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Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.

By Joe Romm  

"Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places."


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Any religion, meanwhile, has its heretics, and global warming is no exception.

That staggeringly anti-scientific statement (page 170) is just one of many, many pieces of outright nonsense from SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.  In fact, human-caused global warming is well-established science, far better established than any aspect of economics.

In other words:  it’s illogical to believe in a carbon-induced warming apocalypse and believe that such an apocalypse can be averted simply by curtailing new carbon emissions.

Hard to believe such an illogical statement (page 203) comes from Levitt and Dubner, the same folks who wrote the runaway bestseller FreakonomicsA Rogue Economist explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

For the record, it’s perfectly logical to believe that — indeed, I daresay most of the world’s leading climate scientists believe that if you could curtail all new carbon emissions (including from deforestation) starting now (or even starting soon), you would indeed avoid apocaplyse.  None, however, would use the loaded word “simply” I’m sure and most, like Hansen, would like to go from curtailing emissions to being carbon negative as soon as possible.  The Superfreaks, however, are simultaneously skeptical of global warming science, critical of all mitigation measures, but certain that geo-engineering using sulfate aerosols is the answer.

“Rogue” is a good word for Levitt, but I think “contrarian” is more apt.  Sadly, for Levitt’s readers and reputation, he decided to adopt the contrarian view of global warming, which takes him far outside of his expertise.  As is common among smart people who know virtually nothing about climate science or solutions and get it so very wrong, he relies on other smart contrarians who know virtually nothing about climate science or solutions.  In particular, he leans heavily on Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft, who has a reputation for brilliance, which he and the Superfreaks utterly shred in this book:

“A lot of the things that people say would be good things probably aren’t,” Myrhvold says.  As an example he points to solar power.  “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12% gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributed to global warming.”

Impressive — three and a half major howlers in one tiny paragraph (p 187).  California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld called this “patent nonsense,” when I read it to him.  And Myhrvold is the guy, according to the Superfreaks, of which Bill Gates once said, “I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan.”  This should be the definitive proof that smarts in one area do not necessarily translate at all

In olden days, we called such folks Artistes of Bullshit, but now I’m gonna call them F.A.K.E.R.s — Famous “Authorities” whose Knowledge (of climate) is Extremely Rudimentary [Error-riddled?  I'm still working on this acronym].

The most famous FAKER was Michael Crichton.  I thought Freeman Dyson was the leading FAKER today, but Myhrvold makes Dyson sound like James Hansen.  I will devote an entire blog post to the BS peddled here by Myhrvold (who now runs Intellectual Ventures) because I’m sure he’s got the ear of a lot of well-meaning, influential, but easily duped, people like Levitt and Dubner — see Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2: Who else have Nathan Myhrvold and the Groupthinkers at Intellectual Ventures duped and confused? Would you believe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?

Here are the howlers in that paragraph for the record:

  1. “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black.”  Try googling “solar cells” — [Nathan, you can Bing "solar cells"] — and most of the panels you’ll see are in fact blue.  I’ll call this half a howler.  Lots of the cells are black.  As we’ll see, however, it is NOT a problem.  This is a bogus issue.
  2. These days, lots of solar cells get much higher efficiency than 12%.  Scientific American writes about “Suntech’s Pluto line of multicrystalline cells, which boasts 17.2 percent efficiency converting one sun’s light into electricity, or Suniva’s ARTisun single silicon crystal cells that can convert 18.5 percent of the sunshine into electricity.”  This book is supposedly about solutions available in the near future and billions of dollars are being poured into technologies that could more than double those efficiencies.  Indeed, “New solar energy material captures every color of the rainbow.”  But, of course, only IV’s unproven and dubious aerosol geo-engineering solution gets the benefit of assumed scientific advances, not real, actual hardware that could start solving the problem now.
  3. The biggest howler from the perspective of a would-be FAKER (and those who are duped by them) is the logical error of failing to ask one simple question:  What was the absorbtivity or emissivity of the material that the panel covered up?  If you look on Google images, you’ll see that PV panels are often — if not usually — put on roofs or over ground that is quite dark, often black.  In a large fraction of cases, the panels contribute less heat reradiation than what they are covering would.  This is a complete red herring, a “trivial issue” in the jargon Levitt would normally use.
  4. The way Leavitt and Dubner write the paragraph — “A lot of the things that people say would be good things probably aren’t,” Myrhvold says.  As an example he points to solar power. — they have Myrhvold saying all forms of solar power “probably aren’t” a good thing.  That is a laughable notion, and I seriously doubt he believes that.   But, as we’ll see, this is the Superfreaks style, to overstate or misstate what the people they talk to actually believe.

UPDATE:  John O’Donnell, VP Business Development, GlassPoint Solar and a former lead engineer at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (old bio here, Business Week profile here) just emailed me to be sure I don’t miss the forest for the trees here in debunking this nonsense:

Yes Nathan is howlingly off base.  Not because solar panels are (whatever cover with whatever relative emissivity), but because solar panels, like wind turbines and solar thermal power plants, eliminate the emission of CO2 which would otherwise occur from electricity production.

As Ken Caldeira so grippingly points out (and I tried to make graphically clear in my Stanford talk last year) , each molecule of CO2 released thermal energy when it was formed — that’s why we formed it.  In the case of electricity generation, about 1/3 of its thermal energy went out a wire as electric power, the rest was released promptly as waste heat.  But each molecule of CO2, during its subsequent lifetime in the atmosphere, traps 100,000 times more heat than was released during its formation.

A hundred thousand is a big number.  It means that running a handheld electric hairdryer on US grid electricity delivers a planet-warming punch comparable to [the heat given off by] two Boeing 747s operating at full takeoff power for the same time period.  The warming is delivered over time, not promptly, but that don’t matter; the planetary heating is accrued, the accountants would say, the moment you hit the switch.

The thermal energy balance for a solar panel runs vastly in the other direction.  If our solar panel is pure black, and 14% efficient, then for each kWh of electric power that comes out, there are 7 kWh of heat that were absorbed and radiated.  But each kWh it generates it eliminates the release of 1.4 pounds of CO2, which during its lifetime in the atmosphere will absorb 210,000 kWh of heat.  So the energy balance for the solar panel (when it’s connected to the US grid) is about NEGATIVE 209,993 kWh(heat) per kWh(electric) — since some fossil power plant somewhere is being turned down based on its generation.   And hey, if it’s blue instead of black, that might increase to negative 209,995 kWh.

So, yes, Myhrvold is an uber-FAKER, raising issues that are uber-trivial.

As an aside, O’Donnell is a CSP guy, like me, the solar energy that I believe is most promising for large-scale, low-cost, low-carbon power delivery (see “Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution“).  Naturally, the Superfreaks never mention this in their amateurish take-down of solar.

The reason I’m calling Levitt and Dubner Superfreaks for short is that Chapter Five of SuperFreakonomics, the “Global Cooling” chapter — aka “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” — has precious little economics, and what it does have is simply wrong.  So the book could easily have been titled Superfreaks.  [Note:  Most of the book is searchable online.  At the request of the publisher, I have taken down the PDF of the chapter.]

The answer is that Gore and Pinatubo’s eruption both suggest a way to cool the planet, albeit with methods whose cost-effectiveness are a universe apart.

Yes, the Superfreaks frame this chapter mostly as their (misguided) view of the science versus the views of that famous non-scientist Al Gore (as opposed to the views of all of the scientists who disagree with the crap they are peddling).  That straw man approach gives them the “high” ground.

But by embracing aeresols and rejecting mitigation, they have adopted the identical view of that rogue, thoroughly debunked, non-economist Bjorn Lomborg.  Unlike the Superfreaks, CP readers know that Ken Caldeira calls the vision of Lomborg’s Climate Consensus “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.”

And yet Caldeira is the primary practicing climate scientist the Superfreaks rely on in the chapter!  He has responded to many e-mail queries of mine over the weekend so I could characterize his views accurately.  He simply doesn’t believe what the Superfreaks make it seem like he believes.  He writes me:

If you talk all day, and somebody picks a half dozen quotes without providing context because they want to make a provocative and controversial chapter, there is not much you can do.

One sentence about Caldeira in particular is the exact opposite of what he believes (page 184):

Yet his research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.

Levitt and Dubner didn’t run this quote by Caldeira, and when he saw a version from Myrhvold, he objected to it.  But Levitt and Dubner apparently wanted to keep it very badly — it even makes the  SuperFreakonomics Table of Contents in the Chapter Five summary “Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?”  It fits their contrarian sensibility, but it makes no actual sense.

Here is what Caldeira really believes:

I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero. I believe that it is essentially immoral for us to be making devices (automobiles, coal power plants, etc) that use the atmosphere as a sewer for our waste products.  I am in favor of outlawing production of such devices as soon as possible….

Every carbon dioxide emission adds to climate damage and increasing risk of catastrophic consequences. There is no safe level of emission.

I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies … It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.

I am in favor of fire insurance but I am also against playing with matches while sitting on a keg of gunpowder. I am in favor of research into geoengineering options but I am also against carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions represent a real threat to humans and natural systems, and I fear we may have already dawdled too long. That is why I want to see research into geoengineering — because the threat posed by CO2 is real and large, not because the threat is imaginary and small.


Needless to say, you’d never get that impression from reading Superfreakonomics.  Again the authors had a contrarian argument they wanted to push, and they shoe-horned the one true expert they talked to into it.

