Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of SuperFreakonomics, has embraced charges by the right wing that a handful of illegally obtained private emails means that the scientific consensus on climate change is actually a dangerous conspiracy. Dubner lent credence to the fevered “ClimateGate” ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and other global warming deniers in an interview with Fox Business Network host David Asman. Dubner purports that the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails reveal that the supposed “consensus” on global warming is because “everybody’s scared to be an outlier, everybody’s scared to be a skeptic.” After Asman compared climate scientists to Stalin and Hitler — we’re not kidding — Dubner jumped in to accuse “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”:
You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC’s or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that. And of course, coming into Copenhagen these are going to have a big effect how the world looks at you. They’re going to say, “Wait a minute. You say these climate scientists have been telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow?”
By asking whether “we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow,” Dubner — a top blogger for the New York Times — gets to the heart of why this bizarre theory of a cabal of all-powerful climatologists is getting support from conservative media and politicians. The incontrovertible science — based not on manipulated data but on decades of basic research — is that the burning of fossil fuels is drastically reshaping our planet’s climate, melting the glaciers, and acidifying the oceans. And the only known way to restore conditions to those safe for human civilization is to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Doing so, however, would affect the incredible profits and power of the oil and coal industries, and of their ideological allies.
One of the scientists, for example, who is “telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow” is Ken Caldeira, who Dubner and Levitt falsely portray in their book as a supporter of their mindless contrarianism. Is Dubner now accusing Caldeira of being part of this conspiracy?
But the point is this: carbon mitigation as a plan to stop global warming — even if you devoutly believe that global warming is the biggest problem we ever faced — won’t work.
This is an even more radical claim than what’s in SuperFreakonomics, in which Dubner and co-author Steven Levitt merely argue — based on flawed logic and falsehoods — that carbon mitigation would be ruinously expensive and difficult.
In fact, if we stop treating our atmosphere like a sewer, the climate system will heal itself over time, potentially more rapidly than we expect. That our past inaction will continue to bear consequences into the future is a reason to act with greater swiftness, not to dither further. The longer we delay, the more difficult and expensive the challenge to reduce pollution while adapting to a hostile world becomes.
DAVID ASMAN: All right, we’re talking about Superfreaks, if you recognize the song.
Well, politicians distort the truth all the time, but scientists are not supposed to do that. Still, it does happen. Stalin used to demand results from scientists that weren’t supported by evence — evidence, and of course Hitler did the same. But surely, we are above that, aren’t we? Well, “It can’t happen here,” as many people have said, but apparently it has.
New e-mails from global warming theorists appear to show that they have been covering up evidence that the earth isn’t warming as much as they thought it was. In fact, it might actually be cooling a bit. Furthermore, there’s not as much evidence that man is responsible for climate change as has been claimed by Al Gore and others. But the evidence for that too has been distorted. Shocking allegations that could affect discussions at the upcoming climate summit in Copenhagen. For details of how it all shakes out let’s turn to the coauthor of the super-bestselling book SuperFreakonomics, Stephen Dubner. Stephen, great to see you.
STEPHEN DUBNER: Thank you.
ASMAN: Thank you for being here. Let’s just read one of the e-mails that was discovered as a result of this great detective work on the part of . . . If we can put up b 13 e-mail. This was an e-mail from Kevin Trenberth, he’s a climatologist at the National Center for Climate Research, they believe in global warming quite a bit. He says, “The fact is we cannot account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” Now, it’s because of e-mails like this that suspicions have begun to mount that maybe they buried evidence suggesting that global warming didn’t fit the computer models. What do you think?
DUBNER: Let me start by saying the e-mails were hacked. Just so we know. So someone either wanted to get in there because they knew there was something that should be read. Or maybe there’s a whistle-blower. At this point we just don’t know. All these e-mails and other documents got released and what it seems to show is, what your e-mail shows — first of all you’ll find out how i feel about this issue — but just for the sake of devil’s advocacy for a moment. It is tough to say from one e-mail or 10 e-mail what is really going on. What seems to be going on, however, if you read these e-mails there is a group of scientists who supported each other’s work that reported to the IPCC, and formed the basis . . .
ASMAN: That organization is that United Nations organization that believes we should be . . .
DUBNER: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
ASMAN: . . . massively getting government involved in stopping global warming.
