Monday, July 31, 2006

Getting China and India onboard

You often hear the statement that China and India will never sign on to any agreement that requires them to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions because it will hurt their economic growth. See, for example, this editorial, where they argue:
Consider China and India, the world's emerging economic powerhouses. Ecstatic over their rapid ascent from mass poverty, both nations do not see shuttering their manufacturing and industrial plants to remedy a problem created mostly by the United States and Europe as an opportunity. They see it as a bad joke. So Beijing opens about one new coal-fueled power plant each week and New Delhi reduces environmental regulations on the mining industry and both tolerate air pollution so extreme it makes Los Angeles seem like Eden.
This argument, however, misses the fact that there are ways to encourage countries like China and India to join an emissions reduction regime. Imagine, for example, that the U.S. and Europe join together to reduce emissions. As part of the agreement, they could apply tariffs to imports from countries that are not working to reduce emissions. If the cost of implementing the emissions reductions is less than the costs of lost exports, then China and India will immediately sign up.

AEI and the AR/4

"The American Enterprise Institute is launching a major project to produce a review and policy critique of the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report (FAR)." Thus begins a letter recently sent to my colleagues Jerry North and Steve Schroeder. This letter invites them to write a "well-supported but accessible discussion of which elements of climate modeling have demonstrated predictive value that might make them policy-relevant and which elements of climate modeling have less levels of predictive untility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy."

I fully support the idea that people should dive into the AR/4 (that's what everyone else calls the Fourth Assessment Report) and take a look at the science themselves. While one might be skeptical that the AEI will give the AR/4 a fair hearing, the fact that they have solicited input from a credible and mainstream scientist like Jerry North suggests to me that I should not prejudge their effort.

That said, I think they've set themselves up to fail by their choice of question. "What's the policy value of climate models?" can be split into two parts:

(1) What are the scientific uncertainties in the models?
(2) Given this level of uncertainty, can model predictions then be used as a basis for action?

Question 1 is a scientific one, which fills thousands of journal pages every year. This could indeed be a valid subject for a scientific review paper. Quesiton 2, however, is not a scientific one. Two people can agree on the level of uncertainty in the model but disagree on whether that level of uncertainty precludes or demands action --- it just depends on a value judgment about how risk averse we should be.

For example: one person can say, "if there's a 1% chance that climate change might lead to catastrophic impacts, then we need to act now." Clearly the models provide that level of certainty. Another person might say, "I think we should be 99% certain that climate change is a significant risk before we take action." The models do not provide that level of certainty, so to that person the models are too uncertain. The choice of 1% vs. 99% is a moral judgment, not a scientific one.

This type of tangling between positive (scientific) and normative (moral) questions is one of the major reasons that the climate change debate can be so confusing to the general public. We discuss this in chapter 2 of our book.

Also note: they're willing to pay $10,000 to the authors. That's A LOT of money for this type of activity. It was enough that it made me think, "maybe I should get involved with this." Then I snapped back to reality.

[note added 7/31: My wife read this blog, saw the figure of $10,000, and asked me sweetly, "Are you SURE that climate change is real? We could really use the money."]

Sunday, July 30, 2006

What Bush says

I've noticed recently that the rhetoric of George W. Bush has changed. Consider the following statement made during a press conference in March. In response to a question about climate change, the President says:
First of all ... the globe is warming. The fundamental debate: Is it manmade or natural. Put that aside. It is in our interests that we use technologies that will not only clean the air, but make us less dependent on oil. That's what I said in my State of the Union the other day. I said, look -- and I know it came as quite a shock to -- for people to hear a Texan stand up and say, we've got a national problem, we're addicted to oil. But I meant what I said.
Note that he does not argue scientific uncertainty anymore --- this is quite a departure from his statements in 2001.

I wonder why he wants us to ignore the question of whether our present-day warming is manmade or not. It seems that this is a fundamental question and our response to the present day warming will depend on the answer. If today's warming is mainly the result of human activities, then that suggests an emphasis on mitigation and adaptation, while if it's not related to human activities, then there should be more of an emphsis on adaptation alone.

The only reason I can think that the President says "let's put that aside" is that he knows a signficant portion of the recent warming IS manmade. At present, the Administration NEVER EVER even mentions the possibility that greenhouse-gas emissions reductions might be something we need to do. That position becomes much more difficult to maintain if the Administration admits that humans are contributing to today's warming.

Another blog on climate change

I've become quite enamored over the past year with the whole idea of blogging as a way of communicating with the world. I've been constantly impressed by how many people read blogs, and how blogs can stimulate debate and have an impact on the wider world. To that end, I've decided to give it a try.

About me. I’m an associate professor in the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University. My research focuses on the science of climate change. I've also developed a keen interest in the policy side of the problem, and I've written a book about this topic ("The science and politics of global climate change: A guide to the debate).

This blog will focus on issues at the interface of science and politics of climate change. I hope this works!