A Free-Market Energy Blog

$10,000 Bet on Climate Change: Asking the Wrong Question

By E. Calvin Beisner -- June 26, 2014

“[Christopher Keating] rigged the bet. Compare it with the old-West poker player who stacks the deck, marks the cards, seats his opponents so he can see their hands in mirrors, and hides a few aces up his sleeve.”

Physicist offers $10,000 to anyone who can disprove ‘man-made global climate change'”, the headline at Daily Kos (June 22, 2014) proclaimed. “Climate change deniers using same methods as tobacco industry, says physicist.”

Wow! It’s put-up or shut-up time for climate skeptics like us at the Cornwall Alliance, right? Ten grand ripe for the picking!

All we have to do is lay out our proof and collect the dough. And if we don’t? Well, obviously we’re admitting we don’t dare put our arguments to the test.

But there’s a whole lot less here than it appears. Never mind that Dr. Keating states, in making the challenge, “I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.” That of course means he’s a judge in his own cause.

Ask some lawyer you know what “conflict of interest” means. No, the bigger problem is that even if we assume that Keating would be an honest judge, he hasn’t framed the question to reflect the real debate. He’s rigged the bet.

Compare it with the old-West poker player who stacks the deck, marks the cards, seats his opponents so he can see their hands in mirrors, and hides a few aces up his sleeve. No global-warming skeptic I know denies that “man-made climate change is occurring.” Here are things many do deny:

  1. That human emissions of greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of global warming over the last 50 or so years.
  2. That the harms likely to come from those emissions will exceed the benefits.
  3. That the benefits of mitigating the warming by reducing the emissions will likely exceed the harms.

Keating’s challenge would have been a little more respectable if he’d said, “I will award $10,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that human emissions of greenhouse gases have not been the primary cause of global warming over the last 50 years or so; that the harms likely to come from those emissions are not likely to exceed the benefits; and that the benefits of mitigating the warming by reducing the emissions will not likely exceed the harms.”

But really, since it’s Keating and his ilk who want us to spend trillions of dollars fighting global warming, he should shoulder the burden of proof. Rather than requiring critics to prove the negative of each of his positions, he should challenge them to show that what he considers scientific proof of 1, 2, and 3 above fails to prove one or more of them. In either case, he should then set forth objective, publicly recognizable criteria by which to make the judgment.

Perhaps Keating and his Progressive friends are hoping this wager offer will gain the kind of fame, and teach the kinds of lessons, another one 34 years ago did. But it won’t. Why? Because that earlier, famous bet wasn’t rigged.

Simon Bet

In 1980, the late Dr. Julian L. Simon, the author of The Economics of Population Growth (1977) and an economist and statistician who believed human ingenuity leads to declining resource scarcity over time, challenged Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb and a biologist who believed human consumption leads to increasing resource scarcity over time, to a bet over mineral scarcity.

Ehrlich et al, including now-Obama science advisor John Holdren, picked five commodity minerals. The time period was 1990, ten years out. Ehrlich bet that the inflation-adjusted price of each would rise; Simon bet they would fall. Ehrlich accepted the challenge—and lost. The real price of each fell over the agreed period. In nominal terms, three minerals declined. (The bet is described here.)

A Real Bet

Simon’s historic wager had clearly defined terms and objective criteria of judgment. Keating’s is nothing but a publicity stunt—a stunt to which the folks not only at Daily Kos but also at Grist and Salon.com, plus many other Progressive/Left/Liberal sites fell prey (just search the web for “Christopher Keating $10,000 bet“).

Simon knew a real bet from a false one. When he invited a repeat of the mineral pricing wager—or any other direct measure of human welfare—the other side came in with something quite different, such as an increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. But, as Simon would ask, is this a good or a bad thing? “Indirect measures,” Simon explained, are secondary to the real issue of the ultimate resource (human ingenuity) in free-market settings making life better and longer, not poorer and shorter.


  1. Mike Haseler (Scottish Sceptic)  

    When I looked at this I realised that not only can’t you prove a negative, but that there was nothing to disprove.

    There is no “theory” of how CO2 supposedly creates the massive warming (not the direct CO2 warming but massive feedbacks).

    They can’t even agree how they measure global temperature – so as soon as one measure shows no warming – they tell us “we must add something to this aka the “ocean ate my heat”).

    So to mock them I put up my own $10000 challenge:


    It’s a simple challenge: prove that man-kind is currently causing global warming. I know it’s a safe bet because there is currently no global warming.


  2. Charles Battig  

    “I will award $10,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that man-made global climate change is not occurring.” The challenge is quoted/pasted from the Daily Kos web site.

    What is the agreed-upon definition of “climate change” and what are the agreed-upon metrics by which such change shall be judged? The bet does not specify global temperature change (which can be measured), but specifies “climate change.”

    This is a bogus bet from the get-go.


