Bryan, I'm just curious if you think it is possible that Alex might be going overboard in his position. I'm a former DOE Global Change Fellow, and I've been deep in the weeds of this discussion.

I've seriously taken climate activists to task, most recently in Losing My Religions. https://www.losingmyreligions.net/

I've also blogged in favor of some of Alex's ideas, and the importance of development for climate adaptation.

But it seems clear to me that there will be a lot of *suffering* caused by climate change, if only because we have so much poverty in the world right now. There will be many more climate refugees, and that will further stress the West.

I think we should be much more broadly balanced in our discussion, rather than just attacking one side as "wrong" or "flawed" or "anti-science."

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If you're worried about suffering resulting from poverty, you have to calculate how restricting access of fossil fuels affects poverty too. You also have to worry about timelines. Right now, there are very likely substantially more poor people than there will be many decades from now. So restricting fossil fuel use now to prevent climate impacts many decades from now may put you on the wrong end of the poverty balance sheet. There may actually be _less_ suffering with climate change in the future than restricting fossil fuels now.

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Look at Bryan's immigration work. Climate refugees coming to the west will probably be immensely more productive. Climate change thus might alleviate poverty.

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As with anything else, one should ask "Compared to what?" Are there other areas of widely accepted and impactful scientific discourse that Epstein thinks do a lot better than climate science? If so, can he point to some to emulate? If not, does he discount publicly expressed consensus in other areas of science as much as climate science?

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Off the top of my head, the base "compared to what" should always be "ignoring them," or at least "don't use government power to force changes in behavior based on them."

Other, better science discourse would be materials science, computer science, general engineering, etc. all the sciences that quietly go about their business of improving things without making a big fuss in the media and try to get the government to force people to do things their way. Climate science is a huge outlier with regards to their behavior over all. You don't see paleontologists screaming at each other to be banned for being "feather deniers!"

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Bryan - so far your posts about Alex Epstein's work have focused on the meta and epistemological questions he raises about our knowledge system, rather than the specific scientific evidence he uses to support his claims that we should not worry about climate change and in fact should continue burning fossil fuels at an accelerating pace.

You do say that the book contains a lot of detailed evidence for his claims but I have not yet seen you interrogate that evidence. Will you? I would be very interested in reading your analysis of his interpretation of the scientific literature.

More generally, while elements of the climate movement are indeed extreme, the reality is the world is not and will not move to renewables unless and until they are economically viable and reliable. No nation, ever, to this point has contemplated "switching off" fossil fuel power. For all the "steelmanning" he does, to pretend that we are at risk of voluntarily walking back into the dark ages is a strawman in the extreme compared to what voters and policymakers are doing in reality.

I agree with you that our default assumption should be that worst case scenarios are unlikely. But the relevant question is how much should we be willing to pay for insurance against those scenarios, especially if they are irreversible (e.g., meteor hitting earth)?

Investments to look for meteors and develop methods to divert them from earth seem like a great idea. So do pan-coronavirus vaccines to prevent the next pandemic. So do investments in green technology.

Measured against current political and policy realities, what exactly is Epstein arguing against? That we should stop trying to make wind/solar cheaper and more reliable? That we should not invest in better battery technology? That trying to make baseload power from Enhanced Geothermal Systems is not a good long-term bet? That we should not invest in nuclear fusion or small fission reactors? That as those sources become economical and reliable we should not use them to replace fossil fuel power?

Those all seem like very reasonable investments and insurance against a climate change and are the de facto choices the world is making. THAT is the steelman he should be contemplating. Not the strawman argument that we are going to suddenly and voluntarily reduce our standard of living to save the climate, which has not and will not be permitted by voters and the populations more generally.

Coming back to my first point - you obviously agree with his positions on the failures of our knowledge system. But what say you about his interpretation of the scientific literature on the impacts of climate change, what probabilities do you assign to his claims, and what are the implied levels of insurance/investment that would be required by such probabilities?

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A number of years ago, I read the IPCC AR4 in some detail. My take was that it was quite credible on the sensitivity of temperature to CO2, fairly credible on other geophysical impacts (noting that this seems to be a hard problem, which it communicated pretty well). I don’t recall whether I thought it was credible or not on mitigation/human impacts - for whatever reason, I found this section very forgettable.

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Enjoy your travels, my friend. Enjoy.

—————————-Ross Faris

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It is interesting to hear the journey that people like Epstein, Shellenberger have gone through. Nothing new, it is the classical path from idealistic / ideological positions to data driven, facts driven, science driven positions. The issue is that they are considered apostates by the mainstream media and morally corrupted scientists who need research grants to make a living. There is a lot of education to be done among journalists especially because the profession has lowered its standards dramatically.

