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Roger Pielke Sr.

Rebuttal to Dr. Pielke Sr. and his opinions pertaining to human caused global warming: Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. has published a number of respected papers during his scientific career. What is in question is not the body of his scientific work, but rather the lack of substance in his personal opinion. This raises important questions about what to believe when a scientist gives his biased opinion as opposed to what the body of evidence says.
Roger Pielke Sr.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.

When it comes to the debate regarding context and relevance, there is a lot of science and many opinions. Separating the science from the opinions is sometimes difficult.

Some scientists are very good at examining and understanding what is more relevant and what is less. In an examination of the arguments made by Roger Pielke, Sr., it becomes obvious that he is actually cherry picking his points and oddly accusing others (including the IPCC) of committing the sin of which he seems to be guilty of. As with all things, more accurate understanding requires context in order to achieve relevance.

It seems a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. For anyone examining the position or Roger Pielke, Sr., context and relevance are required to separate the less relevant opinion from the more important context regarding any data being discussed. In other words, is the data presented in context and therefore relevant?

Below we examine a few examples that well illustrate the perspectives addressed by Dr. Roger Pielke, Senior. As always, context is key.

In September of 2005

Roger Pielke Sr. stated that:

"the evidence of a human fingerprint on the global and regional climate is incontrovertible as clearly illustrated in the National Research Council report and in our research papers (e.g. see"


Pielke: May 14, 2009

The George C. Marshall Institute posted a page with the byline  Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Sr. The page supposedly outlined a talk by Dr. Pielke. According to the page, in his talk, Dr. Pielke documented that:

"The IPCC and CCSP assessments, as well as the science statements completed by the AGU, AMS and NRC, are completed by a small subset of climate scientists who are often the same individuals. This oligarchy has prevented science of the climate system to be properly communicated to policymakers (e.g., see, see and see)."

The 2005 statement and the 2009 statement infers a contradiction and requires context. Generally he seems to be placing himself in a position of playing both sides of the fence when comparing his acceptance of the "human fingerprint on global and regional climate" with other nuanced and even more direct statements).

He seems to attack the relevance his own cherry picked data points while ignoring the larger body of evidence and the well reasoned understanding that can easily be derived from that evidence. Also, as you may deduce from the considerations outlined below, he seems to be thinking in the short term rather than the long term. In other words, he is thinking in terms of weather, not climate.

The IPCC reports include the work of thousands of scientists. The definition of oligarchy is government by a few or a small group.

Pielke's perspective here (above May 14, 2009 statement) is neither scientific, nor correct in context. His statement is a red herring and similar to many 'denialist' strategies to distract the reader from the science and keep them focused on non scientific arguments. It is hard to imagine that Dr. Pielke Sr. does not know the definition of the word 'oligarchy'? If he does know the word, then why would he stretch the context to such an extreme in his statement? Does he have a political motive or does he really think his statement is sound. The IPCC reports include the work of thousands of scientists. The definition of oligarchy is government by a few or a small group.

When one separates Pielke's work from his statements and opinions, one finds that there are contradictions that are nuanced and left obtuse, or without relevant context, in many cases. However, if his statements include the idea that the IPCC is an oligarchy, then one begins to understand that he is not talking about the relevant points on human caused climate change, but rather nit picking at views that can be considered more political than scientific. This is not atypical for a denialist view however, which brings into question the possible motives a scientist such as Pielke Sr. might be embracing.

No matter how relevant Pielke Sr.'s scientific work is, his opinions and statements appear much further from sensible reality and the relevant science.

But this raises other important issues:

  1. Why would a scientists opinion reach so far away from the science (context or agenda?)?
  2. What is the difference between a scientific opinion and the opinion of a scientist?
  3. Who can/should the public trust?

This is a problem at the core of the debate on human caused global warming and its impacts. It raises the question of scientific and personal responsibility to the relevant contexts and the empirical understanding. It also raises the question of how people and policy makers can get closer to the truth, through the minefield of opinions.

