A Free-Market Energy Blog

Dessler to Debate ‘Climate Flat Earther’ Koonin: Why?

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 11, 2022

“[Andrew] Dessler said he would not debate the science because it isn’t a ‘both sides’ issue. ‘I think you overestimate the ability to settle these issues in a debate,’ Dessler told [Joe] Rogan.” (here)

“[Steven Koonin]’s a climate flat earther…. He’s just a old white dude whose vast experience in the halls of power gives him a unique ability to point out the errors that other people make? Nope.” (here)

So why is angry Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University, going to debate “flat earther” Steven Koonin of New York University? As it now now stands, on Monday August 15, 2022, the two will square away on the resolution: Climate science compels us to make large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

This is strange. Dessler is clearly on record as not wanting to legitimize non-alarmist science. Dessler’s mentor Michael Mann has been clear on this:

All of the noise right now from the climate change denial machine, the bots & trolls, the calls for fake “debates”, etc. Ignore it all….Report, block. Don’t engage.

Second, Dessler has disengaged from mainstream climate economics. (“In order to solve the climate problem, the first thing we need to do is ignore the economists,” he stated.) But physical change just opens up the question of good or bad, unless the verdict is the Deep Ecology standard of nature-is-optimal, nature-is-fragile, human influence is bad-to-catastrophic.

Human betterment is surely the standard–the one that Alex Epstein has set for the energy/climate debate with little pushback (as far as I know). So how does increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions impact life, liberty, and welfare? How do costs and benefits compare, particularly current costs versus future unknown benefits?

Monday’s Debate

The Oxford-style debate is hosted by the SoHo Forum, a libertarian organization, sponsored by the Reason Foundation. It describes itself as featuring “topics of special interest to libertarians and aims to enhance social and professional ties within the NYC libertarian community.”

There will be a tally of votes before and after the debate, and let me guess that Dessler will “win” the debate over Koonin, hands-down. In a previous debate with Alex Epstein before a free market group in Colorado, Dessler complained that “those people hated me.” He must expect the votes this time to give him sweet revenge. My guess is that the huge Left network has done its part to fill the seats to avoid any semblance of public belief in “flat earth climate science.” Just color me suspicious….

Advantage Koonin

Koonin has the superior case. The affirmative, Climate science compels us to make large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t play well anymore for several reasons:

  • The Green New Deal in the U.S. and Net Zero abroad have predictably brought forth the ‘energy crisis’ of price inflation and shortages.
  • Governments are pouring good money after bad to keep the Green New Deal/Net Zero fantasy afloat. There is no evidence of ‘competitiveness’ between politically correct energies and consumer-chosen energies. Thus, any serious attempt to reduce federal budget deficits and monetary inflation will neuter the wind, solar, and EV industries.
  • The developing world is plowing ahead with fossil fuel reliance with just enough wind and solar for greenwashing. Net Zero as it now stands is dead as COP27 will have to recognize.
  • The U.S. oil and gas sector has replenished its capital for greater open-ended production in the years and decades ahead.

The free market policy of anticipation and adaptation is really the only game in town; there is no plausible mitigation strategy along the lines of the above affirmative resolution.

Expect Dessler to rely on Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson to argue, Amory Lovins-style, that massed forced transformation is not only a free lunch but one you are paid to eat. No oil, no natural gas, no coal, no carbon capture and storage, no nuclear–just sun, wind, water, and storage.

This imagined utopia is a dystopia of getting from dense mineral energies to dilute, intermittent ones. But central planners have long been subject to a fatal conceit, and engineering is not economics. Coercion and false assumptions are no substitute for a market of willing buyers and sellers under private property and the rule of law.

Andrew Dessler, having ditched economics, can embrace engineering models of totalitarian repurposed human action. But he is the outlier–and, to use his own term, an energy flat-earther.


This is Koonin’s show. But I would debate Dessler on these points:

  • Physical global climate change in terms of cause and effect is unsettled. That is why we are here. Advantage non-alarmists and optimism.
  • Scientists should know, or at least make room for, what they do not know. Dessler does not know what he does not know–and does not want to know. He has reduced global change to a few physical factors, and that is that. (This is an argument for humility.)
  • The global warming that began in the latter 19th century is of a few degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever the cause, this change can barely be felt by a person crossing the street–so why is it ipso facto bad (or worse) for the world over many, many decades?
  • Plant biology is a relatively settled science compared to climate. It derives its truths from controlled experiments. This “settled science” is part of the physical climate debate, and the verdict is that elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) is positive for most plants in most conditions worldwide.
  • It is assumed that anthropogenic warming occurs over the course of the year, with different seasons experiencing different changes. Why isn’t such warming positive or benign for parts or most of the year? Why is it always bad (as in summer heat waves)?

Human betterment gets the last word. Energy affordability, reliability, and convenience are essential for high-energy, modern civilization. Unreliable, exaggerated climate model predictions are little reason to threaten energy sustainability for the masses–and the freedom to choose.


  1. Richard Greene  

    Koonin has no chance of winning a debate because leftists like Dessler do not debate.
    They start with the Appeal to Authority logical fallacy: This is what government bureaucrat scientists say and they are science authorities.

    The next step for Dessler is to parrot the predictions of climate doom (CAGW) which would take decades for Koonin to refute.

    Koonin is a man if science, and is not skilled in debating politics. But CAGW is politics — it does not exist — it is a prediction, and always wrong predictions of doom (CAGW) are not science.

    The only way to win a debate against the Appeal to Authority is to attack the “authority: They have a legacy of 100% wrong predictions of environmental doom since the 1960s. “Climate change” (CAGW) is yet another prediction of doom. You attack predictions by detailing how foolish and wrong the prior predictions were. You mock the prior wrong predictions and ridicule the people who made them. Koonin is not capable of such a presentation. Therefore, this so called debate is just an opportunity for Dessler to do his climate scaremongering to a new audience.

    I only read the first ten pages of Koonin’s “Unsettled” book before deciding not to buy it. His basic concept that government bureaucrat scientists claim climate science is settled is wrong.
    Al Gore made such a claim, but he is clueless. In fact, climate science is an avalanche of new studies and articles predicting new types of climate doom, falsely associating bad weather events with climate change and “it’s worse than we thought” studies and articles. The Climate Howlers throw lots of mud (predictions of doom) on the wall and hope some sticks. They predict crises faster than climate realists can refute them.


  2. John W. Garrett  

    Dr. Steven E. Koonin’s 2021 book, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, an Why It Matters” is magnificent.

    It is chock full of useful information, facts and DATA. It is accessible to both layman and those familiar with science and the scientific method.

    It should be read by every U.S. citizen and anybody else potentially affected by government fiat and policies purportedly based on climate “science.”


  3. Geoff Vaughan  

    There is so much science outside of CO2 and other gases that demonstrate natural processes driving any change. Yet know one is championing the new or recent studies. The concentration on CO2 means that we are effectively, saying we can make everything ok. in fact we can’t change what’s happening or even make a difference.


  4. Aĺex  

    I would commence the debate by asking the audience the following: ‘Hands up all those who know the composition of the atmosphere, Then ask one of them to tell it.

    When I discuss the issue with a believer in the church of Al Gore and latter day doomsday followers, i always ask them this question. Most are ignorant about this.


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