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Contest: Can you spot all the major errors and misstatements in Pielke’s reply to my challenge?

By Joe Romm  

"Contest: Can you spot all the major errors and misstatements in Pielke’s reply to my challenge?"


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Contest: Dismantle Pielke’s post before I do. Prize announced below.

Here is the response to my challenge from Roger Pielke, a blogger.

I’m on my way to Houston to give a talk, so I won’t have the time to point out all of the errors and misstatements that Pielke, a blogger, makes myself before Monday.

I do think it’s funny that Pielke, a blogger, identifies me as “Joe Romm, a former political appointee,” as if that were, like, my entire resume or even the most important thing to know about me. It would be like me, I don’t know, just referring to Pielke (a blogger) as, say, a blogger. I suppose he means to imply (cleverly) that all of my comments are politically motivated. They are not.

That said, I am delighted he answered me as directly (and incorrectly) as he did, as we can finally — finally! — get to the heart of why he’s wrong and dangerously so.

I leave the next two days to my readers to beat me to the punch in spelling it out. Whoever does the best job I will elevate from the comments to a post of his or her own — and then take further trial posts as a potential permanent weekly guest blogger on Climate Progress.

[Hint to readers: Start with his answer to #2, then go to #1, and finally to #3. I count 4 major flaws in his response to me. I would also note that it's ironic that he said "it does not appear that" I read his paper. It's pretty clear he does not even understand what his own analysis shows or what the IPCC was saying. Second hint: "frozen technology"]


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10 Responses to Contest: Can you spot all the major errors and misstatements in Pielke’s reply to my challenge?

  1. Robert says:

    “I’m on my way to Houston to give a talk”

    Why go there physically? I rarely go to my client’s sites to work on their systems – working remotely is faster, cheaper and carbon free.

  2. paulm says:

    It is difficult to get to zero CO2 emissions isn’t it…even for those in the know!

  3. Paul K says:

    Does Pielke’s blog response answer the Joe’s challenge?

    Absent the citation of a contradictory IPCC quote, answer 2: The IPCC SPM WG III writes, “The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.” fulfills the challenge to indicate where the IPCC ever said we already have all the technology we need to deal with climate change.

    Pielke does not defend the “shattered” headline which he probably had no hand in writing. His assertion that IPCC reliance on “spontaneous” (albeit pushed by cap/trade tax and regulation) advances may be insufficient to the task is the root of the dispute. Joe’s argument that current technologies are sufficient is compelling, but I don’t see anything in Pielke that deters the effort to apply them.

    The 450 – 500 CO2 ppm stabilization level is consistent with Joe’s stated view that concentrations must be held at 450 for a time and then reduced to below 350 by centuries end.

    While it likely removes any chance of being a guest poster, I conclude that Joe’s indictment of Pielke is an apples and oranges, hair splitting overreaction. A better course would be drop the delayer charge boxing gloves and ask Pielke the real climateprogress question. Given a stabilization goal of 450 ppm, how would you go about accomplishing that goal?

  4. Robert says:

    Don’t want to sound negative, but stabilization at 450 ppm seems pure fantasy. We will be there in 30 years if current trends continue.


    In fact, “stabilization” at any level seems pure fantasy. This would imply zero global emissions, plus a large amount of carbon sequestration to offset the positive feedback mechanisms that are already kicking in (melting permafrost, drying wetlands, etc).

    Who seriously thinks that the world will retire its entire fleet of cars, trucks and planes, coal fired power stations, domestic boilers, cement manufacturing plants, agricultural machinery and pretty much everything else by 2040?

  5. Jay Alt says:

    IPCC scenarios to stabilize atmospheric concentrations don’t imply that zero emissions are needed. Half of human CO2 output is now absorbed by carbon sinks. We will go above 450 ppm but if we an ‘rapidly’ bring it down we can still save things without (knock wood) activating too many feedbacks.

  6. Ronald says:

    Writing about the subject here saddens me because it is so farcical and pathetic.

    It’s the rats fighting for scraps that dropped from the table.

    Sure we have to increase the money spent on research on non-carbon energy. That should be obvious to everyone. Our national spy groups (CIA, NSA, etc.) Spend 43 billion dollars a year. We spend 83 billion dollars a year on research and development in weapons for the military. We now spend 3 billion on non-carbon energy when global warming is a greater threat to us than being overrun by military enemies.

