A Free-Market Energy Blog

Andrew Dessler: The Certain Climate Alarmist

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 27, 2019

“This warming [of 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit this century] is as certain as death and taxes.” (Professor Andrew Dessler, below)

Andrew Dessler is one of the leading climate scientists/alarmists of his generation. And he is a master at presenting his case, not unlike a highly skilled lawyer. He knows the answers–and counter-arguments are just noise.

His textbook, Introduction to Modern Climate Change (2nd edition: 2016), does not seriously engage a range of opinions in its 250 pages. A review of the text/index confirms that many key controversies and open questions are either downplayed or absent, thereby creating–in his world–settled alarmist science.

I will later write an in-depth review of this textbook, which not only covers physical science but also related issues in political economy, energy economics, and history. Suffice it to say that Dessler dodges numerous germane issues in his primer. Here is a list of the wholly missing areas, presented alphabetically, that the author needs to address in a 3rd revised edition:

  • Argument from authority
  • Climategate
  • Climate-change exaggeration
  • CO2 forcing: logarithmic, not linear
  • Confirmation bias
  • Deep ecology
  • Deep-ocean mixing (re “missing heat”)
  • Energy density
  • “Fudge factors” (re climate models)
  • Government failure (vs. “market failure”)
  • Iris Effect (re “missing heat”)

Dessler’s latest op-ed (he is a favorite in the Houston Chronicle), “Why the Green New Deal Makes Me Hopeful About Climate Change,” demonstrates these character traits/opinions.

He is the smartest guy in the room and argues from authority.

“As a climate scientist, I have studied the impacts of human emissions of carbon dioxide on the climate system for nearly 20 years. Over this time, my research, as well as research by my colleagues, has made me increasingly worried abut the impacts of climate change on human society.”

He is certain that the current climate-model predictions are correct.

“If we don’t take action, unchecked greenhouse-gas emissions would lead to global-average warming over this century of 5 degrees Fahrenheit to 9 degrees Fahrenheit…. This warming is as certain as death and taxes.”

He is a deep ecologist, fearing that the optimal, fragile climate will be torn asunder to remake human civilization in a very bad way.

“With continued fossil fuel use, we might see warming over the current century sufficient to literally remake the Earth’s environment and our place within it.”

He sees wind and solar as the savior (quite unlike his mentor/hero James Hansen, who understands the fundamental concept of energy density).

” … there is hope. The cost of wind and solar energy, which do not emit dangerous greenhouse gases, has dropped rapidly in the past decade and is now competitive with coal energy in many places.”

I am not a climate scientist. But I can follow the bottom lines of the argument pretty well–as have hundreds of other “skeptics” of climate alarmism, thanks to the Internet and open publishing. (Regular reading of Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. can go a long way in this regard.)

Gerald North: A Second Opinion

But my distrust of climate Malthusianism also relies on the views of Professor Dessler’s senior colleague in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M, Gerald North.

Back in the corporate world working for a company (Enron Corp.) that was very active on the climate issue (alarmist, with six profit centers at stake), I hired Professor North as a consultant to give me the inside scoop on climate science. What he told me was very interesting, including that climate models were unreliable. (It is models that generate scary warming scenarios.)

North via email said these things about climate models in 1998/99:

“We do not know much about modeling climate. It is as though we are modeling a human being. Models are in position at last to tell us the creature has two arms and two legs, but we are being asked to cure cancer.”

“There is a good reason for a lack of consensus on the science. It is simply too early. The problem is difficult, and there are pitifully few ways to test climate models.”

“The different models couple to the oceans differently. There is quite a bit of slack here (undetermined fudge factors). If a model is too sensitive, one can just couple in a little more ocean to make it agree with the record. This is why models with different sensitivities all seem to mock the record about equally well. (Modelers would be insulted by my explanation, but I think it is correct.)”

“[Model results] could also be sociological: getting the socially acceptable answer.”

Professor North’s opinion of speculative, not settled science (contra-Dessler) was reconfirmed with a 2010 email from North to Sheldon Graham Jr (dated January 6, 2010):

“In another decade of research we will have squared away a lot of our uncertainties about forced climate change. As this approaches we can be thinking about what to do if the warming does indeed appear to be caused by humans and to what extent things are changing as result.”

