7/5/15, "The beyond-two-degree inferno," Judith Curry
"The time for debate has ended. – Marcia McNutt, editor of Science
We have had many discussions on the topic of scientists who advocate for public policy. Some seem to think that I advocate for public policies (but they can’t really say which policies), although I do not regard myself to be a policy advocate.
Here is a clear-cut example of advocacy by a scientist, Marcia McNutt, who also happens to be the Chief Editor of Science: The beyond-two-degree inferno. Read the whole thing, its only about 600 words. I cite here the passages that I particularly want to comment on:
The time for debate has ended. Action is urgently needed. The Paris-based International Energy Agency recently announced that current commitments to cut CO2 emissions [known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)] from the world’s nations are insufficient to avoid warming the entire planet by an average of more than 2°C above the preindustrial level. To set more aggressive targets, developed nations need to reduce their per-capita fossil fuel emissions even further, and by doing so, create roadmaps for developing nations to leapfrog technologies by installing low-CO2–emitting energy infrastructure rather than coal-fired power plants as they expand their energy capacity.
I applaud the forthright climate statement of Pope Francis, currently our most visible champion for mitigating climate change, and lament the vacuum in political leadership in the United States. This is not the time to wait for political champions to emerge. Just as California has decided to go it alone, every sector (transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, etc.) and every person need to do whatever is possible to reduce carbon pollution by conserving energy, adopting alternative energy technologies, investing in research, and capturing CO2 at the source.
In Dante’s Inferno, he describes the nine circles of Hell, each dedicated to different sorts of sinners, with the outermost being occupied by those who didn’t know any better, and the innermost reserved for the most treacherous offenders. I wonder where in the nine circles Dante would place all of us who are borrowing against this Earth in the name of economic growth, accumulating an environmental debt by burning fossil fuels, the consequences of which will be left for our children and grandchildren to bear? Let’s act now, to save the next generations from the consequences of the beyond-two-degree inferno.
So why am I highlighting this essay? It’s typical boilerplate stuff from the ‘alarmed’, although the Dante’s Inferno stuff is sort of clever. I happen to disagree with most of what is written here, but that is not my particular concern. My concern is with WHO wrote this essay, combined with WHERE it was published.
If this essay had been written by James Hansen, a climate scientist and self-avowed global warming advocate who is now retired from NASA, and posted on his personal web site, I would have no problem with this essay (other than my personal disagreement) and I wouldn’t bother to highlight it at Climate Etc. .
So, with her very impressive credentials, is McNutt an expert on climate change? McNutt is a geophysicist who has no apparent primary expertise in climate science, although she has been involved in assessing geo-engineering proposals. By stating ‘the time for debate has ended,’ she appears to be speaking beyond her expertise and has latched onto a real tar baby.
The IPCC doesn’t think the ‘the time for debate has ended‘; they are gearing up to write their 6th Assessment Report.
But my main concern is this – the editorial was published in Science and written by McNutt who is the CHIEF EDITOR for Science. I have previously raised the concern about advocacy by professional societies (e.g. AGU, APS) in terms of their policy statements about climate change. These professional societies publish journals, and such statements can bias the editorial process. So is this really a major concern? Maybe not for the APS; they publish very few climate-related papers. The AGU publishes a lot of climate papers; one can hope that at least some editors/reviewers are evaluating papers without bias (or pay no attention to AGU’s policy statement).
My concern re introducing bias in Science is several orders of magnitude greater. Science, along with Nature, has far and away the highest impact factor of any scientific journals on the planet – Science matters. Like Nature, Science sends out for review only a small fraction of the submitted papers. Apart from the role the Chief Editor may have in selecting which papers go out for review or eventually get published, this essay sends a message to the other editors and reviewers that papers challenging the consensus are not to be published in Science. Not to mention giving favored status to papers by activist authors that sound the ‘alarm’ – pal review and all that. After all, ‘the time for debate has ended.’
In 2013, Marcia McNutt wrote an editorial Climate Change Impacts, that at least acknowledges the complexity of the problem:
Tackling problems of cumulative dimensions is a priority if we are to find viable solutions to the real environmental crises of the coming decades. There is a need for all scientists to rise to this challenge.
Activism and advocacy by editors of scientific journals reduces the credibility of the journals, introduces biases into the science, and interferes with the policy process that is informed by science.
