Why did Nature run Pielke’s pointless, misleading, embarrassing nonsense?

The usually thoughtful journal Nature has just published a pointless and misleading if not outright dangerous commentary by delayer-1000 du jour, Roger Pielke, Jr., along with Christopher Green, who, as we’ve seen, is another aspiring delayer.

It will be no surprise to learn the central point of their essay, ironically titled “Dangerous Assumptions” (available here or here with a subscription) is “Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels,” which is otherwise known as the technology trap or the standard “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah” delayer message developed by Frank Luntz and perfected by Bush/Lomborg/Gingrich.

The Pielke et al. analysis is certainly confusing , which is not surprising given the subject matter is arcane — what the appropriate baseline is for emissions scenarios in climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). What is surprising is that Nature would run a piece that comes to a conclusion that is not only completely at odds with its own analysis, it’s a complete reversal from the conclusion of standard delayer analyses just a few years ago:

Five years ago the American Enterprise Institute “proved” that the lowest IPCC emissions projection is too high, and they backed up their conclusion with actual 1990s data, whereas Pielke, Wigley, and Green have “proven” that the highest IPCC emissions projection is too low, and they backed up their conclusion with actual data from this decade.

Hard to believe, but true. And they say you can’t make this stuff up. Well, maybe you can’t. But the delayers can.

This piece is an embarrassment to Nature‘s reputation as a leader on climate issues, and it suggests that the editors (and reviewers) didn’t actually understand what they were reading.

In this post I will endeavor to explain what’s so incredibly pointless about the piece, flawed about the analysis, embarrassing and misguided about the conclusion — all the regular readers of this blog know why the technology trap is dangerous (it leads to delay, which is fatal to the planet’s livability). This can’t be done briefly. You should probably read my recent posts “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible?” and, possibly, “The adaptation trap 2: The not-so-honest-broker” first. Oh, and you should actually read the Pielke article. Come on, you know you are hot for this baseline analysis stuff. Trust me, you won’t believe what these guys try to get away with.


Actually, it is pretty easy to explain why the piece is pointless, much easier than, say, explaining why Nature published it. First, the authors never bother to explain what greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration target they believe is needed to avoid dangerous warming. We are many years past the time anybody needs to read another essay on why stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations is really, really, really hard — with no discussion whatsoever of 1) why failing to stabilize well below, say, 700 parts per million of CO2 ppm is really, really, really suicidal and 2) what is in fact an appropriate target and how do we get there. So what is the point of the piece? To convince people the situation is hopeless? [Nature actually runs a side piece on the commentary titled, “Are the IPCC scenarios ‘unachievable’? (subs. req’d) — and people call me an alarmist!]

Second, what’s “new” about the piece, at least in the authors’ minds, is that “the size of this technology challenge has been seriously underestimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), diverting attention from policies that could directly stimulate technological innovation.” But the first half of this sentence, to the extent it’s true, is well known by every energy and technology modeling expert I know. I myself blogged on this very point two days ago in the 450 ppm post. This is a tough friggin’ problem, and the IPCC is a body that inherently understates things. Alert the media! No, seriously, alert the media because they don’t seem to know the IPCC understates things.

Third, the authors never bother to explain why the clause I put in boldface is true, probably because they know it isn’t. The IPCC’s recent report, though an understatement of the climate problem certainly does NOT divert attention from the policies needed to avoid castrophe. This clause by itself is an embarrassment to Nature (and nature, for that matter)–the IPCC authors are literally begging for action, far more genuine action than Pielke et al advocate (see here and here)! Indeed, Pielke et al. seem to be begging for inaction, but I digress. If the clause were true and if Pielke et al. did explain why, the piece might have a useful point to make. But, as we’ve seen and we’ll see again, this is characteristic of Pielke’s work — he doesn’t define terms specifically enough to make policy-relevant conclusions. “Innovation” can potentially encompass aspects of both R&D and deployment (see below). Since this paper doesn’t define the word “innovation,” it is very hard to tell what precisely the authors’ point is (other than to lead us into the technology trap).


So what does the article say? The article focuses on the nearly three dozen (!) reference scenarios of future GHG emissions that the IPCC uses. These reference scenarios imagine very different worlds, with varying degrees of economic and population growth, energy technology, fossil fuel use, and sustainability efforts. [Note: This is probably one of the dumbest things the IPCC ever did — it confuses the heck out of everybody, and I myself have to go to a reference book every time I see someone modeling a different scenario, like A2 or B1 or A1F1 — yes, A1F1.]

Let me also repeat their definition of a key term:

Decarbonization of the global energy system depends mainly on reductions in energy intensity and carbon intensity. These result from technological changes that improve energy efficency and/or replace carbon-emitting systems with ones that have lower (or no) net emissions.

[Actually, most people I know separate “energy efficiency” (achieving the same energy services using less energy) from “decarbonization” (using fuels that generate less carbon per unit of energy provided), but that is a small point, and, in fact, Pielke et al. mostly treat them separately.]

The central analytical finding of the article:

Here we show that two thirds or more of all the energy efficiency improvements and decarbonization of energy supply required to stabilize greenhouse gases is already built into the IPCC reference scenarios. This is because the scenarios assume a certain amount of spontaneous technological change and related decarbonization. Thus, the IPCC implicitly assumes that the bulk of the challenge of reducing future emissions will occur in the absence of climate policies. We believe that these assumptions are optimistic at best and unachievable at worst, potentially seriously underestimating the scale of the technological challenge associated with stabilizing greenhouse-gas concentrations.

Sounds serious. The authors certainly “believe” what they are saying. But just how true is it? A major problem with this analysis is that the baseline Pielke et al use to reach this finding is

a ‘frozen technology’ baseline, which assumes that future energy needs are met with the technologies available in some baseline year (the technologies are ‘frozen’ in time).

Well, that seems odd. Technology isn’t “frozen” in the real world. Energy intensity tends to improve (decrease) over time, certainly it did over the last century, and, so did carbon intensity. The key word in that last sentence is “did.”

The authors rightly point out, as many people have, that since 2000, both energy intensity and carbon intensity have been increasing, slightly, with annual increases below 0.5% a year. This is such an unusual occurence that not a single one of the IPCC scenarios had even considered it, as their figure shows:


Implied rates of carbon- and energy-intensity decline from the 2000 Special Report on Emission Scenarios, showing six illustrative scenarios. The red marker indicates actual observations (2000–2005) based on global economic growth calculated using market exchange rates.

But, of course, this begs the question — Are the last few years anomalous or have they become the new norm? The authors believe they know the answer, but, of course, they can’t prove it. They spend a couple of paragraphs arguing that this is a fundamental shift, because of rapidly developing countries, like China. But, in fact, right now much if not most of the recarbonization is China’s abandonment of its two-decade long marriage to energy efficiency for a torrid love affair with coal, an affair that is literally breathtaking.

For two decades prior to 2000, China had an aggressive energy efficiency strategy and worked hard to avoid inefficient coal use, as I discussed here. Then they stopped. They are trying, admittedly not bloody hard, to go back to efficiency. But they could if they wanted to and it would save them lots of money irrespective of climate concerns. So I’m just not sure you can just put up a graph of the last few years and say that means all the IPCC models are potentially “unachievable.” Like the “stabilization wedges” analysis from Princeton that I discussed a few days ago, this analysis suffers because it doesn’t know what the actual baseline for future energy and emissions growth is (and, of course, that’s why the IPCC has 35 models, to cover lots of different future scenarios).

You can certainly conclude the IPCC models will seriously underestimate emissions growth this decade. Many of us have been saying that for a while. The natural reaction to that would be to argue for more aggressive deployment of energy efficient and low-carbon technology starting immediately. After all, technology advances didn’t stop in 2000 (if anything, they accelerated) — a few countries just stopped adopting them at the normal pace in a frenzy of inefficient and polluting growth.