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Regarding the issue of what mitigation strategies are worthwhile it seems largely an academic question as even a revenue nuetral carbon tax is still a pipe dream. As such a policy replaces taxes on desireable things (profits) with a tax on something with a negative externality it's pretty clearly a net positive policy. Whatever views ppl have beyond that don't seem that important if we can't even get there (tho I do think the rhetoric often pushes people away).

Regarding the issue of credibility my confidence in the predictions about climate change was hugely changed when (previously quite skeptical) physicist Richard Mueller basically started from scratch and reached very similar conclusions.

To be clear, what this convinced me of is the reliability of the mainstream predictions in the scientific literature not the political recommendations. The question of what to do about it is where things get less reliable but see the first part of this comment.

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I feel like there is some work being done here by lumping in the estremist voices opposing solutions like nuclear with the many people raising concerns about climate change who are either proponents of those solutions or simply not commenting on them. Of course, there are crazies on any issue and if you lump them in with the people you are critisizing you can make them look worse.

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When the US builds another nuke plant or Germany restarts theirs, I will consider the possibilty that the anti-nuke talk is extreme. It looks mainstream to me.

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First, I don't understand how that is some kind of mark against the many environmentalists who do support nuclear. That's like saying because there are lots of ppl who refuse to believe in global warming at all we can therefore accuse ppl like those raising the concerns here of refusing to look at the evidence.

Second, the global warming activists can't even get a mild carbon tax passed and it's their fault we aren't building new nuclear plants? The issue with nuclear in the us is a combination of some environmentalists who dislike nuclear power, a bunch of other ppl who are simply scared thanks to Chernobyl, Fukushima etc and a high cost permitting process. Hell, almost everyone agreed a long term waste storage site was a good idea but we couldn't make that happen.

Sure, I want to see more nuclear power but the fact that it hasn't happened isn't a reason to discredit the many climate activists who support it. I

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Nov 30, 2022·edited Nov 30, 2022

It doesn't discredit those that support it, but where are they?

I mean, I know of some, but they should be making it issue #1 and calling out all other climate activists who oppose it. A very public statement that if you oppose nuke power, you are not an ally, you are an extremist, dangerous, and a pariah to the environmental community.

If I see 97% of climate activists sign off on that, it will have meaning.

edit: Bias note - while I haven't worked in the industry since 1995, I have a Bachelor's degree in Nuke Engineering.

also edit: Bias note #2 - I tend to believe in the watermelon theory. While it isnt universally true, in most cases, you cut open a green and they are red inside.

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Even Greta Thunberg has come out in favor of nuclear power. And when I listen to podcasts interviewing scientists talking about global warming quite a large fraction are actively supportive. And another large fraction isn't opposed but isn't sure it's the most economical way forward (and TBF they aren't necessarily experts on the economics of nuclear power). I only very rarely see any scientists who are actively opposed.

As far as the non-scientist activist types I agree it's a more mixed bag. But I also don't really pay much attention to them because we'll why would I ... they aren't experts.

If your claim is that the environmental movement is fucked up, can't get it's act together and constantly let's ridiculous moralizing get in the way of actually fixing problems I 100% agree. Hell, I think they are to blame for the resistance to global warming. They kept trying to connect it up with stupid anti-growth ideas and lectured ppl until they turned them away.

But that's a good reason to ignore the activists (not that one was necessary). Not a good reason to (as I took the argument in the post to be) ignore the various experts and scientists who make claims about the risks of climate change. Not only are they not responsible for the activists I tend to trust them less the more they get involved with activism.

After all they are only experts in their area and climate change mitigation requires a complex mixture of science, economics and value judgements.

And that's sorta the problem. By the very nature of the problem the ppl one should listen to the most are likely to be the least loud on the political stage and instead everyone pays attention to activists like Greta who have no particular expertise or credibility.

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A revenue neutral carbon tax isn't even the preferred intervention of global warming activists, so it's not clear why the absence of one is an indicator of their impotence. The have gotten some of their preferred policies - like subsidies for renewable or state-level bans on fracking - passed.

I think 'support for nuclear' can meet a lot of things, including support for the status quo or even support for even stricter standards on nuclear but not getting rid of it altogether (e.g. 'pro-nuclear' in Germany can mean just not shutting them all down). I'd be pretty surprised if the vast majority of environmental activists didn't oppose an effort to reduce regulation of nuclear energy, but maybe I'm reading the movement wrong.

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Thanks for a great book recommendation! I’d love to hear about other books you have found compelling.

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Minor typo: "While Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future presents a lot [of] evidence"

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