It’s amazing how some books come along and really knock you off your feet. “Unsettled” by Steven E. Koonin is one of those monumental works that changes your entire view of environmental issues. Koonin’s book is probably the most important non-fiction work on climate published in the last twenty years. His credentials are impeccable having been a leader in US science policy and professor of theoretical physics at Caltech and a dozen other universities.
Facts matter to me as they should to everyone. I am not a climate denier and I admit to having spent very little time studying climate change. I have a scientific background with a degree in Physics and a Master’s in Physical Chemistry. I remember long ago analyzing the concentration of trace metals in water samples at the INRS in Quebec. As is often the case, the nice curve you are hoping for in your data doesn’t happen because of one odd bit of data that screws up the results. Do you throw out that piece of data so your curve follows an easily identifiable pattern? This is the kind of intellectual dilemma that scientists confront every day. Koonin says we need to be honest about our research and admit when our results are inadequate as they often are in climate science.
Koonin calls the phenomena “climate simple”. Climate scientists will put aside the data that doesn’t meet the persuasion criteria for “climate simple” and hype the data that does. His message is simple. Climate change as expressed in the media is a lie. The human influence on climate is so minimal, it is almost impossible to quantify in climate change models and data. Greenhouse gas emissions have had an almost negligible effect on the warming of the planet. The CO2 in the atmosphere was five or ten times higher 300 million years ago. He sums it up in the following lines: “That the computer models can’t reproduce the past is a big red flag – it erodes confidence in their projections of future climates…. It greatly complicates sorting out the relative roles of natural variability and human influences in the warming that has occurred since 1980.”
Koonin knows that he will be attacked in the media for his opinions, but he has put together a very impressive piece of work. He questions “the Science” and the alarming media reports about surging sea levels, shrinking ice caps, and worsening heat waves, storms, droughts, floods and wildfires. According to Koonin, “heat waves in the US are no more common today than they were in 1900s, humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the last hundred years, Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was 80 years ago, and finally the net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal to the end of the century.”
Koonin exposes the intellectual dishonesty of climate scientists and the scientific community in general. Scientists don’t tell “the whole truth plainly”. They like to present their work as complete with data that proves their hypotheses to colleagues and to the media, but there is no certainty in climate science. “The Science” is not settled, far from it,” says Koonin.
Today, climate alarmism is taking over the world. The Greens are a politically active group in many European countries and US Democrats now have their own Green New Deal which will fight climate change with government subsidies. If the climate is not changing significantly and human activity is not affecting climate in any adverse way, then Western nations will not need to spend a huge amount of money to change their economies in the hope of reducing greenhouse gases in the short term. We can all breathe a sigh of relief and perhaps concentrate our energies on other environmental problems such as plastic waste, the use of pesticides and the pollution of the oceans. We can say goodbye to carbon taxes and keep our gas-guzzling cars and trucks for a couple more years before we trade them in for electric vehicles. We will no longer need to feel threatened by climate change alarmists such Greta Thunberg, the poster child of the movement.
Koonin talks about institutional pressures to stick to the message: “I know from experience that such institutional pressures are real; whether you are working for the government, a corporation or an NGO, there is a message to be adhered to. For academics, there is pressure to generate press and to secure funding through grants. There is also the matter of promotion and tenure. And there is peer pressure: more than a few climate contrarians have suffered public opprobrium and diminished career prospects for publicizing data that doesn’t support the “broken climate” meme.” He goes on with the following: “Whatever its cause, climate simple is a problem. Major changes in society are being advocated and trillions will be spent, all based on the findings of climate science. That science should be open to intense scrutiny and questioning, and scientists should approach it with their usual critical objectivity. And they shouldn’t have to be afraid when they do.”
Steven Koonin’s book should be required reading for scientists and engineers, but also for the general public. The book represents a reality check offering the truth about climate science that you won’t get anywhere else – what we know, what we don’t and what it all means for our future.