A Free-Market Energy Blog

Climate Tutorial: Happer, Koonin, Lindzen (climate alarmism on trial)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 28, 2018

“… the historical and geological record suggests recent changes in the climate over the past century are within the bounds of natural variability.”  (p. 8)

“Projections of future climate and weather events rely on models demonstrably unfit for the purpose. As a result, rising levels of CO2 do not obviously pose an immediate, let alone imminent, threat to the earth’s climate.” (p. 8)

The CO2 Coalition has posted the amicus curiae brief of Dr. William Happer, President of the CO2 Coalition; Dr. Richard Lindzen, a Coalition Director; and Dr. Steven Koonin concerning lawsuits filed by Oakland, San Francisco, et al. against certain large oil companies. The plaintiffs want to recover costs associated with climate adaptation.

This brief is in response to U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s request for a tutorial on climate change and climate science. Excerpts from the Happer/Lindzen/Koonin brief follow:


Four Conclusions (p. 1):

1. The climate is always changing; changes like those of the past half-century are common in the geologic record, driven by powerful natural phenomena

2. Human influences on the climate are a small (1%) perturbation to natural energy flows

3. It is not possible to tell how much of the modest recent warming can be ascribed to human influences

4. There have been no detrimental changes observed in the most salient climate variables, and today’s projections of future changes are highly uncertain


“As human influences were significant only after about 1950, the [temperature] graph suggests that the climate is quite capable of varying significantly on its own.” (p. 2)

“Even within the instrumental record, the warming of the past four decades is not unusual. (p. 2)

“Carbon dioxide, which is accumulating in the atmosphere largely due to fossil fuel use, exerts the strongest  warming influence, although small compared to the natural energy flows. Methane and other well-mixed greenhouse gases are also important.” (p. 3)

“The largest anthropogenic cooling influences are associated with aerosols; they are quite uncertain. Changes in the solar irradiance over the past 250 years are shown to be negligible.” (p. 4)

Climate Models

“One major challenge [for climate model parameterization] is that there are many important weather phenomena that occur on scales far smaller than the grid size (e.g., topography, clouds, storms) and so the modeler must make  assumptions about these “sub gridscale” processes to build a complete model. For example, given the temperature and humidity profiles of the atmosphere in a grid box, “How high, how many, and of what type are the clouds?”  While these subgrid-scale parametrizations can be based upon observations of weather phenomena, there is still 
considerable judgment in their formulation.” (p. 4)

“[Climate] models are not, as one often hears, ‘just physics’ since the parameters in each must be ‘tuned’ to reproduce aspects of the observed climate.” (p. 4)

“[T]here is no unique tuning that reproduces the historical climate data.” (p. 4)

“Since aerosol cooling plays against GHG warming, a model with low aerosol and GHG sensitivities can reproduce the data as well as a model with high sensitivities. As a result, the GHG sensitivity is today uncertain by a factor of three (as it has been for forty years), therefore enlarging the uncertainty in any projection of future climates.” (p. 4)

“Not knowing the state of the ocean decades or centuries ago makes it difficult to correctly choose the model’s starting point. And even if that were possible, there is no guarantee that the model will show the correct variability 
at the correct times.” (pp. 4–5)

“This proliferation of discordant models is further evidence that they are not ‘just physics’.” (p. 5)

Weather Extremes

“Contrary to the impression from most media reporting and political discussions, the historical data (and the IPCC assessment) do not convey any sense that weather extremes are becoming more common globally.” (p. 6)

Sea Level Rise

“… sea levels began rising some 20,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial maximum. They rose some 120 meters until about 7,000 years ago, after which the rate of rise slowed dramatically.” (p. 7)

“A signature of human impacts on sea level would be an increase in the rate of rise after about 1950, when human  influences started to become significant. Such a signature is not evident in the rate over the past century… in fact, the acceleration post-1990 is not statistically different from the (presumably natural) acceleration experienced during the 1930s. Given the observed variation prior to 1950 and the steady quadrupling of human influences since 1950, one must conclude there are other important drivers of sea level rise beyond CO2.” (p. 7)

“Consensus projections of global sea level rise through 2100 are remarkably discordant with local observations.” (p. 7)

“To realize a 1 meter rise by 2100, roughly the mean of IPCC projections, sea level would have to rise six times more rapidly (12 mm/yr) averaged over the rest of this century, a slope illustrated by the green arrow.” (p. 7)

Tropical Cyclones (Hurricanes)

“Despite considerable multi-year variability in these data, there is no clear trend. In fact, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory posted the following statement in Spring, 2016:

