Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, comes back on the podcast for a second time. In this episode, he talks about the “catastrophe bias” in the latest IPCC report, the media coverage of the report, the need for more “robust science advice” in policymaking, why America’s reaction to Covid-19 was the “biggest policy failure” in modern U.S. history, the Olympics, the suspension of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, and the “intersection of expertise and democracy.” 

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And my guest for the second time to this episode is Roger pilkey, Jr. Roger, welcome to the power hungry podcast,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 0:18
ever. Thanks for having me.

Robert Bryce 0:19
Now, I know you may have remembered the last time I had you on I have all every guest introduces themselves. So I know you’re a professor at the University of Colorado, you have a lot of other things on your CV. But if you don’t mind, imagine you’ve arrived at a party, you don’t know anyone there and you have about 45 seconds to introduce yourself, go?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 0:38
Well, that depends if I want to have a conversation, or I want them to leave me alone. If I want to have a conversation, let’s say I study science and sports and doping and so on. And they go, Oh, wow, that’s interesting. And if I want them to kind of walk away, I say I study energy policy and in science and politics,

Robert Bryce 0:55
climate change. Climate change, they run away. Okay, but you’ve also authored. Okay, so thank you. You’re the author of eight books, the most recent of which is the rightful place of science. Oh, I’m forget, I don’t I thought I had the subtitle climate change, right, the rightful place of science, disasters and climate change. So you’ve written a lot recently, and the IPCC report came out just a few days ago. Let’s talk about that. What does the latest IPCC report say? And what how does what it says differ from what has been reported by the big media outlets?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:35
Yeah, it’s important for people understand that the IPCC has a 30 plus year track record of continuity in its its top line findings that the humans affect the climate, greenhouse gases are a primary means of that those effects can be detected and going forward, they carry with them some risks that we may want to do something about. So from that sense, that the six assessment report that just came out was consistent with, you know, what we’ve known in greater and greater detail over the past 30 years. The interpretations of the report sometimes differ from the substance, it’s a 3000 page report, and I don’t expect everybody or even most people are going to even go into the innards and read it. But in particular, there’s two issues that I’ve highlighted that we could talk about. One is that the report relies very heavily on very extreme scenarios of energy consumption going forward. And also the report is actually very responsible and how it discusses extreme events. But somewhere in the game of telephone between the report and the promotion and the press releases and the newspaper articles that gets spun in a way that’s not really recognizable when you go back to the to the science.

Robert Bryce 2:53
Well, you’ve talked about this a lot. And I was looking at, I first interviewed you in 2009, I believe I interviewed your father in 2007. And when I read back on that, on that the what we discussed now, 12 years ago, you’ve been pretty remarkably consistent in talking about these extreme scenarios. And in a recent interview, just in the last few days, you said the IPCC went down the path of favoring extreme scenarios, not extreme climate, serious scenarios, but extreme societal scenarios. And you said there’s a catastrophe bias baked into the IPCC. So explain that what is catastrophe bias? And what in particular on the on the energy mix? Are they getting wrong? Yes, so so

Roger Pielke, Jr. 3:38
the future is is a is a very difficult place to anticipate, especially out to 2100. So so very responsibly. The IPCC has ever since the beginning relied on what are called scenarios, scenarios are possible or plausible future ways that the world development might might proceed. The IPCC wants to use a wide range of scenarios so that they can encompass a wide range of plausible futures. The key word there, though, is plausible. The future has to be conceivable it has to be, we have to be able to envision that it could occur. And the IPCC long story short, going back decades, even back to the 1990s, in its scenarios, adopted an assumption that the world would continue to expand its use of coal energy. So we would convert nuclear power plants to coal, natural gas to coal, eventually, we would get off of petroleum and we’d have coal to liquid fueling our cars. And with that came, obviously a massive increase in carbon dioxide. That was based on a theory that was called learning by doing and the idea that we would get better and better at extracting and burning coal. Well, it turns out, the trend lines are in the opposite direction. Coal is not expanding dramatically. It’s leveled off and only increasing in a few places around the world like India, China, it’s going to be with us for a while, but it’s certainly not going to increase by more than six times, like the most extreme scenario has baked into it. So

Robert Bryce 5:17
if I can interrupt that, in that scenario, it’s RCP 8.5 representative concentration pathways, I’d never looked up our CP until just a few hours ago. But that 8.5 is where you see these extreme adoptions of coal coming forward. I just looked at the latest BP data just graphed it myself. So the peak I think was in 2014. And it’s been flat or declining slightly since then. And we’re seeing an uptick just lately. It’s in some countries, but it really the focus, you’re saying if you’re going to call out one issue is the treatment of coal in these future scenarios. Is that fair?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 5:53
Yeah, and it’s not just the I mean, RCP 8.5 takes takes a good and well deserved beating out there. It is the most extreme and IT projects that per capita coal consumption will increase by more than six times by 2100. But actually, across the entire family of scenarios, increasing coal consumption is baked into all of them. So so there’s good reason to believe that it’s not just one scenario that’s problematic. It’s it’s an assumption that underpins all the scenarios. And it’s important to understand that these scenarios are 15 2025 years old. So this is the latest science, but that science is built on a foundation that’s actually pretty dated.

Robert Bryce 6:36
Well, it’s interesting. You say that, because I’ve been you know, I’d look at the BP statistic is such a geek, I look at it pretty much every day. Right. But that it really it’s the increase in natural gas globally, in terms of primary energy. That’s the remarkable growth story. And it’s outstripping renewables in terms of on an absolute basis, not necessarily on a percentage basis. But Nat gas releases about half as much co2 as coal during combustion. This is a positive trend, and yet, I don’t hear much about that at all in regard to overall primary energy consumption. Instead, the headlines in the wake of the IPCC report have been uniformly well almost uniformly very doomsaying. And I mean, why is that? I know, you’ve talked about the IPCC itself, but what about them? The the the media and the coverage of this? Was it that if it bleeds, it leads, when and why is this, this, this these scenarios that are so that catastrophic scenarios get so much so much ink?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 7:34
Yeah, well, let me I mean, the first thing to say is the IPCC is an important institution. If it didn’t exist, we’d have to create it. And so it’s doing its job of assessing the literature is actually fundamental for for everyone policymakers to understand climate science. That said, there’s a design flaw in the IPCC, no one across its three working groups, is responsible for assessing the plausibility of the scenarios that are the foundation of the entire report. And it turns out, there are good reasons why scientists, climate scientists who run climate models might want to use an extreme scenario, they’ll tell you well, it’s easier to separate out the signal of human caused climate change from the noise of natural variability, I get that it makes a lot of sense. The problem is that the extreme scenarios that are implausible constitute more than half of the mentions of all scenarios in the current report. And there is this bias in the literature. And I think that’s an accurate reflection of the literature towards these extreme scenarios. And so what happens is the extreme scenarios are used in a scientific research project, the University puts out a press release to get attention to the study that says, We’re gonna have these massive climate changes and effects, you know, 50 100 years down the road, that gets turned into through this game of telephone, this is where we’re headed. This is our most likely future, rather than this is an exploration of a very extreme scenario to test out climate models. So there is a function here that’s not being served in the IPCC process, which is to evaluate whether the futures that are being presented are actually plausible, given current and recent trends.

