Superfreakonomics author is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesnt believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’

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"Superfreakonomics author is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesnt believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’"

Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled best-seeler

Caldeira, like the vast majority of climate scientists, believes cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions is our only real chance to avoid runaway climate change.

“Carbon dioxide is the right villain,” Caldeira wrote on his Web site in reply. He told Joe Romm, the respected climate blogger who broke the story, that he had objected to the “wrong villain” line but Dubner and Levitt didn’t correct it; instead, they added the “incredibly foolish” quote, a half step in the right direction. Caldeira gave the same account to me.

Levitt and Dubner do say that the book “overstates” Caldeira’s position. That’s a weasel word: The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes. Caldeira told me the book contains “many errors” in addition to the “major error” of misstating his scientific opinion on carbon dioxide’s role….

Caldeira, who is researching the idea [of aerosol geoengineering], argues that it can succeed only if we first reduce emissions. Otherwise, he says, geoengineering can’t begin to cope with the collateral damage, such as acidic oceans killing off shellfish.

Levitt and Dubner ignore his view and champion his work as a permanent substitute for emissions cuts. When I told Dubner that Caldeira doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions, he was baffled. “I don’t understand how that could be,” he said. In other words, the Freakonomics guys just flunked climate science.

That’s award-winning journalist Eric Pooley in his terrific Bloomberg story today, “Freakonomics Guys Flunk Science of Climate Change.” Pooley has been managing editor of Fortune, national editor of Time, Time‘s chief political correspondent, and Time‘s White House correspondent, where he won the Gerald Ford Prize for Excellence in Reporting.  His story vindicates my original reporting in 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.

For me, the “villain” quote was not actually the main issue.  The main issue for me was the misrepresentation of Caldeira’s core belief that you have to cut emissions dramatically for geoengineering to even have a chance of making any sense.

That misrepresented view is the one that actually represents a real threat to humanity — should enough people come to believe it.  That’s why I am still writing about this — that, and the fact that the Superfreaks are going to be spreading their confused misrepresentations for weeks to come.  Their amazing press schedule is here — they’re getting a full hour on 20/20 on Friday, plus Good Morning America (twice!) and The Daily Show.

Who can really be opposed to geo-engineering research — as long as humanity is NOT foolish enough to come to believe that pursuing geo-engineering research is a substitute for aggressively reducing emissions starting now?  Secondarily, it would be a mistake to believe with any certainty that such research will in fact ever lead to a viable and practical “cooling” strategy.  But, of course, calling for “research” into geo-engineering as Caldeira does would hardly form the basis of a particularly provocative chapter in a contrarian book seeking publicity and best-sellerhood.

When I first saw the PDF of the Superfreakonomics chapter, I knew that it had utterly misrepresented Caldeira’s view.  How did I know that?  First, I can read.

In September, Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post had a story about Bjorn Lomborg who had proposed the exact same geoengineering-only approach, which noted:

Several scientists questioned whether focusing on geoengineered solutions at the expense of major carbon reductions would adequately address the effects of climate change. Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, a geoengineering expert, said such a strategy “misses the point.”

“Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions,” he said. “If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”

Pretty clear, no?

Second, in an email interview, I sent Caldeira an email titled, “Can you elaborate on Washington Post quote.”  The full contents of that email were a reprinting of the quote followed by “Can you explain this for my readers?  Have you or someone else written about this?”

I reprinted his full reply here on September 5 — Exclusive: Caldeira calls the vision of Lomborg’s Climate Consensus “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.” Here is an excerpt (the ellipsis is his):

Nobody has written about this that I know of, but “¦.

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?

So that’s how I knew when I was sent the Superfreakonomics chapter on October 9th (by someone familiar with my reporting on Caldeira and geoengineering) that it had misrepresented his views utterly.  And that’s why I sent him this email (sorry for the repetition here, but this is for completeness’ sake):

Ken

You need to read this and see how your words have been taken out of context and give me a reply (by Sunday, if possible)”¦.

Lines about you like (page 184) “Yet his research tells him carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight” seriously abuse your reputation and your extensive publications and warnings about the threat of ocean acidification”¦.

