Climatologist Dr. Judith Curry: ‘The climate is going to change independent of what we do with emissions’ – ‘Thinking that we can control the climate is misguided hubris’
Curry: We had the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at that point, they’re trying to get a big treaty going. And so defenders of the IPCC started pushing the idea that anybody who doubts us or challenges us, they are in the pay of big oil. After that, it became much more difficult to really challenge all that. And certainly by the turn of the century, anybody who was questioning the hockey stick or any of these other things were slammed as deniers and ostracized. And then after Climategate in 2010, the consensus enforcers became very militant. So it’s a combination of politics, and some mediocre scientists trying to protect their careers. And, they saw this whole thing as a way for career advancement, and it gives them a seat at the big table and political power. …
All this reinforces pretty shoddy science and overconfidence in their expert judgment, which comprises the IPCC assessment reports. And then at some point you start to get second order belief. I mean, it’s such a big, complex problem. Individual scientists only look at a piece of it, and then they start accepting what the consensus says on the other topics. A scientist working on some aspect of the climate problem may know very little about carbon dioxide, the carbon budget, radiative transfer, all that fundamental science, but they will accept the climate consensus because it’s easy and good for their career. And so it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And now we have way too much confidence in some very dubious climate models and inadequate data sets. And we’re not really framing the problem broadly enough to really understand what’s going on with the climate and to make credible projections about the range of things that we could possibly see in the 21st century. …
Sea level rise operates on very long timescales. And the manmade warming that we’ve seen so far, I don’t think is really contributing much to the sea level rise that we’ve observed so far. I mean, that’s just a much longer term processes. And even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, the sea level rise would keep rising. So, the climate system is way more complex than just something that you can tune, with a CO2 control knob. That just isn’t how it works. …
Climate models aren’t fit for any of those purposes …
When you start talking about 21st century, the only thing they’re looking at is the manmade human emissions forcing, they’re not predicting solar variability.
They’re not not predicting volcanic eruptions. They can’t even predict the timing of these multidecadal to millennial ocean oscillation. So all they’re looking at is this one little piece. Okay. So, what are you supposed to do with all that? Not sure we know much more than the sign of the change from more CO2 in the atmosphere, which is more warming. …
All of these targets and promises about energy are just so much hot air, if you will, sound and fury. We don’t have solutions and nobody’s meeting their targets. I mean, all they do is go to these meetings, make more and more stringent commitments that everyone knows aren’t going to be met. …
And the other thing, while we’re trying to make energy cleaner, we’re basically sacrificing grid electricity for many parts of Africa and we’re inhibiting their development. How does that help human development and human wellbeing? It makes no sense. …
Because I wasn’t actively advocating with the greens and I was critical of the behavior of some of the scientists involved in the climate gate episode. I got booted over to the denier side. …
by Judith Curry
My recent interview on the Strong and Free podcast.
I recently did an interview with Christopher Balkaran on his Strong and Free podcast [link]
While I wasn’t previously aware of Balkaran or his podcast, you can see why I agreed to this interview, from these excerpts from the ‘About’ page:
“I created the Strong and Free Podcast to explore news topics by gathering multiple perspectives together and allowing people and organizations to discuss their opinions with detail. This allows for a nuanced conversation. It also means putting aside my own bias to explore these to the fullest. It means making all guests feel welcomed to share their opinions safely, without fear that the host will paint them into a corner, or make them sound incoherent. I want this place to be truly safe. I believe everyone, even those I disagree with, deserve to be treated with respect and to be on the Podcast to share their perspective. It also means having a concrete discussion on issues and determining the best way forward. As long as we restore thoughtful approaches to the biggest issues of our time our conversations will have deep, valuable meaning. And, we enrich our own opinion.”
We covered a lot of topics that I think will provide good fodder for discussion and debate here.
Here is a transcript of the interview (quicker to read than to listen to the hour long podcast). I edited the transcript eliminate thousands of ‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘okay’ (I am really a much better writer than speaker). I also edited to increase overall coherency of what was said.
