Welcome to ClimatePolicy.org!

March 1st, 2007 <-- by Paul Higgins -->

Society faces complex choices in dealing with climate change. The policies we adopt have the greatest chance to benefit society if they are grounded in the best available knowledge. Unfortunately, gaps in understanding among scientists, policy makers, journalists and the public permeate nearly all aspects of the issue and constitute a major barrier to the adoption of well-informed responses to the threats posed by climate change.

ClimatePolicy will be a source of information and will work toward a more fully informed debate. We’ll discuss a wide range of topics that span scientific understanding, impact assessment, policy analysis, and the value judgments that shape people’s policy preferences. This will improve the policy process by explicitly identifying existing knowledge and exploring the limits to it. Our goal is to inform policy, rather than to advocate for specific policy solutions.

What we know about the climate system, and the impact humans have on it, comes mostly from observations, scientific research, impact assessment, and policy analysis. Much of this knowledge is presented in periodic synthesis reports, like the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the US Assessment Reports, and the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the National Academy of Science (NAS).

Nevertheless, moving from knowledge to policy remains a major challenge. Scientists often struggle to convey information beyond the research community, and the broader implications for society are rarely obvious. Even when climate impacts are clear, different groups will be affected by them (and by climate policies) differently. Those who win and those who lose rarely agree on an appropriate course of action. Nor do members of society always share the same priorities and values. How we view risk, our preferences for focusing on the present or the future, how much importance we attach to other species, and how flexible we are in facing challenges all influence the direction we want society to take in response to climate change.

Societal decisions will have to balance what we know with the values and interests of a broad range of people. Even if we all shared the same knowledge, choosing climate policies would remain contentious.

Nevertheless, by clearly distinguishing what we know (objective understanding) from what we believe should be (subjective value judgments), the process of setting a course will become more focused and effective. Those who attempt to use ignorance to manipulate the debate will be less effective and will lose credibility, while disagreements that focus on values and beliefs will not obscure the considerable knowledge base we possess.

ClimatePolicy is a web commentary designed to encourage exchanges among experts, policy-makers, journalists, and the broader society. We welcome comments and look forward to a lively discussion (see our comment policy).

The American Meteorological Society’s Policy Program established the ClimatePolicy project. The views expressed by the contributors are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of AMS. To learn about established AMS positions on climate change or other issues, consult these AMS statements.

34 Responses to “Welcome to ClimatePolicy.org!”

  1. Steve Scolnik Says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere from CapitalWeather.com!

  2. Alex Ruane Says:

    I am excited to see that the AMS has set up this online forum, and hope members of the interdisicplinary climate community will participate in shaping the discussions here.

  3. Gretel Gambarelli Says:

    Hi and congratulations for the blog.
    I find it a promising opportunity to exchange ideas and information for the common goal of doing something concrete on climate change. I work in climate change adaptation for a development bank, so I hope that there will be some interesting discussions on the what and the how of adaptation in different sectors. I will probably launch a specific comment very soon… Thank you!

    [Response: Thank you for the kind words. We will certainly talk about adaptation at some point. -phiggins]

  4. Don Thieme Says:

    I am looking forward to following threads here in future months. Someone needs to establish a bridge between the meteorology and climatology ends of weather and climate research.

  5. Hans Erren Says:

    I miss climateaudit and Pielke (Jr and Sr) in your web resources list.

    [Response: Thanks for the suggestions. There are many great resources missing from the sidebar at this point. We’ll be adding to the list soon. -phiggins]

    I’ll be watching you.

    [Response: If you’d like to make it easer to keep an eye on the website, you might consider signing up for email notification of new posts. -phiggins]

  6. Paulina Essunger Says:

    Can’t wait for your first topic! Where will you start?

  7. laurie hogan Says:

    I would like to see expert comments on the recent IPCC report (Summary for Policy Makers) in Table SPM -1, particularly the entries for “increased incidence of extreme high sea level”.

    See also the link at: http://www.aip.org/pt/vol-55/iss-3/p35.html

    How have the global climate models that are involved in the projections in the IPCC summary accounting for all the factors described in the second link.


