Yes, Greta, let’s listen to the scientists

Young people around the world protested for climate action last week. 16-year old Greta Thunberg implored congress to “listen to the scientists” about climate change and fix it so her generation can thrive.

OK, let’s listen to them, and assume for sake of argument that we understand “them” to be a large majority of all relevant scientists, and that say with one voice that humans are materially affecting climate. And let’s take the IPCC’s projections for a 3.4 to 4.8 degree C rise by 2100 in the absence of policy changes. While activists and politicians report that scientific consensus exists, some reputable scientists dispute this. But for sake of discussion assume such consensus exists.

That temperature rise, scientists tell us, would change sea levels and would warm cold regions more than warm regions. “Existential crisis,” said Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday. Would that in fact pose an existential threat? I.e., would it cause human extinction? That question probably falls much more in the realm of engineering than in science. But let’s assume Greta might promote (or demote, depending on whether you prefer expert generalists to exert specialists) engineers to the rank of scientists.

The World Bank 4 Degrees – Turn Down the Heat report is often cited as concluding that uncontrolled human climate impact threatens the human race. It does not. It describes Sub-Saharan Africa food production risk, southeast Asia water scarcity and coastal productivity risk. It speaks of wakeup-calls and tipping points, and, lacking the ability to quantify risks, assumes several worst imaginable cases of cascade effects, while rejecting all possibility that innovation and engineering can, for example, mitigate water scarcity problems before they result in health problems. The language and methodology of this report is much closer to the realm of sociology than to that of people we usually call scientists. Should sociology count as science or as philosophy and ethics? I think the latter, and I think the World Bank’s analysis reeks of value-laden theory and theory-laden observations. But for sake of argument let’s grant that climate Armageddon, true danger to survival of the race, is inevitable without major change.

Now given this impending existential crisis, what can the voice of scientists do for us? Those schooled in philosophy, ethics, and the soft sciences might recall the is-ought problem, also known as Hume’s Guillotine, in honor of the first writer to make a big deal of it. The gist of the problem, closely tied to the naturalistic fallacy, is that facts about the world do not and cannot directly cause value judgments. And this holds regardless of whether you conclude that moral truths do or don’t exist. “The rules of morality are not conclusions of our reason,” observed Hume. For a more modern philosophical take on this issue see Simon Blackburn’s Ethics.

Strong statements on the non-superiority of scientists as advisers outside their realm come from scientists like Richard Feynman and Wifred Trotter (see below).

But let’s assume, for sake of argument, that scientists are the people who can deliver us from climate Armageddon. Put them on a pedestal, like young Greta does. Throw scientism caution to the wind. I believe scientists probably do have more sensible views on the matter than do activists. But if we’re going to do this – put scientists at the helm – we should, as Greta says, listen to those scientists. That means the scientists, not the second-hand dealers in science – the humanities professors, pandering politicians, and journalists with agendas, who have, as Hayek phrased it, absorbed rumors in the corridors of science and appointed themselves as spokesmen for science.

What are these scientists telling us to do about climate change? If you think they’re advising us to equate renewables with green, as young protesters have been taught to do, then you’re listening not to the scientists but to second-hand dealers of misinformed ideology who do not speak for science. How many scientist think that renewables – at any scale that can put a real dent in fossil fuel use – are anything remotely close to green? What scientist thinks utility-scale energy storage can be protested and legislated into existence by 2030? How many scientist think uranium is a fossil fuel?

The greens, whose plans for energy are not remotely green, have set things up so that sincere but uniformed young people like Greta have only one choice – to equate climate change mitigation with what they call renewable energy. Even under Mark Jacobson’s grossly exaggerated claims about the efficiency and feasibility of electricity generation from renewables, Greta and her generation would shudder at the environmental devastation a renewables-only energy plan would yield.

Where is the green cry for people like Greta to learn science and engineering so they can contribute to building the world they want to live in? “Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us?” asked Greta. One good reason 16-year-olds might do this is that in 2025 they can have an engineering degree and do real work on energy generation and distribution. Climate Armageddon will not happen by 2025.

