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Pielke, Jr.: “The Collapse of Climate Policy and the Sustainability of Climate Science”

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 11, 2009

Roger Pielke Jr. of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado has started an interesting blog series concerning the growing realism on the political side of the climate-change debate.  He begins:

The political consensus surrounding climate policy is collapsing. If you are not aware of this fact you will be very soon. The collapse is not due to the cold winter in places that you may live or see on the news. It is not due to years without an increase in global temperature. It is not due to the overturning of the scientific consensus on the role of human activity in the global climate system.

It is due to the fact that policy makers and their political advisors (some trained as scientists) can no longer avoid the reality that targets for stabilization such as 450 ppm (or even less realistic targets) are simply not achievable with the approach to climate change that has been at the focus of policy for over a decade. Policies that are obviously fictional and fantasy are frequently subject to a rapid collapse.

Yes, the political system (thank goodness!) is not going to deindustrialize the economy in the developed world or (thank goodness!) keep the developing countries from getting their hydrocarbon bread. Consumers want real energy, not the dilute, fickle stuff coming from wind and sun. They want affordability, reliability, and convenience. They want to travel and enjoy life with bright lights, entertainment, and chores done by machines. Rising expectations rule–even the new U.S. president surrounded by Malthusian science and environmental advisors talks about the need for economic growth, growth, growth.

But I question this part of Dr. Pielke’s analysis:

Has climate science changed since the publication of the IPCC AR4? Not appreciably. Has the acceptance of the IPCC consensus changed among those who make decisions and advise them? Not at all.… Battles over climate science are a side show, increasingly looking like a freak show, observed simply for the spectacle.

I believe that there is a growing recognition that the IPCC estimate of 2x warming–a range of 2–4.5C with a best-guess of 3C–may be too high (and certainly not too low).  The increase in AR4 from AR3’s 2.4C (estimated) was questionable, in my opinion, and I believe the alarmists are sweating that if 2009 does not start a warming trend, then a serious rethink of climate sensitivity will be in order.

If the warming estimates come down, then the sign of the externality (positive or negative?) associated with the enhanced greenhouse effect is back in play, following the work of Yale’s Robert Mendelsohn. And the less the sensitivity, the less that government mitigation policies can reverse the human influence on climate.

I invite Dr. Pielke to guage the confidence of climate scientists toward the current IPCC warming estimates–and I would be most interested if longtime global-warming-science writer Richard Kerr at Science would revisit the same.

One Comment for “Pielke, Jr.: “The Collapse of Climate Policy and the Sustainability of Climate Science””

  1. Ed Reid  

    Stabilization requires reduction of annual emissions to below the emissions rates at which the atmospheric concentration began to rise (+/-). The atmospheric concentrations began to rise in about 1750, when emissions rates were about 1/2000th of current rates. Therefore, stabilization requires a GLOBAL reduction of emissions rates of about 99.95%.

    There is little wonder the AGW alarmists have chosen not to share that reality with the “great unwashed”. I suspect they believe they can achieve their political objectives with less draconian reductions. However, even those reductions (eg.: 80% by 2050) would hardly be inexpensive or painless.

    There is currently great hand wringing over a ~$1 trillion “porculus” bill. Achieving “80% by 2050” would require about that much each year over the period. For what?


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