  3. Ed Reid  

    Charles Battig { 06.26.14 at 9:00 am },

    “global temperature change (which can be measured)”

    Perhaps “global temperature change” could be measured, though it is certainly only being estimated at the present time, at least with reference to NCDC, NASA GISS and HadCRUT. Once data are “adjusted”, they are no longer data, but merely estimates of what the data would have been had they been collected from properly calibrated, properly installed and properly maintained instruments, read timely.

    I don’t believe I ever worked with an engineer during my career who would have been satisfied with, no less proud of, the current global temperature measurement effort.


  4. James Rust  

    Why doesn’t someone ask why Dr. Keating left a teaching position at the University of South Dakota?


  5. Penny Melko  

    I’m weighing in because I despise wind turbines littering and destroying pristine and the last places where the earth is resilient and healthy – the mountains and desert.

    However, there is absolutely no question that man is polluting the planet where greenhouse gases are heating the atmosphere to the point where it will cause the 6th great extinction.

    Science delivered antibiotics, vehicles, tv, radio, dentistry, medicine, planes, heat/refrigeration, and our ability to communicate by phone, internet, wireless, just everything that man uses. I have to question the sanity and the ignorance level of anyone who questions why Nags Head, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Florida are losing their beach front properties to the ocean, why about half of the country is in drought, why the pine beetle is able to continue north, killing off the trees that are best able to absorb co2.

    Hating wind turbines and for me industrial solar as well and believing that man is destroying our future existence have nothing to do with each other.


    • rbradley  


      It sounds as if it is nuclear or bust for you, energy-supply-wise if wind and solar and fossil fuels are out.

      I would question climate alarmism given the invalidation of climate models predicting the warming that you fear. The models are ‘too hot’ compared to reality. I would also revisit the question of CO2 fertilization for ecosphere. The case for wind turbines and on-grid solar is very weak in light of the ‘balance of evidence’ of the human influence on climate (not that much, probably positive).


  6. Penny Melko  

    Robert, I’m no fan of nuclear power even though my husband attended MIT on a fellowship in nuclear engineering. The accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl has cast widespread fear on nuclear technology.

    I was introduced to the issue related to our earth heating up when Will Steger, an explorer from National Geographic presented his findings on UCTV. UCTV.TV updated their website so his presentation is no longer available, thus no link. As long as I can remember, scientists have attempted to address that they were finding the glaciers receeding, both poles beginning show signs of melting, sea rise, desertification, weather pattern changes and droughts.

    The most common and misunderstood concepts appears to be modeling. Modeling is the most frequently used method to determine results in a real life situation. Live data is used when modeling. As an application programmer for an airline and manufacturing companies every program I wrote was tested using selected live company data to test every routine before turning programs over to a production team to test.

    Charles Keeling took meticulous measurements of carbon dioxide for a number of decades and had strong opionions on global warming. The NY Times did a thorough piece on his contributions: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/science/earth/22carbon.html?pagewanted=all

    Making bets and name-calling be it alarmist or flat earther is fruitless. Until the people take control instead of hoping the free market or governments against the fossil fuel giants is not going to happen. The fossil fuel industry has a strangle hold on energy production, spending millions on lawsuits, media advertisements (clean coal), lobbying and propaganda have no intention of scaling back production. No one can deny this simple fact.

    The quest for riches overpowers the instinct for survival as a species or to pave a habitable environment for the people who come after us.

    Like the Jesus of beekeeping, Les Chowder said at a recent seminar, “with all the challenges, we do not need to be at odds with each other. We’re in this together and need to work together or we will all perish together. “


  7. Power Engineer  

    Don’t ask them to prove that man made climate change MMCC is occurring. Ask them to prove that spending $700B per year (for the US) will stop ( or even have a significant reduction in) all the things that MMCC is allegedly causing- warming, rising seas, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

    It is then that the absurdity of their demands becomes apparent.

    ($700B is based on 7 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent tonnes of greenhouse gased per year for the US at $100 per tonne.)


  8. Ray  

    The AGW zealots are claiming that they can predict the future with climate models and control the climate. When challenged to provide evidence to prove their claims, they change the subject and say you prove I can’t do it. This is typical of the con man.


  9. Sam Taylor  

    I always feel sorry for Ehrlich, since he was right, just a bit too early.

    Also, I never understand this kind of argument for/against climate change or whatever. It’s very clearly a risk management problem, and the debate should be framed as such. This form of tedious absolutist rhetoric does nothing for anyone.


    • rbradley  

      Mr. Taylor:

      Ehrlich et al were not right–they lost the bet that they themselves picked. And for all five minerals!

      Yes, in other periods Simon would have lost. Simon noted that he would not always win. His point is that one cannot treat minerals differently than the general basket of goods and services–that there is not a ‘Hotelling premium’ with oil applied to other minerals. I would read ‘The Bet’ by the Yale environmental historian Paul Sabin in this regard.

      One your second point, in a situation where the ‘science’ of climate change has been hijacked, bets can make a point. Imagine if someone twenty years ago had publically bet against the (too-hot) climate models ….


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