Nick talks to climatologist Dr. Judith Curry, the former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests have included hurricanes, atmospheric modeling, air-sea interactions, and a variety of other areas in climate science. She runs Climate, Etc., an online blog focused on climate science. She is also writing a new book called, “Climate Uncertainty & Risk,” which she described towards the end of the podcast. They discuss: how Earth’s climate has changed over time and how climate scientists measure this; what computer models are used for in climate science and what their strengths & weaknesses are; tropical storms and severe weather events; CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses; different forms of energy, such as oil, natural gas, solar, wind, and nuclear; how she thinks about the tradeoffs between different energy sources in terms of their abundance, environmental impact, costs, and other factors; the politicization of climate science and why certain branches of science are especially prone to it.
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earth sciences geology and geography, meteorology, atmospheric science, stuff like that. By the time I graduated, I had gravitated more towards meteorology in the atmospheric sciences. And then I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago in the department of geophysical sciences. So again, I continue with a broad background, you know, in the geological sciences, but again, focused on the atmospheric sciences and my pieces was on Arctic, the radiation environment of the Arctic. And I took the typical academic pathway, I did a postdoc for a few years and then had my first faculty position was at Purdue University, then I moved around quite a bit. Every few years, you know, I got a better offers, try something new. So I moved quite a bit. So I had faculty positions after Purdue at Penn State, and then University of Colorado Boulder, and then Georgia Tech, where I was chairman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences for 13 years. I left Georgia Tech, and I think it was 2016, it was a little bit of a premature retirement, I was just getting really tired of the whole academic scene, it was not, you know, what I signed up for way back when it was getting, you know, politicized and early days of canceled culture. And this is no, this is just not what I want. So I left and in about 2006, I had started a company climate forecasts applications network, which applied research, you know, to real world problems. And once I retired, I amped up the company, and is now what my full time job is, I'm president of the company. And we do a range of things, you know, sort of applied problems in related to weather and climate, mostly extreme events. And we can probably talk about some of that later, in the conversation. I entered the public debate on climate change inadvertently, in 2005, Assos, I was co author on a paper in you may remember, this was published a couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina. And we found that the percent of category foreign by hurricanes had doubled since 1970. That made quite a splash. And we weren't really talking about a global warming angle. But I immediately got adopted by the Pro, or the climate change advocacy community, and they really liked this issue. And then I started saying, like, you know, I'm not sure I like what's going on here. This is really politicized and tribal. And it's not really promoting, you know, objectivity in the science. So I backed away from that quite a bit. And I started playing around in the blogosphere trying to, you know, explore that mode of communication and education. And I inadvertently landed on climate audit, Steve McIntyre's blog, which is the leading skeptics blog, and I found that it was really interesting to participate in those discussions because they wanted, they wanted the data, they wanted to analyze it, they want to do you know, discuss a lot of details and say, Okay, well, this is quite interesting and challenging, and it helped me hone hone my communication skills.
Then in 2009, this was the other big sort of change in direction. As a result of climate gate. This was the unauthorized release of, presumably a hacker of emails from the University of East Anglia is involved a lot of IPCC authors, and it showed a lot of behind the scenes skullduggery, I thought, reflected very poorly on the climate community. And I started speaking out publicly about how climate scientists need to behave better, they need to make all their data and everything available publicly. They need not to denigrate skeptics, for people who disagree with them, but you know, engage with the serious people and try to see if there's anything you can learn, or at least defend your point of view. You just can't ignore them. And the other thing that I introduced at that time is we need to pay a lot more attention to uncertainty. We're why overconfident and what we think we know about this problem. And so, you know, I thought these were, you know, motherhood and apple pie kind of sentiments, but the mainstream climate community, you know, thought I was the Antichrist for saying these kinds of things and for breaking solidarity, you know, with the people. And so then I really got sort of sucked more into the public debate. And in 2010, I started my own blog, climate, etcetera, Judith curry.com, which is still active at this point, although I don't quite post as often as I did in the early days. So at this point, you know, I'm working for my company, I engage in the public debate to some extent, but at least most significantly, for me, I'm in the final throes of completing a book, climate uncertainty and risk, which I hope to submit by the end of August. So that's my story in a nutshell.
