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 dont get global warming under control.” Did he even read the book?

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"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 dont get global warming under control.” Did he even read the book?"

Un-friggin-believable.

Nathan Myhrvold, who Levitt and Dubner call the “polymath’s polymath” — who is one of the primary “experts” the authors rely on to make the case for their central geoengineering-only approach to global warming — has just publicly repudiated that approach. Apparently he never read the chapter — or didn’t understand it if he did.  And apparently in their rush to print this “rebuttal” to my debunkings, the Superfreaks didn’t bother to read it closely, since he just wrote this jaw-dropper on their blog:

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.

You can’t make this stuff up.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists posted here about Myhrvold’s amazing defense repudiation of Superfreakonomics:

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.

Or go to the Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira that backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics for an independent view of what the book is about — and what the authors think the book is about:

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.

Are you baffled also?  The two leading experts (well, one expert and one F.A.K.E.R.) that Dubner and Leavitt relied on for their geoengineering-only solution don’t believe in it!  Well, Caldeira doesn’t believe in it.  As we’ll see, it’s impossible to figure out what Myhrvold believes.

Myhrvold is not a “polymath’s polymath.”  He repudiates the Superfreaks, so he’s a contrarian’s contrarian.

Why exactly does Myhrvold think the Superfreaks were so desperate to push the (incorrect) statement about Caldeira that his “research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain”?  Since the Superfreaks made me take the PDF of the book down, go to the NPR interview of Levitt (transcript here):

So we’re not – look, I’m not a scientist and Steven Dubner’s not a scientist either, but we’ve managed to interact with some of the greatest scientists in this country. I think what we conclude is that the nature of the debate is just completely wrong. The real problem isn’t that there’s too much carbon in the air. The real problem is it’s too hot.

Ouch.  But now it looks like the greatest scientists in this country don’t even agree with them.

Read the Times online excerpt whose subhead actually claims “This time they claim that CO2 may be good”!

The book itself says:

It’s not that we don’t know how to stop polluting the atmosphere. We don’t want to stop or aren’t willing to pay the price.

And then there is Myhrvold himself in the book — for extended quotes see “Error-riddled Superfreakonomics’, Part 2“:

“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.

But Myhrvold says (from the Times online excerpt):

Myhrvold is not arguing for an immediate deployment of the sulphur shield but, rather, that technologies like it be researched and tested so they are ready to use if the worst climate predictions come true.

Good for him.  He’s “not arguing for an immediate deployment” of something that doesn’t exist.  Good strategy.  If only his former company, Microsoft, had applied that approach with the Windows Vista operating system.  Zing!

So why is he pushing this approach?

He is also eager to get geoengineering moving forward because of what he sees as “a real head of steam” that global warming activists have gathered in recent years.

“They are seriously proposing doing a set of things that could have enormous impact “” and we think probably negative impact “” on human life,” he says. “They want to divert a huge amount of economic value toward immediate and precipitous anti-carbon initiatives, without thinking things through.

“This will have a huge drag on the world economy. There are billions of poor people who will be greatly delayed, if not entirely precluded, from attaining a First World standard of living.”

Ah, those extremist, nutty “global warming activists” — like, say, climatologist Ken Caldeira himself who has said:

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

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

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

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

Nathan is apparently pushing geo-engineering research because people like Caldeira (and me) want to immediately and precipitously cut carbon.

But wait, Myhrvold now says on the Superfreaks blog:

Geoengineering is proposed only as a last resort to try to reduce or cope with the even greater harms of global warming! The global-warming community has treated us to one scary scenario after another. Some are predicted by the science, some are extrapolations beyond current science, and some are not much better than wild guesses, but they could happen. Should we fail at cutting enough and those things occur, geoengineering might offer a better option….

This kind of attack [by Romm] makes it very difficult for people to suggest new ideas. I have thick enough skin to laugh it off when Romm attacks me, but plenty of people don’t. The politicization of science has a terrible impact on the unfettered discourse of ideas that is so important to making progress. This has been a big impediment to geoengineering. Serious climate scientists who are privately interested in geoengineering are loathe to discuss it publicly because they worry that somebody like Romm will attack and ridicule them if they do. Indeed, part of the reason I chose to work on geoengineering and chose to go public about it is to try to get the topic to be more widely discussed.