The onus of responsibility is upon the speaker to maintain relevant integrity and distinguish unfounded opinion from science in a contextually relevant manner. This does not preclude scientific opinion. Responsible scientific opinion should contain consideration of the empirical evidence and relevant understanding that may then be extrapolated into a projection based on that knowledge.

A good example of such an opinion and projection would be in sea level rise (SLR). The empirical evidence shows SLR at 1.4 feet by the year 2100. But reasonable projections show that SLR could or rather will likely reach or exceed 2 meters.

The unfortunate reality is that opinions, whether politically motivated or not are used to confuse the scientific understanding in the public mind. Scientists are sometimes caught between the empirical and the realistic based on on relevant understanding.

Pielke: May 14, 2009

"The acceptance of CO2 as a pollutant by the EPA, yet it is a climate forcing not a traditional atmospheric pollutant, opens up a wide range of other climate forcings which the EPA could similarly regulate (e.g. land use; water vapor)."

Again, Pielke's perspective avoids the science and favors what is known as a straw-man argument. The argument, as presented, is confused by extrapolated points. His logic is non sequitor, meaning that "it does not follow". His statement is similar to saying if you outlaw 'some' harmful chemicals in food products, that might lead to other food products being outlawed. It is a political argument, not a scientific argument.

Pielke is simply not understanding, or not pointing out, that natural CO2 is not a pollutant, and CO2 produced by industrial processes is a pollutant, by definition. It is easy to trick people with this argument, because CO2 is needed for photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.

The reality is that the isotopic signature of natural CO2 is different from CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes. In other words, natural CO2 is not a pollutant, and CO2 from industrial process is a pollutant, by definition.

"Policymakers should look for win-win policies in order to improve the environment that we live in (e.g., see). The costs and benefits of the regulation of the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere need to be evaluated together with all other possible environmental regulations. The goal should be to seek politically and technologically practical ways to reduce the vulnerability of the environment and society to the entire spectrum of human-caused and natural risks (e.g., see Chapter E in Kabat et al 2004)."

Again, a political argument: Upon first reading, most people would simply agree with this statement. But context is needed. The statement alone is inconsiderate of the long term effects and costs of unabated pollution from CO2, and other greenhouse gases. Certainly the economy must be considered in lock step with solutions to the global warming problem. But the statement above is often used to abate mitigation policy, rather than realistically address the importance of the problem.

Pielke: February 15, 2007

Several Science Errors (Or, At Best Cherrypicking) In the 2007 IPCC Statement For Policymakers

Filed under: Climate Science Reporting — Roger Pielke Sr. @ 7:00 am

Roger Pielke, Sr.
In even an overview of the section in the 2007 IPCC Statement For Policymakers on “Direct Observations of Recent Climate Change” there are errors, or at best selective information, in their findings. I am summarizing four on this weblog:

1. The IPCC SPM writes on page 7

“… snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres.”

Roger Pielke Sr.
"The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover Anomalies plot through January 2007, however, shows that the areal coverage in the Northern Hemisphere has actually slightly increased since the later 1980s!
Since the inference from the IPCC SPM is that global warming is the reason for these changes, this is at best a clear example of selecting a time period that conforms to their conclusion rather than presenting an up-to-date description of snow cover trends."

What Dr. Pielke, Sr. is missing here is the context. It is hard to believe that he does not understand that long term trend is 'climate' and short term is 'weather', but he certainly indicates that he does 'not understand' in his perspective as presented.

If you look at the chart he is referring to, you can clearly see that the trend of snow cover is down. It does not matter if you are looking at 2005, or now. It is a mistake many make, to rely on short term variation, rather than long term trends, but it is not a mistake a scientist should make.

Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover Anomalies

Now, here is where it can get more confusing. Below is an updated chart and it looks like snow cover is, at least in the short term, trending up in 2009/2010? Of course this is tied to a negative phase Arctic Oscillation combined with picking up moisture from an El Nino event in the Pacific.