Can anyone identify any other scientific journal editor that has written that the time for debate about climate change has ended? Can anyone identify another example where an editor of Science or Nature has declared that the debate is over for any other scientific topic?
I don’t read their editorials often enough to have a sense for this.
Re the Dante Inferno allegory. Digging In the Clay has an interesting and entertaining post Climate Scientists Road to Hell:
But there is another road to hell for climate scientists and editors of journals and professional societies, that involves
- Appeal to authority
- Absence of doubt
- Intolerance of debate
- A desire to convince others of the ideological ‘truth’
- A willingness to punish those that don’t concur
Especially given that your salary is paid by the AAAS, I encourage you to read the report from the AAAS Workshop on Advocacy in Science, and the discussion of this Workshop on my blog (Ir)responsible advocacy.
There is more than one road to hell in the debate on climate change.
p.s. I have met Marcia McNutt several times, most recently at the Workshop on Ethics of Communicating Scientific Uncertainty, where she gave a presentation on fracking the first day, then left. Too bad she didn’t stay for the entire Workshop."
4 among comments:
You must be skeptical to be any kind of scientist. They are mad, but they are not real scientists."
Comment: A 6/8/15 BBC article linked under Science Editor McNutt's piece functions as a press release for the Communist Party of China. It touts a London School of Economics report finding that world champ CO2 emitters in China are doing a great job for the planet:
6/8/15, "China greenhouse gases: Progress is made, report says," BBC, by Roger Harrabin
3/8/15, "The (US) Government’s Role in Climate Science Funding...[is] embedded in scores of agencies and programs scattered throughout the Executive Branch of the US government."...
The climate science spending boom kicked off in 1990 when it was legally embedded in White House and 13 Exec. agencies. 1990s USGCRP (US Global Change Research Program) set up structures and agenda under President's Office of Science and Technology and its branches. A vast machine to finance the global climate science boom via US taxpayers was put in place before most people had ever heard of climate scientists-Independent Review study:
11/16/1990, U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990
3/6/15, "Causes and consequences of the climate science boom," William Butos and Thomas McQuade
3/8/15, "‘Big players’ and the climate science boom," Judith Curry
"Big Players of any sort distort the normal systemic activity and render the emergent outcomes unstable and unreliable and create an ideal breeding ground for incentives that motivate ideologically biased people to circumvent normal constraints in the name of pursuing a "greater good"....."Butos and McQuade are economists that have no apparent engagement with the IPCC or climate science. As outsiders, the provide a fresh perspective on the climate science/government/industrial complex."
From the paper:
"1. The Government’s Role in Climate Science Funding...[is] embedded in scores of agencies and programs scattered throughout the Executive Branch of the US government. While such agency activities related to climate science have received funding for many years as components of their mission statements, the pursuit of an integrated national agenda to study climate change and implement policy initiatives took a critical step with passage of the Global Change Research Act of 1990. This Act established institutional structures operating out of the White House to develop and oversee the implementation of a National Global Change Research Plan and created the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to coordinate the climate change research activities of Executive Departments and agencies. As of 2014, the coordination of climate change-related activities resides largely in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which houses several separate offices, including the offices of Environment and Energy, Polar Sciences, Ocean Sciences, Clean Energy and Materials RandD, Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems, National Climate Assessment, and others. The Office of the President also maintains the National Science and Technology Council, which oversees the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability and its Subcommittee on Climate Change Research. The Subcommittee is charged with the responsibility of planning and coordinating with the interagency USGCRP. Also, the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy is housed within the President’s Domestic Policy Council. While Congress authorizes Executive branch budgets, the priorities these departments and agencies follow are set by the White House. As expressed in various agency and Executive Branch strategic plans, these efforts have been recently organized around four components comprising (1) climate change research and education, (2) emissions reduction through “clean” energy technologies and investments, (3) adaptation to climate change, and (4) international climate change leadership.....By any of these measures, the scale of climate science R&D has increased substantially since 2001. Perhaps, though, the largest funding increases have occurred in developing new technologies and tax subsidies. As can be seen from Table 1, federal dollars to develop and implement “clean energy technologies” have increased from $1.7 billion in 2001 to $5.8 billion in 2013, while energy tax subsidies have increased from zero in 2001 and 2002 to $13 billion in 2013, with the largest increases happening since 2010. The impact on scientific research of government funding is not just a matter of the amounts but also of the concentration of research monies that arises from the focus a single source can bring to bear on particular kinds of scientific research. Government is that single source and has Big Player effects because it has access to a deep pool of taxpayer (and, indeed, borrowed and created) funds combined with regulatory and enforcement powers which necessarily place it on a different footing from other players and institutions. Notwithstanding the interplay of rival interests within the government and the separation of powers among the different branches, there is an important sense in which government’s inherent need to act produces a particular set of decisions that fall within a relatively narrow corridor of ends to which it can concentrate substantial resources.