    But Breakthrough Institute criticizes all other attempts at reducing energy use instead of what it wants to do which is wait for some wonderful future technology that might come along if we only wished long enough and spent enough money. What if that cheap wonderful technology Breakthrough Institute wants never arrives. Oh, well, to bad future generations, hope you can get used to those gravel lawns and eating sand.

    When World War II was on for the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they didn’t say, don’t do anything until we’ve spent some money on new technology. They defended Midway with the ships and planes they had. They bombed Japan with the B25’s that they had. They recruited people for the military, converted industries to build military equipment and trained people and used the equipment that they had. And they spent money on research and development of new and better equipment. And when they developed better aircraft, tanks, submarines, torpedoes, radar, they used them. Sure, Dolittle would have wanted B29’s to bomb Japan, but they had B25’s and used those. Until the new stuff came, they built and used the stuff that was already designed and worked with that the best they could.

    Increase spending on research and development? Yes.

    Develop the political and social desire for people to act now on global warming and use the equipment we designed now? Yes.

    Wait around to do the things to decrease global warming that need to be done because someday, someway, if we just wait around long enough and spend enough money and wish enough, maybe something will come up that can be used? That’s hardly possible for any sane human to suggest, but that is the position of the breakthrough Institute.

    What we are doing now is not working great, but at least it has a chance of doing something. We need to increase spending in research and development, but waiting for new products before we do anything has less chance of working.

    We should join with Breakthrough Institute to lobby for more money spent on research and development. But we should also point out to the Breakthrough Institute the flaws in waiting for magical non-carbon technologies before we do anything.

  7. Ronald says:

    I did some remodeling on a house the past couple years.

    Increased the ceiling insulation from R20 to what I quess is R70. I had to add rafters to the ceiling to increase the weight the ceiling could handle.
    Increased the wall size and insulation from R11 to R33.
    Put in a gas fireplace and I can isolate rooms from the others so I don’t have to heat the whole house all the time.
    Installed warmers at all the water traps in the house so that the house can ‘go cold.’ We don’t heat the house when nobodies there.
    Added a sliding glass door to the south for some solar heat gain and better light.

    None of that required Breakthrough technologies. Should I have waited until Breakthrough Institute got the government to spend 30 billion dollars a year on some new technology somewhere before I did it?

    Two of my favorite magazines are Scientific American and Mother Earth News. What I get out of both is the use of appropriate technology to solve problems. Sometimes a problem needs or is better solved with the latest technology. Sometimes a problem has been solved before by somebody else that a person can do themselves. The solutions to global warming can use both.

  8. Mauri Pelto says:

    I often find myself at odds with the scientific analysis of climate data by Roger Pielke Jr.. The “Dangerous Assumptions” article in Nature, is a strong call for more action, and a swipe at the IPCC at the same time. The conclusions that the challenge of reducing greenhouse gasses (GHG) is underestimated and not bluntly enough portrayed may be quite true, as is the call for action. However, the portrayal of the IPCC as on the wrong path in terms of both GHG emissions growth and mitigation challenges do not fit with a parallel reading of the IPCC Reports and “Dangerous Assumptions” (DA).

    DA contends that All IPCC “scenarios predict decreases in energy intensity, and in most cases carbon
    intensity, during 2000 to 2010. But in recent years, global energy intensity and carbon
    intensity have both increased, reversing the trend of previous decades.”

    IPCC notes that “Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important anthropogenic GHG. Its annual emissions have grown between 1970 and 2004 by about 80%, from 21 to 38 giga tonnes (Gt),…. The rate of growth of CO2-eq emissions was much higher during the recent 10-year period of 1995-2004 (0.92 GtCO2-eq per year) than during the previous period of 1970-1994 (0.43 GtCO2-eq per year). The effect on global emissions of the decrease in global energy intensity (-33%) during 1970 to 2004 has been smaller than the combined effect of global income growth (77%) and global population growth (69%); both drivers of increasing energy-related CO2 emissions. The long-term trend of declining CO2 emissions per unit of energy supplied reversed after 2000. “

    That is an acknowledgement that carbon intensity is not decreasing since 2000 and that GHG emissions are headed in the wrong direction, agreeing with DA. DA suggests that the IPCC utilized the wrong decarbonization projections and this is illustrated in Figure 2. However, these are implied rates of decarbonization not actual rates for the period determined by the IPCC.