Well, that would be the natural reaction — if you actually believed the rest of the IPPC report (as Pielke claims to), and especially if you believed the rest of the IPCC report similarly understated the climate threat we face, as I and others have argued. But to come to that reaction you’d have to understand and/or explain why we must stabilize below 450 ppm and stay far, far away from 800 ppm to 1000 ppm. You’d have to say what you believe is an appropriate target and how we get there.

Absent that, your discussion is going to be simultaneously unoriginal and misleading — and your conclusion may end up being embarrassing (to yourself, that is) and dangerous (to the world, that is, if anybody actually listened to you, which they might if you were published in a prestigious journal).


For years, people like Pielke (I call them delayers, you can call them climate destroyers, or, if you like, “people who are very wrong”) have been arguing that the IPCC’s emissions models were too pessimistic. That’s right, the climate deniers/delayers/destroyers have been saying that the IPCC was scaring people into unnecessary action by assuming emissions growth was higher than in fact it was.

Yes, I know, if you actually read the Pielke et al piece, that seems hard to believe. They never bother pointing this out. But after a mere 10 seconds on Google, I found a classic example, an essay from the conservative (read denier/delayer/destroyer) American Enterprise Institute (AEI) titled … wait for it … “New Doubts about the Dominant Climate Change Models.” Oh it gets better. The April 2003 analysis finds (italics in original):

Meanwhile, an Australian statistician and a British economist have blown a huge hole in the methodology by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made its long-term estimates of man-made carbon dioxide emissions for the twenty-first century. If this critique is correct, the IPCC has vastly overestimated the amount of man-made CO2 emissions and will need to remake its climate change models.

Yes. Your read it right. A statistician and economist have debunked the IPCC models, proving that they “vastly overestimated” future CO2 emissions. What is it about papers published in April that makes people so foolish? Just to be crystal clear, the paper found

Castles and Henderson argue that the IPCC economic forecasts are based on fundamentally flawed economic assumptions that generate huge overestimates of future CO2 emissions.The mean IPCC projection for the 1990s was that worldwide CO2 emissions would increase by about 15 percent. In fact, worldwide CO2 emissions grew by only about 6 percent according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Even the lowest of the IPCC’s emissions projections is probably too high, which means that the projections of global warming may be too high as well.

You just can’t make this stuff up! Well, you and I can’t, but the delayers apparently can. To sum up:

Five years ago the American Enterprise Institute “proved” that the lowest IPCC emissions projection is too high, and they backed up their conclusion with actual 1990s data, whereas Pielke, Wigley, and Green have “proven” that the highest IPCC emissions projection is too low, and they backed up their conclusion with actual data from this decade.

I will say one thing for this AEI analysis — at least AEI drew an intellectually consistent conclusion. If the IPCC were overstating future GHG emissions, then obviously they were overstating future GHG concentrations, and thus obviously overstating future temperature rise, and therefore overstating future impacts, and finally, overstating the urgent need for action now. (And by action, I don’t mean research and development.)

So tell me how Pielke et al can utterly disprove this analysis (sort of) and come to the same exact conclusion that the IPCC has overstated the urgent need for action now? This piece is an embarrassment. In fact, if Pielke et al. were aware of this previous analysis, then this Nature commentary borders on intellectual dishonesty.

Let’s plow through the end of their commentary with my editorial commentary:


Because of these dramatic changes in the global economy it is likely that we have only just begun to experience the surge in global energy use associated with ongoing rapid development.

[We’ve been surging in global energy use for a long while now — at least 250 years. That’s why we’re in danger.]

Such trends are in stark contrast to the optimism of the near-future IPCC projections and seem unlikely to alter course soon.

[The second half of that sentence is an assumption, no different than the IPCC’s assumptions. Might be right. Might not. It was NOT at all true in the 1990s, as AEI showed.]

The world is on a development and energy path that will bring with it a surge in carbon-dioxide emissions — a surge that can only end with a transformation of global energy systems.

[We’ve known that for decades. Hmm. Note to self: Be wary of analyses that use the word “surge.”]

We believe such technological transformation will take many decades to complete, even if we start taking far more aggressive action on energy technology innovation today.