Robert Bryce 9:18
Well, I want to I want to read part of you, you recently published a piece with Justin Richie in issues in science and technology. The headline is how climate scenarios lost touch with reality. And I want to read this part because I think it really, it’s a good summation, I think it will obviously you wrote it and but it’s a good summation, i think of what you’re talking about, she said, Because Because climate models depend on these scenarios to predict the future behavior of the climate. The outdated scenarios provide a misleading basis both for developing a scientific evidence base and foreign climate and forming climate policy discussions. The continuing misuse of scenarios and climate research has become pervasive and consequential. So much so that we view it as one of the most significant failures Have scientific integrity in the 21st century and thus far, we need a course correction. I mean, that’s a that’s a big statement, a significant failure is one of the most significant failures of scientific integrity in the 21st century. We need a course correction, but from everything that I see, and particularly in the last few years, but there’s no snow course correction afoot, it’s only seems like the the we only get more and more extreme prognosis for the future. When it seems to me there’s that if you take all of the side all of the evidence into consideration, well, maybe the future isn’t as bad as we’re being told. So how do we course correct, I guess is the question.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 10:41
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there’s two important messages here. One is that the the most extreme scenarios that have been popularized and favored and various assessment reports do appear like they’re, the IPCC says this low likelihood. So that’s good news that the disaster scenarios are, are much less likely than we thought before. At the same time, achieving deep decarbonisation. If that’s a policy goals, a net zero by 2050 is enormously huge challenge. So the size of the decarbonisation challenge from where we’re at today remains the same massive and huge. And so that’s, you know, that’s bad news for people who want to decarbonize quickly. But the good news is these rapid increases in co2 emissions that were earlier foreseen are, at least for now, given recent trends off the table. And that’s good news. And so we should be able to have those two perspectives at once in our in our head.

Robert Bryce 11:38
But yet, I don’t see that that any embrace of that idea. I mean, I’m truly in the in the broader public sphere. I mean, you called out the IPCC or know the head of the UN. He said that his claims about the IPCC report were irresponsible hyperbole. I mean, we see this even from the head of the UN, I mean, the this catastrophist mindset, I guess if I could just put it that way is so pervasive, it seems like a course correction seems almost impossible at this point, because everybody seems to want to sing from this exact same hymnal.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 12:13
Yeah, it’s I mean, it’s, in principle, science is self correcting. In practice, it can take a very long time. In that article that you referenced, we talked about how in cancer research, a skin cancer cell line was misused in hundreds and hundreds of paper as a breast cancer, so on, they had swapped them out in the research process at some point and that it just continued, that continues to this day, even almost a decade after that was recognized. So it’s important for the scientific community to take leadership. And we do see some indications that the extreme scenarios are being recognized as a problem. Recognizing that there is a problem is probably the first step towards getting it addressed. But I have worries. So there’s two more IPCC reports to come the working group to or impacts in working group three on economics. And I have concerns that they will have a similar baked in emphasis on these extreme scenarios. Which means, you know, if so, of course correction is probably not going to happen in the near term.

Robert Bryce 13:26
We call it out to in the same paper that you wrote with Justin Ritchie said, what we are seeing instead amounts to a stubborn commitment to error. I mean, that’s another really strong I just want to it’s as if profound changes in the world’s mix of energy. Now we’re going back to the coal discussion, the world’s mix of energy resources and technologies in the past three decades from the rise of natural gas to the growth of renewable energy had never happened. The most common assumption of coal is the most desirable global fuel source independent of all other social, technological and economic factors, results in a single point of failure across the scenarios. So I see the same thing that’s the idea that and even just looking at the Colburn over I tracked it back to 1980 you can go back even further but it’s clear that it’s plateaued as you point out it’s growing in China and India but really nowhere lol Japan some Indonesia in Asia, but really around the world nowhere else so is stubborn commitment to error really is a pretty it seems like a pretty good summation of the of what you’re talking about here. So but you’re not hopeful is what you what I would have heard you say about a course correction.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 14:31
Yeah. So what’s I mean what’s happening here and you know, there is climate politics and climate policy but this is really isn’t about that this

Robert Bryce 14:38
is more about the politics of science. And in which is Wareham, which is where you live on a whole bunch of in a whole bunch of different areas, right in sports, and climate and COVID you’ve been hearing across all these things that are the some of the hottest topics now. And if I if I would summarize what your a lot of what your work is done and what you said in your company. National testimony a few weeks ago, is that this integrity of the scientific method is being lost. Is that fair?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 15:06
I think in a number of areas, we’ve we’ve lost our focus on that. So for example, in this case and lost

Robert Bryce 15:11
or lost our focus on the integrity part or

Roger Pielke, Jr. 15:14
charity of science, yeah, I mean, science has been used as a political football, obviously, by the right and the left, people try to use science instrumentally, to try to force certain outcomes in society. And I’ve always liken that that’s kind of like pushing a rope, because science isn’t an actor out there. science can inform our decisions, but it doesn’t compel our decisions. And in the case of this scenarios, there was a decision made, you know, literally more than 15 years ago to centralize the production of scenarios. And so if you’re a physical climate modeler, there are only a limited number of scenarios on the shelf that you can select from to drive your climate model. And when you do that, you write papers, you get citations, you get research funding, there’s a whole ecosystem built around these scenarios. And Who among us, in the research community would want to say, Oh, yeah, that was the last three papers I did, are based on an implausible scenario. Just ignore that. We’re just testing things out.

Robert Bryce 16:21
So don’t ever Never mind all the work we’ve been doing for the last 10 years, because it’s been based on the wrong thing would be a difficult thing to admit.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 16:31
Yeah, it’s it of course, correction is difficult, because there’s a lot of inertia and momentum in sunk costs

Robert Bryce 16:38
out right. And that was, that was the phrase of it would be, oh, Sam Harris uses that line about believers, right? You have a lot of sunk costs, and you’re not going to just abandon them by saying, Oh, well, nevermind, we I was robbed saw the world wrong back then. And now I’ve seen the light. So this

Roger Pielke, Jr. 16:52
is a common story in science. When science goes astray, it usually takes a while for things to reorient and self correct, because of these incentives within the research community. And again, it’s not the hot politics of climate change are the left and right. These are the dynamics of what happens in academia and in the scientific community.

Robert Bryce 17:13
But I thought also you I mean, you had something on Twitter. And by the way, just to reminder, my guests, Roger pilkey, Jr. You can find him he’s on Twitter, Roger pilkey, Jr. At Roger pilkey, Jr. He’s also on substack, easy to find on substack. And he’s also on the web, Robert? Roger pilkey If I remember, right, that’s all right. Thank you. Sure. It’s all about the plug. But you pointed out how much money is at stake here as well, there is a way I think Rupert darwell called it the climate industrial complex, right that there is a very, very robust business in climate modeling. And you complete that you and Justin Ritchie in your piece in in issues in science and technology point this out, you said the emerging market for climate scenario products has led to a $40 billion climate intelligence industry. Swiss Re McKinsey big consulting firms they make they make a lot a lot of money by outlining these scenarios. And the research dollars are enormous that there’s a it’s the oldest maximum politics follow the money. So what are these groups do then that justifies their existence that gets them such lucrative pay days?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 18:21
Yeah, and the $40 billion estimate for the annual market for the what’s called climate analytics that comes from an industry group. So take that with a grain of salt. But it’s a lot of money. It’s not, you know, it’s not Apple and Microsoft money, but it is a lot of money for consulting. And what what’s being done is that governments and businesses are looking to assess what’s called climate risks of long term climate risks. And they do that by building on the back of these exact same scenarios that the IPCC uses. And so and, of course, as, as we’ve seen with the research community, in this consultant, you know, this growing consulting industry, there’s a preference to lean on the most extreme scenario, because it gives the biggest risks, and you’re more likely to pay to learn about your big risks, then smaller risks. So, in even though the scenarios are out of date, it’s the only game in town. So So this is an example of how the research goes from academia, to governments to business. And now there’s discussions about there’s proposed legislation in the US Congress to require the US government to lean on scenarios such as these for assessing central bank stability and financial risk across federal agencies and so on.