Welcome to the Strong and Free podcast where my goal is to showcase multiple perspectives on the topics and ideas of our time, regardless of your politics and views, you will find a home here because I simply have no agenda to push. My name is Christopher Balkaran and let’s start the conversation.
Christopher Balkaran: So I wanted to pose this question to you, even though I know you can’t reply because this is a podcast. But how often have you heard from scientists who are respected in their field that have openly questioned and been critical of the findings and the climate modeling put forward by the intergovernmental panel for climate change? I know I haven’t, and I know the majority of us probably haven’t. So I want to just sit down with professor Judith Curry. Professor Curry has been openly critical of the intergovernmental panel for climate change. Professor Curry openly accepts that climate change is real and it is happening, but the topic is so, so complex. And so determining what governments need to do is also complex.
But so often today we hear about these very simple slogans and solutions to climate change, you know, just to accept the science and provide a rebuttal or to meet these, these lofty targets at a global scale, which is so challenging because every country, every region has differentt issues, but getting countries around the world to all agree on common goals, is very, very challenging. So I wanted to sit down with Professor Curry to understand a little bit more about why the climate modeling that has been put forward by the IPCC is flawed y. And also what professor Curry would do if she were in power in terms of what policies should be pursued. I hope we can continue having these conversations with multiple perspectives on climate change.
Judith Curry: My pleasure. Thanks for the invite.
Christopher Balkaran: You are so well known in the climate change and climatology space. But before we get into that, I want to know a little bit more from you about what drew you to this space .
Judith Curry: Okay. I guess it goes back to fifth grade. I was in a little academically talented group that was selected for broader exposure to things, beyond the normal curriculum. And this geologist came to talk to us and I was fascinated. So I really started liking that. When considering majors in college, in the seventies geology was really too qualitative of a field. So I wanted to combine this with physics. And then at the university where I was, there was a program in meteorology, which had the sameconnection to the natural world, but seemed more physically based at least at the time. And then I continued on for my PhD at University of Chicago in the department of geophysical sciences. And this was late seventies, early eighties. My PhD thesis was on the the role of radiative transfer in Arctic weather. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of manmade climate change at that point. But understanding the processes in the Arctic atmosphere and sea ice became a pretty important factor as global warming ramped up. And so, I still have my foot in what I would call the weather field, but I also do climate dynamics in the Arctic, but also more broadly at this point.
Christopher Balkaran: And how was the conversation on climate change in the seventies and eighties? Definitely we’ll talk a little bit more about what it is today, but what were some of the major issues that climatology and environmental sciences?
Judith Curry: Climate change wasn’t a really big issue at that point. At the time, it was all about geophysical fluid dynamics, trying to understand the circulations of atmosphere and the ocean, tradiative transfer, cloud physics. It was, it was very physics based. I would hear in the media about people talking about, Oh, the ice age is coming , or doom and gloom from CO2 emissions, but nobody was really paying attention to all that very much in terms of what I would say the mainstream field until the late 1980s, really. There were some very rambunctious people who were talking about this publicly and painting alarming scenarios on both sides, the cold and the warm side, and most people that I knew and where I was, nobody was really paying much attention to all that.
Christopher Balkaran: It’s so fascinating that you say that because you know, me being a kid of the nineties watching Captain Planet and other cartoons at a young age, all I heard of, on a much smaller scale was how important the environment is. It’s taken over so many, so many spheres of our discourse. But in the late eighties, you start seeing this kind of discussion on climate change. What do you think are, were some of the underpinnings that guided both sides, was kind of this kind of protest towards big oil or capitalism more broadly?
Judith Curry: Well, a lot of it comes from the UN Environmental Program. At the time, there was a push towards world government, socialistic kind of leanings, don’t like capitalism and big oil. A lot of it really comes from that kind of thinking. And the UNEP was one of the sponsoring organizations for the IPCC. And so that really engaged more climate scientists and really brought it more into the mainstream. But in the early days, a lot of scientists didn’t like this at all, they didn’t think that we should be going in this direction. And this was even the World Climate Research program and the World Meteorological Organization, they didn’t want to get involved in man-made climate change under the auspices of the IPCC.
