I’ve just finished reading Steven Koonin’s new book Unsettled: what climate science tells us, what it doesn’t and why it matters. It’s a worthwhile read but  I can see why many experts have criticised the book. Its core argument is that

  • Many of the climate models are flawed and need taking with an enormous pinch of salt
  • These models do not suggest an extreme emergency and that mitigation is important
  • That there’s no great evidence that climate change is powering increased extreme weather events such as hurricanes
  • As climate change may not be as bad as we think it is we shouldn’t be too worried by the economic cost
  • Koonin doesn’t deny climate change, but rather argues that it needs to be considered in a broader context that includes natural weather variability

I’m not sure I buy all these arguments and rather perversely I think that even if one accepts point 2, it’s probably worth dealing with the problem if only to avoid an extremely negative low probability event (a point argued by Nicholas Stern).

Nevertheless, it is an interesting read in that it forces us to consider counterfactuals/conjectures.

What happens for instance if one accepts that climate change is real and dangerous enough to do something about but that all our attempts to combat this amount to nothing in the next few decades because of other intervening factors.

On this score it’s worth checking out climate scientist Judith Curry who holds equally unconventional views alongside Koonin. She recently recorded a fascinating podcast recently which repays listening to.

You can see the transcript HERE. Again, one doesn’t have to agree with everything she says but here’s a key passage that made me think:

“It looks like all the modes of natural climate variability are tilted towards cooling over the next three decades. It looks like we’re heading towards a solar minimum. Any volcanic eruptions by definition are negative. And we expect the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation to shift to the cold phase on the timescale of about a decade. So all of these modes of natural variability point to cooling in the coming decades, which would push these off by decades. This buys us decades to figure out what we should do.”

Again, to repeat the point. Even if one accepts climate change is a very real threat and that we should do a great deal to combat it – positions I accept – what happens if natural climate variability diminishes the impact of our changes to the atmosphere?

Much was made at Cop 26 that we all face extreme weather events that will have huge impacts because of processes largely set in train by climate change. But natural weather variability might actually start colling the earth, completely independently of our own valiant efforts. If that is the case, we could face some major challenges not least to energy security.

Can we really rely on a new electric grid that is entirely based on renewables such as wind, solar, and wood chips from Canada ?? I’m not entirely convinced we can and if that cooling period were to result in more days with less wind, we’d be in very real trouble here in the UK, interconnectors or not!

All of which makes me even more convinced that nuclear is absolutely essential. And on that subject, here’s an interesting aside about EU policy which finally seems to be shifting in the right direction (hat tip to OW):

“… the EU’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson called for a “gearshift on investments” in nuclear power and an extension to plant life. Referring to EU’s green finance taxonomy she said, “the cost of financing will play a key role in making nuclear energy production possible.” The EU proposal is expected on 15th December and will clarify whether nuclear energy will be classified as sustainable for investors. Such a distinction will be incredibly useful for encouraging more investors in nuclear.  “

All we need to do is to get the Germans to agree.