Listen to Scott Denning’s sharp and to-the-point presentation, which he gave at Heartland’s climate conference, here. It’s worth the full 16 minutes of it. He rocks. Alternatively, read this little recap:
Denning attended the Heartland conference for the second year in a row and it seems like he’s outdone himself by giving an even better and sharper presentation than last years (which was excellent as well).
He emphasized some very important things:
- The big picture is what matters; details do not (at least in terms of policy relevance; for science nerds of course it’s different)
- Part of that big picture is that, whatever the sensitivity, a 400% increase in CO2 is going to make a big difference to the climate, because of the simple fact that adding heat warms things up.
- He offered a big challenge to the (strongly contrarian and libertarian) audience: Propose and advocate for effective solutions, otherwise others will. Policy will be enacted anyway. His challenge got particularly strong when he said “do you want Greenpeace to dictate the policy? (…) Are you cowards?”
He started out by emphasizing things that we all can agree on (copied from the video and audio):
Today is Friday (on this side of the timeline!)
Billions of people will need more energy to lift themselves out of abject poverty
Burning coal, oil and gas produces CO2
CO2 emits heat
Heat warms things up
He brought up his analogy from last year again, that a pot of water will heat up when the burner is on.
Producing a decent standard of living to 3 billion extra people will quadruple CO2 (i.e. 400% increase relative to pre-industrial cf. 30% increase so far) if we chose to do it with coal.
You can argue about the sensitivity, about whether the 30% increase caused a half or a whole degree of warming. But if you believe that heat warms things up, 400% will make a big difference, to you too.
A Watt per square metre, over an extended period of time, produces a lot of climate change (as also shown by Harisson Schmidt and Nicola Scafetta). It always has during the geologic record. If the climate system really had such powerful negative feedback, climate could never have changed!
Deep ocean turnover time is around ~1000 years: We’ll be stuck with this (CO2 in the air) for a long, long time (thousands of years), since it takes multiple ocean turnovers to suck most of it up.
-decent quality of life for all
-Energy for all
-Free market needed
-Who will advocate?
Do you think Greenpeace will advocate for these? Is that what you’re waiting for? Evidently!
If free-market advocates shirk their responsibility, others will dictate policy.
Is that really what you want?
When will you stand up and offer solutions to these problems? Are you cowards?
Similar as in last year’s talk, he gave them a carrot stick by emphasizing the energy-for-all frame and the importance of the free market. I was a little critical of that last year (I don’t think it will be that easy), but I see the need to establish some common ground and mutual understanding in order to have a dialogue at all. He could probably pull off the “are-you-cowards” challenge exactly because he had established such common ground and mutual respect based on last year’s visit. The same words coming from, say, Joe Romm would not be received half as well.
There are important communications lessons in his masterful delivery. Yale CMF has an article featuring Denning’s comments on the communication aspects (partly based on his experiences from last year). The one thing I have difficulties with is his view that appeals to the vast scientific consensus are counterproductive with contrarian audiences. Don’t contrarians go to the doctor when they’re sick, and to a plumber when there are problems with the water piping? The only way in which this consensus can be put aside as meaningless is by assuming a vast conspiracy. That would be the message I would try to deliver. Though perhaps Denning is right and it would fall on deaf ears. So I’m glad that he rose to the occasion.
See also this Nature editorial on Heartland’s role in the climate debate, presumably aimed at non-climate scientists who are largely unaware of what’s behind the societal debate. A good piece for outsiders to this debate, though not much new there for avid climate blog readers.