Jan 16 • 57M

Steven Koonin – Climate Science’s Unsettled Questions

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Weekly conversations on race, inequality, and more, with Glenn Loury. Bi-weekly appearances by John McWhorter.
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My guest this week is NYU physicist Steven Koonin, author of the book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. As former Under Secretary for Science in Barack Obama’s White House, one might expect that he would hew to progressive narratives about climate change. But he’s emerged as a dissenter against the prevailing consensus that extreme measures must be taken immediately in order to avert global catastrophe.

While I understand the political issues at play in the climate debate, climate science itself is quite difficult for a non-specialist to understand in its details. Steven walks me through the basics of climate modeling and says that, while there are some basic facts about climate change that experts agree upon, the meaning of those facts is not as settled as it might appear. He argues that the most apocalyptic near-term predictions in the popular literature and discourse on climate change are drastically overstated. Enacting many of the proposed changes to the world’s energy infrastructure and striving for global “net zero” carbon emissions would, in his estimation, hinder the developing world’s ongoing growth and health. Moreover, he says, the idea that we could reach an agreement among the world’s most populous nations that would halt emissions is politically improbable.

That’s not to say Steven doesn’t take climate change and non-fossil fuel energy seriously. He does. But, in his view, the dramatic steps that many scientists and politicians are prescribing would do far more harm than good. I have to say, I find his reasoning quite compelling, and I’m interested to know what you think of it.

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0:00 Steven’s best-selling book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters

2:38 Steven: Concerns about catastrophic climate change “beggar belief”

9:43 The complexities of climate change models

15:07 Should we worry about rising sea levels?

24:54 Hurricanes, tornados, and other extreme weather events

29:59 Is a zero-emissions goal worth the cost?

38:05 How to fix climate science

45:02 Are the Paris Accords viable?

48:13 The coming climate backlash

Recorded January 3, 2023

Links and Readings

Steven’s book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters

Steven’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Will Climate Change Really Put New York Underwater?”

Steven’s 2022 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Greenland’s Melting Ice Is No Cause for Climate-Change Panic”