They said, this is just a whole political thing. This is not what we do. We seek to understand all the processes and climate dynamics, we don’t want to go there. And that was really a pretty strong attitude, through, I would say the mid nineties, say 1995. We had the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at that point, they’re trying to get a big treaty going. And so defenders of the IPCC started pushing the idea that anybody who doubts us or challenges us, they are in the pay of big oil. After that, it became much more difficult to really challenge all that. And certainly by the turn of the century, anybody who was questioning the hockey stick or any of these other things were slammed as deniers and ostracized. And then after Climategate in 2010, the consensus enforcers became very militant. So it’s a combination of politics, and some mediocre scientists trying to protect their careers. And, they saw this whole thing as a way for career advancement, and it gives them a seat at the big table and political power.
All this reinforces pretty shoddy science and overconfidence in their expert judgment, which comprises the IPCC assessment reports. And then at some point you start to get second order belief. I mean, it’s such a big, complex problem. Individual scientists only look at a piece of it, and then they start accepting what the consensus says on the other topics. A scientist working on some aspect of the climate problem may know very little about carbon dioxide, the carbon budget, radiative transfer, all that fundamental science, but they will accept the climate consensus because it’s easy and good for their career. And so it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And now we have way too much confidence in some very dubious climate models and inadequate data sets. And we’re not really framing the problem broadly enough to really understand what’s going on with the climate and to make credible projections about the range of things that we could possibly see in the 21st century.
Christopher Balkaran: Just as a student who is always looking at reports to understand a little bit more about topics, we have Statistics Canada. So always reading stats can reports on different segments of the population and how they’re dealing with certain government interventions, whatever they may be. In October, I did a series on abortion in Canada and looking at the statistics behind abortion, and I had this kind of recurring thought about climate change. And that was if I’m a scientist and I want to fully study climate change in a specific way, I’m dependent in some part, perhaps a large part on government funding. And if government is politicized in saying climate change is happening and it’s human caused or, or whatever the case is, if my research doesn’t align with that, I can see my research being defunded. And then I think, well, if the public is only seeing the research that government is funding or being a big a big contributor to the funding, It’s not really unbiased research.
Judith Curry: Well, it’s worse than that because the government funding is not that they just re reject those kinds of proposals. They make it hard for you to even submit them because their announcement of opportunity for proposals already implicitly or explicitly assume this, and they are soliciting proposals on impacts of manmade, global warming, regional impacts on whatever. So there’s already either an implicit or explicit assumptions about all this. As a result, it’s really the independent scientists, retired people, people in the private sector, independently wealthy people who are doing this work.
Christopher Balkaran: Professor from your experience, what do you think has been some of the major causes for this shift in how we understand climate change, especially given how recent relatively it is and why do you believe it’s so politicized.
Judith Curry: Well, there is almost certainly a signal of manmade emissions the earth climate. All other things being equal, it’s warmer than it would otherwise be. The real issue is the magnitude of man-made warming relative to the whole host of other things that go on in the natural climate system. And then the bigger issue is really whether this warming is dangerous. You know, a certain amount of warming is generally regarded by people as a good thing. But a whole lot of warming, isn’t especially a good thing, especially if it’s melting ice sheets and causing sea level rise.
Sea level rise operates on very long timescales. And the manmade warming that we’ve seen so far, I don’t think is really contributing much to the sea level rise that we’ve observed so far. I mean, that’s just a much longer term processes. And even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, the sea level rise would keep rising. So, the climate system is way more complex than just something that you can tune, with a CO2 control knob. That just isn’t how it works.
