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Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record.”

By Joe Romm on March 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm

"Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record.”"


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In 2006, Nature published (subs. req’d) a news story, “Insurers’ disaster files suggest climate is culprit” (PDF here) that began:

Insurance companies, acutely aware of the dramatic increase in losses caused by natural disasters in recent decades, have been convinced that global warming is partly to blame. Now their data seem to be persuading scientists, too. At a recent meeting of climate and insurance experts, delegates reached a cautious consensus: climate change is helping to drive the upward trend in catastrophes.

The meeting, held near Munich on 25–26 May, was jointly organized by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, and the University of Colorado in Boulder. It brought together climate, atmosphere and weather researchers with economists and insurance experts to discuss what could be behind recent disaster losses, both economic and human….

Delegates seem to have found the record persuasive. Their consensus statement, to be released on 8 June, says there is “evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in global losses”….

“Dissent over the issue is clearly waning,” says Peter H¶ppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks department, who co-chaired the workshop with Roger Pielke Jr, director of the University of Colorado’s Center of Science and Technology Policy Research. “Climate change may not be the dominant factor, but it has become clear that a relevant portion of damages can be attributed to global warming.”

Previously sceptical, Pielke says that he is now convinced that at least some of the increased losses can be blamed on climate: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change has shaped the disaster loss record.”

I am posting this mainly to show that many serious people have weighed in on this issue and many articles — including peer-reviewed articles (see below) — have made a strong case for a link between the trend in extreme weather disasters and climate change.

Remember, Nobel Prize winner Al Gore has been accused of being “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements,” in the New York Times for suggesting there is such a link (see “Unstaining Al Gore’s good name, Part 2.” And Roger Pielke, Jr. said that the 3000 scientists listening to Gore at the AAAS meeting were “willing silent collaborators” to “the misrepresentation of climate science” because they did nothing while Al Gore made the link, albeit with very careful wordchoice (see “Unstaining Al Gore’s good name, Part 1“).

Now, in fairness (!) to Pielke, he has an incredibly elaborate explanation of what he was really trying to say (in this 2006 blog post). In my headline, I included an ellipsis because here is Pielke’s full quote:

Clearly since 1970 climate change (i.e., defined as by the IPCC to include all sources of change) has shaped the disaster loss record.

Pielke further notes:

The terms “climate change” and “global warming” are not interchangeable.

Hope that cleared things up for you. And Pielke says that I am overly focused on semantics!!!

Apparently you are allowed to say what Pielke said with various asterisks and elaborate after-the-fact blog posts that don’t really change the meaning to anybody but him, but if you say what Gore said, “This is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented,” you can’t explain at all what you were trying to say and can be accused of in-your-face untruths, the misrepresentation of climate science, inaccuracies and overstatements.

Of course, I guess you can say “it has become clear that a relevant portion of damages can be attributed to global warming.” As long as you’re not Al Gore.

And for the record, while Pielke claims (see here), that

There are no peer-reviewed papers documenting a link between GHG emissions and the long-term trend in disasters.

You might want to read this 2005 Science paper by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Evan Mills, “Insurance in a Climate of Change,” which states (PDF here with figures and citations):

Socioeconomic and demographic trends clearly play important–and likely dominant–roles in the observed upward loss trends (18). As recognized by insurers and others, migration of populations to flood- and fire-prone areas, increasing reliance on vulnerable electric power grids, and rising material wealth are among the many drivers. Changes in the incidence and impacts of extreme weather events and sea-level rise can also be observed (19–22).

Global weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and faster than non–weather-related events (Fig. 2D). By some estimates, losses have increased by a factor of 2, after accounting for these factors plus increased density of insured values (23, 24). The Association of British Insurers states that changes in weather could already be driving UK property losses up 2 to 4% per year (7) owing to increasing extreme weather events. Specific event types
have increased far more quickly than the averages. For example, damages from U.S. storms grew 60-fold to US$6 billion/year between the 1950s and the 1990s (21).

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment, climate change has played a role in the rising costs of natural disasters (1). As an illustration of the linkages, the distribution and frequency of lightning strikes is expected to shift under climate change (25), and insurers indeed observe a notable increase in losses during periods of elevated temperatures (Fig. 4) (6).

You can disagree with the analysis if you like, but there it is in Science.

Anybody out there still think Pielke doesn’t owe an apology to the 3,000 AAAS scientists or that he is a credible source for the media?

Do any of my readers think at this point Gore doesn’t deserve an apology by the New York Times? If not, please tell me what he said that justifies what was written about him.

Apology to John Sopko

Menendez Blocks Obama’s Scientists Over Unrelated, ‘Deeply Offensive’ Cuba Policies

20 Responses to Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record.”

  1. David B. Benson says:

    RPJr has lost all of whatever respect I might have had for him.

    There is some sort of child’s ditty that ends with “pants on fire!”

  2. RPJr has lost all of whatever respect I might have had for him.

    Since when did either of the Pielkes deserve any respect?

    We tolerate that kind of crap because we’re Americans.

    We respond to it because we’re Americans as well.

  3. Paul says:

    More Pielke “Honest Broker” writing. Where’s Tom Yulsman? Tom, we need you here defending Roger against all the wall-eyed soldiers of orthodoxy.

  4. jae says:

    Would it not be interesting to see what Roger Pielke is saying, Joe?