The point of the chapter in SuperFreakonomics is that geoengineering might be good insurance in case we don’t get global warming under control.

Except, of course, I have only been attacking and ridiculing people who support the geoengineering-only approach — the very approach that Myhrvold himself utterly rejects here.

Yes, good old reasonable Nathan Myhrvold, who just sees geoengineering as an insurance policy “in case we don’t get global warming under control.”  But then, of course, he trashes the “global warming activists” who want to do just that in the book.  It is Myhrvold and the Superfreaks who have poisoned the dialogue.  Indeed, they go out of their way to attack and ridicule those who want to try to get global warming under control sans geoengineering.  As I note in “Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2,” 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.]

Yes, as I noted, 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 Error-riddled.

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.

In his “rebuttal,” Myhrvold never actually debunks the central critique I make of that paragraph.  I have a little bombshell to drop on that tomorrow, which some readers have asked to see, so for now, let me end by noting one typically nonsensical thing Myhrvold says in his rambling, ad hominem attack on me:

Strangely, he gives comparatively little attention to the main point of the chapter, which is geoengineering.

Please do go check the quote at the Freakonomics blog here.

I give “comparatively little attention to the main point of the chapter, which is geoengineering.”???  You can’t make this stuff up — unless of course you’re a “polymath’s polymath.”

So now we know that not only didn’t he read the chapter of SuperFreakonomics he is defending repudiating defending repudiating, he didn’t even bother to read “Error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Part 1,” which he links to in his defense repudiation (!), in which I repost Caldeira’s devastating critique of the geoengineering-only approach (and add some of my own) or “Error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Part 2,” which focuses on him, in which I actually repost Robock’s entire critique of the geoengineering-only approach, complete with citations.

His post vindicates my original assessment.

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

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

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

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

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

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35 Responses to 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 dont get global warming under control.” Did he even read the book?

  1. mike roddy says:

    You keep trouncing them with the facts, Joe, and they keep bobbing and weaving. It’s kind of funny, really.

    It’s going to come down to this: It must be starting to dawn on Levitt and Dubner that they screwed up, big time. How they respond is going to be a good test of what kind of men they are. Will they step up and concede major errors, and agree to rectify them in the next edition, and publish this one with disclaimers? Since they appear to have no financial or idealogical ties to fossil fuel industries, this may actually be possible.

    I only know Stephen Dubner casually through personal correspondence, but believe that he is a decent person who just got trapped. Let’s see if he and Levitt can admit the truth and act on it, discarding any thoughts of cost/benefits, temporary embarrassments, and so on. This is the only card they have left in the long term.

    At least they can plead ignorance of the subject, and being misled by Myhrvold and God knows who else. If Myhrvold is the smartest guy Bill Gates knows, it sounds like a good time to short Microsoft.

    Like all sagas of the truth getting sidetracked, there is one little thing that they may have figured out ahead of many of us: their analysis indicates that we are not going to be able to convince enough citizens or governments to reduce emissions anywhere near fast enough to really put the skids on global warming. Even now, we hear people on TV saying it’s inconceivable to think we can replace coal and oil on any meaningful scale until, say, 2030. They’re dead wrong, of course, but they’re the ones who still have the power to appear on TV and say those things.

  2. Robert Allison says:

    Mr. Romm -

    Help me out here.

    Caldeira says:

    “They sent me the draft and I approved it without reading it carefully and I just missed [the villain quotation]. … I think everyone operated in good faith, and this was just a mistake that got by my inadequate editing.”

    But you say:

    “Levitt and Dubner didn’t run this [villain] quote by Caldeira”

    So Caldeira says the authors showed him the text but he missed the “villain” quotation due to quick editing, while you say the authors never showed the text to Caldeira at all and, when Caldeira did finally see it second hand, apparently ignored his request that the quotation be removed.

