Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dr. Pielke's Critique of the IPCC and Politicization of Climate Science

German climate scientist Hans von Storch interviews Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. for the American Geophysical Union Atmospheric Sciences Newletter and finds that "he voices rather critical views, and likely not everybody will like his assertions. But being a Fellow of both the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 2004, a former Chief Editor of the Monthly Weather Review and Co-Chief Editor of the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences he is undoubtedly a legitimate participant in the discussion among scientific experts." Excerpts below, emphasis added:

How do you weigh the role and the potentials of models?
Models are powerful tools with which to understand how the climate system works on multi-decadal time scale as long as there are observations to compare reality with the model simulations. However, when they are used for predictions of environmental and societal impacts decades from now in which there is no data to validate them, such as the IPCC predictions decades into the future, they present a level of forecast skill to policymakers that does not exist. These predictions are, in reality model sensitivity studies and as such this major limitation in their use as predictions needs to be emphasized. Unless accompanied by an adequate recognition of this large uncertainty they imply a confidence in the skill of the results that is not present.

You have become known for dissenting views in the present debate about the perspective of anthropogenic climate change. For example, you stress the role of land uses chances as another key driver in influencing our climate. Could you outline your position?
My perspective is summarized in a recent publication with 18 other Fellows of the American Geophysical Union in an EOS article titled "Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases" [Pielke Sr. et al., 2009]. We wrote "the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment did not sufficiently acknowledge the importance of these other human climate forcings in altering regional and global climate and their effects on predictability at the regional scale" and because "global climate models do not accurately simulate (or even include) several of these other first order human climate forcings, policymakers must be made aware of the inability of the current generation of models to accurately forecast regional climate risks to resources on multidecadal time scales."

If you were right, how would the range of options for response measures for limiting man-made climate change within certain bounds differ from what is commonly considered?
We need to recognize that the IPCC starts from an inappropriately narrow perspective that the human input greenhouse gases is the dominate environmental concern in the coming decades and then the IPCC presents policymakers with a resulting broad range of expected regional and local impacts. This is, however, at best a flawed significantly, incomplete approach.
The IPCC process should be inverted. In our 2009 EOS article that I referred to above, we recommend that the next assessment phase of the IPCC (and other such assessments) broaden its perspective to include all of the human climate forcings. It should also adopt a complementary and precautionary resource based assessment of the vulnerability of critical resources (those affecting water, food, energy, and human and ecosystem health) to environmental variability and change of all types. This should include, but not be limited to, the effects due to all of the natural and human caused climate variations and changes.

What would you consider the most two significant achievements in your career?
First, the opportunity to mentor graduate students and postdoctoral research staff, a number of who have become leaders in atmospheric and climate science has been an achievement I am proud of. Second, the perspective that climate is an integrated nonlinear physical, chemical and biological system, which requires the understanding of all components of the atmosphere, ocean, land and cryosphere, is starting to become more widely accepted. I have sought to promote this view over the last 20 year. This broader view of climate as a complex, nonlinear geophysical system is more scientifically robust than has been presented in the IPCC reports.

When you look back in time, what where the most significant, exciting or surprising developments in atmospheric science?
The ability to monitor the climate system from space has provided a much better understanding of climate as a system. We also are developing an improved recognition of the difficult challenges we face in seeking to skillfully predict climate decades from now. In terms of negative developments, the bias in the funding of climate science research which tends to exclude perspectives that differ from the IPCC viewpoint is a major concern. Also, the introduction in the last 10-15 years of the publication in peer reviewed research papers of climate forecasts and impacts decades into the futures. Their publication subverts the scientific process since these predictions are not testable until after that time period has elapsed.

Is there a politicization of atmospheric science?
Very definitely. There is a clear intent, for example, in the climate assessment report process to exclude scientists who disagree with the IPCC perspective from research papers and from funding. This was exemplified in the CRU e-mails, but it is a much wider problem as I have documented on my weblog, testimony to the U.S. Congress and in Public Comments.

What constitutes "good" science?
"Good" science is completed when hypotheses are presented and tested with real world data to see if they can be refuted. Unfortunately, the IPCC uses multi-decadal global climate model predictions as a basis
for policy action yet these model predictions cannot be tested since we need to wait decades to obtain the real world data
. Even in hindcasts of the last few decades, these models have shown no regional predictive skill.
What is the subjective element in scientific practice? Does culture matter? What is the role of instinct?
Science needs to advance by following the scientific method. This needs to be independent of culture or any other external influence.

For further reading about the opinions and views of Dr. Pielke Sr.'s refer to his blog:

References: Pielke, R., Sr., et al. (2009), Climate Change: The Need to Consider Human Forcings Besides Greenhouse Gases, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(45)

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