Nick Jikomes 11:18
Excellent. Well, you know, I'm gonna ask you a lot about climate science, which is definitely not my area of expertise. But it's something important that I wanted to learn more about. And because because this is such a big issue, and you know, for better or worse, a controversial subject, I was hoping just to, you know, start picking people's brains about this area, at a very high level. Can you talk about, like, what climate science is, and how the tools and methods of climate science compared to say, experimental fields of laboratory research where you can do controlled experiments?
Judith Curry 11:51
Okay, when I started graduate school in the late 70s, there was no such thing as climate science or climate studies, if anything, climatology was a minor subfield in geography, you know, where you just collected data and statistics. Atmospheric Science was really the main discipline that people would study to, you know, understand about the dynamics of, of climate, and then subsequently, oceanography became more interested in the longer timescales. And then chemistry became involved geochemistry, atmospheric chemistry and the land surface processes biophysics. And so this started to encompass, you know, a lot of what I would call traditional scientific fields, Geology as well with paleo climate. So there were a lot of traditional scientific fields that were dancing around the climate problem. Now in atmospheric science, this is really like an applied. It's applied physics and Applied Chemistry, basically, I mean, that's the foundations of atmospheric science. But again, once you get into climate, science, at least the physical science part of it broadly defined, you know, you're bringing in biology and geology and chemistry, biogeochemistry, and so forth, and so on. So it's, there's quite a lot of scientific disciplines that feed into what is now regarded as climate science. Now, the climate system is a very complex system. And by complex, I don't mean just complicated. Complicated means there's a lot of stuff. But all the causal relationships are fairly well defined and understood. Once we have a complex system, then there's all sorts of crazy feedbacks and small triggers, in one part of the system can be amplified and other parts of the system and you've got something, you know, very complex going on, there's emergent phenomena. And so what I would call the the physics of the climate system, in its complexity, more resembles systems biology and economics. Because of this complexity, rather than physics and chemistry with its laboratory controlled experiments, and again, we're you know, in even though people think they can control the climate by dialing up carbon dioxide or dialing it down, well, it's a lot more complicated than that. So, you know, the best we can do is try to hope we were thoroughly observing everything that we need to or want to observe. And then we test out theories and ideas and hypotheses to try you know, with data and climate models are an important tool for trying to understand this, it sort of integrates a lot of our knowledge, you know, within these global climate models. Do you have any specific questions before I dive into what climate models are and what they're useful for? And what they're not useful for?
Nick Jikomes 15:25
Oh, no, no, I mean, that's where I was hoping you would go. I mean, so, you know, I come from a laboratory science background, and I'm used to doing you know, experiments in the lab where we can really isolate some variables and test cause and effect, you know, the climate, you can't really do that you have to go out and, you know, make as careful measurements as possible, and certain observations of this, you know, some subset of this very complex system. And then I always hear about climate models and these models and the forecasts and predictions people make from them. So I'm hoping you can just describe for us like, what are these computer models? What goes into them? What comes out? And how do we evaluate how much weight we can give them?
