A Free-Market Energy Blog

Exchange with a Climate Alarmist at R-Street: Part I

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 18, 2018

[Editor note: This exchange at the R-Street Institute website (no longer visible) is posted here and here.]

“From the Club of Rome to the present–with scientific models and articles in Science magazine from the ‘consensus’–the verdict has been wrong, wrong, wrong, and trending wrong. And this is before even considering (non-libertarian) public policy of taxes, tariffs, equity adjustments, private/public cronyism, etc.”

So why have neo-Malthusian natural scientists been so incorrect for so long? We have nearly a half-century of (falsified) doom-and-gloom.

Josiah Neeley of R-Street, once a critic of climate alarmism and wind power (see yesterday), is now desperately trying to make a case to libertarians and conservatives that the climate is in crisis and a carbon tax (and all the global government that goes with it) is necessary.

Recently, a rather weak attempt (it was doomed from the start) by Neeley to link the theoretical framework of Murray Rothbard was taken to school by Rothbard expert Robert Murphy. Trying to turn CO2 into a pollutant for harm is quite a stretch and relies on a very controversial, reaching view of scientific causality as Neeley’s rejoinder prima facie shows.

To all this, I left this comment to Neeley’s piece at R-Street’s website:

The first question that Rothbard or any libertarian asks: What is the alleged negative externality? CO2 as a per se negative externality cannot be assumed–in fact, carbon dioxide has known beneficial qualities short of the global warming/ lukewarming debate.

The second question is government failure in the attempt to address market failure. With international ‘border adjustments’ and equity issues given the regressive nature of the CO2 tax, ‘government failure’ is quite a large issue.

Rothbard would have nothing to do with this. In fact, how can a libertarian endorse such a thing?

which drew this response (#1) from a mysterious ‘mafarmerga,’ who identified himself as a professor and peer-review expert on climate-related issues (but refuses to reveal his identity).

‘He’ wrote:

First I would argue that the negative externality of unnaturally high CO2 emissions are well documented. CO2 levels are currently rising at a rate that is 1000X that of the natural rate of change and they are having a documented negative impact on both global temperatures and ocean chemistry. The rate of change of both of these things poses serious risk the majority of those alive today and most especially to those who will be born in the future.

Second a border adjustable carbon fee would effectively force those countries that do not currently impose such a fee to do so. Either that or the coffers of the importing country will be enriched. China is currently considering doing both things (imposing a carbon fee on their own economy and hitting imports (from the US) with a carbon tariff.)

Paying a fee that is proportional to mitigating the negative consequences of the waste that one produces (think trash collection or sewage treatment) is certainly within the libertarian philosophy. Why are those who burn carbon fuels and release their CO2 waste into the communal atmosphere not bound by these same constraints?

I responded (1):

It is God-like to claim ‘know’ both the problem and the solution. It is also misplaced omniscience to pretend that government can implement the ‘solution’ costlessly (as with an international tariff regime). And are you assuming that equity adjustments are also ‘perfect’?

It is much better ‘documented’ that CO2 is a positive externality than a negative one. Global lukewarming wins the debate for CO2 in itself–and certainly government failure wins the debate for not pricing CO2.

CO2 is not tobacco, trash, waste, or even sugar. CO2 has not been regulated for a reason. It does not dirty the air.

The climate scare is proving to be just another Malthusian exaggeration and the pretense of the anti-Industrial Left to regulate capitalism at the root.

Libertarians supporting CO2 regulation have a lot of explaining to do, beginning with the physical science and continuing with global government. The only reason I can see for such support is that there is a lot of money to be made for former libertarians to pretend they are still libertarians when they advocate global CO2 regulation.

He answered (2):

“It is God-like to claim ‘know’ both the problem and the solution. “

No, it is just science. I teach the subject of climate change at the University level and if you would like a primer on how it is that we know (and yes I use the word ‘know’ intentionally) that the unnatural rate of change of CO2 in the atmosphere IS the primary driver of elevated global temperatures since the 1970s and IS the reason why average ocean pH has dropped from 8.25 in 1880 to 8.1 today. I don’t pretend to be God, but I do know the science.

“It is much better ‘documented’ that CO2 is a positive externality than a negative one.”

Not even close to true. Solar activity has been declining since the 1980s. If natural forces were at work then the climate should be cooling, not warming. But since 1997 twenty of the twenty warmest years in recorded history have occurred. Human activity has perturbed the natural climate cycle in a big way and the rate of change is such that humanity will not be able to easily adjust. Oceans will rise faster than we can move cities. Californian farms will fail faster than new ones will arise in Canada. Atlanta will run out of water and there are no major rivers to divert. Texas is just plain screwed. It will take centuries for the ocean pH to return to normal, and that is assuming we stop the increase of GHGs tomorro

Think that I am mistaken? Then go ahead and invest all your money in beach front property in Florida.