Christopher Balkaran: And that’s exactly what I want to chat with you about because you’ve been quite skeptical of climate change modeling. For those on the outside, looking in, it’s extremely challenging for anyone to be that familiar or, have a good command of the science. A common theme I hear from my friends is I just accept the science when it comes to climate change. Can you explain to me why, first of all, so let’s be clear that climate change modeling is very complex. And then why are you skeptical of current climate change modeling, and why am I the only one that feels that there’s just not enough skepticism of climate change modeling and there’s just blind acceptance sometimes of what we’re being told.
Judith Curry: Okay. The climate models originated from weather forecast models, and then they added an ocean then land surface biosphere, and then chemical processes, and now ice sheets. They keep adding all these modules and increasing complexity of the models, but the basic dynamics are driven by the same kind of models that model the weather. We’ve learned a lot from climate models, by running experiments, turning things off, turning things on adjusting parameters, taking clouds out, taking sea ice out, holding the sea surface temperature constant in the tropical central Pacific and see what happens, you know, we learn how the climate works by using climate models in that way. However, the most consequential applications of climate models are to tell us what caused the 20th century climate change, how much the climate change is going to change in the 21st century and what’s causing extreme weather events.
I mean, those are the more consequential applications and climate models aren’t fit for any of those purposes. And that’s pretty much acknowledged even in the IPCC report. Well, they, they do claim that they can attribute the global warming, but this can’t be easily separated from the natural variability associated with large-scale ocean circulations. And the way they’ve used climate models to do that involves circular reasoning, where they throw out climate simulations that really don’t match what was observed. So you, you end up, even if you’re not explicitly tuning to the climate record, you’re implicitly tuning. And then the thing with extreme events, weather events is beyond silly because these climate models can’t resolve the extreme events and they can’t simulate the ocean circulation patterns that really determine the locations of these extreme events. And then when you start talking about 21st century, the only thing they’re looking at is the manmade human emissions forcing, they’re not predicting solar variability.
They’re not not predicting volcanic eruptions. They can’t even predict the timing of these multidecadal to millennial ocean oscillation. So all they’re looking at is this one little piece. Okay. So, what are you supposed to do with all that? Not sure we know much more than the sign of the change from more CO2 in the atmosphere, which is more warming. And then there’s another thing. The most recent round of global climate model simulations, the so-called CMIP5 for the IPCC 6th assessment report. All of a sudden the sensitivity to CO2 the range has substantially increased in a lot of the models, way outside the bounds on the high side of what we thought was plausible, even five years ago. So what are we to make of that? And how did that happen? Well, it, it’s a, it’s a rather arcane issue related to how clouds cloud particles interact with aerosol particles.
By adding some extra degrees of freedom into the model related to clouds, then it becomes all of a sudden way more sensitive to increases in CO2. What are we supposed to make of that? I mean, we do not have a convergent situation with these climate models. And this is not mention that the 21st century projections from the climate models, don’t include solar variations. They don’t include volcanoes or the ocean circulation, all of these things that they don’t include. So what are we left with? And then there are these precise targets, such as we will exceed our carbon budget in 2038. This is way too much precision that is derived from these very inadequate climate models.
Christopher Balkaran: Everything that you said professor makes so much sense, and I can’t understand how results from the climate models can totally shift the politics of almost every nation in the world including Canada here. Every single major political party has an entire section in their policy platform about climate change and what their government would do to fight it. That wasn’t always the case and routinely political parties were challenged for not doing enough. We need to have a healthy level of skepticism here.
Judith Curry: Well, first off, people are looking for simple problems with simple solutions, and they thought that climate change was a simple problem, sort of like the ozone hole. Stop emitting chloroflourocarbons – stop the ozone hole; stop emitting CO2 – stop the global warming. There’s no way we’re going to make progress on CO2 emissions until we come up with alternatives that are reliable, abundant, secure, economical, et cetera, Wind and solar, aren’t the answer. All other things being equal, everybody would prefer clean over dirty energy. That’s a no brainer, maybe a few coal companies prefer dirty, but everybody would prefer clean, clean energy, but they’re not willing to sacrifice those other things like cost and reliability.
