In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Steven Koonin, former Department of Energy Undersecretary and BP scientist makes the case that global warming is caused by humans, important, that we must do something about it, and that further research on key topics is necessary to help guide policy.
The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter … We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries.
Unfortunately, Koonin also argues that climate science is largely at sea, and that we know so little about climate change that, he implies strongly, we really don’t know what to do about it. He seems to be suggesting that we should do nothing.
He states that the amount of anthropogenic change in global temperature is a fraction of natural change, but this is wrong. The amount of change over the industrial era caused by humans is far more than expected from natural change, and is all in the same direction. He states that estimates of projected “climate sensitivity,” the eventual change in surface temperature given a certain increase in added CO2, have not changed in 30 years. This is utterly false. The total range of sensitivity has, actually, stayed about the same but recent work has indicated that most climate scientists are more comfortable narrowing down the sensitivity to something like “Two. Or more. But I hope not. Maybe five.” More importantly, the issue of climate sensitivity has moved from being an “unkown unkown” to a “known unknown” over this time.
Koonin badly botches his discussion of models and how they work, confusing and conflating scales of time and space, and overall mischaracterizes what climate models do and how well they work. They actually work pretty well. He deosn’t seem to know that.
Koonin’s piece is well characterized by the title of a responding blog post at Climate Science Watch: “On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal published call to wait and do nothing”
I’d like to write more about it now but I have to shut down the computer for an unseasonal severe storm about to sweep over us. Bye for now.