Roger Pielke, Jr. does not know what the word “decarbonization” means or how long it has been going on — even though the matter is central to his entire analysis in Nature. I had noted his confusion in my debunking of the Nature piece, but didn’t consider it serious at the time (see here). How wrong I was. He wrong he is.
So that it’s clear to all just how little Pielke understands what he is talking about, and so everyone can finally go about the time-saving business of ignoring everything he says, I urge people to read his latest blog post at Breakthrough, ironically headlined:
Yes, Pielke claims the “bloggers at Grist … make up ‘facts’ to support their critiques of him.” He presumably is including me in that people-who-live-in-glass-houses libel, but his column is about David Roberts. Let me go straight to Pielke’s multiple mega-howlers.
First, as the IPCC explains (here, see page 219)
Although decarbonization of the world’s energy system is comparatively slow (0.3% per year), the trend has persisted throughout the past two centuries (Nakicenovic, 1996).
To repeat, “decarbonization … has persisted throughout the past two centuries.” What is especially amazing about Pielke’s blunder is that he must have read the page I just cited because, in his Nature paper, he actually cites Chapter 3 of the Working Group 3 report of the Fourth Assessment, pages 218-220. I kid you not. It is endnote #4, which he cites several times in the paper.
[The 1996 Nakicenovic reference, from the journal Daedalus, requires a subscription (here). But you can read the world's expert on the subject, Jesse Ausubel from Rockefeller University, writing in the same issue here or, even better, read Ausubel's first article on the subject from 1991 here, where he explains the reasons for this decarbonization at length. His 1991 abstract begins, "For 200 years, the world has progressively lightened its energy diet by favoring hydrogen atoms over carbon in our hydrocarbon stew." (China, of course, has almost single-handedly reversed that trend since 2000.)]
Second, the reason Pielke is so painfully misinformed (uninformed?) is that he doesn’t know what the word “decarbonization” actually means. The IPCC — and everyone else in the Milky Way galaxy but Pielke — defines decarbonization as follows:
Decarbonization denotes the declining average carbon intensity of primary energy over time.
Even though this is also from the same IPCC report, the same page 219, a page Pielke must have read, Pielke believes decarbonization is about energy, not carbon. Seriously. Here is where Pielke’s confusion and misguided outrage reaches epic proportions. He writes (and I have cut out or added nothing here):
It is easy enough to look at energy intensity trends (defined as millions of barrels of oil equivalent per $1,000 global GDP in 1995 dollars, with 1900 set to 1.0) over the longer term. I downloaded data from the HYDE database in the Netherlands to calculate energy intensity trends over the period 1890-1970. Here is what the data actually show.
During and following the industrial revolution, the world experienced a long period of carbonization of the global economy, followed by an extended period of decarbonization beginning in the second half of the 20th century, and as our commentary argued, today the world is recarbonizing. How long the current trend will last is uncertain, and its significance is worth discussion. But to present decarbonization as inevitable is to misunderstand the past. Even worse, to suggest that decarbonization has gone on for “centuries” is just plain wrong.
[My apologies to all for making you read that -- but it is perhaps the most unintentionally humorous indignant rant ever written in the climate arena. And I sincerely hope it will save you the time and the pain of ever again having to bother reading what Pielke writes, other than possibly in future debunkings of him by me and Grist.]
Yes, that is the figure Pielke himself uses. Can anyone anywhere (including Pielke) please explain to me how a figure on energy intensity over the past hundred years can be used to dismiss a claim about decarbonization in recent centuries?
If Pielke doesn’t understand the basic terminology he uses, if he doesn’t know the literature in the field, if he apparently doesn’t even bother to read the three pages he himself cites from the IPCC report — why should anyone bother reading his work or listening to what he says?
And yes, I would like this discussion to stop being so personal, but Pielke keeps using his high profile to badly confuse the public about crucial issues concerning climate solutions — and I can’t sit by and do nothing.
My main issue with Pielke’s Nature article is that he doesn’t even know that his analysis supports a completely opposite conclusion than the one he draws. He and Breakthrough Insitute (B.I.) think it proves we need new breakthrough technologies to avoid catastrophic global warming, when it in fact proves we must aggressively deploy the technologies we have. I will address this single issue tomorrow, but it was buried in my longer debunking.
You all-too-patient readers of Climate Progress can stop reading now if you want, but for completeness’s sake I do want to tie Pielke’s blunders here back to his misguided Nature piece. As I pointed out at the time in my longer debunking, in the section “MISLEADING ANALYSIS” Pielke’s piece offered a bizarre definition of decarbonization:
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.
As I wrote at the time in an aside:
[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.]
I was being too polite [Note to self: Don't let that happen again]. Indeed, I didn’t bother to mention that the figure I reprinted from the piece, “Assumed Decarbonization in the 35 IPCC Scenarios for 2000-2010″ is NOT a figure on decarbonization. It is a figure that plots decarbonization against changes in energy intensity. The caption leaves the distinct (mis)impression that energy intensity is part of the decarbonization calculation, which Pielke obviously believes, but which, as we’ve seen, simply isn’t true.
In retrospect it is bizarre that the Nature editors let the mistake go by — but it just goes to prove my assertion that the editors (and the reviewers if they saw the figure) didn’t understand what they were printing, anymore than Pielke understood the real point of his analysis.