Climate Policy Risk: Who’s In Denial?

by Marlo Lewis on December 19, 2014

in Blog

Post image for Climate Policy Risk: Who’s In Denial?

Earlier this week, economist Roger Bezdek gave a presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building titled “Carbon Dioxide: Social Cost or Social Benefit?” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank covered the event and published a short review titled “The new climate denialism: More carbon dioxide is a good thing.”

Granted, it’s hard to develop an argument about a complex, technical subject in a 760-word column, but Milbank doesn’t even try. He takes cheap shots and spouts off without knowing whereof he speaks.

Milbank starts with a snarky putdown, asserting that “though Bezdek is an economist, not a scientist, he played one on Monday.” How so? Some of Bezdek’s slides show the fertilization effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on crop yields and plant growth. For example:

big marlo

That is not playing scientist, it is citing scientific research.

Another slide shows that, over the past 250 years, CO2 emissions closely correlate with population growth, life expectancy, and per capita GDP.

big marlo 2

Milbank retorts that “correlation is not the same as causation.” Deep! But does he really think unprecedented improvements in the human condition — a greater than doubling of average human life expectancy, an eight-fold increase in the sheer abundance of human life, and an eleven-fold increase in global per capita GDP — would have occurred without fossil fuels?

Milbank repeatedly misfires, as the excerpts below (indented in blue) and my comments (standard width in black) show.

For years, the fossil-fuel industries have been telling us that global warming is a hoax based on junk science.

Name a single CEO of any major energy company or trade association who says that! If there are any, they are outliers. Skeptics argue that predictions of catastrophic global warming are based on speculative interpretations of selective evidence and model projections that increasingly diverge from observations. That’s a different thesis — and much harder to refute. Milbank inveighs against a straw man.

But now these industries are floating an intriguing new argument: They’re admitting that human use of coal, oil and gas is causing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise — but they’re saying this is a good thing.

New argument? The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has emphasized the ecological and health benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment since its inception in 1998. Founder Sherwood Idso published two peer-reviewed studies on the effects of CO2 fertilization on sour orange trees in 1991. In 1986, he published a letter in Nature, provocatively titled “Industrial age leading to the greening of the Earth?”

I pointed out to Bezdek that increasing energy use fueled the economic growth, and CO2 was just a byproduct. So wouldn’t it make more sense to use cleaner energy?

CO2 does not dirty the air, so reducing/capturing CO2 emissions does not make energy cleaner. CO2 is not “just” a byproduct; it is the inescapable byproduct. Thus, UN emission reduction targets endanger both existing economic, health, and welfare benefits and progress towards a wealthier, healthier world.

He [Bezdek] went on to point out that “35,000 people every year in the United States die in automobile accidents, but the solution is not to ban automobiles. You try to make them safer.” And the solution to climate change is not to ban energy but to make it cleaner.

Making energy “cleaner” in the present context means banning (rapidly phasing out) the carbon-based fuels that currently supply 82% of U.S. and world energy consumption, and are projected — absent additional market-rigging interventions — to supply 80% of U.S. energy in 2040.

The presentation began as a standard recitation of the climate-change denial position, that “there’s been no global warming for almost two decades” and that forecasts are “based on flawed science.”

Milbank provides no evidence that the “standard recitation” is incorrect — very likely because he can’t.

Christy Models vs Observations 1979 - 2014 highlighting U.S. Model Average







So instead, he resorts to name calling and labels Bezdek a ‘denialist.’

Enough back and forth. What matters is the big picture. Some 1.3 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity and 2.3 billion people face chronic electricity shortages.







Source: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Even in Europe and the United States, millions of low-income households struggle with high energy costs. Many must choose between heating and eating.









Source: EU Fuel Poverty Network

Bedzek Potential Health Impacts of High Energy Prices

Source: Bezdek (2014)

Forcing an energy-starved planet to abandon fossil fuels before cheaper substitutes are available is bound to have profound social costs. That is Bezdek’s thesis, and it is spot on. Milbank is in denial.

Brad Fregger December 20, 2014 at 7:10 am

Thank you. Very nicely said, nothing needs to be added.

Fred Dan Fernandes December 20, 2014 at 5:20 pm

It is clear that the journalistic defenders of global warming science don’t know any (science, that is).

jan freed December 20, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Deniers are complicit in the climate change deaths of hundreds of thousands of people per year, 88% of them Children.

World Health Organization

Have a nice day.