[They say that like it’s startling news to anybody on the planet. If they had only defined what they mean by “innovation” here. Presumably they mean development of new technology (rather than exploitation of underutilized “new” technologies like lithium ion batteries for electric cars, solar thermal electric, cogeneration, electric efficiency), especially given their next sentence….]

Aside: Innovation has lots of related meanings (see here), but probably a good distinction to use is “Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process, while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice.” That is, innovation is somewhere between R&D (research and development) and deployment (widespread use in the marketplace). This does not seem to be how Pielke et al use it [see next sentence], but it is how most people I know use it.

Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels.

So they seem to think that “innovation” = “enormous advances in energy technology” = many radically new technologies [Green has previously used the phrase “science and engineering-based technological breakthroughs“]. I confess I don’t like having to guess what other people really mean.

[Here is where they take that dangerous high dive into the shallow end of the pool. First, how can they possibly make this statement if they haven’t defined what “acceptable levels” are? Second, even if they defined acceptable levels the way a reasonable person might, how can they know we need “enormous advances” if they haven’t explained the cost of inaction. Suppose the situation is so dire, especially because the IPCC has underestimated near-term emissions growth (and underestimated amplifying feedbacks), that we just can’t wait for advances or breakthroughs that might never come. Suppose we simply need to bite the bullet and deploy every last bit of existing technology as fast as possible to avert unimaginable catastrophe. Note to Pielke, Wigley, and Green — it is that dire.]

If much of these advances occur spontaneously, as suggested by the scenarios used by the IPCC, then the challenge of stabilization might be less complicated and costly.

[I think the word “spontaneously” is misleading here. Countries can choose to embrace efficiency or not — as China proved. Yes, it is more economically expensive to embrace low-carbon fuels — but it won’t be when there is a price for carbon, even without technology advances. And what if the price of oil doubles over the next decade or so. That will also “spontaneously” change the rate of change of energy intensity.]

However, if most decarbonization does not occur automatically, then the challenge to stabilization could in fact be much larger than presented by the IPCC.

[Again, “automatically” is misleading. Countries that recognize how dire the situation is have been decarbonizing. China, obviously, has been doing the reverse — perhaps because they’ve been reading Pielke’s work and concluding the situation is not dire and it can be solve by new technology in the future. Or maybe they read AEI’s work and concluded the situation is not dire….]

There is no question about whether technological innovation is necessary — it is.

[Again, they say that like it’s startling news to anybody on the planet. ]

The question is, to what degree should policy focus directly on motivating such innovation?

[That is NOT the question, at least not if you accept the scientific understanding of global warming as reflected in the IPCC summaries. The question is, to what degree should policy focus on accelerating the deployment of energy efficient and decarbonizing technology now? We don’t so much need policies to “motivate” innovation (at least if innovation means R&D), as we need to start spending a lot more money directly on R&D. What we urgently need to “motivate” is technology deployment.]

IPCC plays a risky game in assuming that spontaneous advances in technological innovation will carry most of the burden of achieving future emissions reductions, rather than focusing on creating the conditions for such innovations to occur.

Huh? Shouldn’t the last sentence be, uhh, like clear in its meaning or even, for that matter, somewhat true? Could they have packed more confusing or misleading thoughts into it?

  1. The IPCC is playing “a risky game”? The IPCC scientists are begging the world to stabilize below 450 ppm. The risky game is Pielke et al.’s pointless pitch for new technology when we have run out of time for such delay.
  2. The IPCC hasn’t been assuming “spontaneous advances in technological innovation. ” They have been assuming varyingly aggressive amounts of technology deployment. Why don’t the delayers understand the difference between R&D and deployment. It takes a long time for “enormous advances in energy technology” to achieve significant commercial success in the market — usually decades [Solar PV was developed here 50 years ago, and it’s now 0.1% of electricity production — at least in this country (because we don’t emphasize deployment). If energy efficiency and decarbonization lagged from 2000 to 2006, it’s NOT because new technology wasn’t developed (or, in Pielke’s language, it’s NOT because we lacked spontaneous advances in technological innovation). It’s because we didn’t deploy the energy-efficient and low carbon technologies we had.
  3. “… rather than focusing on creating the conditions for such innovations to occur.” This is similar to the earlier phrase “diverting attention from policies that could directly stimulate technological innovation.” It is similarly nonsense. The conditions for innovation in climate solutions as most people define innovation is a serious price for carbon plus improved regulations (fuel economy standards, appliance standards, utility decoupling, etc.).