Robert Bryce 19:47
So it’s become this really a sledgehammer that’s used used by a lot of different interest groups to get more money, more funding more, more influence in the political system. Then and so what you’re describing to me seems like a policy some kind of policy flywheel that’s going to be very difficult to slow down. Is that Is that a fair assessment?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 20:09
Yeah. And it’s I mean, you know, as as a card carrying political scientists, it’s, you know, this is politics one on one. I mean, we see this in, you know, there’s even a phrase beltway bandits, you know, consultants who provide services to government with some specialized expertise, often quantitative, proprietary, and so it’s I don’t see it as anything unusual, it’s the natural evolution of this particular area of expertise to become a wedded more closely to government and industry. And you know, that there’s an Iron Triangle in there somewhere. Sure. Um, so. So, yeah, I mean, it’s it, the important thing to me is, there’s always going to be money, there’s always going to be winners and losers. But at least let’s get the science right, let’s let’s not, and when we know that there are aspects of the science that are out of date, or just wrong, continuing, you know, this stubborn commitment to error is not the right thing to do. So get the science right. And then, you know, the pilot political system, the economic system, that you know, they have their own issues, but but the things that I’m, you know, my expertise is on his getting, let’s get the science right.

Robert Bryce 21:14
Well, let me follow that up. Because you use that stubborn commitment to error which he was in your paper that you publish with Justin, Richie. You’re You’re pretty damn stubborn yourself. I mean, you’ve taken more than a few slings and arrows, I bake rocks, bricks. Why are you so stubborn on this? I mean, you could have I mean, you you walked away. If memory serves, you decided, well, I’m gonna leave the climate thing alone drama, go write about sports and other stuff. And you did for a little while, and then you came back. So why are you so stubborn on this and on this issue, because I would call you an outlier. But I’ve also interviewed Steve Koonin, who’s some of his conclusions are very similar to what you’re saying, No, increase what you said it just the other day in a in a in a, in a in a in a in an interview, he gave floods or not more frequent hurricanes, tropical cyclones, not more frequent hydrological droughts, not more, not more frequent today. tornadoes, not more frequent. And yet, he also said that these extreme weather events are catnip for for climate advocacy. So you’ve come back to this very fraught, very para, well, vituperative nasty in field in terms of the academic literature and discussion. Why Why are you so why your stubborn commitment to calling these issues out?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 22:31
Yeah, I mean, it’s a good question. I mean, the in a nutshell, you know, I got hired six or seven years ago by Nate Silver to write on science and policy issues for him. And then

Robert Bryce 22:42
five 530 Yeah, and you didn’t last year and you didn’t the last two for two columns, you just can’t get my first one can’t keep a job pilkey.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 22:53
Thank goodness for 10 year. The first column explain that the increase in cost of disasters was in this is, you know, trivial and widely accepted was was due primarily to more people with more wealth unexposed locations, not to more or more extreme events. And this, this was before the whole cancel culture thing exploded. But there was a Twitter campaign to have me fired. And, you know, basically, it worked. After that I got investigated by a member of the US Congress for testifying that there weren’t more hurricanes, which, again, the IPCC reaffirms.

Robert Bryce 23:28
So they and 530 and 538 was 2014. Is that right?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 23:33
Yeah, yeah. Okay. And so, and then, you know, john Holdren, who was president obama’s science advisor, wrote a screed about me and put on the White House website. And I mean, you realize that as a faculty member, you don’t, you can’t really compete with members of Congress, president’s science advisor, Twitter mobs. And so I did, you know, move to another area, which, you know, for me, was fantastic, was refreshing, rewarding, and I have a whole parallel career. But, you know, at some point, I realized, I have tenure at a big university. I can’t be fired for my views, and I have some expertise. So I do view it as kind of a professional obligation to call things like I see them. And yeah, people will yell at you. But that’s, you know, that’s, that’s, that means your work is significant and having an impact. So, you know, I’m not gonna be doing the climate thing forever, that’s for sure. But this, you know, the, the reliance on the extreme scenarios, which I came across Justin Ritchie’s work in 2017 and 2018, who’s now a collaborator with me. That’s something that someone should be singing from the rooftops about, because it’s a major serious fault in all of climate science.

Robert Bryce 24:53
I mentioned earlier that I look back at an interview we did in 2009. Back when I was writing for energy Tribune, I re read the, you know, some of the notes or rather the article that we published, and it’s on my website. And it’s pretty in the last 12 years, you really haven’t changed your tune. As far as I can tell, you said, We need more focus on adaptation. And you said, We need less stealth advocacy by experts, we are going to need climate scientists a science for many decades show. So we should take care that it maintains its credibility. Let me just start about the adaptation part of because we talked about the money, right, you follow the money? What seems to me to be the case? And I’m curious, I want to hear your reaction is there’s not much there’s there’s money in adaptation, right, and societal adaptation and looking forward and say, Well, what are we going to have to do to make ourselves more resilient in terms of extreme weather events? And I, you know, I lived through this blackout here in Austin in February. And so I’m all about resilience now. But there’s not nearly as much money in adaptation as there is in mitigation in projects that attempt to cut co2 emissions. So is that part of the driver here that any any talk about specifically about adaptation, versus mitigation? Because it was one of the points that you made in your congressional testimony as well? Is it because there’s just not as much money in the adaptation side? Is there is in building more stuff that does, you know, attempts to reduce co2? Is that part of it as well?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 26:18
Yeah, I’ll give you two answers. I’m not sure they’re gonna be consistent with each other. Okay. Well,

Robert Bryce 26:22
that’s all right. We don’t we don’t demand consistency here. Just Just get sound bites.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 26:26
Yeah. One is that in the in the climate policy arena, you know, forever, adaptation has been disfavored in favor of mitigation in favor of energy policy. And so and, you know, that goes back to Al Gore’s 1992, book earthen the balance when he called adaptation to kind of laziness. And so that’s part of the climate, the culture of the climate debate. The other perspective is that adaptation is, is an enormous enterprise. That’s well beyond climate policy. It’s going on every day, around the world. And when there are, and there’s good news, because we are, we are much less vulnerable to extreme weather around the world than we used to be. But when there are events like the Texas blackout, or the recent floods, that killed almost 200, in Germany, when there are failures, they stand out. And, you know, they’re they’re using the media and by advocates, you know, this is about carbon dioxide. But what they’re really about is our failure to create resilience to extremes. And if you take a look at the trends, you know, there’s many fewer people who have died due to extreme weather over decades, the costs that we suffer are going up in absolute terms, but down as a proportion of our wealth. So the adaptation agenda has been enormously successful. And it is there’s a lot of big money in it. There’s big money in flood protection, there’s big money in evacuation and so on. So so there’s a lot of a lot of successes to be told about adaptation, which are well beyond the discussion of climate. And we should all be happy about that. Because there’s really good news to report on that.

