The Atlas Society Asks Steve Koonin

August 06, 2021 01:01:04
The Atlas Society Asks Steve Koonin
The Atlas Society Presents - The Atlas Society Asks
The Atlas Society Asks Steve Koonin
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Steven E. Koonin is the author of Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters and the director of NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. He also served in the Obama administration as Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy, was chief scientist at BP, and professor and provost at California Institute of Technology. Tune in for his thoughts about climate change as well as about the dire predictions for our future that populate our media.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Everyone and welcome to the 64th episode of the Atlas society asks. My name is Jennifer Anji Grossman. My friends know me as JAG. I'm the CEO of the Atlas society. We are the leading nonprofit organization, introducing young people to the ideas of iron Rand in creative ways. Today. I'm very proud that we have professor Steven Koonin joining us before I even get into introducing Dr. Koonin. I want to remind all of you who are joining us on zoom on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on YouTube and Instagram. Um, please go ahead and start typing in your questions into the comment stream. We will get to as many of them as we can. Uh, so Dr. Steven Keenan, uh, served as an undersecretary for science in the U S department of energy under president Obama. Uh, he was a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech for over 30 years. He, uh, earned his PhD in theoretical physics at MIT. And since then has, um, more than 200 peer reviewed papers in the fields of physics and astrophysics, scientific computation, energy technology and climate. He's currently a professor at New York university and author of numerous op-eds and national publications such as the wall street journal. Most recently, he is author of this book, unsettled what client climate science tells us what it doesn't and why it matters, professor Koonin. Uh, welcome. And thank you so much for joining us. Speaker 1 00:01:58 It's great to be chatting with you, Jennifer. Speaker 0 00:02:01 So I I'd like to start the, um, the conversation and set the stage with, uh, the professional experience that set you on the path that would, uh, ultimately culminate with writing, uh, this book unsettled. And as I understand it from reading your book, uh, the American physical society asks you to lead an update and its public statement on climate. Uh, as part of that effort, you convened a, um, workshop with leading climate experts and physics physicists to stress test, uh, the state of climate science. And, um, what did you learn in the process and how did it change your perspective on priorities? Speaker 1 00:02:51 Well, we, we convened that workshop in early January of 2014 in Brooklyn. And, uh, you said we had three consensus experts and three experts who were not so onboard with the consensus and after listening to them talk for a day, and by the way, the transcript is up on the web. So anybody could can read it. Uh, you know, I, I realized the science was nowhere near as certain or settled as I had been led to believe, uh, from the media, from talking with experts informally, um, yes, everybody agreed. The globe was warming and everybody agreed that human influences were growing, but exactly how the climate would respond and what the impacts of those responses would be for society. And ecosystems was pretty much a subject of great uncertainty and disagreement among the experts. Speaker 0 00:03:53 All right, well, um, what we tend to see in the media is anything but unsettled or equivocal, we are told that, uh, temperatures are rising. Uh, the sea level is surging. Ice caps are melting, extreme weather events like drought, heat waves, storms, and wildfires are worsening. And that human caused greenhouse gas emissions are causing all of it sounds pretty dire. Are we all doomed? Speaker 1 00:04:30 No, I don't think so. You, you know, the, the phrase climate crisis or existential threat or a climate disaster, uh, those phrases are bandied about by politicians, activists, and occasionally some folks who should know better who are scientists, bill gates comes to mind for example, but when you read the actual scientific assessment reports that are put out by the UN or the U S government that summarize and assess the science, as it's written in the research literature and the data, I'm often reminded of a phrase from the movie, the princess bride, where one character keeps saying the word inconceivable, and then the other character says, you keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means. And in fact, in this case, I don't think the science says what everybody else in the political sphere thinks it says because those folks have not read the reports. Rather it gets filtered their information through a long chain that goes through the reports, the executive summaries, the media, and ultimately they get a very distorted and an nuanced picture of what the science actually says. Speaker 0 00:05:50 So, um, you talk about these assessment reports and, uh, when it comes to climate change and human impact, uh, the science is largely defined by these reports, uh, some from the United nations, some from the United States. So, so what are those reports? How are they compiled and how, uh, reliable are they? Yeah, Speaker 1 00:06:14 So, so there were really two sets of reports that, uh, I think are most important. One is produced by the UN by the inter governmental panel on climate change. The last one that they did was released in 2014 or 2013, and the next one will be released on Monday, actually. Um, and these are written by a couple thousand scientists. They're massive exercises they take years to put together, and then they're released with great fanfare. Um, each of the reports has a large body of text thousand pages or more, but then it's got a so-called summary for policy makers, which is much more condensed and there's opportunity for great mischief because those