Category Archives: Science

Climate realists drive U.S. energy policy: Will they do enough?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 5, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

The alarmists and deniers dominate the climate change debate on the cable news networks, but neither dominate U.S. energy policy.

Climate realists are driving American energy policy and there is little reason to think the Trump administration can reverse the climate change initiatives already in place.

Today’s federal court ruling upholding the Obama-era EPA methane rules punctuates this fact.

Who are the climate realists? They are the forces driving the rise of natural gas for electricity generation concurrently with the development of renewable sources such as wind and solar. They include industry executives in the oil and gas sector, Wall Street investors, environmentalists, government bureaucrats, the courts and the major congressional committees overseeing our nation’s energy policies.

Are the climate realists just another arm of the Deep State? Perhaps. Whoever they are, they are not hindered by our nation’s hyper-partisanship. Instead, a massive realignment of our nation’s energy production and consumption mix is well underway and not even President Trump and EPA Chief Scott Pruitt can stop it.

Since 2000, the U.S. has restructured the nation’s electricity generation mix away from coal and towards cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas and renewables.

Primary Electricity Net Generation in U.S. from 1949 to 2016 (Billion kilowatt hours)
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Agency (July 2017)

Coal peaked at 2 trillion kilowatt hours in 2008 and has been in decline ever since; whereas, natural gas has been rising as a source of electricity generation since the late 1980s. Today, coal and natural gas each account for 33 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

As for renewable energy sources, no politician receives less credit than George W. Bush for pushing the advance of green energy. As the governor of Texas, Bush signed legislation that created a renewable electricity mandate so that today Texas leads the nation in wind generating capacity.

President George W. Bush more than once pushed Congress to extend the production tax credits for renewable energy sources, particularly wind power. Bush’s policies had the tangible result of increasing renewable energy’s share in U.S. electricity generation from 10 percent in the early 2000s to about 15 percent in 2016.

According to U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecasts, by 2050, renewable energy sources will account for about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation, putting it behind only natural gas (40%) as the largest contributor. Coal will account for around 17 percent.

Data source: EIA (May 2017)

A number of assumptions underlie the EIA U.S. energy forecasts, one of them being the continued implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is already under threat from the Trump Administration’s executive order in March telling the EPA to kill it.

Easier said than done. Since the CPP has already gone through the full federal rulemaking process, ending it will require a similarly laborious process. As of today, the CPP still stands, if only barely, and the federal judge hearing the opposition to the CPP by 27 states — including EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma — has ruled that the Trump administration must offer its new course of action in lieu of the CPP by October 6th.

To CPP advocates, the endless mélange of arcane legal procedures and bureaucratic stodginess may appear impenetrable, but this is what happens when the federal executive and legislative branches stop working together and economic policy is implemented through executive fiat. Throw into this political mosh pit over half of the state attorney generals trying to kill the CPP and it is fair to ask, what chance does the country have at changing its national energy policies on a scale that can possibly address climate change?

It turns out,  the chances are looking pretty good — though three more years (at least) of the Trump administration is likely to sap some of that optimism.

THE U.S. IS RAPIDLY CONVERTING TO A CLEAN(ER) ENERGY ECONOMY

The major trends are undeniable. Coal is rapidly being replaced by natural gas and renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric) as the primary sources of U.S. electricity production. Recent increases in coal electricity production in 2017 are not likely to change these trends as many coal energy plants are scheduled to be shutdown over the next decade.

Along with the decline of coal, there are four other macro trends that will drive U.S. energy production and consumption over the next 30 years:

  1. Natural gas will continue as a stop gap energy source until renewables  become more cost effective and reliable.
  2. Cost decreases in renewable energy generation will continue and spur its future growth
  3. While renewable energy will continue to grow, it will not be fast enough to see the effective end of fossil fuels by 2050 (as required by the Paris Accords) unless major efficiency improvements occur in energy production and use.
  4. The U.S. will not see nuclear power playing a significant role in replacing fossil fuels (but that will not the case in China and India).

How did this all happen? Our elected leaders notwithstanding, the other players in the making U.S. energy policy (Big Oil and Gas companies, federal bureaucrats, regulators, the environmental lobby, and public opinion) have opted for a realist view of global warming.

When the Trump administration decided unilaterally to relax the regulatory requirements for limiting the escape of methane gas during the natural gas extraction process, the environmental lobby weighed in, but did so without undercutting the importance of natural gas in addressing climate change.

“(The Trump administration) listened to a few industry players eager to cut costs and to maximize profits in the short-term, while shirking their responsibility to help America’s booming natural gas industry stay competitive for decades to come,” said Ben Ratner, Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Corporate Partnership’s Program.”States such as Colorado show that methane leaks, can, in fact, be managed cost-effectively and without harming production.’

So who are the Big Oil and Gas industry players like Exxon-Mobil siding with on this issue? The EDF and the climate change lobby, of course.

What?

“The major multinational oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and Shell have said they are already following methane pollution rules finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year (2016),” says Jon Goldstein, Director for Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at EDF. ‘Better to anticipate future compliance issues today and bake them into your forward planning, than to be caught flatfooted tomorrow.”

That is climate realism as practiced by Big Oil and Gas.

Popular culture views oil executives as derivative forms of Dallas‘ J.R. Ewing. In reality, they are often Ivy League educated business managers with the education and experience  to know that risk must always be managed, not ignored. The geologic and political realities underlying fossil fuels leave just one outcome. Fossil fuels will not be the dominant energy source by the end of this century.

As regressive as the Trump administration has been on climate change policy, there is little they can do to change the global trends. Recent increases in coal electricity generation is illusory. Coal is dead. Instead, the central question facing U.S. policymakers is the extent to which natural gas extraction — including the use of fracking — is going to continue. When does natural gas stop being a stop-gap measure?

Even the most alarmist environmental lobby groups recognize that natural gas has driven the recent reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But what divides them from climate realists is their long-term view of natural gas. The alarmists will not accept an energy source (natural gas) that is only 50 percent cleaner in its greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

Climate realists, in contrast, consider the economic risks and disruption associated with a crash program to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. And economists are quick to point out that recent public and private investments in clean energy have been full of fits and starts. Forbes reported in June that “new investment in clean energy fell to $287.5 billion in 2016, 18 percent lower than the record investment of $348.5 billion in 2015 and 9 percent lower than the $315 billion invested in 2014.”