I feel for Greta, for she’s been made a stage prop in an education-system and political drama that keeps young people ignorant of science and engineering, ensures they receive filtered facts from specific “trustworthy” sources, and keeps them emotionally and politically charged – to buy their votes, to destroy capitalism, to rework political systems along a facile Marxist ideology, to push for open borders and world government, or whatever the reason kids like her are politically preyed upon.

If the greens really believed that climate Armageddon were imminent (combined with the fact the net renewable contribution to world energy is still less than 1%), they might consider the possibility that gas is far better than coal in the short run, and that nuclear risks are small compared to the human extinction they are absolutely certain is upon us. If the greens’ real concern was energy and the environment, they would encourage Greta to list to scientists like Nobel laureate in physics, Ivar Giaever, who says climate alarmism is garbage, and then to identify the points on which Giaever is wrong. That’s what real scientists do.

But it isn’t about that, is it? It’s not really about science or even about climate. As Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff for Ocasio-Cortez, admitted: “the interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.” “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing,” he added. To be clear, Greta did not endorse the Green New Deal, but she is their pawn.

Frightened, indoctrinated, science-ignorant kids are really easy to manipulate and exploit. Religions – particularly those that silence dissenters, brand heretics, and preach with righteous indignation of apocalypses that fail to happen – have long understood this. The green religion understands it too.

Go back to school, kids. You can’t protest your way to science. Learn physics, not social studies – if you can – because most of your teachers are puppets and fools. Learn to decide for yourself who you will listen to.


I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy — and when he talks about a nonscientific matter, he will sound as naive as anyone untrained in the matter. – Richard Feynman, The Value of Science, 1955.

Nothing is more flatly contradicted by experience than the belief that a man, distinguished in one of the departments of science is more likely to think sensibly about ordinary affairs than anyone else. – Wilfred Trotter, Has the Intellect a Function?, 1941


  1. #1 by Warren Anderson on September 23, 2019 - 9:17 am

    Whether you consider uranium a fossil fuel or not it’s non-renewable. I looked up world uranium reserves at the Energy Information Administration’s site. There is enough to last 200 years, IF demand stays the same, only half of the world’s reserves have been discovered and Uranium miners find a way to extract twice as much of it from Uranium mines. These are extremely optimistic assumptions. Some nuclear technology different from the one in use today in the USA, like breeder reactors, would be required for nuclear energy to be sustainable.

    There is a science that could help save the world – demography. Sadly there is a complete taboo against discussing the obvious fact that overpopulation is the cause of all environmental problems today. It’s extremely ironic that the American left advocates a policy that is the most anti-environmental of all – open-borders immigration. Women in the USA currently have 1.7 children. Without immigration the USA would have a declining population. All the studies of what a sustainable population for the USA would be have concluded that it’s about 150 million. This would make it much easier to try to survive the coming environmental catastrophe and depletion of all non-renewable resources. The democratic candidates for president advocate immigration policies that would increase the already unsustainable US population from 330 million to as much as a billion Americans late in the 21st century. The worst of these is likely Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren who advocates an open border and to appropriate 27 billion dollars a year to pay an unlimited number of refugees to enter the USA (since removed from her web site).

    You seem to be a technological optimist – someone who believes that no matter what problems arise, technology can solve them. This is as irrational as all of the other pseudo-sciences that dominate this discussion.

    • #2 by Bill Storage on September 23, 2019 - 4:01 pm

      Hi Warren. Good to hear from you.

      Strictly speaking photons are not renewable either, but hopefully they will last long enough for us to figure something else out. Uranian may run out in 2 hundred years projecting out known reserves as consumed by first generation reactors. Geological estimates of fuel reserves have been very consistently wrong forever. Regardless, 200 years of zero emissions energy production is very likely to get us to the point where we are better at harvesting photons than we are at present.

      I’ve been accused of optimism before. If optimism means blind faith then yes it is as irrational as all the other pseudosciences. My optimistic projections are based on the fact that technology and industry have solved all previous Malthusian and Ricardian predictions. The carrying capacity of the US in 1700 with energy coming from water mills and wood-burning was far less than 150 million. Take a look at food production/farm-yield curves over the last 200 years and come up with a reason why it is suddenly going to stagnate.

