Roger Pielke Jr., Part II

Last week I wrote some thoughts about a talk by Roger Pielke Jr.

Roger wrote this in the comments section:

[T]here is a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation displayed in this post. Perhaps I did not convey my points clearly. I did not discuss costs or benefits. It was not a talk about climate impacts. My proposal is not a $1 a barrel fuel tax. I did say that there is a consensus on the tenets of climate science. And more. Fortunately, my new book covers all of these points so that there should be no ambiguity in my views.

I try hard to be a straight shooter and to not misrepresent what people say, so I took the trouble of looking through the video:

Let’s take what Roger wrote in the comments section of my previous post and look more closely, from the bottom up:

1. I did say that there is a consensus on the tenets of climate science.

This is not true. The closest he comes are these two bits (with approximate times indicated if you want to check the video, and apologies if I don’t have the transcript 100% accurate):

21:15 The risks posed by increasing carbon dioxide can be represented by a bathtub. So the bathtub is the atmosphere, we’re putting in carbon dioxide… it’s accumulating… No-one disputes these facts… Now scientists debate a number of different values. One of them is how high is our bathtub, is there a level at which the bathtub spills over? …Now there’s also a debate about, well, what happens when the bathtub overflows? Is it going to be catastrophic? Is it just minor damage that we can mop up? These are all very legitimate debates that are out there in the scientific community, and they are debates that I would assert cannot be resolved scientifically on the timescales of decision-making. We have a classic risk-management problem.

43:30: In 2003 Ken Caldeira [and co-authors]… said “To achieve stabilization at a 2 degree warming” — so that’s a bathtub at 450ppm — “we would need to…”

These quotes do not express a scientific consensus about anything, and they certainly do not contradict what I wrote in my original post:

6. Also perplexing to me is that Roger didn’t even mention (positively or negatively) the IPCC or the scientific consensus about carbon emissions leading to higher global temperatures &etc. This was an important omissions because I would guess that a significant fraction of the audience he spoke to today probably doubts the IPCC conclusion about human activity affecting global temperatures, and if Roger does believe the IPCC (as his Wikipedia page suggests) then he should have come out and said it. He failed to do so even though it would have taken only 30 seconds, and in my opinion that failure is inexcusable for someone whose goal is to educate.

I stand by my original claim, namely that Roger didn’t even mention the IPCC or the scientific consensus about carbon emissions leading to higher global temperatures &etc. And I stand by my opinion that that failure is inexcusable for someone whose goal is to educate. Consider the following:

41:20: The debate about Heathrow is about building a third runway… Here’s some Greenpeace protesters in the back of a British Airways airplane… “Climate emergency, no 3rd runway.” Now let me place this into context. This is China. [Showing a map of China.] China is planning to build 100 new airports by 2020.

The response of the crowd is laughter. This is not the kind of response you’d expect from a crowd of folks who know the scientific consensus about carbon emissions leading to higher global temperatures &etc. It is the kind of response you’d expect from a crowd of folks who are climate skeptics. I don’t fault Roger for the crowd being climate skeptics, but I do fault him for failing to challenge them in any meaningful way. A climate skeptic could have sat through Roger’s talk and nodded approvingly all the way through.

2. My proposal is not a $1 a barrel fuel tax.

Let’s roll the tape:

45:47: In a nutshell, the argument I make is we need a low carbon tax—or fuel tax, doesn’t matter—$1 a barrel of oil, oil costs about $80/barrel now, $1 a barrel surcharge, no-one would notice, raises $100 billion. A $5/ton carbon tax would increase the price of gasoline by $0.04 a gallon, would raise $500 billion. What would we do with that money? We would invest in innovation… The idea is we would use today’s energy to pay for developing tomorrow’s. The scale that I propose is something like what the U.S. government invests in health, $30 billion a year, or defense, $100 billion a year.