Climate realists want the trends to be in the right direction, while the alarmists want a worldwide “Man on the Moon”-like resolve to see the practical elimination of fossil fuels by 2050.

This is what divides climate alarmists from realists and it represents a mighty big chasm. The good news is that both groups agree (for the most part) on the basic science behind global warming.

ALARMISTS AND REALISTS AGREE: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND HUMANS ARE TO BLAME

Let’s immediately dispense with the scientific nonsense promulgated by those who claim the science is still unsettled. Yes, of course, some aspects of the science is unsettled. But here is what the climatologists are telling us:

The planet’s recent warming is due largely to human activities. This additional warming is not due to natural variation. It is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases (particularly CO2) in the atmosphere.

Here is a fun little graphic from SkepticalScience.com contrasting the two contradictory views on global warming:

Even many hardcore climate change skeptics (like myself) are moved by the growing empirical evidence.

Climate skeptics are not swayed by peer pressure, which invites bias and herd mentalities. And don’t bother them with the ’97 percent of climatologists’ agree argument. That figure was basically pulled out of Harvard researcher Naomi Oreskes’ ass 17 years ago. Only recently has a meta-analysis of published research found some credence in that ’97 percent’ figure — but only after researchers ignored the majority of climate change research papers that did not take any stand regarding global warming.

Science isn’t a democracy and facts are determined by vote counts. I’m sure at some point 97 percent of physicists ascribed to the Steady State Theory of the Universe. Scientists can get things really wrong sometimes.

Instead, only evidence matters and it has been unequivocal on global warming.

Even under the new administration, NASA’s offers a convincing summary of the data evidence behind the conclusion that recent global warming is anthropogenic (human-caused):

Figure 1:  GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX
Data source: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Credit: NASA/GISS

However, the most compelling evidence was offered in 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first forecast for global temperatures. It was impossible to know at the time, but the report’s forecast for global temperatures was relatively accurate, despite being based on a simple statistical model driven primarily by the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The 1990 IPCC report forecast an increase global temperatures between 0.10 to 0.35°C per decade. In actuality, global temperatures have risen 0.15°C per decade since the 1st IPCC forecast.

“The IPCC models do an impressive job accurately representing and projecting changes in the global climate, contrary to contrarian claims,” says science writer Dana Nuccitelli. “In fact, the IPCC global surface warming projections have performed much better than predictions made by climate contrarians.”

Figure 2:  SUMMARY OF IPCC REPORT FORECASTS
Source: IPCC AR5. Solid lines and squares represent measured average global surface temperature changes by NASA (blue), NOAA (yellow), and the UK Hadley Centre (green). The colored shading shows the projected range of surface warming in the IPCC First Assessment Report (FAR; yellow), Second (SAR; green), Third (TAR; blue), and Fourth (AR4; red).

‘Impressive’ may be an over-statement as the 1st IPCC Assessment Report (yellow shaded region in the above graph) over-estimated global warming; however, the 3rd and 4th IPCC projections were better. That is to be expected. Over time, the models should be better.

Global temperatures are rising. And by using ice core data to model climate dynamics over long periods of geologic time, the evidence also supports the connection between rising global temperatures and the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What is the exact sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas concentrations?That’s a complicated question well beyond my background, so I will let the climate scientists debate over the answer. For the hopelessly curious, the Skeptical Scientist website offers a layman-friendly discussion of this complex issue: HERE. [My personal fear is that climate scientists exaggerate humankind’s ability to modulate global temperatures through the manipulation of greenhouse gas emissions alone.]

HOW CAN WE MAKE PUBLIC POLICY AROUND GLOBAL WARMING WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY?

One reason we see variations in the global temperature forecast models is that the scientific groups making the forecasts use different specifications and parameterizations of this temperature/greenhouse gases relationship.

Here is the good news: Eventually, climate scientists will determine which models best predict global temperatures…but it will take time…measured in years. But the best models will reveal themselves, that is certain.

In the meantime, does the world have the luxury to wait for the perfect answer. Sometimes (maybe always?) policymakers are forced to work with the 80 percent solution.

We all know the phrase — ‘better being the enemy of the good’ — popularized by Voltaire. But I like John Lennon’s version. When asked by a journalist when he knew if a song he was writing was finished, Lennon replied, “I stop writing when the song is good enough.”

The climate models are far from perfect, but they are good enough to make substantive policy decisions. The problem for climate alarmists however is that those policy decisions may not go far enough for them.

Policy making in a pluralist democracy like ours is driven by a multiplicity of relatively small and autonomous groups. Despite what Bernie Sanders says, no single group of elites dominate our policy process.

Thus, scientists are not empowered to dictate public policy on climate change but must instead fight it out with other political factions and organized interests. Madison, Jay and Hamilton envisioned our system to work that way for good reason.

The structure of our political system has profound implications on policy making. It encourages small changes over large, dramatic changes in policy.

Political scientist Charles Lindblom described the incrementalist predisposition of American policy making in his famous 1959 essay, “The Science of Muddling Through.” Since incrementalism failed to explain large policy shifts, however, Lindblom’s original model was supplanted by the punctuated equilibrium model of policy making which says major policy changes will occur over brief periods of time, followed by longer periods of incremental policy changes.

How the world addresses climate change is the ultimate policy model case study.

THE CHOICE: INCREMENTALIST ACTION VERSUS DRAMATIC POLICY SHIFTS

Collectively, the world has three possible policy approaches to climate change. They are: (1) Do nothing or the ‘wait and see’ approach (Deniers), (2) Incremental decisions as events demand (Realists), or (3) Dramatic policy shifts now in anticipation of the future (Alarmists).

All three approaches have strengths and weaknesses:

Policy ModelStrengthsWeaknesses
Wait and SeeShort-term costs are minimal; policy flexibility (in the short-term, at least)If worst-case scenarios occur, policy flexibility reduced; overall costs extremely high
IncrementalismModest costs in short-term; hedges fiscal bets in case worst-case scenarios don't materialize; maximum policy flexibilityInadequate policy responses in short-term may exacerbate problems in the long-term; high long-term costs under worst-case scenarios
Dramatic Policy ShiftsLower overall costs if worst-case scenarios prove correctHigh costs in short-term; if initial policies inappropriate to the problem, long-term costs at fiscal bankruptcy levels.

As to which policy is adopted will be partially driven by political leaders’ level of confidence in the empirical data. Alarmists accept the scientific evidence as irrefutable and deterministic. There is no need for political debate. Deniers reject the evidence as flawed and driven more by partisan agendas. And realists see the empirical data as credible but probabilistic.

