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Publisher’s View: Obama-era scientist explains why climate change is unsettled

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By Robert Martinelli

Rob Martinelli
President
Today Media Inc.

During my recent vacation, I avoided the popular fiction that others were reading and chose Steven Koonin’s new book, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t and Why It Matters.” 

“Unsettled” addresses every aspect of the climate-change issue in two surprisingly readable parts. Part One deals with what we know about climate change and how the science got partisan. Part Two proposes reasonable, cost-effective, and timely responses to what is known about climate change. 

Koonin’s science credentials are impeccable. He has been a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology and served as the top scientist in former President Barack Obama’s Energy Department. The book is extensively referenced and relies on widely accepted government documents.

He’s not a “climate denier.” He makes it clear on page one that “it’s true that the globe is warming, and that humans are exerting a warming influence upon it.” But he also questions the magnitude of civilization’s contribution, the speed of changes, and urgency and scale of governmental response that’s needed.

Steven Koonin | PHOTO FROM WIKIPEDIA

Koonin also believes the climate change message gets distorted as research literature gets converted to assessment reports and report summaries that are then subject to soundbites from self-interested environmental groups, scientific organizations, politicians and even members of the media who need an apocalyptic storyline to get their stories published. Koonin even concedes that it’s not easy to avoid this, writing, “I should know, that used to be my job.” 

In short, he does not see that the underlying principles behind the current discussion is at all settled, despite President Joe Biden’s “greatest existential threat” position.  

He doesn’t believe the global climate system is broken. Instead, he rails against the “climate consensus” that says humans have broken the climate. The solution to the Earth being doomed, say many following this Chicken Little line of reasoning, is radical changes to society and its energy systems.

Koonin believes the uncertainties in modeling of both climate change and the consequences of future greenhouse gas emissions make it impossible today to provide reliable, quantitative statements about relative risks and consequences. He believes we should put money into better modeling before we throw trillions at climate change.

Some of his evidence:

  • Sea levels are rising, but only at an average rate of one foot per century since 1855. He also shows how the past half-million years tell a story of repeating episodes in which sea level dropped slowly by about 400 feet every 100,000 years and then rose back up rapidly as the glaciers melted again. Today, the Greenland ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly than it was 80 years ago. 
  • Ocean temperatures are rising, but only 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
  • Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.
  • Heat waves in the United States are no more common today than they were in 1900. The warmest U.S. temperatures have not risen in the past 50 years. The 1.8-degree increase in average global temperatures since 1880 is due to higher average low temperatures, and Koonin says the real question is not whether the globe has warmed recently but rather to what extent this warming is being caused by humans.

Koonin says the path to zero emissions is impractical because developing countries will need more energy in the coming years to support their development. Are we going to tell developing countries that they must stop developing because they can’t burn fossil fuels when there isn’t an alternative today? 

The book closes with a plea for better communication of complex science and to restore “integrity to the way science informs society’s decisions on climate and energy.” 

I agree with his view that technology and markets should be allowed to work at their own pace. The climate might continue to change – at a pace that’s difficult to document – but societies are good at adapting.

I highly recommend this book which you can obviously buy through Amazon or a major national retailer but consider supporting a local independent bookseller.

Rob Martinelli is the president and CEO of Today Media, the parent company of Delaware Business Times.

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7 Comments

  1. AOK1 July 19, 2021

    Rob Martinelli read a book that fits his confirmation bias. Shocker.
    Rob Martinelli wrote an op ed that decries anthropogenic climate change. Shocker.
    Rob Martinelli used his bully pulpit to promote media misinformation. Shocker.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-new-book-manages-to-get-climate-science-badly-wrong/
    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04052021/dissecting-unsettled-a-skeptical-physicists-book-about-climate-science/
    https://dnews.com/opinion/his-view-the-lies-about-climate-science-keep-coming/article_ef4a1500-1366-5129-8f4b-065097c92ba0.html

    Reply
  2. Andy Cloud July 19, 2021

    Rhetoric is a little old school

    Reply
  3. Karen Igou July 19, 2021

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04052021/a-new-book-feeds-climate-doubters-but-scientists-say-the-conclusions-are-misleading-and-out-of-date/

    Please stop promoting this bias. Please promote business that is based on supporting life on earth rather than greed. It will cost way more to fix climate crisis than to stop it. Wake up! This is an opportunity if only you would be forward thinking and take the long view. And anyway, don’t any of you have children? Grandchildren??

    Reply
  4. Guildenstern July 20, 2021

    This is terrible and it’s hugely disappointing to see a serious news site publish it. I had to check the date, because this is pure denier talking points circa 2010.

    Do your readers a favor and ask an actual climate scientist, not a physicist with political connections, what the current situation is. I’d suggest Michael Mann. He’s also recently published a bool as well.

    Reply
  5. Mark Maimone July 20, 2021

    Not sure how he has martialed his facts.
    Sea levels are rising, and the rate of increase has started to creep up as evidenced by tide stations.
    Yes, there are repeating historic episodes, related mainly to volcanic outbursts, thus Greenhouse gasses!
    The latest studies show disturbing trends in ice sheet melting in the Artic and Antarctic
    The evidence of human impact on hurricanes over the past century is indeed murky, but intensification seems to have occurred.
    Heat waves in the United States need no further rebuttal for anybody following the news.

    Reply
  6. Andy Cloud July 20, 2021

    Disinformation and America

    Reply

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