DUBNER: right. What you’ve got is a group of scientists who have very potent really at telling this UN body how it wants to tell governments around the world to deal with climate, to deal with carbon, to deal with energy, and so on. And it seems as though these guys are colluding among each other to a) make their findings be right for their position but b) even more troubling if you’re a scientist or a fan of science is to keep out the dissenters. So, you can say anything you want about scientists wanting to advocate for what they think is right, but when you’re dealing with peer-reviewed journals and the guys who publish in these journals having the podium to tell Al Gore what to say, to tell the UN what to say, and those guys are keeping out dissenters, and they’re working with federal tax money.
ASMAN: But we know Al Gore is trying to keep out dissenters. He has refused to debate anybody on the issue. And there’s some real distinguished scientists who don’t believe in global warming.
DUBNER: It’s true. We make the points in in SuperFreakonomics, a few basic points about global warming. The models that seem to predict calamity are . . .
ASMAN: The computer models that a lot of the policy that the UN advocates are based on.
DUBNER: . . . are a) full of uncertainty. Predicting the future in any realm is hard —
ASMAN: I thought you were going say they’re full of something else.
DUBNER: Well, I’ll let you fill in that blank. They seem to conform quite a bit. There seems to be what a lot of scientists like to call the “consensus.” The problem is there are other scientists who argue this consensus is really false. And what it represents is everybody’s scared to be an outlier, everybody’s scared to be a skeptic, because they won’t get funding unless they produce research that kind of supports the uh, the global —
ASMAN: Bottom line, we’ve got to cut to the chase. Who do you think is doing what to the evidence? Do you think that supporters of global warming and the UN are distorting evidence to prove their point?
DUBNER: Distorting evidence, probably yes. To what degree with don’t really know yet. We’re going to find out a lot more about that. Here’s what I think.
ASMAN: But doesn’t to any degree discredit their theories?
DUBNER: Yeah. You can’t —
ASMAN: If something has been made up you can’t rely on anything else.
DUBNER: You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that. And of course, coming into Copenhagen these are going to have a big effect how the world looks at you. They’re going to say, “Wait a minute. You say these climate scientists have been telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow?”
ASMAN: Particularly in light of the fact we are on the cusp of spending a trillion dollars in a cap-and-trade program that the House has already approved here. Most Americans are already questioning this, but in light of these e-mail memos show the computer models wrong we don’t want to spend a trillion dollars for that.
DUBNER: In Superfreakonomics we say that, but then we go a step farther and say even if you cut all of your carbon, even if — we could go to a zero carbon society overnight which of course is impossible — it’s probably not going address warming, if indeed warming is bad enough to worry about. The reason why carbon dioxide turns out to not be the thing, perhaps, we should worry about most in terms of warming.
ASMAN: the thing that’s worse than car exhaust is?
DUBNER: Well, we write about ruminants, believe it or not.
ASMAN: You write about cows! Let’s just put it up on here, the exhalation and flatulence and belching with manure emit methane — put that up on the screen, which by one common measure 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide released by cars.
DUBNER: This is true. So if you want save the planet, you gotta either, you know, you gotta learn to love the kangaroo, eat the kangaroo. The kangaroo does not emit methane.
ASMAN: Let me get that — kangaroo. Forgive me everybody. Hide the kids, cover the kids’ ears, kangaroo farts don’t have methane?
DUBNER: They’re clean. It has to do with the bacterial . . . What Australian scientists are trying to say if cows emit all of this methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and kangaroos don’t, if we can’t get people to eat kangaroos, what if we could transfer the digestive bacteria from cow’s — from kangaroo’s stomachs into cows and make them, you know, methane free.
But the point is this: carbon mitigation as a plan to stop global warming — even if you devoutly believe that global warming is the biggest problem we’ve ever faced — won’t work. It won’t work because it’s too little, it’s too late, and it’s too optimistic. It’s also very expensive. It also depends on governments and people around the world to change their behavior when it goes against their economic self-interest.
ASMAN: If we all became vegetarians, we could do a lot more for releasing these gases . . .
DUBNER: Than driving a Prius, for instance. If driving a Prius makes you feel good absolutely but if you drive the Prius to the supermarket to buy some hamburger you’re canceling yourself out many times over.
ASMAN: Many, many facts such as these are to be had in SuperFreakonomics. You and your coauthor Steven Levitt. By the way, top of the charts now, right?
DUBNER: We’re doing all right.
ASMAN: You’re selling it well. It’s a great stocking stuffer. Thank you very much for being here.