Robert Bryce 28:09
So it’s just not as sexy is that is I mean, it’s

Roger Pielke, Jr. 28:13
Yeah, so adaptation is local. How can we fight over, you know, whether, you know, whether Austin is prepared for the next, you know, big cold snap or not, is not really of interest to people in Boulder, or Bangor. And so people have, you know, pretty intense and wicked fights over adaptation at the local level. But you know, what’s happening in the south boulder floodplain where the university owns property is not going to make national news. Whereas a big international climate conference in Glasgow, on emissions reductions is a big thing that everybody’s talking about. So I do think that adaptation flies under the radar in terms of the the bigger, broader discussions, but it does proceed and we do make good progress.

Robert Bryce 28:58
Well, but it’s it Well, I think you hit on it, though, before where gore said, well, that’s just laziness. Right? But that it’s not. It’s not a sexy, right, right. It’s not as global. But the thing that increasingly bothers me and you, you’ve written about this, and I think we talked about it the last time you were on the podcast, you did the projections based on what it would require to achieve net zero or or decarbonize the electric sector in the US, and I’ve published on this as well. But in amidst all the catastrophic projections, the thing that seems to me so very much missing in all of them as well, there’s a lot of breastfeeding. Oh, we have to do something, we have to do something we have to take action that well, but what exactly I mean, spell it out for me, because I’m from Oklahoma a little slow, right? You know, take it slowly, but walk me through how you’re going to get there because that’s where I find no credible kind of serious analyses that says, here’s the real pathway, including the IE A’s roadmap to net zero, you know, the mark Jacobson’s work, you know, it just jinkins work. It’s a A lot of hand waving, oh, we’ll just build terawatts of new renewables without any understanding what is actually on the ground. So I know there’s a I should be posing your question here. Rob, can you reprise on? If for the people listening? What would be required in terms of nets to achieve the decarbonized? electric grid in the US by the by 2050? you’ve you’ve put things on Twitter on this before? What would it take? You the math?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 30:27
Yeah. And you know, one of the things I tell them and I tell my students and anybody who will listen to me is that debates over how we we get to the endpoint of decarbonisation are aren’t as interesting to me as how do we accelerate from where we are today? So

Robert Bryce 30:45
in a simple, repeat that I want to make sure I understand what you just said, You said that

Roger Pielke, Jr. 30:50
there there you can go out there and find proposals and you cited some of them for you know, here’s everything we have to do from now to 2050, or 2080, or 2030 to decarbonize the electricity sector or the whole economy. Right. And in my view is, you know, a journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. So what I want to know is what do we do from this year to next year to accelerate the rate of decarbonisation? And the analogy I use is, let’s, let’s imagine it’s 1920. And you say, you know, I want to increase human lifespan, from you know, right now, it’s 45 years worldwide, and I want to increase it to 70. I mean, the response would be, you’re crazy. We can’t do that. Tell me how you’re going to do that. You know, and that’s before vaccinations were were known in public health and so on. Of course, we didn’t know how to do it. But look at that, over the last 100 years, we one of the greatest scientific success stories is this massive increase in the average human lifespan. So when we talk about decarbonisation, the decarbonisation of the economy is a process that’s been going on for 100 years. So when people talk about deep decarbonisation, they’re not talking about doing something new or different. What they’re talking about is accelerating a process that’s already in place. Right. And and you’ve written, you know, a lot about this. I have also, but there’s a lot of tools that we have, that if we wanted to rapidly accept, accelerate, decarbonisation, we could employ nuclear power. So, you know, Richard Nixon had a proposal to build, the US would build 1000 nuclear power plants. Well, we only got to 100. But if we had 1000, we’d be a lot more like France in our level of carbon dioxide. Pretty sure. So there are a lot of tools out there that can be used to accelerate the rate of decarbonisation. Does it get us to net zero by 2050? I don’t know. You don’t know. People advocating? I don’t know. The pacemaker of progress will be what what happens in our politics this year, next year, the year after, just like the pacemaker of progress in extending human lifespan, is what we do in medicine and public health year to year, and so on. So, I mean, the fact that that, that the US lifespan, even before COVID took a dip mainly due to the opioid crisis and so on was noticed. And it’s a it’s a concern, because we’re, we expect that progress to continue. We should treat energy policy a lot like how we treat long term health challenge. We may not be able to see the endpoint, but we sure can see how fast we’re going in the direction we want to go.

Robert Bryce 33:31
Okay, well, then, I’ll press you on this, we’ll then handicap it. Because as I recall, you said that Biden, you wrote this last year to decarbonize the electric sector by 2035. You laid out what this would require something like 3400 megawatts of new wind capacity every two weeks, or one new nuclear plant every two weeks for the next 15 years. I mean, these are really daunting. So handicap it for me, where do you think the the the path of decarbonisation because the electric part of it is only one part that transportation is gonna be devilishly difficult? And I’ve written a lot about that as well. But which of these pathways do you think is the most viable? I mean, you’ve done the math, you have, like two degrees in mathematics, right. Is that? So So? So handicap it for me there? Professor?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 34:17
Yeah. So I mean, one of the things we have to understand is that that when we focus on carbon dioxide emissions, we’re probably focusing on the wrong metric. That’s an outcome. That’s a result of processes and technology of combustion. Yeah, and I very much think we should focus on the further upstream on the inputs. So for example, coal fired power plants. Instead of talking about emissions, it would be much more productive for the Biden administration or, you know, whoever follows to talk about. We’re going to end coal power in the United States, and here’s how many plants we have to shut down on this timeframe. For instance, You know, President Biden just put out a plan for electrifying the automobile fleet. And a lot of analysts went out there and said, well, that means this many vehicles being produced every year. And so if we’re going to use a targets and timetables approach, then it should be focused on things that we can actually measure that cause the bad outcomes that we want, which are emissions. And I think that you get a much more realistic perspective. If you say, Well, if we’re going to have netzero, electricity generation by 2035, that is, you know, one power plant every two days, I think the number is you have to transition from fossil fuels to to zero carbon,

Robert Bryce 35:40
but start with but start with the heaviest carbon emitters first, then, right?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 35:44
Right. There’s a recent studies that my colleagues here at the University of Colorado, looked at global power plants, and they found that it was almost 80% of emissions come from 5% of power plants. So So this is where, you know, target the dirtiest and target them for replacement with nuclear, I mean, pick pick your favorite technology, people tend to get wrapped up in cheering for against their favorite technology. But the reality is, if if we are to achieve net zero, certain technologies have to stop and be replaced. And that’s where we should be focusing policy attention, not on the the output and expect that well, by focusing on the output, we can then change the inputs. That’s a horribly indirect way to approach policy.

