If Texas A&M scientists calculated that an asteroid was heading our way, we would likely head for the hills with a lot of pills. But when this university’s climatology department warns of dangerous man-induced global warming and calls for government action (think new taxes and regulation), roll your eyes and watch the wallet. [But] we live in a postmodern world where emotion and desire substitute for humility and scholarship.
– Robert Bradley, “Political Scientists: Gerald North and Andrew Dessler Double Down on Climate Alarmism,” October 11, 2013.
Andrew Dessler is an alarmist/activist climate scientist. He is very certain of his positions on the hard science questions (what Judith Curry warns is really an uncertainty monster). Dessler also veers outside of his expertise to confidently assess the prospects for (government) forced energy transformation away from fossil fuels, the area of political economy.
And the professor wants an audience with Texas’s Governor. “Gov. Greg Abbott recently said it is “impossible” for him to know whether human-made climate change is contributing to natural disasters in Texas because he is not scientist,” wrote Dessler in a recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle. Dessler continued:
Yes, climate change is complex. But my colleagues and I are here to help. With the start of the 2019 legislative session, 26 climate scientists and experts, including myself, offered to brief Gov. Abbott on the hard evidence that the climate is changing, humans are primarily responsible, and if we don’t act soon, Texans may suffer mightily.
Dessler’s Bible is the Obama holdover National Climate Assessment, an alarmist-in, alarmist-out report that begs for rebuttal on its own terms. A different group of scientists, economists, etc. could have produced an opposite report akin to the studies by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. In fact, Trump is invited to switch out scientists for the next federal assessment.
Bias in the Blood
Professor Dessler is very smart and well credentialed. He has the personality of “the smartest guy in the room.” He knows the answers–and is upset that many don’t regarding climate science, economics, and politics. He chided his opponents in his op-ed as follows:
We understand that Abbott hears from fossil-fuel interests and climate-change deniers. There are many powerful people pushing him to ignore the science. But when faced with crisis, the governor should listen to the facts and do the right thing.
The Science? Climate-change deniers? “… do the right thing.” Really ….
There is a nasty bee in this professor’s bonnet. One only has to read Dessler’s Introduction to Modern Climate Change (Cambridge University Press: 2016), advertised as “an invaluable textbook for any introductory survey course on the science and policy of climate change, for both non-science majors and introductory science students” (back cover).
In this second edition, the fix is in. The science is so settled to Dessler that contrary arguments are caricatured or ignored. Cost-effective public policies are considered self-evident with quotations from the favored. Sweeps of history are molded to fit the narrative.
True scholarship requires that the best arguments of both sides of the debate be presented knowledgeably and fairly, beginning (and certainly not ending) with uncertainties in physical climate forcing. After all, the range of “consensus” IPCC estimation is very wide, and climate economists see benefits, not only costs, from the human influence on climate.
But in his primer, Dessler, lawyer-like, presents a brief for one side of the debate. Try to find a simple reference to the key term global lukewarming. Ditto for energy density. (Intermittency gets a mention on p. 85, thankfully.) Market failure is explained but not government failure. (Does he know Public Choice economics?) The “knowledge problem” is never considered as if both the problem and the solution were quantitatively known.
Bad versus Good
There are virtually no references in Introduction to Modern Climate Change to Dessler’s adversaries, such as Judith Curry, John Christy, or Roy Spencer, among others. Any of these would deserve a seat in the Governor’s office across the table from the A&M professorr.
In Chapter 13 (“A brief history of climate science and politics”), Dessler posits a simple, black-and-white tiff between the good (the alarmists/activists) and the bad (the skeptics, aka “deniers”). The bad are those opposed to climate action (regulation, taxation, etc.) either because of pecuniary loss or political philosophy. In Dessler’s words (p. 221):
As momentum for enacting regulations to reduce emissions began to grow, so did the pushback from those opposed to regulations. Given that the [sic] energy is a several trillion dollar per year business, it should come as little surprise that many people and institutions strenuously opposed regulations that would cost them some of these trillions.
Then come the ideologues, the zealots. In Dessler’s words (ibid.):
[The fossil-fuel industries] were joined by those opposed to environmental regulations. This group was mainly motivated by the fundamental belief that regulations on greenhouse gas emissions were an unacceptable infringement on freedom.
[To his credit, Dessler quotes Vaclav Klaus, who saw the climate agenda as the new enemy, with socialism passé.]
Now add a conspiracy of deceit. Dessler continues (ibid.):
With the tobacco strategy in mind, those opposed to regulations on greenhouse gases focused on attacking the science. To do this, they recruited a small group of contrarian scientists to make the public argument. Many of those so-called climate skeptics were veterans of previous battles–tobacco, acid rain, ozone–and they had deep experience of casting doubt. [While holding different views], they typically share a disdain for any science that might lead to increased government regulation.
So, the scientists critical of climate alarmism are tainted and just for-hire hacks. And/or they had bad motives, putting cash ahead of science and the common good.
A Personal Recollection
I met Andrew Dessler for lunch some years ago at the invitation of his fellow climatologist Gerald North (whose candor about the problems of climate models still inform the debate today).
What I remembered most was Dessler’s fear that humans would have to live underground to deal with the catastrophic nature of anthropogenic climate change.
Wow, I thought! This guy must really believe himself. But then if he is so certain, why not at least present both sides in his own textbook? Really convince us…. I smell a rat.
Andrew Dessler is a campaigner, not only a climate scientist. But he has an agenda other than saving you and me and our descendants from (man-made) climate change. He is a modern Malthusian, continuing a long tradition of falsified doom-and-gloom and looking for government intervention at every turn. He is also dismissive of Climategate, which involved the Progressive wing of the climate-science intelligensia.
So Governor Abbott, do not be misled by a (one-sided) visit from Andrew Dessler et al. Instead, invite Andy to publicly debate another climate scientist with a different view, such as the aforementioned Curry, Christy, or Spencer. If Professor Dessler wants to debate climate change in terms of public policy and energy choices, philosopher Alex Epstein would be a good match.
Will Andrew Dessler accept such a debate given that he refused to “debate” in his signature book? He did say in his recent op-ed:
In a time as politically polarized as today, it’s more important than ever to hear each other out. This issue isn’t red or blue. It’s about all of us.
Right! Let’s debate and not assume. And be realistic about what we know and don’t know. And consider government failure along side market failure.