McClaughry: Is climate science settled? Absolutely not

By John McClaughry

Anyone with an interest in climate science, and especially anyone interested in what happens to that science on its tortuous path to the policy makers and the general public, seriously needs to get acquainted with Steven E. Koonin.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Koonin is a physics prodigy who entered CalTech at age 16, earned his doctorate at MIT, taught computational physics, managed enormous research projects, and served as provost at CalTech for almost 30 years. His mentor was physics genius Richard Feynman. In addition to his Nobel-prize winning work on quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was revered as a paragon of intellectual honesty, a practice that Koonin has faithfully followed for the past 50 years.

Koonin’s remarkable career also includes chairing JASON, a high level group that advises federal agencies on science and technology, and advising the British oil company BP on renewable energy. He has affiliations with five national laboratories and served as undersecretary and chief scientist of President Barack Obama’s Energy Department.

His new landmark book is entitled “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.” His goal, he says, was to critically examine the actual data offered to support the foreboding narrative of human-caused catastrophic climate change. In addition, he incisively examines — and deplores — the transformation of actual science into a frightening narrative about Earth’s climate future.

Koonin agrees that the Earth has warmed around 1 degree Celsius since the tailing off of the Little Ice Age around 1850, and is likely to be another 1 degree warmer by the end of this century, much of that increase caused by human activity including greenhouse gas emissions. But he is alarmed at scientifically insupportable predictions of approaching climate catastrophes.

For example, he shows that a report of temperature extremes in the contiguous U.S. actually shows “no significant trend over the past century nor over the past forty years.”

Predictions of frightening increases in the global sea level? He says even if we were the culprit and ceased all emissions tomorrow, global sea level would continue to rise on the order of 3 millimeters a year, conforming to a natural 60-year cycle.

The projected negative impact of a 3 degrees C temperature increase on the global economy by 2100? Actually, the most defensible estimate is 3 percent or less — four hundredths of a percent per year.

Koonin’s analysis of the data can be demanding for readers with little scientific background, but the really important message of his book is this: “It’s clear that media, politicians and often the assessment reports themselves blatantly mis-present what the science says about climate and catastrophes. Those failures indict the scientists who write and too-casually review the reports, the reporters who uncritically repeat them, the editors who allow that to happen, the activists and their organizations who fan the fires of alarm, and the experts whose public silence endorses the deception.”

He is indignant at the effect of climate change alarmism on practicing scientists. “For academics, there is pressure to generate press and to secure funding through grants. There is also the matter of promotion and tenure. And there is great peer pressure: more than a few climate contrarians have suffered public opprobrium and diminished career prospects for publicizing data that doesn’t support the ‘broken climate’ meme.”

As for activist organizations, “If you believe there is a ‘climate emergency,’ have built an organization on that premise, and rely upon your donors’ continuing commitment to the cause, projecting urgency is crucial. Hence statements like ‘the climate crisis is immense — we must be daring and courageous in response’ [from the website] or ‘climate change is one of the most devastating problems that humanity has ever faced and the clock is running out’ [from the Union of Concerned Scientists website]. It’s hardly in your best interest to tell your donors that the climate shows no sign of being broken or that projections of future disasters rely on models of dubious validity.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Koonin doesn’t mention the influence of business interests whose heavily subsidized economic viability depends upon a widespread belief that the planet is rushing toward a climate catastrophe. That would be primarily the renewable-industrial complex (Big Wind and Big Solar), electric vehicle makers, and even the nuclear industry that promotes its climate-friendly emissions-free electricity.

After a careful reading of “Unsettled,” thinking people are likely to believe that they are being fed insupportable exaggerations both by ignorant and sometimes corrupted producers and translators of “The Science,” and interests that are cynically promoting climate panic to advance their own economic and political fortunes.

Stephen Koonin is so eminently qualified, and so far removed from any ideological contamination, that his findings and message are exceptionally credible and convincing.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gillfoto and John McClaughry

5 thoughts on “McClaughry: Is climate science settled? Absolutely not

  1. There is no question that there is some hype, hypocrisy, and self-interest when it comes to climate change. There is also no question that the billions of humans are having an impact on our planet and we need to change how we treat this place we call home.

