Practice of Science Friday: Getting to Co-Design and Co-Production of Climate Models

From Meadow et al.

We’ve been discussing the RCP 8.5 issue in climate modeling, this week and earlier, which reminded me of this story. A few years ago, I attended a reunion (my class’s 40th) at the Yale School of Forestry (cl and Environmental Studies (now School of the Environment). Jerry Melillo, of Woods Hole, gave a talk about climate modelling.

Jerry showed a slide of “protected areas,” and of course, having worked on the Colorado Roadless Rule for years, I could see from the map that I might not agree with the boundaries. At least not in terms of physically meaningful differences for input into climate models. Imagine how hard it would be to take the non-Wilderness parts of your neighboring forest and make assumptions about what they would or would not contribute to climate change in the next fifty years or more? My question to Jerry was “forest management is a sliding scale, from planting trees after fires and leaving them alone thereafter, to intensive forest management as practiced in the southeastern US with loblolly pine. It’s a dial not a toggle, so how do models of future land use reflect that?” His answer was that IUCN had made the determination of what was protected, and he was using their numbers. Of course, determining something is a toggle when it is a dial is a value judgment, not a scientific finding. And folks might choose toggle due to computational convenience, not proximity to validity.

Roger Pielke, Jr. and Justin Ritchie wrote a comprehensive historical account of the development and use of RCP’s, including definitions of the relevant jargon. From a history of science/sociology of science perspective. It has been the best guide I’ve found to try to understand “is our work (land-use) an input, output or both?” There are even flowcharts! Roger and Justin have a few suggestions (these are only some):

*Despite the presence of thousands of IAM scenarios in the community, and the motivation to proceed with ‘one model one vote’ dynamics where all models are assessed equally with no explicit probability statements, more regular attention needs to be given to a much simplified set of near-term, policy relevant scenarios, similar to how IEA issues three scenarios on an annual basis: a Current Policies Scenario (high), a Stated Policies Scenario (baseline) and a Sustainable Development (policy) scenario.

(I see this as fewer but more realistic options, done more frequently to reflect changes and course-correct assumptions, some of the same preferences we would have for any planning effort.)

*More work is needed to reconcile long-term narrative pathways based on an idealized year 2100 end-point with what policy makers need to know about the next few years and decades. While there are an increasing number of scenarios focused on the role of Paris Agreement NDCs through 2030, there is a significant gap in the literature for scenarios that address developments before 2050 in the context of today’s policy environment. This gap is created by an excessive focus on long-run, full century scenarios, driven in large part by the needs of the physical science modeling community.

There seems to be a need for policy folks to say “nope, that solution isn’t working for us, how about trying …?” Not sure that there is the direct connection among groups for this discussion to take place. Remember the idea of “co-designed, co-produced research” with stakeholders and policy makers?

* Climate research and assessment would benefit from a more ecumenical and expansive view on relevant knowledge. The IPCC scenario process has been led by a small group of academics for more than a decade, and decisions made by this small community have profoundly shaped the scientific literature and correspondingly, how the media and policy communities interpret the issue of climate change. The dominant role of this small community might be challenged in order to legitimize a broader perspective of views, approaches and methods.

It would be handy IMHO if that were to be a role of (at least some of) the new climate $ in the President’s budget proposal. I can imagine a multi-stakeholder group at the regional level asking questions like “what do we want from climate models to help us plan mitigation and adaptation strategies?”. How can we use our local and regional knowledge as input into the process? What have scientists learned that can be helpful to us, and what else do we need to know?

As it turns out there is quite a bit of literature on co-design and co-production of climate science. You can go into Google Scholar and search on “climate science co-production.” That’s how I found the Alison et al. paper that yielded the Table 2 above.

8 thoughts on “Practice of Science Friday: Getting to Co-Design and Co-Production of Climate Models”

  1. All these ideas reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. I don’t think it takes a forest scientist to dive up into our forests and see what is going on and to assume if we keep using the same forest management plans we have now we will get the same results.