Robert Bryce 36:34
So if I was going to paraphrase what you just said, Roger, I’d say it has to be a much more targeted, tailored approach, starting with the most obvious and heaviest carbon emitters first, right. And that would be of course, the coal fired power plants, right? Because they’re the or when after that maybe oil fired power plants or you know, the ones where you have a higher co2 to energy output, right? Higher co2 output, relative energy output. So okay, so fair enough. And but but those those numbers, I’m guessing you usually update your graphics from the latest BP data really haven’t changed much if I’m, or have you updated that this year on the based on the state

Roger Pielke, Jr. 37:14
you’re in? And, you know, there is really since about 2014 2015. There, there is some indication in the, I would say the beginnings of a trend in the carbon intensity of energy, which, you know, really, if we’re going to decarbonize, we want to see that go down, that was more or less constant for two decades. But we have we have great examples at the national level of countries that have taken charge of their energy policy. Instead, I want to replace this technology with that. I mean, unfortunately, nuclear power is is probably one of the the most

Robert Bryce 37:49
well, it’s the obvious, right? It’s the obvious example, but it’s only really been in the electricity sector, not in transporter and industry. So that that would have to be the place to start. But you know, when I look at it, I’m just a quick quick point is that when you look at the US electric sector, and how diffuse the ownership is, you know, 900 co ops 2000, publicly owned electric utilities is a very difficult nut to crack given the the diffuse nature and the geographic distribution of those and the US Senate. But I look back at some of the other work in advance of this discussion today. And we’ve talked several times about the iron law of climate policy. So how old is it? When did you coined that term? I struggled to remember when you first use that, how old is it? And has your view? Has the iron law changed at all? Since you coined that that phrase,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 38:40
yeah, coined that phrase when I was writing my book, the climate fix. And I wanted a simple way to explain to people and at the time, remember, this was the era of cap and trade. And the arguments were that we need to make energy much more expensive to move and what

Robert Bryce 38:59
year and what year was the climate fix in

Roger Pielke, Jr. 39:01

Robert Bryce 39:03
Okay, so 11 years ago,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 39:04
yeah. And so it holds up very well. We saw the iron law work this week, Joe Biden,

Robert Bryce 39:10
and explained me and explained, explain the iron law iron law

Roger Pielke, Jr. 39:13
says that people are willing to pay some price for achieving environmental goals, carbon dioxide reduction, but that price will be limited. And it’s a function of you know, if you’re super rich, you’ll pay more. And if your your your bare bones and you’re living on the edge, you’re not willing to pay anything at all. We see this with the yellow vest protests in France. And we saw it this week, when, as we have $4 gasoline prices. President Biden in the State Department asked OPEC, Hey, can you open the taps a little bit and pump some more oil that helps, you know, our domestic politics. And the reality is people don’t want to pay more, really for anything energy included and all the things that we we have that are produced by energy. So So The way that decarbonisation is going to succeed. And so this is why I coined this term is not by making energy appreciably more expensive, because if people notice it’s more expensive, they will react, they’re going to vote out the person in office for somebody else who promises lower priced energy. But we have to come up with substitutes, technological substitutes for energy production and consumption, that are cheaper, and ideally better quality. I mean, this was the time I remember, we were arguing about light bulbs. You know, the squiggly little light bulbs, right? Now. Now I go down to Home Depot, and I can get an LED light bulb is just as good, better than an incandescent, and it cost less, and nobody fights over it anymore. Because the technology was there.

Robert Bryce 40:42
It’s it’s the only kind you can buy. Now, I can’t I haven’t seen incandescent in the store. But it will. So that’s you gave a good explanation. I guess. My my my abbreviated analysis of the iron law is when economic growth, or when economic growth gets constrained by climate concerns, economic growth wins every time people are always going to vote their pocketbook, not the climate. Right. Is that a fair? Is that a fair summary?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 41:09
Yeah, I think it’s a fair summary. The point is where they collide, I mean, people people are willing to pay. I mean, we pay a gasoline tax at the pump. You know, every time you fill up your car, and that goes into the Highway Trust Fund, and people see the benefits of that. So that’s, you know, that’s been a 45 year 50 year tax. That’s but

Robert Bryce 41:27
even the Biden administration says they’re not in favor of raising the gasoline tax. Like,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 41:31
that’s because the iron law says that you hit a ceiling at some point. Uh huh. It’ll be different depending, you know, if you’re a billionaire, you got a different ceiling than if you’re, you know, a thousandaire. It’s, it’s, it’s just a, again, it’s an iron law, because, you know, there’s no point in arguing about it or wring your hands about it. It’s just a boundary condition for policy design,

Robert Bryce 41:52
a boundary condition condition for policy design, like that. So nothing has changed in your mind about the the the reality or the enforcement of the iron law in the last decade, then, or you’ve only become more convinced of its of its true, I

Roger Pielke, Jr. 42:06
think it still exists, and it you know, it exists around the world in different places. You know, one thing that we’ve seen is that as efficiency has taken hold many economies and that the average person pays less for energy today than they used to, as a percentage of

Robert Bryce 42:26
income. Right? Yeah,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 42:26
that means they have more money for other things. So I don’t see this trend. You know, all of a sudden, people are saying, you know, oh, yeah, double my electricity bills, that’ll be great. And this is this is a long standing trend that’s just out there. And as we look at, you know, what sort of policies will accelerate decarbonisation recognize that appreciably making energy more expensive, isn’t going to be one of those successful policies?

Robert Bryce 42:53
Well, and so I guess the modern example, our most recent examples of the iron law, in effect would be China building 19 gigawatts of new coal fired power plants last year, or the Japanese, in fact building will they call it their high efficiency, low emitting, they call them healthy plants, the ultra supercritical coal plants, but they’re still coal plants. So that Japan, China, anywhere you look around the world, these countries are going to act in their own self interest because they can’t afford to not have electricity is that I guess that would be another way I’d put the iron law in action lately, is that this is the example. And it’s happening in the electric sector as much as anywhere else.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 43:28
If your choices, you know, as in a development policy is no electricity, expensive electricity, or cheap electricity. It’s pretty clear how countries are going to make that decision. And just as a matter of domestic politics,

Robert Bryce 43:44
yeah. Well, it’s a point we make in the film juice, which of course you were in is that people are, they’re just not going to be content to sit in the dark, they’ll steal electricity, they’ll buy a small generator, they’ll do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need. That’s just the reality. And we see that around the world. So you’re we talked earlier about I want to shift gears here and talk some about COVID and then some sports and then we’ll wrap up but you’ve also been very active on the COVID front and let me just start with looking you know, looking back where the lockdowns mistake Am I know this if I’m jumping in you, you’re really focusing on policy and science. But if we look back and now we’re facing these mask mandates, again, which I you know, I don’t like the masks. I’ve been vaccinated, but we’re the lockdown is a mistake.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 44:32
So I’m going to tell you this is this is, again, the scientific integrity failures in climate science are a big deal. I think that the failures in the science advisory process for COVID in the United States will ultimately rank is one of the biggest intelligence failures in our history. And let me explain. In 2005, George Bush went on vacation, he read a book about the 19 influenza and got very motivated about pandemics. It was great because it came back and asked for Congress to develop legislation. And all of a sudden we had pandemic planning when we didn’t before 2010 2009 2010, we had the h1 in one virus, again, didn’t it become a pandemic, but it was an epidemic and it created further motivation for the US government to come up with pandemic planning. It kind of petered out during the Obama administration and the Trump administration did nothing. In a nutshell, across these three presidencies, in in the congressional legislation overseeing pandemic response, we do not have in this country, a scientific advisory body to answer questions like, what are the options for, quote unquote, a lockdown? Are there different flavors of lockdown? is a masking policy? A good idea or a bad idea? What are the costs? What are the benefits? Here’s our best expert advice. At no point. During the pain of it even up today, under President Biden, do we have a body constituted of the top experts whether it’s unmasking or opening schools, or whatever it happens to be to provide here, here’s what the evidence says. And so what happens is, we have under the Trump administration, we have the Coronavirus task force, which was largely a political entity. We have Anthony Fauci, who, you know, for all of his merits and expertise has become a political football himself. And then the idea that mass the idea that mass will become a political statement. If the CDC puts out guidance, the Centers for Disease Control, under the Biden administration, they can’t help but be associated with the current administration. Right. And so if you look around the world, most countries have an expert body at the highest level. And they can be right and they can be wrong. And people don’t have to like their advice. But it’s separate from political appointees in there, you know, bureaucracies and equip ministries and agencies. So in the United States, if you want to know what’s the what’s the best science say on the cost and benefits of a mass mandate? You cannot get that answer. Because we don’t have any any mechanism to provide that information.

