Roger Pielke Jr.’s First Appearance in Years

Mitch Bendis

“This is the first university I’ve spoken at in three years,” said Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., as he addressed the small crowd gathered to see him on Wednesday, April 18. Invited to the University of Minnesota by Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a student group dedicated to free market environmentalism, Pielke was grateful for the opportunity. 

Holding degrees in mathematics, public policy, and a doctorate in political science, Pielke spent the bulk of his career studying climate. His writings on climate change caused great controversy a couple years ago, which led directly to his unofficial blackballing from universities until now. 

The majority of Pielke’s speech to the Minnesota crowd was a retelling of his career. His interest in climate stemmed from his father, an atmospheric scientist, and that interest eventually led to work as an environmental researcher. Tasked with analyzing the costs of property destroyed by extreme weather Pielke and other researchers came to a surprising conclusion: extreme weather is not on the rise in recent years. The astronomical rise in insurance claims from recent hurricanes was due to more people, and more wealthy people, living in coastal regions; when these demographic factors were neutralized, the data was clear to the team: contrary to popular belief, climate change has not caused an increase extreme weather.

His conclusions, Pielke said, were the scientific consensus. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change embraced the same exact conclusion, crystal clear: extreme weather was not on the rise. However, Pielke’s career was soon on the rocks. In 2016, Wikileaks released a series of emails that proved the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, sought to derail and discredit Pielke. 

Several left-leaning blogs called him a “climate skeptic,” a label Pielke said caught him by surprise since his views have never been outside the scientific consensus. When Pielke was hired to write for FiveThirtyEight in 2014, he wrote one article before he was unceremoniously fired. The article he wrote detailed the same conclusion found by the IPCC: climate change was not causing an uptick in extreme weather. He was summoned to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the baseless allegation that he received money from ExxonMobil. Obviously, no evidence was found.

Pielke’s speech was framed by his introductory slide, which laid out his political beliefs. “Everything is tied to politics nowadays,” said Pielke, a noted critic of the politicization of science, “so I thought I’d do a slide on ‘meet your speaker.’” 

Pielke described in detail every presidential candidate he has ever voted for: Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton (twice), Ralph Nader, John Kerry, Barack Obama (twice), and, most recently, Hillary Clinton in 2016. Staring at the horrified conservative students in the crowd, Pielke  declared, “I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could.”

Politically, Pielke has never been conservative. He has an unblemished liberal voting record, at least as far as presidential races go. His passion does not lie in the political arena, though. His stated passions are in science, public policy, and the truth. That is why the left-wing attacks against his work and character troubled him so much. Pielke admitted to the crowd that fighting back was hard. The coordinated assault on him over the past few years was difficult to deal with, but the University of Colorado-Boulder, his place of work, stood by him.

Currently, climate research is no longer his main focus. After many years of fighting back against the libel, he decided to pursue another academic passion; he now works as the director of the Sports Governance Center at Boulder. His current work is still focused on the trifecta of science, public policy, and truth, but now within the lense of athletics and sports. 

He has not, however, renounced his views on climate change. He maintains the conclusion that extreme weather events are not on the rise, insisting that this conclusion remains the standard within the scientific orthodoxy. 

Pielke continues to advocate for the separation of science and politics, in all fields and of all ideologies.