Tomorrow at 10am, the Senate Banking committee will hear from three very smart, reasonable and well-respected experts on climate change and insurance, and one person who desperately wants to be seen as a smart, reasonable and well-respected expert on climate change. The first three are Dr. Abdollah Shafieezadeh of Ohio State, Dr. Rachel Cleetus of the UCS and Mr. Frank Nutter of the Reinsurance Association of America. The last is Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado.
The hearing, titled “21st Century Communities: Climate Change, Resilience, and Reinsurance,” seems set up to explore how expensive it will be to ensure communities are resilient to climate change, which is likely why Republicans called in Pielke.
Similar to how ExxonMobil’s lobbyist described how they’d send a “whipping boy” to Congress so corporate executives could avoid hard conversations, Pielke Jr. will be there to tell Republicans what they want to hear: that alarmists exaggerate the science, and the now-constant barrage of heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and floods are in no way indicative of any sort of climate crisis.
For those who need an introduction, Roger Pielke Jr. is a political science professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the namesake son of a relatively big-name old-school meteorologist (who often embraces “skepticism” of mainstream climate science).
After years of criticizing climate scientists and promoting conspiracy theories, Pielke announced in 2015 that he would no longer research, talk about or testify on climate change. That apparently did not last. Given his reliable position as a skeptic of action and serial denier of the link between the damages caused by extreme weather and climate change, it is not surprising to see him yet again called by Republicans to obfuscate the links between fossil fuels, climate change and extreme weather impacts.
His most recent approach is criticizing the most extreme climate modeling scenario (known as RCP8.5) as unsuitable for informing policy-making, pushing a Q-Anon-esque conspiracy theory alleging that liberal billionaire philanthropists have corrupted climate science. His point of contention is that the top-end estimates of what could be possible in a world where fossil fuels are burned without restraint is described as “business as usual.” While he is right that the growth of renewables means that we are no longer on a full-fossil-fuel-use pathway, even beyond the accuracy and utility of RCP8.5 that Pielke denies, it still serves as a valuable comparison given that the fully-fossil-fueled-future is exactly what Republicans who invited him to testify are trying to lead us into.
Despite his insistence that he is a consensus-based, moderate and reasonable scientific expert, he has a history of false, inflammatory and conspiratorial claims and abusive behavior.
Pielke Jr. has a history of misleading congressional audiences by selectively citing official reports. One particularly galling deception prompted a rebuttal by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren, who explained how Pielke selectively and misleadingly cited official reports to make claims contradicting the scientific consensus described in those reports.
Pielke Jr.’s wild and unfounded Twitter accusations also led to a Congressional witch hunt targeting a climate scientist who spoke out about the fossil fuel industry’s well-documented organized denial campaigns.
Pielke Jr. was briefly a columnist at FiveThirtyEight, publishing just one column so rife with disinformation about the connection between extreme weather and climate change and so compellingly criticized by scientists that it required FiveThirtyEight to commission a rebuttal to correct the record. Pielke Jr. was subsequently relieved of his position there not for his scientifically inaccurate position (or any sort of billionaire-funded smear campaign fueling his persecution complex) but instead for sending legally-threatening letters to his critics and their bosses, which required an apology from Nate Silver.
More recently, and perhaps most damningly in terms of evaluating Pielke’s ability to provide science advice, he defended the Trump administration’s handling of science in a 2018 op-ed that claimed the notoriously anti-science president really had a more “benign neglect” approach than critics alleged.
This was, of course, before Trump’s Sharpiegate, and the botched handling of the Coronavirus pandemic that has left 600,000 Americans dead.
“Neglect?” Maybe. But “benign?” Clearly not.