Protection of Life and Property

[ Climate Change Policy ] [ Disaster Diplomacy ]
[ Disaster Prevention in the Lower Rio Grande ]
[ El Niño and La Niña ]
[ Extreme Events ] [ US Weather Radar ]


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Climate Change Policy

Policy History of the US Global Change Research Program. In the late 1980s, some members of Congress grew increasingly frustrated with the Bush administration's approach to global climate change policy. When the administrative development of the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) expanded to the legislative process, it provided Congress with a convenient opportunity to influence the Executive Branch to serve Congressional goals. Roger Pielke Jr. tells the story of the USGCRP in two papers which appeared in Global Environmental Change in FY00. The central thesis of these two papers is that how policy makers, administrators and scientists define the role of science in the policy process is critical to the success or failure of policies that depend on scientific input. The USGCRP was established to support policy development; however, rather than forcing a political consensus, scientific research has been selectively used (and misused) by opposing camps in the global warming debate to support previously held positions.

Breaking the Global Warming GridlockBreaking the Global Warming Gridlock. If Hurricane Mitch (late 1998) was a public-relations gift to environmentalists, it was also a stark demonstration of the failure of the current approach to protecting the environment, according to "Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock," Atlantic Monthly (July 2000) by Roger Pielke Jr. and Dan Sarewitz (Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Columbia U). The authors argue that disasters like Mitch are a present and historical reality, and they will become more common and more deadly regardless of global warming. Underlying the havoc in Central America were poverty, poor land-use practices, a degraded local environment, and inadequate emergency preparedness – conditions that will not be alleviated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The resources now aimed at the problem of global warming create the perfect conditions for international and domestic political gridlock, but they can have little effect on the human suffering that so often accompanies it. The authors' goal is to move beyond the gridlock and stake out some common ground for political dialog and effective action.

An Evaluation of the Use of Energy Policy to Modulate Future Climate Impacts. Conventional wisdom on climate change policy is straightforward: reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the increased frequency and magnitude of climate impacts on environment and society. The proponents of conventional wisdom widely consider energy policy to be the main policy tool available to decision makers to intentionally modulate future climate impacts. In "Turning the Big Knob: An Evaluation of the Use of Energy Policy to Modulate Future Climate Impacts," Roger Pielke Jr. and Roberta Klein, in collaboration with Dan Sarewitz (CSPO, Columbia U) challenge the notion that policy makers should intentionally use energy policy to modulate future climate impacts. The paper argues that policy makers may well make large changes in energy policy (and future emissions) without significantly affecting future climate impacts. In other words, even if a theoretical case could be made that energy could be used intentionally to modulate future climate change; other factors will play a larger role in creating future impacts and are possibly more amenable to policy change. This paper presents a sensitivity analysis under the assumptions of the IPCC for the case of tropical cyclones. The paper appeared in Energy and Environment.

Politics and Climate Change. Evidence is mounting that human activities are enhancing the naturally occurring greenhouse effect of the atmosphere, which is generating concern even among previous skeptics. For those who once doubted the scientific basis of global warming, the issue is being increasingly viewed as a serious environmental and economic problem. Michael Glantz wrote a paper for the February 2000 Calypso Log on "Politics and Climate Change: A Game of COPs and Robbers," which explains to the lay reader the relationship of climate change to the earth's dwindling natural resources.

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Disaster Diplomacy

The idea behind "disaster diplomacy" is to identify areas of diplomatic cooperation that might result between national governments in conflict from concern about natural disasters. A paper written by Michael Glantz traces the history of climate-related cooperation between the United States and Cuba, two countries that do not have good diplomatic relations with each other. It identifies and analyzes areas of present interaction and conflict, with particular respect to the ENSO cycle and the extreme meteorological events that they spawn. Glantz concludes that if there is to be an improved, long-lasting, mutually beneficial interaction between these two countries with regard to the ENSO phenomenon, it will have to come as a result of some sort of broad political rapprochement between the two governments at the highest levels. The paper, "Climate-Related Disaster Diplomacy: A US-Cuban Case Study," will appear in the winter issue (XIV) of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs in December 2000.