      Yes on the population thing, but decline in birth rate correlates perfectly with education and income. Birth rates dropped in Asian countries with no government coercion just as fast as they did in china in the 1970s. Birth rates in the poorest countries have dropped by half in less than a generation. I subscribed to Paul Ehrlich‘s bullshit in the 70s and 80s. Unbelievably, ZPG still sends me their alarmist paper newsletter, typically advocating big government intervention.

      Anyway, my optimism is based on data and alarmist pessimism appears to be immune to data and entrenched in political theory.

  2. #3 by sstorage31 on September 24, 2019 - 2:05 pm

    Bill,You missed it; Greta says that ” scientist are crystal clear” on the urgency of the climate issue.  What scientist, Social scientist?

  3. #4 by False Progress on September 27, 2019 - 10:27 am

    You’re right about nuclear (especially vs. hypocritical wind energy sprawl) but claiming that “reputable” scientists still dispute AGW mars your credibility. They’re invariably shills pretending to be objective, or rogue contrarians.

    CO2 is the main reason the Earth isn’t frozen (basic greenhouse effect, rarely disputed) and it makes no sense to trivialize a big man-made increase in CO2 volume. Why not just accept that humans are upsetting nature’s balance on many fronts?

    There’s no logical reason to waste more fossil fuels, which is the pragmatic effect of global warming denial and/or skepticism. The intelligent route is to conserve every possible resource, since the planet isn’t getting less finite, just more crowded. You don’t waste things that can’t be replenished (abiotic oil exists only as a wishful theory with no voluminous evidence).

  4. #5 by Bill Storage on September 28, 2019 - 10:04 pm

    Please read my subsequent post on the matter of the existence of reputable scientists who deny AGW. In short AGW is not a well defined concept. No reputable scientist denies that humans have impacted the climate. The issue is to what extent, the severity of the consequences, and the details of riisk mitigation – standard engineering problem solving. The greens get a lot of currency from claiming that all those who deny any of their package of AGW beliefs (many of which are purely nomative with no factual content) are quacks. They implicitly redefine AGW such that it includes 1) certainty that warming is overwhelmingly human-caused (arguable, but let’s grant it for sake of argument, 2) a pathetically sophomoric risk analysis resulting in certain doom within decades, and 3) specific policy implications claimed to be arrived at via science.

    A solar/wind mandate is absolutely not a deductive consequence of observed facts (is not science) even if all 3 of the above are granted. Very many reputable scientists – many of whom are defectors from the the green mindset (are we to believe they suddenly became irrational?) – disagree with 2 above (Dyson, e.g.), and you appear to disagree with 3 above. By green definitions (at least by many of them, McKibben included, you are therefore an AGW denier.

    Is Patrick Moore disreputable? James Lovelock? Freeman Dyson? If yes, judgment of who counts as reputable is made solely on conformity to the entire green program.

    There’s a great deal of reasons to use (“waste” as you say) more fossil fuels, given the lack of present alternatives . Burning gas instead of coal in the short term gets more people out of poverty, which correlates to lower birthrates everywhere. You seem to be saying above that any advocacy of continued use of fossil fuel implies denial of any form of AGW and denial of any risk associated with fossil fuel use forever. You can’t mean that can you?

    • #6 by False Progress on September 30, 2019 - 11:13 pm

      “In short AGW is not a well defined concept. No reputable scientist denies that humans have impacted the climate. The issue is to what extent, the severity of the consequences, and the details of riisk mitigation – standard engineering problem solving.”

      Yet another attempt to sidestep the evidence. The vast majority of climate scientists don’t say that the consensus isn’t broad. Global warming just has the luxury (for deniers) of being a relatively slow-moving problem with unknown consequences, so they wish the consequences into an impenetrable fog and claim to be thinking clearly. Erring on the side of caution used to be conservative value, you know.

      I’m with you on the futility of Big Wind, but I’m for solar panels on roofs. And nuclear of course.

      Claiming that burning more fossil fuels is good for (temporary) poverty alleviation just dodges the fact of their finitude. Obviously we have to use them, but global warming denial makes the effects seem trivial, thus encouraging waste. Same deal with the “free” energy mindset that wind and solar creates (Jevons paradox). I see no wisdom in any sort of gluttony.

      Growthism in general is the problem. I’d rather see a lot more birth control and fewer energy needs to meet down the road. No other species keeps trying to consume more stuff and humans should get a clue.

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