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Unsettled by Steven Koonin

Created on: 07/29/21 07:30 AM Views: 153 Replies: 1
Unsettled by Steven Koonin
Posted Thursday, July 29, 2021 07:30 AM

A challenge to climate change doomsaters.

Koonin’s thesis is that the “Climate crisis” trumpeted by news headlines and TV specials is overblown.  Yes, he agrees that the globe is warming, and that human activities contribute to this warning.  But he believes that the data used to support the more apocalyptic predictions related to this waming is incomplete and unreliable,  and even in the reports referenced to support statements such as “97 of 100 scientists agree that…” one can find many red flags such as “minimum confidence”, “low confidence”, “additional research needed” which undermine the credibility of the conclusions.

Furthermore, even if the world were magically able to cut off all use of fossil fuels and convert all humans to vegetarianism,  there would be no immediate payoff.  It will take centuries for the world to absorb the excess carbon.  Koonin points out how very bad politicians are at taking drastic measures when the payoff is longterm, though they are often very good at advocating such measures as long as they are to be implemented after their term of office.  (Koonin spent some time in the Obama administration as an undersecretary in the Dept of Energy, so he speaks with some experience.)

So what to do?  Geo-engineering is an option, but untested, and with possible unforeseeable consequences.  Since we do not fully understand what influences the weather naturally, fooling around with possible technical modifications seems dangerous.  Better, says Koonin, to explore ways to adapt. Conservation should be the top priority, saving forests as carbon sinks, and using fossil fuels as little as possible without causing economic collapse.  It’s pragmatic, it’s not glamourous, but it makes sense.

RE: Unsettled by Steven Koonin
Posted Thursday, July 29, 2021 08:59 AM

Thanks for this synopsis/review, Allyson.  Sounds like an important and interesting read.  I'll suggest it for my book club.

I'm just finishing The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson, about Jennifer Doudna, the Nobel Prize winner who helped invent gene editing. She's a fellow alumna of Pomona, so I felt an immediate connection.   The book is a hopeful one in these unsettled and scary times -- the author describes how the advancement of science is both a terrific competition AND a wonderful collegial enterprise.  We need a lot more of the latter, of course, but Doudna and company show us the way.