I’ll address the other myriad errors and analytical flaws in the chapter in future posts.  Their core argument is the same as Lomborg’s, that aerosol-based geo-engineering can substitute for aggressive mitigation, which they repeatedly diss as uneconomic, contrary to virtually all actual independent economic analysis (see “Introduction to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar“).  They leave the impression Caldeira shares that view.  This is what he really believes:

If we keep emitting greenhouse gases with the intent of offsetting the global warming with ever increasing loadings of particles in the stratosphere, we will be heading to a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze that we would need to main more-or-less indefinitely. This seems to be a dystopic world out of a science fiction story. First, we can assume the oceans have been heavily acidified with shellfish and corals largely a thing of the past. We can assume that ecosystems will be greatly affected by the high CO2 / low sunlight conditions “” similar to what Earth experienced hundreds of millions years ago. The sunlight would likely be very diffuse “” maybe good for portrait photography, but with unknown consequences for ecosystems.

We know also that CO2 and sunlight affect Earth’s climate system in different ways. For the same amount of change in rainfall, CO2 affects temperature more than sunlight, so if we are to try to correct for changes in precipitation patterns, we will be left with some residual warming that would grow with time.

And what will this increasing loading of particles in the stratosphere do to the ozone layer and the other parts of Earth’s climate system that we depend on?

On top of all of these environmental considerations, there are socio-political considerations: We we have a cooperative world government deciding exactly how much geoengineering to deploy where? What if China were to go into decades of drought? Would they sit idly by as the Climate Intervention Bureau apparently ignores their plight? And what if political instability where to mean that for a few years, the intervention system were not maintained “¦ all of that accumulated pent-up climate change would be unleashed upon the Earth “¦ and perhaps make “The Day After” movie look less silly than it does.

Long-term risk reduction depends on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Nevertheless, there is a chance that some of these options might be able to diminish short-term risk in the event of a climate crisis.

I would add the grave risk that that after injecting massive amounts of sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere for a decade or more, we might discover some unexpected bad side effect that just gets worse and worse.  After all, the top climate scientists underestimated the speed and scale of greenhouse gas impacts (and the magnitude of synergistic ones, like bark beetle infestations and forest fires).

We would be in completely unexplored territory “” what I call an experimental chemotherapy and radiation therapy combined.  There is no possible way of predicting the long-term effect of the thick stratospheric haze (which, unlike GHGs, has no recent or paleoclimate analog).  If it turned out to have unexpected catastrophic impacts of its own (other than drought), we’d be totally screwed.

No surprise, then, that science advisor John Holdren told me in April that he stands by his critique:

“The ‘geo-engineering’ approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects.”

Even geoengineering advocate Tom Wigley is only defending “a complementary combined mitigation/geoengineering scenario, an overshoot concentration pathway where atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches 530 ppm before falling back to 450 ppm, coupled with low-intensity geoengineering,” with the goal of stabilizing global temperature rise at 2°C, in case we can’t stabilize at 450 ppm.  You can see a good discussion of that at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientistsexpert roundtable response to Alan Robocks’ excellent piece, “20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea.”

Well, stabilizing at 530 ppm requires doing a massive amount of mitigation starting now “” only 2 or 3 fewer wedges than what is needed for 450 (see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution“).

Levitt and Dubner and Myhrvold are FAKERs.  They simply don’t know what they are talking about.

UPDATE:  For an independent vindication of my reporting here, see Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics. Dubner is baffled that Caldeira “doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.”

UPDATE 1:  For a chronology of this debunking and a response to Dubner’s falsehoods, see “Anatomy of a debunking: Caldeira says Superfreakonomics is “damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and filled with “many” misleading statements. Dubner continues to make false statements, parroted by Pielke and Morano. DeLong urges authors to “abjectly apologize” for the chapter.

UPDATE 2:  For Dubner’s apology to me, see “Coauthor of SuperFreakonomics apologizes to me.”

UPDATE 3:  For the authors finally agreeing to remove their most egregious error, see One error retracted, 99 to go. Superfreaknomics authors will, in future editions, correct their claim that Caldeira believes “carbon dioxide is not the right villain.”

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101 Responses to Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    Speaking as a card-carrying economist and someone who’s been writing about peak oil and climate chaos for almost six years, let me say that I would like to find the authors of this utter garbage and staple their economics degrees to their foreheads.


    Oh wait, I know the answer–it’s the same as the answer to why authors write such insane crap–they’ve driven by money and ideology. They think that “being a contrarian” makes them somehow special and smarter than the rest of the world. Here’s a hint to these authors and anyone else who takes this world view: It doesn’t make you “special”, it just makes you a flaming idiot who spends his or her time proving to the world just how big an idiot you are.

    Joe: I was doing a pretty good job of managing my stress level over such issues until I read this posting. Now I’m back to square one.

  2. ludovicspeaks says:

    “Hard to believe such a staggeringly illogical statement (page 203) comes from Levitt and Dubner, the same folks who wrote the runaway bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”

    This is where intersectionality can be helpful…if greens had been paying attention to the previous critiques of Levitt and Dubner you wouldn’t have been expecting much. They’ve also said legalizing abortion lowered the crime rate, and other made up but certainly contrarian things.

    Seems like enviros are surprised at so much in the real world…if y’all paid more attention to social justice work and the hypocrisy it uncovers you’d probably be more strategic and reach your very important goals.

  3. EricG says:

    How is this possible?

    “It means that running a handheld electric hairdryer on US grid electricity delivers a planet-warming punch comparable to two Boeing 747s operating at full takeoff power for the same time period.”

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #2: Joe should clarify, but I suspect that calculation ignores the effect of the CO2 emitted by the 747s (i.e., just counts the heat of combustion). Even if so it’s still a useful comparison.

    [JR: It's just a comparison of their relative thermal emissions.]

  5. P J Evans says:

    ‘This should be the definitive proof that smarts in one area do not necessarily translate at all.’

    I heard Buckminster Fuller quoted on the news, during the licensing hearings for the Diablo Canyon power plants, as saying that the only safe place for a nuclear power plant is 93 million miles away.
    Which ignores the many differences between the Sun and a nuclear power plant, starting with the fact that they don’t use the same process.

  6. jheri says:

    wow 100,000x

    could you show a back of the envelope calculation for that?!


  7. Dave E says:

    I was pleased to see John O’Donnell quoting Ken Caldeira to make the point that it is not the energy we use but the CO2 that is the problem. In the past I had wondered whether unlimited cheap carbon free energy (say nuclear fusion) would be a problem because it would cause direct heating of the earth. It quickly became clear, as shown above, that direct heating was order’s of magnitude less of a problem (evidently 5 orders of magnitude less) than the heating caused by co2. I’m glad to see this analysis.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    In the past, I’ve thought that dark solar panels should be counterbalanced in albedo by scattering white gravel, for example, under them, or by painting the roofs that they sit on white.

    So, this is a cheap and easy solution to the albedo problem, if is determined to be significant by reliable sources.

    Of course, it is a matter of emissivity of the solar panels, too, and overall balance of visible light absorbed and infrared radiation emitted, along with transparency of the atmosphere to infrared radiation. I seem to recall that glass is a great infrared emitter, which is why second surface mirrors (silvered on the back) tend to remain cool.

    I’ve read somewhere, I think, that CO2 tends to persist in the carbon cycle for long periods of time, and takes maybe 100,000 years for all of it to go out of the carbon cycle and end up sequestered as carbonate, which I think was your point, and part of the 100,000 multiplier figure for cumulative heat added to the earth system.

    On the other hand, this line of argument really validates the idea of carbon negative energy, doesn’t it? If we can put carbon back in the ground using biomass/CCS at the same time we generate useful electricity, won’t that have a truly tremendous cumulative impact on the climate problem, both short term and long term?


  9. John O'Donnell says:

    Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker article on Ken Caldeira’s research, “The Darkening Sea,” was the first place the 100,000 figure appeared; Ken has explained and used the figure in multiple talks. CO2 that was released in the early years of the industrial revolution had a short atmospheric lifetime; ocean absorption was the dominant removal mechanism. As the upper layers of the oceans have saturated with CO2 and acidified, the rate of removal of CO2 has dropped — so that CO2 emitted today may have a half-life in the thousands of years.

    Dave E. has exactly grasped the implications: it’s not our use of industrial processes or energy that are the problem — we can have (essentially) all the energy we want and be a sustainable civilization — “it’s the CO2, stupid.”

  10. MIchael Y. says:

    The 100,000 is indeed an important figure that we should should get a good handle on. Anyone have any good links to original sources? Have the numbers and assumptions been well tested?

    On a different point, for all the good reasons given above (acidification of oceans, unforeseen and unintended consequences, complex interactions, etc.) we should not keep pumping out CO2 while pumping sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. We should go CO2 neutral or negative ASAP.

    That being said, GIVEN THE THREAT OF OF HORRIBLE POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS (such as the melting of the permafrost and the associated release of methane), is the sulfate aerosol idea (or the creation of ocean clouds or other forms of immediate geo-engineering)–in the short-term–perhaps a good idea that we should actually consider pursuing right away?

    The positive feedback loops just scare the hell outta me….

    Any thoughts?


  11. Adam Sacks says:

    “we can have (essentially) all the energy we want and be a sustainable civilization”

    Only if one believes that global warming is a carbon/energy problem. It’s not – it’s a problem of a hyperconsuming culture and exponentially growing economies utterly naive about the basics of ecology. While as a symptom greenhouse gases certainly are lethal (and of course our emissions should be zero), the disease is much more fundamental than that – which is why hybrids, curly lightbulbs and alternative energy sources (with their yet-to-be-discovered unintended consequences) are not solutions.

    We are in violation of fundamental laws of nature, arriving at the endgame of our illusory expansions of carrying capacity. Life support systems are collapsing all around us – if we were to solve climate disruption overnight we would still be left with unsustainable lifestyles and terminal environmental destruction (from the perspective of billions of humans and millions of other species). There are limits to growth, and we have exceeded many of them.

    We cannot substitute our way out of this. We have to change the way we live on earth. We may find that “sustainable civilization,” as we currently understand civilization, is an oxymoron.