    Who is wrong about the facts, you or Calderira

    [JR: Did you bother to read my last two posts on this or the Bloomberg piece I cite here? 1) After that email, Caldeira spent some time figuring out what happened. 2) He sent me a later email after he figured it out which corrected his first assertion. 3) He didn't realize until quite recently that Dubner HAD seen his correction and ignored it!

    Caldeira confirmed this chronology to Bloomberg! Try reading this post -- "Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics."]

  3. Fd says:

    As per your text: “Apparently he never read the chapter — or didn’t understand it if he did”. After all, did he read or not the chapter? Because if he did it is Mr Myhrvold to blame, if not, then Levitt and Dubner take the blame. So simple and yet so difficult to understand.

  4. Shirley says:

    I posted the following comment earlier today in response to Myrhvold’s post, yet it never appeared. How is this offensive or not fit to print?

    “Wow, the author here is “a polymath’s polymath, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft who … (holds) a bachelor’s degree (mathematics), two master’s degrees (geophysics/space physics and mathematical economics), and a Ph.D. (mathematical physics) … (and) is co-founder of Intellectual Ventures” while poor Joe Romm at Climate Progress is merely a “climate-activist blogger”? Way to show your stripes, NYT.

    “Romm is, in fact, a Senior Fellow at the American Progress, former Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration, holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, and is a a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    “Pretty significant cred for someone blithely dismissed as merely a “climate-activist blogger.” That’s certainly not playing fair in this debate.”

  5. Jim says:

    Your headline says that Myhrvold “jumps the shark”. I think what you mean to say is that he’s throwing Levitt and Dubner under the bus. After all, IV is a commercial enterprise, which means that Myhrvold eventually wants to get paid by someone for his geoengineering. That won’t happen if he loses all credibility long before he has an actual product. So he’s embracing the scientific consensus and leaving the superfreaks to sink or swim.

  6. Robert Allison says:

    Mr. Romm -

    [snip]

    [You have mischaracterized what I wrote. Also, you are posting this in the wrong place. It makes no sense here. From Bloomberg:

    >>“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.< <]

  7. Well, if Myhrvold’s primary goal is promoting discussion of geoengineering, he wins! And you win because you make the book authors look duplicitous and ignorant. Seems like the only losers are the Superfreaks.

  8. Richard Pauli says:

    This is a typical dance performed by anyone who tries to be glib on
    climate.

    Early on is the horrible realization that we face a colossally difficult
    future – so a return to rationalization and equivocation helps – and
    forgetting lots of basic science.

    Next comes a glimpse of the horrible, unforgiving science of CO2 as a
    greenhouse gas – that whatever humans do now takes at least a half
    century to begin to see an effect. More like a full 100 years.

    Next is the tunnel-vision horror that the only possible escape will have
    to be a frenzy-panic invention of some mechanical device or
    nano-magic-buzzwordy thing; something that has not even been considered
    yet – because all the half-assed, stupid ideas are getting shot down way
    too fast.

    Information is moving too quickly into anyone who wants to learn it, and
    beside we all seem to be partying in out-of-control frenzy of mass
    consumption. Half the world is carbon drunk and puking and somebody,
    anybody who is smart, or responsible, or a saint or a dictator has got
    to call for a full stop to this adolescent carbon frat-party that will
    soon kill us all.

    So now we are looking to those captains of the techno-bling industry for
    an answer.

    They want a solution where only a few people need to get smart. It may
    be difficult, or impossible for them to even consider that the entire
    civilization has to learn and change.

    Gosh this is an exciting drama. Thanks Joe for keeping the show moving
    along at a fast clip.

