Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The $10,000 question

Link to grist story here.

This story highlights the AEI/AR4 saga, which I've blogged about extensively (e.g., here). The most important message is at the end:
Those who favor action on climate change can learn something from this episode as well, and not just the wisdom of bringing heightened skepticism to favorably biased news stories. Too many activists and commentators are fighting the last war, pounding away on any sign of doubt about basic climate science, even where no such doubt exists. The debate over the existence of anthropogenic climate change, despite some noisy rear-guard skirmishes, is largely over.

The policy debate is going to be more messy and politicized than the science debate ever was -- after all, science will not be there to settle it. It will turn on risk assessment and the untidy art of balancing competing interests. Many conservatives who have abandoned their contrarianism on the science will likely now turn to carving out a policy position that downplays the risks of climate change, exaggerates the costs of addressing it, and above all discourages any response that relies too heavily on government regulation or investment.

Those who favor immediate, substantial action to address climate change would do well to prepare for that debate. Bashing climate denialists still makes good copy, but it is increasingly beside the point.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A new round of attacks on the IPCC

Link to grist story here.

Op Ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

An op-ed I authored with my colleague Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech be found here.

There is also an accompanying editorial here. Oddly, it continues their support for allowing TXU to build 11 new coal-fired power plants. But they also advocate for a carbon tax. Combining these two positions seems problematic to me: with a carbon tax in place, the coal plants don't make nearly as much sense as they do without a tax. In fact, they might make no sense at all, when considering the entire 50-year life of the plant.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

AEI and the AR/4 --- update

The "AEI vs. AR/4" story has gotten a surprising amount of play in the mainstream press over the last few days. I initially blogged about it last summer here. I suspect that blog entry was the actual genesis of all of the stories in the mainstream press (e.g., here or here).

Today I received an e-mail from AEI's Steve Hayward:
Dear Prof. Dessler:

I wonder if, as a courtesy and in the spirit of fairness, you would post on your blog both the statement from AEI's president Chris DeMuth and our most recent letter approaching participants our project, which speaks for itself (and was sent out in mid-January before l'affaire Guardian occurred). I attach both documents.

I hope to find time between endless letters to the editor and other responses correcting the gross distortions over this matter to have more to discuss with you directly; for the moment, know that Ken and I have a long magazine article coming out in the next few days where we characterize your original blog post from last July as "critical but fair-minded." I wish I could say the same for the press coverage and commentary in the blogosphere.


Steve Hayward
So, as requested, here are their statements.

The first is a statement by AEI President Chris DeMuth.
Many of us have received telephone calls and emails prompted by a shoddy article on the front page of today’s Guardian, the British newspaper, headlined “Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study” (posted here).

The article uses several garden-variety journalistic tricks to create the impression of a story where none exists. Thus, AEI is described as a “lobby group” (we are a research group that does no lobbying and takes no institutional positions on policy issues); ExxonMobil’s donations to AEI are either bulked up by adding donations over many years, or simply made up (the firm’s annual AEI support is generous and valued but is a fraction of the amount reported—no corporation accounts for more than 1 percent of our annual budget); and AEI is characterized as the Bush administration’s “intellectual Cosa Nostra” and “White House surrogates” (AEI scholars criticize or praise Bush administration policies— every day, on the merits). All of this could have been gleaned from a brief visit to the AEI website.

But the article’s specific charge (announced in the headline) is a very serious one. Although most of you will appreciate the truth on your own, I thought it would be useful to provide a few details.

First, AEI has published a large volume of books and papers on climate change issues over the past decade and has held numerous conferences on the subject. A wide range of views on the scientific and policy issues have been presented in these publications and conferences. All of them are posted on our website. It would be easy to find policy arguments in our publications and conferences that people at ExxonMobil (or other corporations that support AEI) disagree with—as well as those they agree with and, I hope, some they hadn’t thought of until we presented them. Our latest book on the subject, Lee Lane’s Strategic Options for Bush Administration Climate Policy, advocates a carbon tax, which I’m pretty sure ExxonMobil opposes (the book also dares to criticize some of the Bush administration’s climate-change policies!).