  12. Adam Sacks says:

    To Michael Y. -

    Eco-restoration has the potential to pull many ppm out of the atmosphere in timeframes measured in decades – or even years – if we decide to do it. It’s cheap, it’s entirely safe as far as anyone can tell (nature’s been doing it for eons until we made it almost impossible), it can restore billions of acres we have devastated, it can to some degree reverse desertification, and even provide animal protein. It has positive effects on hydrological and nutrient cycles. It reverses pollution. If someone had “invented” it, s/he would be rich and famous (but it’s only nature in action, ho-hum). And we know how to do it right now!

    Eco-restoration doesn’t get much traction because we’re obsessed with technofixes and it’s almost too easy. See http://www.holisticmanagement.org/. There are some 30 million acres currently under such management, accounting for some megatons of CO2 already stored in the soil and not the atmosphere. It’s the most obvious thing to do around the world if/when the blinders come off.

    When’s that?

  13. Michael Y. says:

    I’m with you, Adam. As you highlight, eco-restoration has many advantages over the techno solutions such as creating ocean clouds or sulfate aerosoles. Especially worth underscoring are (1) Since it is taking us to prior situations, it would seem less likely to leave us with unanticipated consequences and (2) it actually takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, as opposed to merely temporarily masking its warming effects.


    On a more general point….One argument we hear from those that prefer to not spend to change business as usual, is that if we wait, fixes might get cheaper. I think this might well be the (overstated) case. However, it is our job to emphasize that if we wait, we will have to overcome the magnified problem produced by the feedback loops.

    GIVEN THE HORRIBLE FEEDBACK LOOPS we are seeing kick-in already, perhaps we should start considering immediately supporting eco-restoration (obviously!), but also perhaps other quick techno fixes (even if, stupidly enough, they are more likely to actually be brought to fruition because we are a techno-crazed culture).

    In brief: CO2 neutrality ASAP. Eco-restoration as a preferred CO2 reduction strategy, and some other warming-reduction techniques as better than allowing the feedback loops to kick in further.


    On an even more general point…and I promise to shut up after this!…I get as crazy-frustrated by the global warming deniers or minimizers as anyone. I feel like screaming sometimes. But…I’m afraid that we have largely moved to a polemics where each side screeches at the other, accomplishing nothing. We can’t bash or insult people to take our position. For the sake of changing minds, let’s all do our best to be SMART in our attempts to move minds.

    Some minds will never move. Let’s either ignore them or make them look the fools by sounding and being more logical and understandable.

    Other minds MIGHT be subject to convincing if we start our discussion from where they live now. For example, I’m an aetheist, but the best way to convince my religious mother-in-law that Limbaugh might be wrong about global warming is through a discussion about our responsibility to protect god’s creation. I can convince her to write letters to her Senator exactly opposite to what Limbaugh would have had her write.

    We’ve got to be thoughtful and controlled about this stuff.

  14. Lucas says:

    @Dave E,
    “In the past I had wondered whether unlimited cheap carbon free energy (say nuclear fusion) would be a problem because it would cause direct heating of the earth.”
    Check this:

  15. Richard Brenne says:

    Calling Lou Grinzo and All Other Card-Carrying Economists:

    Is their a (hopefully growing) branch of economics that considers the entire human economy a wholly-owned subsiderary of the environment (and did that concept begin with Joe Kennedy or Bill McKibben or someone else)?

    And one that agrees with Al Bartlett that exponential growth of anything material on earth (human population, consumption of non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals) is not sustainable indefinately?

    And one that requires us to live off the interest of renewable resources, not drawing down the capital of fresh water (in aquifers that take thousand to hundreds of thousand of years to replenish), topsoil, forests, fish, etc?

    And shouldn’t all economics that disavows any or all of these three things be disavowed itself? Shouldn’t the conventional economics (our religion) and all its high priests (conventional economists) be shown the door and placed on the ash heap of other discredited and obsolete views like eugenics and disco?

  16. jorleh says:

    These guys are Madoffs, making money while the world collapses.

    There book is going to sell rather good because most Americans are idiots (I beg your pardon of this fact).

    Immorality, stupidity, utter evil.

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Oh, and these authors seem contrarian about some things, but conventional Milton Friedmanesque economists about the most important things that got us into the mess we’re in.

    And their knowledge of climate change science appears able to fit on the head of a very small pin.

    If you put all the world’s conventional economists head to toe across the Sahara Desert, that’d be an improvement on what they’re doing now.

  18. Lloyd Apter says:

    Ok, so the other side is wrong… at least we are convinced of this.

    Convience the other side otherwise? They aren’t interested.

    It isn’t about climate change and alternative energy, it’s about how we look at life. It’s very deep.

    As custodians of life on Earth we need ensure the survival of life on this planet and movement of all life to the stars and we need to do this peacefully and as one. Nobody and no miracle will do this for us.
    This we all agree upon.

    So, forget about trying to convience and let’s start focusing on making the change happen ourselves.

  19. Lloyd Apter says:

    Sorry that is convince and not convience

  20. Giove says:

    An answer to #10 .. yes I thought of a kind of (mybe) feasible geoengineering which might be manageable… not something easy though. Probably a crazy idea, probably someone is already researching it, or maybe not, maybe is even a good one. I would like a comment from some of the climate/storm experts here, as I am definitely out of my “comfort scientific zone”. So please forgive me if something is wrong in what follows :).

    1) what do you do when you have a too warm greenhouse and you want to quickly cool it down a little? You open a window on the roof, and open the door. The heat quickly escapes through the roof, as the air esacapes and is replaced by cooler air. Can we do something like this, to manage the emergency and disspate some thermal energy? We need a window on the CO2 roof .. and we need to open it to let the heat escape into space, instead than to the ocean or the arctic ice. Do we have such a window? Hmm .. mybe yes: hurricanes.

    2) Hurricanes are convective machines that pump thermal energy from the surface of the ocean to the upper atmosphere. Their working fluid is steam, which forms on the surface of water and is shot upwards in the cyclone eye. Upon reaching the upper atmosphere, steam condenses into water and ice while heat is dissipated to space. While this happens in normal storms too, in a hurricane is very strong, the convective cell reaches much higher altitudes and might be able to “punch a window in the CO2 layer” (I cannot find a vertical profile of CO2 concentration over a storm and compare it to convective cell height .. anywere. At what height does a storm have to go to have the upward infrared irradiation mostly unimpeded by the CO2 layer?).

    3) As every thermic machine hurricane efficiency increases if the difference in temperature between the “warm” energy source and the “cold” energy source. So the stronger the hurricane, the higher its condensation plume is going to be, and the less the thermal dissipation on the cold side it will be stopped by the CO2 layer. So CO2 inhibits hurricane formation, but if the hurricane manages to “punch a hole” it will become a lot stronger, as it can use a much bigger difference in temperature to generate stronger winds and to strengthen the heat transport.

    4) hurricanes can transfer gigantic amounts of energy from the ocean surface to space. I read that a single hurricane can transfer as much as the entire electrical energy consumed by USA in 1 year. While they are a disaster when they land, they are a powerful negative feedback in the climate, as they contribute in dissipating energy trapped in the atmosphere.


    5) Now, if we really need it, can we cool the ocean and the atmosphere by favoring hurricane formation in safe parts of the ocean? Basically what you need is a tropical storm which is forming an eye .. and helping the eye “punch” the hole by temporarily increasing the convection with microwaves or so. If a storm is near the critical point, probably a little amount of energy (megawatt? gigawatt? terawatt?) can tip the storm into becoming a hurricane. Further, application of microwaves to different parts of the eyewall cold mybe slowly steer the storm (after all it has a dynamic which is very caotic .. probably just need a push here and there)

    6) Now, I know all of this sounds crazy, but I don’t think that covering the stratosphere in sulphuric acid is less crazy… :)

  21. Nick Palmer says:

    Richard Brenne wrote:
    “Is their a (hopefully growing) branch of economics that considers the entire human economy a wholly-owned subsiderary of the environment (and did that concept begin with Joe Kennedy or Bill McKibben or someone else)?”

    Yes. The “wholly owned subsidiary” quote comes from Herman E. Daly who, amongst other things, wrote (with Joshua Farley) “Ecological Economics – principles and applications”. It’s pretty much “the answer” to everything.

  22. Lloyd Apter says:

    How about getting a solar or wind energy system on top of every home in the world?

  23. Giove says:

    sure it is a must, but if we wait long enough not even buying solar panels and windmills for everyone might be enough.

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi, Adam Sacks and Michael Y.-

    I think it’s mostly a CO2 problem, rapidly becoming a general ecological collapse via positive feedback loops.

    In Lovelock’s words “the system is in failure mode”.

    If we can take the carbon back out of the climate system, I think it’s likely but not certain that it will start regulating itself again. Once negative feedbacks start to dominate again, we will be back to our old tough self-regulating earth, I think.

    I think it’s possible for us to virtually “disappear from Gaia’s sight”, or build a firewall between our technology and the natural world. I don’t see any reason that a solar (or even nuclear) powered society has to be ecologically ruinous to the earth.

    If we lived in arcologies, chemically synthesized our food or grew it within the multiple levels of the arcology, traveled between arcologies in electric trains, and ran the whole system on solar or even nuclear energy, we would be effectively be hidden from Gaia’s sight.

    So long as the climate is stable, we can support the current population of the earth, IMO, with no problem. We’re also only a generation or so from getting off this planet and out into space, and could build space colonies almost totally segregated from the earth’s biosphere.

  25. Antoni Jaume says:

    Also along photovoltaic panels, we can use Sun energy to get hot water, which is one of the big use of energy in homes.

  26. Seth Masia says:

    I once asked NREL’s Chuck Kutscher about the thermal load of electrical generation (as opposed to the CO2 load), and he calculated it: heat released to the environment by cooling systems in thermoelectric plants amounts to roughly 2% of net anthropogenic warming. “I’m surprised it’s not trivial,” he said.