  9. Per #1: “At least they can plead ignorance of the subject, and being misled by Myhrvold and God knows who else.”

    I would have to differ on this evaluation; such a plea could scarcely excuse them. If you are going to make the effort of writing a book, then knowing what you are talking about is, I would argue, a moral imperrative. Discovering and understanding the basic facts here is something that entails neither an exhorbitant subtlety of intelligence nor an extravagant sweep of investigative skills. We’re not talking about translating a fragmentary 9th C. BC Chinese scroll (an example that popped into my head for no reason obvious to me). We are talking about facts and evidence that have been well and repeatedly explained, and done so in a manner that has also provided ample resources to back track the chains of reasoning to persons and publications aplenty for anyone gifted with so little integrity as to make the effort of doing so.

    Yet neither Dunbar nor Leavit nor Myrhvold could evidently be bothered to do so. Given how easily corrected ignorance on this subject is, ignorance of this subject is unforgivable amongst those who would otherwise arrogate to themselves the privilege of speaking with authority on it. This entire sorry exercise of theirs is a blunt-instrument demonstration on their part of why the argumentum ad vericundiam (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html) is a fallacy.

    I submit that it is not just a logical requirement, but a moral responsibility for anyone who is going to the effort of publishing a book to actually learn something meaningful about the subject they presume to write on. Error is always possible, of course. But what has happened with the StuporFreakonomics (bad Gary!) book has gone well beyond the range of justifiable error and is trampling gratuitously around in the terrain of the grotesquely irresponsible.

  10. Robert Allison says:

    Mr. Romm -

    Sorry I am posting in the wrong place. I am not a blogger.

    [snip]

    [JR: Here's what I originally wrote:

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

    Caldeira told me he got the text from Myrhvold. I think my text is not ambiguous. It means "Levitt and Dubner didn’t DIRECTLY run this quote by Caldeira."

    I clearly say Caldeira saw a version. As I point out in an earlier post, I explicitly asked Ken "Are you telling me that the authors did not send you galleys for comment but you got them third hand from Nathan?" And he said "That is correct."

    Note that even Caldeira originally thought Dubner never saw it!

    He wrote (see here), "I do not think my edited version was ever seen by Dubner."

    But, of course, we now know that it was.

    And then Bloomberg independently confirmed this after talking to Dubner and Caldeira:

    >>“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.< < ]

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    This is simply astounding.

    If it were a boxing match, the official would have thrown his or her arms around Levitt, Dubner, and now Myhrvold to protect them from further embarrassment, and called off the contest.

    Sadly, it’s about a dozen orders of magnitude more important than anything as trivial as a sports event, and there is no referee to step in and stop it.

    Unless the authors and publisher make a Herculean effort to change the book before it hits the shelves (and it might be too late for that, even if they were so inclined), we should get used to this book being a constant source of irritation. The deniers will ignore the mountain-size problems and inaccuracies and push it relentlessly on newcomers, and we’ll have to debunk it over and over and over.

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    A quick update: I just checked Amazon, and apparently the book is shipping as of today, and it’s already #8 in the books category.

    Brace yourself, people, we’re gonna be very busy for many months.

  13. David Stern says:

    From reading what he wrote and what’s written about him I think Myhrvold just wants to be the person there with a solution in case geoengineering takes off. In the meantime he’s doing all kinds of handwaving explanations about why it might be neccessary which shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Who knows what he said to Levitt and Dubner given how they mangled what Caldeira reportedly said. The Superfreakonomics chapter remains a total mess both in the natural science and the economics.

  14. dwight says:

    Now I know why Levitt and Dubner claiming that the facts are just getting in the way of their conclusions seems so familiar, they’ve been through this before.

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2005/11/28/everything-in-freakonomics-is-wrong/

    Let’s just hope all of this hubbub doesn’t encourage people to actually buy the book and encourage them to write more of this…

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    This Is Sad

    Oh my, what a confusing mess of poor and inconsistent thinking, misquotations, and so forth, from several people who are supposedly supposed to be excellent and careful thinkers. Yikes.

    And, as has been mentioned, when the book gets out, it will be used and quoted by all sorts of people who will have no interest in its problems and fallacies, even when they are repeatedly pointed out.

