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?

UPDATE: For an even bigger shocker, read Myhrvold’s “rebuttal,” which actually endorses my main critique (!):  Nathan Myhrvold jumps the shark “” and jumps ship on Levitt and Dubner (on their blog!) asserting: “Geoengineering is proposed only as a last resort to try to reduce or cope with the even greater harms of global warming! “¦ The point of the chapter in SuperFreakonomics is that geoengineering might be good insurance in case we don’t get global warming under control.” Did he even read the book?

This post will shock you.

The sheer illogic and “patent nonsense” of the new book Superfreakonomics discussed in Part 1 is just the tip of the iceberg.  What’s most worrisome is 1) who exactly has been peddling much of the nonsense and illogic to the authors — Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft — and 2) who else may have been persuaded by his bullshit.  The Myrhvold connection deserves special focus because it may help explain three puzzling things:

  • Why does Bill Gates’ Foundation mostly ignore global warming?  (see here)
  • Why is Warren Buffett so wrong — and outspoken — about cap and trade? (see here)
  • Why did Gates and Buffett visit the Athabasca tar sands — the biggest global warming crime ever — to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind”? (see here).

According to the Superfreaks, Gates and Buffett went to the visit the tar sands (and other energy producers) with Myrhvold, giving him plenty of time to spread his misinformation to them.  Moreover, the idea Myrhvold came away is simply stunning.

And yes, one always needs the caveat, “according to Levitt and Dubner,” because their reporting skills are so dreadful — they shoehorn everything they hear into whatever contrarian view they had decided to adopt.  You shouldn’t take anything they say at face value.  As we’ve seen, the primary climatologist the book relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and is “misleading” in “many” places.  But I have reason to believe Myrhvold was given a draft to comment on — and if so, he was a willing participant in the defamation of his own reputation and that of his company “Intellectual Ventures.”  Apparently, he really does push this piece of staggering illogic:

“If you believe that the scary stories could be true, or even possible, then you should also admit that relying only on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions is not a very good answer,” he says.  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.  “The scary scenarios could occur even if we make Herculean efforts to reduce our emissions, in which case the only real answer is geo-engineering.”

As I said in Part 1, not only is it not illogical, but I suspect 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.  In fact, as Caldeira makes clear, the reverse of Myrhvold’s final statement is true:  ONLY if we make Herculean efforts to reduce our emissions, could geo-engineering possibly contribute to the solution.

Note also that this certainty about something completely unproven (i.e. large-scale aerosol-based geo-engineering), comes from a guy who seriously questions the real science of human-caused climate change.  The Superfreaks describe their visit to IV this way:

Everyone in the room agrees that the Earth has been getting warmer and they generally suspect that human activity has something to do with it.

Good for them!  So they think maybe human emissions cause some of the warming, but that it’s illogical to believe Herculean efforts to reduce emissions can avoid catastrophe, while we can be certain that geo-engineering will work (if it’s needed of course).  How convenient.

As discussed in Part 1, however, absent the Herculean effort, geoengineering is all but hopeless and leads to “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story” as Caldeira described it to me.  Myhrvold and the geniuses groupthinkers at IV, however, dismiss all of the solutions:

In the darkened conference room, Myhrvold cues up an overhead slide that summarizes IV’s views of the current slate of proposed global warming solutions.  The slide says:

  • Too little
  • Too late
  • Too optimistic.

Too little means that typical conservation efforts simply won’t make much of a difference. “If you believe there is a problem worth solving,” Myhrvold says, “then these solutions won’t be enough to solve it.  Wind power and most other alternative energy things are cute, but they don’t scale to a sufficient degree. At this point, wind farms are a government subsidy scheme, fundamentally.”  What about the beloved Prius and other low-emissions vehicles?  “They’re great,” he says, “except that transportation is just not that big of a sector.”

[Pause for laughter.  Then for weeping.]