Second, attempting to disentangle science from politics on the question of climate change causation, and to fashion policies that take account of the uncertainties concerning causation, are longstanding AEI interests. Several recent issues of our “Environmental Policy Outlook” address these issues, as does Ken Green’s “Q & A” article in the November-December issue of The American. The new research project that Ken and Steve Hayward have been organizing is a continuation of these interests. I am attaching the two letters that Steve and Ken have sent out to climate change scientists and policy experts (the first one emphasizing the scientific and climate-modeling issues addressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the second, more recent one covering broader policy issues as well)—and invite you to read them and compare them with the characterization in the Guardian article. The first letter, sent last summer to Professor Steve Schroeder of Texas A&M (and also to his colleague Gerald North), is the one quoted by the Guardian. Ken and Steve canvassed scholars with a range of views on the scientific and policy issues, with an eye to the intrinsic quality and interest of their work rather than to whether partisans might characterize them as climate change “skeptics” or “advocates.” They certainly did not avoid those with a favorable view of the IPCC reports—such as Professor Schroeder himself.

Third, what the Guardian essentially characterizes as a bribe is the conventional practice of AEI—and Brookings, Harvard, and the University of Manchester—to pay individuals at other research institutions for commissioned work, and to cover their travel expenses when they come to the sponsoring institution to present their papers. The levels of authors’ honoraria vary from case to case, but a $10,000 fee for a research project involving the review of a large amount of dense scientific material, and the synthesis of that material into an original, footnoted and rigorous article is hardly exorbitant or unusual; many academics would call it modest.

We should all be aware that political attacks such as the Guardian‘s are more than sloppy or sensation-seeking journalism: they are efforts to throttle debate, and therefore aim at the heart of AEI’s purposes and methods. The successive IPCC climate change reports contain a wealth of valuable information, but there has been a longstanding effort to characterize them as representing more of a “scientific consensus” than they probably are, and to gloss over uncertainties and disagreements within the IPCC documents themselves. Consensus plays an important role in science and scientific progress, but so does disputation—reasoned argument is essential to good science, and competition of ideas is essential to scientific progress. AEI is strongly opposed to the politicization of science, just as it is to the politicization of economics and other disciplines. On climate change as on other issues, we try to sort out the areas of genuine consensus from the areas of reasonable debate and uncertainty. Ken and Steve’s letter to Professor Schroeder was clear about this: “we are looking for . . . 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 utility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy.”

The effort to anathematize opposing views is the standard recourse of the ideologue; one of AEI’s highest purposes, here as in many other contentious areas, is to ensure that such efforts do not succeed.

Chris DeMuth
The second is a revised letter approaching participants of their project:

This is Steven Hayward and Ken Green writing from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. We are writing to solicit your thoughts about, and hopefully your participation in, an AEI project on climate change policy. Between the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC due later this year, the Stern Review, and the close of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period on the intermediate horizon, the time seems propitious for a fresh round of discussion of climate policy. AEI would like to commission a series of essays from a broad range of experts on various general and specific aspects of the issue, around which we should like to organize several conferences in Washington and ultimately a book.

Two general thoughts dominate our thinking about the structure of a useful project. First, in the public mind at least (which is to say, the news media) climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called “skeptics” and so-called “alarmists,” with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension. This perception is mistaken, of course, as Andrew Revkin’s recent New York Times article on “an emerging middle ground” on climate change made evident. Nonetheless, we would like to attempt to break out of this straightjacket and see if it is possible to create a space for an identifiable “third way” of thinking about the problem that is similar to the various “third way” approaches to other social policy problems that were popular in the 1990s.

Our second general thought is that the chief difficulty of carving out a “third way” on climate change is due to the unwieldy size and complexity of both the scientific inquiry and policy approaches to the problem. We had thought to produce a series of essays to review and critique the forthcoming IPCC FAR, early drafts of which are circulating, but have been persuaded that an IPCC-focused project is too limited. Although some commentary on the IPCC FAR is in order, our latest thinking is broaden our scope. One idea is to solicit essays in two categories. The first category would be along the lines of a blue-sky essay on “What Climate Policies Would I Implement If I Was King for a Day.” The second category would be specific critiques of existing or proposed policy responses such as will appear in Working Group III or have been put forward in reports such as the Stern Review. (Such essays might take as their focus a single chapter from Working Group III, or an aspect of the Stern Review.)

Above all we want to have a diverse collection of pre-eminent thinkers on this subject, which is why we are keen to include you in the project. AEI is willing to offer honoraria of up to $10,000 for participating authors, for essays in the range of 7,500 to 10,000 words, to be completed by September 1, and we are keen to work with you to refine an appropriate topic.