  27. Ben says:


    Don’t take it personally, dawg. They’re just trying to get you riled up. they can keep writing books like these, but as long as we get a majority of citizens to support alternative energy sources, while focusing on making personal lifestyle changes in favour of increasing efficiency and reducing emissions (becoming a vegetarian cyclist is a good start), then we won’t have to worry.

    Will we now?

  28. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks, Nick Palmer:

    I’m going to get “Ecological Economics” – is that the book of Daly’s you’d most recommend?

    I’ve long known that people like Bartlett and McKibben consider Daly the world’s most sane and sensible economist. My reading him in detail is long overdue – as are about 45 of my library books.

    Thanks for this, Nick – are you an economist or ecologist (and hopefully all of the former become the latter)?

    And Lloyd Apter, you convinced and convienced me both that we should form the movement among those of us who passionately agree, and then it will take us where we need to go.

  29. Anna Haynes says:

    I submitted two comments to this Freakonomics blog post yesterday -

    - one of them asking if Stephen Dubner intended to apologize to Caldeira for the misrepresentation – but they don’t seem to have survived moderation.

  30. Anna Haynes says:

    p.s. this being at least the third time in a year that Caldeira’s views have been misrepresented, perhaps it’s time he started a blog in self-defense.

  31. Lloyd Apter says:

    Thanks Richard Brenne, very glad you agree and I guess not surprisingly either because we by nature all think the same.

    And how do you suggest we get the momentum going that will take us where we need to go? Because this is what we are al looking for.

  32. Deep Climate says:

    “It means that running a handheld electric hairdryer on US grid electricity delivers a planet-warming punch comparable to two Boeing 747s operating at full takeoff power for the same time period.”

    [JR: It's just a comparison of their relative thermal emissions.]

    Still not as clear as it could be. I think you mean:

    “It means that running a handheld electric hairdryer on US grid electricity delivers a planet-warming punch comparable to the direct thermal emissions of two Boeing 747s operating at full takeoff power for the same time period.”

    [or "heat given off by" if you want to be more colloquial.]

    Of course, the overall point is very well taken.

    The rest of the book is full of, um, fallacious nonsense as well. But perhaps less dangerous nonsense.

  33. Nick Palmer says:

    Re:#29 Richard Brenne

    I haven’t read his other stuff yet so cannot comment personally but this is what is said in the Amazon review:

    “While many books have been written on ecological economics, and several textbooks describe basic concepts of the field, this is the only stand-alone textbook that offers a complete explanation of both theory and practice. It will serve an important role in educating a new generation of economists and is an invaluable new text for undergraduate and graduate courses in ecological economics, environmental economics, development economics, human ecology, environmental studies, sustainability science, and community development.”

    I am neither an economist nor an ecologist but came to the ideas because of my long term environmental campaigning. Check out my blog by clicking on my name to see my rambling thoughts.

    It just seemed obvious to me that it was the lack of monetary value that business/governments placed on the environment that explained the neglect and abuse. If the accountants working out the bottom line in a company’s yearly statement cost in the environmental externalities that they hitherto ignored, then automatically the cleaner, greener company/process will become more profitable and the wasteful polluting energy hogs will lose money and go bankrupt (unless they change). I think that would be the fastest way to make things happen without ponderous inefficient government dictats and legislation.

  34. Lloyd Apter says:

    Well it does take nearly 85% to delivery 15% of energy to a home appliance – that’s why home energy plants are so important. This way there is no loss in delivery and in 10 years the home is energy independent.

    Some airlines are going green – I bet these guys will become very important in this industry in the near future – http://us.sunpowercorp.com/about/

  35. Honto says:

    And how did you get a copy of this book? Just curious

    [JR: Friend had a review copy.]

  36. J4zonian says:

    You can call a fish a horse if you want, but you’d be pretty damned stupid to bet on it at the track.

    You can call science a religion if you want, but then if you said you’re not of that religion you’d have to stop using the crops and livestock and stereos and telephones and medicines and munitions and cars and trucks and tractors and the things they make and move, and shoes and metals and houses and plastics that science has produced.

    Actually a lot of that sounds great to me, but I guess that’s another subject. I don’t notice many of the science-deniers doing any of that, so it would be useful to think about, isolate and deal with those aspects of science and technology that upset the right, then answer, deal with and treat their fears concerning them, and end the conflict. Yes, it turns out: Republicanism is a curable disease.

  37. J4zonian says:


    there are an distirbing nomber of typos and other misteaks (“incompletely unexplored”?) in this post. seems like it were rushed into [print], yes? I’m a pretty good proofreaderr, and in the interestz of making us all look bitter, er better, i would like to voluntear to spellcheck your posts for you. I’m sure others would be happy too as well. Pleeease email me to arrange pre-posting viewings.

    [JR: Not practical. If you want to list typos in a comment, that'd be helpful. No question about with the volume of stuff I'm writing I make a few more typos, but I'm workin' on it!]

  38. J4zonian says:

    Adam S, Michael Y,

    Allan Yeoman has said that if we increased the organic matter in soil by 1.6% on all arable land, (8½% of all land) we could sequester all the CO2 produced by the industrial age so far. That may sound easy, but it’s an enormous task in a world that is still rushing in the other direction, destroying organic matter at a prodigious rate. We could play with the numbers to make it more practical—increase organic matter more on fewer arable acres, reclaim deserts and other de-arableized lands, increase biomass with forest farming and forest replenishment, reinvigorating the sustainable indigenous people/forest relationships, replenish fish stocks and aquatic ecosystems and get rid of dead zones in the ocean (the marine equivalent of greening a desert) and so on. Combined with a conversion to solar and wind and a society that thrives on far less energy of all kinds, it would be enough to save civilization. (In fact we couldn’t do one of those without the other.)

    I suspect you mean other things as well by “ecorestoration”—de-desertification, re-wildernessizing (as much as that’s possible and not painting sand green and calling it a lawn) and things like that.

    If we returned to pre-stone age technology with only ten million humans on Earth, and 1 of them lit 1 fire, that would be more than zero carbon emissions, so obviously that is a false and silly goal. Our goal instead should be put in relational terms. Like the balance of respiration between plants and animals, our carbon emissions should be within the range that nature and horticulture can equal. (healthy, organic horticulture). We have to start thinking more in terms of relationships and less in terms of isolated units, people, ideas. We have to start thinking more like women and less like abused men.

  39. ericvann says:

    The point has been made that even otherwise intelligent people can be led astray by faulty argument in fields outside their competence. Assuming that few of those who have posted here are in fact climatologists (certainly I’m not), we should not be placing absolute confidence in any climatological argument; to do so is to have faith, and this justifies the “religion” remark.

    I think Michael Crichton’s point was not that global warming was bunk, but that a lot of money is being made from environmental causes, irrespective of their validity. This is an important observation; it’s clear to me that one can now buy whatever scientific opinion one requires. For what it’s worth, Crichton’s criticism in State of Fear of a paper by James Hansen was justified — the abstract of that paper promises proof of anthropogenic global warming, but the paper fails to deliver any.

  40. Kyle says:

    Has Myrhvold failed to notice that roads are black?

  41. Jeff Darcy says:

    Richard Brenne, you should also check out Natural Capitalism where the authors explicitly make the point that the economy should be considered a subset of (IIRC their words are “inscribed within”) the environment instead of vice versa. They also take on the “saving the planet will destroy the economy” canard by pointing out, with some very clear and powerful examples, the obvious-in-retrospect fact that resource efficiency is very good for business too.

  42. Mike Scott says:

    While sulphate aerosols are indeed a risky proposition, there are other safer geo-engineering approaches that should not be discounted, such as atmospheric carbon capture and storage.

  43. Joe says:

    Plants absorb most sunlight too – they only reflect green – so does levitt believe they contribute to global warming too just like solar cells? HA!

  44. Gail says:

    How about the endless lawns in the US that require 2-stroke engine mowers and leaf blowers be banned. If your lawn is too large to be mowed it with a manual mower and raked with a bamboo rake (or too expensive to pay somebody else to do it) then it’s TOO BIG! How about we turn all those lawns into gardens for a source of local food?

    I have to think on this level or the Superfreakenomics nonsense will make me berserk. What is WRONG with them when we have reports like this http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903062g raining down upon us faster than the leaves are falling?

  45. Hank Roberts says:

    Disposing of sulfate is currently a cost, either externalized in old type coal plants, or a cost on the books in coal plants under the Clean Air Act regulations.

    Their plan is to make sulfate a profit center by selling it as a way of remediating the problems caused by operating the coal plants — getting paid twice (or maybe three or four times).

    It’s an example of a large problem — taking an identified pollutant, redefining it as something they can sell, and spreading it around.

    City sewage sludge (full of heavy metals and viruses) is a toxic waste, unless it’s spread on farm fields, in which case it’s unregulated ‘fertilizer’

    Wanta bet they aren’t planning on taking the radioactive and heavy metal crap out of the coal ash before shooting it into the upper atmosphere?

    “The solution to profiting from pollution is dilution.”

  46. book says:

    I am a paleoclimatologist, and can only say FINALLY. Someone with economics background understands the difference between reality and a model for reality in science. Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Paul Krugman, and many on this page want us to base public policy on models claim to predict the future of the climate, even though they do not model cloud formation correctly, do not incorporate the Sun, and do not model the biosphere feedback at all (just for starters) and have failed to predict anything, ever (that is, say in advance what is going to happen), not hurricance, not El Nino, not the snowfall in New York this evening, including things from the past that the modelers did not know about and therefore did not parameterize their models to “retrodict” known fact. Not the Pliocene warming. Not the Ice Age terminations, nothing.
    Jim Hansen had an interesting hypothesis; that feedback cycles that amplify CO2-caused increases in temperature may overwhelm feedback cycles that damp this perturbation. Maybe; any good scientist would consider it as a hypothesis. But it is clear now that it is a poorly supported hypothesis, and is certainly no grounds for determining public policy.
    But Al Gore, a lawyer, declared Hansen’s hypothesis “a winner”, made a movie and won a Nobel Peace Prize. And so non-scientists (including many people writing on this page who evidently think they have science in their pocket) are threatening a political response to non-science. Indeed, as any scientist can tell you, the phrase “The science is settled” (one of VP Gore’s favorites) is not only not science, it is anti-science. Nothing is ever “settled”, immune from being revisited. And certainly not a hypothesis as weakly supported as the anthropogenic CO2 hypothesis.

