Sunday, March 2, 2014

A skilful counterstrike? John Holdren speaks and Roger Pielke Jr squirms

Sou | 3:01 PM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment

Roger Pielke Jr on John Holdren - 13 December 2012

Roger Pielke Jr on John Holdren - 14 February 2014

Roger Pielke Jr agrees with John Holdren - 1 March 2014

John Holdren steps away from "safe (boring) ground"

John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has upset Roger Pielke Jr.  Now this is being presented, by Roger Pielke Jr, as being all about him and to some extent it is about him.

What it is really all about is the impact of global warming on drought, particularly in the USA. (Science suggests that drought in Australia continues to be exacerbated by global warming - see here.)

It started last week, on 25 February 2014, when a US Senator, Jeff Sessions, apparently accused John Holdren of misleading the American people in statements reported by the press on February 13 this year.

You may recall this little episode, when John Holdren was misquoted by The Hill and the misquote was broadcast all over the deniosphere.  Anyway, according to John Holdren, the republican senator didn't like it when John Holdren linked "recent severe droughts in the American West to global climate change".  That's what started this climate battle between Roger Pielke Jr and John Holdren (who Roger refers to as a "colleague" for some reason, though Roger doesn't even work for the White House, let alone hold a position on par with that of John Holdren).

As "evidence" the good senator quoted from Roger Pielke Jr's testimony to a Senate Committee last July.

You can read John Holdren's account here at Peter Sinclair's website.  In summary, he referred to some of the literature and to Roger's testimony.  John Holdren didn't get everything right but I reckon he comes out of this looking better than Roger Pielke Jr and Jeff Sessions.

How Senator Sessions overlooked a footnote

Now Roger Pielke on his blog, pointed out that he did bury a little statement in a footnote, which Senator Sessions overlooked.

Oops.  No. That's not what Roger did.  Roger didn't point out that Senator Sessions was wrong and that he overlooked the footnote.  That's what he could have done and should have done and that might have been enough to end the matter.  Roger could have simply said: "John Holdren makes a good point that I de-emphasised the link between drought in the USA and global warming and only mentioned it in a footnote, which Senator Sessions and John Holdren missed seeing."

But he didn't.

Instead Roger posted a long article saying how it was John Holdren who was wrong because in fact Roger did mention the link between drought in the USA and global warming.  See it's right there, in a tiny footnote.

Yes - it might be an idea to go back and read those three paragraphs again :)

Or you can read this: Rather than say that the Republican Senator Sessions didn't tell the whole story, Roger Pielke Jr instead accused John Holdren of not telling the whole story.  What John Holdren missed was that Roger Pielke wrote a footnote that Senator Sessions missed.

Got it now?  Good.

A fine distraction, worthy of any fake sceptic

Of course, Roger has been successful in distracting attention from the main point.  By faking umbrage at what John Holdren wrote, he's distracted the dumb deniers from the main point.  The main point being that west and south western USA has been in the grip of a dreadful drought that has been exacerbated by global warming.

Does Roger Pielke agree with that?  Well, is Roger pretending to be an "honest broker"?  He hides in a footnote the bits that he doesn't want people to read.  That doesn't strike me as being either honest or brokering information.  When he's called on his omissions he points to his footnote and claims that he didn't omit it (he just buried it).  That doesn't strike me as being open and honest either.

So let's look at Roger's testimony back in July last year and the reaction to it by the denialati.

Claim: Roger Pielke rebutting claims?

Here is how Pielke Jr was reported by WUWT at the time:
Pielke gave an excellent seven point summary rebutting the claims that recent extreme events are unusual, more frequent, and causing greater losses than the historic record shows. He went on to say that the humans influence climate, including by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), but many claims cannot be substantiated. False claims about extreme weather events can lead to poor decisions and it may take decades, or more, before the human influence can be substantiated.

