One of the world’s top economists has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change. (Source: Inside Climate News here) Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
Stiglitz, a Columbia University economics professor and former World Bank chief economist, concludes that increasing global warming will have huge costs on society and that a fossil fuel-based system “is causing imminent, significant, and irreparable harm to the Youth Plaintiffs and Affected Children more generally.” He explains in a footnote that his analysis also examines impacts on “as-yet-unborn youth, the so-called future generations.”
But, he says, acting on climate change now—by imposing a carbon tax and cutting fossil fuel subsidies, among other steps—is still manageable and would have net-negative costs. He argues that if the government were to pursue clean energy sources and energy-smart technologies, “the net benefits of a policy change outweigh the net costs of such a policy change.”
“Defendants must act with all deliberate speed and immediately cease the subsidization of fossil fuels and any new fossil fuel projects, and implement policies to rapidly transition the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels,” Stiglitz writes. “This urgent action is not only feasible, the relief requested will benefit the economy.”
Stiglitz has been examining the economic impact of global warming for many years. He was a lead author of the 1995 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an authoritative assessment of climate science that won the IPCC the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with Al Gore.
The Stiglitz expert report submitted to the court is here.
An Example of Intentional Omissions
Since this is a legal proceeding, Stiglitz wrote a brief telling the plaintiffs’ side of the story. In a scientific investigation, parties would assert theories attempting to explain all of the evidence at hand. Legal theories have no such requirement to incorporate all the facts, but rather present conclusions informed by the evidence deemed strongest and most pertinent to one party’s interests.
While the Pope accuses us with the Sin of Emissions, we counter with the Sins of Omissions by him and his fellow activists.
Let’s consider the Stiglitz brief according to the three suppositions comprising the Climatist (Activists and Alarmists) position. Climate change is a bundle that depends on all three assertions to be true.
Supposition 1: Humans make the climate warmer.
As an economist, Stiglitz defers to the IPCC on this scientific point, with references to reports by those deeply involved and committed to Paris Accord and other UN climate programs. In the recent California District Court case (Cities suing Big Oil companies), both sides in a similar vein stipulated their acceptance of IPCC reports as authoritative regarding global warming/climate change.
Skeptical observers must attend to the nuances of what is referenced and what is hidden or omitted in these testimonies. For example, Chevron’s attorney noted that IPCC’s reports express various opinions over time as to human influence on the climate. They noted that even today, the expected temperature effect from doubling CO2 ranges widely from 1.5C to 4.5C. No mention is made that several more recent estimates from empirical data (rather than GCMs) are at the low end or lower.
In addition, there is no mention that GCMs projections are running about twice as hot as observations. Omitted is the fact GCMs correctly replicate tropospheric temperature observations only when CO2 warming is turned off. In the effort to proclaim scientific certainty, neither Stiglitz nor IPCC discuss the lack of warming since the 1998 El Nino, despite two additional El Ninos in 2010 and 2016.
Further they exclude comparisons between fossil fuel consumption and temperature changes. The legal methodology for discerning causation regarding work environments or medicine side effects insists that the correlation be strong and consistent over time, and there be no confounding additional factors. As long as there is another equally or more likely explanation for a set of facts, the claimed causation is unproven. Such is the null hypothesis in legal terms: Things happen for many reasons unless you can prove one reason is dominant.
Finally, Stiglitz and IPCC are picking on the wrong molecule. The climate is controlled not by CO2 but by H20. Oceans make climate through the massive movement of energy involved in water’s phase changes from solid to liquid to gas and back again. From those heat transfers come all that we call weather and climate: Clouds, Snow, Rain, Winds, and Storms.
Esteemed climate scientist Richard Lindzen ended a very fine recent presentation with this description of the climate system:
I haven’t spent much time on the details of the science, but there is one thing that should spark skepticism in any intelligent reader. The system we are looking at consists in two turbulent fluids interacting with each other. They are on a rotating planet that is differentially heated by the sun. A vital constituent of the atmospheric component is water in the liquid, solid and vapor phases, and the changes in phase have vast energetic ramifications. The energy budget of this system involves the absorption and reemission of about 200 watts per square meter. Doubling CO2 involves a 2% perturbation to this budget. So do minor changes in clouds and other features, and such changes are common. In this complex multifactor system, what is the likelihood of the climate (which, itself, consists in many variables and not just globally averaged temperature anomaly) is controlled by this 2% perturbation in a single variable? Believing this is pretty close to believing in magic. Instead, you are told that it is believing in ‘science.’ Such a claim should be a tip-off that something is amiss. After all, science is a mode of inquiry rather than a belief structure.
Supposition 2: The Warming is Dangerous
Billions of dollars have been spent researching any and all negative effects from a warming world: Everything from Acne to Zika virus. Stiglitz links to a recent Climate Report that repeats the usual litany of calamities to be feared and avoided by submitting to IPCC demands. The evidence does not support these claims.