I’d like to do a major reply.  I have attached the entire chapter for you to read (and you can confirm it is genuine by going to Amazon and searching for your name).

I’d like a quote like, “The authors of Superfreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work.” plus whatever else you want to say.

I assume you stand by the Post quote:

“Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions,” he said. “If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”

and your email to me, including “dystopic world out of a science fiction story” that I can requote.

http://climateprogress.org/ 2009/ 09/ 05/ caldeira-delayer-lomborg-copenhagen-climate-consensus-geoengineering/

Was it wrong for me to ask him for a quote like that?  Again, from my perspective I was in an extended interview with him on this precise subject, so I knew exactly where he stood.

I respect Pooley a great deal, and I asked him for his answer to that question, which I reprint at the end.  But first, I’m going to reprint his entire story because it’s just that good — and the context is important:

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) — Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are so good at tweaking conventional wisdom that their first book, “Freakonomics,” sold 4 million copies. So when Dubner, an old friend, told me their new book would take on climate change, I was rooting for a breakthrough idea.

No such luck. In “SuperFreakonomics,” their brave new climate thinking turns out to be the same pile of misinformation the skeptic crowd has been peddling for years.

“Obviously, provocation is not last on the list of things we’re trying to do,” Dubner told me the other day. This time, the urge to provoke has driven him and Levitt off the rails and into a contrarian ditch.

Their breezy take on global warming unleashed a barrage of highly detailed criticism from economists and climate experts, including a scientist who is misrepresented in the book.

Dubner wonders why everyone is so angry. In part, it’s because the book’s blithe remedies — “We could end this debate and be done with it, and move on to problems that are harder to solve,” Levitt told the U.K. Guardian newspaper — are an insult to the thousands of scientists who have devoted their careers to this crisis.

One of the injured parties is Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University who is quoted (accurately) as saying that “we are being incredibly foolish emitting carbon dioxide.” Then Dubner and Levitt add this astonishing claim: “His research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.”

Provocative, Untrue

That’s provocative, but alas, it isn’t true. Caldeira, like the vast majority of climate scientists, believes cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions is our only real chance to avoid runaway climate change.

“Carbon dioxide is the right villain,” Caldeira wrote on his Web site in reply. He told Joe Romm, the respected climate blogger who broke the story, that he had objected to the “wrong villain” line but Dubner and Levitt didn’t correct it; instead, they added the “incredibly foolish” quote, a half step in the right direction. Caldeira gave the same account to me.

Levitt and Dubner do say that the book “overstates” Caldeira’s position. That’s a weasel word: The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes. Caldeira told me the book contains “many errors” in addition to the “major error” of misstating his scientific opinion on carbon dioxide’s role.

Why does this matter? Because there’s a titanic battle going on over whether and how to reduce carbon emissions, and this soon-to-be bestseller tries to convince people that we don’t need to do so. Dubner and Levitt trumpet their “wrong villain” line in their table of contents and promotional material. On National Public Radio the other day, Levitt said, “The real problem isn’t that there’s too much carbon in the air.”

Multiple Villains

“SuperFreakonomics” never identifies the “right villain,” so I called Dubner and asked. “I don’t think anybody knows for sure,” he told me. Then he acknowledged that the chapter’s most newsworthy claim “could have been better phrased, as ‘carbon dioxide is not the only villain.‘ “

Note to self:  Wow!

That’s a huge admission. No climate scientist believes carbon dioxide is the only villain: methane, nitrous oxide and other gases need to be reduced too. But that basic truth wouldn’t have drawn attention. It wouldn’t have given Levitt a bold contrarian line for NPR.

Dubner and Levitt acknowledge that the planet has warmed but pretend that cutting emissions is a hopelessly old-school response. “It’s not that we don’t know how to stop polluting the atmosphere,” they write. “We don’t want to stop.” They ignore the fact that U.S. emissions have dropped 9 percent since 2007 — not just because of the recession but also thanks to energy efficiency and cleaner fuels.