Scientists do not make the policy decisions. That is not their domain of expertise. Policy making is the domain of the political class.

Unfortunately, that’s where the climate change debate becomes contentious. Throw in a healthy serving of Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt (with a dash of Rick Perry), and the debate is dysfunctional.

We can ignore the deniers as their policy goal is the simplest of all — do nothing. However, as already shown, the world’s energy production and consumption has already changed in significant ways and the deniers long ago lost control of policy making process. They are nearly irrelevant (even though control the U.S. executive branch right now).

The other two climate groups are relevant.

Climate alarmists see climate change in binary terms — it is “zero net emissions” soon after 2050 or global calamity. There is no middle solution or outcome. This deterministic view of the world — as in, “I know for fact this is going to happen” — places little value on negotiation and compromise. Climate realists, in contrast, are all about negotiation and compromise.

CLIMATE REALISTS ARE RISK AVERSE BY TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE

Climate realists are creatures of the existing policy making system. They see the world through a lens of probabilistic events where there is always a chance that even the most likely events fail to materialize. Furthermore, in the context of large structural budget deficits within the public sector, climate realists incorporate risk assessments into the policy mix which further discourages dramatic policy shifts.

Climate realists bring a healthy skepticism of the science yet are sensitive to its implications. This more sophisticated understanding of the intersection of science and policy place the realists in a better position to dominate U.S. energy and environmental policy.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS WANT TO IMPLEMENT AN ECONOMIC SHIFT AT A SPEED UNPARALLELED IN HUMAN HISTORY

Climate alarmists desire to end the fossil fuel industry within the next 30 years. In other words, divert $33 trillion of capital and assets from one industry to another.

Good luck.

This plan typically includes a carbon tax system (or some equivalent) that would divert around $3 trillion annually from the fossil fuel economy to government entities. These revenues would be diverted into investments in materials and energy efficiency, renewable energy capacity, and the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a 100 percent renewable energy economy.

Alarmists will quickly note that the $3 trillion annual tax levy would ultimately save more money than it raises. Ecofys estimated the savings around $6 trillion per year by 2050.

It’s a big bet. Nothing like it has ever been attempted in human history.

What if global warming comes in at the low-end of the forecasts? The models by design suggest the real possibility.

What if the higher order effects — such as tropical storm intensities, coastal and river flooding, drought frequency, etc. — do not reach levels predicted by the climate models?

What if relatively small investments in improved building materials, better building codes, and smarter zoning and development laws are fiscally more effective than a $3 trillion annual transfer of wealth to the public sector and the nascent clean energy industry.

For the alarmists to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy economy around 2050, a punctuated equilibrium policy change may not be enough. It may require something more revolutionary and disruptive.

Luckily, the climate realists will be pumping brakes on any attempt by the alarmists to change public policy on such a scale.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS GAVE US THE PARIS ACCORDS, BUT THE REALISTS WILL IMPLEMENT IT

The Paris Accords set an aggressive global goal to have net zero carbon emissions early in the second half of this century. The difference in global temperatures between ‘low carbon emissions’ (blue shaded region) and the status quo (red shaded region) is significant:

If the world keeps energy policies at the status quo, by 2100, global temperatures will rise by 4 °C over 2005 temperatures. If we reach near zero net carbon emissions by 2050 (or soon after), global temperatures will rise only 1 °C over 2005 temperatures.

Of course, these predictions assume the global warming models are accurate. Alarmists assume humans can turn down the global thermostat and the globe will dutifully respond. The comedian George Carlin has a nice bit about this noxious type of hubris: It is just another arrogant attempt by humans to control mother nature.

But let’s play along with the idea that we can control global temperatures like the thermostats we use to control our homes’ temperatures. The only chance it happens is if we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in a relatively short period of time. [Some scientists fear it may already be too late to prevent the globe’s temperatures from exceeding 2 °C over pre-industrial temperatures.]

From a policy perspective, getting to Paris Accords’ zero net carbon emissions target is problematic given current global reliance on coal and natural gas energy production and existing plans to build new coal and natural power plant.

Forecasts on the mix of energy sources in 2050, not surprisingly, vary significantly depending on what group is making the forecasts.

The following forecasts illustrate this variance.

A PLAN TO GET TO ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050 (or soon after)

Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report in 2011 demonstrating the plausibility of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050. In their forecast model, half of the ‘net zero emissions’ goal is met by reducing energy demand through increased energy efficiency, and the remaining part of the goal is met by the substitution of traditional energy sources with renewable sources (see chart below).

Ecofys’s forecast is aggressive and predicated on a number of strong assumptions and stretch goals, including:

  • Global energy demand in 2050 will be 15 percent lower than in 2005, despite a growing population and continued economic development in countries like India and China.
  • Create buildings that require almost no conventional energy for heating or cooling and have all new buildings meet this standard by 2030.
  • High growth rates in solar energy production will continue or decline only slightly
  • Growth rates in wind power will also continue so that it will provide one-quarter of the world’s electricity needs by 2050.
  • Scientific and technology breakthroughs will continue to lower the cost and raise the efficiency of renewable energy sources, energy conservation technologies, and energy (battery) storage capabilities.
  • And, finally, the world will collectively accept a carbon tax and levy system that will help raise the money necessary to invest in the other energy goals and milestones.

Not one of these assumptions are likely to hold, much less all of them.

Fueled by economic and population growth, total global energy demand will rise about 33 percent between now and 2050, according to the EIA, and most of this increase will come from outside the U.S. and Europe. To predicate a zero emissions plan on the expectation that American and European policy makers are going to influence domestic energy policies in China and India enough to lower their overall energy demand in 2050 from today’s levels (or 2005!) is laughable.

The safest assumption from the Ecofys plan is that renewables will continue to grow rapidly. British Petroluem’s 2017 Statistical Review of World Energy found that renewable power (excluding hydro power) grew by 14.1 percent in 2016 — which is below the 10-year average, but still robust.

The most promising Ecofys assumption is in solar energy, which recently has seen exponential growth rates. In 2016, there was a 50 percent increase in the amount of new solar power worldwide, bringing its contribution to total worldwide electricity generation to around 1.3 percent.

But Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Outlook for 2017 is predicting this fast growth in solar power will soon slow down. Luckily for the solar energy industry, the pessimistic predictions on solar’s growth by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and business forecasters like Bloomberg have been notoriously wrong in the past. Of all of the Ecofys zero emissions plan assumptions, continued solar energy growth may be the most likely to materialize.

Where some pieces of the Ecofys zero emissions plan have merit, on the whole, it too dependent on optimism and good intentions. Using the Ecofys plan to represent the ‘zero emissions by 2050’ goal may seem like a straw man argument, but to Ecofys’ credit, the core elements of their forecast includes all of the factors that will need to align in order for the zero emissions goal to be met.

In fairness, Ecofys has removed their 2011 plan for zero emissions from their website, but the assumptions and milestones in the plan are still indicative of the massive challenge the world faces in achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions soon after 2050.

THE FUTURE IS 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY, BUT YOU WON’T BE AROUND TO SEE IT (AND MAYBE NOT YOUR KIDS, EITHER).

The following global energy forecast was published on the website PeakOil.com and is more indicative of the climate realist perspective and shows us why zero emissions is a challenging goal unlikely to occur anywhere near 2050.

Fossil fuel geeks should be familiar with the Hubbert Linearization method for estimating the level of recoverable natural resources under existing technology, economics, and geopolitical trends. Historically, the Hubbert method has typically underestimated the amount of recoverable oil, gas and coal left in the ground. To mitigate this bias, the PeakOil.com forecast is adjusted using EIA’s official projections on world oil and natural gas production from 2016 to 2040.

Their resulting forecast on world carbon dioxide emissions through 2100 makes the idea of a zero carbon emissions planet seem unattainable, in this century at least.

The good news: these forecasts are products of smart people doing a lot of guesswork. On one level, the idea that carbon emissions will peak around 2030 seems plausible given that we are already deep into 2017 and carbon emissions continue to rise with the growth of the world economy.

Where the PeakOil.com forecast may go wrong is on the downside of the fossil fuel life cycle. If renewables become significantly more cost effective than fossil fuels, the move away from fossil fuels will be much more dramatic than what the above graph shows.

That is the optimist in me speaking.

Significant issues remain ahead for renewables however. The biggest is the cost of solar and wind intermittency.

As University of Houston Lecturer and Energy Fellow Earl J. Ritchie warns, “The continuing decrease in wind and solar costs is a very positive development. However, this trend may reverse as the percentage of variable renewable energy (VRE)  energy that isn’t available on-demand but only at specific times, such as when the wind is blowing – reaches high levels.”

At that point, integration costs become more of a factor in the overall cost of renewable energy.

“When variable sources are a small fraction of electricity supply, the cost of integration is low,” says Ritchie. But when these variable sources become a significant fraction, renewable energy costs can increase. Evidence of this can already be seen in Germany, where wind and solar are heavily integrated into the national power grid.

At what fraction do these costs become significant? It depends.

One study using data from Germany and Indiana found integration costs began to become significant when renewables reached 20 percent of total energy generation. As of 2015, only four countries had variable renewable energy over 20 percent. But that number will rise rapidly in the next 10 years.

THE ABSENCE OF NUCLEAR POWER IN THEIR FUTURE ENERGY MIX SUGGESTS ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE NOT AS SERIOUS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AS THEY PRETEND

There is one more aspect of the climate change movement that is puzzling. Where is nuclear energy in all of the scenarios where the planet reaches zero carbon emissions?

The task is daunting enough, why make it harder?

Ideological environmentalists need to take off their ideological blinders and accept that the quickest, most direct path to zero carbon emissions is with significant growth in nuclear energy. If safety or nuclear proliferation concerns keep them from signing on to new nuclear power plants, they need to update their information because molten salt (thorium) nuclear reactors may address both of those concerns while maintaining the low carbon emissions aspect of nuclear energy.

Why weren’t molten salt reactors developed sooner? Because countries with the resources to develop peaceful nuclear power also wanted the ability to retool quickly and develop a nuclear weapons program, which the uranium reactors made easier.

Nuclear power is not intermittent like solar and wind. That is a significant advantage. Furthermore, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and many other large, growing countries are embracing nuclear power on a level to match what the French have already achieved.

Nuclear power plants generate 75 percent of France’s electricity, though that level may fall to 50 percent by 2025 as other renewable energy sources come online. As of today, France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to the very low cost of nuclear power.

Without nuclear power out of the mix, the ideological environmental lobby is making the goal of zero carbon emissions even more unreachable.

NOW WHAT? ADAPT OR DIE.

The major energy sources that work 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year are coal, natural gas, geothermal, hydroelectric (droughts not withstanding), and nuclear.

Renewable energy is still a supplemental source of power. Without fundamental advancements in energy storage technologies, countries will still need continuous power sources on cloudy and windless days.

And this essay hasn’t even touched transportation.

Throw in combustion engine automobiles likely to be in use in 2050 and the belief that this world can be anywhere close to ‘zero net carbon emissions’ anywhere near 2050 is fantasy.

This means global temperatures are going to come in somewhere in between the ‘status quo’ and ‘zero net emissions’ scenarios. In other words, by 2100, global temperatures may be close to 3 °C above pre-industrial temperature levels. At that level of global warming arrives increases in ice sheet melting and the impact of the slow climate feedback mechanisms which may push the warming to 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, regardless of any carbon emissions reductions that occur after we hit the 3 °C milestone.

At 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, our descendants will be seriously pissed at us for failing to do more to slow global warming.

We may already be witnessing the impact of global warming on tropical storms and flooding in the U.S. Again, that is a question difficult for science to answer definitively. There is not enough data yet. The empirical evidence says we have not seen a perceivable increase in the number or intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean — even with Harvey, Irma and Maria included in the dataset.

However, that finding could change in a short period of time. Another year or two like 2017 in the Atlantic and the ‘no impact on tropical storms’ argument gets sent to the scientific dustbin.

On the positive side, if Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are a precursor of the new normal, we have gained some insight on the financial risk global warming poses to the U.S. and other countries exposed to coastal flooding and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Puerto Rico will rebuild. The goal should be to ensure that all new construction on the island will pass rigorous building standards designed to survive Category 5 hurricanes. Puerto Rico can be the leading edge of a new urban planning philosophy for coastlines that addresses the realities of the global warming age.

The damages to residences of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are tragic. But they are also manageable, particularly if our governments start developing concrete plans to help people migrate from at-risk areas and to improve building and zoning codes to minimize future weather-related risks.