  8. Tod Brilliant Says:

    Led here via Dave Roberts over at Grist. Encourage everyone to add you to their RSS feeds! Looking forward to information on climate change ‘direct from the source,’ something you guys can offer that is of terrific value to the ongoing attempts to make real progress. Have added you to my blog (should be good for dozens of hits over the next decade or so!)


  9. Steppegold Says:

    Dear all – congratulations on starting this site, which promises to serve a central function to the debate – let’s hope it succeeds. As a field geologist cum field ecologist I have observed much evidence in northern England and now in Mongolia for repeated cold and warm periods – so called ‘ice ages’ and ‘interglacials’. In NW England the factual evidence is from pollen analysis and beetle remains in lowland and upland peat bogs, and in peat layers overrun by ice sheet deposits (e.g. Chelford, Cheshire). In Mongolia the evidence is in humic soil profiles alternating with wind-blown sand (loess). The average climate for Manchester is permafrost and for much of Mongolia still is permafrost.

    There is no debate about there having being multiple ice ages, the notion of a single ice age is long gone. My interest is whether any of the interglacials reached as warm at present or as warm as projected. Seems to me that we may be about to go ‘above the average’ for interglacials. My question is, what facts do the experts have about this, rather than just opinions?

    [Response: The state of science is summarized by the contributions from Working Group I of the IPCC. You can download a brief summary of the most recent report (here), or access all of the previous report (here). -phiggins. ]

    My second point is that there is abundant evidence in the NW England for short intervals of a few decades each of exceptionally hot summers (e.g. Edwardian summers) and other times of extremely cold winters (e.g. Little Ice Age), and shown quite well in tree ring studies eg in Northern Ireland and Mongolia. Such intervals are so brief that they are mostly ‘missed’ in analyses of peat or lake sediments, but are occasionally reported. As yet there seems to be quite a lot of uncertainty about the cause of such short-term climatic oscillations. There is no evidence that man caused them, and I don’t think any scientist has suggested it. There is no scientific consensus on the causes of these short-term climatic oscillations apart from the reasonable assumption that ‘natural causes’ are the dominant/only factors. So, reasonable man would say that the present global warming is most likely to be one of these short-term climatic oscillations, as they occur in human history and prehistoric times at irregular intervals but commonly. What do the experts think of this – in particular why cannot the present undisputed global warming be a NATURAL temporary global climatic oscillation that will self-correct in due time? Why are not more efforts being made to unravel the cause of short-term climatic oscillations for, in absence of such knowledge, blaming man for global warming remains somewhat theoretical.

    [Response: You are correct that throughout the past changes in climate have a occurred naturally (that is, not because of humans). The Earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions, changes in solar output, and natural changes in greenhouse gas concentrations have all changed climate in the past. It does not follow, however, that past natural changes in climate mean that humans cannot be changing climate now. A great deal of effort has gone in to attributing the recent changes in climate to human activities Section E of this IPCC Technical Summary presents a good, if slightly out of date description of this. The new report has concluded that there is between a 9 in 10 and 19 in 20 chance that humans are responsible for the recent climate changes. -phiggins]

    Looking forward to some debate on this and the rest of global warming issues.

    [Response: We’re going to focus on policy and will generally leave it to others to synthesize and present the best picture of what is known and not known about the science of climate change. Indeed, that is exactly what IPCC does. So we’ll leave the debates about individual papers and the specific details of the science for places like the IPCC. This will allow us a better chance to focus on the many substantive and complex issues that arise in climate policy. -phiggins]




    based in Outer Mongolia I see huge amounts of ev

  10. Tim Clear Says:

    I see your “comment policy is based on and adapted from realclimate.org”.

    What does this mean in terms of prohibiting serious alternate discussions and allowing ad hominem attacks from people supporting your positions?

  11. John K Says:

    Good luck with your website, although from my experience with the media you may be struggling to get balanced reporting and quality analysis. Trying not to be negative but politicians are protected by their gatekeepers and spin doctors so I hope your blog gets through to them. I would also suggest you add the IPCC website to your list of resources which is: http://www.ipcc.ch/

    Good luck

  12. Colin Forrest Says:

    I think that there are two concepts that would benefit from discussion.

