Climate Scenarios in Forest Plans

This essay by Roger Pielke Jr. offers an unusual and welcome take on Climate: “Is the World Ready for Good News on Climate?” Subhead:
“A new assessment of plausible futures suggests reasons for considerable optimism on climate policy.” Optimism on the climate? That’s virtually unheard of in the media.

Part of the subtext is that much of the scientific literature on climate change continues to base projections on implausible models, RCP 8.5 and its newer version, SSP5-8.5. Pielke and two coauthors of a paper on the topic in Environmental Research Letters (open access) suggest that the use of the more plausible scenarios “suggests that the world thus sits in an enviable position to take on the challenge of deep decarbonization.”

With this in mind I looked at the revised forest plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests released this month. Here’s how they approached the scenarios:

Future climate: The modeled future climate projections are Localize Constructed Analogs (LOCA) downscaled from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) model realizations. This includes the hindcast (historical) and the projected (future) climate for the RCP4.5 (low) and RCP8.5 (high) emission scenarios. Each year, the range is defined by the highest and lowest model values for that year across all 32 models, and the central line represents the weighted mean across all models (Taylor et al. 2012, Sanderson et al. 2017).

This seems like a valid approach, and I commend the planners for not relying solely on RCP8.5 and for using RCP4.5, which is in the middle of the range of scenarios (1.9, 2.6, 3.4, 4.5, 6.0, 7.0, and 8.5). It would be interesting to know why they used RCP8.5 at all, since it is widely viewed as an implausible — not merely “high” — emissions scenario.

FWIW, here is a discussion (for climate nerds) of the relationship of the RCPs and the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5).

In any case, the plan’s “futurecasting” of conditions on the forests is highly useful for forest managers. For example, the FEIS includes charts that provide “Projected temperature variables for the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains – M221Dc under RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 for (A) average daily maximum temperature, (B) average daily minimum temperature, (C) days per year with maximum temperature above 90°F, and (D) days per year with minimum temperature below 32°F.”

Anyone know how this has been is will be handled in other plan revisions?

9 thoughts on “Climate Scenarios in Forest Plans”

  1. Classic Pielke. I know he has a background in atmospheric science but isn’t he a professor of Sports Governance or some such now? In any case, it seems noteworthy that the IPCC just assigned qualitative assessments of the likelihood of various scenarios for the first time in 2021. That indicates to me that they are refining their reliance on such things as more evidence becomes available. Initially though it made sense to consider more extreme scenarios so that we could prepare for the worst case. Also, COVID-19 caused a steep increase in global mortality and decreased global emissions, both of which made the worst case less likely. To your question, it certainly does make sense for public land managers to consider a range of scenarios, and that is common practice.

    The one thing that bothers me about this article is the assertion that “the world sits in an enviable position to take on the challenge of deep decarbonization. Who envies us for that, exactly? Denizens of some distant world whose outlook is more dire?? Here on Earth we’re all in it together. Plenty of other adjectives would have made sense there instead.

    • Pielke is a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. His bio on the university web site:

      Roger Pielke, Jr. has been on the faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder since 2001, where he teaches and writes on a diverse range of policy and governance issues related to science, technology, environment, innovation and sports. Roger is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program. Roger is currently focusing his research on a NSF-sponsored, 16-country evaluation of science advice in the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Roger holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science, all from the University of Colorado. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and was also awarded the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America. In 2006, Roger received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich, Germany in 2006 for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research.

      Roger has been a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan since 2016. From 2019 he has served as a science and economics adviser to Environmental Progress. Roger was a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences from 2001 to 2016. He served as a Senior Fellow of The Breakthrough Institute from 2008 to 2018. In 2007 Roger served as a James Martin Fellow at Oxford University’s Said Business School. Before joining the faculty of the University of Colorado, from 1993 to 2001 Roger was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

      At the University of Colorado, Roger founded and directed both the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and the Sports Governance Center. He also created and led the university’s Graduate Certificate Program in Science and Technology Policy, which saw its graduates move on to faculty positions, Congressional staff, presidential political appointees and in positions in business and civil society.

  2. A.- I’ve been following Roger’s work for a long time..

    (1) Why those scenarios were used, they were handy for researchers, then researchers thought they would be useful for policy. In this paper, he and Justin Richie talk about it in about as much detail as anyone can stand.

    (2) He was in sports governance, but now has returned to his previous department now because of this story..
    It involves our very own, almost Secretary of the Interior, Congressperson Raul Grijalva. John Podesta and Wikileaks.
    I have to say that the Forest Service in my experience was more tolerant of my diverse views than the academy seems to have been of his. Not a good advertisement for this campus of U of C.

  3. Pielke has long been associated with climate change denial. He has little credibility in the world of climate science. Just do a search for “pielke denial.”

    • Toby.. everyone who doesn’t hold a certain set of views is called a “denier” including even me sometimes. for example in this story today

      To be certain, Pielke didn’t waffle about climate change and mankind’s contribution to it.

      “Climate change is real. It poses great risks for the future,” he said.


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