25 October 2013

Australia's Climate Follies: A New Cast, But the Show Goes On

Over at The Interpreter, the excellent blog of the Lowy Institute, I have an analysis up which updates my 2011 paper on Australia's climate policies. Here is an excerpt:
The mathematics of Australia’s emissions are not terribly complicated. To achieve a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 5% from 2000 levels would require a rate of decarbonisation of the Australian economy (measured as a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per A$1000 of GDP) of greater than 5% per year from 2013 to 2020. This is consistent with my earlier analysis which looked at data through 2006. For comparison, Australia averaged a 2.9% annual rate of decarbonisation from 2007 to 2012. (NB: As in my 2011 paper and in The Climate Fix, here I focus on carbon dioxide, while the Australian target refers to greenhouse gases. Data on GHG emissions comes from BP 2013 and GDP figures from the UN and DFAT).

What does such a rate of decarbonisation imply in terms of carbon-free energy?

In 2012 about 5.4% of total Australian energy consumption came from carbon-free sources (Data: BP 2013), specifically hydropower, wind, solar and biomass burning. The good news is that at 5.4%, the carbon-free portion of consumption is at its highest level since 1976 (see graph), due largely to a 63% increase in hydropower from 2009 to 2012. The bad news is that Australia lags far behind the 2012 overall global proportion of about 13% carbon-free energy, as well as Canada (34.1%), New Zealand (36.4%), China (9.1%), the EU-15 (23.6%) and the US (13.5%).

The even worse news is that to reach its 5% reduction target Australia would need to get more than 17% of its total energy consumption from carbon-free sources by 2020, assuming (a) no change in total energy consumption from 2012 to 2020 and (b) that the new carbon-free energy sources replace an equivalent amount of coal power.

Another way to get a sense of the magnitude of carbon-free energy needed is to look at the equivalent number of nuclear power plants. About 11 such plants would do the job if they replaced an equivalent amount of coal generation (about one-third of the 2012 total coal consumption). The numbers might also be expressed in wind turbine- or solar panel-equivalents for those who don’t like nuclear power stations. Of course, no matter which units are used, the magnitude of the task remains the same.
Please head over to The Interpreter to read the whole thing, and come back if you have comments or critique.


Here is a bit more technical information on the numbers that I present.

A. Here is the data on Australian decarbonization, using assumptions of and from the sources linked in the piece:

Year CO2 (mmt) GDP (2005 A$)
2000 345.4 838,148,870,377
2001 355.7 870,947,434,630
2002 366.9 898,393,849,225
2003 362.1 935,655,259,090
2004 370.6 965,471,432,676
2005 383.9 994,803,000,000
2006 402.7 1,032,420,131,483
2007 400.7 1,071,374,226,342
2008 403.0 1,086,011,225,767
2009 400.8 1,111,312,140,652
2010 392.9 1,132,488,746,922
2011 400.4 1,171,318,253,292
2012 392.2 1,213,485,710,410
2013 383.6 1,249,890,281,723
2014 375.1 1,287,386,990,174
2015 366.8 1,326,008,599,880
2016 358.7 1,365,788,857,876
2017 350.8 1,406,762,523,612
2018 343.1 1,448,965,399,321
2019 335.5 1,492,434,361,300
2020 328.1 1,537,207,392,139

B. The figure of 17% required carbon-free energy required to hit the 5% emissions reduction target is calculated as follows, based on the BP data linked in the piece:
  1. 2012 Australia coal consumption = 40% of total (BP 2013)
  2. Coal generates 94.44 Mt of carbon dioxide per quad (Pielke 2011)
  3. Australia used 2.3 quads of coal in 2012 (BP 2013, Pielke 2011)
  4. To meet 5% reduction target implies 30% 2012 coal replaced with carbon-free energy (math)
  5. A 30% reduction in coal implies a 2020 total of  21.6 mmtoe carbon-free enery (math)
  6. Assuming demand constant at 2012 levels, 21.6 mmtoe = 17.2% of total energy consumption (BP)
C. Nuclear power plants equivalent are calculated following the methods described in Pielke (2011) and in The Climate Fix.

23 October 2013

Bibliography on Science in Policy (Mainly EU)

Colleagues at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission put together this very useful bibliography on science in policy making, shared here with their permission for future reference. 