    It is always better to deal with problems sooner than later. Unfortunately, we tend not to act until things have reached a crisis point, unneeded damage has been done, and the actions that we end up taking more costly. The pension situation in our state is a good example.

    What are the reasonable actions we can take now to address our negative impacts on the environment and how can they be fairly implemented might be worth consideration. There is a great need for alternatives to the often extreme, impractical measures being put forth that place too much burden on those least able to afford it. Republicans in Vermont have the opportunity, here as in other areas, to offer a sensible course of action. It could be a winning strategy for gaining more seats in the legislature in 2022.

    • John,

      As Elon Musk has pointed out, the entire world population can be fitted into the first floor area of N,Y, City. Almost everyone is for living in the cleanest, healthiest environment reasonably possible, however, not everyone is interested in playing God.

  2. 4.5 billion years of climate change and now somehow we have discovered we can control and alter the laws of physics. Thank God for our wonderful educational system!

  3. The religion of “climate change” and it’s past labels- “global warming”,”global cooling” etc. has surpassed the ability to contain it by rational thought and traditional science rules. Much like the religion surrounding Covid and the current uproar over racism, this religion’s leaders are looking to make money. Facts are an annoyance to these hucksters and grifters. These controversial topics make money for politicians as well. John Kerry is doing better than Al Sharpton these days, Sharpton’s personal tax amnesty plan not withstanding…What is disconcerting is the ability of these ‘evangelists’ to influence normally rational folks and politicians into a tizzy, bestowing tax dollars upon these saviors of the planet without really thinking thru the consequences.
    For example, our current governor really isn’t a dummy. He was at one time capable of reasoned thinking- and must know the consequences of some of the legislation he has signed. In the future, to rely so exclusively on electricity for heating homes and powering transportation will require billions of dollars in upgrades to the electric transmission and distribution system in Vermont. But yet he espouses the benefits to the environment (negligible) and said too little regarding the GWSA legislation. He seems so wrapped up in appeasing the climate high priests, that reasonable thought escapes him. When we allow these religious zealots to control public policy and our elected representatives join in with them for whatever reason- the Residents and Taxpayers of Vermont are in for tough times, attempting to appease whatever the current cause celebre might be.

    • Frank,

      “The religion of “climate change” and it’s past labels-“global warming”,”global cooling”, etc., has surpassed the ability to contain it by rational thought and traditional science rules.”

      If traditional science rules were applied to VT CO2 emissions, they would be MUCH GREATER than stated by the EPA and the VT government.

      The CO2 of the NE grid was about 317 g/kWh, based on traditional science, as used by ISO-NE.

      The CO2 of the VT electrical sector was about 23 g/kWh, based on commercial contracts, as used by ISO-NE

      The EPA Proscribes Two Methods for Calculating the CO2 Per Kilowatt-hour

      Method 1 is “location-based”.

      It is based on physical conditions, i.e., science-based
      The CO2 of each electric power source on an electric grid is calculated, based on fuel consumption.
      This method is used by ISO-NE.

      Method 2 is “market-based”

      It has nothing to do with physical conditions.
      The CO2 of each electric power source on an electric grid is calculated, based on the terms of commercial contracts.
      This method is used by the Vermont Department of Public Service.

      Per international convention, the EPA declared wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, biomass (i.e., wood chip burning), farm methane, etc., as having zero CO2 emissions, for bookkeeping purposes.

      NOTE: Electricity travels, as electromagnetic waves, at slightly less than the speed of light, i.e., almost 1860 mile in 0.01 second, i.e., from northern Maine to southern Florida in 0.01 second! The electrons largely vibrate in place at 60 cycles per second.

      It is nonsense for RE folks to talk of the “Vermont Energy mix”, or the “New Hampshire energy mix”, or to use a “paper PPA energy mix”. These fictitious mixes have no physical basis.

      BTW, if electricity did not travel that fast, the operation of electric grids would be physically impossible.

      All is explained in this article


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