Saturday, November 07, 2009

Roger Pielke Jr. on climate change adaptation

A few hours after hearing Roger Pielke Jr. speak on climate change mitigation to CSPO, I heard him speak about climate change adaptation to a joint meeting of my seminar on human dimensions of climate change and another seminar with Dan Sarewitz, CSPO's director.

Like his previous talk, Pielke began this one with a slide on his positions, which was something like this:
  • Strong advocate of mitigation and adaptation.
  • He accepts the science of the IPCC.
  • There are other reasons behind impacts of climate--effects of inexorable development and growth.
  • The importance and challenge of climate change does not justify misrepresenting the science of adaptation--yet this happens on a regular basis (I’ll give a few examples).
  • We might choose to mitigate, but we will adapt.
He said (as he did in the earlier talk) that he has no disagreements with the science of IPCC working group I, lots of agreements with the economics and mitigation arguments of working group III (covered in the earlier talk), and some disagreements with the impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability arguments of working group II, which will be covered in this talk.

He then gave a slide of the outline of this talk:
  • The concept of adaptation is contested.
  • How we think about adaptation shapes how we think about research and policy.
  • Under the FCCC (Kyoto Protocol), adaptation is defined narrowly--as adaptation to climate change caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The narrow definition creates a bias against adaptation.
  • Regardless, the primary factors underlying climate impacts on society are the result of development and growing wealth and vulnerability.
There are different definitions of "climate change" used between the IPCC and the UN FCCC. The IPCC defines it as "...change arising from any source," while the FCCC defines it 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."

On the former definition, if the sun causes the earth to warm, which causes climate change effects, that's a climate change. On the latter, it's not. The latter definition restricts climate change to impacts caused by human-caused changes to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Adaptation under the logic of the FCCC is that any increase of atmospheric carbon above 450 ppm (a 2 degree Centigrade temperature increase) is "dangerous" climate change that requires human adaptation. If we happen to stabilize at 449 ppm, then no adaptation at all is required. Under this definition, the more adaptation we need, the more we have failed in climate policy.

Under the IPCC's cost-benefit analysis, adaptation is considered a cost with no benefits.

Al Gore's Earth in the Balance calls adaptation a "laziness."

Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers, says that adaptation is "genocide."

IPCC's working group I uses the IPCC definition of climate change; working group III uses the FCCC definition; working group II shifts back and forth between the two.

But climate impacts are caused by a combination of effects: vulnerability (with sociological and ecological components) and by climate change and variability (which includes natural internal and natural external components, human greenhouse gas changes, and non-human greenhouse gas changes). In order to deal with those impacts, you can back up the causal chain to each of those causes, from the IPCC perspective. But from the FCCC perspective, it's as though none of those other factors are available except for the human contribution to greenhouse gases.

Why did the FCCC use this definition? Because the UN already has other frameworks for disaster preparedness, water management, desertification prevention, and biodiversity prevention, and they didn't want any overlap of responsibility.

Choice of definition of climate change can thus create a bias against adaptation, and puts science in impossible situations (requiring conclusive attribution of cause on human greenhouse gases). In reality, adaptation has broad benefits, such as contributing to sustainable development.

The Global Environment Facility of the UN, which releases funds for adaptation, will only pay out in proportion to effects caused by human greenhouse gases. Because of this requirement for attribution of cause, very little has been paid out. Oxfam said that the UNFCCC's global spending from the GEF is equal to what the UK spends annually on flood defense. If a developing nation has a disaster attributable to climate change and asks for funds, it is required to provide evidence for the percentage of damage attributable to climate change caused by human-produced greenhouse gases. One effect of this is that governmental spokespersons are likely to make such attributions in the media.

Swiss Re did a report on adaptation in the broad sense, without regard to attribution of cause, and added up deaths from natural disasters to get a total of $50T and 850,000 lives over 50 years; CNN reported this as meaning that human greenhouse gases caused all of that damage and death.

