Like the great Richard Feynman, Steven Koonin is thoroughly, no-bullshit New York. Which makes it doubly odd that he was Barack Obama’s chief scientist. But if Koonin went along with his boss’s bullshit while Obama was in the White House, he’s certainly not holding back now. Koonin is coming right out and stating the plain truth: what politicians like Obama – not to say media and activists – babble about climate “science” is absurdly, demonstrably dissociated from the actual science.
Koonin’s career spans thirty years at Caltech and a roster of elite scientific panels both in government and private industry. It was while working as chief scientist for BP’s John “Beyond Petroleum” Browne that he realised an uncomfortable truth about climate politics.
From deeply examining the world’s energy system, he also became convinced that the real climate crisis was a crisis of political and scientific candour. He went to his boss and said, “John, the world isn’t going to be able to reduce emissions enough to make much difference.”
Mr Koonin still has a lot of Brooklyn in him: a robust laugh, a gift for expression and for cutting to the heart of any matter. His thoughts seem to be governed by an all-embracing realism. Hence the book coming out next month, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.
Any reader would benefit from its deft, lucid tour of climate science, the best I’ve seen. His rigorous parsing of the evidence will have you questioning the political class’s compulsion to manufacture certainty where certainty doesn’t exist. You will come to doubt the usefulness of century-long forecasts claiming to know how 1 per cent shifts in variables will affect a global climate that we don’t understand with anything resembling 1 per cent precision.
Koonin particularly criticises the utter reliance of climate science on computers. Computer models have their uses, he admits: “There are situations where models do a wonderful job. Nuclear weapons, when we model them because we don’t test them anymore. And when Boeing builds an airplane, they will model the heck out of it before they bend any metal.”
“But these are much more controlled, engineered situations,” he adds, “whereas the climate is a natural phenomenon. It’s going to do whatever it’s going to do. And it’s hard to observe. You need long, precise observations to understand its natural variability and how it responds to external influences”[…]
“I’ve been building models and watching others build models for 45 years,” he says. Climate models “are not to the standard you would trust your life to or even your trillions of dollars to.” Younger scientists in particular lose sight of the difference between reality and simulation: “They have grown up with the models. They don’t have the kind of mathematical or physical intuition you get when you have to do things by pencil and paper.”
Koonin is not the only climate modeller to come right and say this. Japanese modeller Nakamura Mototaka said it, in his 2019 book, Confessions of a climate scientist: the global warming hypothesis is an unproven hypothesis, where he lamented “the sorry state of climate science”. Nakamura warned that “long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible”.
But Nakamura’s book was (mostly) in Japanese – and was a whisper of truth in a deafening cacophony of bullshit. Almost wistfully, Nakamura expressed the hope that “some honest and courageous, true climate scientists will continue to publicly point out the fraudulent claims made by the mainstream climate science community”.
Koonin is one of the few to answer Nakamura’s wish.
For the record, Mr Koonin agrees that the world has warmed by 1C since 1900 and will warm by another degree this century, placing him near the middle of the consensus. Neither he nor most economic studies have seen anything in the offing that would justify the rapid and wholesale abandoning of fossil fuels, even if China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and others could be dissuaded from pursuing prosperity.
He’s a fan of advanced nuclear power eventually to provide carbon free base-load power. He sees a bright future for electric passenger vehicles. “The main reason isn’t emissions. They’re just shifted to the power grid, and transportation anyway is only about 15 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. There are other advantages: Local pollution is much less and noise pollution is less[…]
But these are changes it makes no economic sense to force. Let technology and markets work at their own pace. The climate might continue to change, at a pace that’s hard to perceive, but societies will adapt.
Meanwhile, Koonin might well be singing along with John Lennon: Just Gimme Some Truth.
Mr Koonin says he wants voters, politicians and business leaders to have an accurate account of the science. He doesn’t care where the debate lands[…]Mr Koonin hopes that “a graceful out for everybody” will be to see the impulse for global climate regulation “morph into much more impactful local environmental action: smog, plastic, green jobs. Forget the global aspect of this.”The Australian
The problem is that politicians, scientists and business leaders have painted themselves into a corner. As we see with COVID lockdowns, politicians and bureaucratic lackey scientists would rather die (or that thousands of others die) than admit that they were wrong.
And they’ll viciously attack anyone who dares say that they’re wrong.
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