    The IPCC does not have a rosy assumption that CO2 emissions will take care of themselves. “The SRES scenarios project an increase of baseline global GHG emissions by a range of 9.7 to 36.7 GtCO2-eq (25 to 90%) between 2000 and 2030. In these scenarios, fossil fuels are projected to maintain their dominant position in the global energy mix to 2030 and beyond. Hence CO2 emissions from energy use between 2000 and 2030 are projected to grow 40 to 110% over that period. “

    DA contends that “Most SRES scenarios also predict a rapid decline in energy intensity (exceeding 1.0% per
    year), which may be neither realistic nor achievable.” This is the long term rate cited by the IPCC for 1970-2004, though it also indicates this rate has declined.

    DA suggests that the IPCC ignores climate policies: “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

    The IPCC does not ignore climate policies “In reality, a mix of all these measures — greatly increased
    government research and development, support for technology distribution, explicit market supports, and appropriate emission constraints — probably will act together to stimulate the technology
    needed to lower the costs of stabilizing atmosphericCO2 concentration.”

    It is obvious that emission constraints will not emerge without climate policies. In fact an examination of the first six ideas of the IPCC in Working Group III’s portfolio of actions all would require climate policies as an incentive to pursue. “
    • Implementing energy efficiency measures including the removal of institutional barriers to energy efficiency improvements;
    • Phasing out existing distortionary policies and practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions, such as some subsidies and regulations, non-internalization of environmental costs, and distortions in transport pricing;
    • Implementing cost-effective fuel switching measures from more to less carbon-intensive fuels and to carbon-free fuels such as renewables;
    • Implementing measures to enhance sinks or reservoirs of greenhouse gases such as improving forest management and land-use practices;
    • Implementing measures and developing new techniques for reducing methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gas emissions;
    • Encouraging forms of international cooperation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, such as implementing coordinated carbon/energy taxes, activities implemented jointly, and tradeable quotas;”

    DA also suggest that the IPCC feels that the technology we need is either available or in the pipeline. “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.”

    That is not how I read the IPCC, which to me indicates the need for some considerable investments and policy changes. “ Bottom-up studies suggest that mitigation opportunities with net negative costs22 have the potential to reduce emissions by about 6 GtCO2-eq/yr in 2030. Realizing these requires dealing with implementation barriers. The economic mitigation potential, which is generally greater than the market mitigation potential, can only be achieved when adequate policies are in place and barriers removed. The widespread diffusion of low-carbon technologies may take many decades, even if early investments in these technologies are made attractive. Initial estimates show that returning global energy-related CO2 emissions to 2005 levels by 2030 would require a large shift in the pattern of investment, although the net additional investment required ranges from negligible to 5 to 10%. “

    DA uses a frozen technology assumption. This can be powerful tool to show how far we are from a realistic solution at any given point. The IPCC does not present as clearly as this would the magnitude of the challenge.

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

    This may sound simple, but does require considerable technology advance, climate policy change, international cooperation and remaking of the energy industry. I would not characterize this as a spontaneously occurring process as DA implies IPCC considers it. I do find the Pielke Jr et.al. article thought provoking, though not shattering.

  9. Ken Levenson says:

    Here’s my take on it – working backwards (sorry for the length!):

    Joe’s Question #3 – “I specifically challenge Pielke and B.I. to state what “atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations” are “acceptable.”"

    [Pielke’s] Answer: We define “acceptable levels” in our Nature paper as 500 ppm (the level focused on by IPCC WG III) and 450 ppm (the level focused on by the EU and implicitly in the FCCC).

    My take on it:
    Pielke never states that 500ppm is the acceptable goal or appropriate or any such thing – he takes no position. 500ppm is merely presented as pivot point for his attempt to discredit another aspect of the IPCC report. It’s a bizarre and audacious follow-up bait-and-switch, to try and get away with.

    Joe’s Question #2 – “I also challenge Pielke and B.I. to indicate where the IPCC ever said “we already have all the technology we need to deal with climate change.”