Judith Curry 16:02
Okay, well, global climate models. And they're now called or system models, once you bring in a lot of geochemical ocean geochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, stratosphere, and whatever. So earth system models, it includes like, the same kind of atmospheric dynamics that drive like a weather forecast model. And the same thing for the oceans. And then there's a land surface module, you know, where, you know, the biomass actually responds to the weather, they've got interactive land surface models, you've got sea ice module, you've got ice sheet modules, you've got atmospheric chemistry modules, you know, all of these things, get put lumped into one giant computer program with all these interactions. And so a lot of this, in the early days, climate models, were tools to help science scientists organize their knowledge and to test ideas, help refine our questions, and test some ideas and run some experiments and see tests are understanding and pose some what if questions, well, if we do this to the ocean surface temperature, then how did the clouds respond, you know, the, you know, any, just 1000s of questions that you can ask with these climate models. But when the IPCC and this is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, you know, really was spinning up, you know, starting in the 90s, that climate models developed, and authority in the policy sphere, and really became a focal point for funding and for scientific research, the ideas, they wanted to make these models good enough, where we could predict the climate, not just global temperature, but also the regional climate, very variations, you know, whether you're gonna have, you know, floods or droughts, you know, in the Pacific Northwest, or whatever. And this hope for the climate model that you could use them for predictive purposes was never realized, in fact, you know, the climate models, even if you run them out and say, Well, how much global warming, you know, the average global surface temperature will you get? Well, the climate models diverge greatly. You know, their sensitivity to increasing carbon dioxide really varies by a factor of three. So, you know, that hasn't been nailed down. There's a lot of disagreement about what this climate sensitivity is. And until recently, the IPCC just took the values from the climate models now with the latest round of climate models with more sophisticated aerosol cloud interactions and whatever the climate sensitivity has, like, exploded into values that are generally regarded to be way too high. And so this is making people okay, well, what are we doing with these climate models? You know, we can't it's not helping us narrow down the climate sensitivity.
Nick Jikomes 19:44
So So when I'm, what I'm hearing is when you say climate sensitivity, what I'm hearing when I hear you say that is that, you know, when we make these models, climate scientists have to, they have to bake in some variables about how sensitive certain aspects The climates, like the atmosphere, say, are going to be or how easily they're going to respond to changes in co2 levels. But that these numbers aren't known quantities that are, like measured in nature, they're things that we have to estimate or guess about.
Judith Curry 20:14
Okay? Well, it's even more complicated than that climate sensitivity to co2 is an emergent thing from the climate models, it's not something you directly tune. It depends on the big uncertainty is the clouds, you know, how you're modeling the clouds, and the clouds are small scales. So these are parameterised. So it's not real physics, it's driving the cloud interaction with the climate, it's these parameterizations. And you can change these cloud parameterizations and end up with pretty different values of climate sensitivity. That's it in a nutshell. So it's not. The 10 years ago, there was a lot more tuning of the climate model to give you the answer that you thought you wanted. Okay. More recently, the climate modelers have been a little bit more honest, in terms of just letting the models do what they're gonna do, that said that they do throw out certain versions of the model that they don't like the answers to. So people are increasingly recognizing that these climate models can't be used to tell us anything about the climate sensitivity to co2. So people are falling back on, you know, historical observations, Paleo climate observations, and then just physical process reasoning, to help us narrow down the values of the climate sensitivity, but we're still dealing with a factor of three uncertainty in this most fundamentally important parameter. So the recent six assessment report from the IPCC really downplayed the climate models quite a bit. They were talking about, you know, they didn't use the climate models for climate sensitivity. And they use these simple climate emulator models. You know, with climate sensitivity is an input or something like that, to drive their economic impact models and whatever. So, you know, I feel like that this latest IPCC assessment report, in many ways, has broken the hegemony of the global climate models in the international policymaking. You know, these climate models, you know, in some of the lawsuits, climate change lawsuit, litigation, climate models have been accepted as evidence. You know, just if this is a result, this is evidence and you know, you don't get to waste any time, you know, it's not wasting any time trashing the climate models. You know, that I think that's something that's changing beneath our feet right now, in terms of what we can actually learn from these climate models. And it's, again, they're not useful for projecting the 21st century climate, certainly not regional climate. It gives you a huge range of uncertainty from scenarios that could be no big deal to, you know, fairly catastrophic. So
Nick Jikomes 23:35
one thing, one thing that could be useful here is and I don't know the answer to this myself. So when we think about climate models that are modeling the Earth's climate, like the whole climate of the Earth, and they're making predictions about what might happen in the future, based on these models, how can we can you compare that to say, just like local weather forecasts? What today? Like what's the state of the art for local weather? How far out in time, can the weather man or the weather woman predict local weather?
