Assuming Your Conclusions

I haven’t had a chance to respond to Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article on global warming.  After hearing all the accolades for it, I assumed he had some new argument to offer.  I was amazed to find that there was absolutely nothing there.  Essentially, he assumes his conclusion.  He takes it as a proven given that temperature sensitivity to CO2 will be high, over ten degrees F for the likely CO2 increases we will see in the next century, which puts his “proven” climate sensitivity number higher than the range even in the last IPCC report.

Duh, if climate sensitivity is 11F per doubling of CO2 or whatever, we certainly have a big problem.  Spending a few thousand words saying that is totally worthless.  The only thing that matters is new evidence helping to pin down climate sensitivity, and more specifically feedbacks to initial greenhouse warming.

Ah, but its the risk you say?  Well, first, McKibben never talks of risk, this is all absolutely going to happen.  And second, if one were to discuss risks, one would also have to put value on cheap fossil fuels.   Rich nations like ours might be able to afford a changeover to other sources, but such a mandate as he desires would essentially throw back billions of people into subsistence poverty.  He talks about monetary values of the reserves being written off, as if the only cost will be to Exxon (and who cares about Exxon), but that fuel has real value to billions of people — so much so that every time prices tick up a tad, Exxon gets hauled in front of Congress to prove its not somehow holding back production.

By the way, if you want to know the cost of fossil fuel reduction, consider this.  Over the last four years, three dramatic things have happened:

  • The government has poured billions into alternate fuels, from Solyndra to ethanol
  • There has been a revolution in natural gas, shifting a lot of higher carbon coal to lower carbon natural gas
  • We have had the worst economy since the great depression

And still, we are missing the Kyoto Co2 targets.  And McKibben would argue that these are not aggressive enough.  So if Obama-type green energy spending in the hundreds of billions and a near depression only reduced our CO2 output by 5 or 10%, what will it cost to reduced it by McKibben’s 80%?

If you want to understand how McKibben can sound so sure and throw around scientific-sounding facts while missing the key scientific point, I recommend this article I wrote a while back at Forbes.  I am in the process of working on a longer video based on this article.

In the mean time, I watched a lot of this video, which was recommended to me, and it is pretty good at going deeper into the pseudo-science bait-and-switch folks like McKibben are doing:

One thought on “Assuming Your Conclusions”

  1. The radiative forcing function for CO2 is logarithmic. If CO2 doubles from 400ppm to 800ppm the forcing will increase by about 50%.

    To convert this factor to kW/m2 we multiply by the climate sensitivity constant which is 5.35. Is this value derived experimentally or is it a guesstimate made in order to make the data fit the predictions?

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