Source: Rutgers University

Two questions arise:

  1. Does this mean global warming has stopped? The short answer is no. The Pielke argument is still non sequitur in that one snow fall does not falsify the science of global warming.
  2. Why is there more snow? Two things to consider, short term variation can be related to internal climate system variation as in the oceanic cycles and atmospheric variations related to such changes; and warmer oceans mean more moisture in the atmosphere, thus more precipitation in the from of rain and snow.

It is important to note that global warming causes climate change and it does not cancel winter. It is reasonable to say that we will see more interesting weather but it will take time to understand the connections to global warming.

It is important to note that understanding all the long term mechanisms in relation to snow cover and global warming are still not fully understood. This is only another indicator, and achieving a more solid attribution is a process that is being studied, and requires consideration of many influences. This is in part achieved by creating and combining the GCM's (Global Circulation/Climate Models).

For perspective, one should realize that some things are better understood in human caused global warming, while others are less understood. What Roger Pielke, Sr. is doing is cherry picking largely outside of the relevant context. The remaining question is why?

2. The IPCC SPM writes on page 7

“Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3000 m and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system.”

"It is correct that the ocean is where most of the heat changes occur, but the finding conveniently neglected to report on the significant loss of heat in the period from 2003 to at least 2005;"

Lyman, J. M., J. K. Willis, and G. C. Johnson (2006), Recent cooling of the upper ocean, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, L18604, doi:10.1029/2006GL027033.

"As stated in that paper,"

“The decrease represents a substantial loss of heat over a 2-year period, amounting to about one fifth of the long-term upper-ocean heat gain between 1955 and 2003 reported by Levitus et al. [2005].”

"In addition, even with the earlier ocean warming, this is what was found in the paper"

Willis, J. K., D. Roemmich, and B. Cornuelle (2004), Interannual variability in upper ocean heat content, temperature, and thermosteric expansion on global scales, J. Geophys. Res., 109, C12036, doi:10.1029/2003JC002260.

�? Maps of yearly heat content anomaly show patterns of warming commensurate with ENSO variability in the tropics, but also show that a large part of the trend in global, oceanic heat content is caused by regional warming at midlatitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. �?

"They report that,"

“……a strong, fairly linear warming trend is visible in the Southern Hemisphere, centered on 40°S. This region accounts for a large portion of the warming in the global average.�?


“……..the warming around 40°S appears to be much steadier over the course of the time series, as seen in Figure 7. In addition, this warming extends deeper and is more uniform over the water column than the signal in the tropics. �?

"Thus the actual global ocean warming reported in the IPCC SPM over the last several decades occured in just a relatively limited portion of the oceans and through depth such that the heat was not as readily avaiable to the atmosphere as it would be if the warming was more spatially uniform.
Moreover, if the ocean has been absorbing “more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system”, why does the SPM use the surface air temperature trends to define what is a warm year? The IPCC SPM makes such a claim on page 5, where it is written that"

“Eleven of the last twelve years (1995 -2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850).”

"If the ocean absorbs most of the heat (which Climate Science agrees with), than that is the climate metric that should be reported on with respect to global warming, rather than the global average surface temperature trend data."

Unfortunately, as it turns out, Roger Pielke, Sr. is again looking at the short term, and ignoring long term, and other relevant factors. Even Josh Willis, who wrote the paper on 'ocean cooling' questioned what he was seeing; because he knew that from a thermal inertia perspective, something was odd.

Upon further examination, NASA/JPL (Josh Willis) found that there was a measurement problem that needed to be modeled, and the corrected model fit the relevant scientific understanding of the physics.

Good scientists constantly ask such questions rather than make definitive statements before reasonably substantial evidence is established. Why would Roger Pielke, Sr. concentrate on short term data and trends, and not question the inertial problem?

3. The IPCC SPM writes on page 7,

“The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposphere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold.”