I’ll be moving inland to higher elevation

My response (2):

We are talking past each other a bit. CO2 fertilization has a literature that is much longer and ‘settled’ than CO2’s sensitivity debate.

Nature is not optimal, and moderate warming has benefits, not only costs. Sensitivity estimates are coming down–and in the 1-1.5C 2x range leading climate economists are not sure of the sign of the externality. https://www.masterresource….

Regarding adaptation, wealth is health. A free market position is to not make energy artificially expensive to reduce anthropogenic warming by a tenth of a degree decades out. (The climate math for mitigation gets worse every day–a point worth noting.) http://instituteforenergyre…

And on sea level rise, there is a huge debate over causality–and the rate of increase is rather ordinary compared to several decades ago, right? I am following Judith Curry’s recent updates on this.

All I am saying is that the climate alarm is proving exaggerated, and the political/government response is a huge waste of time and resources.

I welcome a moderately warmer, wetter, CO2-enriched world and know that the free market is the key to adaptation to the uncertain future. Libertarianism 101.

He rejoined (3):

“Nature is not optimal…”

Now who is assuming a ‘God-like’ position? What makes you or anyone else think that altering the planet’s atmosphere and ocean chemistry at a rate that is one thousand times faster than anything in the past 500,000 years is a good idea? Good for whom?

“CO2 fertilization has a literature that is much longer and ‘settled’ than CO2’s sensitivity debate.”

I know that the “CO2 is plant food” argument is a favorite trope among climate change deniers. I will simply say that my Ph.D. is in Plant Physiology so if your really want to go down this road please start by reading the 60 or so research publications I have carefully read over the past few years on this topic. Bottom line? Trying to extend the results of carefully controlled Greenhouse experiments that demonstrate increased plant growth to the real world is a losing argument. The ancillary effects of prolonged drought, early flowering, and excessive heat far outweigh any minor benefits from “CO2 fertilization”

Finally, let’s acknowledge on one important fact. In 2007 the SCOTUS ruled that the EPA is empowered to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2. Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7521(a)(1), requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to set emission standards for “any air pollutant” from motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines “which in his judgment cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Thus carbon dioxide emissions meets the legal standard of an air pollutant. You may not agree with the SCOTUS, but that is currently the law in the U.S.

So no, we are not talking past each other. We are talking ‘to’ each other. That is a good thing. Although some are rightly accused of being alarmist when it comes to human mitigated climate change, I do not consider myself to be among them. I try to stick to the facts and the science. Likewise I am not polyannish nor do I try (as you have done) to make the “two wrongs equal one right” argument. The bottom line is that in the past two hundred years we have seriously upset the natural balance of CO2 in our atmosphere and oceans, and all the data suggest that this will have many, many negative consequences for humanity. Especially for future generations because these are processes that typically occur on a geologic time scale, not a period of decades or centuries.

And I (3):

The fact that there is an atmospheric chemical change is not a per se bad or good–the human influence can be good or bad. CO2 is not a pollutant, and climate-model-predicted bads are proving exaggerated, even very much so. This is great news!

I do not think you have really answered my arguments on lukewarming and sea level rise. And you comfortable comparing government failure to alleged market failure” There is climate economics between physical science and public policy….

There is middle ground in this debate–and it is toward global lukewarming and free-market-wealth adaptation, not a political free-for-all that climate and energy realists realize is ineffectual.

You call me a ‘denier’ and argue from authority. That is getting low …. Is Judith Curry a ‘denier’ too. Robert Mendelsohn?

One other fact: climate related deaths have fallen dramatically over the decades. Check out Lomborg and Epstein on this. I’m CO2 positive!

And he (4):

“The fact that there is an atmospheric chemical change is not a per se bad or good–the human influence can be good or bad.”

Forty years of studying biology and geology have taught me these truisms:

Gradual environmental change leads to evolution.

Sudden environmental change leads to extinction.

Not since the end-Permian event have the world’s ocean chemistry changed this much, this fast. While there will be a few winners (e.g. Eel grass) most organisms, including humans, will be losers. So you are incorrect. Humans changing the environment at a rate that is 1000X the norm is unequivocally a BAD thing.

“CO2 is not a pollutant,”

Please look up the SCOTUS decision of Massachusetts v. EPA. Legally CO2 IS an air pollutant. Again, you may not be willing to accept that, but it is the legal reality.

“climate-model-predicted bads are proving exaggerated, even very much so.”

