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Interview of Charles "Chuck" Hakkarinen by Nils Randlev Hundebøl on 2013 February 22, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/38091
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In this interview, Chuck Hakkarinen discusses topics such as: his career with Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), climate modeling, Model Evaluation Consortium for Climate Assessment (MECCA) project; his education in meteorology and air polution; Willard Libby; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Chauncey Starr; Sam Schurr; Peter Hobbs; his father's work on the Naval Oceanographic Meteorological Automatic Device (NOMAD); precipitation chemistry networks; United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Rene Males; American Meteorological Society (AMS); Helmut Landsberg; carbon dioxide; climate research; Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change (GMCC); Ralph Cicerone; George Hidy; Richard Anthes; Warren Washington; National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); Ralph Perhac; Peter Mueller; North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP); Climate Simulation Laboratory; National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Ann Henderson-Sellers; Tom Wigley; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Dick Balzhiser.
Good morning. This is Nils Hundebøl. I am in Belmont, California with Chuck Hakkarinen. It’s February 22, 2013 at 9:45 a.m., something like that. We hope to have a good long discussion about his career in EPRI and his work with climate modeling, mostly the MECCA Project where he was leading manager [yes], and then some of his experience with climate scientists in MECCA and afterwards.
Well, since you’re doing an oral history, I’m going to say that I grew up in Washington, D.C. and went to undergraduate school at the University of Maryland as a mathematics student. I would have been a computer science student, but they didn’t have a degree in computer science back when I was there in the late 1960s. As I was finishing my undergraduate program, one of my professors — I had taken some courses in meteorology because I had some family background in the area — said that he had funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund graduate students and wanted to know if I would like a fully paid, what was called a traineeship. It was like a scholarship for a master’s degree. Given the choice of getting a master’s degree in meteorology, a field that I was interested in, or perhaps going to Vietnam since the Vietnam War was underway at the time, I thought, “That sounds like a good idea!”
I can see that.
So I did a master’s degree in one year (and that was the year 1971-1972) in meteorology with a specialty in air pollution. As my thesis, I did a model on dispersion of particles from an aluminum smelting plant in western Maryland. Of concern was that the fluoride compounds in the particles would get into the grass and then the cows would eat the grass and this extra fluoride would actually weaken the bones of the cows. So we were studying how the dispersion around this plant went on with a network of samplers, and I was doing the modeling. I did that degree in one year and then was looking at “What am I going to do next?” Vietnam was still facing me.
During the last month that I was there, Dr. Willard Libby… he was a very famous chemist. In fact, he won the Nobel Prize for carbon-14 dating; he developed that technique. He came to the school and gave a lecture about a new doctoral program he was establishing at the University of California Los Angeles. He thought that these environmental doctors would be something like a general practitioner in the medical field: somebody who knew a little bit about all the basics of the science, but wasn’t necessarily a specialist in any of the sciences. This was quite a bit different than most Ph.D.s at that time when everybody was doing a degree on a very specific subject. I thought that was very interesting because I didn’t really want to specialize, but I thought this would be a nice way to get to know a lot about everything — maybe know a little bit about nothing, but a lot about everything. I actually left the seminar at the end and decided after walking a block away that, “Well, I should go back and put my name on that list,” because he had a list that you could put your name on if you were interested in finding out more. So I went back and just before he left the room, I got my name, the last one on the list. A few weeks later I received in the mail information from UCLA, and I applied and was accepted.
So I finished my master’s degree and defended my thesis in August of 1972, and the next week I started driving to California from the Washington, D.C. area. So that’s what, 3,000 miles probably at least? It took me a whole month. I visited lots of relatives on the way out. Didn’t know anybody in Los Angeles except one student who I had met in a summer job. His parents lived near L.A., and so I called them up and they put me up for one night. Then I found a rental apartment to share with some other people the next day. Because I had arrived kind of late, I wasn’t able to start school right in September. I had to wait until January for the next quarter. But started taking that course. Because I didn’t have much money — in fact, I think I was probably down to my last $100 at that point in my life — I figured I’d better get this program done as quickly as possible. So I was taking five and six courses per quarter as a doctoral student, and I did all the coursework in four quarters, including one spent at the University of California at Davis up in northern California because they had an exchange program with students. They offered courses in environmental law and environmental toxicology, which I found interesting, but weren’t offered at UCLA. So I spent one quarter there.
While I was at Davis, I happened to read in Science magazine about this new research institute that was being established in Palo Alto, California called the Electric Power Research Institute. They had hired as their first president Dr. Chauncey Starr, who was… I guess you would call him — He was the chief engineer in building the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project. He had worked with all those people. Went on to a stellar career with North American Rockwell, and had been dean of engineering at the School of Engineering at UCLA. I’d never met him, but my professors at UCLA knew him very well and suggested that I write to him to see whether I could get, as part of my doctoral program, this chance to work with them [at EPRI].
I should point out that this doctoral not only being a general program — we have a visitor here. My hummingbirds. They’ll be coming and going. The doctoral program, not only was it providing students with more of a general background, but instead of doing a dissertation on an original piece of research, the student would go and work for a company someplace around the world or California for a year and a half and then write a paper describing what they did for that company. So they were really getting practice in the real world.
So I wrote to Dr. Starr asking if I might be able to get an appointment as an intern with the Electric Power Research Institute. Well, he was the president; he wasn’t going to really talk to me. But he did give my letter to a fellow named Mr. Sam Schurr, who had joined them as head of their…it was called Energy Systems, Environment, and Conservation Division. Sam Schurr was a famous resource economist from Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C. and had worked a long time in Washington; was now moving to California to work for EPRI, as it was called. He said he would consider it, but what he wanted me to do was to see how I might like what I was doing.
So he sent me a research proposal that they had recently received from Dr. Peter Hobbs at the University of Washington School of Meteorology, Atmospheric Sciences, to study with an aircraft the effect of power plant plumes on local weather. The issue was whether the particles from the plume might actually serve as cloud seeding agents and influence the precipitation, and in Washington State that’s a very important issue. So he was going to study a power plant in Washington State. It was, you know, a thick proposal, a good standard research proposal. I gave it very careful consideration and wrote a review of it. What I found out later is that Mr. Schurr took my review and sent it and the proposal to someone he knew back in Maryland, Helmut Landsberg, who again was a very famous climatologist at the University of Maryland. I had actually taken some courses from him, so I knew him. He knew me, and apparently he gave a very good review of not only my review of the proposal, but the proposal itself, and so they hired me. I joined EPRI on April 1, 1974, and I was the first employee in the environmental area of this new Environmental Division. How old was I then? Spring of ‘74, I was 24 years old, I guess, at that time.
So here I was — the only employee of the environmental area for at least the first six months or so. Got to look at all the research proposals that they were considering. At the time, the place was growing very rapidly. I think the budget was doubling every year for the first several years. They wanted to get an active environmental research program, and I got to be part of it right from the very beginning. Then as time went on, more and more people were hired: more people more senior to me. So I had the unusual situation of actually going down in the chain of command over time rather than up because I was this very young person and they were hiring people who were very senior in other areas. But I really, really enjoyed the experience because I was getting to read proposals, interact with scientists in fields that I had studied in college and people I knew by reputation and was very envious of, and then got to interact with them on a regular basis. It was a very, very enjoyable process.
From the beginning, I was doing work with Dr. Hobbs on the effects of power plants. We went on to start doing work with effects of sulfur air pollution. Sulfates became a big issue in the mid ‘70s in the United States. I helped to organize a large regional air pollution study that involved regional monitoring around the eastern U.S., model development, model testing. Several of the people I worked with at EPRI in later years like Peter Mueller and George Hidy were actually contractors to me on that study. They eventually came and became my supervisor and my supervisor’s supervisor. So I got to meet all them, and people within the Department of Energy, U.S. EPA, who were top-notch researchers, and even some researchers around the world; because after we completed the first phase of this sulfur — Sulfate Regional Experiment was its official name; it had the acronym SURE — I met Professor Rudy Husar, who was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He had been involved somewhat tangentially with the SURE program. But he said, “This is a major effort, and it should be promoted in the international community.” He wanted to hold an international symposium on sulfur in the atmosphere. He had talked with me about it at my first American Geophysical Union meeting that I attended in San Francisco in 1976, I guess that was. We agreed that EPRI would provide him some funds to help organize this symposium, and so we did, and other people joined along later on, federal agencies, European agencies; the WMO joined in. I went to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia in 1978 to attend this conference since I had helped to organize it. I have one of very few, actually now probably, books that were produced summarizing the conference. Mine, though, is signed by Rudy Husar in the overleaf. He said something to the effect of, “Chuck, this is how it all ended. But only you and I know how it all began.” So that’s something I treasure and I keep on my bookshelf.
Before we go too much into your career, I have a few things that I would like to ask you. You said you had some family background in meteorology.
Oh yes, meteorology. My father, who grew up in northern Michigan, got a job with the U.S. government just before the outbreak of World War II. So he and his young wife moved from northern Michigan to Washington, D.C. in, I think, 1939 and was working for the U.S. Bureau of Standards. One of the things he did for the government, which at the time was, I guess, considered secret, was he developed portable meteorological instruments — anemometers, temperature gauges, pressure gauges — that could be then parachuted behind enemy lines. When they came down to the ground, they would pop up and start transmitting their information via shortwave radio since they couldn’t get Deutsche Wetterdienst to share the meteorological information in Europe on the continent. So the U.S. government established their own program, and he had developed that.
Then after the War ended, I was born in ‘49, and he then started developing for the Weather Service (actually for the Bureau of Standards, what was used by the Weather Service) a series of buoys that were to be put out into areas like the Gulf of Mexico and off of the Atlantic Ocean and off of the Pacific Ocean, since we didn’t have satellites at the time. The only way you could really track severe storms, hurricanes, et cetera, was either through aircraft penetration or reports from ships, and the ships didn’t typically carry a full suite of instruments.
So my father developed what’s called NOMAD, Naval Oceanographic Meteorological Automatic Device. It’s a large ocean-safe buoy that has on it wind measurements, temperature, sea surface pressure, sea surface temperature, temperatures below the surface to some distance. These devices would be put out by my father going out on Navy ships into the Gulf of Mexico and the ocean, and then would report routinely by shortwave radio the information that they acquired. It would do it on an accelerated basis during storms.
We had in the basement of our home in Maryland a shortwave radio set up with a reel-to-reel tape recorder attached, and it would automatically turn on and record these Morse code signals every time that the data was transmitted. My job as a five-year-old, six-year-old was to go down to the basement after these recordings came in, listen to the recordings, and transcribe the Morse code (because I had learned the Morse code at age five), transcribe the Morse code into five-digit character strings, and then look them up in a mimeograph book what the sea surface temperature was, what the air temperature was, and so forth. So at the age of five or six I was doing what, graduate student work — without pay — in the field of meteorology. [Laughing]
I’m told, although my father has long passed away, that those types of devices are still used regularly by the government in the Gulf of Mexico because you can’t do everything with satellites and ships. They do want to have some ground-based measurements, sea-based measurements, and they still use that same device, the type that he developed. I’m sure it’s been improved much since. But I don’t think they do it anymore by Morse code. [Laughs] I think it’s all collected automatically through satellites.
So that was how I got involved at a very early age in meteorology, and so I had a strong interest in staying in it. And this program at UCLA was a perfect thing for me. It was just starting, as I mentioned. I think I was the seventh graduate of that program when I got my degree in 1978. I did my internship for the first 18 months at EPRI, and I wrote my doctoral paper on the development of the EPRI environmental research program because I was the person who developed the EPRI environmental research program, or at least had a major role in it at that early stage.
Do you still have it?
I do have my dissertation. I have even scanned it now, so I have an electronic copy of my dissertation.
I would like to have it! [Laughter]
What else did we do? That was what I did for the first 18 months. Then they were kind enough to hire me as a full-time employee.
So I stayed with them, and I worked then pretty much my entire career at EPRI. I retired at the tender age of 53 — ten years ago.
So at EPRI, we started doing projects in sulfur air pollution, as I mentioned. That was the big thing in early… in mid 1970s. Then acid rain became a very important issue in the late 1970s, early ‘80s, and I organized an effort to set up a network of precipitation monitors in the eastern United States that would measure not only the amount of precipitation but the chemistry on what was called an “event basis”. In other words, we would collect samples after every storm. Many people were collecting samples on a weekly basis or longer. Part of the concern there was that between storms it would dry out and you might get dust in the air, and the dust could contaminate the water samples. So we had a program that we would put up collectors that had a little electronic sensor that would detect the precipitation, just as like automobiles now have windshield wipers that detect when the glass gets wet; they turn on automatically. This thing would move a lid so that the bucket that wanted to collect the water would become exposed, and then when the rain stopped, then it dried out, and the bucket would go back and close up.
We put these out in nine different locations in the eastern U.S., hired local individuals, not necessarily scientists, but local people, to operate these things. They typically set it up in their backyard, someplace well removed from contamination. Had some pretty interesting places where they were located. I think I visited almost every site at one time or another. The one in Vermont was at the home yard of Adrienne Rich. She’s a very famous feminist author who passed away just about a year ago. She had a student living in her house, and the young person operated the sensor site for us. They would collect the samples, and then they would ship them via Federal Express to a central laboratory that would do all the chemical analyses and report the results.
The one thing I found very interesting that I… My major contribution was… There was always a concern about how you could clean the buckets after you took a sample out because there was always the potential that if you had even the most minute traces of detergent still in the bucket, it would cause a huge spike in the potassium or the phosphate in the measurements. So I said, “Well, these buckets aren’t that expensive. Why do we bother cleaning them? Just get rid of them and put a fresh, new bucket in every time. So we use 100 buckets or so at a given site.” That was still cheaper than the problem of contaminated data. So there are a lot of these large buckets that are probably scattered around places in the eastern U.S. that were left over from our experiment. We did that program — I think the utilities wanted it about a three- or four-year effort, and then they went on to other things. But I was involved in starting that and running that for several years.
In 1983, our division director René Malès had a close working relationship with the Central Electricity Research Lab in England. We had actually had one of their scientists come and visit with us for several months. Our division director wanted EPRI to do some quid pro quo here, have somebody go spend time with them. Nobody on the staff wanted to go, you know, leave their California for England for a time, you know, family breakup problems and then you fall behind in your research activity or whatever. At the time, I was working as the assistant to this division director (not managing research projects directly anymore myself), so I said, “Yeah, I’d be happy to do it.” I had a young family, three small children, but my wife was very accommodating and the kids thought it was a great adventure, and we went to England for six months in 1983.
While there, I designed a research project for myself to start collecting data on precipitation chemistry networks around Europe and to see what they were showing and compare their results with what we were finding in the U.S. in the EPRI work. I was asked to give a presentation to a WMO meeting about the work I was doing, and as a result, they asked me then to write a paper, a report, one of their internal reports, as it were, that’s published and made available to the public, on the comparison of networks. I think I have a copy of that somewhere still, too. That was published, and I assume it’s available from the WMO. But that got me exposed to and interested in meeting many other people in foreign countries who were doing this work.
So as also part of my time over there in 1983, I made several other side trips on my own time as vacation to other countries in Europe and found some Finnish relatives living in the far north of Finland that I didn’t know existed. One of them was very interested in genealogy, and he took it upon himself to look up the background of my father’s family and traced it back eight generations and sent me information that he found about that. So it was very enjoyable. I got to meet again a lot of people that I had met at the Dubrovnik conference, but also other new people in that area of research.
When I finished that program, that six months in the U.K. in ‘83, I came back to EPRI because they had held my position, and now climate change was becoming a very big issue. They were having a lot of struggles with the industry as to decide just what should they do in that area. So René Malès, the division director, asked me (when I came back) would I give up that position of being his assistant and become a research manager again and tackle the issue of climate change, and so I jumped at that opportunity because I was always looking for new topics that I could be involved with. Climate change had certainly become a very new topic for the industry to be involved with.
Before we go into climate change, just to know what was that kind of institution in these early years, the first ten years? How was the structure? How was the direction of leadership? Was it very hierarchical or was it very flat? How much individual freedom did you have and think about that?