No, I’m not making this up.  Go to the page for the book, and put “summarizes” in the search engine.  This guy was the CTO at Microsoft, and IV “controls more than twenty thousand patents” and they just make up crap like this and tell it to really important people who apparently swallow eat it up like pudding.  Has nobody in the room ever Googled?  I can’t waste time debunking all of that crap, but how about this is from EPA:

Figure 2: 2006 CO2  Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion by Sector and Fuel Type.  This figure illustrates 2006 CO2 Emissions from the Fossil Fuel Combustion by Sector and Fuel Type using the data presented in Table 3-3. It is apparent that electricity generation, composed mostly of emissions from coal, and transportation, composed mostly of emissions from petroleum, are the largest contributors to CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  In addition, there is a pie chart that indicates that petroleum accounted for 43%, coal accounted for 37%, and natural gas accounted for 20% of emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

Globally “Transport accounts for around a quarter of total CO2 emissions.”  In fact, transport is the key sector, because reducing carbon emissions in electricity generation is so damn easy (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“).

That’s why I call Myhrvold and his ilk, F.A.K.E.R.s “” Famous “Authorities” whose Knowledge (of climate) is Extremely Rudimentary [Error-riddled?].  I can only conclude IV is filled with yes-men and -women who specialize in some bizarre form of contrarian groupthink, which in any other setting would be an oxymoron.

And, then we get this multi-whopper piece of nonsense:

Too optimistic:  “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.”

As discussed in Part 1, this may set the FAKER record for howlers in one paragraph and for most orders of magnitude error in a single global warming calculation.  But the crap goes on and on like a really bad case of dysentery:

Although widespread conversion to solar power might seem appealing, the reality is tricky. The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-burning and other power plants would create a huge long-term “warming debt,” as Myhrvold calls it.  “Eventually, we have a great carbon-free energy infrastructure but only after making emissions and global warming worse every year until we’re done building out the solar plants, which could take 30 to 50 years.

[Pause to tighten vise around cranium so it does not explode.]

No.  No.  No.  A thousand times no.

First off, the energy payback for building solar is currently only a few years and dropping steadily.  Second, the carbon payback or “warming debt” of every solution drops steadily over time as you reduce the carbon intensity of the overall energy system.  The point is that you do multiple solutions all at once, including a massive amount of energy efficiency, a massive amount of renewables (especially CSP, which the FAKERs seem unaware of), and even fuel switching from coal to gas.  The U.S. could easily cut its CO2 emissions deepling in two decades while building out the most massive low carbon energy system.  Finally, of course, if we don’t build the low-carbon infrastructure, then we will be building carbon-producing infrastructure, which will generate even more staggeringly large amounts of carbon for Myhrvold’s dystopia.

But the Superfreaks think the FAKERs are geniuses:

Intellectual Ventures is an invention company.  The lab, in addition to all the gear, is stocked with an elite assemblage of brainpower, scientists and puzzle solvers of every variety….

Myhrvold played a variety of roles at Microsoft: futurist, strategist, founder of its research lab, and whisperer-in-chief to Bill Gates.  “I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan,” Gates once observed….

He is so polymathic as to make an everyday polymath tremble with shame.

I’m going to it invent a new phrase for these FAKERs — idiotic savants.

If this guy has Gates’ ear, no wonder the Gates Foundation mostly ignores global warming.  And remember, Buffett is the other major contributor to the Gates Foundation.  It’s multi-billionaire Groupthink.

Now while the FAKERs are busy dissing all low-carbon technologies, which organizations as credible as the International Energy Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, the IPCC, and McKinsey say can be employed at scale and cost-effectively, their own solution is so risible even the media is starting to laugh at it.  The Independent writes:

The answer that the geeks offer is an 18-mile-long rubber hose pumping liquefied sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. This, you might say, is where freakonomics starts getting a bit above itself….

And they never acknowledge any of the major problems that I discussed in Part 1.  Ironically, even though the Superfreaks rely heavily on Caldeira as a scientist who supposedly supports their geo-engineering strategy and even though they point out early on that Caldeira “coined the phrase ‘ocean acidification,” the process by which the seas absorb so much carbon dioxide the corals and other shallow-water organisms are threatened,” Levitt and Dubner never mention it again, even though their geoengineering-only strategy would devastate the oceans for millennia (see “Imagine a World without Fish: Deadly ocean acidification “” hard to deny, harder to geo-engineer, but not hard to stop “” is subject of documentary“).

As the UK’s Guardian puts it:

They profile Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth’s stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons, at an initial cost of around $20m. The chemical would reflect some of the sun’s rays back into space, cooling the planet, exactly as happened following the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines. The primary objection to this plan, as with other “geoengineering” schemes, is that there’s no predicting the unknown negative effects of meddling in such a complex natural system. And it’s strange, given how much is made in both Freakonomics books of the law of unintended consequences, that they don’t mention this in the context of Myhrvold’s plan.