What we don’t need to do is crush the world economy with a crash program of getting to ‘zero net emissions’ by 2050. At this point, such a goal is a castle in the sky built by climate change alarmists that have little to risk and much to gain by scaring policy makers into potentially counter-productive government interventions in the private economy.

Don’t compound the original mistake of recklessly burning fossil fuels in serving economic growth by embarking on an equally reckless path.

The Paris Accord targets were never going to be met. Any time you get that many countries to agree on something, you know it has to be more illusion than substance. Countries were willing to sign on to the Accords because it asked of its signers very little additional sacrifice beyond what they were already doing or planning on doing.

Global warming is real. Humans caused it. And there is a warming threshold (~ 3 °C) that we must avoid. And now we must pursue a series of policies that will adapt to this reality and hopefully mitigate most of global warming’s worst consequences.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Global warming is real and we are preparing for it (mostly)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 12,2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Along with death and taxes, we should add this: Houston floods and Florida gets hit by hurricanes.

Journalist Daphne Thomspson understands what frequently happens when you build a large metropolitan area on a Texas bayou:  “Founded in 1836, where the Buffalo Bayou met White Oak Bayou, Houston has faced many floods,” she writes.

As Thompson further notes, “In 1929, the Buffalo and White Oak Bayous both left their banks after a foot of rain fell. Downtown (Houston) suffered massive damage. Property damage was estimated at $1.4 million.”

This is a historical reality for Houstonites; but, in covering Hurricane Harvey, the national media has created an impression that the flooding caused by Harvey is without precedent.

Yes, Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain on the Houston area than any other storm in the city’s modern history. But here is just the short list of major Houston floods from the past century.

  • December 6–9, 1935 – A massive flood kills 8 people.
  • September 11, 1961 – Hurricane Carla.
  • August 18, 1983 – Hurricane Alicia.
  • October 15-19, 1994 – Hurricane Rose brings with it The Great Flood of ’94 as it stalled over north Houston for a week and killing 22 people; it dumped over 30 inches of rain in north Houston and still holds the record for the highest flood levels for the San Jacinto basin.
  • June 5 – June 9, 2001 – Tropical Storm Allison floods Houston’s Central Business District and was called a ‘500-year event.’
  • June 19, 2006 – Major flooding in Southeast Houston.
  • September 13, 2008 – Hurricane Ike.
  • May 25 – May 26, 2015 – Flooding from storms is called “historic” and impacts most of the city.
  • April 18, 2016 – This flood affects nine counties in the Houston area.
  • August 2017 – Hurricane Harvey dumps more rain over a week than any storm in Houston’s history.

Houston is built in a low-land area subject to hurricanes, slow-moving storm systems and frequent flooding. Is global warming the cause of Houston’s extreme flooding from Hurricane Harvey? Probably yes but not necessarily.

Yes, the amount of rain deposited by Hurricane Harvey is historic and I wouldn’t want to be on the side arguing against climate change’s role — but Houston is always flooding!

To think we can distinguish the source of Houston’s flooding between its inherent geographic vulnerability and the effects of global warming is analytic dreamweaving.

Houston is not a good place to put a major metropolitan area — but that is what the Texans have done.

Hurricane Irma, likewise, while impressive in size and intensity, was not the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the U.S. or even Florida.

That doesn’t diminish the tragedy or disprove the role climate change may have had in the scope of Irma’s damage. Anyone that’s lived in Miami for the past few decades will tell you that high-tide flooding around downtown Miami is now the new normal.

“The water is here. It’s not that I’m talking about some sci-fi movie here. No. I live it. I see it, it’s tangible,” long-time Miami resident Valerie Navarrete recently told a Yale researcher who studies rising sea levels.

According to Navarrete, her garage now floods about once every other month.

That is what rising sea levels will do. Did global warming cause it? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates sea levels will continue to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, its because its not. Yet, Miami residents will tell you that aggregating those small annual sea level changes over decades and you can start to see and feel it, particularly during high tides.

CLIMATE REALISM SUGGESTS ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS OUR MOST EFFECTIVE POLICY TOOL

The recent experiences in Florida and Texas bring to the fore our nation’s need to reconcile the realities of global warming (which includes rising sea levels and increased storm intensities) with the urban planning decisions made many decades before today.

Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I offer this conclusion:  We are well down the road in making the necessary adjustments for global warming. Through our forecasting advancements, improved early warning systems, and better coordinated relief efforts, we are seeing a tangible decrease in the human tolls from weather events when compared to the past (see chart below).

Furthermore, the estimated property damage from Harvey and Irma, while historic, was predictable given the economic growth we’ve seen in the past 30 years along our hurricane-vulnerable coastlines.

This does not mean we can ignore climate change as many (but not all) Republicans want to do. More property and people are exposed to the threat of hurricanes and coastal flooding than at any time in our history, according to AIR Worldwide, an insurance analytics firm. The number of Americans living in coastal counties grew by 84% between 1960 and 2008, compared to 64% in non-coastal counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sadly, as evidenced in the tragic death of eight nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida, our most vulnerable populations — the elderly and the poor — bear a disproportionate share of the risks associated with severe weather events.

Much more needs to be done to secure our coastlines: updating zoning laws, improving building codes, disaster management training, protecting our power grids, insurance reform (including improved fraud detection), and population relocation subsidies.

“The rising level of the oceans, the growing coastal population, the additional development associated with it, and the possible increasing severity of storms mean that people and property are increasingly at risk,” says Dr Tim Doggett, an environmental economist for AIR Worldwide. “Coastal communities have three options when it comes to dealing with this enhanced risk of flooding. Defend the shoreline with man-made or natural barriers, adapt by raising structures and infrastructure above projected flood levels, (or) retreat.”

But, if Texas’ and Florida’s preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are any indication, the U.S. is starting to meet the challenges of climate change and, particularly with respect to protecting human life, appears capable of withstanding its future challenges.

How do we know this?  Lets go to the data.

When looking at the number of fatalities across a wide variety of weather-related events (lightning, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes), the trend has been downward since the 1970s. The years 2005 and 2012 (Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy) are the obvious deviations from this trend. By comparison, if we annualize the weather-related deaths so far in 2017, even with the fatalities related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the estimated number of weather-related deaths are consistent with the long-term downward trend.

Americans are better able to withstand the impacts of extreme weather events today than at anytime since 1940. That finding should be no surprise to anyone working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NOAA or any other weather and public safety organization in the U.S. We have the tools and technology to predict and prepare for almost any major weather event.

