Administrator is further proposing to find that the combined emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, and HFCs from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change. This is referred to as the cause or contribute finding.”

As Climate Science has shown in the past; e.g. see

New Plans To Regulate CO2 As A Pollutant

Comments On The Plan To Declare Carbon Dioxide as a Dangerous Pollutant

A Carbon Tax For Animal Emissions – More Unintended Consequences Of Carbon Policy In The Guise Of Climate Policy

Will Climate Effects Trump Health Effects In Air Quality Regulations?

Supreme Court Rules That The EPA Can Regulate CO2 Emissions

Science Issues Related To The Lawsuit To The Supreme Court As To Whether CO2 is a Pollutant

the “cause” for their endangerment finding can cover any human caused climate forcing.

In my May 15 2009 post, I gave an example of how their finding could be rewritten to cover other human climate forcings. As another example, based on 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. doi: 10.1002/wcc.144

the paragraph above for an EPA Action could be rewritten as

The Administrator is further proposing to find that certain land use changes result in a threat of climate change. This is referred to as the cause or contribute finding.”

The EPA. according to this news report, could be developing justification to move into areas of regulation that they have not been involved with in the past, including land management.

They also, as implied in the article,  reply on multi-decadal climate predictions of societal and environmental impacts, which, as has been shown in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: 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

and weblog posts; e.g. see

The Huge Waste Of Research Money In Providing Multi-Decadal Climate Projections For The New IPCC Report

have NO predictive skill.  The EPA would be seeking broader regulatory ability to influence policy but without a sound scientific basis.

I have always been a strong supporter of clean air and water, as exemplified with my two terms on the Colorado Air Quality Commission during the administration of Governor Romer (D).  I have published numerous papers and taught classes on air quality including  the use of mesoscale and boundary layer models to develop improved proceedures to assess the risk of pollution from power plant plumes, vehicular emissions, and other sources of these contaniments.  The EPA has been a leader in the effort to reduce human and environmental exposure to toxic and hazardous pollutants.

However, the broadening of the EPA into climate forcings based on model predictions, as reported in the Fox News article,  is a significant concern.

I would be interested in a dialog with them, based on the bottom-up, resource-based vulnerabiltiy persepective presented in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: 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

to see what areas of risk should fit within their regulatory framework. As we wrote in that paper, the bottom-up, resource-based framework

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.”

In my view, this is the way forward with respect to assessing “sustainability”, and discussions should be undertaken to ascertain if the EPA is the right venue to do this.

As reported in the Fox News article, however, the EPA is considering the broadening out of their regulatory authority, but without building on a sound scientific foundation.  There is no evidence that their approach to sustainability uses the inclusive, bottom-up assessment approach, such as given in our 2011 paper.

If the EPA persists in using the top-down IPCC approach to develop impact assessments, they will inevitably develop seriously flawed policy responses.

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