summary for policymakers are heavily influenced by the government if not written by them. And so when you compare the report with the summary, they don't agree at all. Well, not at all, but they think the summaries give a very distorted picture. Speaker 1 00:07:21 The other set of reports are produced by the U S government, the so-called national climate assessment. It's mandated by Congress that the administration produced one every four years. The last one was produced in 2017 and 18 in two parts. And the next one is expected in 2023, a similar large exercise, but focused more on the U S but of course they, more or less, these two classes are reports say more or less the same thing. And when you read that, and again, most people who talk about climate have never read these reports. They say some very surprising things. Hmm. Speaker 0 00:08:00 Um, well, earlier this year, the United nations development program published a wide ranging climate survey, uh, entitled the people's climate vote with more than a million respondents from 50 countries. Uh, the survey found that 64% of respondents believe that climate change was an emergency. Um, how accurate is this perception and what's driving it, Speaker 1 00:08:32 It's not accurate at all. Uh, I mean, a common phrase is that we've broken the climate and that, uh, we're headed for disaster unless we take prompt and immediate action. That's just not true in the reports. For example, there are no detectable human influences on hurricanes over almost the past century. And it says it right there in the report, certainly sealer while it's rising at a more rapid rate in the last few decades, if you go back 70 or 80 years, it was rising at the same rate when human influences were much smaller and maybe most surprisingly of all, if you look at the reports and ask, what do they say about the economic impact of a change in climate? What they say is that if the global temperature were to rise by six degrees, which is four times more than what's being discussed in the Paris accord, then the economic impact on the U S on the globe would be minimal. It would delay growth by a couple years at the end of the century. So no, it's not an emergency. Uh, it is perhaps a problem we should be tending to, but there's no need for sweeping and rapid action. Speaker 0 00:09:52 Great. Well, I see some of our loyal, uh, attendees are starting to put their questions in and we are going to get to them. So please continue to, uh, to type them in there as, as thoughts come up, I see, uh, quite a few actually have read your books. I, we're going to have some intelligent questions here, which is great. And those who haven't, I hope will be encouraged to, to pick it up. The ADI, the audible version is also excellent. Um, so part of the problem you identify in, in the book is a confusion in the scientific community, uh, about the ethical code of the scientist versus civic advocacy, blurring the distinction between intrinsically scientific and intrinsically political questions. Uh, what are some examples of that? How, how did you come to that? Speaker 1 00:10:50 Well, you know, I have experience in advising decision-makers in government and in the corporate world on other very different scientific matters. Some of them involving very important national security issues and the ethos that I was taught by my mentors in this business, and I have followed the Fineman, but other very distinguished scientists who have been involved in public policy matters is that you tell the truth and the scientist responds stability is to bring the facts to the table. And they're the only people who can do that. And you have to do it completely transparently and without bias. And of course you have to convey complicated issues to non experts. What I've discovered is that the climate science community let's say for somewhat short in that dimension, I first got to it when I was running the American physical society exercise. And one of the American physical society members said, you know, we can't say that in public because it would give ammunition to the deniers. Speaker 1 00:12:08 And I was caught up short by that subsequently when I started speaking out, I wrote a wall street journal piece in September of 2014. Uh, that said the models are not anywhere near as good as people think they are. Um, I had somebody come up to me who was a distinguished scientist at one of the nation's best universities and said, see if, you know, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, but I don't dare say that in public. And so it's combination of peer pressure, a combination of funding, um, and so on. And, you know, I'm far enough along in my career. I just don't give a damn anymore. Uh, I see it, my responsibility to speak the truth and the truth that I'm speaking is what's in the reports themselves. It's not Steve science, but it is the consensus science. Speaker 0 00:13:03 And you, you have children, you're setting an example, uh, for your children about, uh, actually what, what it means to be a good scientist and what it means to be, to be a good, um, a good citizen. I was really also struck by some of the exchanges that you relate in the book. Uh, one of which, um, you were looking at one particular study, which had been misrepresented and, and, uh, somebody said, yeah, the, the, the, the changes that we were seeing, weren't that significant, and that was too bad. Well, actually, you know, no, that would be actually a good thing, right. So it would be too bad if, uh, you know, w we, we were seeing more evidence of, of these dire, um, changes and, and problems right around the corner. The, the other exchange was, uh, you know, you, when you just merely question or, or back on things like, um, the, the seas are drying up or wildfires are being caused by, um, by, uh, global emissions. And, uh, you're somebody says, well, you're a Trump voter, like you weren't, um, administration. Right. And what one has to do with the other, Speaker 1 00:14:29 The science is the science, and we need to separate out the scientific, certainties and uncertainties, which pretty much everybody can agree on. They'll maybe not want to