Yet, fatalities are just one simple measure of our ability to confront unpredictable weather events. Weather’s economic costs are also important and, in that regard, the story is more complicated.

NOAA data on weather-related economic costs shows a relatively predictable year-to-year financial impact in the U.S. Since the late 1980s, the U.S. has not seen any substantive increase in damages due to weather events…….until this year (see graph below):

Two Category 4 hurricanes hitting our shores will do that. Damages from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey combined are expected to exceed $115 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. Even controlling for monetary inflation, the economic costs of weather events have increased in the U.S. since 1990, from around $15 billion-a-year to around $30 billion-a-year (see chart below).

But why?

With good reason man-made climate change (anthropogenic global warming) is high on that suspect list and the empirical evidence is growing that global warming is causally linked to the increased probabilities of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flooding.

There will be no effort here to challenge that conclusion as the scientific evidence grows, literally, by the day. However, implicating climate change in the unparalleled economic costs of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is not necessary.

Indeed, such attribution may distract from this country’s most cost-effective tools for addressing the effects of climate change: improved building standards and materials, strict zoning laws limiting new commercial and residential development in flood prone areas, and subsidies to low-income and elderly Americans to aid in their relocation out of areas prone to extreme weather events.

Our country must also move quickly to balance our national, state and local budgets so that we can start building up “rainy day” funds to address the unpredictable costs of climate change.  If Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have a positive side it is for sounding the alarm that climate change could get very expensive very soon. In fact, it already is expensive.

[Side note: Democrats, thimight not be the time to push universal health care. I’m just suggesting for consideration: if you are going to continue two military occupations in the Middle East AND fund universal health care AND prepare for climate change, our country may have to start making hard choices

…Oh, and this administration is considering a military intervention in North Korea. Just one more potential stressor on a national government debt that is already around 88 percent of annual GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. That level of debt puts us in the company of the UK, France, Ireland, and Italy. While not an unsustainable level of debt for an economy like ours, it still brings major constraints on any new, big budget items.]

Back to the more immediate issue at hand…

Extreme weather, economic growth, and government spending are closely linked.

The yearly weather-related damage totals in the previous graphic reveal significant variation from year-to-year — which is one reason it is useful to combine annual totals into higher-order aggregates.

If we aggregate weather-related economic costs to the decade-level and compare this to economic growth in Texas and Florida (serving here as proxies for the economic growth of hurricane-vulnerable coastal areas in the U.S.), we see a strong relationship:

Over the past three decades, the increase in total damages from weather events tracks closely to economic growth in the coastal states of Texas and Florida, where wealth and property development increasingly pepper the coastlines.

Going forward, the U.S. can expect around $30 billion in weather-related damages from one year to the next. Without a lot more data, however, we must assume for now the weather-related damages from Irma and Harvey are outliers, not the new normal.

Courtesy of Inside Climate News, we get this fantastic graphic showing new building developments in downtown Ft Lauderdale, FL that are likely to face storm-caused flooding problems in the future. Readers should note, however, that near-term global-warming-caused sea level rises aren’t going to be anywhere the +1, +2…,  or +6 feet shown in the graphic. However, storm surges from hurricanes are more than capable of reaching +6 feet.

In the presence of rising sea levels, Ft. Lauderdale’s urban planning strategy does beg the question: What the hell are they thinking? Building high-density residential buildings on low-elevation tracts of land is just dumb — dumb even for Florida.

SINCE WE ARE ALREADY DOING A GREAT JOB, CAN WE JUST IGNORE GLOBAL WARMING?

I am not a climate change alarmist (as the title of this essay should make obvious), but we cannot ignore global warming either. It is happening. That is not a fiction created by the mainstream media, Al Gore or the Chinese. The first place we can start preparing is in where we place new building developments.

Unlike Ft. Lauderdale, many forward-leaning coastal cities in the U.S. are preparing for rising sea levels. New York City has invested significantly into its flood prevention plan and a coalition of Miami-Dade County, FL leaders are laying out five-year city plans that account for increasing sea levels. Why only five-year plans?

“Nobody knows what things are going to look like in 50 to 100 years,” Nicole Hefty, the head of Miami-Dade County’s Office of Sustainability, told The Atlantic‘s Amy Lieberman. “We can speak for smaller years and adapt in that way.”

Not a bad strategy. Being too ambitious too soon can do more harm than good given finite local, state and national budgets.

Any decisions looking beyond five years can be “rendered irrelevant by the rising seas,” writes Lieberman.

Furthermore, the economic impact of global warming, as measured by dollar damages and deaths, has so far been manageable. Even with the historic nature of Irma and Harvey , the U.S. economy will likely lose only about 0.8 percentage points in 2017 third quarter growth, according to Goldman Sachs. That still leaves the American economy chugging along at a 2-percent growth rate. Not exactly booming, but not recessionary either.

What climate change scientists and media forget to tell us is that global warming is not a planet killer or a human-level extinction event (though New Zealand’s tuatara, a lizard-like reptile whose eggs produce females only when nests are cool, are not so lucky).

Nonetheless, we face an uncertain future as we continue to put more development and economic wealth in the path of future weather events.

AIR Worldwide estimates that the total value of insurable property in ZIP Codes potentially impacted by storm surge is $17 trillion (USD).  If, as a society, we spend the majority of our time and money trying to phase out the oil and automobile industries, we will fail to directly address the real challenges posed by climate change.

Our coastlines will always be a point of destination for Americans for settlement and entertainment, so we need to better control coastal property development. Trying to slow or even reverse global warming may be too expensive or ineffective, and diverts resources away from more effective climate change mitigation tools over which we have more predictable control.

The planet will continue to get warmer — nobody should doubt that. How warm will depend on the extent and quickness with which we convert to renewable energy sources. But politicians and activists need to keep their expectations realistic on that front.

Forecasts on the U.S.’s conversion to renewable energy sources offer little optimism for those expecting all of our country’s energy needs will in their lifetime come from renewables. That is not likely to happen.

By 2050, Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental industry consulting firm, estimates 35 percent of U.S. electricity capacity will come from the combination of solar and wind power, up from about 15 percent today.

While some optimistic forecasts see much more than 50 percent coming from solar and wind power by 2050, they assume capacity growth for solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind will continue at current high rates. Unfortunately, solar and wind’s high growth rates are due in part to the small percentage from which they start (see the yellow and blue shaded areas in the chart below).