Another problem with the narrow definition is illustrated by malaria scenarios. Jeffrey Sachs, 2003, projects that without malaria, African GDP might be 3%/year higher. If you plug that into the Kaya Identity, emissions would be about 17 GtC vs. less than 1 today, by 2050. Without malaria mitigation, emissions will not even hit 6 GtC by 2050. The IPCC's projections presuppose that malaria will be unmitigated, which seems to be NOT how we should be thinking about climate policy.

Pielke argued that the broader notion of climate change and broader notion of adaptation are more useful. Adaptation is not in opposition to mitigation, and it has benefits as well as costs. In reality, we don't care just about greenhouse gases, we care about the impacts regardless of cause. By drawing a circle around human contributions to greenhouse gases and setting goals that focus only on that, we've engaged in "goal substitution," where addressing a single cause has become our goal instead of addressing the effects.

He then put up a slide of various book and magazine covers, as well as the poster for "An Inconvenient Truth," and said that "hazards are a centerpiece of the climate debate." One of the magazine covers, an issue of Newsweek from January 1996 with a cover story labeled "The Hot Zone: Blizzards, Floods, and Hurricanes, Blame Global Warming," was what got Pielke interested in doing research. The period 1991-1994, before that story, was a very quiet period for hurricanes hitting the U.S., but also the most expensive in terms of damage. Although he didn't study blizzards, he did study floods and hurricanes, and said he found that "the biggest signal in disasters wasn't climate."

Pielke then wanted to explain how his research has been used by the IPCC and the Bush and Obama administrations, looking at two reports: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability from the IPCC (the report of working group II), and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) Report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands.

He gave this quote from the IPCC report:
1.3.8.5 Summary of disasters and hazards
Global losses reveal rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s. One study has found that while the dominant signal remains that of the significant increases in the value of exposure at risk, once losses are normalised for exposure, there still remains an underlying rising trend.
He pointed out that the reference to "one study" is interesting, because he has published dozens of studies in this area, none of which show such a trend. The study in question mentioned here is "Muir Wood, et al., 2006," which is by R. Muir Wood, S. Miller, and A. Boissonade, titled "The search for trends ..." which is one of 24 papers commissioned as background by Peter Hoppe and Pielke for a workshop they conducted with experts from multiple countries, Munich Re, the Tyndall Centre, NSF, etc. The plan for that workshop was to be a "dissensus consensus," to identify areas of disagreement for further study, but they ended up reaching consensus on 20 statements.

The motivation for the workshop was a graph from Munich Re that showed that the cost of disasters, adjusted for inflation, has been increasing. The workshop wanted to find out what was causing this to happen and whether any percentage of it could be attributed to climate change.

The types of disasters in question were:
  • Earthquake, tsunami, and volcano, which couldn't be attributed to climate change.
  • Windstorms and floods, which could possibly be attributed to climate change and have been responsible for most of the increasing damage.
  • Disasters of temperature extremes such as heatwaves, drought, and wildfires, which could also be attributed to climate change, but which aren't responsible for most of the increasing damage.
Three of the consensus statements agreed to by all participants, including Muir Woods, were:
  1. Analyses of long-term records of disaster losses indicate that societal change and economic development are the principal factors responsible for the documented increasing losses to date.
  2. Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions.
  3. In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.
The first statement is accurately reflected in the IPCC statement, but the second is exactly the opposite of what it says.

The Muir Woods paper itself says that if you look at the period 1970-2005, you have an upward trend that can't be attributed to just societal factors. But 2005 was the year of Hurricane Katrina, and 1970-1974 was a period when the Atlantic was very quiet. If you look at 1950-2005, there is no trend, Pielke said. The IPCC not only took a single background paper from the workshop, they actually took a subset of the paper's data to draw their conclusion.