Robert Bryce 47:25
So the wind, the political wind blows with what Fauci has heard lately, or and I’m not picking on Fauci, I mean, you know, he’s been a political, you know, he’s been getting getting out from all sides. But Fauci didn’t have some group of real experts upon which he could rely or the president. So you’re saying, when you say this is an intelligence failure? It’s a political intelligence or it’s the structure of government failure. It would that be a fair assessment the way that Yeah, governing government is government has failed to prepare itself, the federal government failed to prepare for this. And is in this is a as a major failure in the policymakers to get good. Are you as you put it robust science advice?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 48:09
Yeah, I mean, and I’ll give you an example where it works really well, is vaccination. So so the FDA, and the CDC each have their own expert committees of independent scientists, who will recommend or not recommend the approval of a potential vaccine for wide application that that process works? Well. We just had an example where it’s not COVID, but FDA approved and Alzheimer’s drug that had a lot of questions, a lot of industry, maybe thumb on the scale, and the advice was bad. And that prompted a rethinking of that decision. So separating out advice from decision making is absolutely essential to the healthy use of science. The decision maker doesn’t have to take the advice. But the politics of science are much healthier when people can see Alright, President Biden, you have option A, B, C and D, with these different consequences. Right. The expert gives the president that then the president says okay, I pick option B, and here’s why. Right. And so then there’s political accountability for making the decision. One of the problems we have now is that, for example, CDC is responsible for procuring the science that is behind a mask recommendation, and then issuing that guidance. So the decision maker is the same body that’s developing the expertise. And for and it needs

Robert Bryce 49:39
to and it needs to be separate that there needs to be a separate advisory board of the lack of a better phrase, that would say, well, we’re the experts on masks and we’re in another one would be the expert on lockdowns, or is that what you’re saying? Am I getting that correct?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 49:54
Absolutely. Because Because we do it really well on vaccinations, but vaccinations is only one the approval of a vaccine is only one of a multitude of decisions that have to be made. And it’s notable that we don’t have that expert advisory mechanism, like we do in vaccines for all of the other important decisions that we make. Other countries do too. And you can complain about do they do their job well or poorly, we don’t even have a body to complain about.

Robert Bryce 50:20
So is that going to happen? Are these? Or is there a move afoot to change this and get some more to use your line to get robust science advice in place for the top policymakers?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 50:31
So at the beginning of the pandemic, one of the first things that the Health and Human Services in the Office of Science Technology Policy under Kelvin Drogo Meyer did, was they asked the National Academy of Sciences to constitute a new committee to provide expert advice on the pandemic. And they operated for a couple of weeks, and for whatever reason, pretty much stopped their work. We’re never significant, we’re never relied upon by the Trump administration. So so we have the ability and the expertise, the United States as a Colossus of scientific expertise. And I it’s, it’s baffling to me why the Biden administration, which has, you know, by all indications brought, you know, enormous competence to its response hasn’t filled this gap, which is the lack of a scientific advisory process, which we have in pretty much every other area of policy at the federal level.

Robert Bryce 51:26
Except when it involves a pandemic, that effectively rocked the entire world economy shut down the US economy for weeks resulted in job drop in global GDP of what three and a half percent, I mean, unprecedented in the modern era. So is it wrong to say, then we’re still not prepared?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 51:44
Yeah, I mean, this is why I say it’s one of the biggest policy failures in US history. We still suffer from the lack of such a body. Every time I see a politicized, you know, news report or debate over, you know, should students in classrooms wear masks? It’s not necessary. It’s an own goal. It’s It’s, it’s,

Robert Bryce 52:09
it’s a government to government failure.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 52:11
It is a structural government failure in how we design the entire policy process, from the research, to the assessment of that research to the integration of that research with economic and political factors to come up with recommendations. All we see, as the public and decision makers is the mandates or recommendations that come out of CDC. So we see the end of the process, and it would provide and I don’t like this term, but override political cover two decision makers making hard decisions in a full size environment,

Robert Bryce 52:46
by saying by saying week by saying we have the top experts in the world, and this is their consensus, and this is where we’re going, instead of you know, in Fauci has been the political elite. This isn’t what you said three months ago, or four months ago, you said, Oh, well, we don’t mean NASA, this is an important or whatever. But it’s interesting that you put in those terms is I’ll just add to what I saw in the wake of the blackouts here in Texas, again, it was government failure, it was a policy failure, by policymakers understand the nature of the grid, what you’re pointing on isn’t on the national levels, is a government failure by policymakers to understand the risks and how to assess them, right, and how to deal with them. So I bet if I can, so you know, you’ve looked at this a lot with and it’s maybe beyond your something you’d want to talk about. We’re the we’re the lockdowns, a mistake. And I don’t know if you want to get into get into that or not. But I mean, just, you know, that’s been that now we’re facing the Delta variant. And everybody’s saying, well wear a mask, but don’t do another lockdown. So and others are saying, well, we should have walked down right away, right after the Wu Han thing gamma, we could have a, who knows. But I mean, given what you how you’ve looked at this for months now, what do you think?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 53:49
Yeah, I mean, this is I mean, I think your last statement was, you know, who knows? This is? This is a question of policy evaluation. And when you do a policy evaluation, one of the questions to ask is compared to what? Right? Yeah, right.

Robert Bryce 54:05
And so so we don’t, we don’t have any good comparisons for another,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 54:10
even know what our alternative options were at the time. Right? Right. So you can’t say, Well, what what alternatively could we have done? And would we have expected it to turn out better? This is, again, a failure of our ability to come up with independent expert advice, which provides options to decision makers and says, here’s our best guess as to the outcomes of taking this fork in the road versus that fork in the road. Right. And, you know, my my big concern about COVID and we see this worldwide is that a lot of governments focused in on public health. But the other side of the coin was the economy. And the integration of public health concerns and economic concerns was almost never done anywhere in the world. And that’s that’s where public Politicians, you know, if you leave them on their own and say, All right, we’re just gonna give you public health advice. You know, you got to worry about the economy. You know, most elected officials aren’t, you know, they’re not trained, and they’re not expert in saying, I’m gonna take all this expert knowledge and condense it into policy options. That’s, that’s right. We need our experts to support policymaking that way.

Robert Bryce 55:22
Yeah, well, just to build on that, if when the economic hits had real public health effects, right, that were had nothing to do with COVID. Right, whether people with depression or drug abuse, or I mean, these, those have been the deaths of despair. Those been pretty well accounted for. Well, soon now. So we talked climate COVID Let’s talk sports. Did you watch the Olympics, I watched some and man it was seeing no people in the crowd. And I’ve watched every USA men’s basketball game. I you know, I’m thrilled they won, you know, but it left me kind of cold the whole thing? I mean, did you watch the Olympics? Did you read? Olympics? Yes. Yeah. And and what was your take?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 56:04
Yeah, it’s I mean, it’s it. I feel bad for the athletes. I feel bad for Japan. I mean, the IOC pressed forward in it, it was questionable, you know, whether they should have or not people can have different opinions on that. There are real questions about, you know, the performances that we saw, apparently, the The track was built to be faster, people are running in faster shoes, there was long periods in the year before due to the pandemic where there was no drug testing. So, you know, my view is, you know, as somebody who studies this area, enjoying the Olympics always requires somewhat of us suspension of disbelief. And enjoy the moment.