  47. Gail says:

    I am disillusioned. I thought the paleoclimatologists were the sharpest tacks in the box. The science of the theory of global warming IS settled, just as settled as the theories of evolution, plate tectonics, and gravity.

    Are all the questions answered? Of course not.

    Anonymous book, it doesn’t take a degree in biology or physics or economics to see that the human population on earth is careening towards catastrophes of several different but interrelated types – ecosystems collapsing followed by mass extinction), political and civil unrest, resource wars, energy shortages. All of these things will happen in our lifetime, not just future generations. Please, stop being anonymous so we will know who to thank.

  48. MadScientist says:

    Why does the target 450ppm keep coming up? It will not be met and I would not encourage people to entertain that fairytale; it would be difficult to meet if we put in a serious effort to curb emissions today. Unfortunately, politicians see this as merely another game to play and that they can take their time with it. Just look at the EU bragging about its worthless emissions trading scam which it claims delivered emissions cuts. Nature couldn’t care less what accountants and politicians believe; CO2 respects no boundaries. The truth is CO2 emissions is growing; any claims of a cut are pure bullshit. Increase in use of fossil fuel energy sources is leagues ahead of replacement of energy sources with lower emissions alternatives. Any talk of “per capita reduction” is yet another means of dressing up the bullshit (and have a look at any government’s reports to see the contortions they attempt to achieve even the delusional per capita reduction); the only thing that matters is total actual emissions.

  49. MadScientist says:

    @MIke Scott #43: And how do you power the devices to remove CO2 from the atmosphere? I have yet to see any sensible proposal for direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Planting trees is out because we cannot give up existing arable land with the current global population. The use of olivine had been proposed many years ago, but the reaction is slow even in the presence of high concentrations of CO2 and the processing and transport of olivine will likely result in more CO2 released than captured.

  50. Re: “book” in #47.

    You are a bald-faced lying coward.

    (1) You are a coward: you are hiding behind a pseudonym making extravagant claims about your qualifications which, by virtue of your cowardice, are impossible to verify.

    (2) You are a liar: if you had any genuine background in climate science you would not appeal to weather effects in fabricating your ignorant critique, and which independently refute your previously mentioned extravagant claims of expertise.

    As is no doubt evident from the above, I find people like you not only tedious but manifestly contemptible. On a personal level, I am increasingly impatient with the expectation of dealing with person’s such as yourself with anything like civility. That being said, I apologize to other readers here for this (presumably temporary) lapse in my impulse control.

  51. Peter Baldo says:

    I don’t think “geoengineering” is a good answer to global climate change.

    The Earth has a functioning carbon cycle. Huge amounts of carbon pass through this cycle yearly. The imbalance between the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere and the amount consumed is a very small percentage of the whole (though a big absolute number).

    The common “geoengineering” examples I hear would really mess up the carbon cycle, mostly by limiting sunlight and restricting plant growth. By meddling with the system that recycles almost all the world’s CO2 each year, we could make things a whole lot worse.

    It would be better to deal directly with the relatively small imbalance between the amount of CO2 produced and recycled each year. We could do that by ending our burning of fossil fuels.

  52. I’m yet to hear a convincing case against geo-engineering. It seems like it’s many orders of magnitude less expensive than anything else, doesn’t require any advances in technology, and will work reliably.

    The alternatives are what? Drastic sudden reduction in carbon emission, far far beyond what’s currently considered, and what would be politically feasible ever; and just letting global warming happen. Both are ridiculously bad compared to geoengineering.

    Geo-engineering approach is wholly compatible with gradual phase-out of carbon emissions.

  53. Jonnan says:

    Thank you for this clear and concise debunking of the premises – I enjoyed the original book considerably and might well have fallen victim to the mistaken conclusion that they were as well researched this time.

    Thank goodness for educated revieWS – {g};


  54. tegwar says:

    Geo-engineering – that would be the fancy, technical name for ‘global sunglasses’, right? That type of approach seems like a tremendously terrible idea. If the extra carbon is causing the solar radiation we receive to bake us, then just cut back the solar radiation to slow the cooking. How less sunlight would work for the flora of the world is a big concern – esp. since they’re the carbon eaters.

    Seems pretty irresponsible – and a bit like micro-economist trying his hand at a ‘general equilibrium’ while only worrying about one aspect. It’s a hazard of his trade- but one Levitt should know exists.

  55. Mr. Wegrzanowski (October 16, 2009 at 8:29 pm) says: “I’m yet to hear a convincing case against geo-engineering. It seems like it’s many orders of magnitude less expensive than anything else, doesn’t require any advances in technology, and will work reliably.”

    It is unclear to me what sources you may have gone to in order to find such cases, Mr. Wegrzanowski. However, the evidently blind faith you express in the absolutely untried and untested technologies of geoengineering, possessed as they are with the potential of globally catastrophic consequences, is something I find rather disturbing.

    Consider, for analogy, an extremely well-tried technology, that of building bridges. It would be foolish to understate the complexities and nuances involved in this discipline, and I certainly do not wish to do so here. One must understand geology (the ground in which the bridge’s supports are to be placed), materials sciences, weather and wear conditions over the long term, as well as the sociological issues of use and the potential growth thereof. None of these matters are simple, and I have nothing but boundless respect for the people who can erect such structures and have them last longer than it takes me to once again get around to vacuuming my living room. And yet, this is trivial child’s play (the bridge, not my vacuuming) when compared to geoengineering and its hopelessly unpredictable consequences.

    When the Tacoma Straights or I-35 bridges went down, one did not see entire agricultural regions of Africa or Asia collapse, nor entire biomes obliterated by climatic changes that were entire hemispheres apart. As thoroughly as we understand bridges, they still fall down. But when they fall down, their effects are local. Yet you are quite confidently inviting us to roll the dice on on possibilities of a globally catastrophic nature without even the possibility of performing a test that does not itself involve the entire planet in pure “gee whiz” guesswork.

    And the one thing that is certain in engineering and technology is failure; every last thing ever built breaks. Your last phrase, “will work reliably,” is the most atrociously absurd of all. The simple and absolutely irrefutable fact of the matter is that you cannot possibly know that. What test ground can you point to where humans have attempted to engineer entire climates with “reliable” results? This last question is obviously rhetorical, since no such test has ever been deliberately undertaken, with or without “reliable” results.

    Here’s another example: when the Navy’s Aegis anti-aircraft & anti-missile missile system was first actively tested, it had a success rate of only 6o% — 65%. This, once again, is a system of childish simplicity when compared to the climate, since all of the factors involved were linear, and AA missiles had been in hand for some 20 years prior. (The Army’s Basic HAWK missile had nominally scored a “kill” against an artillery missile in the late ’50′s.) But climate is a notoriously non-linear system. What imaginable source of “reliability” could you possibly be referring to here, when a piece of engineering, all of whose factors are entirely within our control could achieve no higher level of success than the Aegis, even after decades of experience with such technology?

  56. Leif says:

    Everything that Gary Herstein says with the added dilemma of ocean acidification thrown into the mix. Of course if you, Tomasz W, do not believe the science of global warming and ocean acidification then what makes you trust that geo-engeneering science is any different. The relatively pristine coast of Oregon and Washington has experienced a “dead zone’ since 2002 every summer. After eight years of study this dead zone the size of New Jersey is now believed to have been caused by wind shifts brought on by global warming. This is expected to be irreversible. Of course again, if you do not believe the science in one area, why another.

  57. Marion Delgado says:

    Hurricanes aren’t capable of lifting energy “past” the CO2+other GHGs+water layers. The best discussion on this on the internet was a couple of years ago on Rabbet Run and Open Mind and other places, people should check for it. Energy has to travel all the way to the top by abosrption and reemission, and in fact, the percentage absorbed and reemitted (half of it downward) at a given altitude has increased, therefore the effective “greenhouse” is actually higher up.

    I have seen no evidence for dismissing either tree-planting or sequestration, including things like olivine.

  58. Marion Delgado says:

    Tomasz admirably states the position of the book, but he’s wrong.

    Tomasz, if you want to understand why you and the authors are both wrong, you will have to actually do some reading, instead of just commenting, I’m afraid. Start … well, here.

  59. Not Saletan says:

    Please post portions of this review on Amazon. You demolish the book with uncommon eloquence, and no one needs to see this critique more than readers who will purchase the book based on the previous one.

  60. J says:

    In their defense, the Superfreaks write about economics, not climate science. On the behavioral/economic argument I suspect they’re right – regardless of the validity of global warming theory, reduction of carbon emissions in the time frame suggested by that theory simply isn’t going to happen, and we need to look for another solution. Indeed, based on this post Caldiera appears to agree with the view that geoengineering is our only hope, albeit for different reasons.

    [JR: Except they don't write about much economics in the chapter -- and what they do is wrong!]

  61. Leif says:

    #11, J: Read Lester Brown , Plan B 4.0 and get a sense of what is happening as we speak, and what the potential is for the renewable energy sector. Will it be easy? No. Can it be done YES. The same can be said for WW II. The major difference being the lose of life up front, where as failure to act now, while we have a chance to be successful will equate to similar or even far greater lose of life in the succeeding generations.

  62. Chris Wood says:

    One commenter asks “I’m yet to hear a convincing case against geo-engineering.”