articulate in public, uh, from the decisions about what do we do about this, which are fundamentally about values development versus, uh, environment, intergenerational equity, geographical equity. Um, and those are values discussions as the kind of discussion the politicians and the media should be having, as opposed to saying the science is certain it's settled. If you don't believe it, you're an idiot. Um, and, uh, I had been most disappointed by the public reaction of many of the consensus scientists who refuse to engage on the scientific points I've written. They're happy to engage on misquotes that other people make of me. I discovered that the second hand quotation is no endemic problem in public discussions of climate, but nobody has really seriously questioned the scientific points I've raised. And that's very telling, and it's somewhat disappointing that they refused to engage. Um, Speaker 0 00:15:48 Well, as with client climate sometimes, uh, you know, there are inputs and then there are facts and we can't always see the, uh, the dynamic and the causality. And, um, my hope and my belief after reading your book is that, um, even what, what you're doing and putting this out there and putting people on notice that, you know, there's not just going to be a free rein to misrepresent things. Uh, w we'll have a, uh, uh, begin to have a change in the culture of the scientific community, if not, if not the media. So, so we're grateful for that. Okay. I am going to start, uh, looping in our audience. Uh, John Davis, down in Dallas, uh, asks in, in your book and settled. Sometimes the trailing averages are averages of 10 years, sometimes 15 years. Why the difference? Speaker 1 00:16:52 Yeah. I, you know, some, for some time serious, they're short enough that you can't do a, uh, serious 30 year average. In other cases you want to highlight sometimes the shorter term variability. Um, it's easy enough. I've tried in all the graphs to show the year to year for actuations. And, uh, then one of the running averages, as you say, sometimes 10, 15 30, um, try to do that, uh, so that you can bring out certain features. It's easy enough if I showed a 10 year average to kind of by, I smooth it out over longer time periods. Speaker 0 00:17:30 All right. Um, a lot of the dire climate predictions that we hear are based on computer modeling and we've seen in other fields, uh, some of the failures of computer modeling, of course, the infamous, uh, British Imperial college models, which, uh, drove a lot of the more extreme, um, non-pharmaceutical interventions, uh, which have observably, uh, catastrophic implications for the economy and, and all that the, the economy, um, drives including further scientific research and discovery, um, what our computer models and, uh, what, uh, what are the role in climate science and how reliable are they? Speaker 1 00:18:19 So the models or the principle means by which we try to say how the climate is going to change in the future under natural and growing human influences. They work by cutting the atmosphere and the ocean up into boxes, millions of boxes, and using the basic laws of physics to track the flow of air and water and sunlight and heat through the boxes time, step by timestamp, typically 10 minutes or so. And you might say, well, that's just physics, it's straightforward. And some people in fact have written that in public and they should know better because the fundamental problem is you can't make the boxes too small. Otherwise there are too many of them to track in a computer. And so practically these days, given the power of the computers that we have, which is not trivial, the boxes are still about 60 miles on a side. Speaker 1 00:19:22 And that's really big, it's much bigger than the scale of the crowds, which you can see behind me. And my background are maybe a kilometer across, uh, the scale of mountains, a couple kilometers across. And so you got to make assumptions about what's going on inside those big boxes about the small scale stuff and different people make different assumptions. And so the models get very different answers. That's one problem. Another problem is that, um, the climate has cycles natural cycles. Some of them are familiar how in, you know, uh, other much less familiar that take 60 or 70 years to go through a cycle. These are the natural ebbs and flows of the climate system. And unless your model gets those, right, you're not going to be able to describe the past century say, and then you're going to have trouble extrapolating back into the future. So that's another problem. And the model in general, get that right. Go ahead. Speaker 0 00:20:23 In your book that you took some of these, um, statements that were considered a settled science, you looked at the actual research that it was based on. Sometimes it involves modeling. Um, but the modeling wasn't used, which I, I understand it should be able to be used. Uh, you were calling it hind casting to look back if the fundamentals were there. Yeah. And Speaker 1 00:20:49 What's interesting is that, as I mentioned, the next report will come out on Monday. The models that inform that report, which is the newest generation of models they've already been out there for a year or so. And they are coming in much more discrepant with each other and with the actual high-net than the previous generation. So as they introduce more sophistication, the models are becoming less certain, and that's not a whole mock of settled science. Speaker 0 00:21:24 What's the report that's coming out again on Monday, Speaker 1 00:21:26 What's the sixth assessment report from the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change. And it's actually the first section of that six assessment, which is concerned with the physical aspects of the climate. Uh, there was subsequent sections that are concerned with ecosystems, um, that are concerned with economic impact, uh, and then all concerned with, well, what does this all mean? And what do we do about those, those latter sections will come out probably a year or so from now. Speaker 0 00:22:02 Okay. All right, Scott, who is a regular at our webinars has a question