Pielke argued that the damage trends can't be due to storm intensity alone, based on a graph of major category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes vs. year. The 177 U.S. coastal counties have seen huge population growth--for example, the population of Harris County, Texas in 2005 was equal to the entire U.S. coastal population from Florida to South Carolina in 1955.

He showed comparison photos of Miami Beach in 1926 vs. 2006, and then a graph of the estimated amount of U.S. damage per year if every hurricane season had occurred with 2005 population levels. That graph shows a huge spike in 1926, when a big hurricane hit Miami; it would have been 1.5 to 2 times the damage of Katrina. 2004 and 2005 were also years of very high damage, though not as high as 1926.

The trend, Pielke said, is no statistical change in damage since 1900, and is consistent with the physical characteristics of hurricanes at landfall over that same time period. Other signals show up in the data, such as El Nino. When the Pacific is cold you get more hurricanes, when it's warm you get fewer. 1927-1969 were very active for hurricanes, the 1970's and 80's were not very active. He said there have been two independent replications of the same results with different data sets and methodologies, and that insurance and reinsurance companies use this for their pricing models.

His summary slide said this:
  • Raw damages are increasing.
  • Normalized damages show no trend, consistent with the lack of trend in landfall
  • Increases in inflation, wealth, and development along the coastline account for increasing damages.
  • While coastal development in hurricane-prone regions is increasing, in aggregate it appears to be proportional to the rest of the United States, with large local variations.
It occurred to me that one factor that might counteract a genuine increase in storm intensity with respect to damage would be better construction, but I didn't raise the issue since I figured it would have been unlikely for such a factor to exactly offset storm intensity increases so that there was no trend. Afterward, though, I found this paper by Judy Curry (PDF) which argues that improvements in building codes have just such an effect, and that the pre-1930 data Pielke uses was a time of inflated property values before the Great Depression, and if you take it out you get an upward trend again.

In response to a student question about whether probabilities of landfall have changed, Pielke said that the overall odds of hurricane landfall are unchanged within the data set (though there are subsets where it is different) and that studies of the west coast of Mexico, South Korea, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Madagascar show no regions where hurricane landfalls have increased.

He reported three other studies which have shown no upward trend in normalized weather losses--a study of his own done with the head of the Cuba Weather Service, for 1900-1998 (Pielke et al., 2003), one for Australia for 1965-2005 (Crompton & McAneney, 2007), and one for India for a time period I didn't catch (Raghavan & Sen Sarma, 2003). He said there are about 15 other studies of the same sort, and that Lawrence Bauer of the Free University of Amsterdam has a review paper of all of these studies that is under review for publication.

When you look at U.S. flood losses, after adjusting for societal factors, there has been a slight (not statistically significant) downward trend in losses.

Pielke then said that he took a bunch of weather loss data sets, standardized them, took ten-year averages and overall averages, and then put them all on top of each other. These data sets included Munich Re's global losses for 1979-xx (I didn't catch the end year), U.S. flood losses, and Australian weather losses. While Munich Re's global losses correlate strongly with U.S. hurricane losses (0.80, 64% of the variance in global losses explained by U.S. losses), Pielke said, "there's no secular trend over the time period for which we have these data sets."

Regarding hurricanes, however, Pielke said his data is consistent with hurricanes becoming more intense. He referred to Kerry Emanuel's 4 August 2005 paper in Nature, titled "Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years," which was featured in "An Inconvenient Truth." He showed a graph from the paper which shows windspeed cubed, or power dissipation index (PDI), has increased. Pielke noted that this is not a measure of "destructiveness," and the paper says nothing about destruction caused by hurricanes. He broke the Atlantic basin into five equal compartments with an equal number of observations of hurricane intensity (windspeed measurement) from the 1880s to the present, for all named storms, 39 knots and higher. He found that the strongest upward trends are farthest out to sea, and no trends in the locations where damage actually occurs.