    1. A carbon tax. Would favour energy efficient behaviour and technologies, renewables and nuclear and should be set at a level to make building new or retrofitting old coal fired power stations with carbon dioxide capture and underground burial systems more financially favourable than paying the tax.

    Immensely unpopular with politicians and the electorate, much more effective and simpler to apply than other fiscal measures. Does not distort markets or discriminate for or against particular sectors, and if agreed internationally, would not place any disadvantage on any one country.

    2. Geo-engineering. If do-able, could save a lot of damage to the planet and reduce positive carbon cycle feedback from soils and vegetation. Some of the ideas to increase the albedo of the planet that have surfaced in the media seem a bit difficult to acomplish (where would we get 7 billion tons of sulphur a year to fire into the stratosphere) or energy intensive (sunshades in space) I favour increasing low level cloud cover by creating new cloud condensation nuclei from sea water aerosol.

    Wolud you like a discussion piece on either of these subjects ?

    Good luck with the blogg site.

  13. Mohammed Sadeck Says:

    Dear All

    Congratulation for this initiative and our wish for a long and informative life to this publication/ discussion forum and Knowledge Management medium/network.

    Concerned by Africa’s development under a Changing Climate , I wish that we further develop the Adaptation Programmes to Climate Variability and Change,while not loosing site of the Mitigation Responsabilities for every human being.

    Due to its high vulnerability and very low capacity to adapt to Climate shocks , and even cope with curent climate variability ,Africa is the region suffering from the combined impacts of a Changing Climate and Poverty while endowed with Important Natural Resources .Let us share the existing Knowledge from the available Sciences & Technologies in order to properly and effectively inform a Community Based Management of these Natural Resources..and for that AMS has been always the Champion within its education/information programme….Good luck.

    Mohammed Sadeck Boulahya
    Senior Advisor Africa
    Climate for Development Consortium
    Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel(OSS)
    Tunis, Tunisia

  14. G. Bartosh Says:

    As a freelance journalist and writer, I have been trying for years to get the public, or any clients who might listen, to understand the urgency of socio-political and individual change to put a lid on global warming. My concern is that here in Canada, we are embarrassingly oblivious and late to the game. The story has subsequently taken on a ‘flavour of the month’ tone as popular media and politicians who, only a short time ago, were conspicuously absent, jump on the green band wagon. My fear is that real, substantive change in the way we humans operate will NOT occur and the vast majority will simply treat climate change as another news story blaring in the background as they carry on with their daily lives in overlit, over-built houses and take cheap flights to the tropics twice a year. This would be disastrous. I’ll check in with this site frequently for accurate, meaningful info I can help disseminate [hopefully scientists will keep discussions in plain language so they can be accessed by anyone]. Further suggestions welcome for improving messages and the media’s role in deconstructing life as usual.

  15. Victoria Long Says:

    Thanks for your perspective G. Bartosh – I share your hope this won’t get hyped into ‘background noise’ for North America’s citizens.

    On the science, my main concern is the lack of a clear statement by any of the experts that no one knows when control of the warming will pass (or has passed) beyond humanity’s ability to restrain it because of the multitude of feedbacks that kick in as various thresholds are reached. This means most news ‘stories’ have the underlying assumption that as soon as we get off our collective butts and do something, the problem is on its way to being solved.

    Recently, there has been some press coverage of what length of time the warming up to now commits us to climatic changes but that’s just Not Enough to focus attention on the severity of the problem in my opinion.

  16. Bill Wadford Says:

    Congratualtions on your launch. I am especially heartened by your stated policy “…will be a source of information and will work toward a more fully informed debate.”
    I hope this means what it says, that all perspectives, even those of Lindzen, Svensmark, Shaviv, Bond, Vieser, Michels, Lomborg, Spencer, Legates, Taylor, Singer, Soon, Hu, and on and on will be given equal treatment.
    It would be very refreshing to read actual debate on the science. The sites of Prometheus and CO2 Science fall into this catagory and yours would be a welcome addition, if you do what you say you will.

  17. Mark Meisner Says:

    I respectfully disagree with Bill Wadford’s suggestion that the climate change deniers be given “equal treatment.” The false balance they have already received in the mainstream media has helped put climate policy in the U.S. about 10 years behind where it should be. There is no debate about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change; global warming is a fact. So why give “equal treatment” to those who would deny or downplay its existence.