U.S. cannot afford building castles in the sky with respect to renewable energy when it has more immediate policy tools at its disposal to combat the effects of climate change.

As the planet warms, and it will, Americans need to make better decisions about where they live and play and how they prepare for future extreme weather events. Though generally ridiculed in the media as just another form of climate denialism, climate realism strikes a balance between the realities of global warming and our economic and social capacities to address it in a substantive way.

Climate realists don’t see the term ‘adaptation’ as a dirty word as does the climate change lobby. Whether we use public policy to adapt to climate change is a political question. If our political leaders don’t see the necessity of adapting that job will be left to us as individuals.

Despite little attention from the media, our cities and states are making significant adaptations along their shorelines and internal waterways necessary to weather climate change (pardon the pun). This will continue with or without our national politicians, who seem incapable of doing anything these days.

Local economics are dictating these adaptations — any maybe that is the best way to do it anyway. Our national politicians are too busy failing us in other areas.

 

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

 

 

 

 

Much of what we believe will someday be shown to be deeply flawed (…so why are we today yelling at each other over politics?)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Medical schools often tell their first-year students that, within a few years, half of what they learn in medical school will be wrong – they just don’t know which half. Harvard mathematician Samuel Arbesman named this phenomenon ‘the half-life of facts.’

Reading about Arbesman’s research prompted me to wonder why people on social media are so strident in their political beliefs and so hostile to others that disagree with them, even though much of what we believe today will someday be proven wrong (or at least seriously flawed).

I thought of this question again while analyzing a list of former NuQum.cm Twitter followers. I noticed that when someone unfollowed @nuqum4real it correlated with the ideological content of the newest NuQum.com essay.

Generally, we lose a few followers and gain a few. But sometimes, especially essays with strong ideological content (ex. He may be The Worst President Ever and I’d Vote for Him Again), our Twitter followers start fleeing, and it always correlates with ideological orientation. Twitter accounts with #ImWithHer or #TheResistance hashtags run from the conservative-friendly content and accounts with #MAGA or #LockHerUp run from the liberal-leaning content.

Its may be easy to understand why this happens…but…why does it happen? Really. Is there no enjoyment derived from reading alternative viewpoints? Is there no benefit from understanding why others might think differently from yourself? Not in a condescending way, but in a genuinely inquisitive, “walk-in-someone-else’s-moccasins”-way. Shouldn’t we always be seeking new perspectives on old issues?

Apparently not.

This lament was only deepened after reading an essay in Politico by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster titled: “Negative Partisanship’ Explains Everything.” From their original research article — The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of U.S. elections in the 21st century (in Electoral Studies, Vol. 41, March 2016, pp. 12-22) — they summarize their thesis:

“Since the 1980s, there has been a large negative shift in affect toward the opposing party among supporters of both major parties in the U.S. …The rise of negative affect toward the opposing party has contributed to dramatic increases in party loyalty and straight-ticket voting among strong, weak and independent-leaning partisans….Growing party loyalty and straight-ticket voting have led to the nationalization of elections in the United States: there is a much closer connection between the results of presidential elections and the results of House, Senate and even state legislative elections today than in the past.”

Most depressing about their research is their prediction for the future:

“In today’s environment, rather than seeking to inspire voters around a cohesive and forward-looking vision, politicians need only incite fear and anger toward the opposing party to win and maintain power. Until that fundamental incentive goes away, expect politics to get even uglier.”

Somehow our self-esteem has now become dependent on the validity of our political beliefs. Forget that over a lifetime a lot of things we once believed have proven to be false. Penguins, for example, don’t mate for life. And where were you when you first learned the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun? What? You didn’t know that? Yes, it is true. I learned it while helping my 11-year-old son on a science project. The earth revolves around our solar system’s’ center of mass (which is called the barycenter and is usually contained within the mass of the sun…but not always.)

People don’t want to hear anything that contradicts their core beliefs. There is no market for objectivity anymore. There once was when there were only three national news networks and one or two local newspapers. Today, it takes little effort to shelter yourself from media content you find offensive or useless. The content filters on Facebook and Twitter make for happier but less informed and more intolerant people.

The research is still sketchy on this question, but some of the more thoughtful attempts can be found here, here, and here.

One Huffington Post blogger warned readers: “When it comes to the Internet, it’s best not to trust the first source you see. Even if (or maybe especially) it’s coming from a friend.”

I mostly agree with that statement but would modify it slightly:  When it comes to the Internet, it’s best NEVER to trust ANY source you see…especially if it’s coming from your idiot friends and family.

[Yes, that includes anything you read on NuQum.com]

One of the great contradictions of our time is that Americans are more comfortable than ever with ethnic, racial and religious differences (or, at least, we think we are), but when it comes to opinion diversity, we’ve lost our appetite.

Opinion leaders (academia, politicians,journalists, writers) lecture us on the theoretical virtues of multiculturalism, but render it meaningless when they try to give it practical application.

Multiculturalism was always a loaded term, poorly defined by academia and subsequently misused, often as a convenient cudgel by both the left and the right to justify their own disdain for the other side.

Social constructs and their supporting institutions today all seem to serve partisan ends — even comedy has been commandeered by the political class. Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock won’t do concerts on college campuses anymore. Bill Maher cries more about ‘liberal snowflakes’ than Sean Hannity. Steve Martin has to delete a tweet mourning his friend Carrie Fischer because he noted her good looks before he mentioned her great sense of humor and intelligence.

A former colleague of  mine once observed: “David Letterman was funnier when he seemed to disdain Democrats and Republicans.” As funny and insightful as Steven Colbert can be today, we lose something when his nightly monologues are almost exclusively politics and Trump-focused.

Yes, I do miss the good ol’ days when everybody was a reflexive cynic and largely disinterested in politics. That seems now like a healthier society.

Neuro-scientist Sam Harris and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had an interesting podcast on this topic (found here). At one point, Harris makes an insightful comment that captures the social and political dysfunction we see today.

“The fact that politics is so much a part of our lives now is toxic,” says Harris. “It is a sign that something is wrong with our society; if things were good we would not be talking about politics.”

Somehow, we’ve all been driven into political corners that don’t necessarily represent our best interests or our most deeply held beliefs. Social pressure has put us in these boxes and only social pressure will get us out.