    If you ask me, the only redemption (and chance at regaining some credibility) for the SuperFreakonomics guys would be to cancel this edition of the book, promptly, and then to take several months to genuinely learn the science and concerns from a plentiful number of relevant scientists, and then to write a book that correctly and appropriately urges that we should (and indeed must) address the CO2 problem IN A WAY THAT actually generates important work for people to do and is economically powerful. After all, there is much work to be done, AND there are many people who would like to help do it. Sometimes, economists are too “stuck” with their paradigms and assumptions to realize that most of those assumptions, constraints, and so forth are self-defined and/or changeable by policy changes, tax changes, and so forth. If you reduce the situation to “lots of work needs doing” and “lots of people need/want work”, and if you also realize that it’s more important to solve these problems than to have a bunch of labor creating a bunch of other next-to-useless stuff, then you begin to realize (as some people have said before) that we can address the climate and energy problems in ways that are actually positive, economically speaking, when you boil it all down. In any case, that seems like a good possibility, IF smart people start thinking well.

    Sigh,

    Jeff

  16. Florifulgurator says:

    #10, Torsten: I have no problem following Joe’s writing. A glimpse often suffices to get it. And English isn’t even my mothertongue. He obviously has an excellent grasp at science and can state things crystal clear. And I’m thankful to sometimes see the bullshit word used explicitly – it’s an apt technical term for much of the stuff poor Joe has to wade thru.

    ——–
    Am I baffled?
    Not at all.
    I’m watching the denial clownery since a decade.
    (Remember Alex Cockburn? Also a supposedly great journalist and thinker, until when he met this guy on a cruise ship who “explained” him some grotesque non-math about CO2 accumulation…)

    I’m not baffled, but hopeful that this clown stunt belongs to the end phase of the climate “debate”. Some people don’t like standing in the corner with egg on their face. The corner is quite crowded meanwhile. Time for psychologists and psychiatrists to help heal the ego wounds.

  17. Mike#22 says:

    Myhrvold is making some effort in his NYT post to get unstuck from Chapter Five. Good for him. He has a lot more work to do, including getting unstuck from his NYT post.

    One polymathicky problem he has is explaining where he came up with the “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12 percent gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributes to global warming.”

    I remember seeing that from the deniers a while ago.

    Clearly, the CO2 avoided by operating PV or CSP for 30 years prevents vastly more global warming than the concomitant heating of the planet by the albedo change created at the solar plant, in the desert, with the hot panel radiating straight back at the deep blue sky. Net impact is negative. So while someone reading his text is left thinking PV causes global warming, the reverse is true.

    In another polymathical leap, in his NYT post, he cites Pacca and Horvath 2002: ” Pacca and Horvath, in a 2002 study, found that the greenhouse gas emissions necessary to build a solar plant are about 2.75 times larger than the emissions from a coal plant of the same net power output”. Horvath et al actually points out that over a thirty year time frame, the Global Warming Effect, GWE, of a large PV plant is less than one tenth that of coal. We can estimate the GWE of CSP would be one third of the PV plant.

    http://www.lcacenter.org/InLCA-LCM03/Horvath-presentation.pdf

    [JR: I may wrap this into a later post, thanks!]

  18. lgcarey says:

    I note that the book is on sale at Amazon and already has 10 reviews and a review rating of 4-1/2 stars based on 8 of the 10 reviews being 5 stars. The global warming chapter is praised in virtually all of the reviews (including one 3 star review) – the consensus seems to be that it takes a bold clear-thinking look at a quasi-religious subject and proposes interesting new solutions. Only one review suggests that it is completely wrong-headed and wholly misleading on the science.

  19. ken levenson says:

    they are going on Leonard Lopate on WNYC radio momentarily….getting the popcorn now. will report back…

  20. David Lewis says:

    Some people here and elsewhere are writing and speaking as if they believe “geoengineering” means one thing, i.e. reflecting incoming solar radiation away from the planet in some way.

    But among scientists in the forefront of the research the discussion has evolved. The way the recent (September 2009) Royal Society report (“Geoengineering the Climate”) put it: “a very wide range of potential geoengineering methods has been proposed…” and “there are rather few general statements about them that can be usefully made”, hence, “it is therefore unhelpful to lump them all together”.