Oh! Well, when the utility industry approached Chauncey Starr to become their president, he had some very strong negotiating points. He wanted to be sure that the organization was not just something set up in Washington, D.C. or New York City. He wanted it to be located at a place that would attract the best scientists and engineers to come work there. He anticipated that they would only come for 18 to 24 months. Most of them came and stayed a lot longer than 18 or 24 months. But he wanted to get the best people and he wanted it at a place where they would have access to the best resources.
Well, although Dr. Starr was a dean of engineering at UCLA, he had a home in Atherton, California near Stanford University in northern California, and he knew from his experience that that would be a place that could really attract people. It was expensive to live in… it still is expensive to live in the Palo Alto area. But just as today Google has built their facilities in that area because it attracts really top-notch people, so too did EPRI build there and attracted top-notch people.
There wasn’t a lot of bureaucracy in the organization in the early years. I think it was only said slightly joking that the whole institute’s finances could be kept in one checkbook. But they did put together a very good team of staff right from the beginning. It wasn’t going to be just all scientists and engineers because you had to have people who could write contracts; you had to have financial auditors; you had to have public relations personnel to some extent; human resources people. But I was amazed at how many really sharp people they brought in from all around the country. They had four divisions at the time: Nuclear Power, Fossil Energy, Transmission and Distribution, and the Environment-Economics-Conservation Group that I worked in. All were run by people who had really made names for themselves in their respective fields, and because of that, they were able to attract other people who were equally becoming very well-known in various fields. There were a few cases where people came and only stayed a year or two and went back to their other organizations. But to the large extent, I think especially in the environment program, people who came stayed for a long, long time.
The difficulty for EPRI from the beginning, and something that they struggled with throughout their years, was the concern that something that was sponsored by industry, could it be trusted as doing credible research? So we worked very, very hard to always make it clear that we were providing the funds for the research, providing some basic direction. But we were not pulling any sort of marionette strings on the researchers. Researchers were doing their best work and publishing in the open literature, and we were trying to make sure that issues that were addressed that needed to be addressed for the utility industry that would also have benefit for the public at large, because in the environment area especially we had people who were well-known in the field and in many cases had worked for places like the Department of Energy or its predecessor organizations or the government national labs. They already had good connections, and so we didn’t have as much trouble in the environment area in developing these strong relationships with other people.
But there was still the case — and for the most part, we never did any direct, joint contracting [with federal agencies]. If we and EPA, for example, were going to work on the Sulfate Regional Experiment issues, well, EPA would have their own acronym and their own people. They would contract with their people and their people would come in, and they would work side by side with the people that EPRI had contracted with with the other acronym. They would freely exchange data in between each other. We held joint conferences, but we never actually mixed the dollars together. That worked out for me. I wasn’t particularly concerned about the mechanics of the process; I just wanted the end result to work successfully, and I think it did. I think we did very well in that regard.
The relationships with the international community in the environmental area, we didn’t get much out of the area of acid rain other than the fact that we had this international symposium on sulfur in the atmosphere. It wasn’t really until climate change came along that we were able to build some major relationships with foreign organizations. Then that really went very, very far. I think MECCA, the Model Evaluation Consortium for Climate Assessment, probably had as many sponsors from overseas as it did from within the USA in terms of money as well as the people involved. And the scientists involved: it had a very large component of international scientists who were doing modeling as part of that project as well.
You mentioned that you were Assistant to the Division Director —
Division Director in Environment, yes. After I’d been there — I joined EPRI in ‘74, and I guess it was 1981, ‘82, something like that. The Environment Division was having some difficulties. It had a large and growing budget, but wasn’t being very successful in actually putting all of its budget to good use. There were many cases of research projects that were slow to get started, and people always had… You know, there’s an expression there: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” You ask for more money than you can possibly implement.
René Malès, who was the division director at the time, approached me and asked me if I would help. I guess he had seen that I was pretty effective in getting my researchers to spend their funds appropriately and on time and budget and so forth, so he asked me if I would take on the position of his technical assistant, which I did agree to do. He gave me a lot of autonomy. I had authority to do pretty much everything but hire and fire people. I ran the planning effort for the program. I put together some detailed evaluations for the top management saying that, “Well, we haven’t been very effective over the past year in spending our funds, but we’re going to solve that.” I actually put together a timeline plan of how we were going to meet our needs. I think it’s fair to say that I prevented us from going from a $36 million budget down to a $24 million budget. I didn’t keep it at 36, but I kept it up at like 30, 31 in my efforts to help get all the other colleagues to really identify what was realistic that they could spend their funds on and what could they do to solve that problem. I did that for him until I went off to England in 1983, and when I came back, he probably would have had me come back to be the research technical assistant again. But because climate was becoming such a big issue and he offered me the chance to go into that, I jumped at the chance and left. I didn’t go back to be his assistant after that. But I certainly enjoyed my remaining years then in the climate area.
Also, what kind of research did you do as such for… How close was it to industry interests in the sense of… How did you decide what topics you would take?
Oh, okay. Well, EPRI from the very beginning had felt that they couldn’t just operate totally independent of industry, so they actually set up an advisory structure. Each of the individual research programs, like the Atmospheric Sciences Program, had an advisory committee of industry employees who were typically middle management people within individual utility companies, the ones who were members of EPRI. EPRI was a voluntary organization, so there were some utilities who didn’t join and then they didn’t get to play in the game. But the other ones, the ones who were joined, would identify people to serve on this industry advisory panel at the program level, and then there was one for the whole Environmental Division, and there was one for all divisions. Even at the Board of Directors level, there was a Citizens’ Advisory Council to the Board that would advise them on issues.
We would develop research plans that were developed at the staff level and would present them to our advisory structure. They would review them, make suggestions on what might be additional things to cover, and then when we actually had individual research projects that we would propose to do, we would develop like a two-page summary of the project and present that to the industry. In theory, they could say, “Yes,” or “No, we don’t think that’s appropriate,” and not do it. But in practice — maybe I was just very good at convincing them — I don’t think I ever had a research project that was rejected by the advisors.
In fact, there was one interesting case that the first division director for environment, Dr. Cyril Comar, who was a radiation health physicist. He had been heavily involved in studying the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. We were having a meeting with our advisors and it was kind of running long and not going real well. He, in fact, kind of took me aside and said, “I don’t think you should present that research project because it’s probably not going to get accepted.” I had done all this work. It was on the issue of biogenic emissions of sulfur in the environment. I said, “I think it’s a really good project, and I definitely would like to present it.” He was a very fatherly type. He says, “Well Chuck, you know, if they say no, we’re going to have to live with that. Do you really want to risk that now?” and I said, “I want to talk about it.” So I did, and I got a unanimous vote in favor of it. So I felt that I at least was successful. Most of the staff were very successful. Even if our project was “rejected,” it was usually a case where we just had to take it back and rethink it, revise it a bit, and come back three months later or whatever. The committee would meet every three months and then four months or so. So it really didn’t stop the research. But it provided the industry the very appropriate role of being involved. Then by knowing what was coming down the pike in terms of research being done, they would be more interested in when actual results came out and being able to see those results and to make use of them in their own efforts and programs.
So there was this industry structure. I don’t think there were many cases where the industry actually had somebody as a contractor. That could be done. There weren’t that many industry people who were really in the research orientation themselves to do research, but they were often asked to cooperate with research. Every project that I did that involved an aircraft would typically be wanting to fly through somebody’s power plant plume, and so you wanted to get permission from them to do the work. I don’t think we had any really problems with getting that, either. There would be other ordinary concerns like, “He’s not going to hit my stack with that airplane, is he?” We flew some really low flights. I was down at 100 feet or 200 feet above the ground going between two stacks at times, you know. But that didn’t prove to be a major problem, either. We got good cooperation from the industry.
We had lots and lots of papers that were presented by our contractors at national conferences like the Air and Waste Management Association Conference or the American Meteorological Society Conference. In fact, I think EPRI twice won the award from the American Meteorological Society for best effort by a private group or something. I don’t remember the exact title of that program. I know at least once, maybe both times I was actually asked to go to the meeting to accept the award on behalf of EPRI. So I think the reputations hung very well in our years; and that we were viewed as an organization that could do very useful research that would be beneficial not only to the utilities but also to industry. There are certain things I think that probably government felt, “Well, we would really like to get that study done, but we can’t do it for political reasons,” or whatever. But EPRI could do that study and it would carry just as much weight in the end analysis if EPRI could do it as we could do it. So I think there were probably a few cases like that that actually went on as well, too. They’ve been very active in the years I’ve gone. A lot of work has been done on mercury, for example, that’s been… A very large amount of that has been done out of people with EPRI and involvement. So I think they’re still trying to play as active a role as they can.
Haven’t done as much in climate, and certainly not in the climate change science. They’re still very, very active in climate change economics and have been from the beginning, but not so much in science now… I suspect that that’s in part because of the financial situation. U.S. electric utility industry is not in the best of financial shape right now, and when they have to pay for this research — even if they can get it in the rate base and charge it directly to the customers — it becomes difficult sometimes to get enough money together to really do research as we would like. So I think it’s best to view it as, “Well, EPRI got some things really started. The government has now gone on and done them in a bigger scale at a level that can be supported at large.” I think the MECCA Project, which we’ll talk about later, is a perfect example of that. There is a huge effort now underway by the government in that area. EPRI could never have funded anything that big. But what they did fund provided a template and a technique. I think even the government people, the ones who are involved, will admit that they learned a lot from how to approach it from what EPRI had done earlier on.
Now back to climate change. First yourself, when did you first get to know climate change and global warming?
Well, I first was exposed to climate change back when I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Helmut Landsberg, as I mentioned earlier, was a very famous climatologist, and he had actually done some research himself. He would explain to us graduate students that the issue of CO2 absorption by the oceans…he said it’s like a beer. If you have a very cold beer, it can hold a lot of fizz. You know, a lot of carbon dioxide will be held in that beer. As that beer warms up, the effervescence comes out of the beer and so escapes to the atmosphere. So if we start warming the oceans, we’re going to actually have an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
He also was very interested in urban climates, and in fact did some pioneering research at Columbia, Maryland, which was a brand new town that was being designed. It was going to replace farm fields with a large urban area, and he had the brilliant thinking of putting in instruments to measure the local climate before they built anything, and then measured the climate during and after the construction so you could actually see what the real effects on climate were of urbanization. I took his course describing that at Maryland, and that got me really interested in seeing how this was going to play out in the future.
So when I was at EPRI, there had been some early issues about climate change that had been put up by the government. I think that there were at least one or two studies. Jules Charney did a famous report for the National Academy of Sciences in the mid ‘70s about climate. We had at EPRI a very, very wonderful gentleman, Walt Esselman. He was a Senior Vice President. He had come over to EPRI from the prior organization that had been holding onto the research for utilities, Edison Electric Institute. So he came to EPRI as a senior vice president. He came to me (I think it was in ‘77) and asked me about — Well, we had talked often at lunch and so forth. He thought maybe I could say something. What is this climate issue about? So I wrote for him a memo, [which I titled]”The CO2 issue in one page”, and I still have that, in which I described in one page about how at that time in ‘77, the average carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 330 parts per million, and it was increasing at a rate of about a half a percent per year, or 1.5 parts per million per year. Because the fact that the CO2 was very long-lived in the atmosphere, it was likely going to continue increasing at similar rates in the future, and that it might have impacts because of the fact that the warming would change the gradient of the temperatures in the atmosphere. Normally you find it much colder in the Northern Hemisphere or the poles compared to the tropics. This gradient might be reduced since most of the greenhouse gases were being emitted in the Northern Hemisphere at higher latitudes. Didn’t know so much at the time about how well it mixes, so that doesn’t have as much influence. But the fact that if it melted snow, that could change the albedo of the earth so that you might warm up these higher latitudes more; there would be less reflectivity by snow, and that could somehow change the patterns of storms and so forth.
At the time, we didn’t really know anything about the other greenhouse gases: chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and so forth. So I missed the boat on discussing that in the issue, but did describe the other stuff. Looking back at that memo today, it’s still reasonably accurate. It wasn’t any clairvoyance on my part; it was all information I was just repeating stuff that I had read and seen in other papers from people. But it did show that there was clearly a risk of increasing dramatically concentrations in the atmosphere. That’s still true today, and I’m still disappointed that so many people don’t recognize how much of that’s going to be. I mean I try at times to inform people about how the fact that we’re emitting today globally about ten billion tons of carbon dioxide, expressed as carbon. Back when I started to work at EPRI, it was probably five or six billion tons. The basic modeling that I’ve seen suggests that if you want to stabilize that atmospheric concentration at 550 parts per million, twice the preindustrial level, you’d have to reduce that ten billion tons to one billion tons.
Yeah. It’s quite an effort that is…
One billion tons. You can go back and look in data from Oak Ridge National Lab. One billion tons was last emitted per year in 1927. Population of the world was much, much smaller. The economic development was much, much smaller. To reduce today from ten billion to one billion means that pretty much every country that emits more than 1% of the total — there are about 20 of those. You know, U.S., China, India, the European Union, Canada, Australia, Poland, Soviet Union or Russia or whatever. All those countries would have to reduce their emissions to zero. And every other country in the world who emits less than 1% — the Zimbabwes, Botswanas, etc. — they have to hold their emissions constant at what they are today. I don’t see how that’s… That is not possible. They don’t want to live like they do now. I don’t want to live like they do, and they sure don’t want to live in an energy-constrained world. I don’t see the solution yet of a non-fossil-fuel-emitting energy source to provide the world’s economy, what it is now and what it’s going to continue to grow to be. If anything, emissions now are probably going up faster than they were when I wrote that memo in 1977. The only times that they emit maybe a less fast rate is when we have some world economic recession for a year or two, and everybody does everything they can to stop that — to go back to what is effectively a world of dramatically increasing emissions.
So as recently as the American Meteorological Society meeting [in 2013], I made that point to the Department of Energy when they were asking about “What do we need to do in terms of modeling and assessment on climate?” My point is because it’s really not realistic to think we’re going to stop the growth of concentrations in the atmosphere. I don’t know how much these are going to affect the climate. But clearly, having more emissions is going to affect the climate more than having less emissions. So there are going to be effects, and we probably really should concentrate on identifying where are these effects going to be really, really bad. What can we do to mitigate those effects through adaptation and localized… not necessarily emission reductions, but localized processes to protect ourselves because we are not going to go back to a world of one gigaton per year. Remember that one gigaton only stabilizes it at 550. It’s still going to go up from today’s 390, 395. We’re not going to prevent it from going up, and any year that it doesn’t go up really ought to be studied very carefully because I sure would like to know what the heck’s going on if it doesn’t go up in a year based on what we know now. So it’s not the most hopeful thing in the world, and that’s not being a denier or anything. That’s being a realist.
I wish that more and more people would spend more time in considering that point and identify what we need to do to really protect those people at risk. We’re not going to protect them by invoking carbon taxes or Kyotos. These things are going to change that trajectory by less than the width of the pencil lead that you use to draw the line on the graph. We’re not going to prevent that from happening. Short of some miracle, which I don’t see coming down the road any time really soon in finding a non-fossil-based energy source to supply all our needs, we’re going to have to continue to increase in emissions. We will certainly be able to detect this in our measurements. Whether we can detect the change in the climate is a whole other question, and I still struggle with that a lot all the time because by definition, climate is something averaged over decades. We don’t have a very good track record right now of putting in place observational networks that are reliable over decades. So we don’t even know how much change is really happening now because we’re not making the measurements in the right places for the right things, and we don’t necessarily know what the right things are to measure and where. So… things will continue to change. That’s probably the best conclusion I can make. They will change, and we ought to be a little more serious — a lot more serious — on identifying where is it really going to be bad and what can we do to protect those resources in the areas where it is really going to be bad.
I don’t know if we should take a short break now.
Sure, we can do that.
Yeah, go back to talk about how climate science developed at EPRI.
Sure, sure. My hummingbird is… he’ll get used to us. [Break]
Yes. Now we are back for the second session, and we are about to talk about the climate research done at EPRI.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, back in some of my early years at EPRI, there was starting to be some interest in climate. Our senior vice president Walt Esselman actually approached me once and said, “Can you explain a little bit what this climate issue is about?” So I spent a few days reading all the literature that I could find readily available. ‘77 was days before Internet, so I just couldn’t Google it and have it instantly. You actually had to go to a library and start digging up and ask the librarian to get you things and so forth. I wrote for him a memo I called “The CO2 Issue in One Page,” which described some of the basics about how greenhouse gas concentrations were increasing in the atmosphere and had been so for the recorded period of time since the Mauna Loa Observatory had started making routine, regular measurements in 1957, I think. By ‘77, it was up to about 330 parts per million and growing at about a part and a half or so per year, and there was no indication that that was going to really change.
Because at the time most of the work I was doing was on acid rain, I actually got invited by John Miller of NOAA in Boulder to present a paper at a special session of their annual meeting of what they called GMCC, Global Monitoring for Climate Change, because the work that Dave Keeling was doing out at Mauna Loa to measure CO2 was in part funded by the NOAA folks. It was also funded by… I don’t know if Department of Energy. Maybe then it was still the Atomic Energy Commission. But they had started an early program to try to make measurements at several locations in really remote areas like Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the South Pole, Barrow, Alaska, and I think the fourth one they had was in the American Samoa in the South Pacific. So I was actually going to this meeting in Boulder to talk about acid rain, but much of the meeting was about this early work in climate. So that really intrigued me, and I actually started going to that meeting every year — not presenting anything; simply to go and learn what was the latest in the field.
And you could just do that?
EPRI was… Again, because they wanted their scientists to be really, really up on the latest and greatest stuff going on in their fields, we had not fully carte blanche, but you could make a good case with your manager that it was important for you to attend a particular meeting. As long as it wasn’t in really some remote place around the world or an exotic place, you’d get approved to do that. So I started going on an annual basis to this meeting in Boulder to keep up on what the latest was going on in climate science.
Then ‘83 came along and I was asked to go out to England, or I had volunteered. I thought it would be a really neat thing to do. Went to England. That kind of took me out of the climate area for a while. But clearly a lot of stuff was going to go on, and you’ll probably hear about that from some of the other people you talk to. Back in the U.S. there were these big projects coming out saying that this was becoming a major issue, and EPRI decided they really wanted to get more actively involved in it. So when I came back at the end of ‘83, they asked me to take on the lead in the program for climate science.
We weren’t even thinking about climate modeling at that time really. As I remember, the first couple of projects I did were with people to look at whether we could measure uptake of CO2 in ocean waters, and what were the improvement techniques for doing that? There might have been some early work on other greenhouse gases, what besides the CO2. I think I — In fact, I do remember. I don’t remember much of the details of it, but at some point I asked Ralph Cicerone, who is now president of the National Academy of Sciences, but at the time was either a professor at the University of California at Irvine, or maybe he was still working at NOAA in Boulder or NCAR in Boulder. But I knew of him as having been somebody who was doing a lot of work on methane. So I actually asked him to write us a little, you know, white paper on the importance of methane to the climate issue, to forcing, and what was needed in terms of was there something that EPRI might be able to do in that area. I don’t know that we actually did anything with that paper, but it got me introduced to him. I’ve met him many times since and he still remembers who I am! [Laughing] So somehow I made an impression on him at the time.
We did a lot of small stuff, nothing really substantial in the climate, until very late in the ‘80s, our vice president, Dr. Richard Balzhiser, who I think just then had been promoted from vice president to president of EPRI. He was the third president. There was Chauncey Starr, then Floyd Culler, then Dick Balzhiser. In fact, Dr. Balzhiser just passed away last month. You may have heard about it or seen something on that. He was really a very, very smart chemical engineer by training. But he had worked for the U.S. government in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, so he really had this broad picture and understood issues. He was “friends” with Bob White. Robert White had been a president of the National Academy of Sciences and got to talking with him about this. White was very concerned too that everybody started to talk about climate modeling, but we really don’t understand the uncertainties in these models, and we’re not even sure we have all the right things in the models. Again, computers were very, very limited in these early days. Perhaps there is a role for EPRI to play in helping to get this research going further.
So George Hidy, who had now joined EPRI as vice president, organized a workshop in Boulder. I think that was in ‘89. It came to be known as the Boulderado workshop because it was held at the Hotel Boulderado. I was asked to attend that. It was organized by his staff assistant, Adda Quinn. We had people come in to talk about what was needed in terms of measurements and monitoring, so I think Dave Keeling was there. There were people who wanted to talk about the other greenhouse gases, and so there were some people in that field. And there were some people there to talk about what was needed in the modeling area.
Do you remember who?
It was probably Richard Anthes from NCAR, Warren Washington. Steve Schneider may have been there. I’m sure that I’ve got somewhere around here — or maybe it was even scanned into that package of material — the results of that workshop, and that would have a list of all the people in there, so you could get the names out of that. I don’t know. Does George Hidy mention them in the MECCA book? He mentions the Boulderado workshop. I don’t know if he talked about who was there from that group. But the thing that came out of that was there was clearly a need to improve on the climate modeling aspect of the whole thing. That was from the EPRI standpoint.
Simultaneously to the EPRI people talking about this, the folks within the National Science Foundation and NCAR and UCAR and the federal government were also talking about we really need to do something on improving the climate modeling. I think this book Assessing Climate Change: Results of the MECCA Project, has a whole chapter by Rick Anthes talking about how that process was evolving within NCAR and UCAR. They were struggling with it, too, because in part the fear was, “Well, this is just a power play on the part of the NCAR folks to build themselves up more. It’s not going to help the community as a whole, and it’s not going to really solve the problem.” Some of the scientists were saying, “Well, we don’t even know what to include in the model at this point, so even if you could give us a powerful enough computer, we wouldn’t know what to put in it in the first place. So are we just throwing money away to do that?”
Computers weren’t very powerful back in those days. But I got invited to attend the second of these planning workshops for this Climate System Modeling Initiative. The first one I think was attended by my boss, Ralph Perhac, who was the program manager for atmospheric sciences at the time. With the second one, he asked me if I would go in his stead, and that probably… This may be a little bit of overstatement, but that sort of changed everything, the fact that I was asked to go to the second one, because when I went to the second one (I think it was in April of 1990), during that meeting Rick Anthes was there. I had met him a couple of times before. In fact, he had actually done research for EPRI back when he was at Penn State. He developed the regional model. The MM4 was developed under a contract with Glenn Hilst who was an excellent atmospheric scientist who had joined EPRI and was writing the Atmospheric Sciences Program when Ralph Perhac was promoted to be division director.
Rick Anthes took me aside during that meeting and said, “I’ve got a deal for you folks at EPRI.” I guess they had been thinking at the time that they were going to replace their current Cray computer, which was an X-MP/48, which means it had four processors and 8 MB of memory. You’ve got to remember this is 20 years ago! 8 MB, and that was a big computer! [Laughing] They were going to want to replace that with something new, and they said, “Rather than just sending this back to the scrap heap, maybe there’s a use for this.” They asked me, representing EPRI, if we might have some interest in supporting the continued use of that computer for a few years and pay for its operating costs basically (and the capital was all taken care of) and devote it to doing climate modeling because at that time when people were starting to recognize that we really need to run these models for longer periods of time, but we just don’t have enough computing time to do it. Whatever computer they were using was already fully saturated with lots of individual jobs from other people doing things that were climate and non-climate related. So they wanted to really get a dedicated climate computer. I guess there was nobody in the world that had one of those yet. I don’t even think the Hadley Centre in Britain had. They had been talking about it, but I don’t think they had actually done it yet.
Yeah. I think they had set that up in Germany. I think that Germany was —
Oh, Max Planck had actually —
Yeah, at the German Supercomputer Center.
They may have. So I came back from that meeting in April, and I think within two days I had written some memo describing to management what was being offered here. The first logical question I got back was, “Well, what would you do with it?” So then I had to start thinking about well, what types of model runs would we do with such a thing? So we spent several weeks after that trying to write up some ideas of our own, and we got the idea of hiring as a consultant Dr. Larry Gates at Lawrence Livermore Lab, who was also a very famous climate modeler and had been involved in some of this stuff on the NCAR side. So he knew what was going on in that field; plus, he was a climate modeler himself. He helped us write up an idea of what types of experiments might we actually do with a computer like this.
Then our computing science department got involved. EPRI by that time had a small IBM computer which was doing financial accounting and so forth, but they had visions themselves. They said, “Well, why should we just get somebody else’s computer? Maybe we should actually get a computer ourselves and bring it in-house and we run the thing.” So they arranged to have one of their consultants — Paul Newman was his name — to actually work with us to review, from the computer side, what was out there, what was available, what was realistic that you might be able to accomplish and what-not, what might it cost, and so forth. That was a very helpful effort because it helped us to focus on really that it wasn’t just having the computer. You had to have all this supporting infrastructure of programmers and system analysts, and while you could have your computer scientists, your climate modeling scientists located in lots of different places, you needed to have the rest of this infrastructure to support a computer. We didn’t really think that EPRI was ready to go that way, so it really kind of focused us thinking, “Well yeah, we definitely want to do it with a specific computer.”
So we actually asked, that summer of 1990, NCAR to submit a formal proposal to us as to what would this computer be and what would it cost? The money was way, way too much. We can’t afford that! [Laughing] So there was a lot of give and take and negotiation. I think they probably got some big concessions from Cray, who was the provider of the computers that they had then. They did come back to us with something that we could probably bite off, but it was going to be the largest project ever in the environmental program at EPRI. The second-largest project had been the Sulfate Regional Experiment, which I had done back in the mid ‘70s. So here we got this other huge project. It was well over $3 million just on EPRI’s part alone to run a supercomputer.
In the meantime, Cray had come back and told NCAR, “Well, we really don’t want to have that X-MP/48 go anywhere. We really want to retire that. That’s old technology. We have a new computer called a Y-MP, much faster.” It was only two processors, but it had 16 MB of memory rather than the eight, and because it was so much faster, its actual total throughput would be much more than we could get out of that X-MP/48. Why did they have this computer? Well, that computer had been built to deliver to Saudi Arabia. But in 1990, we had something called Operation Desert Shield. I think it was Desert Shield, the first one there, where Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Suddenly it wasn’t looking very promising for Cray to be able to deliver a computer to Saudi Arabia. So they offered that computer at a very discounted price to NCAR to set up on the floor of their computing center. They had enough space and air cooling and so forth to do so. Over the course of the next six months or so, we agreed. EPRI agreed. This thing had to go through our advisory committee at the program level, then another meeting with the division level, and then up to the Research Advisory Council at the highest levels of the Institute. I suppose it got signed off at some point by the Board of Directors. But they all agreed that this was a very appropriate thing to do, and I have to really give the credit to George Hidy and Dick Balzhiser because they believed enough in us that we could do this. They carried the load and got it through all those people.
So in, I guess it was early ‘91, we signed a contract with NCAR to have that Y-MP two processor, 16 MB machine installed in Boulder. It was going to be installed like in May or early June. Again, we were still concerned about the money as much as anything else, and that’s probably the main reason why we started looking for foreign sponsors to help cover the money aspect of it. Fortunately, George Hidy had already been communicating with Hiromasa Amano, who was his counterpart for the Japanese electric utilities of EPRI called CRIEPI, and they jumped at the chance apparently. They thought, “This is great,” and they committed almost $1 million [snaps fingers] just like that. Almost on George’s say-so, they committed $1 million to the program. Then we picked up a lot of other sponsors along the way.
I remember somebody at NCAR was friends with someone of Électricité de France, and so they talked with them. Then they committed. Then Électricité de France, Jean-Yves Caneill there asked me if I would stop by on my way to, I don’t know, the IPCC or some other meeting in Europe. I actually stopped for an afternoon and gave a talk at some place near Versailles or their offices along the Seine. I remember because the plane was really delayed and I had to somehow call them. I mean this was days before iPhones or anything, too! Somehow I got a message to them that I was running late. I got there and I came in. I was totally jet-lagged, and I get on in there and I give this talk, and I think KEMA signed up on the basis of that meeting, just on hearing this one talk about the program. They said, “Oh yeah, we’ll join that.”
A similar thing happened with ENEA, the Italian Agency for Nuclear and the Environment, I think is what it stands for. They had a fellow who was visiting NCAR, and I happened to be in town visiting my brother who lived in Denver. Wayne Shiver who was the assistant to the director in UCAR, assistant to Rick Anthes, asked me to stop by and say something to them. So I gave them a little talk about this program, and they decided that they would participate. But they wouldn’t give their money directly to EPRI; they would give their money to UCAR. Again, my process is I’m not concerned about the procedures; I just want the end product. That was fine with me. Give it to whomever, as long as it gets dedicated to the project. It was great. So we had that sponsor.
We picked up somebody from the University of Nevada Las Vegas that was supported by EPA. They didn’t give money, but they gave computing time on a supercomputer they had in Las Vegas. That was really, really important because that was the computer that was used to sponsor the runs done by Karl Taylor and Joyce Penner who were at Livermore at the time. They were the first people to put — the first in the world — to put sulfur aerosol into a climate model and showed how important that was. As a result of their work which got published in Nature, a seminal paper I think in… well, it would have been like ‘93, something like that.
Something like that.
That made everybody add sulfur aerosols. So if there’s anything that was said, “Well, what did MECCA or what did EPRI accomplish that made some world effect?” that was one thing that you can actually count on. Now everybody, any model worth its salt must have not only sulfur aerosols, but lots now: it’s black carbon and everything else that has to be included in it. So that was really important for us.
Simultaneously to developing the plans for the computer, I was very interested in making sure we had the people because this point of “Well, what are you going to do with it?” really meant a lot to me. You can’t just ask two or three of “the old boys” in the climate modeling community to do all the work. There’s no way they can do it all. We have to increase the number of people who know how to do climate modeling. So NCAR had been thinking about that, and they came to me and said, “Well, we’d like to develop a course, a special two-week workshop for people who are currently students in graduate school who are maybe in the atmospheric sciences. But they really haven’t thought about making climate modeling as their career choice. We’d like to have a course to invite these people to come to a two-week thing and have the best people in the field talk to them about it, maybe convince some of them that this is a really good way to go.”
So I said, “That sounds like a great idea. What’s it going to cost?” and it wasn’t that much. So we put in a separate research contract to fund that, and they said, “Well, we need to have a syllabus,” or at least some sort of resource material to do that. So Rick Anthes said, “Oh, I’ve got this really good guy working with me, Kevin Trenberth, and I’d like to ask him to actually be an editor and put together a text that could be used as the course text for this course that we’re going to do, you know, six or seven months from now. We need somebody to pay for all those honoraria for people to write these chapters.” I said, “All right. Go for it!” So we funded that also. I don’t know how they did it in the time they did, but Kevin got together the people and they put together a text that was used in its first draft for this workshop.
I went to a couple of the sessions of that workshop in Wisconsin; it was held in Madison. During that month that that was held, the computer was initiated. It was actually turned on. There was a ceremony. There’s a videotape of that ceremony somewhere that has George Hidy speaking. I think I’m in the videotape off in the corner somewhere holding a glass of champagne. I don’t think I said anything. Computer was turned on, and within four days it was running at such a high rate of utilization that Cray actually changed the reporting software because we were reporting 100% utilization because they didn’t have enough significant digits in their output. They said, “That’s impossible. The computer cannot run at 100%.” So we had to start putting it at 99.9% or something. [Laughing] They added an extra decimal. Throughout that summer, I think the lead scientist or lead manager in that Scientific Computing Division… The director was Bill Buzbee, but his lead floor guy was Gary Jensen. He took it on as a personal responsibility to make sure that computer ran. I think after the first year we had something like of all the maximum possible hours — you know, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — you’ve got to have some time off for maintenance and so forth, and you lose some time because you have, you know, lightning strikes that knock the power offline or whatever. But we still wound up at the end of the year with like 95% of all possible available hours were actually available. Of all those hours, 95% were actually used in computing cycles. So we had some incredible utilization rate, which I don’t know that they’d ever been able to match since. But the way we were able to do that is we had very few numbers of jobs being run, and they used full cycles. They took advantage of the two processors — only two processors, but all the memory — and really made good utilization of the equipment.
How did we get those proposals to do the work? Well, we did an international solicitation, and it was international. I put together a short one- or two-page request for proposals, and I think it was mailed out to everybody that we could figure who would possibly do it. I think it was also published in something like the Transactions, the Eos newsletter of the AGU, and it may have been in Science magazine or a few other places. We didn’t give them a lot of time, only a couple of months, and we said, “We’re not going to pay you people. We’ll give you the free computer time, but we don’t have money to pay yet to do this work. But if you’ve got money from elsewhere, we’ll provide computing time.” We got… it must have been close to 20 proposals…through that first thing on very short notice.
We put together a technical review committee of scientists who were known in the field. In a couple of cases, they had to recuse themselves from reviews of proposals because they had their own names on the proposals. But there were technical scientists from them and then technical people from the various sponsors. So they elected me to chair this panel, to not only be the day-to-day project manager for the computer from the sponsors’ standpoint, but also then to chair this technical review panel. We held a meeting to review all these proposals and made our listed recommendations of which proposals should be awarded how much time, with the maximum time to be awarded maybe 10% or 20% more than we could physically deliver because we figured just like airlines, everybody doesn’t show up for the plane flight. So you’ve got to overbook a little bit. So we overbooked a little computing time, too.
We took these recommendations to what was called the Policy Committee of MECCA, which were the representatives at the management level from the sponsoring agencies. They had elected Peter Mueller of EPRI to be their chair, and they approved everything that we requested. I mean I wasn’t really concerned that they were going to say no, but you know, it was appropriate to have people who are really controlling the purse strings have a final say on that.
The work was quite varied. If there was one common theme, it was people wanted to look at sensitivity studies to different uncertainties in models. We had one guy who was doing work on what’s the effect of changing the model resolution? Of course back in those days, they were using models with resolutions of 500 km, and we did one down to 100 km. Oh boy, that’s a high resolution, 100 km, 250 and 500 km, and showed as you improved the resolution, the results would tend to improve a bit. We had another fellow who was looking at effects of carbon dioxide concentrations. He took them not only to 550; he went to 1,000… 2,000… 4,000 parts per million, and showed that in fact that as you get the concentrations high enough, you actually saturate the absorption bands and so that actually tails over. There is a limit. It’s not a runaway effect. It actually tails over. At some point, it’s a very high concentration and it’s a very high impact, but at some point, you eventually don’t have any more effective CO2. Probably could have said that based on first principles of physics, but it was good to show that at least the models were following the rules of first principles of physics. If you saturate the absorption bands, you stop having any increased effect.
There were people looking at effects of tropical deforestation. If you cut down all the trees in central Brazil, what does it do to the tropical precipitation patterns in that area? There was even one project on regional climate modeling that was done by Filippo Giorgi who was an up and coming star. Now I think he’s probably some director of some institute in Italy or elsewhere in the world on climate modeling. I’m sure he would consider it — He’s probably considered the grand old man of regional climate modeling now. He had a proposal to do some early testing of regional climate models in this effort.
All this work was accomplished over the course of like the first 18 months. We had a workshop at EPRI where all the investigators were invited to send at least one representative at our expense. They could send as many extras as they wanted at their own expense, and several of them did. It was held in Palo Alto with all the sponsors there and all the investigative teams, including folks from Russia and Italy, and I think there was one from Japan, France, Australia — there were people from Australia — and a lot of U.S. participants. They all came and presented their work. Several of them started writing papers, and in fact, one fellow in NCAR took it on himself and said, “Well, I want to get all these papers together and publish them in one place,” and so there was a special issue. I want to say it’s “Global Biogeo-chemical…
“Global and Planetary Change,” I think it is.
Okay. But they actually published a whole series of these papers out of this first set of MECCA experiments in one place to provide its broad international distribution.
We had some potential problems with other sponsors. We tried to get the federal government to join; they wouldn’t do it. NSF would allow NCAR, since they were the prime sponsor of NCAR, to host this computer and to have all their scientists be involved in it. But we couldn’t get cash, although we tried very, very hard to get cash from other places like Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, industry in the U.S. like General Motors and the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association. I think they were approached. Couldn’t get cash from those people, and so the cash became a problem. I think EPRI had to actually put up more money ultimately to pay for the thing than they expected to. It hurt financially other parts of the Institute. I’ll let George Hidy tell you whether or not it had any effect on his personal job status because I don’t know for sure all that happened there. [Laughing] But that’s something you’ll learn about with him. But it was effective for that first phase.
Then we did a second. We figured, “Well, we can do this for at least another year,” so we put out a second request for proposals. That one was going to emphasize doing longer runs because we said, “Hey, we’ve got this computer. Let’s take advantage of it. It’s not just a computer to do short runs on climate alone. Let’s take advantage of what it’s really useful for and do some long runs.” We did a couple of hundred-year-plus simulations with it. Those were very, very helpful. But by then, the rest of the community was all catching up, as it were. I mean DOE at this point was really thinking very seriously about developing their own dedicated supercomputer. The British had one; the Germans had one. The Japanese were just starting to think about building that supercomputing center in Yokohama.
Even before then, though, the Japanese were very — The CRIEPI people really wanted to go farther with this, and they actually went out and solicited from Fujitsu, which was a maker of a different architecture — completely different architecture — of supercomputer if they would participate. Fujitsu came to the U.S. and offered a computer for free, one of their latest versions of their computer for free to the MECCA Project. It was really amazing. I went to a meeting with Fujitsu in Boulder. The scientists were very impressed with the performance of the machine, but they were also very nervous because it would require them to completely recode all their models to work on this different architecture. They weren’t sure who was going to give them the time or money to do that.
As it turned out, it never got beyond the talking phase because somebody tipped off John Rollwagen, who was the CEO of Cray Research in Minneapolis — that this was happening. He was the provider of the current computer. I remember going to a meeting at his office with him with Bill Buzbee, the director of the computing center who knew him pretty well, and Rick Anthes I think, and Bob Serafin maybe, who was the director of NCAR at the time. Rollwagen told them to his face that he would not do anything to get in the way of this Fujitsu computer, although he made a comment and said, “You know, they’re really not interested in just being magnanimous with this. They’re trying to get access to your operating system and your other codes that you have. It’s really to benefit them, not to benefit you.” So he told us he wasn’t going to do anything about it.
But it turns out that Richard Gephardt, who was a very prestigious congressman from Illinois — he was chair of the House of Representatives Commerce Subcommittee or something — started writing to some newspapers about how there was too much indication that foreign agencies were trying to get involved in the U.S. computing industry to the detriment of the U.S. computing industry. He was going to hold a series of hearings and subpoena people to testify for him. That got everybody real nervous, and Fujitsu politely withdrew the offer. So that didn’t happen. But it was very interesting at the time to see what the Japanese would be willing to try to do. I don’t know how much face was lost by CRIEPI on that. I know saving face is very important to the people overseas. But that didn’t happen.
But the rest of the program continued through its second phase, and at that point, everybody else was developing new supercomputing facilities that we said, “It’s probably time to wrap up MECCA at this point. There’s not much that we’re going to be able to do to compete with these bigger boys now that they’re all really building up.” In fact, Bill Buzbee went so far as to say, “Well, we’re going to put in a new computer [here at NCAR]. It’s going to be called…” I think Antero was the name they gave to it. At that age, they were naming all their supercomputers after 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado. The MECCA computer was called Castle for Castle Peak. They were going to put in a new one called Antero for Mount Antero. In fact, they decided to build a new dedicated supercomputer. Actually, it was half of a much larger machine, but half of it would be dedicated for climate modeling. He went so far as to say, “We are designing this based on the template that was shown for the community by the MECCA Project.”
He invited me to serve on the review panel for proposals in that project. In fact, a couple of times I even served as the ad hoc chair of the panel when the appointed chair was not able to attend. So somebody else was asked to do it, and they said, “Well, you really should ask Chuck to do it because he’s done it already before with the MECCA Project.” So, like on three weeks’ notice, I was asked to step in, and so I did that a couple of times. I continued to be reappointed to serve on that panel. I’ve been on it now since the beginning of this Climate Simulation Laboratory Program at NCAR, and for the past six years, I have been the official chair of that panel, which is supposedly not public knowledge. But the former director of the NCAR Climate Modeling Program found out that I was the chair and made some comment in a big public meeting of all the climate modelers and their program that I was the chair. I just looked every which way. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” But the NSF Program Manager Jay Fein said, “That’s okay. They all know it anyway.” So the big secret was out. I’m very happy to do it. The rest of the panel will remain anonymous. But I’m very happy, and I’m glad that they are continuing to do this because I think it’s so critically important to the climate modeling community that they have it.
Now it’s not a machine of two processors and 8 MB of memory. The latest machine which went into operation in October, they built a new facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming to house it. It’s called Yellowstone. It has something like 76,000 processors, and it has something like a terabyte of memory online, and then there’s all this extra memory. I mean the machine is humongous. I think in our last review cycle we said that the smallest size project that we would consider… because you can’t do a lot of little stuff. So there had to be some minimum size, and if you’re not this big, go to another machine. This is not the machine for you. The smallest size project at this last cycle was larger than the largest project ever before approved on the previous versions of the machine. That’s how big it’s gotten. It is growing exponentially. Moore’s Law is applying in climate modeling, and it’s continuing to do so. From what I’ve seen in the most recent discussion of work, they’re now running models globally at 10 km [atmospheric resolution] or less, and they’re running ocean models globally that can now resolve eddies in the ocean.
The other problem is still there: Where do you get the people to analyze all this stuff? I don’t think that they’ve held any more of these workshops to train [new generations of climate modelers]. They have workshops to invite people to learn how to use the model, but I don’t know that they’ve gone the step before that and tried to hold workshops to try to get the new graduate students who haven’t yet decided, “Climate modeling is my career,” to make that leap to jump into the field. However, lots of those earlier people from that first workshop we held in Wisconsin back in 1991, they’re all now the big names in climate modeling. I love to see that. It makes me feel old because sometimes they’ll come up to me. I kind of recognize the face, but I really don’t know who they are. But they share something with me. “You know, that workshop that you sponsored, that got me into this career.” I feel great for you, but you’re making me old because I don’t know who you are! [Laughter] That sometimes happens. But anyway.
So EPRI continued doing other things in climate, not just —
Before we go on, I’d like to know a little more about how was the working relationship between for instance you and Peter?
Peter Mueller is somebody who I get along with very well. Some other people don’t necessarily get along with Peter very well because we’re both pretty strong-headed people. But Peter recognized that my job in MECCA was to manage the day-to-day activities and to manage the evaluation of research proposals, and he gave me complete authority to do that. He also recognized that his job was to do as much as he could to try to get more sponsors for the program and to keep the other sponsoring groups happy with the overall activity. That was a challenge in itself because all of these people were in their own right very strong-willed people. Sometimes it would be amazing for me as the technical manager to sit at some of these policy committee meetings and watch the language and the voices elevate in volume and intensity, and much of it is also being done with translation! You know that there are things that are being missed by one party or the other because English is not their native language. I would try to come in as the technical manager. If I thought that things were getting out of control, try to get them to kind of — You know, like if a child is having trouble, you kind of distract them. I would try to distract people with the technical points if I thought it was getting too strong into other points. But overall, it was great. It was really great working with Peter because he gave me the authority that I needed to do my job. I had no real desire to do his job, and I don’t think he had any personal desire to do my job. So as a team we worked very, very well.
Where we struggled was in how to get these other people to provide funding for the program. Getting a lot of these “No’s” was hard. In some cases it would be cases where the scientist that I’d be talking to at say, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Association, he was all in favor of it, but he just couldn’t convince his management to go for it. So he would come to me all apologetic that he couldn’t get the money. But then it was really on Peter to try to figure out how to get around that, so all he’s getting [directly] is the negatives on it. It’s very, very difficult to solve that problem. We didn’t solve those very much.
The other problem I think we had is people wanted us to be more and more used by the world. At the time we were doing MECCA, they were holding that first conference in Rio, the Rio de Janeiro conference. MECCA went to the point of actually arranging to have a booth set up. But there were booths from probably hundreds and hundreds of others, and how do you get any attention? The people who were actually making presentations, if there were any scientific presentations. I wasn’t at Rio. Peter was there for one week. They’re not going to talk about MECCA. I mean the last thing you’re going to ever get a political person to do is talk about how industry has helped address the climate issue. That’s political suicide for them. Even though you know that in the background their scientists are saying, “Well you know, we actually are making use of that,” but they’re never going to say it in public. I think that was a struggle for people to recognize that you’re not going to get to the public as a whole. You’re not going to get the press to say anything particularly good about MECCA because there’s no story in that.
If MECCA had made a big mistake — fortunately we didn’t make any — but if we had made a big mistake, the press would have been all over it. But we didn’t make any big mistakes. The closest thing to a mistake was the Fujitsu thing. The press releases I’ve seen on that are really neutral. They didn’t know what to make of that, so it wasn’t viewed as an error on anybody’s part. I don’t know how it played in the Japanese papers. But I think that was the concern, that we could not recognize how difficult it would be to get this recognized in public. Maybe that still happens today with climate modeling. Any time anything goes wrong with a climate model, it’s all over the newspapers. There are hordes of people out there in the news world who are just ready to jump on something if it makes a mistake. If it gets it right…you know, I don’t care. I mean they talk about that with the weather forecast. You’re only as good as your last forecast. If you blow Hurricane Sandy or something, they’ll remember that… for a while anyway. I mean they won’t remember it forever. But we didn’t have that happen to us very much.
There were a couple of cases probably where some data files were lost or something and we had to repeat some experiments. But that’s not the thing that’s going to attract much attention. There were no results that I’m aware of in the program that were so outlandish that somebody would say, “Oh, that’s just industry saying that.” All the people that I found in the modeling community, they came into it knowing that we weren’t going to try to direct them into what they said or did. They said and did exactly what they believed, and I think it was all for the better.
How do you think… More precisely, was this different, for instance, from your work on acid rain earlier in the ‘80s, this way that the public was reacting to EPRI?
I don’t know that… There was more involvement in MECCA with the public than there was with acid rain, I think in part because we took a very low profile in the acid rain area. There was very little said about any of the work that EPRI was doing outside of perhaps the specific region of the Adirondacks in New York, and that was because in the Adirondacks, there was a lot of concern about effects on these pristine lakes. So not only did we have a monitoring program set up to measure the precipitation, but we had a very detailed program done in our Ecological Effects Program with Bob Goldstein, who is still at EPRI. He was the lead scientist on that effort to look at how the lake biogeochemistry would change. I don’t remember if they actually did anything on the fisheries themselves in the lakes, but they did a lot on the lake biogeochemistry. That was another program when he solicited proposals from very broad range of really top-notch scientists around the country. That played out pretty well. It showed that the lakes could be influenced. They even did one experiment where they did some liming of a lake, because that was also being considered at the time as a way you could control the acidity. But there were concerns. You know, that’s not solving the problem; that’s hiding the problem. Well, the issue at the time was, “Well, are we going to be able to save these lakes? If it takes so long to reduce emissions back and this process is so slow that we’re not going to be able to save the lakes, then maybe we do have to step in and lime them now to protect them.” Funny that that issue has gone away. But I don’t think it was ever solved. I think people just lost interest…
Forgot about it, yeah.
…and climate change took over from lakes. In fact, I remember hearing a fellow from… where was he from? Dartmouth or Cornell. He was a tree scientist talking about the red spruce trees in the Adirondacks at the very high elevations. They were being pushed out of their preferred region. People at first were saying, “Well, it’s acid rain,” and he said, “No, it’s not acid rain. It’s climate change that is actually pushing them out.” So people suddenly weren’t so concerned about the acid rain part of the issue. But I think if you actually were out making measurements today, you’d find that the rains are still just as acidic in those parts of the world and probably the effects are just the same as they were. But there are other issues that people are putting the attention on. Does that mean that climate change is going to go away and some other issue? Who knows? I don’t know.