Future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall, Robert Doubleday and James Wilsdon, April 2013

Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy, Kenneth Prewitt, Thomas A. Schwandt, and Miron L. Straf, Editors; Committee on the Use of Social Science Knowledge in Public Policy; Center for Education; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council

Communicating research for evidence-based policymaking: A practical guide for researchers in socioeconomic sciences and humanities, DG Research and Innovation

General Issues in Science Policy Today, (2007) John Marburger, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President

Good Practice in the Dialogue between Science Academies and Policy Communities, EASAC Guidelines

Guidelines on the Use of Scientific and Engineering Advice in Policy Making, UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser

The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Roger A. Pielke Jr, plus regular blogs,

Improving the knowledge base for better policies, COM(2002) 713 final, Communication on the collection and use of expertise by the commission: principles and guidelines

Knowledge-based policy making, Report of the First Parliamentary TA Debate held in Copenhagen on June 18, 2012

Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy Making, UK House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee

Scientific evidence for policy-making, DG Research and Innovation

Scientific Support to EU Decision Making, JRC Seminar, September 2012

Science into policy: Taking part in the process, Natural Environment Research Council

Science and policymaking: theorizing when and how scientific or expert authority matters in policy making, 1st International Conference on Public Policy, June 2013

Whom do we experiment for? Study of bargaining processes between science and policy, Agathe DEVAUXSPATARAKIS, June 2013

Tales of the Unexpected: How Science Advisers Manage Uncertainty, AAAS workshop, March 2013,

The Geek Manifesto – Why Science Matters, Mark Henderson

18 October 2013

An Exchange on Scientific Authoritarianism

Last month Björn-Ola Linnér and I took part in an exchange on the pages of a major Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. In an effort to bring the discussion to a broader audience, we now have English versions of the exchange.

Our initial piece was motivated in part by the Swedish Global Challenges Foundation which is advocating for a "global legal system" -- that is, a form of global government. Both Linnér and I are supportive of institutions of global governance. The key questions that we see involve not whether such institutions are needed (the are, and many already exist) but how they operate.

Some statements from the GCF suggest to us a need for a more in depth conversation. For instance, the GCF writes (PDF):
A global legal system also means, in principle, that the responsibility of the handling of major global problems is taken off the shoulders of national politicians. Instead, a few supranational organizations are given the mandate and responsibility to supervise mankind’s important common interests ...
 The GCF suggests a model of governance based on experts:
The organization must have the capability, expertise and sufficient resources. These, for example, would identify, analyze and assess severe global problems and risks, as well as initiate or take appropriate actions for optimal management of problems and risks.
So to help advance such a conversation we wrote up an op-ed, explicitly raising questions of governance, expertise and democratic principles (PDF):
We see however for us a worrying tendency among some scientists to use climate and other environmental science reports to advocate for more authoritarian political systems and a call for an emergency order by  emphasizing the worst case scenarios of these reports as a “trump card” in political debates.
That prompted a response from the GCF (PDF):
Linnér and Pielke seem to confuse a global legal order with authoritarianism. But creating institutions to make joint decisions on a global scale is not to restrict democracy range without expanding it.
Then a final rejoinder from us:
We are pleased that Szombatfalvy, Wallström and Rockström agree with us that authoritarian approaches must be avoided (DN-debatt 2/10). In times when commentators advocate a “climate Dictator” (Tendens 2/10), it is extremely important that the representatives of Global Challenges Foundation are clear about what they mean by a new political order.
Scientific authoritarianism does not appear to be something many are comfortable calling for, and that is a good thing.

You can read the whole exchange, including also a letter from Prof. Olaf Johannson-Stenson (PDF), here. Comments welcomed.

16 October 2013

Talking About Sexual Harassment in Science

UPDATE: In the comments Andrew Maynard replies to this post.

Several colleagues have pointed me to the unsavory episode that is presently the talk of the science communication field involving the magazine Scientific American. I actually don't read Scientific American or its blogs and my professional work only occasionally crosses paths with those who identify themselves in "science communication." So I don't know anyone involved in this issue. Yet, this is an episode about which those who care about science in society should openly discuss.