So it just doesn’t make sense. All of these targets and promises about energy are just so much hot air, if you will, sound and fury. We don’t have solutions and nobody’s meeting their targets. I mean, all they do is go to these meetings, make more and more stringent commitments that everyone knows aren’t going to be met. And at the same time, we’re not dealing with the real problems that might be addressed. For example, water is a big issue, we either have too much or too little. Independent of man-made global warming, let let’s sort out our water supply systems and our flood management strategies. How, how do we prepare for droughts? Lets focus on the current problems that we have – food, water, and energy. Those are the three big ones.
And the other thing, while we’re trying to make energy cleaner, we’re basically sacrificing grid electricity for many parts of Africa and we’re inhibiting their development. How does that help human development and human wellbeing? It makes no sense. Even if we were successful, say stopping CO2 emissions by 2050 we might see a few tenths of a degree reduction in the warming by the end of the 21st century, how does that help us now?
What we should worry more about is our vulnerability to hurricanes and floods and wildfires, and all of these kinds of hazardous events that have happened since time immemorial. Whether or not they get a tiny bit worse over the course of the century is less important than really figuring out how to deal with them now. If we are concerned about reducing our vulnerability, all the money that we spend thinking we’re reducing CO2 emissions, it could be applied to these other problems, such as better managing water resources, decreasing our vulnerability to extreme weather events and so on. So there are many more sensible things that we could be doing.
It’s an opportunity cost – all of this focus on trying to reduce emissions with 20 century technologies distracts from addressing the fact that we need new technologies.
Christopher Balkaran: When you look at ancient societies, they dealt with the immediate needs and immediate concerns. And I think what I want to emphasize too, is we’re not saying governments aren’t doing this. I’m sure they are, but to the extent in which they can be doing them and making them a priority, as much as they’re making, you know, the Paris Accords, climate change targets.
Judith Curry: Actually people are doing a lot less of that than you think, because, you know, especially in the developing world, such as South Asia where they just get hammered with hurricane after flood, after whatever. Each one of these events sets them back a generation in terms of trying to get ahead – they lose all their livestock and seeds and, it sets them back enormously. Then we spend all our money trying to clean up the mess afterwards. Why not help them develop adequate grid electricity so they can develop economically and better protect themselves. Again, the problem is over simplifying the problem and the solution, and then tying this in with some broader political agendas, such as anti-capitalistm and world government. Many people have bought all this largely because they’ve been scared.
Christopher Balkaran: You know, professor, everything that you’ve said is very reasonable and, you know, most people they, those familiar with the scientific method would think, Oh, this makes a lot of sense. And yet in January, 2017, you leave academia because of their very poisonous nature on human caused global warming. And I know for a fact that there are so many people that share that this idea of they can’t even have a conversation anymore.
Judith Curry: I regard myself as sort of a centrist. I’m politically independent. I don’t have any allegiance to one side or the other. I understand the complexity of the problems, and I don’t really advocate for any solutions because I can’t think of any that I would want to advocate for that actually makes sense. You know, other than broadly talking about, we need to adapt no matter what, and if you want clean energy, you need to invest in better technologies. You’re not gonna get very far in preventing climate change by trying to massively deploy 20th century technologies. These are the kind of general statements that I’ve been making. But because I wasn’t actively advocating with the greens and I was critical of the behavior of some of the scientists involved in the climate gate episode. I got booted over to the denier side. And they tried to cancel me. I don’t have any allegiance to the extremes of either side of this, but the alarmists seem to be completely intolerant to disagreement and criticism.
There’s crazy people on both sides of the debate. There’s a range of credible perspectives that I try to consider. it’s a very complex problem and we don’t have the answers yet
Christopher Balkaran: And it’s fascinating to me that being in the center puts you at odds with academia and that you felt forced out almost because of the very poisonous nature. To me, it’s like the there’s an extremist view that has taken over academia and has taken over our discourse. I want to learn from you, how can we reverse this? And re-institute a healthy level of skepticism and saying, I don’t accept fully the IPCCs modeling because there are gaping holes in it and we should be able to talk and convey that message in a straightforward manner.