‘It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.… ‘”  (p. 8)


“… the historical and geological record suggests recent changes in the climate over the past century are within the bounds of natural variability. Human influences on the climate (largely the accumulation of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion) are a physically small (1%) effect on a complex, chaotic, multicomponent and multiscale system. Unfortunately, the data and our understanding are insufficient to usefully quantify the climate’s response to human influences. However, even as human influences have quadrupled since 1950, severe weather phenomena and sea level rise show no significant trends attributable to them. Projections of future climate and weather events rely on models demonstrably unfit for the purpose. As a result, rising levels of CO2 do not obviously pose an immediate, let alone imminent, threat to the earth’s climate.” (p. 8)


  1. Ed Reid  

    Dr. Koonin’s comment about the tutorial is quite telling.

    “Anybody having to make a decision about climate science needs to understand the full spectrum of what we know and what we don’t know.”, Dr. Steven E. Koonin, former Under Secretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy

    Today, climate science KNOWS little, HYPOTHESIZES much and claims to BELIEVE fervently.

    “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”, Donald Rumsfeld

    In climate science today, the unknowns exceed the knowns, though that is frequently overcome by the hype and the modeled
    “scary scenarios”.


  2. John Garrett  

    I am not holding my breath waiting for ABC, NBC, CNN, CBS, PBS, NPR, the WaPo or Pravda (a/k/a the New York Times) to provide a similar report for their audience.

    Thus, the conscious and intentional proselytizing of the general public by a highly biased, partisan media continues. Their fundamental dishonesty is only exceeded by their sanctimonious hypocrisy.


  3. Ron Clutz  

    John, indeed those media outlets are trumpeting the news that the oil companies concur in the claim that humans are causing dangerouus warming of the planet by burning fossil fuels.


  4. Jeffrey Eric Grant  

    It is wise to remember that there has been no empirical study which concluded that a rise in atmospheric CO2 has caused a similar increase in temperature. NONE
    Therefore, all attempts at reducing atmospheric CO2 will end up costing a lot of time and money and accomplish very little. Adaption is the only option .
    Therefore, this court action is required to set that action into motion. The oil companies must pay for the damage we are all anticipating! If only 40% of the rise in ocean level is caused by land use changes, then 60% must be caused by atmospheric CO2. Since California has the most restrictive laws governing the CAFE standards, then the vast majority of the problem is caused by the other 49 states. Make them pay!


  5. mafarmerga  

    Since this amicus brief has no references to peer reviewed research publications, and since the hyperlinks do not seem to be functional it is impossible to respond to anything in it. If there are specific questions to be asked, then ask them. And in asking a question make reference to a specific published citation(s).


    • rbradley  

      Do your work: “We offer supporting evidence for each of these statements drawn almost exclusively from the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) issued by the US government in November, 2017 or from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) issued in 2013-14 by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or from the refereed primary literature.”

      I summarized their brief at the linked MasterResource post: the alarmist case is speculative and being corrected by peer-reviewed science.


      • mafarmerga  

        I do, DO my work. As far as I can tell the amicus brief cherry picks from various sources but does not offer any specific citations. What are the “refereed primary literature” they refer to? How can I fact check them when this statement boils down to “just trust us.” To carefully evaluate all of the misstatements and misleading conclusions would take an extraordinary amount of time, and expecting me to guess and hunt down all the possible references is unreasonable. If the Judge were a faculty member at my university they would return it to the student and demand properly cited references.

        I will offer you this deal. You may send me a reference to any peer reviewed research publication and I will read it and offer my opinion of the conclusions stated in the paper. In exchange, I will expect the same; namely I will send you a citation for a different research paper and expect you to read it and comment on it.

        You claim that you aspire to be an intellectual in this area, well here is your chance. Neither of us will cite a blog or other third party interpretation of the papers, we will read the actual papers and interpret them ourselves.

        To limit the discussion papers should focus on one of two topics:
        1) The known and predicted effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels on global climate and global ecology.
        2) The effects of various radiative forcings on global temperatures from the 1980s to the present.



        • rbradley  

          The best way to criticize the Tutorial is to pick any of their points that you feel is not supported by the literature and go from there.

          And would you generally agree that sensitivity estimates are coming down and ‘fat tail’ high-sensitivity estimates are being discounted (even more than before)? That’s unsettled, trending science–excellent reasons to tone down the alarmism and not regulate CO2.


  6. mafarmerga  

    Do I assume correctly that you are accepting my offer and wish to know my opinion of:
    “The impact of recent forcing and ocean heat uptake data on estimates of climate sensitivity” by
    Nicholas Lewis and Judith Curry. Journal of Climate. doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0667.1

    If so I will ask that you read and review:

    Remember, no reliance on blogs or other opinions, just our own interpretations of the papers.
    Do we have a deal?


