Hearing on Using Technology to Address Climate Change

by Judith Curry

The House Committee on Science, Space & Technology Hearing on Using Technology to Address Climate Change is about to begin.

Date:  Wednesday, May 16, 2018 – 10:00am
Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building
Website and livestream [link]
  • Mr. Oren Cass, senior fellow, Manhattan Institute
  • Mr. Ted Nordhaus, executive director, The Breakthrough Institute
  • Dr. Phil Duffy, president and executive director, Woods Hole Research Center
  • Dr. Judith Curry, president, Climate Forecast Applications Network; Professor Emerita, Georgia Institute of Technology

Most unfortunately, owing to severe weather in DC last nite, my flight was cancelled and I am unable to attend the hearing.

Here is a link to my written testimony [Curry House science testimony]

My verbal testimony:

I thank the Chairman and the Committee for the opportunity to offer testimony today.

Two overarching policy response options have been articulated in response to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Both of these policy options exist in context of a broad and complex policy environment that involves energy, transportation, agriculture, economics, security, and land use practices.

Climate-related decisions involve incomplete information from fast-moving and irreducibly uncertain science. In responding to climate change, we need to acknowledge that we cannot know exactly how the climate will evolve in the 21stcentury, we are certain to be surprised and we will make mistakes along the way.

The focus of my testimony is on adaptation. In considering adaptation responses, it is important to recognize that there are multiple causes of climate variability and change, and that climate is just one element of the complex causes of vulnerability of human and natural systems.

Possible scenarios of incremental worsening of weather and climate extremes don’t change the fundamental storyline that the U.S. is highly vulnerable to current extreme weather and climate events.  Nearly all regions of the U.S. have an adaptation deficit relative to the current climate state and historical extreme events.

As a practical matter, adaptation has reacted to local crises associated with extreme events, emphasizing the role of ‘surprises’ in shaping responses. Pro-active adaptation raises the question of:  “Adapt to what?” Unfortunately, climate models do not provide us with the information needed to anticipate the local consequences of climate variability and change.

The challenge for climate change adaptation is to work with a broad range of information about regional vulnerabilities and climate variability, in the context of a decision-analytic framework that acknowledges deep uncertainty.

Rather than developing an optimal policy based on a negotiated scientific consensus, robust and flexible policy strategies can be designed that account for uncertainty, ignorance and dissent.

A focus on policies that support resilience and anti-fragility avoids the uncertainties of attributing climate change to humans versus nature and avoids the hubris of thinking we can predict the future climate.

Rather than ‘bouncing back’ from extreme weather and climate events, we can ‘bounce forward’ to reduce future vulnerability by evolving our infrastructures, institutions and practices.

Sea level rise is one impact area where pro-active adaptation is justified by our scientific understanding of the direction — if not the magnitude — of future sea level change. Global mean sea level has been rising since the mid 19thcentury. There is no question that local sea levels are increasing in some coastal regions at rates that are causing damage.

However attributing sea level rise to human-caused global warming has been very challenging. In the locations that are most vulnerable to sea level rise, natural oceanic and geologic processes plus land use practices are the dominant causes of current local sea level rise problems.  Of direct relevance to the issue of climate variability and change, large-scale ocean circulations can cause regional sea level rise to exceed global values by an order of magnitude on annual to decadal time scales.

If we look at sea level rise only as a climate change problem, then we are missing key components of sea level rise that are important to decision makers.

Confronting our regional and local vulnerabilities to climate variability and change has many potential advantages, allowing for a range of bottom-up strategies to be integrated with other societal challenges. These include growing population, environmental degradation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources. Even if the threat from global warming turns out to be small, near-term benefits to the region can be realized in terms of reduced vulnerability to a broad range of threats, improved resource management, and improved environmental quality.

As a climate scientist, I am concerned that climate science has focused only mitigation relevant research such as attribution of global climate change and determining the climate sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide. As a result, there has been little focus on understanding natural internal climate variability and regional climate dynamics, which is needed to inform adaptation. A new emphasis of climate science on understanding natural climate variability and its regional impacts is needed to better understand our vulnerabilities to climate variability and change in the 21stcentury.

JC reflections:  This looks like a very interesting Hearing, with witnesses that are not the ‘usual suspects.’  I may do a follow on post on any interesting topics raised by the other witnesses.



Judith Curry

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