Robert Bryce 56:46
Well see, that was what I was gonna I was interrupted, because you probably heard john Hoberman, his name, he wrote a book called Darwin’s athletes on human performance and drug testing and those issues. And I remember I ran into a few years ago, and I said, Do you watch sports anymore? says no, it says, I know, I just don’t watch it. He said, because I can’t, I can’t believe it anymore. He says, I know too much to watch sports. So you’re saying you know too much. But you you you ignore what you know, because you will enjoy watching it? What do you get? Tell me explain that? Yeah,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 57:15
well, you know, they say that, you know, you should never, you know, watch the creation of legislation or sausage, right. And I’m a political scientist. So I, you know, I professionally, that’s what I do. And you know, it, I think it’s possible, at least I try to celebrate and respect all the hard work and efforts that the athletes put into their craft, right, and understand that, you know, like, in many contexts, they’re, they’re being served by imperfect institutions. And, you know, that’s, that’s not their fault. But, you know, I’m hopeful that, that the entire experience of Tokyo prompts a good hard look at, you know, again, at the IOC, its governance, anti doping. And, you know, the experience of Shakira Richardson, who was busted for smoking dope. It looks I mean, it’s tragic. For her, it’s tragic for all of us, who would have enjoyed watching her run. Sure. But that may prompted a revisiting of that particular policy. So you know, I enjoy the Olympics into the athletes and hope that it’s just another step towards making things better for for you know, their workplace. Well, so

Robert Bryce 58:24
let’s talk about that. Because that was one of the things that she Kerry Richardson being drug tested, and then finding marijuana, I immediately thought soon gonna happen in the NBA, right? The NBA, they don’t test for weed because the NBA players have a very strong union, and they’re much more of a athlete controlled organ outfit, I would argue, have far more power in some cases than even the owners of the teams do. So how did how does that balance of powers there? And is there need for a shift in the balance of power in those in track and field more toward the athletes? Or how does this get resolved, particularly when it comes to marijuana, which is legal in Colorado legal in bunch of states now in the US?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 59:07
Yeah, I mean, I think you put your finger on it. It’s that the professional leagues, it’s not just the NBA, but baseball and football in United States have very strong player associations, and the players had play a much greater role in governing themselves. There’s a study that was put out it’s been it’s been a little while ago, but I think it’d be 2012 to 2016. And it found that in the major professional leagues, about 50% of revenues, finds its way to the players, salaries and so on, right. And in the Olympic movement. It’s more like 10% or less, right. So so there’s been a long standing debate over whether Olympic athletes should unionize whether they should have player associations like you see in the professional leagues. Anti doping at the Olympic level is something that it’s done to athletes. It’s not something that athletes do to themselves like they do in the professional leagues. Marijuana is on the list, because the US government wanted it on the list in the 1990s to tell kids that marijuana was a bad thing, not because it’s performance enhancing. So there’s a deep, deep political overlay on Olympic governance that you don’t have in the professional sports.

Robert Bryce 1:00:14
And is it right to call it in some ways or? Well, I mean, if you look at arrest records and prison populations, really in terms of drug convictions for weed, it’s overwhelmingly black folks, not white folks that are being so it is does it make it doubly painful for Shikari Richardson? That that’s the background of the enforcement of this kind of policy?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:00:34
Oh, of course. Yeah. I mean, if you go back to the long history of us regulation of pot, goes back to the 1930s. And before that, it wasn’t much concern. Right. There has always been a deep racial racist element to marijuana legislation. And, you know, the fact that an athlete and 21 2021 is caught up for smoking dope. It’s the result of policies put in place as part of this long standing drug war, engaged by multiple administration’s Democrats and Republicans before she was even born. Right. So I mean, that’s the long irony of that. And, you know, the good news is there’s her experience, it’s no solace to her. She missed the Olympics, but it’s prompting a revisitation of that particular policy.

Robert Bryce 1:01:23
And she’s it this week that she’s running her next week, she’s running in the international and the World Championships. Yeah. Yeah.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:01:28
I mean, she had a very, she had the minimal suspension, which kind of tells you it’s you know, it’s treated differently, because it’s political. It’s not about anti doping. So she had the minimal suspension, and she could have been eligible to run in the relays right in Tokyo. But I guess the symbolism of that was, was was too much for

Robert Bryce 1:01:45
so who did you Who did you watch during the Olympics that really caught your eye or that really excited? You?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:01:51
Know, I watched a lot of track and field. I watched him swimming, watch some of the soccer, which was at odd hours, watch a little bit of the baseball. I mean, for me, it’s exciting to see greater competitiveness in some of the sports that the US has historically dominated.

Robert Bryce 1:02:09
Yeah. baseball and basketball being obvious ones.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:02:12
Yeah, in basketball, the US is still up. There was some concern when they lost a few other games along the way. But the you know, saying Canada when its first gold medal, in soccer, it’s fantastic. And I you know, I tend to look at track and field because I’ve done a lot of research related to that issue. Fascinating. I spent a lot of time watching for the first time in my life, women’s weightlifting, because really, Zealand and the controversy over trans athletes. Oh, there’s always some element of the Olympics that you know, connects out to the broader

Robert Bryce 1:02:47
world. Right. And and your issues on on on the sex and sports Caster Semenya, you’ve been actively involved in that case for what how many years now?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:02:57
We’ve probably about five years we’ve been working pretty intensively on what you’ve

Robert Bryce 1:03:01
tested what you didn’t you testify in on her behalf expert

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:03:04
witness for Caster Semenya when she had her case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Robert Bryce 1:03:09
That was two years ago, three years ago. Yeah, that was 2019 2019. Right? I will I know I’m interviewing you. But I thought the one the woman I learned about her because she lives here in Austin, the discus thrower, the American discus thrower, I just thought, her footwork and her power, just amazing. And I love the hijab, too. I just think that the two guys the the Italian guy and the Qatari guy who split the gold, I mean, there’s no other apparently there’s no other sport in which you can just say, Oh, well, we both jumped the same height, and we can share them right. And they both looked at each other like, yeah, yeah, let’s do it. And apparently, they’re good friends, too. So yeah, they trained together, which was me was really just my son, Jacob said, Hey, you gotta watch this dad. This is and I think I’d seen it before then. But I watched it again. And it’s, you know, one of those moments, where sports does it’s one of the reasons why we all watch sports, but I’m, you know, I love especially the Olympics track and field. I just think that’s, that was just a beautiful thing, right, is that you don’t get elsewhere. So let me back up. We were right about an hour. Roger, I don’t want to keep you again, my guest is Roger pilkey, Jr. He’s all over the interwebs. He’s on the Twitter at Roger pilkey Jr. He’s on substack. You can find him there. He’s also on the web, Roger pilkey, Jr. calm. So you’ve written for Forbes you’ve written for you were you can’t keep a job in the writing business 538. And now you’re on substack. And with number of other people whose work I followed, Michael Shellenberger is on substack. I still write for a number of outlets. I published a piece in Forbes about the electricity crisis in Lebanon just a few hours ago. Why substack? What do you why you’ve gone through a bunch of different outfits, and you’ve had a piece in The Wall Street Journal last month on climate adaptation. What does substack give you as a platform? And what does Twitter give you as a platform that you don’t find other places?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:04:57
Yeah, I mean, it would, it would be fun. tastic obviously for, you know, any of us who are writers to have a standing gig, you know, I’d love to be Nick Kristof, for example, and have a, you know, some some real estate at a venue like that.