But the Superfreaks say its all settled science:

First of all, would it work?

The scientific evidence says yes. It is basically a controlled mimicry of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption, whose cooling effects were exhaustively studied and remain unchallenged.

Do these guys even have the most rudimentary notion of what “scientific evidence” is?  Here’s what Pinatubo did:

Yeah, it solved global warming.

The June 1991 eruption had a real, but very short-term impact.  We have no “scientific evidence” of what the medium-term or long-term impact would be of creating the equivalent of multiple simultaneous Pinatubos every year for decades and decades.

It’s like saying 2 aspirins cured my headache, so now that the doctors say I have a malignant brain tumor, the scientific evidence proves I can take 2000 aspirins every day for the rest of my life and be cured.

As Caldeira says:

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.

For more, see Science on the Risks of Climate Engineering: “Optimism about a geoengineered ‘easy way out’ should be tempered by examination of currently observed climate changes” and British coal industry flack pushes geo-engineering “ploy” to give politicians “viable reason to do nothing” about global warming. Is that why Lomborg supports such a smoke-and-mirrors approach? which has an analysis by Robock I’ll repost at the end.

But first, let me end with one final Myhrvold shocker, which may explain the answer to the questions I posed at the start.  Where does he want to put the 18-mile-long hose to pump large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth’s stratosphere?

Myhrvold, in his recent travels, happened upon one potentially perfect site. Along with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, he was taking a whirlwind educational tour of various energy producers–a nuclear plant, wind farm, and so on.  One of their destination was the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta, Canada.

Memo to Superfreaks: They ain’t “oil sands.”

Billions of barrels of petroleum can be found there, but it’s heavy, mucky crude. Rather than lying in a liquid pool beneath the earth’s crust, it is mixed in, like molasses, with the surface dirt.  In Athabasca you don’t drill for oil; you mine it, scooping up gigantic shovels of Earth and then separating the oil from its waste components.

One of the most plentiful waste components of sulfur, which commands such a low price that the oil companies simply stockpile it. “There were big yellow mountains of it, like a hundred meters high by a thousand meters wide!” says Myhrvold. “And they stair-step them, like a Mexican pyramid. So you can put one little pumping facility up there, and with one corner of one of those sulfur Mountains, you control the whole global warming problem for the Northern Hemisphere.

[Pause to clean up gray matter now scattered all over the vise.]

It is interesting to think what might’ve happened if Myhrvold was around 100 years ago, when New York and other cities were choking on horse manure. One wonders if, while everyone else looked at the mountains of dung saw calamity, he might’ve seen opportunity.

[Pause to think fondly about Myhrvold being around 100 years ago and not today — then start worrying about the various unintended catastrophes we’d be dealing with now as a result.]

Lord knows how many people besides Gates and Buffett and Levitt and Dubner — and the hundreds of thousands of people who will read Superfreakonomics (currently #4 on Amazon’s sales ranking) — will be duped by Myhrvold et al.

Since the Superfreaks don’t report the work of any of the myriad climate scientists who have raised concerns about geo-engineering, since they have essentially adopted the exact same position as Bjorn Lomborg, let me end by reposting an outstanding response from RealClimate, “A biased economic analysis of geoengineering” by Prof. Alan Robock.  Robock gave the best talk I ever heard on geo-engineering (here), and this post is an excellent primer with numerous links:

Bjorn Lomborg’s Climate Consensus Center just released an un-refereed report on geoengineering, An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming, by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. The “consensus” in the title of Lomborg’s center is based on a meeting of 50 economists last year. The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies. In this report, discussed below, they simply omit the costs of many of the potential negative aspects of producing a stratospheric cloud to block out sunlight or cloud brightening, and come to the conclusion that these strategies have a 25-5000 to 1 benefit/cost ratio. That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.

Geoengineering has come a long way since first discussed here three years ago. [Here I use the term “geoengineering” to refer to “solar radiation management” (SRM) and not to carbon capture and sequestration (called “air capture” in the report), a related topic with quite different issues.] In a New Scientist interview, John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, says geoengineering has to be examined as a possible response to global warming, but that we can make no such determination now. A two-day conference on geoengineering organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences was held in June, 2009, with an opening talk by the President, Ralph Cicerone. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has just issued a policy statement on geoengineering, which urges cautious consideration, more research, and appropriate restrictions. But all this attention comes with the message that we know little about the efficacy, costs, and problems associated with geoengineering suggestions, and that much more study is needed.

