Rick Piltz of @govacctproj @climatesciwatch was potent force for limiting political efforts to torque science findings. Untimely passing.

Here he explains his role.

Here’s the first 2005 Times story built on docs he gave me.

Here’s my piece on the White House climate science editor (Phil Cooney) moving to ExxonMobil.

 Here’s our story on a 2007 House hearing on the climate documents and White House practices.

A @WSJ editorial wonders why @RockBrosFund divestment didn’t include @ExxonMobil stock. ~> The heirs to John D. Rockefeller’s oil fortune are getting out of the fossil fuels business, as you may have heard from their many media admirers. That was the news last month after the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, with close to $860 million in assets, announced that it would divest the roughly 7% of its funds currently in fossil fuels.

“The action we’re taking is symbolism, but it is important symbolism,” said fund president Stephen Heintz. “We’re making a moral case, but also, increasingly, an economic case.” Mr. Heintz and the family he represents can reach their own moral conclusions about disavowing the energy industry that made them rich. But allow us to report a few of the economic—and environmental—facts.

Start with the term “divest,” which seems to have acquired the connotation of “magically make disappear” when it merely means “sell.” The Rockefeller holdings are only moving from one pair of hands to another—and likely at a tidy profit for the fund. The Dow Jones U.S. Oil and Gas Index is up 10% over the past year alone, though big-coal stocks are down. We trust that whatever money the fund makes from its divestment will be re-invested in something virtuous….

Speaking of inconsistencies, it’s also worth noting that even as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is publicly swearing off fossil fuels, it’s not divesting from the biggest oil company in the U.S.: Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest successor to John D.’s Standard Oil. Mr. Heintz told Bloomberg that continued ownership allows the fund to “press the oil and gas producer to account for its carbon assets.” Why the same logic doesn’t apply to other producers is a mystery perhaps only he can answer. Numerous Rockefeller heirs with ties to the fund retain their personal Exxon Mobil stock. It’s up about 11% on the year….

If irked by India’s lack of CO2 plan, weigh 2 numbers: 1.9 & 16.4 (tons CO2/person/year). My @BrianLehrer chat has more. Much more on Dot Earth.

My chat with Brian Lehrer on the #peoplesclimate march, U.N. #climate2014summit & energy & climate choices is now posted:http://www.wnyc.org/story/long-view-climate-action/

Relevant posts:

U.N. Climate Summit Harvests a Host of Commitments http://nyti.ms/Y3EsFM

New CO2 Emissions Report Shows China’s Central Role in Shaping World’s Climate Path http://nyti.ms/XU8ziH

Humanity’s Long Climate and Energy March http://nyti.ms/XNLBJQ

I agree with Steve Koonin’s core point in @wsj (deep uncertainty in global warming beyond basics). But here’s where I told him we differ: 
a) Your piece makes the important point that, on vital questions, there’s enduring deep uncertainty behind the “97 Percent of Climate Scientists Agree” headlines and IPCC report summary language. That was the point of my pieces on the many “shapes" of climate knowledge.
But I think your piece implies too much that further scientific inquiry can improve the picture. On regional forecasting, extremes (hurricanes), sensitivity to doubled CO2, and other key questions, further science - if anything - has clarified that some of these uncertainties aren’t going anywhere. 

b) You also imply that you can’t have “good” climate policy in the face of deep persistent uncertainty. In other endeavors, society has figured this out and some sustained inquiry is going into how to take a least-regrets policy on the greenhouse buildup. See the World Bank paper on “Investment Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty - Application to Climate Change.”

Koonin offered these replies:

a) Agree that regional and extremes are probably hopeless.  But I would suppose that ECS/TCR and even GMST on a decadal scale could be better nailed down by model pruning and better ocean data.  An interesting way to test that (which I don’t think has ever been done, but don’t know for sure) is to assume one of the models is the truth, downscale the sampling of the data to what we might reasonably observe in the real world, and see to what extent that can be used to recover the truth.  The results would give some indication of the extent to which more observations would help.

b) This is indeed implied by the tagline, which I didn’t write or even see until publication.  As I hoped to imply in the last few paragraphs of the article, we can get to good climate policies, but they will depend as much (or even more) upon “values” than upon science, given the latter’s uncertainties.

I agree with Steve Koonin’s core point in @wsj (deep uncertainty in global warming beyond basics). But here’s where I told him we differ: 

a) Your piece makes the important point that, on vital questions, there’s enduring deep uncertainty behind the “97 Percent of Climate Scientists Agree” headlines and IPCC report summary language. That was the point of my pieces on the many “shapes" of climate knowledge.