North told me the same thing twenty years ago. The year 2020 is just ahead for another ten-year increment, but I imagine the mirage will remain. (Professor Dessler, please call your office ….)

Conclusion

Andrew Dessler is a very serious, able climate scientist. His books and tweets  need to be read and understood by his critics. It is a rare window in the mentality of a true believer, a Malthusian deep ecologist who is sure he is right about both the alarm and the need and ability of government intervention to save us from certain peril. 

Let the debate continue. Contrary to Dessler’s view, there are two sides to the climate debate, and one of them offers the hope and expectation that the other does not.

15 Comments


  1. Richard Cowley  

    dessler is a manipulative liar

    Reply

  2. Russell Seitz  

    “Andrew Dessler is a very serious, able climate scientist. His books and tweets need to be read and understood by his critics.”

    What is more, Dressler’s work is candid enough to compel honestly representation, which presumes a more disinterested view of the science than Mr. Bradley seems disposed to provide.

    Reply

  3. Russell Seitz  

    Mr Bradley errs in contruing Mr. Dressler as a “Malthusian ” and a “deep Ecologist” , for he remains a commonsense Texan , witness his words in the Houston Chronicle

    “When dealing with climate change, though, failure is not an option. Throughout history, American ingenuity has overcome so many problems. And in the process, we have found cost-effective ways to clean up the air and tackle other challenges. This has not only led to a cleaner environment, but it has also spurred economic growth. We are confident that the same thing will happen here.”

    Since Texas occupies a warm and thirsty expanse of the here and now , Mr. Bradley would do well to apply more of his master resource to slowing the advance of the climate of Chihuahua into the precincts of the Alamo.

    Reply

    • rbradley  

      Professor Dessler’s outlook for a technological fix is far more sober in his books and tweets, although yes, he raises the “Julian Simon” view that human ingenuity can well come to the rescue as you quote. (Thank you)

      Dessler’s I = PAT equation (Introduction to Modern Climate Change, pp. 127-129) is pure Malthusianism.

      I would say, in all, that this is a new argument from Dessler in the op-ed that is a real reach. I think he knows that nuclear is too late and CCS is a pipe dream.

      Reply

    • rbradley  

      Regarding deep ecology, which views the natural climate as optimal and fragile, Professor Dessler states this on p. 146 of his Introduction to Modern Climate Change, “The upshot of this discussion is that, when it comes to climate, change is bad” (emphasis his).

      I like warmth and moisture and welcome CO2 fertilization. Much better today than the temps during the early 19th century, say. And if CO2 provides a blanket of warmth against a potential Little Ice Age in the next several hundred years, that is a positive (note that forcing is log and not linear).

      Reply

  4. Russell Seitz  

    Mr. Bradley, we seem to differ in that while I view semantic aggression and ellipsis in the Climate Wars as problems, you seem to embrace them as rhetorical solutions.

    The problem is evident in much discourse on the subject your opening observation included.

    ” he is a master at presenting his case, not unlike a highly skilled lawyer. He knows the answers–and counter-arguments are just noise.”

    No, sir, it is not- the answers that shape the evolution of climate science are the discovered facts, , not the noisy courtroom argumentation arising from them. What distinguishes the Queen of the Sciences form my own humble superstition, geophysics, is that while the facts cannot change the law in the former, they dictate the continuous reconstruction of the latter.

    Because while interpretations differ, there is at most one kind of physics, which nobody gets to legislate, lawyers included.

    Reply

    • rbradley  

      A scientist can selectively argue his or her case. Dessler has an interpretation of the physical science that differs from other physicists and such. There is much unsettled science as evidenced by the wide range of estimates and the high error bars that, perhaps in time, will be narrowed.

      Until then, climatology is a bit like GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles). You can game and engage in half-truths to get a low sensitivity or a high sensitivity estimate. Taking climate models at face value when the physical equations of real climate are unknown (sub-grid scale?) is all part of this.

      Reply

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