A blogger once said that only the ideologically-driven anti-science disinformers never admit to error, since their job is to make errors on purpose. Okay, that was me, but still.
In truth, most people rarely if ever admit to major errors. So it seemed to me that Leap Day would be a good day to run through my biggest mistakes.
I’m not going focus on the many, many small mistakes that are inevitable for anyone who blogs daily and has written literally millions of words on this subject. I work to admit and correct those mistakes as quickly as possible – see my post about whether you should cancel your subscription to the New York Times.
I do think Climate Progress presents the science more accurately and with fewer errors than the vast majority of the MSM — especially since errors include quoting people whose job it is to make errors on purpose.
I’ll end with my biggest blogging mistake, but let me start again with my biggest climate science mistake.
I have consistently underestimated the timing and speed of climate impacts and the level of greenhouse gas emissions that would likely cause catastrophic warming. In the 1990s, I was mostly a 3°C or 550 ppm guy. In fact, looking at my 2004 book, The Hype About Hydrogen, I now see that it actually floated a scenario in which “in 2037, the the National Academy of Sciences’ Panel on Abrupt Climate Change, noting that the 3 previous years were a full 1°F warmer than the past decade, urges CO2 stabilization at 650 ppmv within 50 years.” Ouch.
Here’s how I corrected that mistake: After my brother lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, I spent a lot of time attending seminars by the top climate scientists, talking to as many as possible, and reviewing as much of the scientific literature as I could. That’s when I realized the situation was considerably more dire than I or 99% of the public and opinion-makers realized — and that climate scientists were doing a lousy job of communicating that fact. Six years later, the situation is still considerably more dire than, oh, at least 95% of the public and opinion-makers realize, but at least my understanding of climate is more grounded in the latest science (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).
Of course, now I’m a 450 ppm guy and I still may be too high! It’s also worth noting that because of our better understanding of carbon cycle feedbacks, the cumulative CO2 that humans can afford to emit to stabilize at any temperature level is considerably lower than we thought just 5 years ago (see “Hidden Bombshell in the IPCC Fourth Assessment“). So we need to act ASAP.
In that regard, my biggest political error in judgment was to believe President Obama (and his uniquely knowledgeable climate team) would be willing and able to actually pass a serious climate bill. All I can say in my defense is I wasn’t alone. Obama’s lameness on this issue is not the primary reason we didn’t get climate action — the disinformers and their political allies as well as the media deserve 90% of the blame, as I’ve said many times. Could Obama have succeeded if he had really tried? I do believe there was a meaningful bill that could have passed had Obama made it a priority, but we will obviously never know the answer.
I shouldn’t leave out my biggest mistake at the Department of Energy — my strong support for the hydrogen and transportation fuel cell program.