    [JR: Thanks for the link. Does anybody think it was interesting or informative? I had already included a link to Pielke's amusing effort to parse what he said. The point is not whether he has some long, torturous explanation -- the point is the difference between what he claims is perfectly reasonable to say vs. and what he claims is blatantly criminal to say on this subject exists entirely in his mind.

    This post and the others make the case for why he is banned from here. It is impossible to engage him in debate because he is the Humpty Dumpty of climate policy:

    'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'


  5. ecostew says:

    Pielke is struggling to keep a place at the table – not a climate scientists and brings little to the table in terms of moving forward, he’s trying to make/keep a niche.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz — 0 – 0 = 0.

  7. 0 – 0 = 0

    That’s not so bad. Unfortunately humanity is trying to divide by zero.

    Good luck with that. Wise programmers prevent that from happening.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz — IEEE floating point standard allows divide by zero; the result is infinity of the proper sign. It even allows 0/0, for which the result is NaN, Not a Number.

    Nature is less forgiving.

  9. IEEE floating point standard allows divide by zero;

    That’s because they ‘trap’ the operation to prevent it from happening, and then invoke an ‘interrupt’, at the machine level. Much like we should be doing with carbon dioxide.

    The Pielkes offer nothing to the discussion at the fundamental level, which is what happens stoichiometrically. Clearly we have vastly exceeded both the carrying capacity of the planet, and the climatological carrying capacity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need solutions, not associate professor bafflegab. My working group has decided to tackle the problem head on, for instance, by simply removing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by fractionation and the cryogenic removal of carbon dioxide, and using the material in bulk processes where the carbon can ultimately be fixed permanently, in anything that contains carbon which is useful.

    If we can radiate away that extra energy, and reduce emissions to zero via creative thermodynamics, we’ll be set. This isn’t a problem that is going to solve itself, it has to be solved. It won’t be policy wonks that solve it.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz — I certainly hope for success!

    But you’ll need quite a bit of energy. I’ve been recently looking into growing algae (should have a daily doubling with natural levels of CO2) and then either (i) burning it directly [problem: have to dry it] or (ii) putting it thorough an anaerobic digester to produce biogas. The latter has the advantages of for-sure closed cycle for solids and liquids (mostly H2O) so don’t have to keep adding water or nutrients.

    Then burn the biogas. All this looks to be about as capital intensive as a standard coal-fired power statiion, but otherwise carbon-neutral.

    The other choice is to separate the methane from the acid gas (amine process). The acid gas will have a little sulfur in it, but that cn be cleaned out as well, providing you with a quite pure CO2 stream. The methane can be burnt or, with some further cleaning, introduced into the “natural” gas pipelines.

    My estimates are that in this latter CO2-capture process, about 10–24% of the carbon is captured for whatever form of sequestration is to be applied. The remaining carbon is in the methane, so there is lots of that.

    I agree, its up to engineers to solve this horrid problem.

  11. But you’ll need quite a bit of energy.

    Actually we want to rid the surface of the Earth of excess energy, remember? We’ve just started thinking with this project and already we’ve made some startling discoveries, many of them counter intuitive.

  12. jae says:

    “The Pielkes offer nothing to the discussion at the fundamental level, which is what happens stoichiometrically.”

    “If we can radiate away that extra energy, and reduce emissions to zero via creative thermodynamics, we’ll be set. This isn’t a problem that is going to solve itself, it has to be solved. It won’t be policy wonks that solve it.”

    It is EXACTLY this kind of non-informed, non-educated, non-physical wishful thinking that is going to either cause a revolution or put humanity back into the Dark Ages. Just don’t tell me you actually graduated from an accredited high school, please!

  13. jae says:

    “Creative Thermodynamics??????” I’m sorry, I just can’t get beyond this phrase. It is very sad that there are actually people out there that think like this!

  14. jorleh says:

    Would be better not to take any notice of all kinds of Pielkes. The more their stupidity is uncovered, the more they are in public light and making all more harm to the human species.

  15. Joe says:


    It is a tough call, since the media still views him as credible and cites him. My general rule has been to ignore him unless Big Media gives him a megaphone as they have here.

    Also, one of Pielke’s goals is to stifle climate science advocates from discussing about the link between global warming and extreme weather. I am trying to demonstrate to all that there is more than enough justification in science journals to warrant this discussion.

  16. Creative Thermodynamics??????

    Then grow up. Is your concrete basement insulated? Are you heating your home with your electric appliances? Other’s call it ‘cogeneration’.

    All heat is usable, all you have to do is start with the optical and then cascade down through the infrared. What you do in the multiple steps through that cascade is up to your ‘creativity’, and even then you’ll need to radiate that energy away lest you overheat. You really fundamentally misunderstand thermodynamics if you aren’t applying creativity to its real world applications.

  17. jae says:

    THomas: If THAT is what you mean by “creative thermodynamics,” I misunderstood you and you have my apology. I was referring to folks who still believe in perpetuum mobiles, carburetors that would transform a 14 mpg car into a 100-mpg car, and other such magic.

    But you often have to have some “creative economics” to go along with your “creative thermodynamics,” in the cases you bring up! And I don’t believe that government subsidies will benefit man or the planet, in the long run.

  18. Dano says:

    Where is Roger on this thread, splitting hairs about words?!