referring to a controversy with which I'm not familiar. So I'm not going to assume that you are, we'll give it a shot. Uh, he asks if professor Koonin has any thoughts on scientists like Michael Mann suing people like Mark Stein in an attempt to silence climate criticism. Speaker 1 00:22:30 Yeah. Who are these people? Um, I mean, that's entirely unprofessional behavior, um, and it seems characteristic of I'm old enough. Now I can say this of a younger generation of accomplished climate scientists. Um, they're very snarky, uh, very combative, uh, not only Michael Mann, but Gavin Schmidt. Who's now the principal climate scientist in the Obama administration. Um, they have brought discourse down to a level that is entirely on professional and perhaps it's due to the 140 character limit in Twitter, or just the way that the debate is been conducted. They call people names. Of course, they have been called names as well by nonscientists. If you've read the book, I've tried to be very circumspect about, uh, people's motives people's personalities and so on. This is not the way we do science. Speaker 0 00:23:39 All right. Um, just seems more like a observation, but, uh, an informed, um, thank you, Dr. Koonin. I also have a PhD from MIT in physical chemistry. Uh, he has read the IPC reports and many other technical papers, uh, including those that take a more realistic view of the effects of the sun. The fact that rising CO2 follows a temperature rise, et cetera. Also one should, uh, recall the global cooling frenzy of the 1970s. So, um, okay. Uh, Aaron tau, uh, who is, is with the Atlas society. And Speaker 1 00:24:24 Let me, let me just make a comment about the cooling. If you, if you look at the global temperature record, the official record, um, it roomed from 1910 to 1940 at a pretty good clip. It then went down from 1940 to 1970, or seventy-five it cooled. And then it's been going up again for the last 35, 40 years, the rate of warming in the early part of the 20th century from 1910 to 1940, it was about the same as the rate of warming that we've seen in the last decades. And the cooling was there even as human influences grew. So just by looking at that graph, you can see that this is already a lot more complicated than just that rising CO2 is warming the earth. Thank Speaker 0 00:25:13 You. Um, Aaron tau, he, uh, he's a supporter of the outside. He, he actually has joined the outlet society now and, um, runs our book club for students. So Aaron, you want to consider, we could possibly twist professor Coonan's arm to, to join us. Um, so he asks, what are the reaction of scientists, um, like Michael Mann, who created the infamous hockey stick, uh, on the other side to your work, um, are any of them willing to debate you in public? Yeah. Speaker 1 00:25:51 So, um, let me just say, I get many unsolicited emails from scientists and engineers who are not deeply involved in climate science, let's say, thanks for writing a well-documented transparent technical level book that, um, plays out the facts. I've also had Wyatt make comments from some working climate scientists who, again, they might disagree with some of the things I wrote, but by and larger said, you got it about right as to the public reaction of other folks like Michael Mann, Naomi rescues, um, uh, they have written what I, again, I would consider unprofessional pieces in scientific American, uh, in which again, there's a lot of name calling and motive, amputation, but very little direct engagement on the facts. And in one case, I put up on, uh, my website on medium, um, a detailed blue bottle of some of the things that they have said as far as direct debate, um, stay tuned. Uh, there were some things found up in the fall, which I hope will come to fruition and we may have a chance to have a substantial engagement, uh, with people of different points of view. That's Speaker 0 00:27:21 Very exciting and we will, we will stay tuned. What, by the way, is, is the best way to, to follow you, for example, your reaction to the, the sixth assessment for a section coming up on Monday. Well, I Speaker 1 00:27:36 Mean, you, you might expect that I will be speaking out once I've had a chance to look at the report. So there'll probably be some media presence a week or two, uh, after the release. Um, you can find me on medium. I have a website, if you search for medium Koonin, uh, I have been relatively, um, quiet in other media, beyond the book. I have no social media presence. Uh, I do have these two pieces up again. I think the best way to discuss science is in a substantial considered way and not this back and forth volley of 140 characters or whatever the limit is now, um, of tweets and Instagram and all that sort of stuff. It's just not a way to do substantial thoughtful work. Speaker 0 00:28:34 So here in California, uh, fire season is, is around the corner and many in the media and politicians, uh, say that these catastrophic wildfires are a result of climate change, human caused climate change. Um, it's very personal to me as someone who rebuilt my house after a wildfire started actually by, by our son and narrowly escaped, uh, another fire, um, is climate change causing or exacerbating, uh, fires in California and elsewhere, and how much of that is due to human, uh, influence and, and could be mitigated or ameliorated by human action. Speaker 1 00:29:26 So, um, let me start with some fire facts, which might surprise you if you look at the U S as a whole, and I'm sure there are comparable figures for just the west coast fires much more common in the early 20th century, five or six times more common than they are today in terms of acreage burned and the reason for that. And then they declined the incident, uh, to about 1970. And the reason for that decline was smokey. The bear, uh, the forest service put in a policy of suppressing or not vetting bird at all, uh, macro fires, uh, fires, whether natural or human caused. Um, and then we've seen a gradual rise over the last 40 years from the minimum around 1970, but it's still about one sixth of what it was before that. So fire is a natural part of the west coast landscape. Speaker 1 00:30:31 The terrible