Of course we need aggressive investments in R&D — I for one have been arguing that for two decades. We must have all whole new set of technologies ready for mass deployment by 2050, if not 2030, when we need to make deep GHG reductions and ultimately go to zero net emissions, if not lower.

But if we don’t start aggressively deploying the technologies we have now for the next quarter century, then all the new technologies in the world won’t avert catastrophe (and we’ll still need aggressive tech deployment strategies and a serious price for carbon to deploy those new technologies!) — which the authors would have to admit if they ever actually defined what “acceptable levels” of GHG concentrations were.

The entire focus of the IPCC scientists is on creating the conditions for aggressive technology. They write:

There is high agreement and much evidence that all stabilisation levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialised in coming decades, assuming appropriate and effective incentives are in place for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion and addressing related barriers.

When the Synthesis report was released in November, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri said “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

How can the IPCC possibly be accused of “diverting attention from policies that could directly stimulate technological innovation”? On the other hand, Pielke, Wigley, and Green can be — in fact, that seems to be their primary goal here. They are the ones diverting attention away from stimulating innovation (as defined above) and away from aggressive technology deployment by focussing on the need for “Enormous advances in energy technology.” This piece is the definitive “technology, technology, technology, blah, blah” commentary .

That is why the piece is dangerous — if anybody actually listens to them we would be more likely to end up at 800 to 1000 ppm. And that is why it is embarrassing to Nature for giving a veneer of legitimacy to such delayer nonsense.

NOTE: Nature has an article (subs. req’d) on this piece, “Are the IPCC scenarios ‘unachievable’?” which draws further unwarranted atttention to the piece. I’ll discuss this article later since it does something that also borders on intellectual dishonesty.

29 Responses to Why did Nature run Pielke’s pointless, misleading, embarrassing nonsense?

  1. Paul K says:

    Still attacking those with whom you should be finding common ground. The ad hominem has widened to the Editors and Reviewers at Nature. “This piece is an embarrassment to Nature’s reputation as a leader on climate issues, and it suggest that the editors (and reviewers) didn’t actually understand what they were reading.” I’ve been told accusations of incompetence are very serious and possibly actionable.

  2. Peter G. says:

    Aren’t you being a little hysterical? I read Pielke et al’s short article before reading yours, and came to the conclusion that strong immediate action is needed.

  3. JCH says:

    See Joe, we’re going to adapt to those suicidal conditions. You know, blow your head off and then stop the bleeding once you know where it’s bleeding.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Paul K wrote “I’ve been told accusations of incompetence are very serious and possibly actionable.” In Britian, probably; in the U.S., most unlikely.

    However, consult an attorney.

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Here is the commentary from Nature’s own blog:

  6. Joe says:

    Paul: I think it is pretty clear my attack is not ad hominem. My father was a newspaper editor and as he always told me “the truth is an absolute defense against libel” — so bring on the lawsuits.

    Paul and Peter G: I don’t have any common ground with Pielke. He is a delayer-1000.

    Yes, anybody who read in their piece should come away thinking that strong any action is needed — but that ain’t what they conclude. Unless you define strong immediate action as R&D.

  7. Cliff says:

    Everything takes longer to get done than anybody thinks it will. No matter what we finally decide to do, you’ve got to factor in more time dealing with the political mess. You’re about the only one, Joe, who sees that adding to the urgency of the situation.

  8. John Mashey says:

    If we don’t go all-out on efficiency and deployment of what we’ve got, we’re not going to have money for the much-neglected R&D portfolio that we’ll also need.

    The IPCC’s scenarios use 1-3% GDP/person growth, which they get from various standard economic sources … which seem wrong. [p.180 of IPCC “Mitigation of Climate Change].

