Policy and Human Dimensions




      Prediction and Forecasting

US Science Policy and the Atmospheric Sciences

Pielke and Radford Byerly Jr. (Retired Chief of Staff, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology) continued their collaboration to explore contemporary changes in US science policy. Byerly and Pielke describe current changes in US science policy using the framework of a "social contract," which was first expressed in the seminal 1945 report "Science -- The Endless Frontier," by Vannevar Bush. As a result of this collaboration, Pielke and Byerly published a paper in Physics Today entitled "Beyond Basic and Applied."

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Climate Change Policy

Pielke continued his research on global climate change policy and also, in collaboration with Michele Betsill (U Colorado-Boulder), on ozone depletion policy. Pielke continued his work in assessing the policy implementation of the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Pielke argues that dealing with global environmental change through large programs such as the USGCRP will be difficult, perhaps impossible, if the policy process depends solely upon scientific information gathered from the laboratory and ivory tower to inform the legislative chamber. The USGCRP can, however, fulfill its legislative mandate of providing usable information to policy-makers by setting up a process to define, in various contexts, what the policy problems of global change might be and by offering policy-makers a wide range of alternative means to achieve their preferences. The process must be recursive so that the lessons gained from experience can be effectively applied to the evolving world. Pielke’s most recent work in this area was published in Global Environmental Change in FY98.

Pielke and Betsill continued their collaboration on a project to reassess the policy implications of domestic and international ozone depletion policy for the issue of climate change. Scientists face increasing pressure to demonstrate how their work contributes to societal well-being. Likewise, policy-makers proposing environmental policies are often asked to provide the scientific basis upon which their proposals are based. These twin pressures are forcing a closer connection between science and policy. In our view, policy-for-science-for-policy is a recursive process of defining societal goals, using those goals to identify questions to be addressed by science, relating the findings of science back to the original goals, and then (if necessary) revisiting the goals themselves. Any policy analysis that focuses solely on policy for science or on science for policy tells only part of the story. We find that the primary lesson of the ozone experience, supported in the case of acid rain, lies not in the conduct of science by government agencies nor in the efforts of research managers to provide entrepreneurial leadership, but in the establishment of a healthy policy process -- i.e., policy-for-science-for-policy -- that connects scientists and decision-makers in pursuit of a common goal. A paper resulting from this collaboration was published in Research Policy, and a second is in press with International Environmental Affairs.

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Economic Issues of Climate Change and Climate Change Policy

John Firor continued his study of the Kyoto agreement on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, which has become quite controversial in the US. As discussed in last year's report, some of the controversy arises from both the apparent disagreement among economic modelers on the cost of reducing US emissions and on the high value of this cost, as reported by some of them. John Firor noted during the year that business groups that invited him to bring them up to date on climate science frequently were more interested in the cost analyses than in the science itself.

A review of the cost models brought out two features that, if widely understood, should lessen considerably the level of controversy. The first was a study by Robert Repetto at the World Resources Institute on the reason for the apparent differences among the various models. He obtained 162 model predictions from 16 of the "most reputable" models and examined the factors leading to the differences. He found that only eight assumptions, used variously in the models, accounted for most of the differences. If one used all of the assumptions in forms tending to increase the cost one obtained, for a reduction of US emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2020, the cost of a reduction in GDP was a bit over 2 percent. If all the assumptions took on favorable form, GDP increased by about the same amount.

The second feature, pointed out by Stephen Schneider at NCAR more than five years ago, but whose importance has not been widely recognized, is that all of these models project that, decades in the future, the US GDP will be several times that of today, and the rate of growth will be 2 percent or more per year. Thus, the full range of disagreement among the models is an acceleration or delay of only one year by 2020 in reaching a very high level of per capita consumption in the US, and there would be comparable impacts for predictions looking farther ahead.

One must conclude that the differences among the cost models are very small, when compared with other future changes in our economy, and that the cost predicted by even the most pessimistic model is equally small and probably well within the noise level inherent in the model. One could alternately conclude that econometric models are not yet to a stage of development that would be useful for investigating the cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In either case, there seems to be no basis for assuming that we now know either that the cost will be very high or that modelers disagree on what that cost is.

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Climate Change Surprises

Glantz received funding from the Department of Energy (via Argonne National Laboratory) to collaborate with David Streets of Argonne on a project originally designed to define a taxonomy of global climate change "surprises." The earth's climate is, in many ways, an unpredictable physical system. Abrupt as well as slow-onset "surprises" often cause major disruptions to society in terms of loss of capital, natural resources, and human life. The results of this project will be available to those researchers involved in integrated assessment model development activities related to climate change, as well as to those interested in the policy aspects of the climate change issue. The project was finalized in FY98. Due to the demand for the project’s final report, additional funds were obtained from DoE in order to reprint it in FY99 for more widespread distribution.

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Climate Affairs Module Development Project

Glantz has received one-year funding from NSF to develop a climate affairs program module for potential application at the university level for science and non-science majors. During FY99, the module will be developed, with the involvement of selected North American universities and colleges. It is expected that this will be a three-year activity. Additional funding will be sought for the second and third years.