Robert Bryce 1:05:13
At the New York Times,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:05:15
at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, I mean, there are some places where, you know, it would be great to have that access to editing and to an audience. But, but most of us can’t have that, obviously. And I’ve I found, you know, there’s a couple things one is, I’m a professor, so I have a, have a day job and have a salary, so I don’t have to write for, for dinner. The ability in this era, to reach an enormous audience and have influence with ideas is, you know, it’s really what you sign up for when you’re, you know, some small time public intellectual. I can tell you some of my tweets last week, on the IPCC report, had 500,000 impressions. That’s, you know, the the readership of the subscriber base for the Wall Street Journal, I think, is like 2.2 million. So, you know, my tweet was at least seen by, you know, a quarter of their subscriber base. My, my sub stack allows me to explore ideas in a longer format. And, you know, there’s positives or negatives, I don’t have an editor. So, you know, buyer beware, it’s free. So that mitigates that. But I also get to write on doping in sports scenarios in the IPCC COVID in a way that, you know, if I was at a certain channel or venue that has a perspective or a topic, I wouldn’t be able to do the diversity of things I can do. So for me, it’s worked. And, you know, it occasionally leads to opportunities, you know, at more formal, mainstream media places. And, you know, I found you know, for this moment in my career, it’s working pretty good.

Robert Bryce 1:06:57
Well, it’s interesting, because I heard I was, I’m a, I’m a fan of Jordan Peterson and Barry Weiss, who was the New York Times is now on substack. And she intimated that it told him that it was working better than she ever expected. And Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, you Michael Shellenberger, there seems to be I mean, this is part of the scene in the new media world in which it continues to evolve, and that writers are finding alternative routes to audiences that I think it’s great. So whose work do you admire? I mean, you you read a lot, you know, you’ve been at in in the mines on a whole lot of different contracts, a lot of controversial fields, whose work do you admire?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:07:39
You know, it’s, I mean, I can talk, I admire a lot of people’s work, and I’d hate to single out people and not mention others. And I do work in a lot of areas. But I can tell you, the people who’ve had the most influence on me, are people from this community of scholars called science and technology studies. You know, it’s it’s a niche academic area. My colleague and friend Steve Raynor, for example, he passed away, right before COVID. After a long battle with cancer, his writings, he writes, he wrote on things like the social construction of ignorance. So why there are certain things that we don’t want to know. And that is deeply influenced my work on scenarios. And so, Dan, Sarah Wits is another scholar from Arizona State University, who I’ve known forever, who’s influenced me. You know, a lot of scholars who have influenced me, are in this area where there’s not a lot of attention given, at least not until recently. So I’m fortunate to be in an intellectual tradition that’s open, it’s challenging, it’s asked questions. And if anybody wants to, you know, look on my website, at my my syllabi for my various classes, you’ll get a good sense of who I recommend to my students that they should read and should be influencing them.

Robert Bryce 1:09:01
Sure. So what are you reading now? What books are you looking at? Are you reading fiction, nonfiction? What do you read?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:09:08
I am reading a pandemic books. nightmare scenario? Uh huh. I am, I’m going through. So there’s all these telephone calls that are coming out from the Trump era about how the pandemic was handled, and they all have little nuggets and bits and pieces to help put together I’m trying to, as I mentioned, trying to piece together this science advice story. So I am deeply immersed in the pandemic literature that’s emerging. And I shout out to the investigative reporters because as a researcher, I do research on public policy but a lot of this information is inaccessible even to researchers that investigative reporters are filling in the gaps on I’m also doing a lot of reading on the the allegations of a laboratory leak.

Robert Bryce 1:09:54
Sure, for COVID in which which looks increasingly likely right then Initially, it was denied that Matt Ridley has been following this now for months. And it looks increasingly well, whether it was a lab leak or not. To me, it’s increasingly clear the Chinese government is been no friend for openness and Sunshine here that they are been very much involved in what appears to be a, you know, wall of science silence cover up, I’d call it what you want.

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:10:23
Yeah. And, and for me, I mean, there’s some really interesting questions about the role that the scientific community has played in either clarifying or muddying the picture, right from the start, including scientific journals. So I think, you know, for me, there’s a research strain to follow, which is, How well did we do as experts, as you know, eventually the truth hopefully, will come out one way or the other. But we can say for certain that there has been some muddiness that the scientific community has contributed to both in China and outside China. And I want to understand that a lot better.

Robert Bryce 1:11:00
And you’re publishing, you’re on an advisory board now, is that right? Or what are your your is this part of some other project that you’re involved with, without outside of your your academic work that tell me,

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:11:11
I mean, I have a, I have a grant from the National Science Foundation, to study science advising COVID. It’s called the escape project, evaluation of science advice in a pandemic emergency escape, and that has 17 countries around the world. And I have teams, you know, in on every continent, who are assessing the role of science advice, we have the first four studies out for peer review right now. And we expect the others to come in by January. So that’s been enormously rewarding. And we’ll also, you know, occupy a lot of my time in the next year.

Robert Bryce 1:11:40
So just last couple of things. So if you’re looking at crossclimate, COVID, sports, is there one thing that you think, you know, what’s your one thing? If you look at all these issues together, and the controversies and the conflicts and all the different issues around? Is there one thing in all of those that unites your work, or how you’re seeing the world in these different venues?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:12:00
Well, I tend to characterize it as the the intersection of expertise and democracy. So we have experts, and we need experts for society to to work well. But we exist in decision settings, in a lot of cases, not everywhere, obviously. But where we seem to think that everyone gets to participate in the process, whether they have a expertise or not. And so how to reconcile the fact that, you know, the US Congress is full of people who may not have any expertise about COVID, and make decisions about it, and, you know, so on in every governmental system, I really am interested in how we integrate much needed expertise with the values of democratic governance.

Robert Bryce 1:12:42
That’s well stated. So last question, then Roger, what gives you hope?

Roger Pielke, Jr. 1:12:47
You know, I think and I tell people this to be a policy analysts, I think, by by disposition, you need to be a bit of an optimist, because, I mean, we’re like, we’re like doctors. doctors don’t often spend a lot of time studying healthy people. They study disease and illness. And I spent a lot of time working on policy pathologies. And I am optimistic because if you look at all of these topics, public health and natural disasters, energy policy, the long arc of history is a really a positive story. I mean, I think if if people could get in a time machine and go back to 1850, or 1650, and just see how the world operated at those times. We’re in an enviable position today. Yeah, there’s a lot of problems. There’s a lot of things to work on. That gives me job security. But at the same time, I’m optimistic because you know, the human spirit has been quite successful in making things better for more people. And so I’d like to be one of the, you know, academics who contributes to understanding that so that we can apply those lessons going forward.

Robert Bryce 1:13:52
Well, that’s well stated and a good place to stop. So thanks, Roger, my guest, Roger pilkey, Jr. You can find him on the internet. Very easily on Twitter Roger pilkey, Jr. At Roger pilkey, Jr. On substack. Roger pilkey Roger, thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast. Robert, thank you a lot of fun. Yeah, thanks to all of you. Tune in for the next episode of this podcast on this same channel.

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