    I think Hall, Smil, or Ayres&Warr are much closer to the truth, which is that GDP doesn’t have some automagic 1-3% growth assumed by neoclassical econ, but depends strongly on work = energy * efficiency. See page 46 of Robert Ayres’ presentation for 3 scenarios for total US GDP, depending on different efficiency assumptions. Ugly:

    This is what’s truly amazing to me: people arguing to ignore efficiency & conservation are arguing for the faster economic downturn, which means there will be less money for doing the longer-term R&D needed, and if we try to burn a lot of coal to make up for it, there definitely won’t be the money to adapt to the resulting climate changes.

  9. Paul K says:

    Your brief against Pielke is without merit unless you can show any instance of his delaying or advocating the delay of any currently available technology.

  10. Joe says:

    Paul: You miss the point. The burden is on Pielke to tell us what he would do. I can’t find a single instance of him advocating aggressive deployment of technology. He advocates more R&D. That is the mantra of the delayers. He also is an “adaptation” first, guy. Read my two posts on that subject.

  11. Joe says:

    Cliff: Thanks. I don’t know why people aren’t marching in the streets — but I guess we don’t march for things that haven’t happened yet. Sadly, the climate change problem maybe the perfect storm — the one problem that simply can’t be fixed after it becomes obvious even to the Delayers.

  12. Dano says:

    Paul: You miss the point. The burden is on Pielke to tell us what he would do. I can’t find a single instance of him advocating aggressive deployment of technology. He advocates more R&D. That is the mantra of the delayers. He also is an “adaptation” first, guy. Read my two posts on that subject.

    Absolutely. Every time I asked him what he recommended, crickets chirping.

    That said, hysteria don’t do much.



  13. Paul K says:

    I searched Pielke’s site keywords mitigation and solutions. Nada. Still, I don’t understand the vehemence of these posts. Mitigation, which I favor, and adaptation are not mutually exclusive nor are they a zero some game.

  14. Joe, why do you conclude that Pielke or Hoffert are trying to delay action? They are trying to point out the true scale of the problem – just like folks like you and Bill McKibben and Hansen are trying to do when you call attention to the need to hit a 450 ppm or 350 ppm stabilization level. Like Paul G, I read Pielke’s study and see a piece that calls out for an all-out mobilization to stave off disastrous climate change. And like Paul K says, the burden seems to be on you Joe to show where Pielke and Hoffert are arguing for delayed action (when it seems like precisely the opposite is true).

    They aren’t trying to scare us into despair and inaction. They are trying to ensure we wrestle with the true scale of the problem, and recognize that when we say “we’ve got all the technologies we need, all we lack is the political will,” – we’re actually misleading ourselves. Sure we need the political will (that much is clear!). And sure we need to aggressively deploy every last technology ready to go today from efficiency to wind to solar.

    But we need to recognize that a) we should be aiming for 450 or 350 ppm, not 550 or 700 ppm, for 90% by 2040 or 80% by 2020 not 80% by 2050 and b) by assuming spontaneous decarbonization as the world develops, we’re essentially double counting technology development without planning the necessary policies to drive it forward.

    If we recognize both of those things, than we’d better get serious about major investments in technology breakthroughs as well as rapidly deploying our existing techs. And relying on cap-and-trade alone to drive R&D fast enough seems pretty foolhardy.

    Now the funny thing is, I don’t think there’s any disagreement here between you or Pielke or Hoffert.

    Hoffert himself writes:

    “The question isn’t how much time we have; the question is how bad it’s going to be, and whether our civilization will be able to survive it. Some people think it’s already too late. That’s what we have to fight against — that we’ll go from believing this isn’t really a problem to believing it’s a problem to great to do anything about. I think we have a chance to do it and I think we should be fighting for it. The way to do it is to get real about changing basis of our society in terms of energy.”

    They aren’t arguing for delaying or distraction. They are calling for us to get serious and real quick. And so are you. So stop rabidly attacking one another… Sheesh!