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Societal Aspects Theme of the USWRP

Over the past four years, ESIG has been working closely with the US Weather Research Program (USWRP) to establish connections between the needs of society and the Program's research agenda. Several workshops and research reports have resulted from this multidisciplinary collaboration. The results of one workshop were published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). A second workshop was organized by Pielke and Jeff Kimpel (NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory). In FY98 Pielke was appointed to chair an advisory group to the USWRP, called the Use and Impacts Assessment Committee. The Committee, which met twice in FY98, has the following responsibilities:

1) It will bring to the attention of the USWRP considerations of the societal aspects of weather, specifically: (a) state-of-the-art knowledge of the impacts of weather phenomena on society in terms of extreme events as well as routinely disruptive impacts on decision-making; and (b) current societal needs with respect to existing and improved weather forecasts, which include past use of weather information, prospects for future use, and consideration of the scientific and nonscientific obstacles in the way of improving decision making with improved weather information.

2) It will serve for the USWRP (and, to the extent that it is practical, the weather community as a whole) as an initial evaluative tool for the performance of the Program with respect to its societal and policy objectives, specifically: (a) It will review, comment, and contribute to USWRP plans and assessments from the standpoint of the state of social science and practical knowledge of the use and value of weather information. (b) It will conduct preliminary evaluations of the scientific advances made by the Program from the standpoint of their actual and potential contributions to societal needs, including assessment of the external factors that enhance or limit the realization of their potential usefulness and value.

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Precipitation and Damaging Floods

Despite extensive efforts over many years to reduce vulnerability to flooding in the US, flood losses (adjusted for inflation) have increased markedly in recent years. Pielke and Downton have begun work on a project to investigate whether the increasing damage can be attributed to changes in climate; additional funding is being sought from NOAA/OGP. National precipitation averages show a slightly increasing trend since the 1930s, but a preliminary study suggests that precipitation explains less than 20% of the variability in nationwide flood losses. More extensive study of flood damages at state and regional levels is needed to assess the role of weather, climate, and human factors in the trend toward increasing flood losses. Unfortunately, the historical damage data needed for such a study are not presently available in usable form. Furthermore, it has not been determined which hydrologic data (e.g., precipitation, snowmelt, river flows) are most relevant for predicting damaging floods. Intervening socioeconomic changes must also be considered. The following steps are planned: (1) creation of an historical flood loss dataset; (2) identification of precipitation measures that are related to damaging floods; (3) identification of social and economic factors that are major contributing factors to the level of losses resulting from floods; and (4) use of the identified data to estimate the relative contributions of socioeconomic and weather-related factors to flood damages.

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Use and Value of Weather and Climate Forecasts

Based on Pielke's participation in a major review of NOAA/National Weather Service operations during the 1997 spring flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota, Pielke continued research on the use and value of weather and climate forecasts for the Red River of the North Basin. Several articles have been published, and several talks have been presented at meetings of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the University of Colorado. The case of the North Dakota floods provides an excellent example of the difficulties in bridging the gap between technically sophisticated forecast products and the ability of users to incorporate that information into their decision processes.

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Prediction in the Earth Sciences: Use and Misuse by Policy-Makers

Pielke, Dan Sarewitz (Geological Society of America [GSA] [Retired], Byerly, and Dale Jamieson (Carleton College) continued an NSF-sponsored project on the use and misuse of predictive earth science by policy-makers. Major financial and intellectual resources in the earth sciences are now focused on trying to predict the behavior of natural and human-induced environmental phenomena. Such efforts reflect a demand by policy-makers for predictive information that can help guide political decision-making on controversial environmental issues that include negotiation of international environmental treaties, disposal of radioactive waste, and control of development in areas prone to natural disasters. However, neither policy-makers nor scientists possess the information necessary for understanding if, how, and when research focusing on prediction can be productively applied to the policy-making process. Whereas timely, policy-relevant predictions may help policy-makers respond to some environmental problems, the misapplication of prediction research to policy problems can undermine policy goals, waste scarce financial and intellectual resources, and undermine the credibility of the scientific enterprise.

This project convened a major workshop in Estes Park, Colorado, in September 1998 that brought together scientists, policy-makers, and policy analysts to develop, present, and integrate case histories in predictive earth science research (past and ongoing). The workshop focused on the delineation of usable principles and criteria that can help policy-makers judge the potential value of scientific prediction for different types of political and social problems related to the environment and will thus contribute to the design of science and environmental policies that are fiscally responsible, scientifically efficient, and socially constructive. Toward this end, a significant component of this project will be the dissemination of workshop results to the relevant scientific and policy-making communities through publications and presentations.

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Societal Benefits of ENSO Forecasts

Glantz, in collaboration with Kenneth Broad (International Research Institute, Columbia U) and Alexander Pfaff (Department of Economics, Columbia U), prepared an article (under review) for the Bulletin of the AMS entitled "Maximizing the Societal Value of ENSO Forecasts: El Niño 97/98 and the Peruvian Fishery." (A shorter version of this article entitled "Societal Use of Scientific Information About Climate: A Peek At Reality, For ENSO Predictions And Peruvian Fishing" is under review by Nature.) This study builds upon studies done by Glantz in 1979 and 1981 that questioned the common assumption that if a "reliable" El Niño forecast existed, its dissemination would automatically yield significant societal benefit; the example for both of these studies was the management of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery. The current paper revisits questions central to the earlier analyses and views them in the context of the now-routine issuance of operational El Niño forecasts and a widespread push to apply this knowledge to yield significant societal benefits. The article focuses on examples of El Niño forecast use and impact in the same fishery during the 1997-98 El Niño event.

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Water Resources Atmosphere/Vegetation Interaction  Atmosphere/Vegetation Interaction Fisheries El Nino & La Nina Inland Seas Integrating Climate Models & Impacts Extreme Meteorological Events Statistics of Climate & Climate Impacts Outreach & Other Activities