Roger Pielke's "take home points"

Here are Roger's "take home points" from his testimony (my bold italics):

  • It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.
  • It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases. 
  • Globally, weather-related losses ($) have not increased since 1990 as a proportion of GDP (they have actually decreased by about 25%) and insured catastrophe losses have not increased as a proportion of GDP since 1960. 
  • Hurricanes have not increased in the US in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900. The same holds for tropical cyclones globally since at least 1970 (when data allows for a global perspective). 
  • Floods have not increased in the US in frequency or intensity since at least 1950. Flood losses as a percentage of US GDP have dropped by about 75% since 1940. 
  • Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined. 
  • Drought has “for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U. S. over the last century.”
  • Globally, “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.”
  • The absolute costs of disasters will increase significantly in coming years due to greater wealth and populations in locations exposed to extremes. Consequent, disasters will continue to be an important focus of policy, irrespective of the exact future course of climate change. 

Notice his "take home points" about drought!  (I won't even start on his other "take home points".)

"Um, hello?" The KEY STATEMENT is right there, in the small print, in a footnote in the small print, you dummy!

Now, following John Holdren's testimony, Roger Pielke Jr has changed his tune.  Now he is pointing out that if you look past his "take away points" and look past the body of his testimony he makes a very important point to the US Senate.  It's just that he relegated this very important point to a footnote (my bold italics):
What is that sentence in question from the CCSP 2008 report that Holdren thinks I should have included in my testimony? He says it is this one:
"The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends."
Readers (not even careful readers) can easily see Footnote 21 from my testimony, which states:
CCSP (2008) notes that “the main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends.”
Um, hello? Is this really coming from the president's science advisor?
Holdren is flat-out wrong to accuse me of omitting a key statement from my testimony. Again, remarkable, inexcusable sloppiness.

See that?  Roger is now calling it a "key statement".  So why did he bury this "key statement" in a footnote?  Why didn't he include it in his "take home points"?

Finally, Roger is making much of the fact that a report from the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), "Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate" (2008), states that "increased temperature has led to rising drought trends" in Southwest and parts of the interior of the West of the USA.

Roger didn't exactly make this "key statement" a big point of this in his testimony on drought? Did he make a "point" at all? See for yourself - and note what Roger emphasised, versus what he relegated to a footnote:

Seeing Roger Pielke seemed to rely on CCSP (2008) quite a bit, I thought it might be useful to see what it said, remembering that since it was written back in 2008, the US Southwest has experienced a whopper of a drought (my bold):
Averaged over the continental U.S. and southern Canada the most severe droughts occurred in the 1930s and there is no indication of an overall trend in the observational record, which dates back to 1895. However, it is more meaningful to consider drought at a regional scale, because as one area of the continent is dry, often another is wet. In Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, the 1950s were the driest period, though droughts in the past 10 years now rival the 1950s drought. There are also recent regional tendencies toward more severe droughts in parts of Canada and Alaska (Chapter 2, section

There's more. This 2008 prediction seems to be on track:
It is likely that droughts will continue to be exacerbated by earlier and possibly lower spring snowmelt run-off in the mountainous West, which results in less water available in late summer (Chapter 3, section 3.3.4 and 3.3.7). 

Thing is, that much of western and south western USA is prone to drought.  And it looks as if that tendency could emerge more strongly as global warming kicks in this century.  It is important that governments in the USA recognise that, particularly for heavily-populated, highly productive regions like California.  It was wrong for Roger Pielke Jr to relegate his comment to a footnote, while highlighting in bold, and making this his "take home message" that 'Drought has “for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U. S. over the last century.'

Roger pouts and protests at an imagined grievance.  But he's the one who is downplaying the impact of climate change on the USA.

Here's the link again to John Holdren's article at Peter Sinclair's website.


I've found out there are a few other places covering this small episode, which is hopefully not prefacing the climate wars, including Greg Laden's blog and SkepticalScience. Sou.

And now Eli at Rabbett Run, who provides a transcript of Senator Sessions' questions accusations.

And now Joe Romm at ClimateProgress (with thanks, Joe.) Odd that while HotWhopper was worthy of a special mention, ClimateProgress refuses to let me comment. I blame Facebook :(

From WUWT - A skilful butt-covering "counterstrike"???

Anthony Watts reckons that Roger Pielke Jr responded "with a skillfull counterstrike" (sic).

So what was the "skillfull counterstrike"?

What it boiled down to is that Roger squeaked that he did include a statement (albeit in a footnote), that in regard to drought in the USA: "The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends."