  15. dabby bloom says:

    “Cliff: Thanks. I don’t know why people aren’t marching in the streets — but I guess we don’t march for things that haven’t happened yet. Sadly, the climate change problem maybe the perfect storm — the one problem that simply can’t be fixed after it becomes obvious even to the Delayers.”

    here’s my two cents: in New Taiwan Dollars today since I am over here:

    Your comment about why are we marching in the streets yet … gave me a chilling thought, and I relay it here not as an
    advocate of what I am going to say, but just to say it in public, and
    not for shock value, but for a new perspective on things:

    The situation is such that most people do not understand or feel that
    global warming or climate change is a problem now, or ever will be in
    the future. Something like 56 percent of the US population is not
    convinced. And worldwide, maybe 80 percent of our fellow Earthlings
    are not convinced.

    So it might take, not only media campaigns like Al Gore’s
    recently-announced advertising platform, but also maybe, and I say
    this with a heavy heart, but maybe, it might also take things similar
    to what we witnessed during Vietnam War era in the USA, when one
    routinely saw photos in the newspapers and on TV and in Time and
    Newsweek magazines about Buddhist monks in Vietnam setting themselves
    on fire in protest on the streets of Vietnam. Remember those startling
    images? And of course, most of those monks later died in hospital from
    the burns, if they didn’t die right then and there on the street.

    So I wonder if one day in the future, and I hope not, but it might
    happen, so get ready, I wonder if someday some climate protesters,
    young people or older people, Buddhist monks or Christian activists,
    might create a public protest whereby they set themselves on fire with
    gasoline in Washington or New York, in front of the UN building, or in
    Paris or London or anywhere, and use these self-immolation protests to
    say to the world community: “We must stop killing the Earth now!”

    Such protest-suicides, like the Vietnam War era suicides of monks
    aflame, might have such visual power as to make people who are not
    convinced do a re-think of the situation — and not only individual
    people, but policy makers and government leaders.

    Again, I hope to never see such a public suicide protest of setting
    oneself afire and dying for this cause. But your comment above about
    India and China building more and more, and the USA still being in
    denial about climate change realities, put this
    Buddhist-monk-in-orange-clothes-aflame image in my mind on this
    tranquil Thursday morning…


  16. Grinsted says:

    Excellent. Thanks!

  17. Robert says:

    Joe, I read the article right through and I think your interpretation is entirely at odds with what the author is actually saying. The article sets out to demonstrate that technology WILL NOT solve the problem and also shows how unrealistic the IPCC scenarios are in assuming it will.

    The final para i:

    “The IPCC plays a risky game in assuming that
    spontaneous advances in technological innovation
    will carry most of the burden of achieving
    future emissions reductions, rather than
    focusing on creating the conditions for such
    innovations to occur.”

    I would entirely concur with this. The problem is essentially political. Technology and decarbonisation through efficiecy will not occur unless the global political landscape changes radically first. Even then it may not make much difference and it may just come down to old fashioned tightening of belts in terms of the energy we use.

  18. Robert says:

    If I was writing a book about GW it would start with just one para on the technical solution:

    1. Set a hard limit on the amount of fossil fuel extracted each year
    2. Set a year-on-year reduction in 1.
    3. Ban any further encroachment into wilderness land (i.e. rainforest etc)

    Then I would devote the rest of the book to figuring out how on earth these could be achieved politically! If that could be done all the market would find the best technology and how to make the most of it within the energy diet available.

  19. Bud says:

    Broken link in second paragraph of “POINTLESS PIECE”.

  20. Joe says:

    Hoffert isn’t Pielke. I mostly like Hoffert’s stuff, though he doesn’t get energy efficiency and he favor pie-in-the-sky stuff (space solar) that ain’t the solution.

    Pielke is a “new technology” and “adapt” guy. I’m a “desperately deploy as much existing technology as is humanly possible because ‘adaptation’ is mostly a cruel hoax” guy.

    Bud — thanks. Fixed.

