[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]
“In science, what is more important than any individual study or collection of papers (particularly if assembled by someone with an agenda), is the trajectory of understanding. This is particularly true with a problem like the human-amplified greenhouse effect. Not only is it multidisciplinary; it is also not testable through experiments (we’re all in the test tube undergoing a one-time experiment).
On the basics, the trajectory of understanding is clear and has been building for more than 100 years: more carbon dioxide (and other heat-trapping gases) = warmer world = less ice = higher seas (and lots of shifting climate patterns). A solid review can be found in the online hypertext edition of “The Discovery of Global Warming,” a book by Spencer Weart of the American Institute of Physics.
At the same time, there are at least two areas of persistent, and legitimate, scientific debate left — more than enough to produce lists as long as the one published today by Senator Inhofe.
First, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the extent and pace of warming from a particular rise in concentrations of greenhouse gases, and about how fast and far seas will rise as a result. (It’s important to keep in mind that uncertainty could result in outcomes being much worse than the midrange outcome, or much less severe). “
In making the claim that “On the basics, the trajectory of understanding is clear…” he ignores a large number of studies without the appropriate investigation of the merits of that research. As a very clear example, he ignored the findings of the book National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties . Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp.
He has never reported on a key finding in the National Research Council report (on page 4) where it was concluded that (all emphasis in original)
“….the traditional global mean TOA radiative forcing concept has some important limitations, which have come increasingly to light over the past decade. The concept is inadequate for some forcing agents, such as absorbing aerosols and land-use changes, that may have regional climate impacts much greater than would be predicted from TOA radiative forcing. Also, it diagnoses only one measure of climate change—global mean surface temperature response—while offering little information on regional climate change or precipitation. These limitations can be addressed by expanding the radiative forcing concept and through the introduction of additional forcing metrics. In particular, the concept needs to be extended to account for (1) the vertical structure of radiative forcing, (2) regional variability in radiative forcing, and (3) nonradiative forcing.”
Moreover, Mr. Revkin’s statement that
“…. with a problem like the human-amplified greenhouse effect. Not only is it multidisciplinary; it is also not testable through experiments (we’re all in the test tube undergoing a one-time experiment)” shows a lack of understanding of the scientific method! If a hypothesis is not testable, it is not science! [actually, despite his claim, the multi-decadal global model projections, which are hypotheses, are testable, as discussed on Climate Science (e.g. see) .
There are numerous other examples on Climate Science which refutes the claim of Mr. Revkin that the science is settled (e.g. see our summary of papers in the book Human Impacts on Weather and Climate) .
Unless he broadens his reporting on the role of humans in the climate system, readers should interpret his contributions in the New York Times as the biased presentation of climate science by an advocate who, by his incorrect reporting on the understanding of climate science, is limiting the consideration of policy actions which would most effectively deal with climate variability and change, energy, and other environmental and social issues. With his abilities as a writer and his wide influence, it is unfortunate that he has chosen to erroneously limit the information to the public and policymakers.
About the Author
Roger Pielke, Sr.:
Senior Research Scientist, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado in Boulder
Emeritus Professor of the Department of Atmospheric Science Colorado State University
B.A., Mathematics, Towson State College, 1968
M.S., Ph.D., Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, 1969, 1973
He is currently a Senior Research Scientist in CIRES and a Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (PAOS) at the University of Colorado in Boulder (November 2005 -present). He is also an Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and has a five-year appointment (April 2007 – March 2012) on the Graduate Faculty of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Pielke has studied terrain-induced mesoscale systems, including the development of a three-dimensional mesoscale model of the sea breeze, for which he received the NOAA Distinguished Authorship Award for 1974. Dr. Pielke has worked for NOAA’s Experimental Meteorology Lab (1971-1974), The University of Virginia (1974-1981), and Colorado State University (1981-2006). He served as Colorado State Climatologist from 1999-2006. He was an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (July 2003-2006). He was a visiting Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona from October to December 2004.
He has served as Chairman and Member of the AMS Committee on Weather Forecasting and Analysis, and was Chief Editor for the Monthly Weather Review for 5 years from 1981 to 1985. In 1977, he received the AMS Leroy Meisinger Award for "fundamental contributions to mesoscale meteorology through numerical modeling of the sea breeze and interaction among the mountains, oceans, boundary layer, and the free atmosphere." Dr. Pielke received the 1984 Abell New Faculty Research and Graduate Program Award, and also received the 1987/1988 Abell Research Faculty Award. He was declared "Researcher of the Year" by the Colorado State University Research Foundation in 1993. In 2000 he received the Engineering Dean’s Council Award from Colorado State University.
He has authored a book published by Academic Press entitled Mesoscale Meteorological Modeling (1984) with a 2nd edition in 2002, a book for Routledge Press entitled The Hurricane (1990), a book (co-authored with W.R. Cotton) for Cambridge Press entitled Human Impacts on Weather and Climate (1995; 2nd Edition 2006), a book (co-authored with R.A. Pielke, Jr.) entitled Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society published in 1997 by John Wiley and Sons, and was Co-Chief Editor (with R.A. Pielke, Jr.) of a book entitled Storms, published by Routledge Press in 1999.
Dr. Pielke was elected a Fellow of the AMS in 1982 and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2004. From 1993-1996, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the US National Science Report to the IUGG (1991-1994) for the American Geophysical Union. From January 1996 to December 2000, he served as Co-Chief Editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Science. In 1998, he received NOAA’s ERL Outstanding Scientific Paper (with Conrad Ziegler and Tsengdar Lee) for a modeling study of the convective dryline. He was designated a Pennsylvania State Centennial Fellow in 1996, and named the Pennsylvania State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Alumni of the year for 1999 (with Bill Cotton). He is among one of three faculty and one of four members listed by ISI HighlyCited in Geosciences at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, respectively.
Professor Pielke has published over 300 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 50 chapters in books, and co-edited 9 books. A listing of papers can be viewed at the project website: