Global Warming

SuperFreaking Out Over Climate Engineering

Freakonomics authors freak out environmental activists by suggesting a technical fix for global warming

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“What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” ask the Freakonomics duo Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their new book SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Their answer: “Al Gore and Pinatubo both suggest a way to cool the planet, albeit with methods whose cost-effectiveness are a universe apart.” Al Gore wants to cool the planet by drastically cutting back the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide people are emitting into the atmosphere. In 1991, the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines cooled the planet when it blasted millions of tons of sulfur particles into the stratosphere where it formed a global haze that lowered average temperatures by about 0.5 degrees Celsius.   

In their controversial chapter on global cooling, Levitt and Dubner describe how a bunch of researchers and entrepreneurs at Intellectual Ventures have devised a “garden hose to the sky” method for cooling the planet. The firm, founded by polymath and former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, proposes the use of an 18-mile hose with helium balloons and pumps every few hundred yards injecting liquefied sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling produced by the Pinatubo eruption. The group estimates that setting up five sulfur injection base stations would cost a mere $150 million and cost $100 million per year to operate.

Meanwhile, the costs of deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissionsâ€"the strategy currently in vogueâ€"are highly disputed. Global warming alarmists tend to minimize the costs and global warming deniers maximize them (I use the derogatory terms each side calls the other with full malice aforethought). So let’s use as an approximation the latest estimates from British economist Nicholas Stern. Stern, admittedly, inhabits the alarmist camp. He recently asserted that it will take spending 2 percent of global GDP (currently about $64 trillion) to prevent catastrophic climate change. That would amount to spending about $1.2 trillion per year. The money would be spent on developing and deploying a variety of energy efficiency improvements and low carbon energy technologies. That’s the Gore way to cool the planet. Levitt and Dubner conclude by contrasting $250 million versus $1.2 trillion.

Despite their rather breathless presentation of the options for a technical quick fix, these climate engineering schemes are not all that innovative. In fact, similar schemes, including a sulfur sun screen, were outlined in a 1997 article in Reason by physicist and sci-fi writer Greg Benford. In September, the Royal Academy issued a study, Geoengineering the Climate [PDF], evaluating comparable proposals. On November 5, the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on the feasibility and risks of climate engineering, including the stratospheric sulfur shield. Clearly, Levitt and Dubner are not making novel proposals, they are popularizing marginalized ideas that have been around for a long timeâ€"that's their stock in trade. 

Levitt and Dubner acknowledge that the objections to the stratoshield project are “legion,” and indeed they are [PDF]. They note that Myhrvold is not recommending that the stratoshield or other climate engineering schemes be deployed immediately, but that they be “researched and tested so they are ready to use if the worst climate predictions were to come true.” If manmade warming is worse than currently projected, such a shield would also give humanity time to invent and deploy a new no-carbon energy infrastructure.

Yet despite a variety of caveats and cautions, Levitt and Dubner have provoked a firestorm of criticism among ideological environmentalists and their fellow travelers. Why? Because the global warming debate is politicized from top to bottom. Levitt and Dubner breezily stepped into the climate science and policy debate and violated the environmentalist taboo on discussing geoengineering proposals in public. 

“The primary reason there has been so little debate about geoengineering amongst climate scientists is concern that such a debate would imply an alternative to reducing the human carbon footprint,” write British climate researchers, Peter Cox, professor of climate system dynamics at the University of Exeter, and Hazel Jeffrey, head of strategic management at the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council in Physics World. Or, as Levitt and Dubner acknowledge in their chapter, geoengineering might be seen as “an excuse to pollute,” luring the public into climate change complacency.

In this political fight, accusations of bad faith are the coin of the rhetorical realm. And it doesn’t help that Levitt and Dubner elided over or mischaracterized some research and policy prescriptions. For example, they note that carbon dioxide emissions are being absorbed by seas causing ocean acidification which threatens shellfish and corals, but do not mention that the Pinatubo cooling plans would do nothing to solve that problem. In the policy realm, they cite Harvard economist Martin Weitzman’s argument that the uncertainties surrounding future temperature projections suggest the possibility of catastrophic climate change. However, they fail to note that Weitzman concludes that the remote possibility of total climate disaster justifies spending a lot of money now on efforts to avoid it. And let’s not get into the argument over what recent global temperature trends portend.

In the end, it is not at all surprising that Joe Romm, one of the more apoplectic climate alarmists, who writes the ClimateProgress blog over at the liberal Center for American Progress, dug deep into his rhetorical coffers and accused Levitt and Dubner of bad faith. Stanford University climatologist Ken Caldeira was a participant in the discussions at Intellectual Ventures that Levitt and Dubner report. Caldeira has been seriously researching the implications of geoengineering as a backup plan for cooling the earth for many years. Blogger Romm, in his self-appointed role as enforcer of climate change policy taboos, was horrified that Levitt and Dubner were citing Caldeira in favor geoengineering proposals.

In high dudgeon, Romm apparently emailed Caldeira: “Lines about you like (page 184) 'Yet his research tells him carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight' seriously abuse your reputation and your extensive publications and warnings about the threat of ocean acidification.” Romm then solicited Caldeira’s help, explaining, “I want to trash them [Levitt and Dubner] for this insanity and ignorance.” Romm, self-importantly but accurately, added that “my blog is read by everyone in this area, including the media.” He outlined just the sort of thing that he wanted Caldeira to say: “I’d like a quote like ‘The authors of SuperFreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work,’ plus whatever else you want to say.”

A rattled Caldeira emailed Romm back and complained: “So, yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.” Caldeira especially objected that he would never have said carbon dioxide is “not the right villain in this fight.” Romm then published his attempt at debunking Levitt and Dubner. The headline alone reads:

Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” â€" and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.

Romm’s column provoked a flood of condemnations. Levitt and Dubner asked Caldeira what was going on and he responded, “I do think there are a bunch of things in the chapter that give misimpressions.” However, Caldeira also said to other journalists, “I believe the authors to have worked in good faith. They draw different conclusions than I draw from the same facts, but as authors of the book, that is their prerogative.” In any case, a somewhat rueful Caldeira explained, “I was drawn in by Romm and Al Gore’s assistant into critiquing other parts of the chapter. Rather than acting deliberately, I panicked and commented on things that I now wish I would have been silent on. It was obviously a mistake to let myself get drawn into this, and I learned a quick and hard lesson in public relations.” Indeed. Levitt and Dubner say that they will take out the offending “villain” quotation from subsequent editions.

Romm himself mischaracterizes Levitt and Dubner’s chapter as advocating a “geo-engineering-only solution.” Levitt and Dubner make it pretty clear throughout that their Pinatubo cooling proposal is a backup plan, just in case humanity can’t or won’t cut back on its carbon dioxide emissions. For example, Myhrvold notes, “It’s a bit like having fire sprinklers in the building. On the one hand, you should make every effort not to have a fire. But you also need something to fall back on in case the fire occurs.” Myhrvold adds, “It gives you breathing room to move to carbon-free energy sources.”  

A year ago, in a roundtable on geoengineering in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Ken Caldeira argued, “Prudence demands that we consider what we might do if cuts in carbon dioxide emissions prove too little or too late to avoid unacceptable climate damage.” What should we do? “We need a climate engineering research and development plan.”  Caldeira warned, “We cannot afford a new period of Lysenkoism and allow political correctness to pollute our scientific judgment. Scientific research and engineering development should be divorced from moral posturing and policy prescription.”  He was right then and he’s right now.

Although flawed, in SuperFreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner have done citizens and policymakers a real service by breaking the taboo on discussing the feasibility and risks of climate engineering in public.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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165 responses to “SuperFreaking Out Over Climate Engineering

  1. “Their boldness has provoked a firestorm of criticism from ideological environmentalists who fear that such proposals will give humanity an excuse to continue emitting carbon dioxide without feeling the consequences.”

    Then explain how environmentalists aren’t just religous fanatics? Isn’t stopping the consiquences the whole point? If it is not, then the act of emitting carbon is a bad thing. That makes it a sin instead of a policy choice.

    This is no different than fendementalist Christians objecting to the pill. If we have the pill, people can fuck without consequences. And that is bad because fucking is a sin.

    1. Isn’t stopping the consiquences the whole point?

      Of course not! The whole point of the “climate change” hysteria is to scare the public into giving governments more power. If the problem is actually solved, the statists lose.

      -jcr

    2. Wait one god damn minute, is the sky falling or not?

      1. I don’t see it in the thermometer graph of temperature that happens to go back 300 years:

        Direct Link: http://i37.tinypic.com/14t0abr.jpg

    3. “Isn’t stopping the consequences the whole point?”

      That is *precisely* the whole point and one of the primary reasons that geo-engineering is at best an *adjunct* to emissions reduction.

      Emissions reduction (through efficiency, conservation, and new technology) is the only way to *sustainably* stop the consequences of global warming.

      All proposed geoengineering schemes only address a few of the many consequences of increased atmospheric CO2 and introduce side effects of their own. In addition, particularly in the case of injecting SO2 into the atmosphere, *maintaining* the protection becomes another consequence of increased atmospheric CO2. SO2 leaves the atmosphere fairly quickly, so any interruption in the “garden hose to the sky” could unleash all the pent-up warming it had prevented to that point.

      In any case, again, Ron Bailey gets it right by saying that geoengineering proposals should be researched *just in case* as a *temporary* gap-coverage strategy, while we pursue emissions reduction and sustainable technology. Myhrvold’s quotes in the last paragraph are right on.

      Too bad Levitt and Dubner’s book wasn’t as clear on this point as Ron Bailey’s article.

  2. It would be nice to get some benefit out of all those H-bombs we had to pay for.

    1. Iran has a hard-on for nukes. Perhaps a little demonstration is in order.

    2. We paid for them? i thought we still had those suckers on our big giant government credit card.

      1. I’m pretty sure the old ones (the ones they’re not sure work anymore) are all paid off…yessir we got them pinks.

  3. “criticism from ideological environmentalists who fear that such proposals will give humanity an excuse to continue emitting carbon dioxide without feeling the consequences”

    I am so glad to see that this is not a religion of Luddites.

  4. Many environmentalists don’t give a shit about facts or logic or “Mother Gaea” they are simply ascetics who think people are better off miserable, or they are like those members of the neoconservative movement who are so afraid of us becoming “last men” that they feel the need to have a grand struggle for us all to engage in.

    1. Define “neoconservative”. What does that compound word mean exactly?

      1. You know, a neo-con! A shit-for-brains Republican who believes in pre-emptive war and imposing religion on everyone while villianizing intellectuals.

        1. Don’t forget introducing stimulus packages as well as supporting bailouts…

          1. Not quite, there is really no inherent domestic policy dimension to neoconservatism, though it will differ from standard managerial liberalism to a degree.

            1. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            2. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            3. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            4. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            5. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            6. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            7. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            8. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            9. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            10. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            11. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            12. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            13. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

            14. They tend to like pandering to evangelical voters. Meaning they talk about religiously motivated social-conservatives values and disguise them. Anything to get the votes!

              1. John Galt saying the same thing over and over and over? I feel like I am reading Atlas Shrugged again.

              2. Thus quoth the Vikings:

                spam, spam, spam, spam.
                spam, spam, spam, spam.
                spam, o glorious spam?

                1. bring out the comfy chair!

        2. But I thought neo-cons were all or mostly Jooooos! And intellectuals at that. You mean to say that they are trying to impose Judaism on us while villainizing all the other (non-evil) intellectuals?

    2. Neoconservatives can be defined broadly as conservatives (in the American sense) less interested in traditional conservative ideas regarding the upholding of traditional social norms, rejecting notions of the perfectability of mankind, and cautious policy approaches (not that an individual neoconservative must stand against these things, merely that these ideas don’t play much of a role in their thinking.) Neoconservatism isn’t a monolithic movement, but it can be characterized by a focus on notions of American exceptionalism, the glorification of martial virtues and an eagerness to advocate military force for the purpose of furthering the American imperial project. Among neoconservatives some are Straussians, and among these there are some who definitely advocate notions of redemption through conflict (V D Hanson comes to mind, though strictly speaking he is not a Straussian.)

  5. John,
    There is a big difference between environmentalists and fundamentalist Christians.
    The Christians aren’t given tens of billions of dollars each year of taxpayer money to beat the rest of us into submission.

    1. Tax exemption counts.

    2. and not very many environmentalists have been thrown to the lions…though a couple have been eaten by bears

  6. “The primary reason there has been so little debate about geoengineering amongst climate scientists is concern that such a debate would imply an alternative to reducing the human carbon footprint,”

    Isn’t reducing carbon dioxide output climate engineering as well?

    1. So, climate “scientists” aren’t debating alternatives?

      Because doing so would not be consistent with some exterior goal of reducing the human carbon footprint?

      And limiting debate in service of this goal is science, how, again?

      1. RC, you clearly don’t read the scientific literature, do you. There have been several papers in leading journals this year concerning geoengineering that I can remember. I believe one was even the cover page for Science magazine.

        So yes, scientists are “debating” this, even though there isn’t much of a debate. There seems to be widespread agreement that these options should be studied as a last-ditch backstop used to prevent a catastrophe.

        1. While I whole heartedly disagree with Al Gore and Cap and Trade folks for economic reasons, you have to realize geoengineering is extremely dangerous. In this particular case, releasing all those sulpher oxides into the atmosphere e will allow a chemical reaction that will occur wherein suddenly those sulpher oxides (SO, S02) combine with oxygen and the hydrogen in the atmosphere to produce Sulfuric acid, (H2SO4) which will then rain down and cause a gradual drop in the pH of the ocean. So you just have to keep in mind that it really isn’t as simple as it may appear.

          1. I agree. I noted the acid rain issue in a post below. (Btw, I am a chemist). Not only is the acidic rain a problem, but it would compound the ocean acidification caused by dissolving CO2. Not surprisingly, there are some who are already trying to figure out how much limestone we would have to grind up and dump into the oceans in order to try to balance the CO2 and SO2. Needless to say, it is enormous.

            At some point, it is obvious that these schemes are fool’s errands. Green is going to happen, it is only a matter of when. There is no reason to make of complete mess of things in order to stay dirty a few more precious years.

            1. China is red and is not going green, and that’s a big problem for the Church of AlGore. As China’s economy becomes pre-eminent capital and jobs will flow there and as unemployment continues to rise Americans will wake up to the scam. (and are)

              It’s too bad what will happen in the meantime.

              The problem is that people conflate fake issues like warmism with real environmental issues. (like acid rain as you mention, mercury, etc)

              But the statists don’t care they just see a short term means to an authoritarian state.

              1. Red China is going green faster than we are. Perhaps you need to start paying attention to the news.

                The implication of this, of course, is when we finally DO get around to going green, we are going to have to buy everything from them.

                Brilliant!

                1. Um. China is building a coal plant every week. And not clean coal, either.

                  What news are you reading?

                  You do know Beijing’s air is so dirty Olympic athletes wore masks?

                  1. TallDave,
                    Allow Chad to swim in his ocean of fantasy.. the problem is that he wants every one to take the plunge as well..

                    China “going green” – what ever that means! especially when more than half their electric power needs is served by coal-fired plans.

                    And of course you guys left out India – where we use..drumroll please.. LIGNITE to power most of the Southern Grid- the IT industry basically..

                    There arent a bigger bunch of assclowns than these environMENTALISTS who want to “go green”.

                2. Dude, I didn’t even think they made koolaid that strong. Lol where the hell are you getting your propaganda?

                  Even NPR isn’t trying to sell China as being Green Leader.

  7. You have to conserve this post for future scholars of impenetrably crazy old-timey religious debates. It reads like Inquisition beat reporting.

    1. Surely those in God’s grace emit fewer noxious particulates than the heretics we unfortunately have to burn for their own good.

      1. Compost. We are to compost, not burn, the heretics.

        1. Composting ultimately releases the same amount of CO2 as burning–just slower.

          On the other hand, it adds calcium and nitrates to soil and improves its tilth. If you need a location to start the project, my garden is available.

  8. We are bad. We must be punished.

  9. I have a better proposal. CO2 is a major product of man, not necessarily the activities that he participates in. Thus, the real answer to the problem is to reduce the number of humans on the earth. If the earth is so precious to the environmentalist, let them do the honorable thing and commit suicide. That would reduce CO2 polution. The sacriface is grave but not less than the one they are requesting of those of us who feel this is so much bull. Such a sacriface would certainly make me more acceptable to their position. Also, if we are not considering a nuclear power option, then are we really serious about the concept of human induced global warming. Besides, what is wrong with global warming? The computer model they developed considers it a horrible concept. Just change the model and it can be a great benefit.

    1. You forgot polar bears! I suggest the environmentalists move to the Arctic and start making artificial ice floes for polar bears to hunt seals. If this artificial ice floe business doesn’t work, then they can serve as food for the bears. I think it’s a win/win

    2. Sure, “just change the model”. It’s not like the model is supposed to represent anything in particular except your fantasy of how you’d like the world to work, right?

      Suggesting that people commit suicide is vile. Suggesting that you take the bus instead of drive your car to work is annoying.

      There is a distinct moral difference between the two.

      1. I am afraid that I could care less about people who want to make a major change in our economics. They want a little more than riding the bus. They desire to take away our livelyhoods. As to the computer model, they can be anything you desire and thus are meaningless.

        1. Wow. So you really don’t care at all if *other people* live or die just because you disagree with their politics? I’m amazed you can feel that way about other human beings.

          Also, if you feel that way about computer models, we might as well throw away the last 60 years of science and engineering knowledge because almost all of it is based on modeling.

          Modeling has limitations. It is still, however, an extraordinarily useful analytical tool within those limitations.

    3. Actually, the overwhelming majority of the CO2 that is in the atmosphere comes from the ocean and decaying plant life (something that Al Gore fudged in his giant Power Point presentation as he shifted the data slightly to the left so that it looked like the warming of the Earth was caused by CO2; it’s actually the other way around). Therefore we should drain the oceans and kill all the plants. Problem solved…except for the fact that CO2 is vital to temperature control of the entire planet…but who cares about that right? If it’s not consistently 72 degrees in the summer and 25 degrees in the winter in say NYC, then there is clearly a problem and we must do everything we can to regulate the temperature ourselves. Anyone who does not agree is a blood sucking neo-con vampire. And that is racist!

  10. Romm, self-importantly but accurately, added that “my blog is read by everyone in this area, including the media.”

    More people read “Watts up with That” and “Climate Audit” then Romm’s shit.

    Me thinks Baily is generally behind the times in the climate change blogsphere.

    Reading only Romm and RealClimate does not cut the mustard. In fact you should probably avoid both blogs unless Jeff Id or Luci or someone similar put up a link to them.

    1. RealClimate does the math:
      http://www.realclimate.org/ind…..ve-levitt/

      also neverminding the costs of added Acid Rain, more acidic oceans, costs of deacidifying the oceans, etc. We are looking at at least 2 degrees c increase in long term temperature even if we do cut ? CO2 emissions by 2050. Thats about $1 Trillion in SO2 releases using Levitt’s numbers….every year. IF we ignore fossil CO2 climate change and we will see even higher temperatures, this will necessitate even more SO2 releases every year….for centuries.

      It really is cheaper to just stop emitting CO2. Even after ignoring money saving efficiency improvements.

      Start first by halting subsidies to all energy companies. Then require the government(s) to lead by constricting their own emissions, and that of their contractors. Some improved standards regulations, and the problem is largely solved without leaving libertarian policy.

  11. You know, whatever happened to weather control? All the good science fiction writers have promised it. And what about domed cities? Huh?

    1. Don’t you read Drudge?

      China made it snow in Beijing last week.

      My guess is that for scifi ideas to work you need one party monolithic control of the state.

      1. That way, even if it doesn’t work, all the newspapers still say it did.

  12. I live in Saskatchewan where it gets brutally cold in the winter… I’m looking forward to some climate change. I don’t give shit if the Sahara gets bigger and I won’t shed many tears when the country of Bangladesh becomes the archipelago of Bangladesh the same goes for Florida, we can sell em’ lots of gravel. New York would be even nicer to visit if you could sight see on one of those venetian gondolas…

    er I mean now now lets not be hasty don’t want to messing around with the environment with any cockamamie schemes to control the weather

    1. New York would be even nicer to visit if you could sight see on one of those venetian gondolas…

      New York has so wasted its waterfront real estate it is sickening. Chain link fence at the end of roads to the water, warehouses with walls right to the waterline and discarded tires.

      I cannot look at Donald Trump or any New York developer and not think they are complete fucking idiots.

      1. Yep. You know you’re stupid when a city as poorly run and corrupt as Baltimore makes you look all the worse by comparison.

      2. If you could come up with a better use you would buy the property and do it. But you cannot, so…. you’re dumb.

    2. I say we do everything we can to speed up any global warming that people think exists, so that the the Michigan economy can come back when it turns into a tropical tourist destination.

  13. Human created climate change is a farce, Al Gore is just trying to profit from the fears of people that can’t think for themselves.
    http://oxygenics.wordpress.com…..ction-day/

    1. It is well known that he gives these profits to relevant charity. Your article does not show otherwise

      1. The Fat AL fund.

        1. That’s right.
          The only charity Al donates to is the one he owns.

  14. Ron, you are right with the analogy concerning the fire sprinklers. It is fairly apt and easy to understand. Sprinklers may solve one bad problem, but in turn cause others that aren’t a whole lot better. Most of what you saved from burning will be water-logged and ruined anyway. However, you would likely stop the fire where it is and keep it from spreading. Clearly, owning sprinklers is not a reason to ignore the dangers of a fire.

    The problem is that Levitt et al didn’t portray it that way. They used the word “harmless” several times to describe the SO2 plan, even though it is self-evidently harmful at one level, and harmful to anyone who knows any science at all at at least two more levels.