Mercury is another issue that’s out there now, very important to a lot of people. There’s a lot of mercury in the environment, and it’s very long-lived and it can have effects in many areas. Leonard Levin is one of those people at EPRI who does a lot of work on mercury. I never was involved in that issue myself.
So the same thing for the sulfate experiments. The EPA was very interested in what we did on the SURE Program. In fact, we held a joint conference with them at the end of that effort, and that did have a major influence. The difference in those cases, though, is that with sulfur control, it is feasible, and pretty economically feasible. If you discount for a second the Chinese who are — You know, I hear stories that they’re building a new power plant every week. Even if they put sulfur dioxide scrubbers on all those plants, you build a new one in every week, you’re going to start having an impact. Whereas in the U.S., I think most of the utilities have accepted SO2 control either by going to low-sulfur coal or putting scrubbers on high sulfur coal plants. It’s just the cost of doing business. While I don’t think the emissions are rising that rapidly, I don’t think they’re declining that rapidly either. So I think the issue is still out there; it just doesn’t have the public perception anymore that it’s an issue. But I think it probably still is.
Back to MECCA again. How do you remember the early phase within EPRI of the discussions about should we decide for UCAR what you mentioned that there were a few other places that you looked at? Where was that? How heated were the discussions between you and the computer people? Were people in the environment division willing to commit so much money to going to this computer instead of using it for other projects like ecological effects or whatever?
Yeah. The computer itself was a pretty strong discussion through the summer of 1990, I guess that would have been, because the vice president in this Computer Division at EPRI — they’d actually set up a vice president level position for this person — felt that she wanted to really make her group grow. She didn’t want to just be in charge of some computer that’s doing accounting bills or something or running what was actually a very early version of HTML. We were doing all of our memos on this mainframe computer and writing in code that has the same syntax as HTML on this IBM mainframe computer, which could never have been used to do climate modeling first off. She recognized that her computer couldn’t do it, but she thought, “Maybe I can actually do this in-house.” She had some legitimate points, you know, that yeah, it’s climate modeling today, but what’s it going to be tomorrow? Maybe we have to do nuclear codes or some new version of magneto hydrodynamics or something that takes really big codes. It might quite make sense for EPRI to have something like that. So there was real value raised in having this expert, Paul Newman, who knew a lot about the computing industry, come in and review it. He worked very well with us too because we explained to him what we needed in terms of the infrastructure support for it. I think he even came to the conclusion and convinced this vice president in computing that it’s not going to be something that we can do in-house at this time. I think he was probably extremely valuable in convincing her of that point, so she dropped any real objection to the program.
The other people in the Environment Group, well, there was a very big program at the time on electromagnetic field effects. They hadn’t built anything so big. The ecological people hadn’t had anything as big since their acid rain study, and even that was relatively small. I took the position that well, just because other people don’t want to think big doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think big. If I think this is really what’s needed and it happens to cost that much, well, so be it. I’m going to press for it, and I’m not going to look behind me to worry about whether somebody’s about to stab me in the back because they think that I’m taking over too much money in the program. So I don’t think it was a case of either favoritism. I don’t think it was a case where the other people ultimately felt that they were being taken away from, because George Hidy did get some additional money for the program to help fund it. He probably didn’t get as much as he wanted. Maybe you’ll find out from George more about how that worked. But I took the position that I think this is what’s needed. I think we’re getting a great deal financially from the people at Cray. I think we’ve got a lot of support from the scientific community. I see real benefits in working with the federal agencies on this. We are going to be recognized in the long run as doing something really great for science by doing this. Why should I worry about money? That should be the least of my worries. As the technical manager, that was not my worry. That’s Peter Mueller’s problem. That’s George Hidy’s problem. That’s Dick Balzhiser’s problem. I think they handled it very well. I really do think that we got much more money than we should have really reasoned that we could get.
If you’re getting too hot in that chair, you’re certainly welcome to move over. But maybe you like that seat. [Laughter]
I like the sun so far.
So I think it was very important to go on this route. To heck that it cost so much. There wasn’t any gilding in any of this. It wasn’t until the second phase that we even realized that we really had to have a contract with somebody to do this synthesis and analysis that we gave them in this informal solicitation to Ann Henderson-Sellers at Macquarie University. But I think everybody agreed that this was a very important thing to do and worth the effort to try to get the funds to do it. So what if it’s twice as big as anything we’ve ever even considered in the past? I don’t know that they still could take that approach at EPRI. I think it makes sense to do that. They probably could do well. Maybe they did that with their mercury program — put in a really big funding effort. But I think it made sense, and I don’t think it had any long-term implications from the program. Because it was a success, I think the jury at least didn’t vote against the fact that we’ll never do something like this again. If it had been a failure, that would have been absolutely the outcome, but it wasn’t a failure. It was a success, and so I think they’ve shown that they can do that sort of thing.
How did you and Peter act with the advisory committees in 1990?
Oh. Well, the EPRI advisory committees, very interesting. They kind of stepped away from the thing. They didn’t really follow it as carefully. I mean we were prepared to present them as much information as necessary. I think the one thing that we did do that was extremely helpful is we got John Jansen who worked at Southern Company in Birmingham, Alabama who I think at one time had served on one of the advisory committees. But he became very much a follower of the MECCA Project. We also had Jim Young, who was a scientist at Southern California Edison, who was also serving on the committee. So those guys were probably the two most knowledgeable about climate within the electric utility employees that were involved in our advisory structure. I think they carried much of the legwork to keep those industries informed. So once they did the initial signoff — and I’m sure a lot of them gulped when they saw it. “Is there an extra zero on this thing?” when we wrote the request for project authorization for MECCA and all this money. But once they approved that, after going through that level, they stepped back and they left it to the sponsors themselves, all that industry group, the Technical Advisory Committee that reviewed the proposals that I chaired, and I think more importantly the Policy Committee that Peter chaired. They were the ones who really followed it on a day-to-day basis.
I don’t recall anybody ever saying that they were going to quit because they didn’t like the way it was going. There was certainly talk that we should have a rotation of chairs at some point. I wasn’t going to be chair forever; I knew that. Peter wasn’t going to be chair forever; he knew that. But the program really only lasted about three years, and so just at the point when it probably would have been time to have somebody else take over, the program ended. It ended because the people didn’t have the money anymore and didn’t really want to commit to doing that, and they could see the handwriting was on the wall that these big federal programs, international programs are clearly going to swamp us because we can’t compete with that. There’s no point in having a little computer to do that anymore.
So I went on and did other things. The one I’m most happiest about is that program called PIRCS, Project to Intercompare Regional Climate Simulations. That was where I set up an effort with Iowa State University to get a whole bunch of different people who were developing regional climate models to run a set of experiments using the same inputs. That led to things like CORDEX in Europe. It led to NARCCAP, the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program, whatever the acronym is. CORDEX is going to have, in fact, a big conference in the fall[of 2013] in Brussels, and I’ve already signed up to attend it as my new role — continuing role — as “scientific curmudgeon” who likes to go and learn about stuff. The thing of special value is they’re going to have the first day devoted to a discussion of the just-then-released Fifth Assessment Report from IPCC from the atmospherics, the first one they do, you know, Working Group I. So that’s a really good thing to do. If you get all those people come in one place and talk about all of the chapters or a lot of the chapters, it’s worth my time to go over to Brussels for a few days to hear that. Plus, I want to find out what’s more happening in the regional climate modeling because those people are going to need super amounts of computer time at some time, but they don’t seem to have recognized it yet. But eventually they’re going to come to things like the Climate Simulation Lab at NCAR located at Yellowstone, Wyoming to seek computing time. So I may see some of those people again if I continue in that role. I’d like to see what that community is doing as well.
The other thing I did in my last couple of years at EPRI is started to seriously address this problem of how do you translate the results of this scientific research into something that’s understandable to the utility people? They’re not all PhD scientists. They don’t want to be; they don’t have to be. But they do have to understand what the science is saying. Since we weren’t sponsoring that much individual research projects ourselves anymore — and even when you do, they only produce results every six months, every 12 months — I was tasked with reading the literature on a daily, weekly basis identifying key papers that are coming out in the scientific literature, and then writing a two-page (one piece of paper, two sides of the page) summary of what it is and why is it important to the industry. I did about a dozen of those things. What did I call those?
Yes. You know about them?
You sent me a few.
Okay, okay. Yes. We called these things Climate Currents. I was trying to write one a week, and that’s really tough because I have to learn the science myself…
Before you can write… yeah.
…and read through the science papers and then try to translate it and write it into something that could be for them. But I did half a dozen, a dozen of those over the course of six months or so. I thought they were very neat. I thought they were very useful. I worked really hard to try to make that stuff understandable. But to do that on two pieces of paper, that is really, really hard! [Laughing] I don’t know how people tweet anything that’s intelligent because how do you get it down to make sense in 147 characters?
So I did Climate Currents for a year, and then it was pretty clear that EPRI was pretty much out of climate science. I was effectively told that they were going to eliminate my position. And I could have stayed at EPRI, I’m sure, if I wanted to. I mean I’d been there 28 years, 29 years. I could have found a position in someplace else in the Institute. But then you’re like a hanger-on, and I knew from talking with my financial advisor that I didn’t really need to work anymore. I mean, barring some catastrophe like Lehman Brothers going under… [Laughter] That hurt me, but I recovered from that. I wasn’t going to run out of money before I died unless I live beyond age 134. My wife was working, my second wife. This time I had remarried in 1997 after ten years of being single again. She had a very good job, and she recognized that I could do a lot without having to actually work. So it’s worked out very well for me in that regard. I continue to have involvement, and I think it actually helps my involvement now because now I can honestly say I don’t have a conflict of interest in anything because nobody pays me to do anything. For that panel, they cover my travel and hotel. That doesn’t define a conflict of interest. I can now honestly follow the science I want to and ask questions, and I’m developing I think a reputation for asking questions at scientific meetings to try to learn more about the science and help people explain their science even better. So I find it very, very enjoyable to not be working. From what I’m hearing rumors that EPRI might not be a very happy place to work at right now for a lot of people because of their financial problems. But I think that the need for an EPRI hasn’t gone away, and hopefully… I wish them all the best if they can recover and really do well in the future.
When was this that you left then? Do you know why that they decided just to cut off all climate science related science?
My last day of work was I think in August of 2012.
No. 2002. Excuse me. August 2002. They had been having trouble. First they had a — There were lots of little things, and I don’t know what any one specifically caused a problem. Here’s an example, though. Climate change became an issue in California, and the State of California set up the California Energy Commission. They wanted to have a large climate program in California. They’ve actually passed their own legislation that you may read about while you’re out here about cap and trade program in California. They have their own large research program that’s done through the universities and others, and they needed money to finance that. Well, where they got some of the money is they told the electric utility companies in California who were funding EPRI climate research… I’m not sure exactly how the wording was, but I can imagine how it was. Basically, those utilities decided to no longer fund EPRI climate research, and all that money magically appeared in the State of California climate research program. I think for my last year at EPRI, we actually had a research project where we at EPRI were managing the research for the State of California because they hadn’t gotten their staff up to speed yet to take over and manage it themselves. So we were managing “our money” from before that was being done for the State of California. That was only going to go on for so long and then they would have their own people, so there was no need for having EPRI managers anymore to manage that.
Other utilities back in 2002… what was that? That was George Bush had just become president. I mean the country was going into somewhat of an economic decline. Utilities were one of the groups that were facing that. There was also a very strong push at that time — I’m not sure it’s as strong anymore — but they were saying that the science is settled. There was talk about how the science was settled. So utilities I think were somewhat thinking, “Well, why should we continue to fund research on climate science if it’s all settled? That’s money we can use for other things, on things that aren’t settled.” So I think they decided that they were going to minimize where the money was going, and the manager of the climate program is a climate economist. By nature I think it would be natural that he would — And he saw that he was filling a role that the federal government had not filled yet, so he should try to concentrate his funds on that area. Made perfect logical sense.
And so it made perfect logical sense that Chuck Hakkarinen wasn’t needed anymore in climate science. Like I said, I could have possibly worked in other areas, but I had 29 years, 28 years behind me already. Did I want to learn a new career at that point within EPRI when it wasn’t really clear that I needed to? Some people said, “Oh, it’s horrible that you’re leaving. It’s a loss to the community.” It’s not a loss. I do other things. I’m still… I think people will say I’m very involved in the scientific areas, and now I get to study lots of things that I never had any interest in. I learned about ocean acidification at the latest AGU meeting because I introduced a special talk on the subject. I was the person who originally suggested and organized the Stephen Schneider Memorial Lecture that they now hold on an annual basis there. I do web pages for the AGU Committee on Global Environmental Change and for a committee of the American Meteorological Society and for my condo association and for one of my wife’s pharmacy associations. You know, it’s fun stuff.
Now we are talking about your position in EPRI. I think you shifted from the Atmospheric Group to a different group which is more oriented on risk assessment. Isn’t that —
Well, this group became more risk assessment oriented. I was not myself doing any of the work in the risk assessment area. But they had actually started that risk assessment way back in the acid rain days. They developed the first program to assess the risks of acid rain. They had a project called ADEPT. I forget what — Acid Deposition something or other. That really was very well received in the federal government because the federal government hadn’t even talked about risk assessment yet from environmental standpoint, whereas other people had been talking about it a long time. In fact, Chauncey Starr made part of his career on studying risk assessment and also on technology innovation and how long…how it takes 50 years from the fact that something is invented before it really makes thorough inroads into society.
So they were in the climate change area with the people they had on their staff who were experts in and most interested in risk assessment. They started to move over more into the risk assessment area. I’m going to move myself over because I’m getting into the shade now and I like that sun. I think you can still hear me fine.
I’ll just turn it.
Okay. That’s great. So the climate program — and I think that’s still the case today, although you’d probably have to check on their web pages to see. But I think they’re probably still emphasizing risk assessment in their climate change program. I have talked to some of the staff seeing them at Christmas parties or other places, and I’ve heard that they’ve tried to reinstate some climate science, but it hasn’t really gone very well there yet. I can understand why that would happen because the federal government does have a very, very large program in climate science now. If you can get some people who can keep you informed about what’s happening, you don’t necessarily have to fund it yourself. So if I wanted a job, if I wanted to market myself back to EPRI or to the utilities in general, I think there’s still a place for me to do Climate Currents or things like that if I wanted to. But that was a lot of work. [Laughter] I have to say it was a lot of work, and when you’ve been retired for a while, you tend to shy away from doing a lot of work. If you’ve got it, great. Why do it? But yeah, I think there’s clearly a need for that type of stuff now, too.
Some of that gets covered, by the way, with all these blogs. I mean you look at RealClimate and there are just lists and lists of them. Some of those people are very, very good at explaining the science. The trouble I have with the blogs is that there are so much of them that they get off and they’re attacking each other, and it has nothing to do with the issue. You’ve got to sift that stuff out before you can get to any of the real meat. So that’s kind of turned me off to even thinking about writing a blog because I’ve heard statistics of the… What is it they say now? There are 11 billion something or other web pages, some huge number of web pages in the world, and 99% of them have been looked at by nobody, you know? So while I see a lot of people doing that, again, I don’t see that there’s a role that I can play in doing that. I don’t really want to just be competing with masses in writing things and getting yourself attacked. Taking my position where I am now, I don’t ever get attacked, or at least I don’t hear it. I’m not aware that anybody is jumping on me for any of the things that I say at my meetings, and I don’t sit quietly. I do ask questions. Almost every talk I attend, I at least try to get my hand up for one or two questions. Typically, one. I figure one is enough.
Like I say, I’m still involved with the Climate Simulation Lab. They’re very happy — I think they’re very happy still to have me involved in that. I’ll stay involved as long as they are willing to have me.
How do you think it has changed for climate modeling in order to be accepted and acknowledged by different people? Is it the same topics, the same problems that are arising? How do you think it is today, and how was it when you were active in it?
Well when I was active, the problems were so immense: the fact that there was such poor resolution of the models that it was pretty obvious that anything we could do would help to improve things. Even though we talked at times about how we were going to reduce uncertainty, I was really thinking, “No, we’re not going to reduce uncertainty; we’re going to uncover uncertainty.” The fact that we find more uncertainties may make it appear that the models are more uncertain than they were. No, they’re not. We just didn’t know how uncertain they were.