    • rbradley  

      Ocean acidification is another area of unsettled science regarding natural-versus-anthropogenic causality and adaptation-versus-mitigation. For some of the latest, please read: http://www.co2science.org/articles/V21/apr/a16.php and keep up with the analyses at CO2 Science for balance to alarmism.

      Also, balance ocean effects of manmade CO2 with the land effects of the here-and-now CO2 fertilization effect.


  7. mafarmerga  

    “Ocean acidification is another area of unsettled science regarding natural-versus-anthropogenic causality and adaptation-versus-mitigation.”

    Yes it is*, and I am perfectly happy to have a conversation about it.

    But you are avoiding my question/offer.

    Will you read and comment on a single paper of my choosing if I agree to do the same for you? And by that I mean actually read the paper ourselves and offer our OWN comments,, not those of someone else.

    Please answer ‘Yes” or “No” as to whether you will accept to engage in this very reasonable dialog so that both of us can determine if this will ever lead to an educated exchange of ideas or is just a complete waste of time.


    *I will concede that the “adaptation-versus-mitigation” question is still open for debate but if you understand Henry’s law of dissolved gasses and you also understand how dissolved CO2 in water forms carbonic acid, and you understand how the burning of fossil fuels has led to a rate of CO2 increase of ~ 2ppm/year (1000X the natural rate of change) then the human causality of ocean acidification since 1820 is really pretty easy to grasp.

    Do you understand these things? Most non-scientists (i.e. lawyers) do not.


    • rbradley  

      I am interested in bottom line climate science, not becoming a climate scientist. I am interested in the peak oil debate, not becoming a geologist or geophysicist.

      I am an economist/political economist and am a student of the history of sustainability, from Malthus to Julian Simon to today’s live debate.

      Your offer is an argument from authority. There are authorities way beyond you that hold different positions than you. What then?

      In your area of specialty, I would like you to discuss/debate against Craig Idso of CO2 Science. Would you entertain a public debate with him at your university or elswehere?

      He could argue CO2 as a positive externality and you the opposite. Now that’s getting to bottom line science.


  8. mafarmerga  

    “I am interested in bottom line climate science, not becoming a climate scientist. ”
    That makes two of us. I am a biologist, but I am interested in climate science and I don’t feel that I can begin to understand the “bottom line” unless I understand the basic arguments. This means reading the primary literature, not just blogs. In an earlier post you boasted about how much you have learned about the science behind Earth’s climate. Why do you now wish to back away from this position?

    “Your offer is an argument from authority.”
    Not at all. I do not pretend to be an authority or expert. I am a biologist with no formal training in climate science. What I was suggesting was an exchange of ideas between two interested individuals, each of us reading primary literature and interpreting that information without the filter of so called experts (e.g. the Idso family). This is the exact opposite of an appeal to authority.

    If you are no longer interested in learning more about climate science and you are perfectly satisfied with accepting the “bottom line” as cherry-picked and spoon fed to you by the Idsos, well that is fine with me. No point in continuing our dialog. I just thought that you were someone who was genuinely interested in an exchange of ideas. Guess I was wrong.

    Sorry to have troubled you.



    • rbradley  

      Maybe you should read my Climate Alarmism Reconsidered (Institute for Economic Affairs: 2003) that contains chapters on physical science to public policy before you decide I am not worthy of engaging you without diving into the technical literature. I am following the Andy Dessler push back on Curry/Lewis, FYI. I am very interested in both sides of the sensitivity debate. Anything wrong with this approach?

      I did get a lot of good learning from my climate consultant at Enron over several years, Gerald North, head of the climatology department at Texas A&M around that time, that is in my book/booklet (174 pages). He explained the problems of climate models that cannot be verified, have to be tuned, try to net out multiple unknowns, and must necessarily parameterize. He explained how feedback effects responsible for high sensitivity estimates are in doubt–but the real processes cannot be captured in models because of the complexity involved.


      • mafarmerga  

        “Maybe you should read my Climate Alarmism Reconsidered (Institute for Economic Affairs: 2003)”
        I just downloaded a copy and will have a look. BTW I never said that you unworthy of engaging with me. Quite the opposite. My offer to review any paper of your choosing still stands assuming that you will do the same.

        A quick glance suggests that your basic premise is that catastrophic predictions of the 1990s were off base. A fair criticism. Anyone who uses models knows that they must be continually adjusted and more recent models predict less severe changes to global temperatures.