2. By any standards, what we have documented here is a massive funding drive, highlighting the patterns of climate science RandD as funded and directed only by the Executive Branch and the various agencies that fall within its purview. To put its magnitude into some context, the $9.3 billion funding requested for climate science RandD in 2013 is about one-third of the total amount appropriated for all 27 National Institutes of Health in the same year, yet it is more than enough to sustain a science boom. Its directional characteristic, concentrated as it has been on R&D premised on the controversial issue of the actual sensitivity of climate to human-caused emissions, has gone hand in hand with the IPCC’s expressions of increasing confidence in the AGW hypothesis and increasingly shrill claims of impending disaster.
3. The recent pattern of federal climate science funding, moving toward emphasis on the development of technologies and their subsidization through the tax system, suggests that climate change funding has become more tightly connected to agencies like the Department of Energy, NASA, the Department of Commerce (NOAA), EPA, and cross-cutting projects and programs involving multiple agencies under integrating and coordinating agencies, like the USGCRP, lodged within the Executive branch. The allocations of budgets within these agencies are more directly determined and implemented by Administration priorities and policies. We note that the traditional role of NSF in supporting basic science based on a system of merit awards provided (despite some clear imperfections) certain advantages with regard to generating impartial science. In contrast, even a casual perusal of current agency documents, such as The National Science and Technology Council’s The National Global Change Research Plan 2012-2021, shows that those driving this movement make no pretense as to their premises and starting points.
4. To be sure, the very opaqueness of these allocations and their actual use only provides for “ball park” estimates. However, we believe that the results presented in Table 3 come closer to a useful accounting than what previously has been provided. We have combined data from Leggett et al. (2013) and the AAAS Reports for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013 (the only years for which the AAAS provides detailed budgetary data for climate science RandD and climate-related funding). This constrains Table 3 to including data only from 2010 through 2013. We have adjusted budgetary data and categorized it in light of discussion points 1-5 above. Note that the estimated aggregate expenditures for climate science and climate-related funding (excluding tax subsidies) from 2010-2013 in Table 3 are about twice that of the Leggett findings.
5.5 Funds administered by the Treasury Department in Table 2 are credit lines and loans channeled through the World Bank earmarked for international organizations to finance clean technologies and sustainable practices; consequently such funds would also more accurately be considered as climate-related sustainability and adaptation....
8. This summary and the detail in Table 1, however, do not capture the full scale of federal funding for climate science RandD. Two complications must be considered to capture a more accurate estimate. First, the entries in the first row of Table 1 for climate science only refer to monies administered by the Executive branch via the office of the USGCRP and does not include all climate-related R&D in the federal budget. For example, the entry in Table 1 for the USGCRP in 2011 is just under $2.5 billion; yet the actual budget expenditures for climate science-related RandD as calculated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) total about $16.1 billion. In addition, since USGCRP funding is comprised of monies contributed from the authorized budgets of the 13 participating departments and agencies, a more accurate estimate of climate-related RandD requires deducting USGCRP funding from the aggregated budgets of those 13, most of which are included in Table 2.
9. Leggett et al. (2013) of the Congressional Research Service provides a recent account of climate change funding based on data provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget (see Table 1, below). Total expenditures for federal funded climate change programs from 2001-2013 were $110.9 billion in current dollars and $120.2 billion in 2012 dollars. “Total budgetary impact” includes various tax provisions and subsidies related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (which are treated as “tax expenditures”) and shows total climate change expenditures from 2001-2013 to be $145.3 billion in current dollars and $155.4 billion in 2012 dollars.
10. The USGCRP operates as a confederacy of the research components of thirteen participating government agencies, each of which independently designates funds in accordance with the objectives of the USGCRP; these monies comprise the program budget of the USGCRP to fund agency cross-cutting climate science RandD. The departments and agencies whose activities comprise the bulk of such funding include independent agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, US Agency for International Development, the quasi-official Smithsonian Institute, and Executive Departments that include Agriculture, Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology), Energy, Interior (the US Geological Survey and conservation initiatives), State, and Treasury.