Now that we’re getting to the point where computing is really helping, I think we’re almost at the breaking point now where we’re going to see some real improvements in climate modeling in terms of its reliability of simulations. However, you still can’t tell whether something’s reliable unless you’ve got an observational network to test it against, and the observational networks are going the wrong way. There’s actually fewer measurements being made routinely today than there were when I was active. I don’t understand how the people in control can stand by and let that happen. That’s really a shame. That’s a major, major problem. We talk about that, and sometimes somebody will throw out a line at every one of these big international conferences about first we’ve got to get the observational network in order, but it doesn’t happen. Why doesn’t it happen? In part, because it’s boring to make measurements over and over and over.
Translating Morse code by…?
Yes, yes. Maybe they should have started them when they were five and they wouldn’t realize it was so boring! That’s part of it. Part of it is also people want to be involved in the latest and greatest breakthrough, and unless something happens now, then the interest isn’t there. If the press isn’t interested, and if you feel like you have to have press following you, then you’re not interested in doing it, either. Whereas this stuff is going to take a long, long, long time to detect this very tiny change, and we’re not doing enough to do that.
I’ve suggested that climate modeling should be turned around and we should use the climate modeling to figure out where should we be looking to make the measurements? That was done in acid rain by a fellow named Lazlo Haspra, who was a Hungarian scientist who did a lot of work at detecting how close together you needed to put your observational network, density of your network to figure out if you could detect changes or not. They’re not doing any of that in climate modeling. You have these people stand up in meetings now and say, “Well you know, I think the fact that we had these really dry conditions across the East and then we had these two big snowstorms, that’s a sign of climate change.” And I’m thinking, “Where does that come from? What observational network has told you that that’s really a climate change? Do you know that that might have just happened routinely 50 years ago, 100 years ago?” I mean how do you make statements like that? And yet people do that all the time now. They want to blame everything. It’s a running joke with my wife that everything is blamed on climate change. When we have these storms, I told her, “I tell you, a week from now there’s going to be an article that claims that that blizzard in Boston was climate change.” I grew up in Washington, and I remember the blizzard of ‘66. I served newspapers through snow that was up to here [Chuck pointing to his waist]. We weren’t talking that it was climate change then, and it’s not climate change now. It may be climate change, but we certainly don’t know whether it’s climate change. So I think we need to do far more with the models as they get higher and higher resolution to identify where we should be looking to look for those measurements and be making them. It’s not happening very much.
The other fear I have is that as the models now are getting higher and higher resolution, people automatically assume that therefore they must be more accurate, and they may not be more accurate. Again, if you don’t have the observations, we don’t know how accurate they are. The fact that I can run a model that gives you a temperature every 10 km or every 1 km, it doesn’t mean that those are real numbers. Yet you find that some of the effects community wants to use that as though they are real numbers, and want to make very detailed changes based on what the model has told them. Well, that’s a little bit contradictory because of what I said earlier, because remember I said we really have to identify where the problems are and then work on addressing those. That’s correct. But just because the model tells us the problem is there doesn’t mean it’s necessarily there. So until we do a little bit more, or actually a lot more on getting the observations to test against the models, then we really haven’t advanced as much as we think we have. So if we’re going to take $85 billion out of the U.S. budget on Thursday or Friday for sequestration, you could go a long way with an observational network with those $85 billion, and yet I’m sure that will never come up. They’ll never even consider it. So that’s what I would suggest. I think it’s fine that more people are considering climate modeling, but I think that climate itself continues to be a very controversial topic for the public.
Just here this week, there is a report from… was it the Pew Foundation or something that said in California, the people who believe that climate change is happening has actually fallen nine percentage points from last year. Those are just statistics to me. That doesn’t mean anything. The climate doesn’t care whether people believe it or not. Is climate really changing? Well, yes. Climate is really changing. I’m a believer in first principles. Do we know what climate is changing? That’s where I draw the line. I don’t think we know what climate is really changing, but we know it’s probably changing. Because we don’t really know what it is and where it is, we don’t really know whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent for what we do. But we’ve got to do a lot more work in trying to identify that. But we’re never going to get it if we do it just on modeling alone, because a model without observations is just a model.
Before we end the session on your work in EPRI, I’d like to learn a little bit about how your work in climate modeling helped in the interaction, for instance, with climate economics. Have they been use of some of your knowledge for their work, and has your work partly been shaped to support what they are doing?
Well, I’m not sure the actual results of the climate modeling have been used as much other than providing this general belief that in the economics area, you’re only going to stop climate from changing by taking emissions virtually to zero. That message has come through from the climate modeling aspect of it. I think the more important thing that we’ve been able to help them with is that we showed that the methodology of comparing models with each other was a really useful tool because you get insights about why does one model show one thing and not another? They have applied that throughout this whole energy modeling forum. If you talk to some of the people at EPRI like Tom Wilson, who is — I think Richard Richels, the manager, is kind of semi-retired now and he’s actually living on the East Coast. But Tom Wilson is still physically there. He can give you some good sound bites about how things like the energy modeling forum, when you get a whole bunch of different people together with different modeling approaches and you look at one particular problem…like in our case, it was uncertainties of model resolution. You get lots of different people with different models looking at that. You start to learn something about why is that an important problem? It’s not enough to know that it’s an issue, but you’ve got to know why it’s an issue because you can’t solve it if you don’t know why it’s that way in the first place. Then you’re just blindly feeling out there. So I think that has been very helpful for that community in showing that you have to do inter-comparisons with multiple models. I don’t know whether the economists are any better than us, though, at getting at the ground truth data. [Laughter] I know a lot of jokes about, you know, “Let’s assume we have an economy that’s doing such-and-such,” and unless you have the observational data to support that, they’ll run into the same problem with theirs.
I think that they also need to recognize more about this point about we’ve got to reduce the emissions to one gigaton. If you’re just talking about reducing them 5%, 10%, even 50%, it ain’t going to make a darn difference! You might slow down that rate of increase, but you’re probably not measuring that well enough anyway; you couldn’t detect it. You wouldn’t know why if you did see increases. Now we blame it on recession. If we see any sort of decline in the growth rate, it’s always blamed on recession. Well, is it really recession? Or is there something going on in the oceans, in the biosphere or whatever that we’re not detecting? And we’re not going to detect it as long as we’re not making the measurements in the right place. You know, four measurement points in Hawaii and so forth aren’t going to do it. I know they’re trying to make more measurements other places now, but they still wouldn’t claim that they have any real key understanding of why things are changing as they are. We know basically, yeah, we draw down during the summer months in one hemisphere; the vegetation takes up the CO2. But why doesn’t it do it every year? Why some years are there glitches in that system and so forth? So there’s a lot to be learned there.
My other really big thing in that regard is what do we do to get the CO2 out of the air? Because you know, even if we cut back on emissions, the stuff that’s in there has got long lifetimes in the atmosphere, and the other gases are even much longer lifetimes. So what are we going to do to take it out? I’m really concerned about how people are trying to squelch any consideration of CO2 uptake by the ocean before it even gets started. Yes, acidification is an issue. But I’ve heard papers now about people on acidification, and they say, “Yeah. Well, some species of coral are affected, and others are not affected.” Maybe it’s “Hey, it’s a tough world out there. The ones who are strong adapt and survive, and the others don’t.” But the fact remains that there’s what, a couple hundred gigatons, maybe a thousand gigatons of carbon in the atmosphere, and there’s 40,000 sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Where did that stuff on the bottom of the ocean come from? It came from the atmosphere at some point. If we increase that bottom 40,000 by 1,000, is it really going to make a difference? So maybe we can take 1,000 gigatons out of the atmosphere, somehow figure out how to put it on the bottom of the ocean. The bottom of the ocean won’t even know it’s there, but the atmosphere will sure notice the difference! So there needs to be more work done in that area. Remember it’s research, folks. Let’s don’t put so many hoops on things that you can’t do anything because it’s research. We haven’t done anything. It’s basic knowledge understanding how that process works.
I was really biting my lip at some recent discussions how there should be some ethical panel established to judge whether you can even do an experiment on improving — fertilizing with iron, for example, in iron-poor areas. Or in other parts of the ocean where clearly you could take up a lot more if you could just somehow get the last ingredient necessary to make that take-up happen and say, “Oh, we can’t do that because that’s changing the world.” Well, we’re already changing the world. That’s not going away! So we’d better figure out if we’re going to control it, if we could control it. Probably can’t control it. But we ought to be able to try to look at something we could do. It’s all about making things better for the population as a whole and for the people who are really being badly affected. Again, nature doesn’t know anything about somebody’s economic status or the color in their skin or any of that stuff, and so nature’s going to do what it does, and we should be spending more time understanding where that’s going to be and what could we do to help it.
Good. I think we’ll take another break now. Then I have a few things that we’ll sort out.
Should we go get some lunch?
I think so.
I can drive. [Break]
Now we are back for the final session with Chuck Hakkarinen. Just when MECCA was stepping down, some of the participants in MECCA continued into a new project that eventually became the ACACIA Project?
That’s correct. Yes. When we decided that we couldn’t really continue to have a dedicated supercomputer, we still felt there was a need to have some continued work on the importance of climate modeling to issues that the industry would be concerned about. This effort was aggressively pursued by Tom Wigley, who was a senior staff scientist at NCAR at the time. He had not been involved really much with MECCA during its main phases, but I think he had learned about it in watching it. He knew Ann Henderson-Sellers pretty well. She was involved in the analysis team that had been set up in the second phase of the MECCA Project to put into the work. So he approached us and said, “There really is a need to continue some of this activity.” I think the Japanese may have had one of their staff scientists still on loan to NCAR, so they were getting information back to the Japanese. I believe it was just the Japanese and EPRI. I don’t think anybody else continued. Maybe KEMA.
Yes, KEMA as well.
KEMA may have continued, because again they had one of their staff scientists (who was actually working with Ann Henderson-Sellers in Australia) to continue the effort, decided really can’t call it MECCA anymore because we’re not really doing much in the way of modeling, per se. But we are going to do some continued work in looking at the implications of the modeling results to issues that the industry might find important. So I believe it was Tom who came up with the acronym, A Consortium for the Application of Climate Impact Assessments, ACACIA, which maybe it’s the national tree of Australia. This effort continued for about another two years. We did just a small amount of modeling in that to run an extra long-term simulation with business as usual and with a… I think it was considered like the, what is it, the A2 or B2 scenario — a rather significant reduction emissions scenario — and run that out for a couple hundred years by purchasing time on the NCAR existing computer rather than getting a whole dedicated computer.
That project alone was very useful because it showed that even with this rather significant change in emission protocol, the climate didn’t start showing any effect really for about 50 years after you started the emission reduction, which to me is an important point for the policy makers because if they decide to implement even a rather draconian emission reduction, are they going to have the patience to wait to see the effect when it’s not going to necessarily appear until 50 years out? In fact, there were even some indications depending upon whether you just reduce carbon emissions, or what do you do to the sulfur emissions, at the same time you might actually increase the warming for a few years rather than decrease it by exactly what you decide to do in terms of how you reduce those emissions. Taking the sulfur out and at the same time if you eliminate coal for some reason, then you’re reducing sulfur and you’re reducing CO2. Doing both of them might actually have a net effect of causing more warming rather than less warming for a few years. But it was very clear that it was going to take many years for the effect to start to appear.
In fact, one of the things we did at that project was we put together a little website. This was the early days when World Wide Web was coming out, and we put together a website using the Live Access Server. It’s a way to display geographically spatial data on the web, and the data can sit anywhere in Internet-land on some server. You can access a webpage to run a little bit of calculations on what type of map projection you want and what type of arithmetic operation you want to do with the data. Then in a second or less, it actually displays on your screen. We not only were using that to display individual snapshots of these climate projection runs, but to put together links to them, you could make like a movie loop that would show not only how the climate was changing over time, but when would these things start to diverge? Not just on a time versus concentration plot, but on a spatial plot. You find that the human eye is very good. When you look at two patterns side by side, the human eye can detect, well, when does that one start looking different than the other? That gave us some insight as to what was triggering this globally averaged departure from the two scenarios. But where was it originating and at what time period was it originating? That presumably could tell you something about maybe in the future why was it changing. So that was a very useful thing done out of ACACIA. One was the longer runs. Two was the application of the work into this web environment using Live Access Server at NOAA.
Then the third thing that I really think was very important to ACACIA was starting to look at dynamic downscaling versus statistical downscaling. That’s especially important for people who want to look at changes in extremes. One of the key uses there has been in California where they’re looking at whether or not climate change is going to lead to more problems with dams overflowing, or whether you’re going to find areas like Sacramento which are known to have flood problems. Are they going to have to raise their levees because they’re going to have more floods, and what frequency? That’s tricky to do if a flood is a one in 100 year or one in 1,000 year event. You’ve got some scenarios of climate change. You’ve got to run these models out hundreds and hundreds of years to look for an event that might happen once out of all those hundred runs. How is it statistically significant? How can you do the regional climate modeling, the dynamic scaling to cover all those possibilities? Well, with statistical downscaling, if you can believe the statistical approach that you use, then you can do 10,000 runs in a minute.
In fact, we were able to show with the work that Rob Wilby was doing as part of the ACACIA team that you can directly compare statistical downscaling to regional climate modeling dynamic downscaling, apply it to things like these extreme questions, but also identify what are the weaknesses in the statistical downscaling, and what they use of the global models and the regional models, figure out where do you need to improve your statistical downscaling techniques? Rob has made a career out of that work. In fact, he’s now hired all the time by the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, and others to go to places like Yemen to do statistical downscaling of what climate change might mean to them because they are very water dependent in a dry climate. They apparently grow a lot of this crop that they chew or smoke called qat. It uses a huge amount of water! And they’re not about to get rid of it because it’s the national pastime or whatever to chew this stuff. They’re looking at whether the implications of climate change on their water supply — and because events in Yemen can be very infrequent, very extreme events on a very infrequent basis, statistical downscaling provides a way to then address that. So Rob has been very effective in applying these techniques elsewhere.
The people who did this regional climate modeling project for us, the PIRCS Project at Iowa State, went another step and did inter-comparison of statistical downscaling with regional climate modeling using different GCMs as the drivers to start to try to identify well, what are the significant factors? When we get these end results that are different, which is the most likely cause? Is it because the GCMs were different to begin with? Was it the regional climate modeling application that caused it? Are there different seasons of the year where one works better than the other? How well can you assume that the extreme events that you’re measuring in statistical downscaling can actually be seen in a reasonable amount of model runs and time in the dynamic downscaling? We could only kind of look at those questions back 20 years ago or whatever it was from a theoretical standpoint because nobody had enough computing power to do it, but that’s changing. And with these new computers, I can foresee within the next few years somebody coming to a Yellowstone or climate simulation type lab and saying, “We want to run our regional climate model 10,000 times for an area the size of Europe at a resolution of 20 km,” and people will say, “No problem. Can you start tomorrow? We’ve got the time to do that.” Still it has the problem, though, of who are the people who are going to do it, and who’s going to interpret those results? But the first step is to get… You know, if you can do it, somebody will figure out how to analyze it is my belief. Hopefully people will continue to work toward getting more people to do it.
So that’s what ACACIA was about, and again, that kind of gradually ebbed away because people weren’t really committed to that for the long term. EPRI was still having financial problems in maintaining money to do those sorts of things. I think the Japanese were looking... They were getting more pressure by then because now this supercomputer in Yokohama was up and running, and they were starting to do some things with it with their own staff as well as others, that they needed to concentrate their resources there. So I think it was a logical endpoint for those efforts to occur. I’m not sure that there’s anything in the federal government that does it like ACACIA now at this point. I think that may be a weakness, and maybe there needs to be that brought back at the federal level to have something more in that light to come. Certainly statistical downscaling is being done in a lot of other forms now. In fact, Rob Wilby is a consultant to a firm that routinely makes available models to do that, and they’re pretty widely used by people. Again, the only problem — well, not only problem — but one of the major problems again is got to have the observational data to test all these things. It’s going to be hard to test something that happens once in 10,000 years, but you’ve got to have something to base it on. So, hopefully, they’ll be doing more in the observational standpoint to help verify some of those techniques.