    First, the entire SO2 plan is to BLOCK SUNLIGHT. This is BAD. It means less crops and plants (and thereby the animals that eat them) and anything that else that depends on sunlight, like efficient solar panels. This is very much akin to your sprinklers ruining the furniture. SO2 also causes acid rain, and will almost certainly diminish the ozone layer (chemically, it will, but we do not completely understand this interaction yet).

    Levitt et al also just plain got their facts wrong, including ones that anyone with a spare hour and the ability to understand high school math and physics could fact check (the whole solar panel albedo issue). There is no excuse for this level of sloppiness on their part. There is a totally funny (for liberals, at least) rebuttal of Levitt’s solar panel fiasco by a professor who works just around the corner from him. The kind professor even provided a map, so that Levitt can stop by next time and do some rudimentary fact checking before he publishes on areas where he clearly is not an expert.

    Should geoengineering be explored? Certainly. There are even some geoengineering proposals, that if done in an exquisite manner far beyond our current level of understanding, could actually mitigate climate change AND have positive side effects for both mankind and wildlife. These would be cloud-seeding and ocean fertilization. SO2, or any other sun-blocking scheme, however, have predominantly negative side-effects, do not solve the root problem, and do not address ocean acidification. They are clearly inferior and should only be used as a last-ditch backstop if things get out of control.

    1. Chad: Just curious about what you think of Myhrvold’s response” to the solar panel black brouhaha. And with regard to the additional acidification that a stratoshield might cause. the amounts they are talking about are very small in relation to the amount already being emitted.

      1. This is a long post about a very quantitative issue, yet I see no quantities. A couple of times Chad suggests that he knows some science. Maybe he does, but his assertions are hardly convincing, I’d like to see a more quantitative discussion. I find that the hand wavy justifications smack of the liberal arts.

        1. realclimate, climateprogress, etc have already done that for you, in more detail than you probably want.

          1. You might be surprised by how much detail I want, but the posts further down are much more satisfying. Thanks.

      2. By his own admission, solar has a “payback” time of under three years, and that is assuming they are manufactured with energy largely from fossil fuels. This is true now, but would not be true if clean energy was a much larger share of the puzzle. So solar panels are ~90% cleaner than coal NOW and will only get cleaner with time, as they replace fossil fuels.

        He also cites some pretty low efficiency numbers. His numbers appear to be the average of what exists, not the average of what is being made – and definitely not the average of what is currently in advanced stages of development. There have been announcements recently of a number of 13%+ thin film and 20%+ crystalline modules. A one percent gain here implies an approximate 5-8% decrease in payback time, cost, waste heat, etc.

      3. Oh, and he STILL gets the math wrong…it’s infuriating.

        “people deploy now. So for every watt of electricity they generate, current solar cells throw about 10 watts into the climate as heat. Some of this heat would have occurred anyway when the light was absorbed by the ground, but the most effective solar cell installations are in deserts where the albedo is pretty high (.4 to .5) and there is little cloud cover, so the solar cells cause a bunch of heating that would not have otherwise occurred. A typical coal power plant gives off about 2 watts of thermal heat for each watt generated, so the direct thermal heating from solar plants is likely to be as large or larger than that from coal plants.”

        First, .95/.11, the ratio of the absorbance to average efficiency (of old technology) is not “ten times” but “eight and a half”. But what’s a 17% error among friends?

        Let’s assume the worst case – a 10% efficient panel with 95% absorbance sitting in the starkest white desert you can find, with an albedo of 50%.

        Well, with NOTHING there, 50% of the energy coming down with the thrown off as waste heat. With the panel there, 95% is absorbed and 10% converved into electricity. But only 35% of this is “waste”, because 50% would have been absorbed by the sand. So in this case, the panel produces 3.5 times as much waste heat as electricity, not “10 times” as he claimed.

        Now, if you switch to 15% efficient panels and an albedo of 25% (the average for land), the figures change a lot. The plant only produces one unit of waste heat for every three units of electricity…far better than coal at two waste per useful unit.

        The average probably lies somewhere between these two, thereby implying that the net waste heat from solar plants would be similar to coal.

        1. Don’t forget that the waste heat from power production is a total red herring. The waste heat factors disappear completely when you instead look at the heat-trapping effects of emissions. It’s a whole order of magnitude difference.

          1. I agree. The affect of CO2 is orders of magnitude higher.

            I did some quick calculations this morning. Myrhvold’s idea that we could incur a “carbon debt” by making lots of solar panels is actually highly unlikely. Making some pretty conservative assumptions, (3 year payback, 25 year lifespan), I found that one would need growth rates of 60-70% just to break even, or in other words, to spend all of the energy currently produced with solar to make more new panels. Our current growth rates are only around 30%, and falling. At that level, we are only using about half of the energy produced from our panels to make more panels. This will only drop with time as growth rates slow, and panels and their manufacture become more efficient. There is no “carbon debt” and never will be.

    2. First, the entire SO2 plan is to BLOCK SUNLIGHT. This is BAD. It means less crops and plants (and thereby the animals that eat them) and anything that else that depends on sunlight,

      Plants also depend on warm temperatures and CO2. So why are you alarmists trying to kill the plants and animals?

  15. I seem to remember one of the radical solutions to global cooling in the 70’s was to cover the polar ice caps with soot. That got people kinda worked up, too.

    You know, I think the environmentalists are crackpots, too, but I have to admit I’m not sure if these radical terraforming tricks are the answer– esepcially when you’re seriously wondering if global warming is a major problem to begin with.

    When you’re not sure the patient is really sick, and someone proposes amputating the head… I’m just not sure that’s the best approach.