Bickel and Lane, however, do not hesitate to write a report that is rather biased in favor of geoengineering using SRM, by emphasizing the low cost and dismissing the many possible negative aspects. They use calculations with the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) economic model to make the paper seem scientific, but there are many inherent assumptions, and they up-front refuse to present their results in terms of ranges or error bars. Specific numbers in their conclusions make the results seem much more certain than they are. While they give lip service to possible negative consequences of geoengineering, they refuse to quantify them. Indeed, the purpose of new research is to do just that, but the tone of this report is to claim that cooling the planet will have overall benefits, which CAN be quantified. The conclusions and summary of the report imply much more certainty as to the net benefits of SRM than is really the case.

My main areas of agreement with this report are that global warming is an important, serious problem, that SRM with stratospheric aerosols or cloud brightening would not be expensive, and that we indeed need more research into geoengineering. The authors provide a balanced introduction to the issues of global warming and the possible types of geoengineering.

But Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. Even without global warming, reducing CO2 emissions is needed to do the best we can to save the ocean. The costs of this continuing damage to the planet, which geoengineering will do nothing to address, are ignored in the analysis in this report. And without mitigation, SRM would need to be continued for hundreds of years. If it were stopped, by the loss of interest or means by society, the resulting rapid warming would be much more dangerous than the gradual warming we are now experiencing.

Bickel and Lane do not even mention several potential negative effects of SRM, including getting rid of blue skies, huge reductions in solar power from systems using direct solar radiation, or ruining terrestrial optical astronomy. They imply that SRM technologies will work perfectly, and ignore unknown unknowns. Not one cloud has ever been artificially brightened by injection of sea salt aerosols, yet this report claims to be able to quantify the benefits and the costs to society of cloud brightening.

They also imply that stratospheric geoengineering can be tested at a small scale, but this is not true. Small injections of SO2 into the stratosphere would actually produce small radiative forcing, and we would not be able to separate the effects from weather noise. The small volcanic eruptions of the past year (1.5 Tg SO2 from Kasatochi in 2008 and 1 Tg SO2 from Sarychev in 2009, as compared to 7 Tg SO2 from El Chich³n in 1982 and 20 Tg SO2 from Pinatubo in 1991) have produced stratospheric clouds that can be well-observed, but we cannot detect any climate impacts. Only a large-scale stratospheric injection could produce measurable impacts. This means that the path they propose would lead directly to geoengineering, even just to test it, and then it would be much harder to stop, what with commercial interests in continuing (e.g., Star Wars, which has not even ever worked).

Bickel and Lane also ignore several seminal papers on geoengineering that present much more advanced scientific results than the older papers they cite. In particular, they ignore Tilmes et al. (2008), Robock et al. (2008), Rasch et al. (2008), and Jones et al. (2009).

With respect to ozone, they dismiss concerns about ozone depletion and enhanced UV by citing Wigley (2006) and Crutzen (2006), but ignore the results of Tilmes et al. (2008), who showed that the effects would prolong the ozone hole for decades and that deployment of stratospheric aerosols in a couple decades would not be safe as claimed here. Bickel and Lane assert, completely incorrectly, “On its face, though, it does not appear that the ozone issue would be likely to invalidate the concept of stratospheric aerosols.”

With respect to an Arctic-only scheme, they suggest in several places that it would be possible to control Arctic climate based on the results of Caldeira and Wood (2008) who artificially reduce sunlight in a polar cap in their model (the “yarmulke method”), whereas Robock et al. (2008) showed with a more realistic model that explicitly treats the distribution and transport of stratospheric aerosols, that the aerosols could not be confined to just the Arctic, and such a deployment strategy would affect the summer Asian monsoon, reducing precipitation over China and India. And Robock et al. (2008) give examples from past volcanic eruptions that illustrate this effect, such as the pattern of precipitation reduction after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption (Trenberth and Dai, 2007):

With respect to cloud brightening, Bickel and Lane ignore the Jones et al. (2009) results that cloud brightening would mainly cool the oceans and not affect land temperature much, so that it is an imperfect method at best to counter global warming. Furthermore Jones et al. (2009) found that cloud brightening over the South Atlantic would produce severe drought over the Amazon, destroying the tropical forest.