    The time for fossil-fuel-industry-supported misinformation and misdirection is over. Now we need to move toward implementing intelligent policies, advancing approprite technologies, and expanding public understanding of the causes and consequences of global warming.

    It’s going to be an interesting ride.

  18. Steve Caratzas Says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere and congratulations on joining the discussion. And thank you for your commitment to bringing information and value to the table.

  19. sureshkumar.s Says:

    dear all,
    one of the things i have been pondering over is a geoengineered effort to scavenge carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a science based simple technique. The other day i came across an article on carbondioxide absorption by porous titania micro and nano structures. [incidentally ,in my institute also some work is afoot on making porous titania by sol-gel technique ,for other applications.]
    There are also other reports on the carbon dioxide reactions of polyamines to give soil-friendly chemical compounds.
    If one synergise these ideas to have porous titania structures dispersed on thin films of polyamines then the following may be expected: the carbondioxide will be absorbed by titania which is transported through the polumeric film for reaction with the amine group and the gas ,under photoirradiated condition to give urea like compounds .
    The geoengineering solution for scavenging atmosperic carbon dioxide is to disperse the film with titania as small systems to scavene and fix carbon dioxide ,in the atmosphere.

  20. Hans Erren Says:

    I respectfully disagree with Mark Meisner who pictures genuinine peer revieved science as “denialist”. One should instead reject all “scientists” that do not adhere to the scientific method.

  21. Arnost Khun Says:

    Congratulations on your launch! The fact that global warming is occurring is undoubted – how best to respond to this fact is therefore critical. I fully support your opening statement that policies will only have the greatest benefit “if they are grounded in the best available knowledge information”.

    Any policy response therefore has to be based on dispassionate assessment of all the science, and as such I would not exclude the work of the “climate change deniers” (as recommended by Mark Meisner above). The work of Svensmark, Shaviv and Veizer in particular can not be dismissed so lightly.

    Good luck!


  22. Vasco Says:

    Unfortunately I see already in this initial phase the usual suspects digging their heels in the sand in order not to lose ground in the overheated GW discussion. In this war of tribes science is definitively losing it’s most important goal.

    “Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.” (A.Einstein)

  23. Tim Clear Says:

    Mark Meisner is reflecting the isolationism of the CO2 focused alarmist crowd. Not only is he denying that the media is consumed by the effort to sell news (and alarmism sells news) he projects the real denialism of this debate – which is that there are in fact other components to temperature variations. For example Svensmark et al have shown quite convincingly there are external (to the earth) mechanisms involved modifying cloud (therefore albedo) changes, whereas on the other hand there is absolutely no evidence of CO2 affecting temperature in the paleo record.

    [Response: This is not quite correct. The implications of Svensmark et al.’s results were much more modest than you’re suggesting. See this discussion at RealClimate for more details. Your claim that there is no evidence for CO2 affecting temperature in the paleo record is also incorrect. We can’t explain the ice age/interglacial temperature changes without CO2 and the greenhouse gases. We also know that without CO2 and the other greenhouse gases the earth surface would be too cold for life as we know it. -phiggins]

    One of these days even the most simple among us will understand what it means that temperature changes occur before CO2 changes in the paleo record, and there is no correlation between CO2 changes and *subsequent* temperature changes. *That* is the real denialism here.

    [Response: Changes in CO2 concentration can be both responses and feedbacks to other changes in the climate system. Warming caused increases in CO2 which triggered further warming. Without the CO2 feedback we can’t explain the changes in climate evident in the paleo record. This is widely understood and non-controversial. -phiggins]

    [Response: Finally, please try to maintain civility when participating in this dialog. Calling those with whom you disagree “simple” won’t contribute much to a discussion based on substance. -phiggins]

  24. Hans Erren Says:

    [Response: Without the CO2 feedback we can’t explain the changes in climate evident in the paleo record. This is widely underderstood and non-controversial. -phiggins]

    Can you please give some peer reviewed references for this claim?