Chance of Catastrophe

They exaggerate the cost of climate action and underestimate the likelihood of runaway global warming, pretending that the “relatively small chance of worldwide catastrophe” isn’t worth getting bothered about.

They dismiss global warming as a “religion” and rehash the so-called “global cooling” scare of the 1970s, a favorite skeptic myth. (A handful of scientists warned of a coming ice age, a false alarm in no way comparable to today’s scientific consensus on warming.)

They trumpet the “little-discussed fact” that the average global temperature has decreased in recent years. This is accurate according to one set of global data — the other shows an increase — but scientists say it proves nothing. Imagine the Dow climbing to 14,000, with a wobble to 13,950. That’s what global temperatures have done. Even with small fluctuations, this decade is by every measure the hottest in recorded history. The second hottest is the 1990s. The third hottest is the 1980s. Get the picture? Levitt and Dubner don’t.

Shooting Sulfur Dioxide

Having downplayed the problem, they try to solve it with a set of silver-bullet technologies known as geoengineering. One would shoot millions of tons of sulfur dioxide 18 miles into the air to artificially cool the planet. This could work; it also could have dire unintended consequences.

Caldeira, who is researching the idea, argues that it can succeed only if we first reduce emissions. Otherwise, he says, geoengineering can’t begin to cope with the collateral damage, such as acidic oceans killing off shellfish.

Levitt and Dubner ignore his view and champion his work as a permanent substitute for emissions cuts. When I told Dubner that Caldeira doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions, he was baffled. “I don’t understand how that could be,” he said. In other words, the Freakonomics guys just flunked climate science.

(Eric Pooley, a former managing editor of Fortune magazine who is writing a book about the politics of global warming, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

The bottom line is that the story I broke was dead on.

And the Superfreaks still don’t get that the primary climatologist they spoke to completely disagrees with their primary thesis, which they continue to attribute to him.  Consider this October 18 Times online excerpt (whose subhead, actually claims “This time they claim that CO2 may be good”!), which ends:

It is one thing for climate heavyweights such as Crutzen and Caldeira to endorse such a solution. But they are mere scientists. The real heavyweights in this fight are people like Gore.And what does he think of geoengineering?

“In a word,” Gore says, “I think it’s nuts.”

You may be interested to know that Gore spokesperson Kalee Kreider told me they didn’t interview Gore for the book nor was he given a chance to review the chapter prior to publication.

The only remaining question for me is — Was it wrong for me to ask Caldeira for a quote like that?  My parents were award-winning journalists, and I certainly criticize journalists all the time.  So I put it to Pooley, and here is his full reply:

I don’t think journalists should rough out quotes in advance for their sources. Some folks do it; I never have. I think your case is a little different, not because you’re a ‘blogger’ and not a ‘journalist’ (those distinctions are fading fast!) but because you’re an expert who was already having a conversation with Caldeira on this subject and could see that Dubner and Levitt had misrepresented his views.

That said, I think everyone’s rule needs to be, don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Times.  If you had emailed Caldeira and said, “It seems clear to me that they utterly misrepresented your work; if you agree and are willing to say so, I’d like to quote you on it,” then no one could say boo.

Fair enough.  I wasn’t acting exactly as a journalist nor was I just acting as someone who was coming to this story cold.  I knew they had misrepresented Caldeira.  But Pooley’s phrasing is obviously what I should have written in retrospect — even with my dual role as an expert and a blogger.

I am very glad that I did go back and explicitly ask Caldeira if I could use the quote he did give me.  I think that is good journalism, although as I say only about half of the reporters I deal with do that.  Had Dubner done that, he could have avoided some of this, but then he wouldn’t have had the catchphrase he wanted for the book and the Table of Contents and the publicity.

The second bottom line:  This was an extremely special case whose circumstances I doubt will ever be repeated again in my life.  Given the circumstances, I don’t think I did anything wrong.  But in the future I will follow Pooley’s sound advice.

Comments welcome, if you’re still reading!

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38 Responses to Superfreakonomics author is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesnt believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’

  1. This controvery has helped to clarify some of the technical aspects of climate change and shows how the subtle arrangement of words can change the whole gestalt. In this sense, I suppose the contrarian view of the Superfreakeconomics approach can be useful inasmuch as it has provoked a laser beam response from people like you, Paul Krugman and Eric Pooley that has given people like me a better understanding of the issues. Thanks again.