They also ignore a huge class of ethical and world governance issues. Whose hand would be on the global thermostat? Who would trust military aircraft or a multi-national geoengineering company to have the interests of the people of the planet foremost?

They do not seem to realize that volcanic eruptions affect climate change because of sulfate aerosols produced from sulfur dioxide gas injections into the stratosphere, the same that is proposed for SRM, and not by larger ash particles that fall out quickly after and eruption and do not cause climate change.

They dismiss air capture (“air capture technologies do not appear as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or a cost perspective”) but ignore the important point that it would have few of the potential side effects of SRM. Air capture would just remove the cause of global warming in the first place, and the only side effects would be in the locations where the CO2 would be sequestered.

For some reason, they insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2, and then mix them in the paper. I cannot understand why they choose to make it so confusing.

The potential negative consequences of stratospheric SRM were clearly laid out by Robock (2008) and updated by Robock et al. (2009), which still lists 17 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. One of those important possible consequences, the threat to the water supply for agriculture and other human uses, has been emphasized in a recent Science article by Gabi Hegerl and Susan Solomon.

Robock et al. (2009) also lists some benefits from SRM, including increased plant productivity and an enhanced CO2 sink from vegetation that grows more when subject to diffuse radiation, as has been observed after every recent large volcanic eruption. But the quantification of these and other geoengineering benefits, as well as the negative aspects, awaits more research.

It may be that the benefits of geoengineering will outweigh the negative aspects, and that most of the problems can be dealt with, but the paper from Lomborg’s center ignores the real consensus among all responsible geoengineering researchers. The real consensus, as expressed at the National Academy conference and in the AMS statement, is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming, and that whether geoengineering can even be considered as an emergency measure in the future should climate change become too dangerous is not now known. Policymakers will only be able to make such decisions after they see results from an intensive research program. Lomborg’s report should have stopped at the need for a research program, and not issued its flawed and premature conclusions.


Jones, A., J. Haywood, and O. Boucher 2009: Climate impacts of geoengineering marine stratocumulus clouds, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D10106, doi:10.1029/2008JD011450.

Rasch, Philip J., Simone Tilmes, Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Chih-Chieh (Jack) Chen, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, and Rolando R. Garcia, 2008: An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A., 366, 4007-4037, doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0131.

Robock, Alan, 2008: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bull. Atomic Scientists, 64, No. 2, 14-18, 59, doi:10.2968/064002006. PDF file Roundtable discussion of paper

Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2008: Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and Arctic SO2 injections. J. Geophys. Res., 113, D16101, doi:10.1029/2008JD010050. PDF file

Robock, Alan, Allison B. Marquardt, Ben Kravitz, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2009: The benefits, risks, and costs of stratospheric geoengineering. Submitted to Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2009GL039209. PDF file

Tilmes, S., R. M¼ller, and R. Salawitch, 2008: The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes, Science, 320(5880), 1201-1204, doi:10.1126/science.1153966.

Trenberth, K. E., and A. Dai (2007), Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L15702, doi:10.1029/2007GL030524.

27 Responses to 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?

  1. Leif says:

    Geo-engineering… About as helpful as a trap door in a row boat.

  2. John Ramming says:

    Joe, re the term idiotic savant, you’re half right. Keep up the good work.

  3. Richard Brenne says:

    The best thing to do with conventional economists is to sequester them.

    Gates obviously hasn’t hung around many world-class scientists, or he wouldn’t be so in awe of Nathan Myhrvold. Dude, try hanging around Jim Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, James Lovelock, Stephen Schneider and other top scientists some time if you want to know what smart is.

    Also, I always thought a polymath was a parrot who could count.

    When Gates suggested towing icebergs down to defuse the power of hurricanes, the e-mails from Vecchi, Ostro and Trenberth were asking if Gates had an IQ in triple or even double digits. Just because someone was relentlessly ruthless and lucky making more money than God (15% more, according to a recent e-mail from God), doesn’t make them necessarily intelligent in any other area.

    Warren Buffett made his money looking at the fundamental realities of corporations rather than gambling like a day trader, and thus he could buy and sell every day trader who ever lived (although I think he’d look at their fundamentals and not buy them in the first place).