The issue involves a case of sexual harassment for which the allegations are apparently not under dispute. I won't give the full play-by-play but apparently a popular editor at Scientific American named Bora Zivkovic met with a prospective author, Monica Byrne, and had an admittedly inappropriate conversation with her, all but propositioning her on the spot. Byrne's account is here, Zivkovic's apology here.

I will assume that Scientific American is a professional organization and will respond appropriately to this situation, which obviously involves completely unacceptable behavior from one of its high-profile staff. What motivates me to write this post is a remarkable, unsolicited intervention from a high-ranking faculty member and administrator at the University of Michigan, Andrew Maynard.

Professor Maynard wrote an email to Byrne pressuring her to remove any reference to Zivkovic in her public complaint about the harassment. Maynard writes:
I have corresponded with Bora [Zivkovic] on occasion, but have never met him in person.  I have no reason to doubt your account of your meeting with him.  I do know that he has been a major factor in the rise of informal science writing and web-based science communication in the US and beyond.  And that he is highly respected within his community.  Whether these are adequate justifications for not calling him out by name I leave with you.  But I would advocate for consideration and compassion at this stage.
This is an incredible and telling request. It is incredible because it comes from a person in a position of authority (professional, not supervisory) seeking to protect a colleague's inappropriate behavior. It is telling because Professor Maynard felt compelled to publicly "out" his own interaction with Byrne (after she referenced his email on Twitter), after asking her to avoid doing much the same.

There are of course all sorts of social factors at play in science, as in any field of endeavor, which shape behavior. Some of them -- like groupthink and disciplinary cliques -- are annoying and can even be pathological. Other behaviors are just wrong and unacceptable. Among these are sexual harassment and excusing sexual harassment because an accomplished scientist (male in this case) is "highly respected within the community." Ack.

I'd guess that this case has still a denouement to play out, but however it ends it is one worth discussing with students in the classroom. The issues are uncomfortable and can be difficult to discuss, but they are obviously part of the social context of contemporary science and thus worth our attention. Kudos to Byrne for speaking out in a responsible manner.

11 October 2013

Graph of the Day: Africa Power Needs

The figure above comes from a post at the Center for Global Development by Todd Moss and Madeleine Gleave. They ask, how much power does Africa really need? Their answer (based on estimates and methods you can read in their post) is ... a lot.

Here is their bottom line:
  • As these countries grow more populated and richer (they are all posting impressive real GDP growth rates), the demand for electricity is going to be significantly greater than the modest targets currently envisioned by the international community.
  • Nigeria’s ambitious electricity expansion plans to reach 10,000 MW are only the tip of the iceberg. To reach Tunisia-level consumption, it will need at least five times that level of generation.
  • Even if Power Africa is a success, there’s a whole lot more pent-up demand out there!
Do read the whole thing.

08 October 2013

Shout Out to Sinead

I considered a doing post on the trillion tonne nonsense in IPCC, but I decided instead to give a shout out to Sinead.


Richard Tol wants something less Grammy-phied, I aim to please around here, so here you go:

03 October 2013

Coverage of Extreme Events in the IPCC AR5

I had been scheduled to testify before the House Science Committee next week in a hearing on extreme events, but the gong show in Washington has put that off.

In the process of updating Senate testimony given back in July (here in PDF) I did compile some key statements from the IPCC AR5 WGI Chapter 2 on extremes.

Here are a few:
  • “Overall, the most robust global changes in climate extremes are seen in measures of daily temperature, including to some extent, heat waves. Precipitation extremes also appear to be increasing, but there is large spatial variability"
  • "There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century”
  • “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”
  • “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale”
  • “In summary, there is low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms because of historical data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems”
  • “In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century due to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated. However, it is likely that the frequency and intensity of drought has increased in the Mediterranean and West Africa and decreased in central North America and north-west Australia since 1950” 
  • “In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low”
There is really not much more to be said here -- the data says what it says, and what it says is so unavoidably obvious that the IPCC has recognized it in its consensus. 

Of course, I have no doubts that claims will still be made associating floods, drought, hurricanes and tornadoes with human-caused climate change -- Zombie science -- but I am declaring victory in this debate. Climate campaigners would do their movement a favor by getting themselves on the right side of the evidence.