    Well, I’ve yet to hear a convincing case that the unintended consequences of geoengineering won’t be worse than any hoped-for benefits. Geoengineering is not a proven technology and therefore bears the burden of proof.

  63. logan says:

    Hm, the book hasn’t even been released yet… and won’t be for three more days, so how do you know this?

    And being academic inquiry, why so virulent? State your position and leave out the emotion.

    Have you read the book?

    [JR: I read a review copy of the chapter before writing this post, thanks for asking.

    Why so virulent? Because if people actually believe their disinformation, it would undermine efforts to actually solve this most dangerous of problems facing humanity. Also, I read a lot of nonsense like this -- and they have done a worse job than most, but have a much, much bigger audience]

  64. Giove says:

    Marion Delgado,I must disagree with that.

    According to this paper http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=20841487

    the convection cell in hurricane Bonnie (1998) reached 17.5 km of altitude.. i.e 5741 feet. That height is almost at the equatorial tropopause height, with temperatures of around -60 centigrade.

    Not much greenhouse there.

  65. James Hanley says:

    In fact, human-caused global warming is well-established science, far better established than any aspect of economics.

    That statement only demonstrates that you’re as ignorant about economics as L&D are about climate change.

    I’m not defending them by critiquing you, but you don’t bolster your case by making mistakes that are just as basic as theirs.

  66. Yoram Bauman says:

    I’ve read the chapter and I think it’s misleading and incredibly disappointing. Details on my blog at http://www.standupeconomist.com/blog/economics/climate-change-in-superfreakonomics/

  67. PurpleOzone says:

    How about ” Famous “Authorities” whose Knowledge (of climate) is Error-Riddled Rubbish”

  68. James Hanley says:

    this most dangerous of problems facing humanity.

    Is this hyperbole? Supervolcanos and meteors are more dangerous problems, no? Of course we can’t do much about them (except in Hollywood movies!), so I’m willing to classify them as “non-problems” (in the sense that a “problem” is something solvable). But what about nuclear war? Isn’t that still a more dangerous problem? Taking the worst estimates for loss of life through global warming (via coastal flooding, crop failures, etc.), aren’t we still talking about fewer deaths than from a nuclear holocaust?

  69. Tyrone Slothrop says:

    James Henley #19:

    Well… of course, no nuclear holocaust is happening right now. That makes the Nuclear Holocaust death toll: Zero.

    Global warming, on the other hand, is happening.

    This, I think, makes global warming a somewhat more serious problem. Right now.
    Get back to me when the nukes start flying.

  70. Iip says:

    The authors are trying to attract more readers,thus placing controversial matters of mainstream ideas of climate change. It’s a strategy of marketing by costing their reputation.

  71. X says:

    “But each molecule of CO2, during its subsequent lifetime in the atmosphere, traps 100,000 times more heat than was released during its formation.”

    [Citation needed]

  72. Hmpf says:

    @ 19/20: There’s also the matter that political chaos resulting from global warming might end in nuclear holocaust. In fact, that’s the most likely cause I see for a full-on nuclear war in the medium-term future (by which I don’t mean a regionally limited conflict between, say, India and Pakistan, which would not necessarily have to turn apocalyptic for the whole world). Food and water scarcity due to permanent drought are probably going to exacerbate a lot of already existing international conflicts.

    Mind you, I still don’t believe a global nuclear war very likely. But global warming is certainly not exactly helping to prevent one.

  73. I stumbled upon Mr. Romm’s writings while searching for climate-mitigation textbooks for my classes at UC Irvine. He has a remarkably firm grasp of the science of global warming and, as a political economist, his clarity and cogency in explaining the mitigation wedges needed to keep CO2 beneath 450 ppm give me, a practicing climate scientist, the insights into solutions that my students clamor for. Thank you, Mr. Romm, for your excellent commentary.


  74. Tom Harrison says:

    I studied economics at Princeton in the early 1980s, and came out fully brainwashed. Since then, I have seen how economics is fundamentally flawed as a scientific method in its failure to reliably model and predict outcomes.

    I was greatly amused by the conclusions of Dubner et al. when I read Freakonomics — it was clear they were having fun with regression analysis and just being kind of goofy. I suspect some of their conclusions were correct.

    But if I recall correctly, they took on subjects that had happened in the past, and for which a suitably large corpus of data was available, then started looking for correlations. The did not predict outcomes; they modeled the past, found discrepant correlations, then contradicted the hypotheses upon which the original idea was founded. Their approach is potentially useful as a model to properly discredit economics, but beyond that seemed mostly a good example of 20/20 hindsight.

    It is almost as ludicrous for economics to predict long-term future outcomes (with any degree of useful precision) as it is for the weatherman to predict if it will be rainy in 60 days from now.

    But it is not ludicrous for climate scientists to forecast “the weather” — the data is there and, in the aggregate is massive and highly stable, thus valid as a predictor. We don’t need to know what the weather will be like on a given day 30 years in the future, all we need to know is what seems highly likely to happen in general over time.

    The so-called Davos Concensus used the same flawed economic methods to arrive at their conter-productive outcome. Because it was so well publicized, it got some play. Ugh.

    I hope people are able to see Super-Freakonomics for what it appears to be. I am not particularly hopeful, however. It’s a sad state of affairs when people hear “economists agree that the recession had ended” and take that on faith (despite much evidence to the contrary) while at the same time people hear “scientists agree that climate change is real” and dismiss the notion as crackpot (despite much supporting evidence).


  75. TheSteelGeneral says:

    I am half hoping that Leavitt wrote this chapter to provoke debate about this issue and make the environmental side stronger.
    But it’s hope against my better judgement.

    It’s really great that you wrote such a good rebuttal.

    It’s sad, but it’s far easier to believe that humans are not responsible, that wasteful consumerism is good for the planet and that being a responsible Earthdweller is useless, or worse, Anti-American.

    If people start dying from CO2 poisoning, or whatever side effects, don’t expect them to own up and admit their mistakes. They will cheerfully adapt to a new reality, and declare that it’s somehow not their fault, but somebody elses, blame God or Obama or poor African farmers for it all.

    That’s why we can’t let them get away with anything. These people are actively killing the planet, and should be shot.

  76. Praxiteles says:

    Curious to hear more about the methane issue raised in the book.

    What studies suggest it is more potent and a risk compared to CO2?

  77. Paul says:

    Gail (#48):

    Claims of extreme consequences is not a valid argument in support of your position. the same tactic is used in religion.

    “If you deny the existence of god, you will go to hell”.

    You may be right, but your rhetorical tactics are indicative of a “true believe” rather than one who understands the science about which they speak. Threatening non-christians with hell has no bearing on the validity of the existence of god, so the threat of environmental catastrophe has no bearing on Books analysis of the environment.


    Also, your demands that “Book” relinquish the privilege of anonymity hints that in addition you seek to attack his character and reputation rather than his argument. Not an admirable example an environmentalist ideologue.


  78. Paul, #28 (78? absolute):

    “your demands that ‘Book’ relinquish the privilege of anonymity hints that … you seek to attack his character…”

    That is blatant nonsense. You are not privileged with legislating what another person’s inner motivations may or may not be. Your rush from what was said to what magically happens to be “hinted at” once you get your rhetorical stranglehold on matters is as altogether devoid of any shred of logical legitimacy as is possible.

    Like “Book” you hide behind anonymity, while puling and whining about those who observe the unmitigated cowardice of those who do so. You spume about Gail’s “hinting at” attacking another’s character, but only by explicitly doing so yourself. It is scarcely possible to measure which is more egregious: your cowardice or your hypocrisy.

    And in case it is unclear, I am explicitly addressing myself to your character, the character that you explicitly reveal in the above with your explicit cowardice and hypocrisy.

    By the bye, do please entertain the abstract possiblity of actually learning something about the subject you would presume to lecture others on. The argumentum ad hominem is only applicable when the question(s) of the other person’s character is/are either false or materially irrelevant to the subject at hand. You would do much better to refer to Fallacy Files: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/adhomine.html

    Having explicitly raised the matter in your grotesque Red Herring (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/redherrf.html), you’ve made the matter materially relevant to your own case. And seeing as how you cower behind anonymity while hypocritically imputing theses to others that you’ve no logical basis for justifying, you’ve demonstrated the accusation’s truth against you.

  79. #27 (#77 absolute?) Praxiteles:

    Curious to hear more about the methane issue raised in the book.
    What studies suggest it is more potent a risk comapred to CO2?

    Pretty much any reference to the physics of greenhouse gassesm (GHG) will address this issue. Sadly, I’ve no specific reference to offer, in part because there is a fairly significant difference in estimation as to how much worse CH4 is. Everyone agrees it is much worse, but cited numbers range from 20–25 time as bad as CO2.

    There is a significant (gigatons+) volume of methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost, what Joe likes to call (with rather bitter irony) the “permamelt”. A little bit of CO2 warming is quite enough cause the permafrost to melt, thus releasing this enormous volume of methane, which in turn leads to significantly greater and faster warming do to the higher level of GHG heat trapping qualities of methane. This is a positive feedback loop, rather like the hideous shriek that occurs when you hold a microphone that is plugged into an amplifier up to the speaker that provides that amplifier’s output.

  80. Leif says:

    #19, James Hanley, “Coastal flooding, some crop failures.” a couple of degrees added temperature, what the hay. A few deaths here and there. Unfortunately you are failing to see the big picture. Think for a moment, take for instance the Ganges River that is a major water source for a large portion of India. This river is fed by glacier melt water during a portion of its yearly flow. When the glaciers are gone, predicted in the not too far distant future, this river will run dry for a portion of the year. Now go to a map and look at all the other rivers fed by melting glaciers from the Tibetan range. When one goes they all go. These rivers water billions of people and you can be sure that most will be p****d off. There is a good possibility that a large portion of there anger will be focused our way, having been a big contributer and slow helper. All the while remember that our crop production will most likely be stressed as well as much of our food comes from mountain fed melt water, especally here in the west. That senareio does not look like a few deaths here and there. Oh, it does not get better the next year or the one after that! Oh, and some of those countries have nukes. Oh, most don’t like us much from the get go. How many deaths do you envision now?