Worst case scenarios were overstated. More recent models show an 85% liklihood of a global temp rise of 2-3 C by 2100. Better

than a “sky is falling’ prediction of 4-5 C, but really problematic for anyone who lives near the shore (which is most of humanity).

“I do not think you have really answered my arguments on lukewarming and sea level rise.”

Greenland is losing ice at 3X the rate that Antarctica is gaining ice. If all the ice in Greenland melts sea level will rise by 8m. Mar-a-lago is 1m above sea level. But Trump (and you and I) will likely be dead before the runaway melting occurs.

“There is climate economics between physical science and public policy….”

Absolutely. So what are projected costs of relocating every major American city that is on the east or west or southern coasts? How does the cost of transitioning to carbon-free energy compare to those relocation costs?

“You call me a ‘denier’ and argue from authority.”

I said that you are using the arguments of a denier. Label yourself whatever you like. As for arguing from authority, do you think it fair and balanced to argue from ignorance?

“climate related deaths have fallen dramatically over the decades.”

Humans are amazingly adaptable. I live in a place that would be nearly unliveable without air conditioning. Deaths due to climate change is only one measure of the environmental impact. The near total collapse of the Great Barrier Reef due to rapidly warming oceans is another. To quote the author of this R-Street piece:

A doctor who kills a patient and uses his organs to save five others is not a libertarian hero.

And I (4):

The ‘deep ecology’ and ‘Malthusian’ mindset is that nature is optimal and any human influence is bad. Population, resources, SO2 global cooling, and now CO2 global warming–it is one scare after another.

And from the Club of Rome to the present–with scientific models and articles in Science magazine from the ‘consensus’–the verdict has been wrong, wrong, wrong, and trending wrong. And this is before even considering (non-libertarian) public policy of taxes, tariffs, equity adjustments, private/public cronyism, etc.

So why have neo-Malthusian natural scientists been so incorrect for so long? We are nearly a half-century of (falsified) doom-and-gloom.

You say: “More recent models show an 85% liklihood of a global temp rise of 2-3 C by 2100.” So now you are sure? Were you sure before? How do you test and falsify that statement?

What are your assumptions about cloud feedbacks? This area is quite unsettled and are likely involved in why the observed warming is so far below model-predicted warming. Aerosols–that is another major unsettled area of climate science….

To say that the climate science is settled is scientist-as-God. The very word ‘consensus’ (like the Peak Oil consensus) is or should be a red flag.

There is a ‘greening’ of Planet Earth, reported by the New York Times following the science https://www.masterresource…..

Climate-related deaths are way, way down (but still too high from poverty via Statism). I am optimistic that fossil fuels are our best ‘climate policy’–a wealth-is-health approach.

CO2 is not a pollutant simply because of a narrow, controversial legal opinion that might be reversed later on. If the US Supreme Court decides differently in the future (or another country makes a different decision), would that make CO2 benign in your view? ‘Is’ does not equal ‘ought’–hence our debate.

There are very top scientists who are global lukewarmers and see CO2 as beneficial. As far as raw numbers, you will have to explain why the consensus is similar for Climate Alarm as has been for decades about Peak Oil. Why the ‘Malthusian virus’?

His response (5):

“You say: ‘More recent models show an 85% liklihood of a global temp rise of 2-3 C by 2100.’ So now you are sure?”

Even asking this question reflects your lack of understanding of science. No scientist speaks in absolutes. What I can say is that the refined models of predicted temperatures are the best explanation we have for past events and the best predictors of future events.

“There is a ‘greening’ of Planet Earth…”

Oh please. Have you read 60 or more primary literature papers on this topic? I’m willing to engage when you are informed enough on the subject and not just parroting blogs.”CO2 is not a pollutant simply because of a narrow, controversial legal opinion that might be reversed later on.”Yes, yes it is. That is the very definition of a definition as it applies to the EPA.

You don’t like it. You hope it gets overturned. But at the moment that IS reality. Please try to limit your comments to what is reality.”you will have to explain why the consensus is similar for Climate Alarm as has been for decades about Peak Oil.”No I don’t. We are talking about CO2 and climate change. Sorry but I am not willing to jump down the rabbit hole with you.

And my response (5):

Refined models? All of the Malthusian scares have been (and will be) based on ‘refined models.’ (Socialist five-year plans are also based on ‘refined models’–the ‘pretense of knowledge’ argument that is core to libertarian theory.)

Climate models simply cannot be trusted (validated) to the point of dictating global government controlling CO2 in a vain effort to ‘stabilize climate.’

CO2 has led to global greening–that is the consensus as reported by the NYT of all places. Layering false climate predictions onto the CO2 fertilization effect (what you seem to be doing) does not negate global greening in the real world.