    That Royal Society report breaks geoengineering techniques down into two basic ‘classes’:

    1)Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques which remove CO2 from the atmosphere;

    2)Solar Radiation Management (SRM) techniques that reflect a small percentage of the sun’s light and heat back into space.”

    So, when I read Joe quoting Eilperin quoting Caldeira saying

    “geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emission reductions… If emissions keep going up and up and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, its pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly”,

    it seems clear that what Caldeira meant to say (or actually may have said if more of the context was made available) was “if you use a SRM (solar radiation management) geoengineering approach…”

    People should have no doubt Caldeira is one of the most respected thinkers working on geoengineering today: he was a member of the working group that came up with the Royal Society report.

    Carbon dioxide removal techniques would act directly on the accumulated level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Using a carbon dioxide removal technique would not mean condemning the oceans to acidification.

    Jim Hansen wrote in 2007 (“Climate Change and Trace Gases”): “We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting GHGs [greenhouse gases] from the air.”

    I think the consequences of ocean acidification have yet to be widely appreciated. The author of “Sea Sick”, Alana Mitchell, put it this way in a recent interview on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) about the fact that as the CO2 content of the atmosphere increases, the oceans are turning increasingly acidic:

    “You know, I’ve spent a lot of years interviewing scientists. As you have. They’re usually…. Journalists are usually a lot more alarmist than scientists. Journalists are able to put together pieces and see a big picture more easily and more quickly than scientists can, at least in public. In this case, I was sort of trailing along behind these scientists saying if this is true and this is true then this must be true, and what does it mean for life on Earth? And they would invariably hang their heads, look sick to their stomachs and say, well its the end of life, as we know it, on the planet.”

    And after that uplifting note, I turn again to the Royal Society Geoengineering report regarding air capture of CO2: “Proposals for new methods are still appearing (confidential submissions received) and it is very likely that substantial cost reductions are possible in future”.

  21. Paul Klemencic says:

    The SuperF guys have now censored me from posting on the threads over there… all my comments say awaiting moderation until they disappear completely. I have mainly posted regarding mistakes in the engineering calculations in the chapter, with some mentioned here at CP.

    Here is one post that I tried to put on Myhrvold’s post comments:

    Dr. Myhrvold, are you the source for this claim in Chapter 5?

    Superfreakonomics excerpt from Page 176:
    “Mount Pinatubo was the most powerful volcanic eruption in nearly one hundred years. Within two hours of the main blast, sulfuric ash had reached twenty-two miles into the sky. By the time it was done, Pinatubo had discharged more than 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. What effect did that have on the environment?

    As it turned out, the stratospheric haze of sulfur dioxide acted like a layer of sunscreen, reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth. For the next two years, as the haze was settling out, the earth cooled off by an average of nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit, or .5 degrees Celsius. A single volcanic eruption practically reversed, albeit temporarily, the cumulative global warming of the previous hundred years.”

    From what I have studied on global climate change,I thought the majority of the heat buildup on earth due to AGW ended up heating the ocean, followed by ice sheet and glacier melt, some land heat absorption, and with thermal energy used to heat the atmosphere as a relatively minor buildup.

    So I went to realclimate.org and asked the guys: Did the Pinatubo eruption reverse the cumulative global heating over the last 100 years of all these heat sinks?

    The answer came from Gavin within several hours:
    NO. Not even close.

    And he gave a link to a peer reviewed published paper showing ocean heat build before, during, and after the Mt. Pinatubo explosion.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/comment-page-2/#comment-138780

    Dr. Myhrvold didn’t respond, and the post was censored.

  22. ken levenson says:

    well that was depressing…Leonard made ONE stab at taking them on…saying inartfully something like “two of the scientists have recanted, no?” To which they said something like “oh, no, no, no, nothing could be further from the truth.” Then they went to accuse their accusers of being zealots yada, yada. but they were clearly flustered and it seemed like they must have done some hand signals because Leonard became uncharacteristically flustered too but from nothing obvious in what they were saying…. – so Leonard groped for a fund raising break and when they came back he changed the subject, never to return to it!!!!!
    Pathetic….