"This conclusion conflicts with the finding in"

Smith, T. M., X. Yin, and A. Gruber (2006), Variations in annual global precipitation (1979–2004), based on the Global Precipitation Climatology Project 2.5° analysis, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, L06705, doi:10.1029/2005GL025393,

"where they write for the period 1979–2004 that precipitation tends"

“have spatial variations with both positive and negative values, with a global-average near zero.”

"The global average precipitation has not changed significantly in the period.
If greater amounts of water vapor were present in the atmosphere, the evaporation/transpiration of water vapor into the atmosphere and thus the precipitation would have to increase when averaged globally and over a long enough time period."

Again Dr. Pielke is using a non sequitor. Water vapor and global precipitation are two different subjects. To draw a conclusion on that basis alone is improper. In reality, studies have shown that the amount of water vapor seems to be increasing as expected. Since H2O is a variable gas, it is hard to measure, but indications are matching models and observed.

If one thinks about the contexts involved, one may reason that increased water vapor in the atmosphere may not translate to increased precipitation. In other words, if the water vapor in increased overall due to increased atmospheric temperature, why would it fall? On that basis, one would only expect it to fall if the GMT were to fall. In other words it is reasonable to assume that higher atmospheric temperatures would hold more water vapor.

Dr. Pielke assumes that eventually increased water vapor would result in precipitation increase and that may yet prove true, but if we are exploring the theoretical, it may also prove that the hypothesis of increased precipitation may prove partly false. We simply don't know at this point.

One can not scientifically draw conclusions with insufficient data.

4. The IPCC SPM writes,

“Mid-latitude westerly winds have strengthened in both hemispheres since the 1960s.”

"This is perhaps the most astonishing claim made in the report. First, peer reviewed papers that have investigated this subject,"

Pielke, R.A. Sr., T.N. Chase, T.G.F. Kittel, J. Knaff, and J. Eastman, 2001: Analysis of 200 mbar zonal wind for the period 1958-1997. J. Geophys. Res., 106, D21, 27287-27290. Source: go to R-211

"did find a"

“….tendency for the 200 mbar winds to become somewhat stronger at higher latitudes since 1958.�?

"However, what this means from basic meteorology, is that if the mid-latitude westerlies increase, this indicates a greater north-south tropospheric temperature gradient! This is why the westerlies are stronger in the winter; the troposphere becomes very cold at the higher latitudes, but the tropospheric temperatures change little in the tropics. Thus a statement that the westerlies have become stronger, in the absence of significant warming in the tropical latitudes, indicates a colder troposphere at higher latitude on average.
There is, therefore, an inconsistency in the IPCC SPM. It cannot both be the case that the troposphere in the arctic is warming high while the westerlies in the midlatitudes are increasing in speed. There is a fundamental inconsistency in these trends, which goes unaddressed by the IPCC.
These four examples illustrate the apparent selection of papers and data to promote a particular conclusion on climate change. The science community, and even more importantly, the policy community is ill-served by such cherry picking."

Here, Dr. Pielke is wandering off into more speculative territory, again. Scientifically, one can not draw 'conclusions' without substantial empirical analysis and attribution. So he uses terms like indicates and inconsistency in his opinion. But if one is to make this a discussion about indications and inconsistencies, then we should consider the fact that any opinion used to diminish the relevant message of human caused global warming is inconsistent and therefore contradicted by the indications of conclusions shown in the science, such as: observed ice melt, GMT increase, glacial loss, ice mass loss, sea level rise and many other relevant factors in the evidential record.