Judith Curry: Well, you know, I wish I knew. There’s a social contract between policy makers and the scientists, which sort of reinforces all this. I thought maybe that could be broken with president Trump, but a whole lot of other things got broken under president Trump, but not that one in particular. So, I don’t know what it would take. At some point we’re going to hit another slowdown in warming. And then maybe that will wake people up a little bit more. We just have to wait and see how the climate change actually plays out. We could be waiting 30 years, which is a long time during which a lot of stupid things can happen in the meantime.
Christopher Balkaran: I just want to quickly mention your blog Climate Etc, which is filled with articles. I had Andy West on, and he’s talked a lot about the cultural narrative that’s been built. But there was a really interesting quote that I found in one of your articles. You said “we’re breeding a generation of climate scientists who analyze climate model outputs, who come up with sexy conclusions and get published in Nature. Like we won’t be able to grow grapes for wine in California in 2100, that kind of stuff gets headlines. It gets grants. It feeds our reputation. It’s cheap, easy science. But t’s fundamentally not useful because it rests on inadequate climate models, especially when you’re trying to look at regional climate change. That is where the field is going. We’ve lost a generation of climate dynamism, and that’s what worries me greatly.”
Judith Curry: Okay. I call that climate model taxonomy, where you look at the outputs of climate models mostly regionally, and then over interpret them, relating the output to some really bad impact act. But it’s scientifically completely meaningless. First, the climate models don’t have any skill on regional spatial scales. And second, when climate scientists start making these linkages with wine growing or whatever, they forget a whole lot of other ancillary factors like land use and, all sorts of other things that can contribute to whatever they might be looking at. And it ends up with climate change being the dominant narrative for everything that’s going on. And that’s just simply not the case. With the over-reliance on climate models, climate dynamics is really becomes sort of a dying field.
You know, I was old school at the university of Chicago with geophysical fluid dynamics and all this really hard stuff. Okay. Now people do statistical analyses on climate model output, and we’ve lost our sense of understanding of how the atmosphere and the ocean interact to produce our climate. There’s very few universities that have good programs in climate dynamics at this point. And you don’t see a lot of students in those research groups, they rather do the sexier, easier climate model taxonomy studies. Climate dynamics is still there, but it’s far from dominant. I mean that you geophysical fluid dynamics, clmate dynamics that ruled in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and even into the nineties, but in the 21st century, we’ve seen that really become like a renascent subfield, with climate model taxonomy ruling the roost.
Christopher Balkaran: And that taxonomy captivates on the emotional level and allows us to override our ability to be rational and be able to say, let me be okay with being challenged on this. And my followup to that is if you’re president of a university, how do you make sure that climate dynamics is part of your environmental science bachelor’s degrees and master’s,
Judith Curry: Well, it’s so low on the totem pole of what people high in higher university administration worry about. I mean, you still have like meteorology undergraduates learn about atmospheric dynamics. There aren’t too many oceanography undergraduate programs, but when you go to graduate school in oceanography, you get a lot of fluid dynamics. But there are all these new degree programs spinning up in climate, that are far away from the geo-physical roots . These new programs combine policy with a little bit of science and economics and whatever. And then the science part of it basically gets minimized. And that’s where all the students are running to these environmental science, climate policy kinds of programs, leaving a talent dearth of people with the good mathematical physical mindset and wanting to enter into the more challenging fields. So, these more difficult fields are not especially thriving.
I mean, they don’t bring in the big bucks in terms of research centers and whatever. It’s hard to maintain them. A couple of years ago, I visited University of Chicago, my old Alma mater, and they still maintained their very strong focus on the dynamics. There was nobody there running climate models and doing this silly stuff, and they didn’t have a lot of students and they didn’t have hardly any funding, but they were carrying the torch and doing fantastic work. Unfortunately, that’s not where the that’s not where the center of mass is – its in these new climate policy degree programs or environmental studies kind of programs. As a result we’ve lost a lot of our infusion from physics. There, there still is an infusion from chemistry, more on the atmospheric chemistry. Part of this seems to be thriving, relatively relating to air quality and complex chemical reactions in the atmosphere. That seems to be thriving. But I would say the more physics based side of all this is really dwindling.