  16. Levitt et al also just plain got their facts wrong,

    It wouldn’t be the first time…

  17. “My guess is that for scifi ideas to work you need one party monolithic control of the state.

    That way, even if it doesn’t work, all the newspapers still say it did.”

    That’s Obama’s plan with Obama Care, and the media is already in the bag…

  18. Their boldness has provoked a firestorm of criticism from ideological environmentalists who fear that such proposals will give humanity an excuse to continue emitting carbon dioxide without feeling the consequences.

    Kind of like how some ideological religionists fear that birth control will give humanity an excuse to have premarital sex.

    I would not be surprised if there was significant overlap between the two groups.

  19. “Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey”… who doesn’t have a fucking degree in science… How the fuck did Ronald become the Science Correspondent? Do you libertarian fucks have any sense of irony?

    1. Nobody wants scientists for “Science Correspondents.” They’re temperamental, wordy, and lack social skills. They’re inappropriately quantitative sticklers, who engage in also sorts of noxious behaviors. Some people even think they’re arrogant. In other words, they have they’re own opinions and won’t be told. Not good correspondent material.

    2. Science correspondents are not scientists. They don’t do research. They are journalists who write about science and scientists for laypeople.

      It’s a very different set of skills, and one most scientists would benefit from developing, but don’t generally have.

      The difference between a science correspondent and, say, a political reporter, is that while they’re both journalists hopefully with good written communication skills, they also understand their particular area of interest in enough detail to write accurately about it.

      I suspect you won’t find very many science correspondents in the media with PhDs.

      1. Most science correspondents don’t spend every article they write trying to undermine science.

        1. You’re confusing science and religion.

          The job of the scientist is to point out flaws, inconsistencies, contradictions, counter evidence and indeed generally undermine bad science.

          The job of the religionist is to affirm despite counter evidence.

          This is why we observe warmism to be a religion and nothing like science.. as it eschews criticism, or even debate.

          I respect your freedom of religion.

          Don’t force it on me.

          1. Unfortunately, unlike other religions the AGWers have full license to proselytize their faith to gullible kids.

            1. Yeah… talk about indoctrination.

  20. except in this religion heaven is hot because you can’t use air conditioners and hell is hot as a result of using air conditioners. I wonder what wager Pascal might have made here.

  21. Once upon a time, two women created the cutest velour hoodies and matching drawstring pants. The line was called Christian Louboutin and every starlet in Tinseltown had to have one. Soon after, so did the rest of the world. Now the once little brand has blossomed into a fashion empire, complete with clothing, Christian Louboutin Shoes, jewelry, handbags, and most recently, fragrance.

  22. I’d love Christian Louboutin if I were a woman, or gay.

  23. Scientists aren’t getting any gigs as Reason correspondents because the data show a direct causal link between the I-want-a-lot-more-executive-power-dioxide levels and climate(ologist-research-grant)change.

    Irony is when the a majority of scientists
    cannot be bothered to disprove dissenting scientists and instead insist that the masses take their word for it that the debate is over. Here comes the irony…the catholic church (the opposite of science) kept the people from learning latin while keeping the bible from being translated.

    The graphs and data are comprimised by what amounts to a political debate. Just look into how Thatcher and scientists invented the “C02-caused Global Cooling Crisis” to promote nuclear power and rid herself from the hassle of the coal-miner strikes that had been going on.

  24. Until someone matches the models to past data, and proves the high feedback rate they use in their models, I will remain a skeptic, suspicious of AGW proponent leaders motivations. Regardless of the truth of AGW, I will not willingly walk into giving up even more of my, my state, and my countries sovereignty to centralized authority. I will not willingly walk into a world of severely decreased wealth, and all of the negatives that come along with that. I will not blindly accept that I, and most of the rest of the world needs to be forced into poverty to restrain the increase of a natural component of the atmosphere to prevent a questionable increase in global temperature, to avoid a subsequent global catastrophe that we haven’t the slightest proof will occur.

    1. Until someone shows me exactly how life came into existence, I refuse to believe in evolution!

      Until someone explains in total detail how the big bang happened, I refuse to believe it did!

      1. Tony,
        You’re an idiot.

        It really doesn’t matter how life came to be, we are here now.
        And whether it was evolution, creation or something else is irrelevent.

        What does matter is that we should not turn over, to command and control bureacrats, every breath we take.

      2. That’s all well and good Tony except there’s no empirical evidence that shows warming much less AGW.

        Whereas there is empirical evidence that the universe exists and that life exists.

        Put another way: Ignorant Tony comment is up to Tony standards of ignorance.

        1. No empirical evidence except a few tens of thousand of thermometers and thousands of observations of natural phenomenon changing in ways consistent with warmer temperatures.

          If we liberals are smart enough to even get wildlife and glaciers to join in on our century-old conspiracy, we deserve to be your overlords.

          1. Like Yamal?

            The hoaxey stick is based on one tree.

            1. One tree? LOL? Are you that clueless?

              The whole “controversy” is about the magnitude of the error on the left side of the graph. Frankly, its pretty large. That doesn’t change a damned thing about how temperatures have shot up in the last few decades.

              1. “In the last few decades”? I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair way of saying “in the 80s and 90s.”

          2. Some of those temperature sensors were placed next to air-conditioning exhausts, and other heat sources.

            Were they ever moved, and the flawed data REmoved?

            Or is that heresy in the Church of It’s All Mankind’s Fault?

          3. The problem is none of that is true. T peaked in 98 and has been dropping since while CO2 goes up. Even the correlative evidence thin.

            You still need to explain how the earth was cooler in the Cambrian when CO2 was 15-20 times higher than today.

