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.
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 350.org 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.