        Since you have delved into this material please give me your explanation for the observed global warming that has occurred since 1980 to the present. Of the known forcings (solar input, GHGs, and aerosols) which have these have changed in the past 40 years that would lead to the observed and measured increase in global temperatures?


        • rbradley  

          Again, climate models could say cooling or no warming and I would not believe them. I leave it to the experts to parse causality.

          Natural warming versus anthropogenic? Nobody knows. Might be small or large relative to natural variability. Half or more? Could be…. The good news is that climate sensitivity estimates are going down, fat tails are being discounted more, and real-world warming growth is way down since the 1990s.

          The big question is the alleged ‘missing heat.’ Does it escape upward, or is it buried in the deep, well mixed ocean?


  9. mafarmerga  

    “Would you entertain a public debate with him at your university or elswehere? He could argue CO2 as a positive externality and you the opposite. ”

    If I were to debate anyone on the externalities of explosive increases in atmospheric CO2 levels I would lead with the recent destruction of one third of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The biological and economic consequences of which are enormous, but they are only a taste of what is to come in future years if CO2 levels surpass 550 ppm.

    I doubt that I will live long enough to see this.
    But my grandchildren will.

    What about yours?


    • rbradley  

      What if Craig Idso made arguments against your lead and make other arguments for a CO2-enriched world? Let the best ideas win. Would you like to have a high profile debate where you do very well or maybe not so well? Is there debate about not only ocean acidification but also everything on land?


  10. mafarmerga  

    Let me illustrate how Dr. Idso is intentionally misleading you and others.
    You referred me to this paper
    featured on the CO2 Science blog

    Idso cherry picked quotes from the paper to make it seem like arctic pteropods are doing just fine with OA. Like most of the followers of Idso, you did not bother to read the original paper and instead you are happy to accept his interpretation of it.
    Well, I DO read the papers, and here are some actual quotes from the same paper that Idso did not share with his readers:
    “The ability of pteropods to repair and maintain their shells, despite progressive loss, demonstrates a further resilience of these organisms to ocean acidification but at a likely metabolic cost.”
    “While polar benthic molluscs exhibit resilience to ocean acidification5, microscopic pelagic molluscs, pteropods, have been shown to decrease their rate of calcification and exhibit shell dissolution within waters undersaturated with respect to aragonite, ΩAr ≤ 1”
    “If dissolution breaches the shell wall, the animal’s ability to regulate buoyancy and internal chemistry is compromised and the soft body becomes vulnerable to infection and predation.”
    “The progressive loss of shell in these areas resulted from the inability of the animal to replace the periostracum, meaning that repair material remained unprotected and was subject to progressive dissolution on the outer surface. ”
    “We do not claim that L. helicina will be immune to ocean acidification on account of their ability to maintain their shells, but propose efforts should shift to assessing the metabolic cost of repair calcification when predicting the tolerance of this species to future environmental conditions.”

    Bottom line? (since you are interested in bottom lines) is that pteropods ARE damaged by increasingly acidic waters but that they can, in some cases repair some of the damage. But in repairing the shell damage they have to spend more energy and this comes at a metabolic cost to the animals. They ARE harmed by OA, just not as fatally as some had predicted.

    I would hold my own against Dr. Idso just fine, because I bother to read the whole paper, not just his cherry picked snippets that are designed to reinforce my biases.


    • rbradley  

      I’m very happy to post your response although it is longer than guidelines. Dr. Idso should respond and, if you are correct in whole or part, acknowledge that. I wish Michael Mann would have done the same with his “hockey stick” Nature trick.


  11. rbradley  


    Here is Dr. Idso’s response as sent to me in an email. As this is too technical for MasterResource, I would ask that you two take up the debate in a specialized forum.

    “I stand by everything I wrote. Quoting from my review of the paper in question,
    Marine calcifying organisms inhabiting polar oceans are expected to be among the most vulnerable species to the predicted effects of ocean acidification. In this regard, the sea butterfly (Limacina helicina) has taken center stage in much of the discussion and debate over ecosystem vulnerability, with several studies suggesting that this microscopic pteropod will experience net shell dissolution under future seawater pH predictions and become the first casualty of ocean acidification just a few short decades from now.
    But just how sure is this fate? According to the recent work conducted by Peck et al. (2018), it’s not as likely as previously thought.
    What I have said is exactly true. The work of this paper indeed calls into question the belief that the sea butterfly will be the first casualty of ocean acidification, as many alarmists believe and claim. As demonstrated by the observations printed in the paper, that fate is not as likely as previously thought. And the additional quote provided by your debater below mentions the ‘resilience’ of these organisms to ocean acidification, further supporting what I have written.”