  2. Drew Jones says:

    Great work on this, Joe. Your vigilance is so important.

    My colleague on our C-ROADS simulation, Tom Fiddaman, just sent me this wise quote from Paul Krugman on all these Superfreaking antics:

    Clever snark like this can get you a long way in career terms – but the
    trick is knowing when to stop. It’s one thing to do this on relatively
    inconsequential media or cultural issues. But if you’re going to get into
    issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the
    fate of the planet, you’d better be very careful not to stray over the line
    between being counter-intuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong.

  3. Seth Masia says:

    As a graduate of the University of Chicago, I’m sorry to recognize that Leavitt is just another Chicago economics hack. These guys are like Aristotle or Ptolemy: having constructed an internally consistent system, they fall in love with it and lose interest in empirical evidence that might knock it apart.

  4. Leif says:

    Still reading and a continued thank you for your efforts.
    “The only fight that is worth fighting is the one you lose and lose and finally win.” (Don’t know the source)
    Hopefully for us all, we will ultimately be able to place this fight in the win column.

  5. max says:

    I have not read the chapter-but even not having read it, it seems unbelievable to me that it could be taken seriously as a strategy to prevent climate change to use a hose to shoot sulfur particles into the atmosphere. It seems self-evidently ridiculous. But if people reading the book might be convinced of this foolishness then the authors must be vigorously corrected and shown to be the fools they are.

  6. “When I told Dubner that Caldeira doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions, he was baffled. “I don’t understand how that could be,” he said. In other words, the Freakonomics guys just flunked climate science.”

    Beyond clueless… what’s baffling is that they possibly thought otherwise?

  7. Romm, you are my hero!

  8. ken levenson says:

    Can’t wait to watch The Daily Show! I sense they may regret their great publicity tour.

    Great work Joe.

  9. Dana says:

    I agree with Ken Levenson – I want to see how that Daily Show interview goes. I hope Jon Stewart doesn’t let him off easy on the climate change chapter.

    I think you did a great job breaking this story and getting the facts right, Joe.

  10. dhogaza says:

    The Bloomberg piece is excellent, thanks for the pointer, Joe. I just e-mailed Eric Pooley a big “thank you” for the piece.

  11. john says:

    Joe:

    Great job and valuable work. Exposing this kind of self-interested iconclastic commercialism is extremely important.

    I can’t help but think there’s another villain in this — the tendency of the MSM to uncritically grant extensive print and air time to this kind of contrarian crap, thereby encouraging it.

    Sophists like these guys, S&N, and Lomborg will continue to pump out contrarian porn as long as they get coverage, fame and money for doing so, truth be damned.

    Back in a simpler time, NPR reporters would have done the king of work you did before granting air time to these charlatans.

    Now, it’s all about the food fight, not the meal.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. There is a full-page ad for Superfreaknomics in today’s NY Times, which means that the publishers think it will be a huge best seller. It is a shame that the contemporary publishing industry produces and promotes such dreck.

  13. Lou Grinzo says:

    When I commented on this unfolding mess on my own site the other day, I pointed out that there were three ways it could play out:

    1. No one notices and they get nothing for the effort.

    2. People notice and it gets them tons of attention, media interviews, etc., and it also sells a few extra metric tons of books. I think this is clearly where things stand right now.

    3. Number 2 happens, but then things go sour when everyone figures out how incredibly bad the book is on the points in question, and it turns into a very negative situation. We’re on the cusp of the superfreaks making this transition, and it’s feeling more and more like it will happen.

    I’m still not ready to claim they did it on purpose. None of us knows that for sure. It could be nothing more sinister than a stupefyingly bad job of researching and writing a book. Or maybe they did do it intentionally and it’s just an example of the basic philosophy–do what economics suggests will most benefit you (ignoring #3 above, obviously), and ignore everything else.