How was it to work with a guy like Tom Wigley?
Tom is very… was not a problem for me to work with. Tom, like many of these people in this field, can be very opinionated and can be very aggressive. But Tom and I got along extremely well together, as well as any of the teams that I worked with. I probably worked more closely with Tom than anybody I did — even with Ann Henderson-Sellers, who was the lead on the analysis team for MECCA.
She was based in Australia, although during the MECCA years, she probably came to NCAR probably every year for three or four months on an exchange or sabbatical. I don’t remember what the exact details were on that. She was another person who was extremely opinionated and aggressive. I think it shows in her book about the analysis team project that she sometimes throws caution to the wind in her description of people. Probably there are people she doesn’t get along with very well. She got along okay with me. The biggest problem for me was the distance thing. When she was in the U.S., it was okay. But when she was in Australia, it was not only, you know, hours apart, but another day of the week even because of the time zone change. Holding any real meetings with her in these days before Skype and so forth was extremely difficult. I had a few cases I remember where I actually would get on a telephone call and have an hour long call from my office in Palo Alto at 10:00 at night or something for me to be talking on a conference call with her and her staff at a meeting where they were sitting around the phone in Australia. Not the most conducive, especially because you don’t get any of the visual clues as to what’s going on. In today’s world, it would be fun to try that again to see whether Skype solves that problem in doing that sort of meetings.
I think she had major problems in getting along with some of the other project officers. I think that was probably our fault in part because we didn’t make it clear enough to the other scientists what role we saw her playing. They might have got the impression that she was some sort of a boss person for them, and that wasn’t it at all. She was trying to help in assimilating results from different people. We didn’t do a good enough job in getting that explained at the front end and helping to smooth some of the ruffles that appeared in that. I know that there were some ruffles that definitely appeared, especially between her team and the people doing the regional climate modeling work that probably comes across in some of the papers people have seen about that.
Overall, it was useful to try as a first attempt. But it wasn’t that successful in terms of doing assimilation. The papers that she got published in her book on the end probably would have been published anyway. Maybe there are some useful things to be gained by reading the commentaries on the various groups of papers that other scientists put together. But I probably would try to do that somehow differently had I a chance to do that again now.
We always had the problem with MECCA that we never quite got it together as to how we’re going to assimilate all this into a cohesive thing that can provide a consistent message to the people. In part, I’m not sure that was really an objective, although we may have thought that we could do that, because we were dealing with lots of different investigators who were working independently doing different things without common protocols, without common objectives, so then you get somewhat of a mishmash of results. Some of them were extremely useful. Others, well, it was useful science, but you’re not sure that it really had a major impact. But the overall effect of advancing the science generally and proving that a dedicated supercomputer could work in this field — in fact, it’s probably essential for this field — was shown by the MECCA Project. For that I think it is a total success.
What kind of ideas did Tom Wigley and Henderson-Sellers have about the kind of work that was needed in this cross section between modeling and applying it and presenting it to different kind of audiences and policy makers compared to what you and, for instance, Peter Mueller discussed before you started MECCA?
I think Tom and Ann… Tom especially was not really any closer to audiences than we were, and so I don’t think that Tom was necessarily very contributory to identifying how the ACACIA results would be used by industry or other user groups. I think he recognized that that was important, but I don’t think he had that much more direct involvement. At the time that that was happening, NCAR as a whole was just starting to realize that they needed to be more than the traditional ivory castle of atmospheric sciences and modelers. They needed to have some better outreach themselves to this community of social and economic needs. But I don’t think Tom was particularly any better at it than anybody else at that time and we weren’t very good at it, either, because again, all of our sponsors had often very different needs.
In that case, the foreign backgrounds were a stumbling block for us. I had no knowledge of what was important in France or what was important in the Netherlands. They may have even had different ideas about what science was critical at that point, and we didn’t do a good enough job in getting that all clarified with our sponsors. Ann had more direct involvement at that time through her association with some of the user groups in Australia. But again, Australian needs and needs from North America were probably dramatically different. I’m sure they were. So what she might have recognized as important for her set of contacts was probably not the ones that we would have thought of for ourselves. She went on, though, to do very good work trying to pursue this when she was with the World Climate Research Programme in Geneva. She got them to do much more in the way of developing projects that would help communities. She wasn’t there that long, maybe because some of her other “traits”, I’ll call them, ticked off people. So she went back to Australia after I think just two years at WCRP. But it was a good attempt.
I think the things that were useful out of ACACIA were the things I mentioned earlier: the ability to show that you can do a lot of things with the rapidly evolving Internet world to display and make use of data (and I think that’s widely used by people now), and the inter-comparisons that we were doing between statistical downscaling and regional climate modeling have shown that both have a place to play in the communities, provided people get some observational data to support both of them!
As I remember, Ann Henderson-Sellers got you more involved in IPCC work within MECCA?
Yes. Yes, we did. After we had held that first workshop to train students in getting involved into climate modeling, Ann heard about that. She wasn’t in attendance. She may have had one of her students in attendance. But she said, “That’s all great, but it’s all Northern Hemisphere. We should have something like that for the Southern Hemisphere.” So she said that she wanted to organize a similar event using the same book, many of the same speakers, in the Southern Hemisphere.
She then spoke to people at the IPCC, who were very interested in that time in getting some more involvement in regional modeling and regional climate assessment with their community, to see if she could get some money from them to actually participate in this program. So she contacted Sir John Houghton, who was the chair of the Working Group I, about doing that, and they sent a letter to both me and to Ann saying yes, they would be interested and they would in fact be willing to finance attendance by about — I think it was six people — from developing countries to participate in this workshop that she would be planning to hold — the same two-week period workshop. It would be held down at Macquarie University. They [IPCC] would be willing to finance them [the 6 attendees from developing countries], but they weren’t personally the ones who wanted to pick the people who would come.
So Ann arranged to do a solicitation to the community of the Third World countries and got names of various people and some resumés about what their interests were and how they might do it. Then in a course of a conference call, one of these things where I was on the phone with her people for several hours long distance with Australia, she came up with the recommended list of people that they wanted to invite. They were from Africa and from Indonesia and the Caribbean and several other countries.
Then IPCC said, “Well, that’s great. We’d really like all those people to come, but we can’t buy their tickets for them in advance. We can reimburse people if somebody else will buy the tickets.” So it actually fell upon Chuck Hakkarinen to personally purchase the airfares for all six of these people on his American Express card from EPRI and his personal… I guess it was a Visa card. I used my Visa card first because then I would get points for miles or something. But I maxed out that card, so I had to purchase the rest on American Express. We used our local travel agency at EPRI, and we ended up booking travel and billed it to me personally for all six of these people to attend this meeting. I must say IPCC was very good about getting quick reimbursement. As soon as we sent them copies of the travel vouchers and the cost from the travel agency, they cut a check and sent me a check in U.S. dollars for the full amount. I actually got the check before my credit cards were due. So I wasn’t even forced to borrow from my own bank accounts to pay off these bills which were probably $20,000 or something like that!
All six scientists who came contributed very substantially to the meeting. They loved the meeting. Apparently they said so in notes back to the IPCC. I got at the end of it — We prepared a report, a summary of the meeting that was prepared by IPCC contributing scientists Ulrich Cubasch from Max Planck Institute and Jerry Meehl from NCAR. EPRI published that report as what we call a “gray cover”. It was kind of just this fancy staple-bound almost. But that was published and distributed to all the people, since again IPCC said, “We’d like to publish a report, but we don’t have the funds to set up and do that.” So we said, “Okay, we’ll do it for you.” So that was all published within a month or so of the meeting.
At the end, I got a very nice letter signed by Sir John Houghton thanking me and thanking EPRI and thanking the people involved for having organized and run this meeting. There were another 20 or 30 young scientists from mostly the Southern Hemisphere who got exposed to climate modeling and why it would make a good career choice for them in the future. So I think it went off very well. We got a couple of fans in IPCC for the work we were doing through EPRI at the time.
I don’t know if that had any long-term implications. Actually, maybe it did because I would have to say that when they held the IPCC Third Assessment Report that had the meeting in Shanghai, the one that was held in Shanghai, I was personally invited to attend that meeting and given the designation Lead Author Reviewer, which I think was a category of one, and got to sit not in the back benches but up [close]. I think I was right behind the U.S. delegation, but I got to sit reasonably close to the front of the whole organization and observe the whole thing. I don’t think I actually said anything. I certainly didn’t have a country tag in front of me to set up and make a comment in formal sessions. But I got to talk in what they call their breakouts or subgroup meetings and so forth, and had a very enjoyable time contributing to that meeting. Perhaps that came about because of the previous event a year or two before with the IPCC workshop in the Southern Hemisphere.
How did you experience the session with the IPCC?
Oh, IPCC session. For me, it was extremely tiring, and I mean that because under the IPCC rules, every single word in their summary report has to be agreed by consensus by all the parties. At that stage of development, it consisted of one big projection screen behind the people at the podium. They would show the words up there, and every line by line would be debated by the people. Since English was the first language for maybe less than half of the people in the audience (and it was all being done in English), they would have inevitable debates about what a particular word meant because they weren’t personally familiar with that word in their language or it had a different connotation than what it did in the people who were typically writing either British or American English on the thing. In that sense, I found it frustrating as a scientist who likes to get to the bottom line and doesn’t want to spend all this time on process. It was frustrating to have these sessions drag on and on till 3:00, 4:00 in the morning over an individual word in a scientific summary. I had to admire, I guess, the scientists who were leading these writings because they tolerated it all so well, whereas it would have driven me crazy to be up there myself having to be like some of these people who were there representing their working group or subgroup of the IPCC Working Group I and have these words debated by scientists. I guess under the official rules, everybody had to be recognized so that you might spend four hours on one paragraph and end up at the end pretty much where you started. But you’d gone all around with all these edits. I guess it’s a little easier now because they have improved the representation. Maybe everybody sees it on their own laptop screen in front of them and it can all be done instantaneously or something. But at the time, it was a major, major struggle to do that.
There wasn’t much science talked about in those meetings, and so that part was really done at earlier sessions. I had been to one session for Working Group I that was held in Sweden. I’m trying to remember where it was. I want to say Lund, but I think it was someplace a little north of Stockholm.
Yeah, Uppsala. There was a session in Uppsala that I had gone to, and that was much more effective because it wasn’t all these countries debating individual words. It was scientists debating paragraph thoughts. There I was able to make contributions that I felt were useful. I could explain points, especially if things related to MECCA or the EPRI projects came up that I was actually there to say, “Well, this is what we were doing,” and so forth. It was still limited because again, Internet wasn’t as popular. I don’t think I had a computer with me. I had no way to access anything real time. But I was able to get words in and felt I had a contribution to that session, even though again I was not an official member of any of the writing teams. I was not an official reviewer. But I had been invited to that session, and maybe that was in part because of the IPCC workshop we had done. Or maybe they just had laxer rules in those days. Who knows?
I know they’re doing the Fifth Assessment now. I just recently looked at the agenda and realized I haven’t commented on anything in the Fifth Assessment. But I haven’t really pursued it, either. I suppose that if you really wanted to, any individual can request copies of the drafts and make comments on it. But for a thousand pages of draft material to make comments, and in theory they’re supposed to review all the comments? I saw some statistics. There are like 30,000 comments on the latest draft. Ah, what an incredible effort! I admire these people who do it, but boy. I don’t think I could do it, not these days. [Laughing]
My biggest problem with the whole IPCC process is again, they don’t spend enough time in writing a summary that is understandable to the lay public. They need a Climate Currents type of evaluation of that. I mean you see some of these sentences and they have triple negatives. Even as a scientist, you get through and say, “Well, are they saying A or negative A?” because you’re not really quite sure where they’ve gone with it. They could do well to hire some good… I won’t even call them technical editors because it’s more than a technical editor. They need to hire some people who have a more direct connection with the public to help them write summaries that are understandable. The current option which they opt into is leaving it to the press, and I don’t think that works because I don’t think the press does a very good job either in writing summaries because they’re not interested in writing just a summary. They have an angle, whatever angle it is. You can’t leave it to the bloggers, and you can’t leave it to the press to write that. So I think that’s where they should spend a little more time in their efforts in the future.
How did you find that your work with MECCA and ACACIA and PIRCS was part of the IPCC process? Was it adopted? Did it have an impact on those assessments as well?
I don’t believe that PIRCS has had any significant implication, application yet… or did at the time into the IPCC, although certainly the lead scientists in PIRCS have continued as lead authors in IPCC. Now whether they would have gotten that anyway, who’s to say? But my reading, I don’t recall anything specific about PIRCS ever being mentioned in IPCC reports. Probably not even MECCA has been mentioned by name in IPCC reports. But it’s mentioned by inference in the fact that they all talk as though it’s routine to include sulfur aerosols in models, where in fact it was MECCA that did that. That doesn’t bother me, though, because I never expected anybody was really going to name industry projects directly as part of their evaluations in an IPCC world. They probably don’t even name any of the federal organizations. I mean they go for the science. Maybe they name the individuals, but even then it’s usually only by reference number. Unless you’re specifically knowledgeable about that project, you may not realize, “Well, his name is on the project, but maybe because his name began with the letter A and they put the people on it alphabetically,” whereas the real person who did the work is this other person whose name is down the list. That’s fine also. I mean the key is to get the proper science represented in IPCC reports. To the extent that MECCA or ACACIA or PIRCS helped get people involved in doing that science, and then that science gets recorded into the process, then we’ve done our job. That doesn’t necessarily get you a lot of credit, but we need to do a better job of getting that point across to people. If you want them to continue funding you just because you got your work in there, then you need to have somebody actually saying, “Well, here are the exact items. This work here is directly related to what we did.” We did that only though with the sulfur aerosols when it came to the early years of IPCC.
Now that MECCA is 20 years in the past, I don’t think you’re going to see anything about it referenced anymore. Even if it was the first, who cares? Nobody cares anymore who the first was. The question is, what’s being done now? So, to the extent that my personal involvement in the Climate Simulation Laboratory and the work that they’re doing leads to efforts being done in the IPCC, then yeah. Then I feel very happy that that work is proceeding. That is the case for NCAR’s particular involvement in the Fourth Assessment; that a lot of the model runs that were requested in the Fourth Assessment were done in their completion by only NCAR and a few other groups. They were able to do so because they had so much computing time and were given that computing time under the Climate Simulation Lab. That’s not to say anything for me personally; I’m only on the committee. But, clearly, there has been an implication for the community that if you have a dedicated supercomputer, you can meet these very detailed requests of people like IPCC to generate outputs in a timely fashion.
I think I would like to shift now from IPCC to a few things that we didn’t discuss while we were discussing EPRI, namely some of the strong personalities that partly shaped EPRI and also the decision to go into MECCA like George Hidy, Dick Balzhiser, and Chauncey Starr and how their… What kind of interactions did you have with these kinds of people in the late ‘80s while MECCA was set up?
Well, George Hidy, who was the vice president of the EPRI Environment Division, from the very beginning was very enthusiastic about MECCA. In fact, we really have to give him credit for the work that was done on the sulfur aerosols because in a relatively little-known case, he actually called in what he called his own blue ribbon panel to look at MECCA as it was going down the road to see whether it was addressing the issues most important to not only industry (because he had some industry people there), but also to the science. So he brought in some people he knew who were not at all associated with MECCA, but were well-known scientists to comment on the program. I think this happened like maybe a year into the program. It was at that specific meeting that we had in Palo Alto that people brought up the issue, “Well, we should really be looking at sulfur aerosols. You’re not doing anything in terms of other chemicals.” I remember leaving that meeting, without George specifically telling me to do so, but putting out a special request to have people submit proposals on sulfur aerosols, and we got several. We got the one that became very famous, the work of Karl Taylor and Joyce Penner, but there was another one from Starley Thompson using a different technique. There may have been a third; I don’t remember if there was a third project that we did. We provided special allocations to them without going through the full Technical Advisory Committee, without going through the full Program Advisory Committee of MECCA. It was really sort of an internal EPRI staff solicitation, review, and implementation. It wasn’t a huge amount of computing time, so we didn’t feel pretty bad about it. But in a sense, we kind of bent the rules there a little bit to get something going really quickly. Fortunately, it turned out to be very effective to do that. I wouldn’t recommend doing that on a regular basis, but that worked.