Christopher Balkaran: And that’s my worry. As someone whose parents are first-generation immigrants to Canada, education is number one priority. That’s why so many people from around the world come to North America for education. And if something as important as climatology is becoming politicized and politically motivated, I worry about that. We’re training the next set of leaders that are not solidly versed in atmospheric sciences to be briefing the government . And that should worry more Americans Canadians as well.
Judith Curry: Yeah. you know, people have said Trump is anti-science. I don’t think he’s anti-science, he just doesn’t pay attention to it. What he pays attention to is energy policy. This doesn’t necessarily make you anti-science it makes you ignoring science, so it’s different. So that’s what we’ve seen in the U.S. under the Trump administration. And then we have on the other side of the aisle, politicians say “I believe in science” and they don’t understand anything about it. They say they believe in it. It’s like they they’re believing in Santa Claus. it’s really a political and cultural signifier rather than any real understanding. So it’s just become so politicized, you know, how do you get around that? How do you get past that? I don’t know.
Christopher Balkaran: Can you talk about what the Obama administration got wrong in the eight years while they were in power? When it comes to climate change?
Judith Curry: Okay. Well, the first four years, Obama saw that climate change was a political tar baby, and so he pretty much ignored it and went on and tried to do other things where he thought he could be more successful. I think that was a good choice. He picked up on climate change in his second term, but he politicized it. John Holdren, his science advisor really politicized it. President Obama was tweeting about deniers and stuff like that. And on the White House web page, there was stuff about calling out the climate deniers, and it was very polarizing. I think a lot of the polarization that happened in the U S, really accelerated during Obama’s second term. Then you get whiplash with the Trump administration who, doesn’t care about climate change. He does care about energy policies, you know, he was on a completely different tangent.
Christopher Balkaran: So that’s fascinating. What I try to do is put the guests in the driver’s seat. If you were president of the United States what would you say would lead to effective climate policy knowing what you know. I wanted to ask you what you saw as effective climate policy and what parties should pursue.
Judith Curry: Well, first is reduced vulnerability to extreme weather events. Second is like clean up the real pollution, like air and water pollution, dirty stuff. You know, I don’t see any way to make coal clean. I mean, this whole thing about all fossil fuels are terrible. Some are much worse than others. Coal does so much damage to the environment, strip mining and coal ash and all this other kind of stuff, apart from CO2 emissions. Get rid of coal and acknowledge that we need natural gas, at least for awhile. And then focus on research and development for new energy technologies: next generation nuclear power, a 21st century transmission grid, etc.. The other thing is managing our water: too little, or too much. If you do these things, you’re going to improve human wellbeing, regardless of what the climate is doing.
Judith Curry: The climate is going to change independent of what we do with emissions. People think climate change equals the CO2 control knob. With that kind of thinking, we’re bound to be surprised by what happens with the 21st century climate. I won’t even hazard a guess as to whether something really crazy will happen, or whether it could be relatively benign. A lot of people are talking about a solar minimum in the mid to late 21st century that could very well happen and have a significant impact. We just don’t know. Thinking that we can control the climate is misguided hubris.
And we need to electrify Africa and we need to help people in South Asia and central America so they’re not so vulnerable to these extreme weather events, help them develop economically help them become less vulnerable to these events. These are things I would focus on. This makes much more sense than setting emissions targets and then trying to enforce them. These targets aren’t going to change the climate on a meaningful time scale. It’s just going to screw up the economy. And at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity loss when we could have spent all that effort doing these other things that would have made a real difference.
Christopher Balkaran: Yeah. just on coal, I know that there are there are places like in Canada which I’m sure it’s the same in the United States. You know, wind and solar are much easier. Hydro is much easier. But coal seems the cheapest solution. You can get energy the quickest and perhaps the fastest over large amounts of distance. And it might be harder for those regions to switch over to something more renewable or less damaging to the environment. And a lot of people talk about that switch and how costly that can be.
