29 March 2010

Freeing Energy Policy From Climate Science

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have a new essay over at Yale e360. It is right on target. They argue that justifications for action on energy policy need to be decoupled from climate science -- for the good of both. Here is how they start off:
The 20-year effort by environmentalists to establish climate science as the primary basis for far-reaching action to decarbonize the global energy economy today lies in ruins. Backlash in reaction to “Climategate” and recent controversies involving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2007 assessment report are but the latest evidence that such efforts have evidently failed.

While the urge to blame fossil-fuel-funded skeptics for this recent bad turn of events has proven irresistible for most environmental leaders and pundits, forward-looking greens wishing to ascertain what might be salvaged from the wreckage would be well advised to look closer to home. Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.
It only gets better from there.

The essay develops themes that have long been present in their work. In Break Through, they write:
The questions before us are centrally about how we will survive, who will survive, and how we will live. These are questions that climatologists and other scientists can inform but not decide. For their important work, scientists deserve our gratitude, not special political authority. What's needed today is a politics that seeks authority not from Nature or Science but from a compelling vision of the future that is appropriate for the world we live in and the crises we face.
Please read the whole thing, and feel free to comment at Yale e360 or come back and discuss here.

Note: I am happy to be a senior fellow of The Breakthrough Institute, founded by Michael and Ted.


  1. Yes indeed. More evidence that the rational environmental left is moving to the center.

    "Now is the time to free energy policy from climate science. In recent years, bipartisan agreement has grown on the need to decarbonize our energy supply through the expansion of renewables, nuclear power, and natural gas, as well as increased funding of research and development of new energy technologies. Carbon caps may remain as aspirational targets, but the primary role for carbon pricing, whether through auctioning pollution permits or a carbon tax, should be to fund low-carbon energy research, development, and deployment."

    Incidentally, Google is hosting a thorium energy conference today and tomorrow. Thorium nuclear power, in particular LFTR is a far "greener" nuclear than what we have now. LFTR is far cleaner, safer, and cheaper to boot.


  2. "The 20-year effort by environmentalists to establish climate science as the primary basis for far-reaching action to decarbonize the global energy economy today lies in ruins. "

    Too true it does.

    "While the urge to blame fossil-fuel-funded skeptics for this recent bad turn of events has proven irresistible"

    Sorry. boys, it's still an enormous lie, even in the context of the rest of the sentence. This is not going down well here.


    customer can I pay by credit card ?

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    I won't forget the avalanche of abuse handed out to sceptics by academic wise guys who thought they were smarter than Sarah Palin. Turns out they weren't.

    I wouldn't be unhappy to see a lot of folks in jail and I am a lot more left wing than you are. That's why I reckoned pretty quickly that it was a giant corporate sponsored scam. Too much money, Blair, Gore and so forth.

  3. Energy policy has always been the driving force. The European's have had to import 40% of their coal for a long time.

    Now that they have to compete with China and India for imported coal Energy policy is more important then ever.

    In the US and Australia we have lots of coal, but it will take at least 40 years for the world to replace it's coal fired plants.

    Needlessly burning our coal today when we could be selling it to countries desperate for coal tomorrow is smart policy.

    No different then the UAE deciding to go nuclear, they have plenty of oil for their electricity plants, but they can sell oil for far more then the cost of a few nuclear plants.

    The way the US gets it trillions back from China is by selling them coal.

  4. Cool. And if they can lose the dreadful carbon trading scheme they could be on to a real vote winner.

  5. I think this is getting support from WUWT too


  6. ..........but skeptics have argued for many a year that not only science would be eventually damaged by global warming scaremongering but also the environmental movement too.

    Growing public awareness of, and anger at, the antics of advocate-scientists, politicised environmentalists and eco-profiteers have proved the skeptics case.

    Who trusts scientists?

    Who now trusts environmentalists?

    As predicted the damage has all been self-inflicted.

  7. Instead of blaming the usual suspects, perhaps more time could be spent studying how movements like AGW have formed historically, and what their life cycles look like.
    After all, people still like tulips today.
    But it is unlikely that a country will ever again be economically wrecked by a tulipomania.
    And applying genetics to solve health issues is reputable.
    But people recognize that eugenics was a very bad idea.
    Decarbonizing the energy system may or may not be a good idea, but it is long past time for the catastrophism and religious fervor of AGW to be discredited.
    AGW offers nothing to the issue of decarbonizing.
    And if we the choice is windmills or carbon based fuels, I think the answer should be carbon based fuels.
    The real question is whether or not the billions in direct and indirect costs that AGW has wasted can be put to some good use.
    I doubt it.

  8. I was surprised by some of the comments at 360, some people apparently have a strong pre-existing dislike of the authors. The main thing the authors criticize is the reliance on fear of climate change to motivate people to action, their goals are the same.

    To me, some people seem more concerned with vindicating apocalyptic predictions of the future than with solving problems in the real world. The real world is frustrating, it involves dealing with all these annoying and stupid people that have opinions different than theirs... how rude!

  9. Green goals for the energy economy aren't entirely straightforward, even if you strip off the conflation with AGW. The primary goals have historically appeared to be blocking nuclear power and blocking production of oil and natural gas within the borders of the U.S. Nowhere near as much energy has been devoted to reducing coal consumption, or to optimizing energy consumption overall.

  10. Sorry, I was taking a break from insomnia when I wrote the previous message.

    In simple terms, they admit using dodgy climate science, now they want to try something else to carry out their agenda.