    • mafarmerga  

      Again Dr. Idso avoids my central point. I too agree that Peck et al. 2018 suggests that arctic pteropods may be better able to survive increasingly acidic waters than we previously thought possible. That is good news.

      But what he continues to fail to acknowledge is that OA is indeed having a negative impact on these molluscs (their shells show obvious signs of dissolution) and the central point that in order to repair the shell damage caused by OA, pteropods must expend extra metabolic energy to try and maintain what shell remains (again, they are being harmed by OA). By cherry picking only this one conclusion of the authors (while ignoring the others) Dr. Idso intends to mislead the readers of his blog into thinking that everything is just fine for pteropods.

      This is not the case and it most certainly is not the conclusion of Peck and co-authors.


      • rbradley  

        I cannot settle things between you and Idso, but let’s safely say there are negatives and positives from higher man-made CO2 for the air and for the water. Climate economists will have to look into the relative costs and benefits and suggest net results. Robert Mendelsoln of Yale did a lot of this in the 1990s–wish he would update things today.


        • mafarmerga  

          “let’s safely say there are negatives and positives from higher man-made CO2 for the air and for the water.”
          I agree with that statement.
          We know from natural occurring CO2 seeps that seagrasses will do just great.
          We also know from those same natural environments that biodiversity is driven to next to nothing (i.e. a monoculture of seagrass).
          We know that many calcifying marine creatures will be placed under extreme metabolic stress as they struggle with reduced carbonate ion availability.
          We also know that some of them are still managing to hang on as avg. ocean pH continues to decline.
          We know that the rate of change in ocean pH (8.25 in 1800 to 8.10 today) is of historic proportions, not seen in nearly 30 million years.
          We know that the rate of CO2 change in the air and oceans is 1000 times greater than the natural rate of change.
          We know that the last time the oceans changed this much, this quickly, the Earth experienced a mass extinction event.
          History and geology tells us we should stop this experiment right now. In the end there will be very few winners, and millions and millions of losers. It is a false equivalency to pretend otherwise.


          • rbradley  

            Okay… You are the expert.

            But tell me (and the rest of the readership). Your analysis and prediction is very dire. The experts, and even the “consensus,” have been issuing very dire warnings like this for more than a half-century–all relating to the massive “market failure” of population growth and fossil fuels.

            Those predictions–and there are hundreds if not thousands of them, well documented–have turned out to be highly exaggerated, if not thoroughly refuted.

            Why are you right this time?

            I would want a front row seat to hear Craig Idso and you go back and forth over these purely scientific issues.

  12. rbradley  

    Idso responds:

    “It is not misleading nor cherry-picking to state the fact that the effects of OA will not be as bad as initially thought for pteropods. That statement itself presupposes that there may well indeed be some negative effects, which is why I stated things the way I did.

    I did not say there will be no effects, I said the impacts will not be as bad as previously thought. I have simply highlighted this extremely important finding that 99% of the media will never mention because they are hell-bent on promoting the narrative that all ocean life is doomed because of OA. If I do not point it out these truths, who will? No one.

    How many other blogs and media outlets reported on this encouraging finding? Probably not a single one, but they all are eager to report on anything that might make things appear worse. The reality is, that the work we do helps to balance out the debate from being so lopsided toward alarmism.”


    • mafarmerga  

      “How many other blogs and media outlets reported on this encouraging finding? Probably not a single one…”

      Incorrect. Here is a more balanced (i.e. good news and bad news) report on the Peck et al. paper:
      In fact, this is how I first learned of the paper before I ever saw the CO2 Science blog.

      I understand that goal of Dr. Idso’s blog is to only report on the “good” aspects of CO2 levels that are increasing at 1000X the natural rate of change. But he should not take offense when someone points out how incredibly biased his summary of the Peck paper was. If one only read his write up (and not the actual paper) one would be led to believe that the conclusions of the authors were quite different from what they actually were. That is why I label his blog as terribly misleading.


      • rbradley  

        The writeup does indeed report of a positive finding regarding adaptation to ocean acidification. But why do such outlets such as “Yale Environmental Connections” fail to report on good climate news rather than just reporting bad? Same for Inside Climate News. I read both daily…. So I also have to read CO2 Science.


  13. Energy Realism at RFF (Krugman rebutted, decarbonization drawbacks specified) - Master Resource  

    […] about “global lukewarming” and the benefits of CO2 fertilization? Just reviewing the Happer, Koonin, Lindzen tutorial should be a high […]


Leave a Reply