fires that we've seen over the last few years are a combination of several factors. One is the forest fire policies that have let the fire let the forest rope. So you've got a lot of fuel there. The second is that the climate has been drier. And so you've got a lot of dry fuel and we'll discuss the climate change in a moment. Uh, and then of course you need an ignition source. Uh, as you mentioned, Austin is an important factor. I think something like 80% of USY on fires are started by people in one way or the other. So, and then the last thing of course, is that people like to live in the forest and we have built cities, towns surrounded by forest. And so when they burn terrible things are gonna happen and they did. Um, what role does climate play? Speaker 1 00:31:22 Well, it has been dryer for the last couple of decades on the west coast, but if you look back over centuries and we have records and tree rings, and other ways there have been mega droughts in the west, uh, over the last couple thousand years, which have been entirely natural now, to what extent are the last few decades natural versus, um, human caused, uh, I think is still up in the air. Certainly the warmer temperatures around the globe that we've had has exacerbated the droughts, but, you know, if we stopped driving SUV's, that's not going to stop the fire, right. It just, isn't one of the, so, so let me just talk about extreme events. I mean, we've seen the fires, we've seen floods in Europe. We've seen the heat wave in the Northwest. These are weather phenomenon. And what I like to use as a demonstration of that is the record of the level of the Nile river as measured in Cairo over about a thousand years. Speaker 1 00:32:30 And the Egyptians were doing that from about 650 or so, uh, up until the last one damn mess things up in 1970s. And when you hook it, that record, you see tremendous year to year variation in the water level of denial, but there are smooth trends over decades. And if you're looking at have a graph in the book, if you look in six 50 to seven 50 or so it was going down, and you can just imagine some mini, evil, Egyptian climate panel saying, we've got to pray some more and maybe do some sacrifices. And then it turns around again in 50 or 60 years. So there are these natural variations. And one of the challenges in climate science is to separate those natural variations from the response to human influence. Speaker 0 00:33:19 Got it. Um, Aaron towel just told me we have you on our list for November. So we'll be reaching back out to you. And it's a really wonderful group of young people who, who read the book. And yeah. So, um, in your book, you talk about an idea proposed in a wall street journal, op-ed on the Eve of the March for science. I think that was back in 2017, uh, and that was convening a red team, blue team, uh, process for climate science. What is that process and why do you believe it's needed? Yeah, Speaker 1 00:34:01 No deciding what we do about a changing climate is a major societal decision that as I said, needs to be informed by science major technical projects. Like the launch of a spacecraft, for example, are always subject to red team reviews. We do that routinely in the intelligence community as well, you know, to decide whether the Iraqis building the atom bomb or not, uh, you have a red team and the red team is supposed to pick holes in the argument. They do that both to make sure that you've got things right, but also to find things that could go wrong, that you need to fix. Um, climate science doesn't have that. Yes, people will argue that the scientific literature is peer reviewed, and that's true that some quality check, but the assessment reports all have very different. They involve judgments, they involve language spin in some cases, and there is no independent, hard scrub of them. Speaker 1 00:35:11 When I started to realize how misrepresentative some of the assessment reports were. I said, we should be doing a red team. I tried to get that going for various reasons. We couldn't do it. So the book is in part, what I think a red team would have written about some of the reports. And obviously I found instances where the reports misrepresent, uh, either by not telling the whole story or Ms portraying the data. Um, and those are the kinds of things that need to be scrubbed out and brought to the public's attention that, you know, sea level was rising almost as rapidly, 80 years ago, as it is today. Most people don't know that, Speaker 0 00:36:00 Oh, I think it's an excellent idea. Speaker 1 00:36:03 The reports vary that. So I've been trying to get this go, right? Um, the, uh, consensus community doesn't want it because they don't want these things. I think they don't want them highlighted. Speaker 0 00:36:19 Well, it would be interesting to do another poll of, of the, the consensus community and if they believe that deniers and, and that term is used, uh, to cover people who are merely skeptical of some of the hyperbole and, and some of the mischaracterizations that you're referring to, if they, I think a real driver of deniers or skeptics is precisely because they, they, you know, those who look a little bit more carefully see that, um, there is a lot of misrepresentation and so kind of clearing the air on that I think would restore, um, restore confidence to not just climate science, but, but other science. Um, Speaker 1 00:37:06 And, you know, in many respects I don't consider myself a skeptic because almost everything I've written in the book is right out of the reports or the subsequent quality literature. So it's not my science in some ways, it's the science that the community has written, but, uh, um, has not come through because nobody reads the reports. Speaker 0 00:37:30 Yeah. I think I, I'm referring to a skepticism of the consensus skepticism of some of these more, um, spectacular claims, not, you know, the, the fundamentals, Speaker 1 00:37:43 The narrative, perhaps. Speaker 0 00:37:45 Fair enough. Fair enough. Uh, okay. Dean Scoville asks, uh, says he recalls reading decades ago that a singular sizable volcanic event could offset all manner of man-made pollution, curtailment