Climate Central is a reliable producer of analysis and reporting on climate science. As they explain, the idea for CC developed from some large meetings of “leading scientists, policymakers, journalists, and leaders from business, religion and civil society” who “identified a critical need for a central authoritative source for climate change information.”
Later, “a broad group of climate experts later confirmed this need.” At the same time, other groups “began organizing with the mission to popularize good information about global warming solutions.” Their tag line “sound science & vibrant media” gets to the heart of what their important niche has been — emphasis on “sound science.”
That’s why it is disappointing to see a new blog, “Frontier Earth,” that isn’t focused on science and isn’t authoritative in the least bit. Two examples will suffice.
The first piece is headlined, “Momentum Shifts on Climate Adaptation.” The piece has no discussion whatsoever of the scientific literature on adaptation or the climate impacts we’d have to adapt to. Nor does it examine adaptation policy or even what is happening in the political world. If it did, it would’ve come to a completely different conclusion.
Instead, the only “evidence” it cites for this new shift is an Economist article from last November, a Dave Roberts blog post from January, and and a Guardian op-ed from last week. Seriously.
Ironically, the piece cites a 2-year-old piece (!) quoting the late Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider: “Everyone is now talking about adaptation, but for all the talk there’s little actually being done.” Precisely.
If one were looking for an evidence-based shift in thinking about climate adaptation, then one would conclude that either there had been no shift whatsoever or, in fact, that the likelihood of the United States devoting significant resources to adaptation had dropped with the failure of the climate bill in the previous Congress and the election of a new Congress filled with people who deny basic climate science.
Real adaptation is quite expensive (see Scientists find “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path, making mitigation to under 450 ppm a must). The climate bill would have generated considerable amount of money specifically dedicated toward adaptation. It’s failure was a momentum killer for real adaptation.
And it is pretty obvious that people who don’t believe in climate science, who don’t believe humans are changing the climate in ways that scientists can anticipate — knowledge that is obviously the basis of any serious adaptation policy — aren’t going to pony up the many billions of dollars needed for real adaptation. Quite the reverse. They have an avowed mission to cut government spending and many of them have specifically targeted planning and adaptation, as I reported over a month ago — see Conservatives oppose adaptation, too, which quotes E&E Daily:
Sen. John Barrasso continued his campaign yesterday to stop the Obama administration from incorporating climate change into federal plans and policies, taking aim at an interagency report released in October that proposed ways for the federal government to respond to increased frequency of severe weather events and other effects of global warming”¦.
Barrasso said that even the climate change adaptation efforts recommended in the report “will kill jobs, weaken our energy security and decrease economic growth.”
So if there has been a momentum shift, it is away from efforts to seriously pursue adaptation. An objective piece of journalism on this subject would have to at least note these realities.
For the record, I myself started a category on “adaptation” last year with my post “Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery: Rhetorical adaptation, however, is a political winner. Too bad it means preventable suffering for billions.”
But that new category isn’t proof of a momentum shift either. I wanted to draw a distinction between real adaptation, where one seriously proposes trying to prepare for what’s to come if we don’t do real mitigation (i.e. an 800 to 1000+ ppm world aka Hell and High Water) and rhetorical adaptation, which is a messaging strategy used by those who really don’t take global warming seriously “” those who oppose serious mitigation and who don’t want to do bloody much of anything, but who don’t want to seem indifferent to the plight of humanity (aka poor people in other countries, who they think will be the only victims at some distant point in the future).
In practice, rhetorical adaptation really means “buck up, fend for yourself, walk it off.” Let’s call the folks who push that “maladapters.” Typically, people don’t spell out specifically where they stand on the scale from real to rhetorical.
We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.
That’s the pithiest expression I’ve seen on the subject of adaptation, via John Holdren, now science advisor. Sometimes he uses “misery,” rather than “suffering.”
Assuming we stay on the no- or little-mitigation pathway, the primary forms of “adaptation” we are likely to see are abandonment and triage. Those are the basic responses to sea level rise and especially Dust-Bowlification.
So it is disappointing to see this misleading, puff piece in an otherwise solid place like Climate Central. I suppose I do have to mention that the piece was written by Keith Kloor, who I had a run in with a year and a half ago (see “Meet blogger Keith Kloor“). I have written very little about him since — even as he has continued to misrepresent me and many, many other scientists over and over again, as detailed by physicist Arthur Smith in this analysis. Interestingly, Kloor famously attacked Roberts on this very subject in October 2009, “More proof that environmentalists can’t chew gum and talk about climate adaptation at the same time comes in this post from David Roberts at Grist. The cognitive dissonance from this crowd continues to amaze me.”
It is relevant who the author of this Climate Central post is mainly because Kloor is a stalking horse for Roger Pielke, Jr., who has long been downplaying mitigation as a climate strategy vs. adaptation, testifying to the U.S. Senate back in 2002, “if a policy goal is to reduce the future impacts of climate on society, then energy policies are insufficient, and perhaps largely irrelevant, to achieving that goal.” #FAIL
And if you don’t think he’s a stalking horse for Pielke, then take a look at this comment Kloor wrote on his Climate Central post:
You’re right to point to the Nature paper by Pielke, Jr. et al (which I’m familiar with) as a notable omission in my post.
But as you know from reading me at Collide-a-Scape, I’ve devoted lots of space to the views and work of Roger and some of his colleagues on that Nature paper.
I plan on continuing to do that here at Frontier Earth. In fact, look for a discussion on Roger’s new book, The Climate Fix, coming up soon.
And thanks, as ever, for your incisive contributions to the dialogue.
I hope Climate Central does not push Roger Pielke, Jr. (as opposed to real climate science). I’m familiar with the meetings that lead to the formation of CC, and I don’t think that was what they had in mind at all. Arguably Climate Central was set up to respond to the kind of anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation Pielke puts out on a regular basis, which has made him one of the people most debunked by climate scientists and others (see Foreign Policy’s “Guide to Climate Skeptics” includes Roger Pielke, Jr. and links therein).
The second Kloor post that isn’t focused on science and isn’t authoritative in the least bit is “The Nuclear Option.“ It is hard to believe someone could write 800 words on the role of nuclear power in dealing with climate change and never once mention cost! The piece does not actually site any scientific or technical literature, but focuses mainly on the apparent nuclear conversion of George Monbiot.
I’m personally quite open to including new nuclear power as a contributor to reducing CO2 emissions if it could be as cheap as most of the alternatives. Heck, I include it as a possible wedge in my analysis of “The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm.”
But I also try to publish as much of the actual cost numbers and analyses as I can, to make clear how limited nuclear’s role is likely to be for the foreseeable future (see “Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve?“)
Can you imagine someone publishing an article on solar or wind power as a climate strategy and never mentioning cost once?
Cost is the fundamental reason why the nuclear Renaissance in this country died before the Japan disaster (see my recent post “The Nukes of Hazard” and the 10/10 post, Exelon’s Rowe: Low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two”). It must be the basis of any serious discussion of new nuclear power in market economies.
These two posts tell you all you need to know about “Frontier Earth” — and why it is disappointing to see Climate Central’s start a blog that isn’t focused on science and isn’t authoritative.
To be clear, the rest of Climate Central continues its mission solidly. I have relied on their work a number of times here at CP and recommend it to others. I look forward to seeing a serious discussion of real adaptation and “resilience” (whatever that means — it needs to be defined clearly) and abandonment and triage grounded in science the way the rest of CC is.
This post has been updated.