    [Response: For scientific questions in general, I’d recommend the Working Group I contribution to the most recent complete IPCC report, which is available here. Chapter 1 provides a great overview of the climate system, and section 1.2 an explanation for the the role of greenhouse gases. Chapter 2 explains how we know climate is changing, and Section E of the Technical Summary gives a short and readable account of how we know that humans are likely responsible. -phiggins]

    Shaviv finds empirical evidence for a low CO2 climate sensitivity.

    [Response: And many others find evidence for higher climate sensitivity. So how do we decide what the actual climate sensitivity is? By trying as many different types of experiments and gathering as many different observations as we can, and by then reproducing them as many times as possible. When we put all the credible ones together we can develop a better estimate the possible range in climate sensitivity than we would likely get from any single paper. Which brings us back to the IPCC process. IPCC tries to take into account all credible results in order to accurately characterize what we know and understand about the science of climate change. Could a single paper be better than all of them put together? Sure, but it isn’t likely. So for climate sensitivity, I’d recommend the IPCC Reports. -phiggins]

    [Response: All of this takes us far, far away from the topic of the initial post and the intent of this website. We’re going to focus on policy and will generally leave it to others to synthesize and present the best picture of what is known and not known about the science of climate change. Indeed, that is exactly what IPCC does. So we’ll leave the debates about individual papers and the specific details of the science for places like the IPCC. This will allow us a better chance to focus on the many substantive and complex issues that arise in climate policy. -phiggins]

  25. David Smith Says:

    Kudos to everyone trying to insulate scientific inquiry from political
    power plays.

    Given our long history of “unintended side effects” I’m astonished
    that thoughtful adults can recommend drastic interventions with
    straight faces absent better understanding of the causative mechanisms

    Regardless of what factors are leading to the observed temperature
    trends (warming and cooling) it would seem that substantially reducing
    CO2 emissions (for example by replacing coal-fired- with well
    engineered nuclear-power plants) would seem wise. On the other hand,
    schemes like injecting billions of tonnes of sulfur into the
    atmosphere (or the plan to paint Greenland black twenty years ago when
    Global Cooling was the panic du jure) seem as imprudent as
    precipitously revising our political, economic or diplomatic systems.

  26. TokyoTom Says:

    Alright already. You’ve got a website; can we expect actual posts at some time?

    [Response: Yes, several are in the works. We’ll be trying to put out a couple a week usually but this week there is likely only going to be one. It will come soon … -phiggins]

  27. Vasco Says:

    “Finally, please try to maintain civility when participating in this dialog. Calling those with whom you disagree “simple” won’t contribute much to a discussion based on substance”.

    Hmm…discussion based on substance… ok, how about this:

    “The time for fossil-fuel-industry-supported misinformation and misdirection is over. Now we need to move toward implementing intelligent policies, advancing approprite technologies, and expanding public understanding of the causes and consequences of global warming.”

  28. David Schnare Says:

    Mr. Higgins,

    There are too few blogs where we can examine the science as scientists without the deafening thunder of polemics and politics. I make a personal commitment to a science-only discussion on this new blog and ask Mssr’s Wadford, Meisner, Clear and all others to join in this commitment.

    [Response: Again, if you’d like to focus on climate science then I’d recommend the IPCC reports or RealClimate.org. We’re going to focus on policy. That still leaves a lot of room to be informative and objective, which I think fits nicely with what you’re saying. -phiggins]

    David W. Schnare, Ph.D.

  29. jae Says:

    Judging by the responses to Tim Clear’s comment, it looks like this is just a RealClimate mirror site.

    [Response: RealClimate is a fabulous resource. They focus on science, however, we’ll cover a broader range of issues that relate to climate policy. -phiggins]

  30. Boris Says:

    I look forward to following the science and discussion of climate change via your new blog. Congrats.

    And I’d also like to think the scientists who devote their careers to foster a better understanding of the Earth’s climate. Despite much of the noise, your contributions are appreciated.

  31. Tim Clear Says:

    Wow. I wish I had saved that perfectly civil and to the point comment that I followed up with and you censored. You definitely do follow the Realclimate lead.

  32. Allan Yeomans Says:

    To All

    The only reason we are committed to climate change is because we are brain washed into accepting a commitment to powering society on fossil fuels.