Stiglitz: It is scientifically established that human activities produce GHG emissions, which accumulate in the atmosphere and the oceans, resulting in warming of Earth’s surface and the oceans, acidification of the oceans, increased variability of climate, with a higher incidence of extreme weather events, and other changes in the climate.
Moreover, leading experts believe that there is already more than enough excess heat in the climate system to do severe damage and that 2C of warming would have very significant adverse effects, including resulting in multi-meter sea level rise.
Experts have observed an increased incidence of climate-related extreme weather events, including increased frequency and intensity of extreme heat and heavy precipitation events and more severe droughts and associated heatwaves. Experts have also observed an increased incidence of large forest fires; and reduced snowpack affecting water resources in the western U.S. The most recent National Climate Assessment projects these climate impacts will continue to worsen in the future as global temperatures increase.
Alarming Weather and Wildfires
But: Weather is not more extreme.
And Wildfires were worse in the past.
But: Sea Level Rise is not accelerating.
Litany of Changes
Seven of the ten hottest years on record have occurred within the last decade; wildfires are at an all-time high, while Arctic Sea ice is rapidly diminishing.
We are seeing one-in-a-thousand-year floods with astonishing frequency.
When it rains really hard, it’s harder than ever.
We’re seeing glaciers melting, sea level rising.
The length and the intensity of heatwaves has gone up dramatically.
Plants and trees are flowering earlier in the year. Birds are moving polewards.
We’re seeing more intense storms.
But: Arctic Ice has not declined since 2007.
But: All of these are within the range of past variability.
In fact our climate is remarkably stable.
And many aspects follow quasi-60 year cycles.
Climate is Changing the Weather
Stiglitz: Other potential examples include agricultural losses. Whether or not insurance
reimburses farmers for their crops, there can be food shortages that lead to higher food
prices (that will be borne by consumers, that is, Youth Plaintiffs and Affected Children).
There is a further risk that as our climate and land use pattern changes, disease vectors
may also move (e.g., diseases formerly only in tropical climates move northward).36 This
could lead to material increases in public health costs
But: Actual climate zones are local and regional in scope, and they show little boundary change.
But: Ice cores show that it was warmer in the past, not due to humans.
Supposition 3: Government Can Stop it!
Here it is blithely assumed that the court can rule the seas to stop rising, heat waves to cease, and Arctic ice to grow (though why we would want that is debatable). All this will be achieved by leaving fossil fuels in the ground and powering civilization with windmills and solar panels. While admitting that our way of life depends on fossil fuels, they ignore the inadequacy of renewable energy sources at their present immaturity.
The choice between incurring manageable costs now and the incalculable, perhaps even
irreparable, burden Youth Plaintiffs and Affected Children will face if Defendants fail to
rapidly transition to a non-fossil fuel economy is clear. While the full costs of the climate damages that would result from maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy may be
incalculable, there is already ample evidence concerning the lower bound of such costs,
and with these minimum estimates, it is already clear that the cost of transitioning to a
low/no carbon economy are far less than the benefits of such a transition. No rational
calculus could come to an alternative conclusion. Defendants must act with all deliberate
speed and immediately cease the subsidization of fossil fuels and any new fossil fuel
projects, and implement policies to rapidly transition the U.S. economy away from fossil
But CO2 relation to Temperature is Inconsistent.
But: The planet is greener because of rising CO2.
But: Modern nations (G20) depend on fossil fuels for nearly 90% of their energy.
But: Renewables are not ready for prime time.
People need to know that adding renewables to an electrical grid presents both technical and economic challenges. Experience shows that adding intermittent power more than 10% of the baseload makes precarious the reliability of the supply. South Australia is demonstrating this with a series of blackouts when the grid cannot be balanced. Germany got to a higher % by dumping its excess renewable generation onto neighboring countries until the EU finally woke up and stopped them. Texas got up to 29% by dumping onto neighboring states, and some like Georgia are having problems.
But more dangerous is the way renewables destroy the economics of electrical power. Seasoned energy analyst Gail Tverberg writes:
In fact, I have come to the rather astounding conclusion that even if wind turbines and solar PV could be built at zero cost, it would not make sense to continue to add them to the electric grid in the absence of very much better and cheaper electricity storage than we have today. There are too many costs outside building the devices themselves. It is these secondary costs that are problematic. Also, the presence of intermittent electricity disrupts competitive prices, leading to electricity prices that are far too low for other electricity providers, including those providing electricity using nuclear or natural gas. The tiny contribution of wind and solar to grid electricity cannot make up for the loss of more traditional electricity sources due to low prices.
These issues are discussed in more detail in the post Climateers Tilting at Windmills
Footnote regarding mention of “multi-meter” sea level rise. It is all done with computer models. For example, below is San Francisco. More at USCS Warnings of Coastal Floodings