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Disaster Prevention in the Lower Rio Grande

Robert Harriss is involved in a collaborative project with the Rio Grande Institute (RGI) and the Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS). NCAR participates in evaluating and upgrading certain remote sensing and information resources available to local Texas communities. This project is supported by a cooperative agreement that RGI maintains with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The geographic focus of the project is on communities within or near the countries of Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata, Webb, and Val Verde in the Texas-Mexico border region.

Harriss and colleagues are working with local, state, and federal agencies in the study area to assess and evaluate the geographic information resources and information management capability of local communities. A further focus will be on the application of the findings to the development of local and regional disaster-mitigation action plans. NCAR will perform this research in a collaborative partnership with TNRIS. Special attention will be paid to training needs, GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and remote sensing applications, and interagency cooperation on meeting information needs, as well as coordination with the Transboundary Resources Information Management System (TRIMS). A report, jointly authored by TNRIS and NCAR, will be prepared in FY01 for RGI and the participating communities. The report will support the design of a distributed remote-sensing and GIS capability that assists communities in disaster prevention planning and implementation.

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El Niño and La Niña

Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and SocietyThe periodic warming and cooling of sea surface waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean spawn extreme climatic events such as droughts, hurricanes, and floods worldwide. The best known of these phenomena is El Niño, but the equally serious consequences of its lesser-known counterpart, La Niña, are now being identified as a result of the 1998-2000 La Niña event. Scientists around the globe are studying these interactions between the ocean and atmosphere. Michael Glantz completed a second edition of his 1996 book on El Niño, expanded to include new chapters on such topics as the 1997-98 El Niño, the 1998-2000 La Niña, and the media attention generated by these two events. The second edition, Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and Society, was released in the United States in November 2000. Glantz also submitted a 400-page manuscript to the United Nations University Press, "Facts and Speculation about La Niña and Its Societal Impacts." This manuscript is based on the La Niña Summit held at NCAR in July 1998. New chapters were solicited from other researchers.

Previous research has shown that Atlantic hurricane landfalls in the United States have a strong relationship to the ENSO cycle. A paper written by Roger Pielke Jr., "La Niña, El Niño, and Atlantic Hurricane Damages in the United States," in collaboration with Chris Landsea (National Hurricane Center, NOAA), compares the historical record of La Niña and El Niño events with a data set of hurricane losses. A significant relationship is found between the ENSO cycle and U.S. hurricane losses, with La Niña years exhibiting much more damage. Used appropriately, this relationship is of potential value to decision makers who are able to manage risk based on probabilistic information. This paper appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and is available on line. Pielke also completed a chapter in an edited book on El Niño (Changnon, 2000), "Policy Responses to El Niño 1997-1998: Implications for Forecast Value and the Future of Climate Services." This chapter reviews policy responses to the seasonal climate forecasts for this event.

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Extreme Events

EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) Report on Damaging Floods. Because flood policies are often based on an interpretation of the causes and impacts of floods, policy makers are hampered by a lack of specific knowledge of the causes and consequences of flood impacts. As part of a series of studies seeking to improve the understanding of damaging floods, this report by Pielke, Mary Downton, and Zoe Miller, in collaboration with colleagues from the Illinois State Water Survey, presents the results of an intensive prototype case study that looked at two basins in Iowa (Skunk and Raccoon River Basins) to document and explain the factors underlying historical flood damage. Few analyses have sought to explain past patterns in flood damage for specific river basins. The report will be available from EPRI in FY01.

Extreme Events: Developing a Research Agenda for the Twenty-First Century. Extreme events are emerging as a unifying theme in scientific research. Investigations into complex systems yield increasing evidence that system evolution is strongly controlled by extreme events, which appear to be on the upswing. Scientific and societal interest in extreme events is converging. Roger Pielke Jr., with Dan Sarewitz (CSPO, Columbia U), organized a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop 7-9 June 2000 at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado. The overarching objective of the workshop was to reconsider research on phenomena traditional defined as "natural hazards," "surprises," and "low probability" in terms of a more unified perspective, focused on society's needs for useful information from scientific research.