    But scientists, especially those also imbued with the greatest gift of common sense like Romm, Hansen, Lovelock, Schneider, Bartlett and Ehrlich, see infinitely more fundamental realities still, and so they are to Buffett and Gates what Buffett himself is to the day traders.

    And Gates lessening death rates while not at all addressing birth rates could ultimately be seen as cruel, sentencing a larger number of people to starvation when water, topsoil, oil and other resources don’t prove sufficient to grow or even maintain the population we have now.

    Ask the experts in each of these areas, or those attempting to synthesize all these issues like Lester Brown. I’d ask Buffett for investment advice a decade or decades ago (certainly not a year or two years ago) and Gates about computer issues like what kind of Mac I should buy, but not much else.

  4. Greener says:

    you need to understand what a pirate Nathan Myhrvold and IV are. They hire a bunch of scientists and engineers, put them in a room with a bunch of patent lawyers and have them SPECULATE on where technology is headed. The Patent lawyers then write up these speculations, submit vague patent application to the patent office and then beat up the patent examiners until they cave in. They then wait for some company to really invent something and then ounce and say, “Hey you invented something that vaguely sounds like something we vaguely described. You owe us big bucks.” Patent law is suposed to require that you realy invent something real and “reduce it to practice.” These clowns are just patent trolls. They also have another game where they offer “patent protection” to big businesses, for a fee. Sound like any other racket you know of? Read more here:

    And more details on Nathan & Bill’s weather patent:

  5. Gates’ wealth is a product of a single-minded method of thinking cultivated by two corporate lawyer parents into the perfect person at the ideal moment of history to shaft IBM. But Bill Gates is not especially intelligent; he’s not even particularly educated. So as soon as the puzzle presented to him is even a little different from giving IBM the shaft his ability to intelligently and comprehensively analyze the issue scarcely exceeds that of my cats.

  6. Perhaps Myrhvold can built us a new Arctic icesheet?

    The Times reports today on research indicating the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within 20 years:

  7. mike roddy says:

    Another good one, Joe. I gagged in the first place when Bill and Melinda were going to take their $30 billion and further increase population growth in Africa, which is about the cruelest thing anyone could do. Then Warren Buffet comes along and decides to hitch his money wagon to their foundation because the Gates family is more “experienced”.

    It’s proof of what Galbraith said a long time ago: the money making section of the brain exists independently, and bears no relationship to other functions.

    The Myrhvold story fits right in with the whole saga. Gates can’t even tell a hustler from the real thing. And nobody, apparently, bothered to call a real scientist to ask what the earth figures to look like in 100 years.

  8. Joe Romm – you are also a good writer. I laughed hard reading about Myrhvold and your exploding brain.

    Much better than weeping.

    Don’t forget good old Bjorn Lomborg. He met with the Gates charity people, with his cooked up report from some economists, “The Copenhagen Consensus”. That put global warming WAY down the list of things to fund, with tropical diseases at the top.

    As we know, Lomborg advises waiting a decade or two before trying to reduce carbon dioxide. We’ll have better technology then.

    Perhaps the Gates/Buffet people were happy to get advice that avoided problems with America’s top money makers, the energy companies. At any rate, their charity priorities looks like Lomborg’s priorities.

    Bjorn just met some official in the Obama White House in early September, but that doesn’t mean anyone there took him seriously.

    Buffett is likely still heavily invested in the railroad companies that ship all that Wyoming coal back to dirty plants in Ohio and places East. Warren Buffett is Mr. Invisible when it comes to saving our climate.

    In my opinion, both Gates and Buffett have a myopia called “business vision”. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the same disease.

    We can understand how the poorly informed public doesn’t get the plain physics and facts about carbon pollution. It’s harder to understand why those at the center of information can’t face it.

    Radio Ecoshock

  9. crf says:

    “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.”

    So radiated heat contributes to global warming … I guess this is an albedo question. The amount solar panels change the earth’s albedo is negligeable. And to claim that solar cells would contribute to warming, you’d have to weigh all the factors: not only their increasing the earth’s albedo, but also account for the carbon emissions they are avoiding during their useful life, and the carbon emissions that go into their production and maintenance, and the effect of these emissions, produced and avoided, on the earth’s temperature. I think, if you did this calculation, the

    Anyone who says pumping out heat contributes directly to global warming is almost surely saying something mind-blowingly stupid. The atmosphere is almost transparent to heat. Only very little (via the greenhouse effect) is re-radiated back to earth, warming it.