11. The past 15 years have seen a sustained program of funding, largely from government or quasi-government entities. The funding efforts are spread across a bewildering array of sources and buried in a labyrinth of programs, agency initiatives, interagency activities, and Presidential Offices, but what they seem to have in common is an adherence to the assumption that human activity is primarily responsible for the warming observed in the latter part of the 20th century. Funding appears to be driving the science rather than the other way around. And the extent of this funding appears not to have been heretofore fully documented."...
11/16/1990, U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990
Added of interest, large US population increase didn't result in corresponding CO2 increase:
Despite US 70% population increase (1960-2008, p. 258), U.S. CO2 has plunged over 20 years, 1992-2012:
From 1960 to 2008 (48 yrs.) US population increased by 70% per 2010 US Census:
Source: UN IPCC, 2012 report: p. 258:
Chapter 4, "Changes in Impacts of Climate Extremes: Human Systems and Ecosystems:
Subhead (right column): "North America," "Introduction 18.104.22.168:"
"Coastline regions of the Gulf of Mexico region in the United States increased by 150% from 1960 to 2008, while total U.S. population increased by 70% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010)." (last sentence in parag.)
Despite US 70% population increase (1960-2008, p. 258), U.S. CO2 has plunged over 20 years, 1992-2012:
8/16/12, “CO2 emissions in US drop to 20-year low,” AP, Kevin Begos, via Business Week
“In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide....
Power companies plan to retire 175 coal-fired plants over the next five years [by 2017]. That could bring coal's CO2 emissions down to 1980 levels."...
More on "game changing" US CO2 drop:
"It is exactly America’s historical role of biggest and dirtiest that makes their sharp decline in CO2 pollution so noteworthy and potentially game changing at the global level.”...
6/4/12, "Climate change stunner: USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006," Vancouver Observer, Saxifrage
"Not only that, but as my top chart shows, US CO2 emissions are falling even faster than what President Obama pledged in the global Copenhagen Accord."...Here is the biggest shocker of all: the average American’s CO2 emissions are down to levels not seen since 1964 --over half a century ago. …Coal is the number two source of CO2 for Americans. Today the average American burns an amount similar to what they did in 1955, and even less than they did in the 1940s. …It is exactly America’s historical role of biggest and dirtiest that makes their sharp decline in CO2 pollution so noteworthy and potentially game changing at the global level.”...
Scientists don't hand out the money, politicians do:
Politicians traveled to Greenland in 2007. "Many conversations with policy makers—including Mr. Gore, the senators in Greenland and Christian Gaudin, a French senator—left the clear impression that "we scientists had better get better numbers," said Mr. Alley, adding that he understands their desire for detail:"
2/26/2010, "Push to Oversimplify at Climate Panel," Wall St. Journal, Jeffrey Ball and Keith Johnson
"Richard Alley, a geoscientist who helped write the IPCC's latest report, issued in 2007, described a trip that summer to Greenland's ice sheet with senators who urged him to be as specific as possible about the potential for sea-level rise....
Some researchers continued to feel pressure to boil down science as work began on the IPCC's fourth major report, published in 2007. Things that are "very difficult to quantify must be quantified to keep the policy makers happy," Mr. Alley, the geoscientist, who teaches at Penn State, said in an interview. "It's a very frustrating thing."
Mr. Alley walked that tightrope in helping write the chapter covering his specialty: the degree to which massive Greenland and antarctic ice sheets might melt, raising sea levels. The problem, he said: "Ice-sheet models are not very good."
Many conversations with policy makers—including Mr. Gore, the senators in Greenland and Christian Gaudin, a French senator—left the clear impression that "we scientists had better get better numbers," said Mr. Alley, adding that he understands their desire for detail.
So the scientists put numbers into the 2007 study, along with a big caveat—what Mr. Alley calls a "punt." The study took into account things like glacier melt in most of the world, but it noted that it excluded what's happening in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which "we can't predict," Mr. Alley said.
Inevitably, Mr. Alley said, some people have cited the numbers without that caveat.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he understands the uncertainties, and that he pointed out in statements "that there was essentially an asterisk" on the 2007 report's sea-level projections. "As he understands the situation from the ice-science community, the uncertainty in sea level applies in both directions," meaning sea-level rise could be greater or smaller than projected, her statement said."...