  23. Michael Y says:

    I hope everyone who reads the chapter provides their review on the Amazon website.

  24. Ric Merritt says:

    Mike#22 (in comment #11): Thank you for “polymathicky”, that’s a wonderful coinage. The learned and sonorous Greek roots cuddling up to “thick” (as in thick-headed) and “icky”, and the the subtle but unmistakable nod to good ‘ol Sarah’s “mavericky” are delicious, on a blog where Greeks and rhetoric are honored and appreciated.

  25. Jeffrey Davis says:

    As coment #22 has noted Pinatubo didn’t undo Global Warming. Global Warming is primarily an ocean phenomenon. The atmosphere, after all, cools down 20F every night. The oceans are the repository of the vast bulk of the heat of AGW. To recreate an atmospheric cooling similar to Pinatubo would require that we pump annually 20million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. Or more. Since CO2 lingers in the atmosphere, we’d have to do that for hundreds of years after the decline in fossil fuels makes the practice moot.

    I’ve read recently that 20 million tons of SO2 represents the difference between what the US produced in 1990 and what it produces currently. There was active warming in 1990. So, we would probably need to add more: a lot of the cooling from Pinatubo was also due to ash.

    Or we could curtail CO2.

  26. ChrisB says:

    I only just found this blog. Thank you for it, and for allowing the discussion.

    Jeffery Davis’ Oct 22 post (10:13 am) brings up a question I’ve had about the effect that heating the oceans will have on climate, that I’ve never seen addressed.

    Simple physics suggests that heating the oceans will increase the amount of water vapor that evaporates into the atmosphere. Surely this water vapor will eventually condense into clouds and fall as rain.

    So, if an unavoidable effect of global warming is increased cloud cover over the Earth, won’t those clouds reflect more sunlight and wouldn’t that mitigate global warming?

    I’m not saying that global warming won’t occur, only that it seems to me that the increased cloud cover it causes should slow it down.

    [JR: Sadly, that isn't true -- see here. Also sadly, there are several strong positive (or amplifying) feedback that clearly dominate the carbon cycle, which is why in the paleoclimate record, once warming starts, it speeds up more and more.]

  27. Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 27

    Clouds haven’t choked climate change in the past. Glaciers have advanced and retreated despite whatever it is that clouds are suppoed to do or not do, and the amount of extra-energy derived from the current level of greenhouse gases is around an order of magnitude greater than the forces that drive glacial advance/retreat.

  28. Mark Leggett says:

    HL Mencken gave Alasdair Cooke a lot of advice, some of it streetwise, some even unattractively so. One bit of such advice was “If you don’t know the answer confuse the issue.”

    Based on the confused and confusing remarks of Myhrvold cited above, riddled as they are with errors, and in particular improper argumentation (including plenty of logical fallacies) – my guess is Mencken would conclude Myhrvold surely doesn’t know the answer.

    “Myhrvold said:
    “They (global warming “activists”) are seriously proposing doing a set of things that could have enormous impact — and we think probably negative impact — on human life,” he says.”

    Comment: “probably”: Wouldn’t you want some numbers/proper prospective modelling to back this up?

    “They want to divert a huge amount of economic value toward immediate and precipitous anti-carbon initiatives, without thinking things through.”

    Comment: How is Myhrvold’s own “probably negative impact” “thinking things through”; yet the tons of peer-reviewed actual quantitative modelling done on GW – by IPCC, Stern, IEA – is not?

    “This kind of attack [by Romm] makes it very difficult for people to suggest new ideas. “

    Logical fallacy of straw man. Better worded as: difficult for people to suggest woolly bad ideas that cause delay and therefore take us all closer to the iceberg. Just why is it bad to make it “difficult” for people to do that?

    “I have thick enough skin to laugh it off when Romm attacks me, but plenty of people don’t. The politicization of science has a terrible impact on the unfettered discourse of ideas.”