  21. pmagn says:

    Will there be a 2C rise in the future ? very very likely! Even with a war like effort.
    What needs to be done…
    1) we have to strive for zero/negative CO2 emissions.
    2) we have to start ramping up planning and instigating of the adaption to the changes, both physically and politically.

    Also looks like we are also lining up for a recession/depression in the next couple of years.

    Life as we know it is going to be brutal in the next 10-30yrs. I can see democracy stepping aside – it wont survive GW much longer. Hopefully we will be able to come full circle.

  22. John says:

    Joe’s vehemence over this Pielke paper, I think, comes from the fact that unlike some of the commenters here, he is looking at it in the context of Pielke’s past work. In many of his previous writings, Pielke (like other delayers/deniers/skeptics) has worked to convey the messages that global warming might not be the crisis that the IPCC report suggested. His criticisms of global warming activism have tended to be that their recommendations might be too extreme, and so more scrutiny was required. Given that history, it is amazing that Pielke can turn around now and with a straight face argue that the recommendations of the IPCC and activists weren’t radical enough.

    It’s the height of irony for skeptics to argue that the IPCC wasn’t alarmist enough on global warming. And it’s the depth of perversity for them to even imply that because global warming is so bad, we shouldn’t bother with the efficiency and decarbonization measures we can actually take now.

  23. Joe says:


    Precisely. What also bugs me is that they’re saying the problem is tougher than the IPCC says, but then recommending long-term R&D.

  24. Tyler says:

    I’m tired of calls for more R&D. I can’t count the number of technologies I come across daily that are off-the-shelf, have decent payback, and make a serious dent in emissions by either improving energy efficiency or reducing energy requirements. Based on what I’ve seen in Canada, our universities and startups up humming with R&D, but we’re seriously lacking demonstration and deployment, and programs that assist large-scale deployment in industries that stand to benefit in the long run. It’s a sad situation, and I don’t think government gets this. Articles like the one in Nature put too much emphasis on human ingenuity, like some silver bullet is going to come along and save the day if we simply throw more dollars into R&D. It’s simply foolish.

  25. The most critical argument is not between a passive “let the market roll out the technologies with carbon price” and “long-term R&D spending”: the most relevant argument is between “how much money do we need to spend to roll out existing and emerging technologies” and “how much money do we need to spend on long-term R&D spending”.

    In and of itself the politically acceptable carbon prices will not do the trick fast enough, so we need feed-in tariffs that temporarily raise the premium paid for clean electricity ABOVE the carbon price. This will yield manufacturing economies of scale for these technologies.

    Tariff should also be raised for clean storage technologies that will help renewables replace fossil generation sooner. Temporarily raising these tariffs will help these emerging technologies through “the Valley of Death”.

  26. Nathan says:


    Why does a long term R&D investment have to be at odds with an aggressive deployment of existing technologies? I don’t see how Pielke is advocating for a delay of action. He is simply stating the full scale of the problem.

  27. Joe says:

    Nathan — It doesn’t have to. But it seems to be for them.

  28. Alex Smith says:

    “Given that history, it is amazing that Pielke can turn around now and with a straight face argue that the recommendations of the IPCC and activists weren’t radical enough…”

    John, you and Joe hit it right on. I’ve seen plenty of these conversions, where climate deniers suddenly switch to climate alarmists, without any admission of being wrong.

    All of you would enjoy Thomas Homer-Dixon’s latest speech, which basically says the IPCC report is out-dated, by more recent science. He describes a cabal of scientists so worried, that geo-engineering is back on the table – again, we go straight to re-polluting the sky, like the Chinese, but this time to save the Arctic Ice. Pielke is right in on that, too, I think.

    Homer-Dixon’s speech, plus an interview with ocean climate modeler Andreas Schmittner, is in the Radio Ecoshock Show for April 4th.

    That program is one hour long, 56 megabytes to download.

    We live in exciting times – I personally expect changes this century beyond the comprehension of all past human history.

    Alex Smith
    Radio Ecoshock

  29. Dear Joe,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to deconstruct Pielke’s essay. Reading this has given me the motivation to continue with my own deconstruction of Bush’s “speech.”

    Tenney Naumer