            You still need to explain why CO2 changes lag T changes.

            You still need to explain and complete the retroactive downgrading of the medieval warm period.

            You have very basic problems with your religion being accepted as science.

  25. Ah, secular religions are such wonderful things! Too bad that this one hasn’t stumbled upon the “let’s all kill ourselves and go to (blank)”. Instead, they’re stuck in the “Kill all the rest of the population and then we’ll have room to ride our horsey.” stage.

    Honestly, how incredible is this “humans are causing global warming and we’re all gonna die!!” stuff? The whole human race puts out about 4% of the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere each year. But that 4% is going to make the temperature soar so high that all the world’s ice will melt and flood all the coastal areas, kill off the polar bears, etc, etc, tediously et cetera.

    “No, Ike, you don’t understand science or the theory. The carbon dioxide will trigger a massive increase in water vapor which will produce the deadly increase in temperatures of .6 of a degree C. per decade.” Oh, you mean like happens every year, when winter becomes spring and then summer? And the temperatures in the northern hemisphere leap up by as much as 30 degrees C. in a month or two? And then all the water vapor that produces causes us all to die from the heat and … oh, wait. That doesn’t happen does it? So, what is that mechanism again? It is a religion, not science. My dad, with his eighth grade education, used to say, “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, hangs out with ducks, lays eggs that hatch into ducks, it’s a damned duck.” All of the folks involved in this series of arguments about global warming who believe that the sky is falling react to those who deny their beliefs in the same way as devout believers in any religion react to heretics, the hetrodox and the infidel: threats of violence, ad hominem attacks, arguments to authority, and … well, for lack of a better word, “shrieks” of disagreement. Entirely absent is disputation on the facts. Not science; religion and therefore not a trustworthy or reliable basis for national policy on a matter like this. Look back at the “Global Cooling” and “Population Bomb” nonsense; same errors, same ideology, same people in some instances. Wrong then; wrong now.

      1. What Ivan said.

  26. Yes, Tony. That is exactly my stance. I would absolutely say “No, Al Gore, you don’t get to take over the world because you say you can explain how the first self-replicating organism came to be and that the answer just happens to point to global doom unless we give the white house total control of the economy. Yes, you HAVE to actally prove it and publicly answer the data that say your wrong.”

  27. After years of studying climate science and lately delving into highly technical blogs that debate back and forth each paper on global warming that comes out (who I call the “Bicker Brigade”), I have finally come to a conclusion and have created a “worth a thousand words” picture to fully express it. I present The Central England Don’t Panic Yet Chart!

    http://i37.tinypic.com/14t0abr.jpg

  28. “Scientific research and engineering development should be divorced from moral posturing and policy prescription.”

    Heh. Without moral posturing, what do the alarmists have? We’ve seen from Yamal and ERBE that they don’t have any real science backing their pseudo-religion.

    1. You don’t understand the Yamal debate. The uncertainty on the left side of the hockey stick graph says nothing about what is happening now.

  29. The fix I’d like to see tried is fertilizing the oceans with thousands of tons of powdered iron to spur a phytoplankton bloom which would suck all the extra CO2 out the atmosphere. These are diatoms that incorporate the carbon into their glass-like skeletons. When they die, the skeletons drift to the ocean floor where eventually they become limestone.

    I’d like to test their theory that CO2 is responsible for anything other than more plant life.

  30. Just had to throw this one in!

    Remember how 97% of climate scientists agreed that AGW was a serious problem deserving a serious response?

    Looks like 94% of economists agree…

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/s…..mate_N.htm

    Yep…no consensus….nothing to see here…move along.

  31. While you are waiting for the dust to settle on this, why not get yourself some free carbon offsets? That’s right– free!

    http://www.freecarbonoffsets.com

    .

    1. TANSTAAFCO

      There ain’t no such thing as a free carbon offset.

      Mmm… what’s for lunch? Is that government cheese I smell, Tony?

  32. And the kooks just keep on coming…

  33. This debate is all very well, but we are ignoring one crucial matter, to wit: STFU, LoneWacko.

  34. Freakonomics guys ruled out emission cuts as too expensive because they didnt’ know about this new American energy technology that delivers electricity at 1 cent per kilowatt hour (as reported by both CNN and the New York Times):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1iqa0dSJO0

    Check out above link to a 2 and a half minute youtube video of a CNN report. What are the odds that the independent testimony below is fraudulent (not bloody likely unless you are a paranoid conspiracy theorist)? Here is a silver bullet technology: clean cheap and abundant energy.

    In a joint statement, Dr. K.V. Ramanujachary, Rowan University Meritorious Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Amos Mugweru, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Peter Jansson P.E., Associate Professor of Engineering said, “In independent tests conducted over the past three months involving 10 solid fuels made by us from commercially-available chemicals, our team of engineering and chemistry professors, staff, and students at Rowan University has independently and consistently generated energy in excesses ranging from 1.2 times to 6.5 times the maximum theoretical heat available through known chemical reactions.”

    Also, check out this article: http://www.nytimes.com/externa…..99377.html

  35. Chad demonstrates his knowledge:

    “its the left side, got it, left side”
    whatever the fuck that means.

    I understand the Yamal debate. A non-representative data set (yeah show me how its representative), poorly applied statistical methods, poorly understood/inadequate physical science (tree rings can be useful indicators of physical processes but as a temp proxy its bullshit) with HUGE implications to the mideval warming period (oh look it wasn’t warm in the 1200’s after all). The whole house of cards falls down if recent climate is not completely unique.

    Step out of your realclimate box.

    Even AGU is starting to walk back some of the claims its published.