In the conclusion of the paper Dr. Pielke is referring to:

"Observed trends in 200 mbar westerly flow suggest that the vertically averaged horizontal gradient in global tropospheric temperatures at most higher latitudes has increased since 1958. We emphasize that changes in the vertically averaged horizontal temperature gradient are a more appropriate circulation diagnostic (through the thermal wind relation) than changes in the horizontal temperature gradient at the surface. Analysis of winds as a tropospheric averaging technique is less affected by biases than temperature analyses and provides an effective method for assessing atmospheric variability and change. Because future shifts in wind regimes are likely under both natural and anthropogenically caused climate change, identifying the robustness of the simulated wind changes in many models and the monitoring of this quantity in observations is expected to become more important in coming years as a test of the predictive capability of climate change models and as one means for resolving the discrepancy between model simulations which show large upper tropospheric warming, and observations which show large surface warming but little change above the surface [Panel on Reconciling Temperature Observations, 2000]."

Certainly indications can be drawn from a hypothesis as derived from a conclusion based on evidence. But how far can one extrapolate reasonably? And when one is doing so, especially when the audience is wrapped in a political debate, how reasonable is it to infer conjecture as a reasonable conclusion. Scientific authors must be wary of such issues as these issues are important in perspective and context.

July 14, 2009

Pielke (here) raises issue with other scientists understanding of boundary layer physics. This seems to be a phantom straw man argument and becoming typical of late. By saying not everything is understood he is saying that we don't know enough to make policy decisions. To accomplish this Herculean feat of non sequiturism he must ignore radiative forcing, atmospheric lifetime of Co2, physics, signal to nose in the climate models and a host of reasonably understood feedback system potentials, in favor of his notion that 'some things' in climate science is too complex, or not well understood, therefore we don't know enough to make a policy decision.

Hmmm... Common sense reasoning should be the litigator here. Like Lindzen, Svensmark, and others that might wander where dragons lie..., in order for Pielke to substantiate his argument he will need to show 'at least' that the temperature in the past has not risen substantially above current levels, so positive feedbacks are nothing really to be concerned with? Where's the beef (mechanism)?

The geocarb dating certainly indicates higher paleo temperatures, and that seems to be well established (apparently dinosaurs did well in that climate). Certainly there were other atmospheric conditions in play as well as tectonic plate position, but a general boundary layer argument?

Pielke, on this page, mentions the fact that Swanson and Tsonis, 2009 did not include the PDO, (not to mention other factors), which I had pointed out as well (here - consideration of sub-system forcings potentials), and (here - consideration of other short term events natural and anthropogenic). As far as I can tell, Pielke is making the same mistake and promoting the idea that the mistake is valid through inference, though what is inferred is left somewhat ambiguous.

This is a red herring though to the context of the opinion he presents and is also non sequitur. What we don't know does not impact in a major way what we do know about thermal equilibrium and radiative balance. The bias in positive and the feedbacks are positive and negative with positive bias by all indications. Pielke has not shown indication that feedbacks are going to be negative, he has merely said effectively we don't know if it might get cooler, so we may as well not worry about it until it breaks.

and "We also wrote in the Rial et al 2004 paper":

“…..our examples lead to an inevitable conclusion: since the climate system is complex, occasionally chaotic, dominated by abrupt changes and driven by competing feedbacks with largely unknown thresholds, climate prediction is difficult, if not impracticable”


“Hence, it appears that one should not rely on prediction as the primary policy approach to assess the potential impact of future regional and global climate change. We argue instead that integrated assessments within the framework of vulnerability …offer the best solution, whereby risk assessment and disaster prevention become the alternative to prediction.”

A good analogy would be something like:

Nuclear reactors are too complex to understand all probable cases that might cause a catastrophic failure. Due to this complexity we should wait until the nuclear reactor melts down, and then assess how much it will cost to fix in order to prevent a catastrophic failure?


Waiting for the system to break down before we estimate the cost of fixing it, in this case, due to the extraordinary cost probabilities and thermal inertia in the oceans, is best characterized as foolish.

Regarding the science of human caused global warming, there are things we do know and things we don't know. Speculation, especially when it is presented as a conclusion in the absence of empirical or even reasonable knowledge and/or understanding, can be possibly, largely, or dangerously irrelevant. Especially when considered in the context of a political debate about science and misleading ideas that can hamper relevant policy as it pertains to climate change mitigation.


Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.

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