I recommend that anyone concerned about climate change and climate change policies read “False Alarm” by Bjorn Lomborg and “Apocalypse Never” by Michael Shellenberger. Both authors believe that climate change is a serious problem that needs to be addressed but they persuasively argue that current policies need to be change else the proposed cures will be worse than the impacts of climate change. Their arguments eviscerate the rationale and proposed plans for New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).
I am a retired electric utility meteorologist with nearly 40-years-experience analyzing the effects of meteorology on electric operations. I believe that gives me a relatively unique background to consider the potential quantitative effects of energy policies based on doing something about climate change. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
My biggest concern with the CLCPA is that I am convinced that the general public has no idea what is going on with these energy policies and the possible ramifications. Moreover, I do not believe that the CLCPA implementation process includes sufficient provisions for the general public to find out what this law will mean to them until it is too late to prevent the inevitable higher costs of energy. Furthermore, these two books demonstrate that the CLCPA will not provide global environmental benefits that out-weigh the costs to society and impacts to the environment.
According to his web page Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is “president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School. The Copenhagen Consensus Center is a think-tank that researches the smartest ways to do good. For this work, Lomborg was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.“
His latest book is entitled “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet”. The book is meticulously documented: the text itself is 222 pages but there are 24 pages of notes and the bibliography has 44 pages. It relies on work done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that is the technical basis for much of the CLCPA. It was published by Basic Books, New York, NY in 2020, ISBN 978-1-5416-4746-6. The book description states:
Hurricanes batter our coasts. Wildfires rage across the American West. Glaciers collapse in the Artic. Politicians, activists, and the media espouse a common message: climate change is destroying the planet, and we must take drastic action immediately to stop it. Children panic about their future, and adults wonder if it is even ethical to bring new life into the world.
Enough, argues bestselling author Bjorn Lomborg. Climate change is real, but it’s not the apocalyptic threat that we’ve been told it is. Projections of Earth’s imminent demise are based on bad science and even worse economics. In panic, world leaders have committed to wildly expensive but largely ineffective policies that hamper growth and crowd out more pressing investments in human capital, from immunization to education.
False Alarm will convince you that everything you think about climate change is wrong — and points the way toward making the world a vastly better, if slightly warmer, place for us all.
The Introduction concludes:
In this book, we will start by examining the culture of fear created around climate change. Next, we will ask, what does the science actually tell us to expect? What is the cost of rising temperatures? After that we will look at what’s wrong with today’s approach. How is it that climate change is at the forefront of our minds, yet we are failing to solve it? Finally, we will explore how we could actually solve climate change. What policies need to be prioritized in order to rein in temperature rises and leave the planet in the best shape possible for our grandchildren?
We have it within our power to make a better world. But first, we need to calm down.
According to the web page for Environmental Progress, Michael Shellenberger is “a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award winner, and the founder and president of Environmental Progress.” He has been called “a “environmental guru,” “climate guru,” “North America’s leading public intellectual on clean energy,” and “high priest” of the environmental humanist movement for his writings and TED talks, which have been viewed over five million times.”
His latest book is titled “Apocalypse Never – Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All”. This book too is meticulously documented: the text itself is 285 pages but there are 105 pages of notes and references. It was published by HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY in 2020, ISBN 9780063001695. The book description states:
Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions.
But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.
Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas.
Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. Those who raise the alarm about food shortages oppose the expansion of fertilizer, irrigation, and tractors in poor nations. Those who raise the alarm about deforestation oppose concentrating agriculture. And those who raise the alarm about climate change oppose the two technologies that have most reduced emissions, natural gas and nuclear.
What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.
Imminent and Inevitable Catastrophe
I get frustrated by the never-ending media message that climate change is destroying the planet and will kill us all. Both authors address this message head on. Both authors believe that “global warming is mostly caused by humans” and that it needs to be addressed. However, both disagree with the “scare the pants off the public” approach.
Lomborg shows that the media, politicians and activists that hype climate catastrophe are picking and choosing results that support that narrative but do not reflect the whole story. Then he goes on to demonstrate that “in almost every way we can measure, life on earth is better now than at any time in history” and explains that “analysis by experts shows that we are likely to become much, much better off in the future”. He shows that we are committing to try to solve climate change with policies that he demonstrates will not make much of a difference but will cost a lot and not do much to change global warming. Moreover, “Our extraordinary focus on climate also means we have less time, money and attention to spend on other problems” and lists a host of ways the time and money could be better spent.