BTW, the reason why the general public is not buying climate alarmism is not because they are stupid or non-caring. It is because of all the falsified exaggerations.

Climate policy and Statism are the real risks–not atmospheric CO2–to ordinary people who need affordable, reliable energy. Care to talk about Venezuela instead of climate change? There is a real here-and-now problem. There’s your ‘Malthusian world.’

And his response (6):

“CO2 has led to global greening–that is the consensus as reported by the NYT of all places. Layering false climate predictions onto the CO2 fertilization effect (what you seem to be doing) does not negate global greening in the real world.”

Have you read ANY primary literature papers on this topic? I have. At least 60 of them. I’m happy to discuss the findings of ANY paper you have taken the time to read and feel supports your “But look how wonderful CO2 pollution is for some organisms!!” argument. But I’m not going to engage with you about how some journalist, or partisan blogger, misinterprets the research.

If you want to engage on this topic send me the references to the published research papers (as I have done with the Cox et al. 2018) not some link to the NYT or a blog.

“Climate policy and Statism are the real risks–not atmospheric CO2–to ordinary people who need affordable, reliable energy.”

I could type out a long answer to this but Dr. Hayhoe has an excellent video that covers it better than I ever could. Here is the link in case you are interested https://youtu.be/h687bvUB5jI

“Care to talk about Venezuela instead of climate change?”

No thanks. My expertise is in the science of global climate and global ecology. I have no particular expertise in socialist politics

My response (6):

Wait–this paper does little more than average climate models (“We use an ensemble of climate models to define an emergent relationship between ECS and a theoretically informed metric of global temperature variability”.) That begs the question unless you think that models verity models.

Models are no better than their physical equations. And 1) the physics of climate remain unsettled and 2) key physical processes are sub-grid-scale.

A climate model could show a cooling, and we should not buy that either. Maybe modeling will get it ‘right’ in some future, even distant, decade, but models certainly cannot be trusted in the current era.

Are models better than nothing? Not when there is a better alternative, which is out-the-window. Models are over-predicting real-world warming by a factor of two–maybe even more now that we are back into a ‘pause.’

Sensitivity estimates are coming down. Real world warming lags predicted warming. A barrel full of scary predictions by climate Malthusians have been and are being falsified. The half century of Malthusian modeling failure continues.

His response (7):

“Models are no better than their physical equations.”

Agreed.

“1) the physics of climate remain unsettled “

Disagree. (see below)

“2) key physical processes are sub-grid-scale.”

Again, disagree. Systems such as the ARGO ocean monitoring system plus satellite imaging have now given us excellent global scale data sets by combining small scale data sites. http://www.argo.ucsd.edu/  http://berkeleyearth.org/

“Are models better than nothing?”

YES! Especially when they meet the criteria of accurately explaining past events. Then we can expect them to reasonably predict future events.

Take a look at this site from Bloomberg. The graphics were based on actual NASA data and modeling. Skip to the last slide and notice how closely the predicted temperature effects (red line) match the observed global temperatures (black line). This demonstrates that we a) have a very good understanding of the physics of global temperatures and b) we have models that do an excellent job of accurately explaining past events. Based on this we can expect these same models to have excellent predictive value since we do not expect the fundamental laws of physics to change. The one thing that CAN change (i.e. rate of GHG accumulation) is the one thing in the equation that is within our power to alter. Hence the need to reduce GHG emissions as soon as possible and let nature resume control over global climate, not humanity.

My response (7):

So we know the answers to cloud feedback effects? The net forcing of sulfate aerosols? Ocean dynamics….? You are demonstrably wrong on that–and I will just rest my case.

How about the infamous model ‘fudge factors’? Solving for multiple unknowns requires fudge factors, after all.

And if models have overpredicted warming by a factor of 2, how can anyone say that models are reliable.

Fact is that the unsettled science is moving toward lower sensitivity estimates in keeping with real-world temperature. The Climate Malthusian alarm is going the way of the previous several–good news indeed since continuing, growing fossil fuel usage is making the mitigation math impossible anyway….

Please draw your own conclusions: tomorrow, I will draw mine from this welcomed exchange.

3 Comments


  1. kuhnkat  

    The fact the good Professor referenced Dr. Hayhoe shows his extreme ignorance of current Climate Science.

    Reply

  2. John Garrett  

    This is a wonderful exchange that deserves wide circulation. Of course, the professional gossips (a/k/a the media) won’t do that notwithstanding their sanctimonious (and hypocritical) claims of non-partisan, balanced and fair reporting.

    Reply

  3. Exchange with a Climate Alarmist at R Street: Part II - Master Resource  

    […] Why engage with an anonymous climate alarmist (see the exchange yesterday)? […]

    Reply

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