    [Pielke’s] Answer: The IPCC SPM WG III writes, “The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.” Assessed stabilization ranges include 450 ppm CO2eq (or about 400 CO2).

    My take on it:
    The quote Pielke cites is, to be kind, a stretch. Seems Pielke’s more interested in a debating point than progress. Yes, reading this at face value without any context one might agree with him – but that strikes me as not terribly rigorous. Let’s simply ask what might those technologies be that are expected to be commercialized in the coming decades? The IPCC tells us just a few pages prior, in Table SPM.5. The table clearly states they will include: carbon capture, advanced electric and hybrid vehicles, intelligent building meters that provide feedback and control, advanced energy efficiency for industrial process and so on and so on. Bringing all those to market will take significant technological innovations. It’s not radical or overly conservative, it seems to me, if we merely take the rate of technological innovation over the last 25 years and project it forward 25 years – with no acceleration. While no paradigm shifting breakthroughs in themselves perhaps, there will be major innovations. And these would be the IPCC’s built-in innovations, no?

    But to ignore the clear intent of the IPCC is not enough – for the sake of argument I can only surmise – Pielke embraces the idea of static technology, and freezes the technology at a baseline, to “help us understand.” His funniest line has to be “The significance of starting with a frozen-technology baseline is not yet widely appreciated.” It’s plenty appreciated – just not in the way he might desire. WTF comes to mind.

    Let’s contemplate this: his bar chart is predicated on “frozen 1990 technology”.

    Can you, with a straight face, think of doing anything today with an Intel 468 computer chip, let alone propose it to policy makers? There’s nothing quite as wasteful as creating an artificial mote to then set out to conquer. And it strikes me that that’s the kind of nonsense Pielke is asking us to buy into.

    Pielke cherry picked a poorly worded phrase in the IPCC summary for a convenient cheap shot. Pielke should be embarrassed. He should be embarrassed too because he most assuredly turns his own argument on its head with this “frozen technology” nonsense. For if you can’t stomach the idea that our technology gap should be predicated on an Intel 468 chip. (Certainly the WWII war planners didn’t predicate their arms build-up on the biplanes and the cavalry!!!!) then certainly the technology gap is by default significantly smaller than Pielke’s false “revelation” – and perhaps quite manageable to boot.

    Joe’s Question #1 – “I challenge Pielke or Hoffert or Shellenberger or Nordhaus or anyone else at B.I. [or anyone on the face of the planet] to show me where in the Nature piece it “shatters the notion we have all the technology we need to deal with climate change”?”

    [Pielke’s] Answer: Here is what the paper asserts:
    “Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels. 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. However, if most decarbonization does not occur automatically, then the challenge to stabilization could in fact be much larger than presented by the IPCC.”

    My take on it:
    (Bad question Joe – step out of their frames.) It’s a non-answer, answer – the closest thing it resembles is a White House press briefing. But to give some credit, Pielke’s larger argument does one better than just hoisting up a straw man. It’s a special kind of straw man with the properties of a water balloon. What do I mean? His argument is nebulous at best, neglecting to quantify or define in any meaningful way what the magnitude of the technological challenge might be – there is no there, there. And his non-answer shows him to be trapped by this incoherence.

    But you say Pielk’s got his “blue bars” showing a majority of emissions cuts dependant on “frozen 1990 technology”. I say we’ve got a blue balloon, an artificial mote, that resembles something more nefarious: JFK’s “missile gap”.

    I say that not only is Pielke’s commentary b.s., it’s a dangerous sort of b.s. – and to me shows the bankruptcy of his argument. He claims lofty goals of wanting to alert the world of the IPCC shortcomings so that we may “better inform climate policy”. Yet he provides us a platter of misleading mush and anxiety. As the missile gap b.s. was most dangerous and counterproductive to our Cold War efforts, so this phony controversy serves to do no more than become another impediment to our understanding.

    JFK employed the deceit to get elected. What are Pielke’s motives? Let me be clear, I don’t think Pielke’s motives are nefarious. It’s always the banality that’s startling. He’s an academic that needs to produce papers and make waves and produce, produce, produce and he’s found a nice little cottage industry with the IPCC reports and he’s milking it.

