“Climate Science Is Not Settled”

It is not often that you see someone of Steven Koonin’s prominence publicly immolate his future in Democratic Party politics and perhaps in the senior reaches of academia at the same time. But that’s what Koonin does today with his Wall Street Journal feature “Climate Science Is Not Settled.” Koonin served in the first term of the Obama administration as the undersecretary of science in the Department of Energy; he was previously provost at CalTech, and was head scientist for BP’s research on renewable and low-carbon energy.

Koonin is no climate skeptic, but after today’s article that departs from the “97 percent” party line, it is impossible that environmental groups will allow him to be nominated by a Democratic president for any position, unless it was a minor consular post in Micronesia to stash him away somewhere out of sight. (Just look back on how the greens opposed Cass Sunstein’s nomination to OMB, because—gasp!—Sunstein has nice things to say about cost-benefit analysis.)

Read carefully, you will see that Koonin reflects pretty much the Power Line position, namely that the current state of climate science is nowhere near good enough to tell us what the state of the climate is going to be several decades from now, and that, as I’ve argued myself in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, you can see this in the IPCC reports if you take the time to read them with any care at all. (He even endorses an idea I first proposed ten years ago—that a “Team B” ought to be set up to produce rival assessments of the data and scientific findings. The infamous “Climategate” emails contained some reference to my idea, and that it caused consternation amongst the climatistas.)

You owe it to yourself to read the whole thing (especially his very good summary of the serious limitations of the computer climate models), but here are a couple of key highlights:

The idea that “Climate science is settled” runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future. . .

We often hear that there is a “scientific consensus” about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue. . .

• The models differ in their descriptions of the past century’s global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time. Such mismatches are also present in many other basic climate factors, including rainfall, which is fundamental to the atmosphere’s energy balance. As a result, the models give widely varying descriptions of the climate’s inner workings. Since they disagree so markedly, no more than one of them can be right. . .

These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not “minor” issues to be “cleaned up” by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research. . .

Despite Koonin’s moderate tone and outlook, I predict you will see the climatistas attack him savagely in the coming days—just as soon as Joe Romm clears the coffee from his computer keyboard this morning in fact. Because 97 percent!! We’ll watch and bring updates.

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