  10. Dave E says:

    I’m certainly not going to defend Myrhvold and Gates vs. climate change, but I do believe that lowering infant and childhood death rates typically results in much smaller family sizes (people don’t have as many children if they have a reasonable expectation that they will survive). Consequently, although it seems counterintuitive, it may be that the policies of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation may actually reduce peak population. Of course, more direct action could be useful as well, such as widespread family planning (again the Gates foundation is helping here), reduction of government incentives for larger families (how about eliminating tax exemptions for children, or at the very least limiting families to at most 2 exemptions), and other policies to actively encourage smaller families.

  11. jorleh says:

    Do you think any more to get clever people to fight AGW? Or are Gates, Buffet and Myrhvold clever at all? Perhaps not. But stupid people like them are making all big decisions…

  12. Pavol says:

    My feeling is that both Gates and Myrhvold are skeptic about man made GW and thus, as there is a big hype about that in the whole world, they are trying not to tell it straight but pretending they have some ideas.
    Maybe Gates’ effort to help people in Africa will really stop population growth there with resulting decrease of emissions in the future. But of course lowering death rates must go along with economical growth, as this will automatically lower the population growth.
    I agree that geoengineering sound crazy, but also I am not sure if your ideas how to decrease CO2 emissions are also viable because of the cost for that. Generally people will not take action if there is no benefit for them. Just the information that a big crises is looming will not help. Look at the start of the WW2. And even when there is no impact of the GW directly at my place, why should I bother?

    Just a note, I think that calling somebody “idiot” and creating offensive names will not help your cause. Only can show something about you.

  13. mike roddy says:

    Dave E, #11, I certainly understand your point, and it’s a truism in academia, but it probably doesn’t apply in Africa. Models showing increased industrialization leading to smaller families don’t make sense on a continent where shrinking farmland and lack of capital will preclude it. This will be particularly true as climate change and further ecological damage exceeds the land’s ability to support people. Rwanda and Darfur are previews.

    At least Bill and Melinda didn’t leave it to heirs, like the new Walton family, composed of a bunch of hillbillies living in Manhattan high rises and Dallas estates, who woke up one day with a billion dollars.

    Gates and Buffet suffer from the same addiction: money. It’s blinded them to almost everything else, as shown by their tour of the tar sands. They just couldn’t resist a little more crack.

  14. Hmpf says:

    >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.

    Myrhvold and Gates and co. must have watched Blade Runnter at an impressionable age, thought it was kind of cool, and are now working to recreate the movie’s world in real life. ;-)

  15. Hmpf says:

    Also: as a card-carrying science fiction fan myself, I have to say that the ‘solution’ Myrhvold proposes bears all the marks of techno-utopian 1950s SF in which the genius scientist who single-handedly solves some global problem by finding the right formula or building the right machine is a staple. Thankfully, most modern sf tends to be less naive about our ability to ‘fix’ complex systems, and is thus less likely to induce such dangerous delusions…

  16. RoySV says:

    The VC world is based on getting people hooked on ideas and concepts that benefit the hype-ster. Observed here, and in Steven Leeb’s case, etc: The validity, sensibility, accuracy of the claims is often not a factor. What’s needed is a compelling (usually contrarian) story that makes the clients/investors mouth water and convinces them that they are getting insight into the next “big thing”. It’s all about the pitch and the sizzle. The truth is left out unless it is profitable. Another example is Vinod Kosla.

  17. colin crawford says:

    I was relieved to see that coverage was given to the fact that SO2 injection into the upper atmosphere would not do anything to abate the decreasing pH of the oceans and the decimation of many (most?) of the creatures that live there. However, please correct me if I’m wrong, won’t SO2 eventually fall back to the ground as ‘acid-rain’? If so, wouldn’t a sufficiently massive infusion of SO2, as proposed by Myhrvold and his disciples, 1) negatively affect photosynthesis further reducing the carbon absorption of plant life thus increasing the rate of concentration of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 and 2) instigate massive plant damage (die-off?) from the resultant H2SO4 precipitation? I guess we now have better(?) insight into why ‘Windows’ is such a crappy OS!

  18. Jay Alt says:

    Gates and Buffett are predisposed to sail into the wind. That served them well in business and they can’t bear to abandon the tactic now despite the fact the whole world now needs everyone to pull together. I think the reply 14. Pavol has a good take on their mindsets. They are senior figures who want to feel helpful, but only inside their limited comfort zone.