    Let’s get serious about all this “debate” regarding the IPCC reports. Bickering with the IPCC conclusions is a straw man exercise at every level and a diabolical distraction. First, there are only three basic things that need to be taken from the IPCC reports:
    1. The reports are the result of political compromise and therefore every item they contain and conclusion they draw is suspect and debatable FOREVER…or at least until humanity, as we know it, is wiped from the earth.
    2. The result of the political compromises invariably understates the crisis at hand and what needs to be done.
    3. The opportunity costs for each year of delay in addressing the crisis is practically incalculable.

    Therefore, the idea that Pielke and others are making a career out debunking every piece of straw in their perfect straw man, as if somehow they were uncovering a fake Rosetta Stone, is asinine. Which brings me back to the only logical reason for doing so – to pad the good old academic CV – or perhaps delay, delay, delay as Joe argues.

    As the IPCC leaders have been screaming of late we only have a few years (like 3!) to start to seriously turn this ship around. So while WWII or perhaps the Apollo program may be useful analogies what we need to be doing now is more akin to the Apollo 13 mission. The astronauts had no luxury of time, resources or of technological development – they had to address the life threatening problem at hand with the what they had. And bless them, they pulled it off.

    Forget about Pielke and this endless debate. (Pielke throws out many other straw men such as China, for which it would be helpful for him to note went off the rails after Bush walked away from Kyoto and is the one country that doesn’t need a “political consensus” to get back on track, just clear leadership that America is serious about it too.) Revkin and others give it far too much credence and hence credibility.

    Think Apollo 13. Think about Jim Hansen practically demanding a meeting with James Rogers of Duke Energy and other leaders in energy production to forge away toward solving the problems now. Pielke is a court jester. Jim Hansen and others like him are the leaders, the astronauts.

  10. russ says:

    To begin with, the quote from the Nature piece says the IPCC expects “spontaneous”, “automatic” advances, which I assume to mean the so-called free market in voluntary bliss.
    In his response post Pielke quotes section 19 of WGIII to the effect “The range of stabilization levels….commercialized in coming decades.” But he omits the immediately following line “This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in place for development, acquisition, deployment, and diffusion of technologies and for addressing related barriers”.
    So the IPCC certainly is not envisioning anything automatic. On the contrary the very next page calls for “public and private RD&D” and section 20 calls for an intensive “iterative risk management process”, just to give a few examples. Generally, sections 19-24 focus on systematic government action while 25-26 focus on the international community.

    So if the Nature piece attributes reliance on invisible hand fairy-tales to the IPCC this is incorrect. This seems like a straw man who allegedly harbors “the notion that we have all the technology we need to deal with climate change”, which is now equated with believing in “spontaneous…automatic” advances.
    In truth no one holds any such notion. The technology does in fact exist, but no one believes it will automatically triumph. If this is what constitutes “having all the technology we need”, then we don’t have it yet. What’s needed is a stripping of all subsidies and special protections for fossil fuels, a stable and permanent price floor for gasoline, and a massive public investment in renewable energy. We believe that this jumpstart will ignite an economic boom around clean energy, and then private investment will surge, and the new post-fossil fuel economy will be in business.
    But that’ll take time, and little of it will be automatic. The IPCC agrees with this, not with the skewed interpretation given in P’s response.

    Also, in following up the “portfolio of technologies” quote with this: “assessed stabilization ranges include 450 ppm co2-eq”, P implies that the IPCC matches portfolio prescriptions with all ranges including 450. This is not the case. The only place such a match is made is at figure SPM9, where portfolios are given for 4 models for stabilization levels 490-540 and 650. Otherwise WGIII spm doesn’t compile specific portfolio prescriptions.

    Going back to the selection from the Nature article, we see that the latter sentences are a combination of the unobjectionable obvious (that is, if the IPCC had really said what P is saying it said) with a misrepresentation of the IPCC. As for the first sentence, “enormous advances in energy technology…”, this is just asserted with no evidence. As I said, if in “enormous advances” he’s including massive public sector deployment assistance, then this is true but obvious. If it means the technology literally doesn’t exist yet, it is false.

    As for their “acceptable level” of stabilization, it’s odd that P offers two different #s. Also, the IPCC didn’t “focus on” 500 ppm or any other particular number. Indeed, they rather blandly laid out a rather alarming range of “possibilities”, on up to >1100.

    I certainly hope that’s not possible. Can mankind really be that crazy?