  81. Ryan L says:

    Despite the errors in the book, I think that there are important ideas that should be acknowledged. First, can we really prevent a global environmental crisis through reduction of US carbon emissions alone? Even if we could somehow massively cut emissions (and with political and economic considerations, massive and sudden cuts are unlikely), Calderia’s goal of zero C02 emissions is noble but borders on naiviete. There are too many powerful interests, both human and economic, that will make zero C02 emission little more than a pipe dream. The massive amount of methane produced by the cattle industry is a prime example cited by the authors – if the motives of our representatives were pure, the dairy industry would be the first to go, but no one is eager to be the first to propose that solution. And of course, this is ignoring the runaway industrialization of China, India and much of the developing world, none of which is under our control.

    Second, why not try to actively reduce emissions through less conventional methods? I don’t believe exploring ideas like cloud seeding prevents us from promoting clean energy nor vice versa. Cutting the emissions of our 300m+ person nation on a planet of 6 billion+ and waiting seems a poor plan with this much at stake. I don’t think the authors are really advocating spewing some chemicals into the atmosphere with a garden hose and then telling everyone its ok to drive a Hummer. To claim that the methods being tried now to reduce carbon emissions are the only (and most economical) way to save the world and ignore the possibility of other technological options does not strike me as particularly scientific.

  82. Paul says:

    Gary Herstein…

    Oh the sound and the fury…. Fantastic writing for an educator from a mediocre online university. Given your forays into postmodern ruminations on einstein’s theory of relativity though, I’m not surprised that you value style over substance… (Sokal would be impressed).

    My apologies if I don’t regard your insults anything worth revisiting (considering their source)

  83. I don’t mind at all, “Paul”, given your absolute lack of anything which might, by some reckless stretch of the imagination, ever be mistaken for integrity.

    And thanks for demonstrating your utter lack of reading skills as well. “Postmodern ruminations on einstein;” like you have a clue what that phrase even might mean, or that you bothered to look at any of my (or anyone else’s) publications. Since your blather is cognitively vacuous, there’s scarcely anything that can be done with people of your ilk except make accurate observations of your “qualities” (what you referred to as “insults.”)

  84. Faizan says:

    Can I first congratulate you on what is a very well written objection to the views expressed by the “Freakonomics” team. However I do think your criticisms of Dubner and Levitt are a little skewed.

    Let me make clear from the start that I am guilty of being an economist, so I don’t want to argue with you about the scientific solutions or causes. What I want to do is shed light on the economic argument that the book puts forward for the pursuit of geoengineering solutions.
    The ultimate solution to the problem that everyone wants is an alternative way of generating electricity that does not cause carbon emissions, and that is low cost enough that it can be implemented worldwide. And hence we can achieve the magical “zero emissions” paradise.

    The thing is this involves huge technical innovation to take place, you talk about solar power panels here and I see your point they can be seen as a long term solution. But relative to coal, a natural resource, which is easily extracted without the need of manufacture, solar power is rather expensive. And this is why developing countries are not likely to take this up very quickly.

    The technical innovation required could take years to find. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do everything in our power to reduce our carbon footprint, we absolutely should. But should doomsday come, or forecasts suggest that it may be approaching; surely a geoengineering solution should be welcomed not shunned and brushed aside. From your objections I can see there is serious fault in these solutions, but is there no scope for improving them so that there is no lasting damage to the planet. There seems to be enough evidence to suggest that solutions of this type should be explored in more depth.

    I think Dubner and Levitt were wrong for trying to champion the sulphur dioxide solution, without fully understanding the topic. Ultimately the solutions to these problems are going to be solved by you scientists out there. What economists try and do is build models based on statistics and relevent theories put forward from any area and try to explain the relationships and possible causes. I’m sure you will agree that climate change is an economic problem as well as a scientific one, which is why we feel compelled to offer our own opinions on the topic. I feel that it is unjustified when you criticise economists for doing this, because at the end of the day we are all working towards the same goal: avoiding an apocalypse!

  85. Hi Faizan,

    A couple of points here:

    (1) The first is that solar power (especially as Joe discusses it here) is not exclusively or even primarily solar panels (photovoltaic generation). Rather, large scale solar generation is Concentrated Solar-thermal Power (CSP), where light and heat from the sun is concentrated on a tower, and the heat then drives turbines which produce electricity. The technology here is proven, as the methodology is essentially the same as in coal-fired, turbine driven electrical generation (the primary difference being the source of the fire). Heat can be stored in some physical substrate like liquified salt, so that generation is not limited to the daytime hours. So the technical hurdles you speak of here are significantly fewer than might appear at first, and certainly do not entail the kinds of massive and catastrophic uncertainties involved with planet altering plans for geo-engineering.

    (2) There has long been a habit amongst some economists to only account for those costs that are convenient. The irrefutable fact of the matter is that coal is NOT “cheap;” what makes it appear so is the failure to include all of the costs. For example, the overwhelming majority of mainstream economists fail to include the environmental damages caused by extracting coal, or the widespread health costs from burning coal with its numerous concomittant wastes. Building “models based on statistics and relevant theories” is as genuinely excellent an activity as can be imagined. But the relevant theories have to include the actual damages incurred or they cannot possibly be genuinely relevant. In the case of coal, those damages are casually ignored by mainstream theories, while in the case of geo-engineering they can barely begin to be imagined. (On this latter point, however, it should be noted that one damage that is well understood is the acidification of the ocean to the point that a substantial part of its ability to support life is obliterated. Most of the oxygen in our atmosphere originates in the Earth’s oceans, so killing these off at a stroke is arguably a bad idea.)

    I believe that most people here would agree that, “climate change is an economic problem as well as a scientific one.” But the absolutely unavoidable fact of the matter is that physical reality trumps economic theories every single time. Lining up all the economists in the world will not change the gravitational constant of the universe by the smallest digit, no matter how convenient that might be for our latest building projects. Economists such as the SF’s who refuse to address themselves to physical reality in a robust manner do nothing more than reduce themselves to otiose obscurantists, helping no one but themselves with the short-term profits from their book sales.

    Finally, I’m not sure your apologetics for all economists is really necessary. Despite the fact that Dr. Romm focuses the majority of his praise on only one Nobel Laureate economist, others also receive his praise (Stern, e.g.) There are still others whose specific comments have not been at the forefront of climate change arguments but whose work focuses on the total costs of human activities and how these degrade the possibilities of human flourishing (Sen and Stiglitz, eg. Also, if I were a betting man, I’d bet Dean Baker could easily be fit into this category.) So converting Dr. Romm’s very specifically directed criticisms into a general damnation of economists at large is an illegitimate move; a Strawman fallacy, in fact.

  86. Faizan says:

    Mr Herstein

    Thank you for the reply, although I feel in places you have misunderstood the point I was making.

    (1) You are right in saying coal is not cheap due to the “environmental damages caused by extracting coal, or the widespread health costs from burning coal with its numerous concomittant wastes”. I was focusing my argument on developing countries, for developing nations to adopt the use of solar panels (- or photovoltaic generation) for electricity generation the monetary cost would have to be such that they may afford to meet all their energy demands.
    As developing countries are playing catch up with the rest of the developed world, it is likely that they are going to try and keep costs as low as possible and look to cut corners. The technical hurdles I talk about are in creating a practical and affordable solution. I have to admit I have not done much research on photovoltaic generation, so I would like to ask you whether it is cheap and easy to manufacture? Do you think that it could be successfully implemented in developing nations, without significantly hindering their chances of converging with economies like the US?

    (2) So what you are saying here is that geo-engineering should only be seen as a last resort in the worst case scenario? Why?! I’m a believer that there is nothing humans can’t do if they put their minds to it. The world’s greatest scientists are those that push the boundaries and question that which others take for granted. Geo-engineering is not something that should be dismissed so easily. I know the solutions put forward so far are seriously flawed and there is a lot of uncertainty regarding that the damage that will be caused. But if this damage is investigated, these solutions may be improved. Do you think there is NO scope for this kind of improvement?

    And lastly, “in fact” a straw man fallacy would be suggesting I was apologising for all economists and was I treating Romm’s argument as a blanket damnation of economists.

  87. Re, Faizan in (local) #37:

    Your comments in #2 are altogether mystifying, insofar as my personal thoughts regarding geo-engineering “writ Large” are altogether devoid of even as little as the possiblity of logical relevance to the topic that was being explicitly discussed: namely, the failure of some economists to take into account all of the real costs of various actions. Indeed, I am at a loss to imagine what I could have said to make this point more patently obvious. Yet you evidently missed this point in your stampede to change the subject. One must assume that you missed the point, since otherwise your blatant Red Herring (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/redherrf.html) would not be an error but a deliberate attempt at obfuscation.

    My actual argument in my #2 (which you frankly ignored) included some comments about basic physics that were not themselves developed at any length. The reasons for this lack of development include the — frankly obvious — fact that anyone presuming to address these issues has a moral obligation to understand the basic, physical facts involved. Since these facts have already been discussed at length — both on this blog and elsewhere — I did not think it necessary to revisit old and very well understood news. That being said: CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans and converted into an acid, as is SO4. This latter is the “sulfate” that the SF authors want to spew into the atmosphere; absorbed by water (as it would be, as a matter of unavoidable and irrefutable physical necessity) this would become sulphuric acid. The current level of acidification of the oceans is already slaughtering massive biomes and converting those areas into dead space. This is an ECONOMIC COST, a cost which is NOT being taken into account by many economists, including the SF authors. Allowing this acidification to increase — indeed, accelerating it with the additional inputs into the atmosphere proposed — is so monumentally irresponsible that it simply beggars the imagination. The bulk of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere comes from the oceans, yet this pair of “economic enthusiasts” do not consider murdering this entire biome a matter of any value worthy of consideration? This is all clearly relevant to the explicitly set out topic of discussion in the above.