Some skill. Some counterstrike.  Roger is saying that John Holdren is correct, not incorrect.  Roger is trying to cover his butt.

As for what the crowd at WUWT are saying in the comments.  Almost all of the commenters missed the point that whereas John Holdren was pointing out deficiencies in Roger's testimony, Roger's "skillfull counterstrike" is that he agrees with John Holdren about global warming and drought.  Roger admits that the science points to increased temperature leading to rising drought trends in parts of the USA.  Global warming is pointed to as the culprit!

Some of the WUWT-ers don't have a clue who Roger Pielke Jr is, for example:

rob m. says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:44 am
” the previous July by Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., a University of Colorado political scientist.”
Political huh?

Udar says:
March 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm
Why is Holdren calling Roger Pielke Jr, “a University of Colorado political scientist”? 
Perhaps because Roger Pielke Jr is a political scientist from the University of Colorado?

hunter says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:16 am
Holdren is part of the Ehrlich/Schneider school of science that is
1- proven to be wrong
2-over many decades
3- is willing to make the message achieve the societal goal, even at the risk of misrepresenting the science
Holdren is holding true to form.
john says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:20 am
It appears typical of this administration to employ individuals who care less about the truth and more about the party line.

ferdberple, referring to the Daily Caller, probably upset a few ardent right-wingers as well as Anthony Watts (who relies on Alexa) when he refers to the Daily Caller as an "obscure web-page" and says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:22 am
Why would the Presidents Scientific Adviser quote an obscure web-page unrelated to Dr Pielke as evidence of Dr Pielke’s views? This appears to be a political smear campaign much like the McCarthy era of American Politics.
Except it wasn't "unrelated to Dr Pielke" was it - not here and not here.

Lou invokes Joe Stalin and says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:23 am
Yikes. That wasn’t much difference than what Stalin’s “science adviser” did… Except for the killing part though but warmists did call for similar actions against skeptics. Scary times….

pokerguy says it's "libel" (and you thought all WUWT-ers were all in favour of free speech no matter what):
March 1, 2014 at 11:40 am
Clear case of damaging libel. He’s probably immune from lawsuits though in his current public capacity. Too bad.

Ric Werme thinks John Holdren taking three days to respond to Senator Jeff Sessions is way too long. Or maybe he didn't read what John Holdren wrote. Take your pick.:
March 1, 2014 at 11:42 am
It’s interesting that Holdren took so much time to write a response. I think he’s feeling threatened that someone he’d rather have outside of mainstream science is being taken seriously by the legislature.

rob m. is a dumb denier.  He didn't twig that Roger made so much of his footnote and seems to think that Roger Pielke Jr rejects human caused global warming.  He's wrong of course.  Roger accepts it but downplays it.
March 1, 2014 at 11:57 am
David: The facts don’t support global warming as they define it. All they have left to do is smear and discredit those who oppose their agenda.

Wondering Aloud seems to think it should rain everywhere all the time, and doesn't know that all that water can come down in buckets at once, and not where it's needed, and says:
March 1, 2014 at 11:58 am
Since the entire premise of the CO2 caused climate change requires an increase in evaporation; how can anyone rationally try to pretend that increased drought is a likely consequence? More water vapor =increased drought? Just plain dumb. Unless they really don’t believe their premise at all?

This was the only comment I found where the writer got the point, out of 118 WUWT comments (so far).  It's a shame he didn't write it more clearly.  DMA says:
March 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm
So Holdren is finding fault for Pielke putting in a footnote instead of the testimony body the sentence Holdren picked to support his point while excluding the meat of the paragraph that underpinned Pielke’s testimony. This seams to be a very pot to kettle type argument to me. I would say that his quote of the salient part in his rebuttal says more about his own bias for not including it in his Senate testimony than anything else. 


  1. Sometimes I wonder if ferdberple isn't pulling a Poe* on everyone. His comments are so off the wall but not like most of the rest of the WUWT commenters.

    * As in Poe's Law, it's impossible to tell the difference between sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.