    That appeared to be Mike Hulme's message, This scam isn't working, so let's change the world the way 'we' want it. As no one has ever heard of Mike Hulme or his book, I wonder why he believes he can change global economic policy.

    Sorry, some us have heard of Mke Hulme, but only because of the billions of dollars of corporate support for AGW. That wasn't for the creation of a progressive global Shangrila, but to make carbon trading fortunes for Enron, BP and Goldman Sachs.

    I support decarbonisation to improve working conditions and promote local energy independence. At roughly the same speed as previous technological advancements. Why do Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger support it ?

    Anyone know ?

  11. Selected excerpts from James Lovelock's frank and cogent assessment of climate science and scientists in yesterday's Guardian.

    on CRU scientists

    I was utterly disgusted. My second thought was that it was inevitable. It was bound to happen. Science, not so very long ago, pre-1960s, was largely vocational. Back when I was young, I didn't want to do anything else other than be a scientist.

    They're not like that nowadays. They don't give a damn. They go to these massive, mass-produced universities and churn them out. They say: "Science is a good career. You can get a job for life doing government work." That's no way to do science.

    I have seen this happen before, of course. We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done

    on computer models

    I remember when the Americans sent up a satellite to measure ozone and it started saying that a hole was developing over the South Pole. But the damn fool scientists were so mad on the models that they said the satellite must have a fault. We tend to now get carried away by our giant computer models. But they're not complete models.

    They're based more or less entirely on geophysics. They don't take into account the climate of the oceans to any great extent, or the responses of the living stuff on the planet. So I don't see how they can accurately predict the climate.

    on predicting temperatures

    If you look back on climate history it sometimes took anything up to 1,000 years before a change in one of the variables kicked in and had an effect. And during those 1,000 years the temperature could have gone in the other direction to what you thought it should have done. What right have the scientists with their models to say that in 2100 the temperature will have risen by 5C?

    The great climate science centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is. If you talk to them privately they're scared stiff of the fact that they don't really know what the clouds and the aerosols are doing. They could be absolutely running the show.

    We haven't got the physics worked out yet. One of the chiefs once said to me that he agreed that they should include the biology in their models, but he said they hadn't got the physics right yet and it would be five years before they do. So why on earth are the politicians spending a fortune of our money when we can least afford it on doing things to prevent events 50 years from now? They've employed scientists to tell them what they want to hear.

    on scientists

    Sometimes their view might be quite right, but it might also be pure propaganda. This is wrong. They should ask the scientists, but the problem is scientists won't speak. If we had some really good scientists it wouldn't be a problem, but we've got so many dumbos who just can't say anything, or who are afraid to say anything. They're not free agents.


    Lovelock on the BBC today. Totally off message again.


  12. "What's needed today is a politics that seeks authority not from Nature or Science but from a compelling vision of the future that is appropriate for the world we live in and the crises we face."

    My view precisely: http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/

    It should be about the good life and human happiness

  13. Regardless of what direction congress goes towards green legislation, we hope that the basis of their decision relies on a smart and balanced energy policy. We as a country are drastically falling behind with our energy needs and a policy that focuses on improving energy security should be taking center stage while making these decisions. As many have already commented: there have been huge gains in development and research of energy sources. The government needs to ensure to keep providing as well as extending the role of these resources.
    Want to learn more about balanced energy for America? Visit www.consumerenergyalliance.org to get involved, discover CEA’s mission and sign up for our informative newsletter.

  14. Without those Science and Nature papers on the topic, what would we regard the current Climate Change science? Probably as healthy as before.

    It is simply wrong and stupid to take those results from Science and Nature papers for granted.

    I personally feel Nature and Science to a larger degree have created the current chaos that results in few people to be able to reflect and the widespread doubts over the supposedly objective natural sciences. Nature and Science should hold conservative attitudes ... If they act like fashon magazines, we will see more confusion and delusion toward Climate Change science.

  15. The Greeks didn't trust Cassandra either, to their regret.

  16. Eli,

    That's because she was cursed by Apollo, who also gave her the gift of prophecy, so that no one would ever believe her prophecies. How this has been so confused that people call a person a Cassandra when she predicts something they think is wrong is beyond me. Cassandra's prophecies always came true.

  17. I see that Joe Romm is up to his dirty tricks:

    ""CURRU : Spanking Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger...If any of you have the spare temporal and emotional capacity to respond sharply in a public channel to this piece of crumbling oatcake from Nordhaus Jr, please do so promptly :-"

    "Freeing Energy Policy From The Climate Change Debate"

    "The word "appalling" is too meek to describe this. Talk about "reframing the facts" ! They've gone beyond re-writing history - they're now re-writing the present. Which Nordhaus is this Nordhaus ? :-"



    "This is such a staggering piece of disinformation that you would think it was written by people who hate climate scientists and hate environmentalists. You would be right."

    "I have stopped blogging on them myself, since they are shameless media whores who only pretend to be environmentalists so they can get attention by publishing supposedly contrarian attacks."

    "As they have gotten less and less attention by the mainstream media, their attacks have gotten more and more absurd. Beside Obama, Waxman, Gore (repeatedly, and climate scientists, they even attack Rachel Carson."

    "Anyway, those who do want to debunk them can find all my previous debunkings here:"


    "If you want to do a post, you might put their views in contradistinction to the views of the person who wrote the introduction to the essay that made them famous...Here's what Teague wrote:"


    "Joseph Romm
    Senior Fellow
    Center for American Progress
    Editor, ClimateProgress.org"

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x= "

    Posted up at:

    CURRU = Climate Unscientific Rapid Response Unit