This is not much different than what I wrote in my earlier post:

9. Roger’s proposal for dealing with climate change is to have a small carbon tax (on the order of $1 per barrel of oil, which amounts to about $2.50 per ton CO2 or $0.025 per gallon of gasoline) with the revenue going to clean energy R&D.

Perhaps he didn’t do a good job of expressing himself in his talk, but I am definitely not misrepresenting what he said in his talk.

3. I did not discuss costs or benefits. It was not a talk about climate impacts.

This is mostly tangential because I didn’t assert that Roger’s talk was about climate impacts. (Just the opposite!) But I moderately disagree with Roger’s claim that he “did not discuss costs or benefits.” Consider for example these statements:

44:10: Science is not going to compel action on climate change. Of this I am certain. But it turns out there are other reasons to decarbonize our economy.

45:12: So there’s a compelling reason [because of poverty &etc] to at least accelerate the process of decarbonization that has nothing to do with arguments about climate science. Now, whether those justifications get us all the way to 80% reductions or so on by 2050 I don’t know. But I do know it makes a much more compelling basis for starting down that path than the arguments we’ve seen so far.

I would argue that Roger is implicitly doing some cost-benefit analysis here. Otherwise how does he reach these conclusions?

4. [T]here is a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation displayed in this post. Perhaps I did not convey my points clearly.

I completely disagree that my original post misrepresents what Roger said during his talk. It’s true that I may have misunderstood, but any misunderstandings were caused by Roger failing to express himself accurately.

3 responses to “Roger Pielke Jr., Part II”

  1. Yoram-

    Thanks for inviting me to respond.

    I am fine with your picking of nits, and anyone interested can see the talk themselves. I’ve also posted it up on my blog and am happy to answer questions about it there. You are correct that I did not mention the IPCC — whether that “failure” is “inexcusable” I suppose is in the eye of the beholder.

    If you think that a climate skeptic would approve of my talk, then perhaps you might mull that for a second. I did not give the talk to pick a fight over climate science, but rather to present a compelling policy argument as to why decarbonization might make sense to an an audience that might have some issues with climate science. If I succeeded in that effort, then my talk was a success, no?

    Finally, here is what I sent you by email:

    This is as I remember making the remarks. What is it that you find problematic about the comments at 21:15? I did not mention temperatures because I don’t think that is the right metric to use to express concern. But I stand by my simple and short characterization of the state of climate science using this simple bathtub model. I did have one person come up afterwards and challenge me on whether CO2 has effects (they thought no) so at least one person understood my comments ;-)

    The discussion of a $1 a barrel tax or surcharge was to give an order-of-magnitude for understanding what sort of revenues could be raised, certainly not a policy prescription. The $5/tonne carbon tax was to serve a similar illustrative purpose. How high should we price carbon? As high as politically possible, which I’d guess is of order $5/tonne but might be more, might be less. I do seem to recall saying in the talk that the exact details of such a policy would have many complications and would need to be hashed out, and I think I may have even expressed concern about governments appropriating revenues from a carbon tax for general purposes. Maye you saw that.

    And yes, I do indeed think that we need to invest public funds directly in energy innovation.

    I appreciate your taking the time to transcribe, and to clarify my statements. I would have preferred 50 minutes rather than 30, that is for sure.
    ——–

    I can certainly improve in my efforts to communicate, so your feedback is most welcome. Thanks again.

  2. Alternative bathtub metaphor:
    http://www.widgery.com/Silence.html

    While evocative, the images do not do the piece full justice.
    Widgery’s bathtub (“Silence and Slow Time”)
    is well worth seeing non-virtually, for anyone who has a chance,
    at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
    http://widgery.blogspot.com/2010/07/current-exhibit-at-musee-dart.html

    (I have no affiliation w the artist or the museum.)

  3. Welcome to Rogerland.

    How you can discuss the costs of dealing with climate change without discussing the costs of not dealing with climate change is beyond Eli.

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