  2. Sharon,
    Just a few things to mention quickly:
    1) “One pattern that emerges from the book is human capacity for sticking our heads in the sand as the world burns and continuing with business as usual well past the point where corrective action was urgently needed”, so to help us overcome our short-term viewpoints that are focused on our local geography and areas of expertise, it is worthwhile to read about how earlier civilizations have, in their short-sightedness and intellectual hubris, altered their biosphere to the extent that it was no longer able to provide the resources necessary to sustain them, see the book reviewed below ‘The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations’ by Clive Ponting
    2) for an up-to-date look at how the professionals now administering the Forest Service are implementing the results of climate change research see these 2 sites:
    a. on ‘Sustainability and Climate’
    b. “Shared Stewardship is about working together in an integrated way to make decisions and take actions on the land.” USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen
    3) for those who are still acquiring the basic knowledge necessary to understand the processes contributing to global warming trends, see this ‘Climate Science Primer’, also from the U.S. Forest Service. “This primer provides a broad background on the the climate change we are currently experiencing, the mechanisms causing this change, what natural climate cycles look like and how scientists differentiate current climate change, and the expected effects of climate change in the United States.”
    4) For those of us more interested in understanding the science behind the models that are predicting climate change ‘Principles of Planetary Climate’ is a significant contribution to planetary atmospheres, written by one of the field’s broadest thinkers. “Pierrehumbert covers a comprehensive range of topics fundamental to all planet atmospheres. He brings together the basic and advanced building blocks in a way that is both compelling and thorough. This book should be read by all interested in planetary climate.’ – Professor Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology”
    To help you decide if this book meets your needs here is the full Amazon publisher marketing blurb: “”This book introduces the reader to all the basic physical building blocks of climate needed to understand the present and past climate of Earth, the climates of Solar System planets, and the climates of extrasolar planets. These building blocks include thermodynamics, infrared radiative transfer, scattering, surface heat transfer and various processes governing the evolution of atmospheric composition. Nearly four hundred problems are supplied to help consolidate the reader’s understanding, and to lead the reader towards original research on planetary climate. This textbook is invaluable for advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate students in atmospheric science, Earth and planetary science, astrobiology, and physics. It also provides a superb reference text for researchers in these subjects, and is very suitable for academic researchers trained in physics or chemistry who wish to rapidly gain enough background to participate in the excitement of the new research opportunities opening in planetary climate””

    This is the link to, and review of, an excellent book on our ability to alter the ecosystems that sustain us:
    The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations [Author: Clive Ponting] published on (December, 2007)
    Review by Hrvoje Butkovic:
    ” It is very difficult to walk away from this book thinking that our civilisation is anywhere but on the course to total collapse triggered by the breakdown of the biosphere that supports us. Ending on such a desolate note is all too likely to leave the reader feeling helplessly depressed over our inevitable self-destruction.
    Taken together, these shortcomings are surprisingly effective at accomplishing what I suspect were Ponting’s aims. Presenting reams of data from all time periods and parts of the world places the current ecological problems in a larger context that cannot be acquired from reading about the problems themselves. This broadened perspective is critically important when considering potential solutions. That the book doesn’t suggest what these might be feels reflexively disappointing, but I consider it a strength. One pattern that emerges from the book is human capacity for sticking our heads in the sand as the world burns and continuing with business as usual well past the point where corrective action was urgently needed.”

  3. Jon and Michael, it doesn’t really surprise me that the guidance predates the 2012 Rule… I was the R-2 Climate Coordinator or Person or Lead or whatever it was called, and the R-2 rep on the Forest Service National Climate Change Team before I retired in 2012.

    We still don’t know exactly what will happen in the future with climate change impacts, but the mitigation and adaptation strategies haven’t changed much.

    Which kind of raises a question.. of all the research that says it’s helping national forests manage, which research is really helpful?

    • Which research is really helpful? To answer that, someone could look at what research is getting cited in documents related to actual national forest management decisions. I’ve been looking at three forest plans recently. Of the Flathead, Inyo and Rio Grande, only the Rio Grande has a “references” section, and it does not reference climate (this doesn’t look great for forest planning). But I looked at the Rio Grande forest planning assessment, which does include references cited. There are a number that address climate change related to water resources, but none for the wildlife assessment. There is also a separate carbon assessment. Do you suppose there is any kind of feedback loop that informs researchers about what kind of information is actually being used?

      • Jon, I don’t think so. Part of the problem is that there is no mechanism to do so, other than personal cries for help falling on willing researchers. Another part is that helping real world people isn’t as highly valued in Research World as publishing in journals, the editors of which may think that “what people need” isn’t appropriate for journals.. not following current fads, not ground-breaking enough. There is a major disconnect and has been for a while.


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