    Comment: “unfettered discourse of ideas”. What a phrase for this topic. Instead how about unfettered quantitative assessment and prioritisation of options based on performance available right now in getting CO2 down the most the soonest.

    “… a big impediment to geoengineering.”

    Comment: Thank goodness. Let’s get the whole planet to best energy efficiency, then the residual needed energy provided by non-carbon sources, ASAP. Only then, if there is a remaining problem – even look at geoengineering. All my reading of the modelling suggests we could get CO2 down even to pre-industrial levels (my preferred target) with capacity to spare. My view is we would never need even to go near geoengineering and “discourse” such as I have cited above.

    “Serious climate scientists who are privately interested in geoengineering are loathe to discuss it publicly because they worry that somebody like Romm will attack and ridicule them if they do”.

    Comment: What can be wrong, especially when time is short, with attacking flaky distractions?

    “Indeed, part of the reason I chose to work on geoengineering and chose to go public about it is to try to get the topic to be more widely discussed.”

    Comment: Good, a proper quantified discussion will certainly show thoughtful people that geoengineering is a total distraction as long as we are not rolling out a full global anti-CO2 program at the right scale and at top speed.

  29. Mark Leggett says:

    Re #16

    “If you ask me, the only redemption (and chance at regaining some credibility) for the SuperFreakonomics guys would be to cancel this edition of the book..”

    Yes, pulping the book is the only honorable course for the authors.

  30. Anne van der Bom says:

    My observation about the ‘doing something about climate change will deny the poor a western life style’ line of reasoning is that after centuries of unrestricted fossil fuel use, poverty is still here. What will be the difference in the future that those same fossil fuels are suddenly going to help those poor sufferers? I don’t believe that more of the same has ever solved a problem

    Actually it is pretty clear that (from a purely economic standpoint) the opposite is true. Continued high fossil fuel use will keep the price high. The rich countries can easily pay for that, the poorer countries can’t. The best way to help the poor is by voluntarily reducing our fossil fuel use and thus lower its price. You can expect an economist to understand the law of supply and demand, can’t you?

  31. radam says:

    My first post to this (or any environmental) blog. I find the discourse on both sides to be so one-sided that it discredits EVERYTHING each side advocates. If you believe the global warming zealots (I do believe that humans significantly contribute to global warming) their position is – “we are on the verge of a global catastrophe” and that “the tipping point is within 5 – 15 years”, yet, on the other hand they only advocate solutions that will reverse the situation in 30 – 50 years (optimistically).

    The situation is binary – either we have a “crisis”, where extreme measures are warranted, or we don’t. It can’t be both ways.

    I am personally am of the viewpoint that we do need to act simultaneously on reducing carbon emission (a difficult task given the impact of natural CO2 and methane, and the ascendance of China/India/etc) and counteracting warming, so that we don’t pass a point of no return on our path to a carbon free future. Unfortunately, it does appear that solutions to counteract warming are anathema to the “global warming zealots” as evidenced in this blog.

    This reminds me of my collegiate days when the environmental zealots stopped nuclear power from expanding in the US. Without being able to offer a viable alternative, fossil fuel based power plants became the standard, significantly contributing to the global warming problem that these same “activists” decry today (not to mention EPA’s estimate of the 100,000’s of live’s that have been shortened due to the increase particulate count in the air).

    When will zealots learn that solutions must be designed to address the problem and, that these solutions must be practical – otherwise, the adage “the difference between vision and hallucination is execution”, surely applies.

    [JR: Thanks for posting, even if we don't agree on everything.]

  32. Leif says:

    radam, above: “The longest journey begins with a single step.” Confucius I think

  33. radam says:

    Leif, I hear you…”all great journeys begin with a single step”…while we must start now we must realize that journeys that need to be completed quickly cannot be limited to a walk…nor can the first step be in the wrong direction.

    Anyone that TRULY believes that we are at a precipice must embrace all “lesser evils”. This would include: renewal energy, nuclear power and engineering global cooling. If we are not at a precipice then our timeframe, and associated measures, can be more deliberate.