The authors of SuperFreakonomics simultaneously insist they accept the science — “Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon” — while at the same time labeling global warming a “religion” (see here). And we’ve seen one award-winning journalist explain “Freakonomics Guys Flunk Science of Climate Change.” But now, as this stunning Charlie Rose video shows, we have the clearest demonstration that both Levitt and Dubner don’t accept and don’t understand the science. This is a Wonk Room repost.
Appearing on PBS’s influential Charlie Rose Show last week, SuperFreakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner expanded upon their destructively uninformed portrayal of climate science, even throwing into question man’s influence on global warming. When Rose asked him about the controversial “global cooling” chapter, Levitt fatuously claimed that “what we actually said is not even very controversial.” Levitt said that SuperFreakonomics is “not denying that the Earth has gotten warmer.” After Rose interjected, “And it’s man created,” Levitt said, “It’s harder to know whether it’s man created”:
It’s harder to know whether it’s man created. It’s always harder to know whether it’s some “” you know, why something happened than whether it did. That’s not even our question.
Later during the interview Dubner attempted to justify the book’s claim that “carbon dioxide is not the right villain,” arguing that it was the decrease in sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that has caused global warming, rather than the accumulation of carbon dioxide.
This is of course utter nonsense “” aerosols like sulfur dioxide certainly masked the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases, but global warming is caused by the greenhouse gases. If a methamphetamine addict is using alcohol to blunt the side effects of his meth habit, his hyperactivity isn’t due to a lack of binge drinking.
[JR: I don't know what is more jaw-dropping -- Levitt's response backpedaling on basic climate science or Dubner's "explanation." For the record, Dubner has the science exactly backwards: Removing the aerosols didn't show carbon dioxide was less important to warming -- it showed it was more important! Indeed, one of the authors' few scientific sources, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, said after a 2003 workshop on the subject, "It looks like the warming today may be only about a quarter of what we would have got without aerosols." Crutzen noted that aerosols "are giving us a false sense of security right now." A 2005 study led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [subs. req'd] concluded, “Natural and anthropogenic aerosols have substantially delayed and lessened the total amount of global ocean warming-and therefore of sea level rise-that would have arisen purely in response to increasing greenhouse gases.” Indeed, wasn’t the point of their “Global Cooling” chapter that aerosols would offset the warming we’d otherwise see from CO2?! What exactly do these guys believe?]
Dubner and Levitt’s quest to deny the reality of climate change and promote radical geoengineering to block the sun as a “sensible” alternative to reducing greenhouse gases is, as the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert writes, “horseshit.” Their strategy is like counseling the meth addict to become a full-blown alcoholic instead of reducing his drug use.
Despite Levitt’s argumenter that “it’s harder to know” whether global warming is “man created,” in reality the scientific evidence is clear and has been for years, according to the scientific organizations of the world:
American Association for the Advancement of Science: The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. [10/9/06]
U.S. Global Change Research Program: Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. [June 2009]
American Physical Society: Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes. The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now. [11/18/07]
American Meteorological Society: Despite the uncertainties noted above, there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems, and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond. [2/1/07]
American Geophysical Union: The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system””including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons””are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century. . . . Evidence from most oceans and all continents except Antarctica shows warming attributable to human activities. [December 2007]
American Quaternary Association: Few credible scientists now doubt that humans have influenced the documented rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. [10/24/06]
The national science academies of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa: It is essential that world leaders agree on the emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change at the UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009. [May 2009]
JR: You can find a longer transcript of the Charlie Rose interview at Wonk Room. Here’s another excerpt:
DUBNER: It’s a big may, it’s a big may “” I mean look, Myhrvold, I think, describes it very well in the book. The idea of the garden hose to the sky and sulfur dioxide in the air and geoengineering. It’s like this. When you build a house you do everything you can to not have a fire in the house. You don’t give your kids matches, you don’t run around with a lighter and doing like this. But, if you have it, do you want a sprinkler system? Yeah. So the idea is: If the problem gets to be that bad, do you want to have something that could work beyond this kind of long-term, expensive, uncertain carbon mitigation idea?
As I said at the outset, it’s obvious to anybody who looks at the problem that if we want to reduce climate risk we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce that really quickly. The earth’s system is extremely complicated, and when you interfere in complicated systems, things happen that you don’t anticipate. And so what we can do is anticipate the unanticipated but we don’t know what that will be. But I do think we face grave risks, and I think we might be faced with a difficult situation where do we take the devil we know or the devil we don’t know. We might be in a tough spot.And even if it worked as advertised, after Mt. Pinatubo the Ganges again had the lowest riverflow ever. What if you started doing this, and it did improve climate in most places most of the time, but you created a famine in India? India is a nuclear-armed nation now, and are they going to stand by and let their people be killed by this engineering approach? Even if it basically works for most people, there are issues of equity and governance and political tensions. It’s fraught with all kinds of dimensions of difficult issues.