    I have a gift copy of Freakonomics that I never finished. The chapters didn’t seem integrated or relevant to much. The authors repeated burnishing of their own cleverness is tiresome.

  19. Kate Cell says:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (with whom I work) has a short, cogent discussion of the problems with this chapter at Link to Joe’s analysis, too.

  20. Stu says:

    It seems to make a difference in most things you need industry participation. Perhaps something like an umbrella organisation funded by ocean based industries would be the thing to look at ways of reducing carbon (maybe even directly funding renewable energy plants + later using the profit from those to build more).

  21. Mike#22 says:

    Is this patent vacuuming machine called Intellectual Ventures testing the waters on the “18-mile-long rubber hose pumping liquefied sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere.”

    One problem that this humanitarian service would run into is the trillions(?) they would have to pay to all the various solar panel owners and manufactures for the lost revenue caused by increasing the planet’s reflectivity.

  22. bill peppin says:

    Said it before on chats like this, say it again. For all those who would dismiss global warming as the imagination of eco-terrorists, or whatever, consider simply this fact: scientific consensus strongly supports the proposition of man-caused global warming, occasioned by the sharp rise of CO2 in the atmosphere, such rise starting with the industrial revolution. 600,000 years of ice cores show that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was in the range about 270 – 330 for all that time until the start, more or less, of the 18th century. The present level is 395 or so and rising rapidly. It is known, v. the planet Venus, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat that otherwise would escape to space. So what reasonable person would not say that we as a species must come together to address this issue? Are we so unconcerned with what will be left to our descendents, our own children and grandchildren, that we will actually just blow this off and do nothing? Probably so. The wider biosphere on this planet, who certainly do not love us, will not mourn our disappearance if things go wrong, then leading to wars with the terrible weapons we have built. Homo crapulens we are, not Homo sapiens.

  23. brendan says:

    So much good response here, but a minor detail left out that struck me as immediate proof of the unthinking ‘contrarianism above all’ glib superficiality that the authors are promulgating as abalysis was the black solar cell stuff. First, of course not all, in fact few, solar cells are really black–usually they are blue and yes, this does make a difference as to their absorption or reflectance of heat-related red wavelengths.
    Second, even a moment’s reflection reveals that most of these solar installations are installed on black or dark roofs, over parking lots, etc., in other words, they are covering territory that was already dark or otherwise absorbing (and re-radiating) heat. It is a rare installation that would be built over a green field or forest! or over someone’s lawn, for heaven’s sake.

    and this gets to the most obvious and most stupid error of all: these things cast a shadow–whatever heat they absorb and re-reflect must be netted out against the shade they now provide for the previously-exposed-and-heated roof, ground, or whatever. so, the net increase in acreage absorbing and re-reflecting heat may, upon real examination rather than casual smart-guy cleverness, turn out to be zero, or even come out in favor of the shade-producing solar arrays.

    [this last factor is not entirely trivial, either. if installed on or over a roof in a warm climate area–a sunny area like TX or CA or similar–where in fact solar installations are most popular–the solar installation will also help keep the house or building beneath somewhat cooler than otherwise, and therefore will lower AC bills just as surely, or more so, than would painting the roof white or silver. An unappreciated, but real, contribution of building-mounted solar to fighting global warming.]

    this doesn’t even touch on the increasing fraction of solar installations that are concentrated reflector based, which as a rule cover much less territory per kw.
    And in general, the more you look at Myrhvold’s stuff or at the Freakonomics glib ‘work’ in this area, the more and more ignorant they seem.

  24. Pan says:

    @ mike roddy (#15)
    Model references please. Your claim is … somewhat nonsensical. Are you saying that increased industrialization in Africa is not happening? This is blatantly untrue, so I hope not. Shrinking farmland makes small families both more desirable and more necessary, as well as leading to greater urbanization which leads to further industrialization. As for lack of capital precluding it, the money that the foundation spends in an attempt to reduce poverty may help combat said lack of capital by lifting some of the financial burden off the already over burdened state.
    In short I agree with Dave (#11), that the work of the foundation may help reduce peak population (a very good thing). That is not to say the foundation has no faults, merely that it is not the source of all Evil. It is too easy sometimes to say ” Wicked, wicked rich people”