Judith Curry: Well, I think natural gas can do anything that coal is doing. So natural gas is a much cleaner transitional option. You need one or the other in the near term. When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, you can’t fire up a nuclear power plant, turn it on and off. Having wind and solar in the mix really means you do need coal or natural gas because you can switch it on or off. So the more wind and solar you add, the more reliant you’re going to be on gas. Regarding battery storage, until we get new storage technology, there isn’t enough lithium in the world for all that storage. Rethinking and re-engineering the grid could also better redistribute wind and solar generated energy.
Apart from the storage issue, wind and solar use so much land space. It’s the land use that is bad. A nuclear reactor uses tiny fraction of the land space. I mean, there’s environmental issues related to mining and storage for nuclear power, but those seem to me a lot easier to address than the issues related to wind and solar. So I think on balance, you know, nuclear is probably the best solution based on our current on the near horizon technologies that will be available.
It’s fascinating. You mentioned that land use, because I have another professor from the university of British Columbia coming on the podcast. And there’s an article recently about indigenous communities in Mexico, worried about solar farms near their traditional lands that take up the majority of the land. And the same is true with biofuels and ethanol production. The amount of agriculture that’s necessary for trucks to be powered by biofuels is, you know, the amount of land that’s needed is, is quite a bit. So if there’s negative externalities with this switch, as you just mentioned these are really fascinating thoughts, professor. You know, I love the idea of, you know, helping the developing world. I know Pakistan is going to suffer from severe water shortages over the next 20 to 30 years.
Judith Curry: The population of Pakistan is exploding. Right after the big floods in 2010 my company got involved trying to help Pakistan with flood forecasting and, and water management and whatever. And my colleague, Peter Webster even went to Pakistan with a delegation from the World Bank, but the whole issue was so politicized as to even who would be allowed to help. And at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody helped. We have a solution, but getting it through the political process and implementing it, was a hopeless situation. So, part of the problems is governance within country. And this is apart from the issue of financial and somebody coming up with a real solution, but in country governance can be a real impediment in many of these places. So a lot of tough problems out there.
Christopher Balkaran: And again, if there’s anywhere we can coalesce around common goals and hopefully get governments of all different stripes to commit to. I mean, that’s always the ideal. But I think about what we’re doing on climate change and the Paris accord and do that in the reverse, but on critical real issues
Judith Curry: There’s one example from today in the U.S, they’re passing the new budget and wanting to get a rider included related to clean energy. And what they agreed on was an R & D program for nuclear, carbon capture and all that kind of stuff. And the people on the left really objected to it because they don’t like nuclear just because they don’t like it. And they don’t like carbon capture and storage because that lets the oil companies off the hook. So, so the hard core green activists don’t like either one of those. Here you have a bipartisan agreement to do something that is fundamentally pretty sensible. Then you’ve got the people on the far left objecting to it over silly biases and things that just make no sense
Christopher Balkaran: Politically, economically or for the environment. So, these, aren’t the deniers, these are our people on the other side who are putting up the road blocks. How do you break free from that? I have no idea. And that’s something that I definitely want to explore with more people. It’s how did all of a sudden, it seems to me, these groups on the extremes have so much political power dominating the conversation, determining whose research gets funded, determine what books make the New York Times Bestseller List. I mean, if you really go down the list and you look at all the ways in which media touches us, it’s largely affected by extremist views more so now than ever before. And I always wonder, where is that space for rational discourse, which is why I created this podcast, which is to get back to that we need this mind.
Christopher Balkaran : Thank you so much Professor for your time. I know this is probably the first of many podcasts because I want to definitely talk to you more about many of the things we’ve discussed today. And thank you for, for, for being reasonable, standing up for what you believe in and, you know, trying to spark so many peoples you know, what a lot of people are thinking when it comes to climate change, which is we need more rational discussion on this.