given such realities. The fact that such events have seen, uh, the earth surface subsuming itself throughout millennia, doesn't that underscore the problems associated with the political hyperbole. Speaker 1 00:38:12 Yeah. Uh, first of all, Dean, if you're the Dean, I knew from another part of my life, uh, PI, um, so volcanic events do influence the climate when a, um, larger option goes off in Pinatubo was perhaps one of the more memorable ones. They put a lot dust aerosols, it's less than dusted small particles into the stratosphere, and they cool the planet. Demonstrably. You can see it in the temperature record. Uh, those particles fall out over a couple of years and so their influence wanes, but they do influence the global climate. Um, the problem is it doesn't last forever, it guys for a couple of years. And, um, so it would not, uh, really do to offset the human and cause a warming, however great. That is if we were to do it artificially, which is one of the geoengineering schemes, we'd have to keep refreshing the aerosol crowd. And of course there are lots of issues with that. Environmental impacts it doesn't like cancel the greenhouse warming and so on. So yes, it happens, but, uh, it's a transient phenomenon. Well, Speaker 0 00:39:35 Speaking of the geoengineering, um, as the daunting challenge of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions became clear to you, um, you became interested in other, perhaps more feasible strategies for responding to climate change. Um, such as such as geo engineering. One would think that those who are most convinced that, uh, that we are in a crisis that, um, we are in a, you know, a tipping point past the tipping point climate is broken, that they would actually be the most interested in, uh, such strategies. But, um, that's not the case. Uh, Speaker 1 00:40:22 Yeah, I, you know, um, I think, well, let's just enumerate the strategies, uh, just briefly, Speaker 0 00:40:30 If you would just kind of what we're talking, Speaker 1 00:40:33 Oh, that there were two classes of geoengineering. Uh, one is what's called solar radiation management, which is to make the earth a little bit more reflective. So it doesn't absorb as much sunlight. And so stays cooler. As I mentioned, volcano eruptions into the stratosphere are a natural way in which that happens. It would be feasible and we could do it. It wouldn't cost very much to do that. Artificially, there are downsides associated with it, which I don't want to go into now, but it is in some ways hacking the planet to reverse the greenhouse gas, uh, warming. Uh, the other mode of geoengineering is to suck the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Um, and you can do that by taking a lot of trees. You could also do it on officially by using chemical building chemical plants that would, uh, run the air through a filter. Speaker 1 00:41:29 If you like remove the CO2 and then you dump it in the ground. Uh, both of those methods, both the carbon dioxide removal and solar already have a lot of downsides, not the least of which would be the cost. And what are you going to do with those billions of tons of CO2? Um, the other strategy is to adapt and we have done that as a species very well over tens of thousands of years of changing climate. Uh, people now live in every thing from the Arctic down to the equator and we do just fine. All climate will be changing slowly enough, we expect so that we'll be able to adapt just fine. All right. Well, why aren't people interested in that if there's so where Speaker 0 00:42:25 We are, why, why you said it just you're greeted with sort of tight-lipped silence again, these are the people that should be the most eager because they believe that, you know, uh, we are in crisis to, to look to what, you know, plan B. Speaker 1 00:42:44 I, I think, you know, another question along those lines is nuclear power vision is, uh, an obvious solution to emissions free energy. And yet that has also historically been, uh, uh, issued by, uh, the people who are concerned. I think part of it is a desire to simply get rid of fossil fuels for no matter what reason. Uh, another is a reaction to big business. Uh, people don't like that at all because our energy is applied philosophy, body, big business. Um, another is a desire to localize energy and have the solar cells on your roof and not have to rely on some gorgeous entity, hundreds of miles away. Um, but I think those are on average, pretty poor ways of satisfying energy needs. Um, and to be fair at an education has become more prominent in discussions. Now, as people have started to realize just how hard it's going to be to zero out emissions by the middle of the century or 2070, uh, I, as I said in the book, I think it's a practical impossibility. So we're going to adapt. Speaker 0 00:44:05 Yeah. I mean, you've said that the, the Paris climate Accords that the, the goals that they were setting would, uh, require that we completely forswear fossil fuels fuels within the next 30 to 50 years and that, you know, it's not going to happen. Speaker 1 00:44:26 I mean, we could probably, we could talk about just difficult. It's going to be for the U S to get to zero. The administration has proposed some plans for that, but what matters are global emissions? And there are 40% of the global right now, 3 billion people who don't have adequate energy and the most convenient, reliable way for them to get that energy is with fossil fuels. And so you're going to tell them, you can't have that energy, or you're going to have to pay more because you're going to get it from wind and solar. I don't think that's going to happen. Um, and I would say it's immoral not to let those folks have the energy they need to improve their lives. Speaker 0 00:45:09 Right. Um, so recently, uh, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become a lot more aggressive towards, uh, banning suppressing fact-checking, uh, posts on a range of issues, including climate science. How what's your experience been with this practice? Yeah, Speaker 1 00:45:34 So I was fact checked, um, uh, by some organization, uh, I don't know, eight or 10 TriMet