    And yeah I have a clue – I’ve done numerical modeling of fluid flow and contaminant transport in the air, groundwater and surface water for over 30 years. Models (such as GCMs) with 68 degrees of freedom are so non-unique its laughable. Basing our entire economic future on GCM output is a fools errand.

    1. What the temperature was 500-1000 years ago has almost no implications for what is happening now. The simple fact is, we don’t know what the temperatures were back then…AND IT DOESN’T MATTER.

      If, despite the (admittedly weak) evidence, it WAS warmer back then, so what? “Natural variation” is not magic or voodoo. If it was warmer, there was a cause, which we can eventually come to understand. Whatever that hypothetical “natural” cause was, it isn’t happening now, or we would be able to observe it.

      1. What is the optimal temperature of the planet, Chad?

        1. For humans? About what we have now, to the best of our knowledge. If, at some later date, we determine that some other temperature is better overall, and we know how to switch in a safe and cost-effective manner, it should be done.

          I have no problem with geo-engineering the planet to suit our needs and tastes.

      2. Chad, I think you have a substantial misunderstanding of how mathematical modeling is supposed to work. If the climate system is deterministic then its state 500-1000 years ago does have implications for what is happening now. The implications are these:

        1. if the climatic system is linear then we can use its past state and the equations describing its evolution to predict its future state.

        2. if the climatic system is not linear then we probably can’t.

        Granted, the further into the past that we choose as our starting point the less accurate our predictions are likely to be today but the whole point of debunking the hockey stick is not to show that Mann et al. were careless but to show that on a historical time scale, rate of warming is not as large as claimed.

        Furthermore, with regard to the larger issue of the accuracy and utility of current climate models, I think it’s critically important to note that they all missed the current temperature stagnation. This does not mean that warming is not still occurring. It does mean that the models were wrong. Efforts are now being made to correct the models. But if a model only predicts the past (however accurately) its utility as a basis for policy is essentially zero.

        Do I believe that the planet is warming due to human activity, yes. Do I believe that this may have serious consequences, yes. Do I believe that something ought to be done, maybe.

        Give me a couple of decades of good climatic predictions with no large surprises and we can discuss prevention, mitigation or evacuation. But right now, we haven’t done the basic science yet. We have large error bars, non-unique models (as another poster pointed out) and we haven’t successfully compared our predictions with reality. However uncomfortable it makes you there is a huge difference between doing mathematical modeling and doing science. It’s a point that seems to have escaped many, even in the modeling community.

      3. “Whatever that hypothetical “natural” cause was, it isn’t happening now, or we would be able to observe it”

        We are observing it (sun spots). The problem is no one on the other side seems to want to listen.

  36. Why did I just know they would have an expensive new program to do what they propose with sulfur?
    There is a much cheaper way to get sulfur back in the atmosphere: lift the sulfur controls they instituted ’bout the time the “global warming” is supposed to have started 30 years ago.

  37. What warming? Have you seen the headlines about Greenland’s ice melting into the oceans? How about the “enormous” temperature increase in Antarctica? Yeah, that’s right: from -50 degrees to -40 degrees. Yo! Minus forty is still way below freezing! Oh, wait! The Arctic ice is melting. So what? That ice starts out floating on the — ready? — Arctic Ocean. Melt all you like, it won’t raise sea levels by one pico-meter (whatever the hell that’s supposed to be), let alone by enough to flood the world’s coastal areas.

    I have no problem with geoengineering the world, either. The qualifications are: (1) Do we know what the world’s temperature (or any other stat) ought to be? (2) Can we change that stat? (3) Can we change it without killing a couple of billions of people in the process or empoverishing them? The answers to all those questions, at this time, are: (1) No; (2) No; (3) Hell no.

    1. It was a very nice idea! Just wanna say thank you for the information you have shared. Just continue writing this kind of post. I will be your loyal reader. Thanks again.

  38. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: consensus as used in this global warming debate and/or discussion is a euphemism for “my authorities are smarter than your authorities”. Science does not advance our understanding of natural processes by arguments from authority; that’s politics, the kind which leads to tyranny. Free men don’t need to argue about whose experts are smarter or more correct. Free men read the actual science, look at the un-fudged data, think about it and decide for themselves. Damn all the experts and their politician patrons! They won’t have to live with what they propose and dictate to the rest of us.

  39. Geo-engineering is still a really risky idea. The natural world is such a complex system, if may take a while before we can even begin to claim to have an accurate and complete enough model to feel comfortable and confident attempting this process. And increasing sulfur levels in the atmosphere is still a bad idea because of the adverse effect it would have on the pH balance of the ecosystem.

  40. Geo-engineering is still a really risky idea. The natural world is such a complex system, if may take a while before we can even begin to claim to have an accurate and complete enough model to feel comfortable and confident attempting this process. And increasing sulfur levels in the atmosphere is still a bad idea because of the adverse effect it would have on the pH balance of the ecosystem.

  41. It was a very nice idea! Just wanna say thank you for the information you have shared. Just continue writing this kind of post. I will be your loyal reader. Thanks again.

  42. When you look at a trade agreement like NAFTA, it’s about that thick (holds his hands about?

  43. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets..

  44. That was a very interesting read, thanks for taking the time to post it.

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  48. I think this is a very balanced review of what is actually written in the book (rather than of what some people made out of it).
    In my own review, I have emphasized that Levitt and Dubner do not attach sufficient importance to the issue of co-benefits of climate mitigation. See

    http://dismalscientistsbookrev…..imate.html

    However, I agree that this chapter has a lot of merits in a debate that most of the time turns hysterical

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