Evan Jones December 23, 2014 at 6:31 am

Arguably true. But the WHO does not acknowledge the part about fossil fuel consumption being directly responsible for saving the lives of (many) millions per year.

I would be very careful about such statements. It is true that heatwaves kill people. But is is also true that our slightly milder winters are saving from three to ten times as many.

We do a de facto cost-benefit analysis on every decision we make in our day-to-day lives. Why would we not also do so on issues of major policy with major impact?

Do not merely consider both sides of the argument. Also consider both sides of the coin.

jan freed December 20, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Cleaner and cheaper fuels are available.

Jacobson 50 states

Coal has a hidden tax (in over 70 “side effects”) of $300-$500 billion per year, from a Harvard Medical School study

Harvard School Epstein: True Cost of Coal

Marlo Lewis December 25, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Jan, the WHO report is deeply flawed. As the authors acknowledge, estimating the health impacts of climate change is not subject to empirical validation. Therefore, by their own admission, the results of their study cannot be considered scientific (p. 1547):

“Empirical observation of the health consequences of long-term climate change, followed by formulation, testing and then modification of hypotheses would therefore require long time series (probably several decades) of careful monitoring. While this process may accord with the canons of empirical science, it would not provide the timely information needed to inform current policy decisions on GHG emission abatement, so as to offset possible health consequences in the future.”

So instead of testing hypotheses against data, what did they do? The authors discuss their methodology on pp. 1543-1544. First, they used IPCC climate model projections of how global warming might affect “exposures to thermal extremes and weather disasters (deaths and injuries associated with floods), the distribution and incidence of malaria, the incidence of diarrhea, and malnutrition (via effects on yields of agricultural crops)” in the year 2100. Then, “Estimates of future effects were interpolated back to give an approximate measure of the effects of the climate change that have occurred since 1990 on the burden of disease in 2000.”

Got that? Based on unverifiable, speculative predictions about climate change impacts in 2100, they purport to determine how climate change affects health today!

Why do the authors trust what IPCC models predict for a century from now? They explain (p. 1546): “The models used by the IPCC have been validated by ‘back-casting’—that is, testing their ability to explain climate variations that already occurred in the past. In general, the models are able to give good approximations of past patterns only when anthropogenic emissions of [GHG and] non-GHG air pollutants (particulates, dust, oxides of sulfur, etc.) are included along with natural phenomena (IPCC 2001b).”

Well, that’s what the IPCC boasted back in 2001 (TAR, Summary for Policymakers, p. 11, Things are less ‘settled’ these days. IPCC model projections increasingly diverge from reality. See the third picture in my blog post above. More tellingly, climate scientist John Christy recently discovered that IPCC model projections are consistent with observed temperature change in the bulk tropical atmosphere only if anthropogenic emissions are NOT INCLUDED along with natural phenomena:

Most of the deaths in the WHO estimate for year 2000 are attributed to climate change impacts on malnutrition (77,000 deaths), diarrhea (47,000 deaths), and malaria (27,000) (pp. 1544-1545).

This is all very dubious, and not only because the numbers are ‘interpolated’ from hypothetical climate impacts in the unknowable future. As the WHO authors acknowledge, all of the excess (GHG-induced) present-day deaths are estimated to occur in developing countries. But since much larger numbers of people in developing countries die from such afflictions each year in ‘baseline’ climate conditions, there is no way to verify which or how many of those deaths are actually due to climate change.

For one thing, neither meteorological nor economic data provide clear confirmation that extreme weather is becoming more frequent or severe ( What is more, death and death rates related to extreme weather have declined by 93% and 98%, respectively, since the 1920s ( Try finding a climate signal in that data!

More fundamentally, as the WHO report tacitly acknowledges, malnutrition, diarrhea, and malaria are essentially diseases of poverty, not of climate. High death rates due to malnutrition, diarrhea, and insect-borne disease are the NATURAL condition of humanity where people lack plentiful, affordable, reliable energy and the associated improvements in technology and per capita income.

Therefore, what developing countries need most is economic growth, and they have more to fear from climate policies that would restrict their access to affordable energy than from climate change itself.

A final thought. If the WHO mortality estimate were an accurate assessment rather than an artifact of garbage-in, garbage-out computer modeling, ‘warmists’ would be as ‘complicit’ as ‘deniers’ in the hypothetical death toll. The theory, after all, is that emissions cause climate change. There is no known correlation between a person’s beliefs about climate change and her emissions profile. The lifestyles of such climate glitterati as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, John Kerry, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rajendra Pachauri are among the most carbon-intensive on the planet.

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