Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters, by Steve Koonin
We know that the earth is warming, and we know that humans are contributing to the warming by injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. No respectable scientist disputes these points, including Steven Koonin. However, the way that the media portrays these topics, and the policies that are being developed in response to the media’s portrayal, are not scientifically sound.
The most prominent series of climate assessment reports are published by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The sixth assessment report, which is the most recent IPCC report, was published in 2022. It’s a document that is over 3,500 pages long and contains an abundance of information. The US government also publishes its own assessment reports. The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) sponsors a National Climate Assessment (NGA) every 4 years. In general, these reports contain a lot of solid scientific information. However, they also contain misleading information that is intended to heighten the perceived threat of climate change disaster.
Koonin points out examples of the misinformation contained in these reports, and explains how some of the charts are misleading. For example, a common argument is that climate change is causing an increased number of natural disasters, and that the severity of these natural disasters is increasing. However, there is zero reliable data to suggest these statements are true. The charts in the IPCC that are used to formulate this argument are at least misleading, and at worst blatantly wrong.
He also argues that the models we are using to predict the future impacts of climate change are not reliable. The amount of uncertainty in these climate models is unacceptably large, and we should not be basing government policies on them. Climate change models rely on numerous assumptions as well as the calibration of many unknown variables. Because we are so ignorant about many of details regarding the interactions in the climate, including the interactions between the oceans, the atmosphere, vegetation, clouds, sun, and human machinery, we cannot possibly develop a model that predicts future climate impacts with any level of certainty. And it’s unwise to develop governmental policies and initiatives based on these highly uncertain models.
Instead, we should focus on developing a better understanding of how humans are impacting the climate. We know that humans are injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we know that this causes the temperature of the earth to warm. On the other hand, we also know that humans are injecting aerosols and other cooling substances into the atmosphere, which create a cooling effect by increasing the earth’s albedo.
Before we make any drastic changes in our world, we should seek to gain a better scientific understanding of our atmosphere and oceans. Only with reliable data can we make good decisions. At the same time, we should also explore potential solutions to worst-case scenarios. If reliable scientific evidence, which demonstrates that we are heading toward disaster, begins to accumulate, then we should be prepared to offer a solution. Right now, this is not the case. There is no indication of imminent disaster in the near future. In fact, it’s more likely that drastic action will have many unintended negative consequences.
At the moment, the earth’s temperature, and the recent temperature increase, are both well within the earth’s normal operating range. Over the earth’s history, there have been times of significantly higher temperatures, as well as times of significantly lower temperatures. The earth has a way of cycling between high and low temperatures and fixing itself when one extreme or another is reached. Therefore, we should not assume that our human influences on the atmosphere are so extreme that they will cause disastrous consequences.
In summary, we should be skeptical about what the media tells us about climate change, and we should learn how to look at the data through a critical lens. Nobody disputes that the earth’s temperature is rising or that humans are contributing to the rising temperature. However, the earth’s temperature is solidly within historic norms, and future projections created by climate models have extreme uncertainties, which makes them unreliable. We should not be basing policies and business decisions on unreliable models. Doing so will likely lead to many unintended negative consequences.
Scientific websites about climate change. These sources discuss scientific evidence and offer good perspectives from all sides.
Media websites advocating for climate change. These sources have a one-sided viewpoint.
https://www.ucsusa.org/ (Union of Concerned Scientists)
https://www.nrdc.org/ (Natural Resources Defense Council)