    You also state that, “I’m a believer that there is nothing humans can’t do if they put their minds to it.” As a matter straight forward logical necessity, the only way a person could genuinely take such a claim seriously is if they altogether denied anything which could be interpreted as objective reality.

    Is this what you are saying?

    Because the irrefutable fact of the matter is that, IF there is an objective reality (and it is scarcely possible to imagine how manifestly delusional a person would have to be to deny something so patently and unavoidably obvious) THEN there are clearly things that no amount of wishful thinking — “putting our minds to it,” if you prefer — are capable of solving. We do not get to stipulate the gravitational constant of the universe simply because too much gravity makes our feet go flat. So your statement is either egregiously rhetorical, or it is evidence of a mind that is mainfestly incapable of reason. IF all that is going on here is rhetorical enthusiasm, THEN do please feel free (even, I submit, rationally and morally obligated) to restate you position in such a manner that someone who actually takes logic, principles, evidence and facts seriously might recognize as expressing a rational position. IF, on the other sad hand, you really don’t believe there is anything like an objective reality, THEN please let me encourage you to not waste my time by replying to me.

    The very last paragraph of your post is grammatically uninterpretable. I’m guessing this is a problem that I am myself to frequently guilty of (my typing fingers outrunning the thoughts in my brain, including hitting the “Enter” key.) However, I will risk taking a stab at what might have been going on here (if I’m wrong, this will scarcely constitute a new experience): The reason I argued that you were on the edge (at least) of a Strawman argument is because you addressed your defenses of economists toward Dr. Romm in an entirely general way. This implies that Romm made a general attack upon economists, a claim that is demonstrably false. Since you evidently foist upon another an argument that other did not make, your argument is (insofar) guilty of the Strawman fallacy: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/strawman.html

  88. Leif says:

    Liam McDonald, #39 First we have been called traitors as well as terrorist by the the folks on the right. Don’t get so uppity. Secondly, it is impossible to convince you of the gravity of the situation if you fail to look at the science. Science tells us that we are destroying the oceans with acidification. Anything with a shell is toast in the not so far distant future without mitigation. That constitutes the BASE of the food chain. Want your kids to eat sea food, get on the bus. I will not boor you as the information is out there. You don’t trust science but the market. The largest insurance company has just underwritten a $400 billion, yes billion, investment in mitigation efforts in Europe. Think that they don’t trust science. Where is your economy when agriculture fails on a large scale and you are going without food. Your kids are starving as in Africa at the moment. Your land is under water. The system will brake down and money will not have much value. You are looking the dragon in the face and don’t know it. So it is your Brother.

  89. Leif says:

    #89 The last sentence in the last post should be “So it is your call Brother.”
    In addition, whole forests are being killed out here in the west as well as Canada, and Alaska because of pine beetle infestation. Google: “Photos of Pine Beetle damage”.
    There is a New Jersey size DEAD ZONE off the once pristine Oregon, Washington Coast every summer since 2002. Science tell us that it is caused by a shift in the wind patterns due to, guess what, GLOBAL WARMING. this manifestation is most likely irreversible say scientist. That is the lively hood of numerous fisherman and crabbers. I, my self, fished these waters in MY youth and have raised a family as a shipwright on commercial fishing vessels. That is all but gone as a livelihood. And you wonder why I am pissed off. Under the circumstances I feel that I am being remarkably restrained in my language.
    Again. It is your call if you want to believe or not. Me. I want to do all that I can to salvage a gasping EARTH. FOR ME AND YOU…

  90. Dear Author,

    Could John O’Donnell develop his update, specifically the x100.000, the two B747′s taking off to the 209.995 kWh of energy “trapped” by one molecule of CO2.
    My engineer’s brain can’t quite figure out this x100.000 trapping ability from a molecule of CO2 over its lifetime…

    Thanks !

    [JR: Coming!]

  91. Max Moreland says:

    I hope Mr Caldeira was misquoted or less than clear herein, “I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero.” The only way to get there is to eliminate nearly all living creatures on earth, since most of them breathe in oxygen and emit carbon dioxide.

  92. BG says:

    I generate 840 lbs of CO2 just from _breathing_ in a year (2.3 lbs per day). So, how long does a 747 need to run to equal the amount of “heat” that just my breathing causes?

    Using your math, the electrical use of the average home in the US is equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 15 people simply breathing — wow, who cares?

    8,900 kwh average home electrical usage in a year, multiplied by 1.4 pounds CO2 per kwh (for electricity generation), divided by 840 pounds breathing per person == ~15 people (just breathing).


    [JR: As anyone who goes to that link can read, "The average person, through the natural process of breathing, produces approximately 2.3 pounds (1 kg) of carbon dioxide per day. The actual amount depends strongly on the person’s activity level. However, this carbon dioxide is part of a natural closed-loop cycle and does not contribute to the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Natural processes of photosynthesis (in plants) and respiration (in plants and animals) maintain a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Thus, the carbon dioxide from natural process is not included in greenhouse gas inventories. In contrast, the burning of fossil fuels upsets this natural equilibrium by adding a surplus of carbon dioxide into the system. The carbon in fossil fuels has been stored underground for millions of years and thus is not part of the current natural carbon cycle. When those fuels are burned, the carbon dioxide generated is over and above the amount circulating from natural sources. Land use changes such as deforestation also upset the natural equilibrium by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by forests. Thus, both fossil fuel burning and deforestation are accounted for by scientists who develop greenhouse gas inventories to study how greenhouse gases contribute to climate change."]

  93. BG says:

    JR) Do plants have some special ability to know to balance the CO2 levels that I emit (from breathing), yet exclude the CO2 emitted from power plants? Of course not.

    The best solution to lower atmospheric CO2 levels (if they ever got too high), is to simply plant more trees. And, the best part is, the higher the atmospheric CO2 levels, the faster those trees would grow (plants love high CO2 levels).

    Consensus among scientist is that a ‘safe’ level for CO2 is 350 ppm in the atmosphere, and we haven’t been at that level since the late 1980s, more than half my life. We are currently at 387 ppm. Things seem pretty safe to me: perhaps the scientists should revise their numbers, or define more clearly their meaning of ‘safe’ and let the public judge for themselves.

    It’s this sort of crying wolf, that turns me off.

  94. Leif says:

    BG: There are many factors that dictate the “safe” level of CO2. An obvious “Safe” level is in the area of 260 PPM as that was the working level for the last 15 million years. Beyond that it is hard to say. However I believe that we can assume that 387 is already too high. Look at the science of ocean acidification. Look at the forest depletion to pine beetles. Look at the melting polar ice. Look at the vanishing glaciers. Look at the shifting weather patterns. Look around you…

  95. Anonymous says:

    I read some of Frekenomics and found it entertaining BS, not science. never let a fact interfer with a good story!! Freakenomics is the #1 best selling busines book in the US.
    Concerning global warming, we can sit and debate this for years and the consequences may be fatal in the future. Already, scientists are exploring ways to halt global warming using untried and dangerous solutions.

  96. BG says:

    #95) All those things you mention do not make me “unsafe”, and are all natural events that have occurred in the past anyway (pre-Industrial). It is pretty hard to stop the Earth from doing what it normally does.

    You can live in your ice-age with 260 ppm (if that makes you feel safe), but I prefer the tropical jungle that 387 (or higher) CO2 levels will bring.

  97. W.r.t. solar heat gain by PV panels:

    The proper comparison is between the solar absorptance of the PV and the solar absorptance whatever is obscured by the PV panel, such as a roof.

    A typical rooftop PV panel reflects about 25% of sunlight and converts another 6% to electricity, yielding a solar absorptance of 1 – 0.25 – 0.06 = 0.69 (since the panel is opaque to sunlight).

    A typical gray roof reflects about 20% of sunlight, for a solar absorptance of 1 – 0.20 = 0.80 (since the roof is also opaque to sunlight).

    Hence, under the same solar irradiance the solar heat gain of a typical rooftop PV panel (solar absorptance ~ 0.69) will be less than that of a typical gray roof (solar absorptance ~ 0.80). It is, however, significantly higher than that of a typical white roof, which has an initial solar absorptance of about 0.20 and an aged (soiled and weathered) solar absorptance of about 0.45.

    As a side note, the other radiative property of interest here is thermal emittance. The thermal emittance of a glass cover on a PV panel is comparable to that of a typical gray membrane roof; both are in the range of 0.80 – 0.95.

    Ronnen Levinson, Ph.D.
    scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  98. John Sherriff says:

    But each molecule of CO2, during its subsequent lifetime in the atmosphere, traps 100,000 times more heat than was released during its formation. Can you please give the backup for this science?

    [JR: It's a later post. Search on this blog for it.]

  99. James Willis says:

    You can remove my post, but the truth is out if anybody wants to find the real story.

    [JR: "The truth is out there" -- Fox Mulder, "The X-Files."]

  100. Chris Barling says:

    I wonder how many of the people commenting here have actually read SuperFreakonomics.

    I read it yesterday and the chapter in question neither denies global warming (which for the record I absolutely believe is happening) nor does it say that there is no benefit from solar power. Nor does it say that we should freely pump SO2 into the atmosphere.

    It suggests that the SO2 possibility should be looked at alongside other solutions. Incidentally, the calculations in the book suggest that a relatively small amount might be effective. I imagine that this wouldn’t be enough to have any material impact on acididty of the oceans, but I don’t know that for a fact.

    I personally despair at how militant all of the comment is on global warming, from both sides. We desparately need a discussion based on the facts, as far as we know them, and the ideas for fixing things, as far as we have them.

    Name calling doesn’t help at all. It just confirms people in their existing positions and helps to close minds.