scientists. What they did was to take what some review of my book said and, uh, then, uh, rebutted, uh, and in fact, if you look on the medium page, you will find my point by point rebuttal to their criticism. Most of which consisted of yeah. You know, I said that in the book, what you said, you just never read the book. And in fact, one of the fact-checkers admitted to me, uh, he never read the book, so that's entirely unprofessional and I think was meant to simply shut the book down in many people's eyes. Uh, soon after it was published, um, I had a chance to publish a little bit of the rebuttal, you know, wall street journal, uh, follow up. And so I think it's reached more than a few, um, people, uh, again, I, as I mentioned, I stay off social media. I don't pay attention to it unless somebody draws something in it to my attention. Um, you know, I'm interested in talking with serious people and, um, I don't think that's a place for serious discussions, Speaker 0 00:46:52 Certainly as a distraction as I can the task. So, uh, folks we have about 12 more minutes, so we still have time for a couple of short questions. If you want to go ahead and type them in to, uh, to our search, to our, um, your comment streams on our various platforms. Uh, here's an interesting one. Uh, Vicky asks, can you talk about drones used in Dubai to create rain and reduce temperature? I hadn't heard of that. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:47:23 I've not heard that either. You know, weather modification is a, uh, longtime dream of humanity. Uh, obviously agriculture depends so much on weather, uh, and you can read in the Bible, you know, a phrase that says if you follow God's commandment, so bring your rain, which is very important in the middle east, um, in the early 19th century, uh, the first us meteorologist James Paulette SB proposed inducing rain by setting forest fires. The smoke from the fires, uh, will help in punt formation and raining, not uncommon to see rain, a company in farmers, triers. Uh, he actually proposed that to Congress. There was no great enthusiasm for it, and so it didn't happen. Um, but the Russians took it up seriously. The Chinese, uh, during the Beijing Olympics, uh, were successful in keeping Beijing, uh, cloud free or rain free. Um, so you can modify whether, um, uh, the particular thing in Dubai I don't know about, but it's not impossible that you could, you could do that. Um, but again, whether it's not common, we should be mindful of that if we're running out of questions. And interesting thing to talk about might be the Biden administration's policies. Uh, but I throw more questions. I'm happy to do that. Speaker 0 00:48:49 Well, uh, we actually did just get a question, uh, about that. So how do you think, uh, the Biden administration, and also if you have thoughts on, uh, given just the unrealistic and non-binding nature of the Paris climate Accords, uh, whether Trump's, uh, the Trump administration's withdrawal from, from those Accords, but yeah, uh, I mean, certainly there's, Speaker 1 00:49:15 Let me just say, what about the Paris accord and, you know, Glasgow is upcoming. So there'll be the, uh, five year turned into six years because of COVID, but, um, the countries will meet in Glasgow and, uh, early November and review the commitments that countries have made to reduce their emissions. And, uh, hopefully countries will make new commitments. The activists would like us to see, um, you know, I'm kind of neutral on the Paris accord. It will have no practical import on the climate, even if the, um, uh, goals are met and most countries are not meeting their goals. The us is, um, it's symbolic. Um, but, um, you know, it's, it's a lot more talking than it is real impact. Um, the Biden administration is proposing policies that would amount to a large scale, um, rapid, relatively rapid de-carbonization of the U S energy system in part to meet those goals. Speaker 1 00:50:25 And more generally to, to net zero by 2050 for the whole economy. And it involves things like trying to make the electrical power system emissions free by 2035 forbidding the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles. So cars that run or trucks that run on diesel and gasoline by 2035, uh, curtailing the production of oil and gas in the U S um, rather strongly. Um, and, you know, they seem to forget that oil and gas are about 8% of the GDP and employment, about 10 million people in the U S we've got 280 million fossil fuel driven vehicles on the road right now. Um, energy involves just about every aspect of, of life. And if you start mucking with the energy system, you're going to require people and businesses to change a lot energy systems can change, but they change school week much more like orthodonture than tooth extraction, which is what's being proposed. Speaker 1 00:51:47 And so I think that as the practical effects of these policies were proposed policies start to impact ordinary people's lives. There's going to be a lot of pushback. You mean I can't buy that F-150 anymore. I got to buy an electric vehicle. Um, you mean my electricity it's now gotten less reliable, and you're starting to see that in California. Of course we saw it in Texas. So I think people are going to push back strongly. We've seen that kind of perspective already in France for the yellow vest protest. The UK just had a, um, call back a proposal to require expensive heat pumps in houses rather than gas boilers to heat the houses. Um, and eventually people are going to ask, tell me again, why we're doing all of this. And I think that can be the sort of a very interesting discussion that we should have had before we decided to go down this road, Speaker 0 00:52:47 Having been a part of the Obama administration. Um, would you compare, how would you compare the Obama administration's goals sense of, you know, realism, uh, the science that it was guided by with, with the Biden? Is it just an extension or I Speaker 1 00:53:08 Think the Biden administration, um, has, uh, you know, when I was in the Obama administration and then subsequently in the energy department, we had scientists, Steve Chu first, and then Ernie