Extreme Weather Sourcebook Year 2001 Update. The Extreme Weather Sourcebook was first created in 1998 by Pielke et al. to provide quick access to data on the cost of damages from hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes in the United States and its territories. The Sourcebook is being updated in 2000 by Pielke and Klein to include data through 1999 on these extreme events in constant 1999 dollars, simplifying comparisons among extreme-weather impacts and states or regions. New additions to the Sourcebook include data on lightning, hail, thunderstorms, heavy rainfall, wind storms, and winter storms. The report will be issued in early 2001 with the assistance of the American Meteorological Society and UCAR.

Hurricane Damages. In late October 1998, the remnants of Hurricane Mitch stalled over Honduras and Nicaragua, killing more than 10,000 people and causing billions of dollars in damages. While Central America and the Caribbean have a history of natural disasters, the fatalities and destruction caused by Mitch were the greatest in several decades, prompting questions such as: What accounts for the extent of these losses? Is Mitch a harbinger of future disasters? What might be done in response? Roger Pielke Jr. and Roberta Klein, in collaboration with Chris Landsea (National Hurricane Center, NOAA) and others in Cuba, seek to shed light on these questions by examining the historical and geographic context of hurricane vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean. They examined trends in economic and other societal factors that increase vulnerability to hurricanes and included a case study of normalized hurricane losses in Cuba.

Michael Glantz and Dale Jamieson (Carleton College, Northridge, Minnesota) prepared a paper on Hurricane Mitch and Honduras, raising some of the ethical issues that surround the decision of whom to help, when, and how to help in the wake of such a human tragedy. Honduras, at the time of Hurricane Mitch, was the fourth-poorest country in Latin America. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch should serve as a catalyst for governments in the region and the donor community to reconsider how best to design, implement, and integrate development and disaster relief strategies. This paper addresses considerations about the conflicts between intra-generational and inter-generational issues and briefly discusses the notion of "leapfrog" development, followed by a discussion of persistent global inequities. The paper will appear in FY01 in a special issue of Risk Analysis (editors David Okrent and Nick Pidgeon), "Societal Response to Hurricane Mitch and Intra- vs. Inter-Generational Equity Issues: Whose Norms Should Apply?"

Precipitation and Damaging Floods. The poor relationship between what climatologists, hydrologists, and other physical scientists call "floods" and those floods that actually cause damage to life or property has limited what can be said about the causes of observed trends in damaging floods. A paper by Roger Pielke Jr. and Mary Downton, which appeared in the October 2000 issue of the Journal of Climate, presents a conceptual framework for the systematic assessment of the factors that condition observed trends in flood damage. It assesses the role of precipitation variability in United States damaging floods. Three different measures of flood damage (absolute, per capita, and per-unit wealth) each lead to different conclusions about the nature of the flood problem. This study indicates that the growth in total damage in recent decades is related to both climate factors and societal factors.

Storms Volumes I and IIStorms. Although storms are a constant condition of life on earth, their impacts on society and the environment are not always manageable. As a result, societies seek to reduce their vulnerability to storms, although these responses can actually exacerbate vulnerability. Storms Volumes I and II, edited by Pielke in collaboration with Roger Pielke Sr. (Colorado State U) include papers from academics from around the world who discuss storm science and social vulnerability, tropical cyclones, extratropical cyclones, mesoscale convective systems, and other storms. Detailed accounts of storms in the United States, Canada, Cuba, China, Australia, India, Russia, Vietnam, Brazil, and Mexico are included. Robert Serafin contributed a paper to the volumes, "Progress in Understanding Windshear and Implications on Aviation."

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US Weather Radar

The NEXRAD (Next Generation Doppler Weather Radar) system is now operational within the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. This technology has been enthusiastically received by weather forecasters in all regions and climatic regimes of the country. Further improvements to the system will greatly enhance its capabilities for the future. At the same time, it is appropriate to look to the future and to begin planning for the successor to NEXRAD. Robert Serafin and James Wilson (NCAR/ATD) prepared a paper, "Operational Weather Radar in the United States: Progress and Opportunity" to address these issues, which appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in March 2000.

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