But I think your piece implies too much that further scientific inquiry can improve the picture. On regional forecasting, extremes (hurricanes), sensitivity to doubled CO2, and other key questions, further science - if anything - has clarified that some of these uncertainties aren’t going anywhere. 
b) You also imply that you can’t have “good” climate policy in the face of deep persistent uncertainty. In other endeavors, society has figured this out and some sustained inquiry is going into how to take a least-regrets policy on the greenhouse buildup. See the World Bank paper on “Investment Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty - Application to Climate Change.”
Koonin offered these replies:
a) Agree that regional and extremes are probably hopeless.  But I would suppose that ECS/TCR and even GMST on a decadal scale could be better nailed down by model pruning and better ocean data.  An interesting way to test that (which I don’t think has ever been done, but don’t know for sure) is to assume one of the models is the truth, downscale the sampling of the data to what we might reasonably observe in the real world, and see to what extent that can be used to recover the truth.  The results would give some indication of the extent to which more observations would help.
b) This is indeed implied by the tagline, which I didn’t write or even see until publication.  As I hoped to imply in the last few paragraphs of the article, we can get to good climate policies, but they will depend as much (or even more) upon “values” than upon science, given the latter’s uncertainties.

Human population, led by Africa (in part through paucity of family planning), likely to be on the up and up through 2100, new analysis finds (Science): 

Global Population Won’t Stabilize This Century
A new report suggests that contrary to past projections arguing that global population will peak around 2050, the world’s population is unlikely to stabilize this century. The results, based on a statistical analysis of the most recent population projections from the United Nations (UN), point to Sub-Saharan Africa as the primary engine driving this unexpected growth through 2100. Patrick Gerland and colleagues applied advanced techniques to the latest UN data to estimate future demographic trends — like fertility and life expectancy — with great accuracy. They estimate an 80% probability that the world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by 2100. The main reason for this is an increase in the projected population of Africa, the researchers say; demographers had projected that fertility in Africa would decline, but Gerland et al.show that levels of fertility throughout the region are persistently high. Furthermore, many African women are still having larger families (median 4.6 children), in part due to lack of contraceptives. Mortality from HIV has been reduced in Africa, too, further contributing to population growth. The ratio of working age people to older people is almost certain to decline substantially as well. Because rapid population increase in high-fertility countries can create challenges ranging from depletion of natural resources to unemployment to social unrest, the results of this study have important policy implications. The projected population growth could be moderated, the researchers say, by more substantial investments in girls’ education and family planning programs that provide contraceptives; both factors influence fertility. The UN’s population reports, published every two years, feature “high” and “low” projections that have been criticized for lacking a probabilistic basis.

Article #21: “World population stabilization unlikely this century,” by P. Gerland; N. Li; D. Gu; T. Spoorenberg; J. Wilmoth at United Nations in New York, NY; A.E. Raftery; H. Ševčíková; N. Lalic at University of Washington in Seattle WA; L. Alkema at National University of Singapore in Singapore; B.K. Fosdick at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO; J. Chunn at James Cook University Singapore in Singapore; G. Bay at Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Center (CELADE), Population Division of the United Nations ECLAC in Santiago, Chile; T. Buettner; G.K. Heilig, independent consultant. 

Long-distance learning in our #PaceBlog class discussion of online platforms tonight (photo by Elise Vaux).

Long-distance learning in our #PaceBlog class discussion of online platforms tonight (photo by Elise Vaux).

Valuable vintage papers on merits of “mundane science” in pursuing sustainable development

Two priceless papers on undervalued “applied” science, co-authored by Dan Kammen in the ’90s, still resonate today: “Science and Engineering Research That Values the Planet" (with Arne Jacobson) and "The Virtues of Mundane Science" (with Michael Dove). Here’s the conclusion of the "mundane" paper:

"There are a number of ways to give such initiatives a larger role in research and policy decisions. These include giving much more support to academic-industry and academic-practitioner partnerships; extending academic boundaries to encompass the entire range of human-environment interactions; breaking down the often antagonistic division between development professionals and academia; instituting a more open review process for development publications, projects, and institutions; removing the barrier between development planners and the intended beneficiaries or local populations; and addressing the frequently counterproductive tension between pure and applied research. The primary obstacles to implementing these proposals are cultural and institutional, not scientific. Expanding our commitment to mundane science requires that we overcome a Catch-22, however: Mundane issues generate little interest until a crisis emerges, at which point a solution is expected at once because the problem appears to be so simple. Unless we overcome the bias against mundane science, we will be wedded to shortsighted, partial solutions to emerging issues in development and the environment. Serious research requires a commitment to sustained periods of training, preparation, and support, which mundane science rarely receives. A valuable principle to use in the design and evaluation of sustainable development initiatives is that of use-inspired basic research, which – however basic the science involved – has a clear focus on applications…."

Should Fin Whales Be a Source of Wonder or Meat?

@DRgrist, after a year offline, talks with #PaceBlog students about lessons learned and what led him back to blogging. For more, read of his epic struggles and joys in Outside Magazine and here’s a @dotearth post on his return.