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Dessler’s ‘Introduction to Modern Climate Science’ (Part III: Adaptation as the weather/climate strategy)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- September 26, 2019

In his book (p. 178), Andrew Dessler defines adaptation as “responding to the negative impacts of climate change.” The proper definition is to anticipate and adapt to climate change, to capitalize on the positives and to mitigate the negatives.

This series on Andrew Dessler’s Introduction to Modern Climate Change has urged better and fairer treatment of the non-alarmist side of the climate debate for the author’s 3rd edition (in process).

Part I, “Suggestions for More Interdisciplinary Scholarship, Less Advocacy,” documented how this science text was an advocacy book and failed the scholarship standard of presenting opposing views fairly for consideration. Some contentious areas of debate were ignored and others caricatured. Professor Dessler is revealed to be a deep ecologist in that “when it comes to climate, change is bad.” (p. 146)

Part II, Physical Science, takes issue with Dessler’s refusal to even discuss climate model limitations and ad hoc asjustments. He also does not explore what could tilt the anthropogenic warming to the low side to give victory to the “global lukewarmers.”

There is also the distant positive surprise of warming offsetting a natural cooling (he envisions the climate a thousand years out). He downplays the here-and-now, 24-7 global greening from higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. And so on ….

Another recent post (although not in this series) concerns market adaptation as the true solution to climate change, natural or anthropogenic. It is this issue that clouds Dessler’s whole worldview, one that increasingly is becoming the real and only policy choice from the alarmists’ own perspective. (The latest mantra, Climate Restoration, is a tears-in-the-ocean ‘solution’ and boondoggle in the early making.)

Adaptation in Introduction to Modern Climate Change is more of an afterthought than sympathetic area of inquiry (Dessler violates a norm of scholarship here–not presenting the best arguments against his own position). As he tweeted earlier this year:

Adaptation does indeed work. When temps get too high, switch from black t-shirts to white ones

In his book (p. 178), he correctly identifies adaptation as one of the three responses to climate change (with mitigation and geoengineering). But his very definition–“Adaptation means responding to the negative impacts of climate change”–is errant.

A proper definition would be:

Adaptation means anticipating and responding to the negative impacts of climate change, while capitalizing on the positive impacts of the same.

Dessler dismisses adaptation as a primary climate strategy because it requires “huge resources” (p. 179). And, he continues, the economic burden falls “most strongly [on] the poorest and most vulnerable in any society” (p. 180). Dessler uses Katrina as an example, neglecting the fact that the worst impacts were because of engineering errors by the Corps of Engineers in long-planned adaptation.

Dessler also sees adaptation as too late: “Waiting until the impacts of climate change are obvious is much more expensive than adapting in advance” (p. 179). But are the crying-wolf Malthusian scientists to be believed? And since the same scientists now say the effects are obvious, does this argument of the 2nd edition erode.

Anticipation of worst-case events–and using wealth to achieve comfort–is a perennial quest. I see it in others and in myself. As I noted in an email exchange with Dessler on this very topic:

My comments on adaptation simply reflect what I have noticed for decades now. Peak heat and the vagaries of weather inspire step-by-step adaptation, sometimes dramatic ones.

Pre-air conditioning, my grandfather’s law firm would cut out of the office during Peak Heat and return off hours to work when it was cooler.  Astroworld in my youth had outdoor mist machines—Las Vegas has a lot today. Houston has long had tunnels downtown.  I have stayed at hotels that have a giant Dome over them–Opryland in Nashville being one. Waterparks are another entrepreneurial response. And all this is for the Peak; warmer winters and such are the positives of anthropogenic warming in many ways.

In still warmer times, there will be countless adjustments that reduce the damages (economic models cannot quantify this, so they just don’t do it, a big flaw). I notice that the EU heat waves this summer claimed a small fraction of the deaths than the 2003 heat wave mentioned in your science book (p. 150). How much of that was learning and adaptation? With a lot more A/C, this externality will continue to be internalized ‘as if led by an invisible hand.” Is this costless? Of course not. But affordable dense (mineral) energies make adaptation at the peak affordable and the ‘next thing.’

The Burden of Proof

An alarmist challenge to business-as-usual bears a burden of proof. The author must carefully consider counter-arguments, particularly given the litany of exaggeration and false climate alarms emanating from James Hansen, Al Gore, John Holdren, et al.

The falsified Peak Oil alarm, which enjoyed consensus-science support, should also encourage humility from climate activists who speak of tipping points, points of no return, and looming crises.

Dessler briefly describes Malthusianism (p. 168) but fails to consider the challenge to more people-more problems. The Julian Simon view of the world reverses the I = PAT equation to extol the benefits of more people, growing affluence, and greater technology, leading to a far different public policy program of dealing with climate change.

The burden of proof also rests with alarmists who beg us to believe that our personal and business choices must be coercively upended by government. Let the debate continue across the disciplines–and may Professor Andrew Dessler up his interdisciplinary game in the name of scholarship.

The last word belongs to Judith Curry:

Climate science is a very broad and diffuse science, encompassing many subfields.  Each of these subfields is associated with substantial uncertainties, and when you integrate all these fields and attempt to project into the future, there are massive uncertainties and unknowns. There are a spectrum of perspectives, especially at the knowledge frontiers. Trying to silence or delegitimize any of these voices is very bad for science. (“The Latest Travesty in ‘Consensus Enforcement,” August 14, 2019.

May her words, and my reviews, inspire Professor Dessler to more fairly present opposing arguments in the 3rd edition of Introduction to Modern Climate Change.


  1. Dennis J Feindel  

    Good article. I have something of interest to you. From the “WattsUpWithThat site:


    We can give thanks to Gretta for this push among others. I hope this group gets truly serious and show the true issue of AGW! Of course, there isn’t any…


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