    What really hacks me off is that we’ll have to deal with literally millions of mainstreamers reading this book or finding out what it says through TV interviews, etc., and a good portion of them either believing it or concluding that climate chaos is a highly controversial, debatable issue. This is Very Bad News for everyone concerned, which is, basically, everyone on the planet, plus those yet to be born.

    Thanks for nothing, superfreaks.

  14. PeterW says:

    “Levitt and Dubner do say that the book “overstates” Caldeira’s position. That’s a weasel word: The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes.”

    Wow, somebody give Pooley a Pulitzer. If only the rest of the media could be this blunt. I like this guy. :-)

  15. DavidCOG says:

    Great article, slightly marred by “the average global temperature has decreased in recent years.” No mention that this is a mirage created by the ’98 outlier record El Niño event.

  16. ecostew says:

    Wind, water and solar energy resources are sufficiently available to provide all the world’s energy. Converting to electricity and hydrogen powered by these sources would reduce world power demand by 30 percent, thereby avoiding 13,000 coal power plants. Materials and costs are not limitations to these conversions, but politics may be, say Stanford and UC researchers who have mapped out a blueprint for powering the world.

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/october19/jacobson-energy-study-102009.html

  17. I echo the view of “great job and valuable work” Joe. Eric Poole’s story is excellent too but he is pouring through great journalism after you have broken through the dyke.

  18. dhogaza says:

    “It is a shame that the contemporary publishing industry produces and promotes such dreck.”

    You mean unlike the good old days, when they’d refuse to publish such pseudoscience as “Worlds in Collision”? :)

  19. Mike#22 says:

    Joe, Nathan Myhrvold is discussing your “method of attack” here at today’s Freakonomics Blog.
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/are-solar-panels-really-black-and-what-does-that-have-to-do-with-the-climate-debate/

    Apparently Myhrvold is too busy being a polymath squared to actually find some basic information on energy payback estimates for PV, let alone the main opportunity which is solar thermal.

    NREL tells us that the energy payback for “rooftop PV systems” are 4, 3, 2, and 1 years: 4 years for systems using current multicrystalline-silicon PV modules, 3 years for current thin-film modules, 2 years for anticipated multicrystalline modules, and 1 year for anticipated thin-film modules (see Figure 1). With energy paybacks of 1 to 4 years and assumed life expectancies of 30 years, 87% to 97% of the energy that
    PV systems generate won’t be plagued by pollution, greenhouse gases, and depletion of resources.” http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf

    And the energy payback for big solar thermal is 5 months according to Schott. Also, many thirty year solar panels are going strong–remember the warranties are 80% of full power at 25 years–30 years is a minimum. Last I checked, the big solar thermal plants from the 80’s and early 90’s are going strong.

    Myhrvold tells us: “You need to operate the solar plant for at least 2.75 years before you break even versus the coal plant — at least versus CO2 emissions.” He is evidently assuming the energy used to make the “solar plant” comes entirely from a coal fired power plant.

    And he is sticking by this statement in FreakOnomics: “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”

    Thanks for dragging these hacks out into the daylight. Weakonomics!

    [JR: Oh, I’ve got some responses coming for Myhrvold — he still doesn’t understand that the physics. But I’ve got to do my regular blogging too.]

  20. alexy says:

    If you haven’t done so already, you should contact the various upcoming interviewers to be certain they are aware of the “controversy” and “the facts”.

  21. Dan Hunt says:

    Below is one version of a comment that I’ve attempted to post on the Freakonomics blog post “Are Solar Panels Really Black And What Does That Have to Do with the Climate Debate” multiple times today (using some different variants), to no avail. I don’t know whether they’re allowed to moderate their own blog by NYT policy, but if they are, this is clearly an effort on their part to suppress debate, which just further illustrates their bunker mentality. Why does the NYT give these guys a forumn again?