George Hidy in turn, because he was always following the program and regularly asking us to provide him updates on what was happening…and I think he probably at times when he happened to meet people like Richard Anthes at another meeting, he might have said, “Well, how are things going with MECCA?” and he would buttonhole him for a little bit of information. In addition to that, George in turn, I’m sure, was then informing Dick Balzhiser, the president of EPRI, at every advisory meeting that they were having. I think the president would meet with all of his vice presidents at least once a month if not several times a month. I’m sure George brought it to that meeting, something about what was happening with MECCA so that Dick Balzhiser would be generally aware of what was going on, and if he did ever want to actually say something specifically in a speech or something else about the project, I know that he always ran his words by George Hidy first before he put it in the speech so that he would not be making a big mistake in what he said. So in that sense, Peter Mueller and I knew that we had the ear of our director, our vice president, and our president in the Institute. I don’t know if the other organizations were doing the same, whether the French technical man was telling the president of Électricité de France what was going on. I suspect they were as well. So I think the project within the sponsoring agencies was always up on the front burner. Everybody was keeping track of what was going on and was aware of it.
So then when we did run into financial problems, when we had overruns on this and that, it wasn’t a surprise. People could see it coming because they had been alerted in advance. By having us being alerted in advance, then we had a better chance of getting it funded. So even though we did have a little bit of an overrun in the overall cost, it turned out that it wasn’t a deal breaker for the program because they knew it was possibly going to happen and they supported us and got the extra funds to do that. In the long term, though, it was a huge cost for the Environment Division as a whole. Like I said, after we did that one, I wasn’t sure we could ever do another one because it was such a huge amount of money. But it did have great benefit for the industry. I think everyone involved would say: had they to do it all over again, they would have done it also again. Maybe done a few things differently, but they definitely would have taken that attack and gone after that particular project. I think everybody’s better for it.
There was another part of your question.
Chauncey Starr as well.
Chauncey Starr. Well, at that point Chauncey Starr had retired from EPRI, but Chauncey Starr was a Fellow [of EPRI] — Even in retirement, he was always involved in research. He was doing his own research; he was following other people’s research. You’ll find that there are lots of letters to the editor by him and other op-eds in various magazines like Science. Whenever we had investigators related to the MECCA Project visit EPRI for one reason or the other, we would always have them give a seminar and announce the seminar in the company newsletter, whatever it was in those days. Chauncey would always come to these seminars and would ask questions. Now, he’s an engineer by training, not a climate scientist, so sometimes his questions were off the mark. But he was clearly interested in what was going on, and to no end would he be coming to these sessions. Occasionally I’d see him in the lunch room and we might chat briefly about the project as a whole. But he also was going looking at the bigger picture because as an engineer, he would see, “Okay, you’re convincing me that climate change is an issue.” Then he’d put on his engineer hat and say, “Now what can we do to solve this problem or to ameliorate the problem?” That’s when he got very heavily involved in things like superconducting cables and other things that could reduce the energy loss so that you would basically… He was always a strong proponent of nuclear energy also. Anything you could do that could reduce the need to burn more fossil fuels he was interested in, because it would probably provide some climate benefits.
I don’t know for a fact, but I assume that he was also doing some work on the risk analysis of climate change because he had been one of the fathers of risk analysis development work. I suspect he probably was looking at that as one issue, too, for the electric industry as a whole. Unfortunately, Chauncey passed away before a lot of the new smart technologies have come about. I’m sure if he was around today, he’d be looking into that, too, to see how these new smart technologies could improve a lot of the world in the use of electricity.
A final thing before the end. As you mentioned, you often went to other industry meetings and the Air and Waste Management Association meetings. How did other people from other industries…What were their thoughts about climate change.
Yeah. Many times I would be at meetings like the Air and Waste Management Association or the American Geophysical Union when I would be met by people from things like the oil industry or the chemical industry who would ask us about this program. Pretty much both Peter Mueller and I had developed kind of a short version discussion of what the background of it was. We would always throw in there a line, “If you’re interested in sponsoring it, we’d be happy to share with you more information.” Most of the people then would say, “Well, that’s a really interesting program.” But when they heard us say, “Well, all the results are going to be freely available in the open scientific literature,” you could just see in their eyes, “Well, why should I pay for this if it’s all freely available? They’re going to do it anyway.” Nobody was so honest to admit to us that that was their real reason why they didn’t want to get involved. But I think the general feeling was, “That sounds like a really neat program, and we’re sure glad that you’re doing it. We’re sure going to look forward to reading those results in the literature.”
I thought the one that we might have had the best chance in getting was the chemical industry because they had a lot of people who were very sharp technically. But just about that time was when the ozone hole really hit them too very hard. The ozone hole was like ‘85, ‘87. By the time ‘93 was coming around, the Montreal Protocol was being very seriously looked at as to be adopted, and I think they felt they had so much involved in protecting their interests to make sure that that protocol was done in a realistic fashion that they just couldn’t spend more money on climate change, which they clearly were involved with. But I think their more immediate need was “Well, we may not have an industry at all. People are not going to stand by and let electricity go away, but they might decide to let go away aerosol deodorants and CFCs for refrigerators, foam mattresses and things — that we have to really spend our issue on that,” and they did. They did spend a huge amount of money and were very key actors in the whole Montreal Protocol program for those CFCs and so forth. So they did well. But it wasn’t involved in MECCA.
So MECCA continued on with just basically the initial sponsors and just the one or two others that came in in the second year. But we never were able to get any other people really joined up to provide money. I’m not sure that that would have made that much of a difference either because the next step up would have been such a quantum leap in the amount of money you needed that it probably made more sense to stand by and watch the federal government get their act together, which they did, and put in a dedicated supercomputer for climate modeling themselves — far stronger than anything MECCA had done. The net result was it got done. So again, for somebody who’s concerned more in results rather than process, I’m happy because the results were where we wanted to go.
I remember for a few of the correspondences and things I’ve seen from the package that you and Peter sent that, for instance, once Hidy asked you to comment on a book that Fred Singer had written, for instance, about climate change and also some activities with the Global Climate Coalition in its early phase. [Yes.] Do you remember those interactions?
I don’t remember Fred’s book directly, but I did know Fred Singer. I met him many times. I did serve for several years as a liaison to the Global Climate Coalition from EPRI talking with them not only about MECCA, although maybe most of my involvement was after MECCA was over. But I talked to them quite a bit about what was happening in climate science in general. I was working not with the Global Climate Coalition as a whole, but something they had called their STAC, Science and Technology Assessment Committee, which again were people similar in stature to the Program Advisory Committee EPRI had. In other words, these were technical people within their industry with the GCC. It was not only utilities, but there were oil industry people and some chemical industry people, maybe a few others. I don’t know if there was — Well, somebody from the railroads I think was there occasionally.
My role was to give them updates on what the science was saying, and not only did I speak with them about the science, but I arranged to have other scientists speak to them about science. This included people like Tom Wigley. Tom came and gave a seminar to them. It was effectively a seminar talking about the research he was working on at the time. I had Jerry Mahlman who at the time was the director of NOAA’s GFDL, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, in Princeton, New Jersey. He came and spoke to them. At that time, he had just come out with his probability thing to replace the IPCC discussion of significant effect/possible effect. He had actually put percentages on these things. He came and described his work on that to them, how he came out at that result. I don’t remember if I had Richard Alley speak to them or to another group at EPRI.
Besides my interactions then with the scientific committee of the GCC, EPRI started to hold an annual climate seminar, which was done both for the science and the economics. This was typically held in Washington, D.C. once per year. I was asked to always arrange for one or two speakers on the climate science at this meeting, and that included people like Richard Alley, who is big on glacial ice, and Kerry Emanuel, who is a professor at MIT who does work on the effects of climate change on hurricane strength; and a fellow from the group at NASA GISS, not Jim Hansen, but one of his colleagues who came and spoke about the work that he was doing on climate modeling and radiative forcing changes.
That was another means EPRI provided to its members. That meeting was open only to its members, and to government representatives, of what the current thinking was. It wasn’t always on EPRI research; in fact, most of it was not on EPRI research. But it was on research that we felt was important to the industry as a whole; and provided them the opportunity to see these investigators, give their standard talks, and to ask them questions. I think, in my case, I always tried to visit with these investigators several weeks before they gave their talk to explain to them, “We’re not looking for a standard American Geophysical Union or World Meteorological Organization talk. We want you to try to simplify the language and make it understandable to these people who are technically trained but probably not beyond a bachelor’s degree in a science, if they have one in that field.” I think that worked well because these people then would simplify their presentations to the point they were more understandable for these people.
Do you remember the discussions that were in these kinds of meetings?
Oh, they would ask very technical questions in some cases. In other cases, they asked big picture questions. I mean they asked Richard Alley about questions on “Are we going to have another ice age?” because he had made reference to the fact that we had a Little Ice Age several hundred years before. He commented to them and tried to give an example to them like it’s a pendulum swinging back and forth between Modern Era climate and Ice Age climate. Sometimes it actually swings far enough back to go into an ice age. He thought that the Little Ice Age, it started to swing back, but for some reason at the last minute it swung the other way. So we didn’t go back into another ice age. But it could certainly happen again.
Jerry Malman’s people, I think they had been confused about what he meant when he said that there were these high probabilities and putting percentages on it as to how much climate change was due to certain factors. I think by hearing them talk and hearing the questions they asked, I think both parties benefited. They benefited from seeing that he’s not the ogre who has been maybe misrepresented in the press, and he benefited by seeing, “Hey, these people can ask legitimate questions, and they’re not necessarily what I hear about in the newspapers about everybody from Global Climate Coalition is seeking to do some special subterfuge on the industry,” because at least the people that I was dealing with, the Scientific and Technology Assessment Committee, the STAC, they weren’t these Global Climate Coalition PR folks or whoever was doing the big picture analysis. These were honest brokers, people who wanted to understand the science and present that information. By meeting with them, I think much of that was accomplished. I have no qualms about my involvement with the GCC STAC. I think it was a really good, useful exchange. I even tried to get some of them to help sponsor some ACACIA work, but again, the money wasn’t there. But they learned about what we were doing in that regard.
You mentioned the media and the way media works several times. Now we have the way that the GCC, for instance, worked with PR. What has been the role of the media in these kinds of things, do you think?
Well, I understand —
How should the science [overlapping voices].
Well, the media — I’ve attended a lot of talks at meetings about how better to speak to the media. I’ve heard media people talk themselves about the biggest problem (“problem”, I use the word loosely) with media is that they’re always under intense time pressure, deadlines. Their job is not to convey science; their job is to… In the old days it was to sell newspapers. Get somebody to watch your TV station. So they have to generate interest in what they are doing and saying right now. Sometimes the science is interesting to the scientists, but if explained to the public, it doesn’t sound so interesting. So they have to make it interesting, and sometimes in trying to make the science interesting, they may over-interpret what they’ve been told by scientists.
So I found at times it was a struggle to talk to them because you start to get defensive. You feel that they’re putting words in your mouth where what they’re really trying to do is take what you say and on the fly then try to interpret it for something that would be understandable to the public. But the only problem is it’s understandable to the public from their perspective, and their perspective is not necessarily the same as the scientists’ perspective. That’s a continuing problem; because I know lots and lots of scientists who are great scientists but couldn’t talk their way out of a paper bag. I would certainly not want to drop them from my scientific support list because they don’t know how to communicate their results. I would find somebody else who’s really good at communicating the results and have that person do it. That’s not going away anytime soon.
It’s getting more difficult now because people keep trying to push issues like climate change into a conclusion. Sometimes the patience is being lost by the public. Well, it’s taken us what, four billion years to get to where we are in today’s climate on the earth. I’m not convinced that we’re going to solve it anytime soon in understanding it. So some patience is necessary. While we may find out new things in science, it doesn’t mean that they’re truly new; it’s just that for now, we’re just recognizing them. They’ve been there all along; we just didn’t see them. So when we think that climate is changing, maybe it’s really not really changing, but it’s just a part of this distribution that we’ve not seen before because we haven’t been around long enough to have seen it. It’s been there all along and we just never saw it because either we weren’t looking for it or it hadn’t actually made its appearance.
So, for dealing with this press and this public, I think you just have to be very patient with them, and they have to be as patient as possible with the scientists. As long as they recognize — they recognize, as well as the scientists recognize — that every scientist isn’t necessarily a good speaker, then you have to be patient and either help that scientist to make his point more clear or help that scientist find another person who can make his point more clear, because I think the science is still there. You shouldn’t dismiss the scientist because the speaker isn’t one who is able to express it properly.
MECCA tried to have a communication office.
MECCA tried to have a communications office, and it did not work. Why didn’t it work? In part, because we didn’t develop a very good game plan at the beginning that identified what is it that we want to try to communicate? We went back and forth on that. I think, also, the field was developing rather quickly then, too. If we knew then what we know now about how to communicate, we probably would have done a better job. The people involved, there’s nothing wrong with them at all. I mean they were traditional communicators, and they taught us some very good skills on how to write talks and give papers. I make use of that stuff on a regular basis, if and when I give talks. But we didn’t put much money into it, for one thing, and it requires money to do a really good job of communicating. We were doing it really not only with a shoestring of a budget, but we only had one or two people involved. They couldn’t be asked, or we didn’t give them the ability to be asked, to go out and become full-time spokesmen for the program. If we had full-time spokesmen for the program, yeah, maybe it would have been more effective in communicating. But we didn’t do that, and because we hadn’t done a very good job ourselves in figuring out just what we wanted to communicate, then you don’t succeed. Or you are successful; you’re successful at what you said which was basically, “I don’t know what I want to do,” and so that’s what we succeeded in doing! [Laughter]
I don’t know that that would have changed the whole outcome of it. Again, as a scientist, I wasn’t as concerned at the time about making sure that my science was understood by the public. I was personally very concerned about it being recognized as credible science. So, from that standpoint, I feel that we were very successful. There’s more to a program, and it has to be recognized that there’s more to a program than just making it understandable science for scientists. So yeah. If I was going to do it all differently now, yeah, I would put much more money up at front in identifying what are the messages that we want to be able to get out, and how are we going to approach doing that? There are lots of ways I think people can do that now.
You’re doing it in part by writing this book because it will be interesting to some people. I mean, I’ve read a book about the Manhattan Project. I think that was amazing. It was incredible, some of the stuff that they did. Maybe somebody will read a book about the MECCA Project and say, “Yeah, that was really interesting,” and some of them may actually remember it. So it would be good to, you know, like old times. “Oh, there’s so-and-so. I wonder what he’s up to nowadays.”
Any final thoughts that you’d like to say about…?
Well I tell you, I have personally heard a lot about these oral histories. I’ve never actually listened to any, myself, although I probably would find it very useful if I was having insomnia because I’m not an oral person. I don’t really do as well listening to something as reading it. So if they make a written version of this oral history and take out all the ums and ahs and so forth, yeah, I would find it very interesting. I probably would like to see more of those. I guess it’s nice; you’ve got to start somewhere. I’m not sure I’m the person to write an oral history of, but maybe my grandchildren at some point will say, “Oh yeah, there’s Grandpa! He actually said something sometime in his life.” But I’m not really a special case, but I’ll say I’m somewhat of an unusual case; because typically you didn’t find that somebody who came right out of graduate school got thrust into a position where they were managing research with people who were 20 years their senior and had all sorts of pedigree and so forth. So for me, I still say today, and I can honestly say, that I never went a day to work at EPRI that I didn’t enjoy it. It was the greatest thing in my life to have that career, and I’m extremely grateful for having that opportunity. But I don’t expect that that opportunity comes by very often for people, so I feel especially blessed to have had that.