John Tierney, a libertarian columnist whose work graces the New York Times science pages, slammed President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of John Holdren as chief science adviser this weekend. Tierney attacks Holdren for being “spectacularly wrong about a major issue in [his] field of expertise,” for having “resistance to dissenting views,” and for “his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions.” Tierney quotes at length from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Reason Foundation, both right-wing libertarian think tanks.
Tierney takes special umbrage at Holdren’s critique of Bjorn Lomborg’s 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, even though it’s a hodge-podge of ideological pseudo-science and dishonest rhetorical fallacies. Actually, Tierney’s defense makes sense, because John Tierney’s own stock in trade is a hodge-podge of ideological pseudo-science and dishonest rhetorical fallacies.
Tierney does appear to go off the deep end with this bizarre paragraph:
Even if most climate scientists agree on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, that doesn’t imply that the best way to deal with the problem is through drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. There are other ways to cope, and there’s no “scientific consensus” on which path looks best.
It’s not a complex fact that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere won’t stabilize until we stop adding new emissions. Natural processes to sequester atmospheric CO2 in the deep ocean and rocks take hundreds of thousands to millions of years. If the climate is to stabilize at any level in the meantime, net anthropogenic emissions will have to approach zero — requiring “drastic cuts.” Considering that the climate system is rapidly destabilizing, those drastic cuts are going to have to happen fast.
To be fair to Tierney, this assessment is failing to consider “other ways to cope,” which fall into three categories:
1. Magic technology to suck up emissions
2. Magic technology to block out the sun
3. A medium-scale nuclear war
(By “magic” I mean “undeveloped, unresearched, untested, and needed to be deployed on a global scale.”) Perhaps Tierney is arguing that the kind of science advice Obama truly needs is plans for seeding the ocean with vast amounts of iron, a fleet of orbital mirrors or an Arctic Christo-wrap to reflect insolation, or heightening tensions in Kashmir.
For now, I’d rather stick with cutting energy waste, shifting away from fossil fuels, and promoting reforestation and sustainable agriculture. Not quite the stuff one reads about in science-fiction novels or Gregg Easterbrook columns, but it’s a good deal less stupid.