    1. Professor Inferno at the excellent DenialDepot had the odd "warmist" visitor who couldn't spot the difference. But WUWTers generally could and were not happy. Which was odd because Prof Inferno sometimes broke a story before one essentially the same - albeit without the honesty - was posted at WUWT. The 'double recovery' of Arctic Ice springs to mind.

  2. My personal view has become that there are two signs that one should disregard most of what someone says. One is if they call themselves an "honest broker". The other is if they both start and end any written testimony with their own biography :-)

    1. Can't help but agree. When people come out and tell you they are about to be "honest with you" it does makes you wonder...

  3. Excellent, borrowed Page 9 at RR

  4. Excellent, as always. Even Jr must realise how small he's made himself look to anyone outside the WUWTian sphere of reality.

    Everything that used to be easy for them is going off half-cocked (half-Koched?) these days. Eventually they'll realise that the best policy is not to mention climate change at all. Whenever they deny it's caused some problem the take-away association is between climate change and the problem. Classic blowback for blowhards.

  5. The rather mealy mouthed fellow is Senator Jeffrey Sessions (AL). The Chair of the session was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), a rather different fellow:)

  6. I'm still coming to terms with the sheer elegance of this story. Holdren makes statements. Misquotes hit the echo-chamber. Jr takes accolades for boldly showing Holdren to be wrong. Holdren is dragged in for a Star-Chambering and bats it back neatly at Jr. Jr points to footnote where he agrees Holdren was right and gets more accolades from the same people. Meanwhile the point in question has been conceded - droughts are getting worse in some denier heartland - and the association with AGW made.

    It's all coming off the rails for them, isn't it? I'm loving it myself. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

    1. As far as the fake sceptics go it's a case of "heads I win, tails you lose".

      They don't care about the details of the situation or the facts. All it takes is for Roger Pielke Jr to say "gotcha" and Anthony Watts shouts "gotcha" and his deniers chorus "gotcha", even though there was no "gotcha".

    2. Indeed. It's a bonding exercise.

      What's great for people like us who enjoy bitch-slapping idiots is that we now have an insider conceding that droughts in the US South-West are getting fiercer, which is way off-script. The script says that there is no evidence for increased extremes of anything anywhere, according to AR5.

      I doubt this will make the mainstream, what with the Ukraine and 1914 on everybody's minds, but it's another shot in the foot for the denier movement. They really are having a torrid time of it, and the California drought won't allow them any relief this summer. I, for one, may stalk Jr with it.

      It's no wonder they're getting frantic.

    3. The really unfortunate thing that I face, as do many others is that the paper/article/speech is written to be easily understood to really convey the inherent complete coherent message.
      In my scientific career I have read thousands of papers. If I had to look for deviousness, obfuscation, omission, and plain old lies my whole time would be spent to work out what was real and useful.
      These professional deniers have been caught out misleading a Senate Committee no less! Although the crime was not so bad as they had accomplices on the committee. It is a shame that they will wear, as all this is on the record! Bert from Eltham

  7. Great post as always Sou. Thanks for exposing junior's weasel tactics. I love the feigned umbrage by Pielke, the shifting of goal posts, the yelling of "Look squirrel!".

    Some of Roger's fans have resorted to calling Holdren a "lunatic", and what does Roger say about that? Nothing of course, he is happy to let those comments stand. People posting on junior's blog who support him are not quite as radical as the WUWT crowd.

  8. And Jeff Sessions? He is not a lawyer defending a client. He is a Senator whose mission is to protect he American people. "Winning the case" by delaying action is simply Session's criminal negligence.

    If there were only the possibility of global catastrophe, Congress should be all over it. What we have is the high probability of catastrophe and still Sessions plays games..

  9. Pielke I expect enjoys the traffic. It is significant and dishonest that he does not mention Senator Sessions or Sessions's letter to SA Holdren charging with giving false testimony based on Pielke's testimony. I note that everyone should always use Senator Sessions's full name, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, just to remind everyone of the traitorous culture he comes out of (Jefferson Davis being the first President of the Confederacy and P.G.T Beauregard being the General commanding when Ft. Sumter was shelled in April 1861). When you are being used by Imhofe and Sessions to advance an agenda, the "hurt" feeling, being persecuted by the might "Obama" administration is a little stomach churning.


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