    Let’s not kid ourselves; it’s impossible to stop Global Warming if we continue to burn oil, gas and coal. Ending global warming is both fundamentally simple and totally necessary. This is what I argue at my website. http://www.yeomansplow.com.au and in my book , PRIORITY ONE Together we Beat Global Warming . It’s what I firmly believe. I have made the entire book free to read on line or download. For ending global warming is so critical to us all. Read the book reviews at http://www.amazon.com

    I believe we must decide that ending global warming should be the immediate and urgent mission of all responsible environmental movements and that halting climate change should take precedence over the millions of minor environmental causes currently bandied around.

    I maintain it is practical, economical and responsible for Western Societies to switch totally to biofuels for transport. As ending global warming is such an imperative we should do things like plowing up the Amazon Basin to grow sugarcane and oil palms. Do that and we could shut down every oil well on the planet. Is it really that silly? The alternative is to wait until climate change dries a rain forests into a tinderbox, and burns, and all that fabulous timber goes up inflames. Wood is God’s own plastic, so harvest it.

    Then we use nuclear energy for industrial power and close down all fossil fuel power stations. People ask: “What about the bogie man of nuclear weapons proliferation?” Well from recent experience, if a rogue nation wants nuclear weapons, it’s very hard to stop them, and still stay “sweet and nice”. So as a policy and to allay proliferation worries we limit nuclear power to the countries that use it right now. That’s Russia, China, Japan, and the European Union, USA, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina and probably a few others. That’s over 60% of the world’s population.
    Worried about the tiny quantities of nuclear waste generated? Bury it under a 200 million year old coal seam, or dump it in the world’s deep ocean trenches. And safely forget it forever. The so-called “waste problem” is an anti-nuclear fiction.

    Lastly, we can easily sequester the existing atmospheric carbon dioxide overload, into soil. by increasing the humus and organic matter in the world’s agricultural soils To do this we go for organic type food and farming. It’s all detailed in PRIORITY ONE. Do the arithmetic on tree planting, then the insanity of the concept becomes obvious, even just to slow global warming. To prevent additional carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere, each one of us would require a newly planted hectare (two and a half acres) of trees every thirty years – all with a promise never to be harvested for a hundred years. Just maintained!.

    Do the above and the global warming problem is solved. And it’s fool proof.

    Let’s not pussy foot around any longer. Fiddling with your air conditioner, turning off an extra light bulb and believing Kyoto will achieve anything at all meaningful, simply guarantees that violent hurricanes, terrible droughts and tornados etc, along with all the resulting misery and loss of life will continue. It will inevitably get progressively worse, and for centuries to come.

    Think about all this first. Then please, start fighting ingrained ignorance now.

    Allan Yeomans

  33. Hans Erren Says:


    Although I am convinced that global warming is a hype, I agree with you that the best no-regrets strategy is indeed full steam ahead with nuclear power, so we’ll get rid of all air pollution. Don’t let the anti-nuclear lobby dominate this energy policy debate, the citizen has a right to the cheapest clean source of electricity.

  34. Harry Haymuss Says:

    How can you determine what an appropriate course of action is when we don’t know what feedbacks (e.g. clouds) are doing?

    [Response: The uncertainty about feedbacks cuts both ways. Negative feedbacks could help bail us out but positive feedbacks could increase the risks to society. Scientists do their best to figure out the range of possible and most likely outcomes (see IPCC) but what we do with that scientific information rests on value judgements. -phiggins]

    In the bigger picture, we are in for some serious problems with the 3rd world population explosion and wasting of arable land anyway. How do we actually know that increasing CO2 is not a good thing in the biggger picture?

    [Response: This last question is difficult. We know that human civilization developed during a relatively stable period for climate and that our societies, and the biological systems that we depend on, are often highly adapted to existing climate conditions. We also know that relatively small changes in climate in the past have had dramatic consequences on the Earth. So while we aren’t able to quantify the impacts of climate change well, the dice are loaded toward the unpleasant outcomes. Probably not for everyone or when viewed from all perspectives, however. Even if there were an equal probability of good and bad impacts from climate change, the downside risk (what we could lose) may outweigh the upside potential (what we could gain). But this all gets heavily influenced by individual preferences and perspectives. And for virtually all societal choices for dealing with climate change there will be winners and losers. We’ll be having many posts on all of this in the weeks and months ahead. -phiggins]