    In any case, please let me know if you can find any violation of their comments policy, as I certainly cannot. By way of disclosure, I rarely read this blog, so I am not coming to your defense as a loyal follower, but just on the basis of what I saw to be a really terrible post. Here’s the latest censored comment verbatim:

    This post starts with portraying the need for rational debate free of personal attacks, and then goes on to viciously attack Romm in entirely unsubstantiated ways. We are told that Romm is a good example of “partisan true believers who attack anybody they feel threatens their movement”- which in and of itself is so loaded and lacking in insight it could be an attempt at self-parody. We are then told that Romm, apparently, “levels one baseless, bald charge after another”, and does so by his wild-eyed position that the authors cannot question ‘the faith’, i.e., “…are not allowed to follow an objective, skeptical line of reasoning in this matter”.

    The evidence for this harsh assessment? Romm’s interpretation of arguments that 1) solar radiates a bunch of heat and emits a bunch of carbon such that it is not much cleaner than coal, and 2) that coal is so cost efficient that we would be committing economic suicide not to build coal plants, to mean the authors take a dim view of solar, (in addition to their dim view of mitigation, climate science, and climate change damages). So Romm lent insufficient credence to some throwaway caveats along the road to arguing that replacing fossil fuel plants with renewables within the next few decades was ridiculous, and this makes him a ‘partisan true believer’? Really???

    There is plenty more to object to in your misleading and in some cases erroneous assertions about solar. Since your introduction makes clear you have impressive credentials, I assume you know that ‘solar’ is not the same thing as PV. Solar also includes things like solar thermal, which tends to work out pretty well in the dessert, and actually increases albedo in the process. In fact, people who have studied these things have found that even without subsidies or a carbon tax, continuous solar thermal is likely to become as cost efficient as combined cycle gas plants in short order.

    Because, really, if you meant to say that we shouldn’t install PV in desserts or other high albedo areas, (where in fact, little currently is by amount installed), but instead on rooftops while installing solar thermal in desserts instead, then you really should have gone out there and said that, right? Instead we get ‘solar’s not useful for reducing emissions for a few decades and in the meantime we’d be committing economic suicide not to install a bunch of coal plants’. One might forgive Romm for jumping to the conclusion, based on that rather slanted choice, to put it mildly, that these authors were doing something less than, following “an objective, skeptical line of reasoning in this matter”.

    More broadly, I don’t understand why the Freakanomics group thinks they can make devastatingly damning critiques from experts in climate science and the economics of climate change (amongst other notables) disappear by painting them as the ravings of a single climate blogger. The book’s own sources from Caldeira to Weitzman have repudiated its abject misrepresentation of their work. Where I came from, this used to be a rather serious. Perhaps the authors ought to consider addressing the many substantial criticisms and complaints from the book’s primary sources and other climate scientists and economists, before attempting any further baseless demonizing of the messenger.

  22. As a journalist, I agree with Pooley. I’d never feed a source a quote, but I ask people I’m interviewing framing questions all the time. If someone read a full transcript, they might call them leading questions. But guess what? Sometimes a source responds by saying that my interpretation of things, as revealed by my question, is dead wrong! What matters is what goes into the piece and whether it’s a faithful representation of what a source said.

    Bottom line: you’re not the one who misrepresented Caldeira’s views.

    Also: you should get away from this and concentrate not on the mistakes they made where there is plausible deniability, but the entirely deliberate misrepresentations littered throughout the book. There is plenty of opposition to geoengineering already and it’s not on the radar of denialists who would exploit its moral hazard. They’re still stuck (sadly) on whether climate change is bad enough to warrant sacrifice to avert it.

  23. Anna Haynes says:

    FYI, I put up a SourceWatch page for Caldeira, explaining some of the misrepresentations and providing some of his quotations –
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Ken_Caldeira
    It doesn’t really do the SuperFreakonomics superfiasco justice, but at least it’s something; and it’s something that can be improved.

  24. Great work following up on this. It’s also important to note that Myhrvold posted today and said, “Geoengineering is proposed only as a last resort to try to reduce or cope with the even greater harms of global warming!”

    That is exactly the opposite of what the book argues and represents a complete repudiation of the chapter from one of the main sources on which Levitt and Dubner relied.

    My comment to this effect on his post is here: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/are-solar-panels-really-black-and-what-does-that-have-to-do-with-the-climate-debate/#comment-506747

  25. @Dan Hunt

    They do moderate their own comments and were deleting critical ones before Levitt posted his first response to criticisms.