Shellenberger has been an environmentalist for thirty years. He says he is motivated to “not only protect the natural environment but also the achieve the goal of universal prosperity for all people.” He also “cares about getting the facts and science right.” “Every fact, claim, and argument in this book is based on the best available science, including as assessed by the prestigious Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and other scientific bodies. The book explores “how and why so many of us came to see important but manageable problems as the end of the world”. Finally, he argues there is a moral case for secular and religious humanism “against the anti-humanism of apocalyptic environmentalism.”
Lomborg uses numbers to make his case while Shellenberger uses examples from his experiences as an environmentalist. Alarmists claim “The planet is experiencing a new wave of die-offs driven by factors such as habitat loss, the introduction of exotic invaders and rapid changes to our climate” and Shellenberger devotes an entire chapter to the issue. He provides documentation that modeling used to make these claims “don’t match observations”. He shows that the International Union for Conservation of Nature exaggerates extinction claims. Importantly he describes the problem of habitat loss and Congo’s silverback gorillas. Because most of the cooking needs of Congo are met by burning wood and charcoal there is tremendous pressure on the forests leading to habitat loss for the gorillas and other endangered species. He concludes that “for people to stop using wood and charcoal as fuel, they will need access to liquified petroleum gas, LPG. which is made from oil and cheap electricity.”
Both authors agree that greater prosperity for the world’s poorest in not only the moral thing to do but will also have wildlife conservation and other environmental benefits that out-weigh the negative effects of climate change caused by increasing emissions in the poorest countries. Moreover, they point out that these benefits will accrue sooner than the negative effects will occur and that a richer society is better able to adapt to any negative effects.
Lomborg argues that a better way forward would be to evaluate climate policy in terms of costs and benefits. He shows how different policy options can be optimized to pick the best strategy to balance costs and benefits. He concludes that policies that set moderate goals have lower effects on the global economy that can compensate for the slightly bigger impacts of climate change. Importantly this approach shows what we should not do: “We should not try to eliminate almost all carbon dioxide emissions in just a few short years” because “If we try to do this the costs could escalate out of hand”.
Lomborg makes a couple of other recommendations for going forward. He argues that the best way to combat negative effects of climate change is to invest in green innovation: “We should be innovating tomorrow’s technologies rather than erecting today’s inefficient turbines and solar panels”. In the meantime, he advocates for more nuclear energy. He also points out that spending on adaptation will provide more benefits, much faster than investments in today’s renewable energy systems could possibly reduce impacts.
Shellenberger evaluates the current war on nuclear and natural gas fracking by the environmental alarmists. He includes several examples of the hypocrisy of the loudest voices when it comes to the most obvious solutions. His evaluation of concentrated power provided by nuclear and natural gas compared to the dilute energy provided by wind and solar shows that they are obvious choices while we develop better fossil-free alternatives.
In my opinion, both authors are on the same page about a better path going forward. They agree that a wind and solar future will not work and will have bigger negative environmental impact than climate change’s impact. They both endorse nuclear energy and putting a greater emphasis on research and development.
Anyone who reads these books and looks at NY’s climate agenda should be alarmed. We are going down the exact path that both authors show will cost enormous sums of money, hurt more of the world’s poor than help, and will have no effect on global warming itself. Critics have to address the fact that both authors documented their work actually referencing the IPCC science reports and not the summaries provided for policy makers that do not always reflect those documents.
One final note. Both authors base their belief that “global warming is mostly caused by humans” on the results of modeling done by the IPCC. I have enough experience with modeling that I believe those model results are at the lower end of the possibility scale. As a result, I think the potential for the negative climate effects they presume is very low. In other words, I think all their cost/benefit calculations showing benefits to not using solar and wind as the primary source of energy overestimate the costs of climate effects which makes their cost numbers much better.
 The ultimate problem with the modeling is that they cannot simulate clouds. In order to solve the physical equations in a global climate the world has to be divided up into a three-dimensional grid. The equations are calculated for each grid cell and repeated to generate a forecast. My particular problem is that the grid cell size needed in order to do these calculations are on the order of 100 km horizontally, the vertical height is often 1 km and they do the calculations every 30 minutes or so. As a result, the models cannot simulate clouds. Instead the climate modelers develop parameters to project the effect of global warming on clouds. That single parametrization is a big enough driver of climate that this model component alone could dominate the GCM projections. This uncertainty is well understood in climate science by those who have worked with these models. However, the problems with parameterization is not well understood and its ramifications on the policy decisions is poorly understood by most of those who advocate eliminating fossil fuel use.