Let’s start now. Send a friend request on Facebook to someone whose politics you can’t stand. Baby steps, as they say.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

If Bret Stephens’ Opinion on Climate Change is Unacceptable, What is Acceptable?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 1, 2017)

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, Contact, has the U.S. government, led by James Woods’ character, head of the National Security Council, taking over a SETI project (led by Jodi Foster’s character) that presumably made contact with an alien intelligence.

You can view the classic scene here.

The scene, originally written by physicist Carl Sagan in his book that inspired the movie, was intended to give the audience the sense of a paranoid, security-obsessed federal government taking over what should have been left to the scientists.

At my first viewing of the movie, I shared that sense of the government’s over-bearing presence. Typical government overreach, I’m sure I thought. Just like what happened in E.T.

Twenty-years later, however, after spending ten of those years in our government’s national security bureaucracy, my take is quite different.

What would  you want your government to do instead? Let the scientists control our society’s contact with this alien society? Yes? Really?

One reason we have a representative democracy is that we don’t want any segment of society to have monopoly control on the information that may be critical to our national security or general welfare. Even if, individually, we don’t have the clearances to see all  of this information, we elect representatives with access and who, we presume, will use this information to the benefit of our collective interests.

Scientists may be good at their craft, but that doesn’t make them an elected representative of the people.

I was reminded of Contact while scanning Twitter on the controversy surrounding the New York Times’ new opinion columnist, Bret Stephens, who questioned the absolute certainty of  the climate change community.

His article, Climate of Complete Certainty, won my admiration when it referenced the analytic arrogance of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. So certain of Clinton’s victory were the ‘big data’ mavens dominating the Clinton analytic team that the campaign all but ignored the ‘old guard’ polling analysts (that would be people like me) that said Clinton’s working-class support was eroding in the Rust Belt.

We know how that turned out.

Stephens’ apparent apostasy  was relating the hubris of Clinton’s data scientists to the current state of climate change research. Regardless of whether that is a fair comparison, he does make two excellent observations in his op-ed piece.

First, two-thirds of the general public, according to the Pew Research Center, is not concerned about global warming – even though many accept that is happening and is caused by human activities.

The reason for the public’s skepticism is simple.  The climate change lobby is incompetent. My evidence, you ask? I am my own evidence.

I believe the globe is warming because of human activities and this will cause many known and unknown tragedies if we don’t convert to clean energy as soon as possible. That said, I am skeptical of anyone that suggests they have the set of policies that will solve this problem and, most importantly, can get China, India and otherss to commit to these policies.

And for those that don’t include a robust nuclear energy component in their policy solution, I’m not just skeptical of their ideas, I think they are just full of sh*t.

As I said, I believe the earth is warming because of human activities. It is hard (though not impossible) for anyone that respects data not to conclude that the earth is significantly warmer than its was at the start of the industrial revolution. More importantly, the rate of this warming is faster than anytime in relatively recent earth history. This is the fact climatologists throw in your face when you begin the conversation about what public policies are appropriate to address global warming in a meaningful and cost-effective way.

Despite the protestations of the climate lobby, the costs associated with trying to reverse global warming is a legitimate issue. Maybe it would be more cost-effective and less growth-dampening if humans just adjusted to global warming instead of trying to engineer a return to our old climate? By the time China, India and most of the world’s other fast-developing countries burn all the remaining oil to fuel their economic growth, it is very possible any treaty signed in Paris or elsewhere to reverse global warming will become null-and-void.

But, at least we tried?  Right?

No, not right. When some in the scientific community tells us we need to spend $44 trillion to convert the world to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 , they are now dabbling in economics.  And even if climatologists are good at predicting the economic costs associated with global warming  (they aren’t), the issue enters the political domain. And rightfully so.

The tragedy is that the environmental movement has from that start chosen to turn its core issue into a partisan battle. When they did that, they did more harm to their cause than a congressional hearing full of climate change ‘deniers’ could ever accomplish.

Stephens’ second point is the one that really rankled the self-appointed thought police that (formerly) subscribed to the New York Times. He writes that anytime science claims total certainty it “traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.”

I would have re-worded his sentence to say instead, “…whenever new evidence fails to support a climate claim.” It is a subtle difference but an important one. Gains in scientific knowledge are iterative and often non-linear.  Sometimes sample sizes are too small. Sometimes selection bias works against the research aim. Sometimes new evidence, for a multitude of reasons, clouds the situation instead of giving clarity. The practical reality in science is this: not every data point supports your hypotheses or their theoretical construct. Scientists understand that problem.

But this is what met Mr. Stephens on Twitter after his column was published. And lets start with our nation’s future ‘Chief  of Sanctioned Thoughts,’ Nate Silver:

The Daily Wire’s, Ben Shapiro, knocks Mr. Silver down a notch with this excellent critique of Silver’s criticism of Stephens (here). Suffice it to say, talented data analysts (like Mr. Silver) can have ideological blind spots too — making even more ominous Mr. Silver’s soul-chilling support for a data analytic Star Chamber to review and approve all op-ed data references before the opinion pieces can be published. If that isn’t a dog whistle that will send most Republicans into a rage about leftist fascism, nothing will.

However, it is with the scientific community that I find the reaction to Mr. Stephens most disturbing. Climatologist Michael Mann’s tweet pretty much represents the bulk opinion in that community:

While in another tweet accusing Mr. Stephens of setting up a ‘straw man’ argument to challenge climate change orthodoxy, Dr. Mann returns the favor with his own ‘straw man’ argument suggesting Stephens is a ‘denier” (the new scarlet letter). He must not have read Stephens’ piece which emphatically says about his article, “None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences.”

What does the man have to say to convince you he believes in global warming?

If the climate change ideologues wanted to prove Mr. Stephens correct, they couldn’t have done a better job.

I invite everyone to read Mr. Stephens’ piece on climate change. He is asking what every politician and citizen should ask before they commit trillions of dollars to an effort that may ultimately fail to reverse global warming.

Dr. Mann, as a scientist, tell us the probability that the planet, if we commit to all of your policy prescriptions, will be successful in reversing, or at least stopping, global warming? If you respond with anything over 50 percent, to quote someone you know, you are either (a) naive, (b) mendacious, or (c) both.

“But at least we tried,” won’t be a sufficient response to compensate the hundreds of millions of people kept or sent into poverty because the world failed in its costly experiment to proactively engineer the earth’s climate.

I haven’t cleared that last sentence with Nate Silver, yet.

The author can be reached at: kentkroeger3@gmail.com

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.