Monice who was secretaries. And they understood the technical realities, even if they didn't speak about the, uh, very loudly, uh, secretary grant home, the current secretary of energy, or does not have that kind of technical background. And I think, uh, is entirely captive to, um, scientists and engineers who are not telling her the truth. Um, I, you know, one of the things I like to say about the book is I would hope that decision-makers in the cabinet, uh, and, uh, the president vice-president would read the book and say, gosh, I didn't know that. And asked their advisors is that guy couldn't write it. Doesn't really say that. And when the come back and say, yeah, that's what the reports say, they might start to ask, what else am I not being told about the climate? And again, really getting people to just start to think critically and ask questions rather than just accepting what the media and activists are telling them. Speaker 0 00:54:26 So, uh, we're getting to the end here. My, one of my biggest takeaways from, from your, your book was, was actually a philosophical one. Um, you close by saying, we need to move the science back to science. And, um, again, you said, we need to do that by restoring integrity, to the way, uh, science and forms, societies discussion about climate and energy. Uh, iron Rand is obviously we at the Atlas society are focused on, um, connecting young people with, uh, with her philosophy, which is called objectivism. It's based in the reality of the natural world, uh, and systemology of reason. So, um, she, she observed science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy. It cannot survive without a philosophical, particularly epistemological base. If philosophy, parishes, then science will be the next two to go. So one does not need to be an objectivist to note that objectivity, uh, has been downgraded in favor of agenda driven narratives. Um, any thoughts on, uh, perhaps, and I know he's explicitly say in the book, you're not a philosopher, you're not an ethicist, but, um, but you also said you've been around for a while and you've seen, uh, America through, through different eras, um, any sense of, of the deeper cultural forces that may be driving this and, um, and how, how they may be reversed. Speaker 1 00:56:19 So, you know, in, in previous decades I have on Rand's writing, so I'm familiar with the stance and the philosophy. And I think to some extent, all scientists are Objectivists or maybe with a Russian accent accent. Speaker 0 00:56:37 Yes. Right? Yeah. Speaker 1 00:56:40 So, um, we believe in a objective reality, that's measurable, that's understandable by rational thought. I think most scientists would agree to those statements, and it is very disturbing to me to see that kind of stance abandoned in the media, uh, in the political sphere, uh, and frankly in the general public. And, you know, you can bemoan as I do the failure of our educational system, uh, for some of that, I think social media play a role as well. And unfortunately you see popular opinion being manipulated, uh, in nonfactual, uh, ways is very disturbing to me. I think it is perhaps the existential threat to the country, uh, not necessarily climate, but just the fact that, um, people don't think anymore, they, they deny an objective reality. Uh, my tactic, at least as far as the science goes, has been to try to reach my fellow scientists who are not climate scientists and to show them the kind of misrepresentation that goes on in the reports, in statements, by professional societies and by the media with the hope that maybe they will rise up and say, Hey, this is tarnishing all of science, and you've got to stop it, but that's just a hope, we'll see whether it actually happens or not. Speaker 0 00:58:10 I, I think that, I think that's a good strategy, um, because I do think that it has collateral damage, uh, for, for other fields. And I, I certainly feel about, about, um, economics about the pandemic. You know, when all of a sudden we're saying, well, we're, we're this isn't true, but we don't want people to panic or even want people to do this. And therefore we're going to tell him something that we know not to be true. I mean, at some point people begin to, uh, to doubt the whole enterprise. And I don't, I don't think that's, that's how that's really that you, you quoted, uh, the Albert Einstein, you know, um, saying that, uh, science, you know, implies a duty to, uh, to reveal and convey, not just, uh, what we know, but that, which we don't know and not to conceal it. Speaker 1 00:59:08 Yeah. So my, my stance, as I say in the book is not to persuade, but to inform, and these are difficult decisions about climate also about the pandemic, where you got to balance against public health and so on. I can't make those decisions. And I don't think my fellow scientists should be making those decisions, but that's why we pay the big books to politicians. Uh, Speaker 0 00:59:32 Well, um, and that's why we can unreservedly recommend, uh, that you guys, and many of you already have picked up a copy of unsettled. Wonderful. Again, as I mentioned, it is, um, also great on audible and we're going to be looking forward to your commentary on this report coming up. Uh, and I'm very excited that, um, that we have your book featured in upcoming book clubs. So professor Coonan, thank you so much for joining us, great to be talking with you. And for those of you who enjoyed this webinar, uh, want to also let you know next week, I'm going to be continuing a bit with this theme. We're going to drill down perhaps a little more on wildfires. Uh, I'll be interviewing, um, Brian Jablonski. He's president of perk, which is the property and environment research center. Um, if you are enjoying these webinars and if you are pleased with the rest of the work, the ALS society is doing with their graphic novels or animated videos or book clubs for students, please consider, uh, chipping in and making a tax deductible donation to the Atlas society. We will put that in the chat bar and, uh, again, professor Koonin. Thank you. And thanks everybody for joining us.

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