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  • An extremely diminishing effect …

    Posted by Ken on December 5, 2020 at 20:07

    Every time I dig in to the arguments made by Alex Epstein in his Moral Case for Fossil Fuels I find there is less to his arguments than he claims. For example, on the topic of climate change, he says that the warming due to CO₂ is an “extremely diminishing effect” and shows the first figure below. To justify this he cites Myhre, but if you read Myhre’s paper there is nothing in there about it being an extremely diminishing effect. Digging deeper you find that Epstein extended Myhre’s model well outside its published range (second figure) while ignoring a singularity at zero to make the claim. Epstein makes no comment about his abuse of Myhre’s work, and yet he claims that other people are being dishonest about the effect of CO₂ on climate.

    Also on climate change he says that 200 models all predict substantial temperature increases. He then claims that “Few deny that during the last fifteen-plus years, the time of record and accelerating emissions, there has been little to no warming—and the models failed to predict that.” But a quick visit to climate.nasa.gov shows that during those 15 years there was 0.3°C rise in temperature that was in line with what the models predicted, and that in the 5 years since the book was published the rate of increase has gone up, as predicted by the models. Furthermore, you find that the graph of ‘actual temperatures’ presented by Epstein that seemingly come from NASA do not actually agree with the data on NASA’s website.

    Finally, there is a bizarre comment in the “Fertilizer Effect” where he says: “We would prefer the thousands of ppm CO₂ that, say, the Cretaceous period had.” He is speaking only about CO₂ effect on plant growth here, but the statement is kind of a chilling once you realize that the earth was on average 6°C warmer then and that the oceans were experiencing thermal stratification that led to an anoxic extinction event.

    All of this, along with the emotional nature of may of his arguments, causes me to dismiss his conclusions. I thought anybody else that is reading this book should be aware of these issues.

    Ken replied 1 year, 8 months ago 2 Members · 2 Replies
  • 2 Replies
  • Peter

    December 6, 2020 at 07:32

    You make some good points here Ken.

    I also read Alex Epstein’s book with great interest.

    In case not seen this is a short summary of the book’s argument that I posted on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/TheAustrian3/status/1333182793203986433?s=20

    Here are some further thoughts on The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels:

    I agree with Alex’s philosophical approach to assessing the ethics of energy production.

    We need to think about the problem of energy from the standpoint of human flourishing, and weigh any benefits of CO2 reduction against the huge opportunity costs associated with that action.

    There is a trade-off to be made if we are to transition to using only wind and solar. There is no “economic opportunity” that can result from reducing fossil fuel use. It may, however, be a very painful thing we need to do because of the drastic negative side effects.

    It is also important to acknowledge the inherent hostility of the natural environment to human life and the contribution fossil fuels make to our protection from it.

    Having said that, I do have reservations about the scientific basis for claiming that climate change won’t be that bad (or that it might even be positive).

    I actually emailed Alex with some questions after the Nov 30th seminar with Saifedean.

    Here is an extract from that email summarising my main reservations…

    Whilst I’m sympathetic to your book’s arguments, I am hesitant to conclude that nothing needs to be done to limit CO2 emissions.

    My main objection is the following:

    CO2 levels in the atmosphere are currently the highest they have been in 800,000 years, and have risen at an unprecedented rate.

    The earth is a complex system and, as your book’s critique of climate models shows, we don’t fully understand how the climate works.

    An argument that Nassim Taleb makes about complex systems (see: https://www.thendobetter.com/investing/2017/9/18/nassim-taleb-climate-change-risk) is that, because we don’t understand them, we shouldn’t alter their parameters too much.

    Radically altering a key parameter like CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere could give rise to relatively sudden and unpredictable effects, and we don’t have another planet if things go wrong.

    Taleb argues we should act in accordance with the precautionary principle and not increase CO2 too much. Given the enormity of what is at stake, he says the burden of proof is on those who say climate change will not be catastrophic, rather than the other way round.

    Moreover (and this relates to my question during Monday’s seminar) although your book does examine climate models, I think a case can be made that they have actually stood up reasonably well over time.

    The Hansen model you referenced as a key example of a falsified model isn’t actually that far off where we are now (the gap has closed somewhat since your book was written).

    Furthermore, the model was created in 1988 before the Montreal Protocol came into effect, which radically reduced CFC emissions, putting downward pressure on the Hansen curve (this is an argument made by The Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jun/25/30-years-later-deniers-are-still-lying-about-hansens-amazing-global-warming-prediction).

    Given the above, it seems reasonable to take climate models seriously, even if they’re not spot on.

    If something close to what they predict transpires, we would see a rise of several degrees Celsius over the coming decades.

    Whilst one or two degrees divergence could conceivably be okay (or even a benefit to mankind), a strong case can be made that such a large temperature increase takes humans into unchartered territory, with potentially catastrophic consequences. These consequences could hit us more quickly than we could adapt.<i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”>”

  • Ken

    December 6, 2020 at 20:45

    Wow, that is a great set of questions. Please post his response if you receive one.

    I really liked your question during the seminar/podcast. You asked about his reaction to the fact that temperature data in recent years seems to be supporting the Hanson model. His response was long winded, much of which did not directly relate to your question, but in the end he said that he does not have a problem with the moderate models because we can live with the result. Later on he estimates that there will be 30″ of sea level rise. However, the estimate for the number of people displaced by that level of sea rise is 230M. So that is a real human cost. There will also be substantial economic costs. I wish he would tell us the benefits that we can expect to offset these costs and why we won’t receive those same benefits by switching to cleaner energy technologies for which we may not be forced to pay costs associated with climate change.