Posted by: bmeverett | July 21, 2014

Everett-Moomaw Climate Change Debate


On July 15, my friend and colleague Bill Moomaw and I debated climate change before the Fletcher School’s GMAP students. GMAP is a distance-learning degree program, but the students come together for two weeks at the end of the program for discussions and presentations.

Bill’s positions and mine haven’t really changed much over the last few years, although the audience is different each time. There’s no systematic way of gauging the results of the debate or the reactions of the audience, but here’s a run-down of what happened.

We agreed to address three component parts of the issue.

The first topic was the state of climate science. Bill offered three arguments: (a) physics itself tells us that expected levels of carbon emissions will cause a catastrophic greenhouse effect, (b) scientists all agree, as evidenced by a complete review of the literature and (c) recent reports, such as the National Climate Assessment, reinforce this consensus. In reply, I argued that: (a) the press portrays the discussion as “Is climate change real?”, while in fact the real problem is whether climate science can make any meaningful predictions, (b) the climate system is too complex and poorly understood to predict catastrophe (or any particular outcome for that matter) with any confidence and (c) science requires empirical support, not consensus.

The second topic was the cost of carbon mitigation. I argued that there are some cheap carbon mitigation measures, like planting trees, but that the easy steps are too small to matter. To bring about the massive emissions reductions demanded by climate activists would entail major damage to the economy. Bill argued that significant carbon reductions are possible at low cost. He offered as an example his fossil fuel-free house in Williamstown, Massachusetts which uses solar and other technologies for heating and cooling and has provided him with an exceptional return on his investment. He also noted the major substitution of natural gas for coal which has occurred without any major economic dislocations. In rebuttal, I noted that his house was heavily subsidized by the rest of us, who did not share in the benefits, and, furthermore, that natural gas substitution has occurred because gas-fired power plants are cheaper than coal to build and operate. Solar and wind, on the other hand, are much more expensive.

The final topic was what to do. Bill offered the usual climate program of renewable energy, efficient buildings and international negotiations to bring other countries on board. I argued in contrast that the steps he is proposing would have virtually no impact on atmospheric carbon concentrations and that the worst outcome would be to spend massive amounts of money for no results. I suggested that an honest assessment of the costs of stabilizing atmospheric carbon would show a prohibitive cost.

Here are the charts I used in my presentation. Comments welcome, as always.

Climate change debate 7-15-2014 combined

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Responses

  1. One amusing aspect of anything IPCC-related is that they fail to update their numbers as years go by. Thus, their estimate for how much warming there will be this century is the same as before, even though 14 years of this century have gone by already and over that period there has been exactly zero warming. The result is that meeting their 2100 target/prediction would now require an unprecedented rate of warming – for 85 years. See Monckton/WUWT.

    Something similar happens with CO2 emissions. These have kept growing by 2-3% per year since 2010. So the math before was going from 100 to 30 in 40 years, now it’s going 110 to 30 in 36 years. Before a 3% yearly reduction was necessary, now the required level would be 3.5%. How they can talk these numbers with a straight face is beyond me – I assume nobody reads these things?

    If you want to stay below 450 ppm then you’d probably need an 80% reduction by 2050 and continued reduction thereafter. This would require 4.5%. Mind you, this hasn’t happened even in European countries that pushed wind and solar like nobody else, let alone over a sustained period, but the IPCC thinks it has to be done globally and indefinitely.

    The numbers are clear: the target is remaining below 450 ppm then we’re all doomed already.


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