Open challenge to Roger Pielke and Breakthrough Institute — Part 1

Please stop misstating the findings of the Pielke et al. Nature paper.

The subhead on the Breakthrough Institute’s blog post on the paper says:

“Dangerous Assumptions” shattered the notion that we already have all the technology we need to deal with climate change.

And the first line in the blog post says:

A new piece in Nature today shatters the notion that we already have all the technology we need to deal with climate change.

In fact, it doesn’t, but this is obviously a major theme the Institute is pushing. Why?

I realize my long reponse to the Nature piece combined important points and less important points — and did not get to the heart of the key issues. Many readers wondered what was the real disagreement I and others have with Pielke and Breakthrough Institute (B.I.). Two commenters had posts that help clarify the issues. Let me boil the matter down to three issues:

  1. I challenge Pielke or Hoffert or Shellenberger or Nordhaus or anyone else at B.I. [or anyone on the face of the planet] to show me where in the Nature piece it “shatters the notion we have all the technology we need to deal with climate change”? I assert that the only “notion” the Nature piece “shattered” is the idea that we can possibly “deal with climate change” without very aggressively deploying both energy-efficient and low-carbon technology starting immediately.
  2. I also challenge Pielke and B.I. to indicate where the IPCC ever said “we already have all the technology we need to deal with climate change.” After all, if the IPCC never put forth this notion, then how could Pielke et al. shatter it? I would add that Princeton’s Robert Socolow never put forth this notion in his “stabilization wedges” work (although Marty Hoffert mistakenly seems to think he did). Nor have I made this assertion. Nor has anyone else I know in the energy or climate arena. I assert this is a straw man attack by Breakthrough.
  3. I also challenge the statement in the Nature piece: “Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable levels.” I specifically challenge Pielke and B.I. to state what “atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations” are “acceptable.” I assert that this statement has no meaning whatsoever if “acceptable levels” are not defined. I also assert that you never define what you mean by “enormous advances in energy technology” so the entire sentence is doubly meaningless. Are we talking major breakthroughs like fusion and hydrogen storage? Or are we just talking steady cost reductions to things like PV and solar thermal electric — a trend that would be driven as much by a serious price for carbon plus aggressive deployment strategies (which bring in manufacturing economies of scale) as anything else.

Let’s see if Pielke and B.I. take up the challenge — or if they just want to be delayers kibitzers in the climate debate. The answers to the questions should clarify just whose myths they think they are debunking.

Certainly B.I. expends an unusual amount of effort attacking Al Gore (see here). So in Part 2, I’ll examine why they do that — when Gore has long been one of the biggest champions of clean technology solutions, both deployment and R&D?