  26. Eric G says:

    @Dan Hunt

    From the NY Times comment policy :
    <<<
    To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction.
    <<<

    It's all for the sake of the readers! They can't be distracted!

    Dubner moderates the comments (perhaps with help from others, who knows). See
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/12/freakonomics-global-warming-statistics

  27. Marion Delgado says:

    For what it’s worth, almost anyone with a modicum of relevant scientific training would think of the particulates in the air solution – and look it up and find a few people had already said sulfur particles are a good possibility. It’s not at all an outlandish idea or solution. It’s literally the first thing you think of, especially if you haven’t looked at the specifics (like the fact that aerosols are increasing still but not as much as CO2, so the trope of “pollution controls warmed the climate” is only half right).

    There are lots of geoengineering solutions out there, and if that floats your boat, instead of bitching that the mitigation kids have nicer floor mats in the kindergarten classroom, just build your model dinosaur and be happy. My favorite by far is the little boats spraying salt water into the air to form clouds – tens of millions of them.

    The market fundies have hammered the lie that everything is either/or so long that their dupes honestly believe you’ll be arrested – or at least stripped of all your public and private funding – if you research geoengineering or amelioration. It’s just not true.

  28. Thom says:

    Out of all this Freakonmics mess, Keith Kloor latches onto one tiny issue regarding Joe Romm, while all these other groups–Mother Jones, Paul Krugman, The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan, Real Climate, Brad Johnson, Union of Concerned Scientists, Tim Lambert, David Roberts, etc…–come out against Dubner and Levitt.

    Keith, you might wanna see a shrink about the “Romm Envy” you’re dealing with.

  29. Tom Gray says:

    Thanks, Joe, nice work. As a former (very small-time) journalist, I don’t really see anything wrong with you offering a quote to Caldeira. After all, it’s his call whether to agree or to say, no, I want to say something else. It’s not something I ever did or would have done as a journalist, but it’s pretty small potatoes compared with Levitt and Dubner apparently misquoting Caldeira, then using the misquote over his objection. That’s in a whole different league.–Tom Gray, American Wind Energy Association

  30. Anna Haynes says:

    > They do moderate their own comments and were deleting critical ones

    They have also been deleting comments which note that they were deleting critical comments.

  31. hapa says:

    i just read another interview with ken caldeira. they pull out a fabulous quote. but if the text is verbatim, caldeira flips can/can’t. is he any shade of dyslexic?

  32. tatil says:

    Thanks, Joe, nice work. As a former (very small-time) journalist, I don’t really see anything wrong with you offering a quote to Caldeira. After all, it’s his call whether to agree or to say, no, I want to say something else. It’s not something I ever did or would have done as a journalist, but it’s pretty small potatoes compared with Levitt and Dubner apparently misquoting Caldeira, then using the misquote over his objection. That’s in a whole different league.–Tom Gray, American Wind Energy Association

  33. ucuz tatil says:

    They have also been deleting comments which note that they were deleting critical comments.

  34. Hank Roberts says:

    http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/10/22/pm-freakonomics/

    [JR: More disinformation debunked (prebunked?) by this Bloomberg story.]

  35. Hank Roberts says:

    > more disinformation

    Yep. NPR/Marketplace interview Rissdal brings it up but doesn’t follow through. Audio’s too damn limited.

    — excerpt —

    RYSSDAL: He [Caldeira] also says the way you guys framed his remarks leaves a misimpression. And that’s a fairly serious discussion in a book that is on the day it’s out, number eight on the Amazon list.

    DUBNER: Yeah, I don’t really know what to make of misimpression. Ken Caldeira is a climate scientist who is worth listening to. The reason we listen to him, and the reason he’s in this chapter at all is because he is with a group of guys who are proposing a different kind of solution than just carbon mitigation. …”

    They weren’t even _interested_ in the underlying physics.

  36. RT says:

    “…a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze… 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…”
    And wouldn’t the plankton be negatively affected?
    Leaving yet more CO2 and ALSO less oxygen?