He said he did the same with Emanuel's graph and got the same result, that all of the trends are out to sea. So, he argued, Emanuel's results could be due to real changes in storm intensity as a result of ocean temperature changes, or they could be due to increased storm counts due to more and better data collection out at sea. He submitted a letter to Geophysical Research Letters reporting his result, which was rejected with negative reviews that said "everybody already knows this." But, Pielke said, Emanuel didn't know it until he pointed it out to him.

Next, Pielke talked about the U.S. CCSP Report, which spanned the Bush and Obama administrations. This report said the following about U.S. extreme weather events:
  1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.
  2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.
  3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation, there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (>90th percentile).
  4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms.
  5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms, called Nor’easters.
  6. There are no long-term ...
With these conclusions, he said, you'd expect no claims of increasing losses from damage. But the report says:
Extremes are already having significant impacts on North America. ... both the climate and the socioeconomic vulnerability to weather and climate extremes are changing (Brooks and Doswell, 2001; Pielke et al., 2008; Downton et al., 2005).
Two of the three papers cited have Pielke as author or co-author, and the third applies his sort of methodology to tornadoes. The Harold E. Brooks and Charles A. Doswell III 2001 paper says: "We find nothing to suggest that damage from individual tornadoes has increased through time, except as a result of the increasing cost of goods and accumulation of wealth in the United States." The Pielke et al. 2008 paper finds no trends in absolute data or under a logarithmic transformation. The Downton, Miller, and Pielke 2005 paper talks about the National Weather Service flood loss database, says absolutely nothing about climate change, and shows a drop in losses. So of the three cited papers for the claim, two say the opposite of the claim and one is silent. Pielke says there is no published study that supports the claim. When he made a stink about this, he said he ended up being called a climate change denier. The IPCC and CCSP are supposed to be places we go to get reliable information, he said, and "I'm much more willing to listen to others who say their work was misrepresented since I know mine was."

In 2000, he co-authored an article with Dan Sarewitz on "Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock" in The Atlantic Monthly that argued for getting people engaged with adaptation rather than focusing exclusively on mitigation. After that came out, he says he was told privately by a representative of an environmental group that "we agree with what you say, but it's not helpful now because we're trying to win a [political] battle on mitigation."

He pointed out two recent cases of people in government being silenced for speaking out contrary to policy--David Nutt, the UK drug policy advisor, who was fired for saying that ecstasy use was of comparable risk to riding horses (and ecstasy is safer to give to a stranger than peanuts), and Clive Spash, an economist for Australia's CSIRO, who submitted a paper to a journal critical of cap and trade, which was accepted for publication but withdrawn when his supervisor wrote to the journal and asked for it to be retracted.

He asked, "If the public loses faith in the connection between authoritative scientific statements and policy, then what do we rely upon to make decisions?"

He suggested that we need to improve processes where there is potential for intellectual conflicts-of-interest, such as where people with a stake in an assessment highlight their own research over other research they don't favor. He thinks this doesn't seem to be a problem with IPCC working group I, but has been a problem with both working groups II and III and with the CCSP. In both of the cases he referred to regarding his own work, above, he said a single person was responsible (not the same person in both cases, but one in each).

I left about ten minutes before the end of the class and so missed any further wrapup, as I had to get to the opposite side of campus for another talk, by Robert B. Laughlin, one of the winners of the 1998 Nobel prize in physics.

UPDATE (24 September 2013): Michael Mann, on Twitter, called Pielke Jr.'s work on storm damage "deeply flawed work" because its "normalization procedure removes climate change signal," and pointed to this critique by Grinsted.

1 comment:

Roger Jones said...

Pretty much all the people I know who work on adaptation consider the IPCC definition to be too narrow.

The biggest problem is actually where policy has been written based on the IPCC definition. The response from those who know say "this is too narrow". An example was with the Global Environment Facility who wanted to fund the climate change component of development over and above that dealing with everything else. The response was "you can't actually do that, except in isolated circumstances". This was over 5 years ago.

While I agree with much of what you reported from the seminar, I think there is more acceptance of this in the research community than was communicated.