Judith Curry 24:04
Okay. Depending on which models and how you post process, you know, the model output and this is something that my company does, but we have, but we beat climatology beyond two weeks lead time, say for surface temperature. So, I mean that there is some pretty significant skill in these atmospheric weather models. The weather models are run at higher horizontal resolution, you know, maybe five miles, which is much higher resolution than the climate models, and so they're able to get all the details of the atmospheric circulations that can produce these extreme weather events. You know, heat waves and hurricanes and all that. The global climate models are much coarser and they don't actually simulate these extreme events, you know, they're really sort of statistically interpreted and massaged, but they're not explicitly calculated. So a lot of, you know, this argue, you know, argument about global warming causing or worsening, you know, extreme weather events. I mean, that's speculative, and the climate models don't help you. Again, you have to look at the history, not just at the past 50 years, but you have to look at the past 150 years and paleoclimate data, where you have it to try to understand, you know, the regional variability that has happened in the past before you can start drawing any conclusions about what global warming might be doing to the extreme of bounce. So a lot of what people claim, you know, this was made 30 times more likely because of human caused global warming. I mean, that's, you know, mostly fiction, and we don't know. I mean, we can do some simple reasoning and saying, Yeah, this could have been worsened a little bit. But, you know, just from simple thermodynamic arguments, but if there are dynamical feedbacks, and whatever, I mean, it's, you can't really make these statements with much confidence at all.
Nick Jikomes 26:24
And so, you mentioned earlier that you had published that paper around the time of Hurricane Katrina around, I think, tropical storm intensity or frequency. And I vaguely remember at this time, I mean, at this time, I'm like just entering college. But I do remember, it being prominently discussed in the media that, you know, hurricane intensity and frequency seem to be increasing over time. Can you bring us up to speed on what we know about that? Is that true,
Judith Curry 26:49
or it's not hurricane frequency, that's been pretty steady over the records that we have, and maybe even declining slightly. The main issue of concern and this is the one that was raised in our paper was the percentage of the hurricanes that make it to category four or five. Okay, refound a doubling since 1970. Well, subsequent analysis showed that the data in the 1970s from satellite just isn't good enough. And it's probably not good enough until maybe 1985. Since then, there's a smaller signal of an increased proportion of category four and five smaller than what we found. Whether this can be attributed to global warming, or whether it's part of a multi decadal oscillation. In the Pacific Ocean, again, more than half of the Hurricanes are in the Pacific Ocean. So whatever's happening there is driving global hurricane statistics. So you know, we don't know that the jury's still out, scientists disagree. On to what extent the percentage of category four and five hurricane increase might be caused by human caused warming. I mean, it's, there is a signal there. There could be a contribution from human caused global warming, but you know, that there's still disagreement on that one.
Nick Jikomes 28:20
I see. And if there is a relationship there, you know, as I recall, the argument is basically if the surface if the temperature of the surface of the water goes up, then in general, you're gonna get more intense storms. What do we know about how surface temperatures have in the Pacific and Atlantic have changed over time?
Judith Curry 28:39
Okay, well, the whole thing is more complicated than that. So you've got warming at the bottom, and warming at the top. So the warming at the top hampers things. Okay. And the warming at the bottom helps. So how these things interplay, you know, in terms of increasing the intensity, remains to be seen. But there's hurricane intensity isn't just about the thermodynamics, you know, the heat. It's about the circulations, the dynamics of the atmosphere. And that depends more on patterns of sea surface temperature, which influences the atmospheric circulations which then produce the intense hurricanes. So it's just not that simple. Now that the thing about the proportion is interesting, because even if the proportion is increasing, the total number would be of hurricanes would be decreasing. So we don't expect an overall increase in the number of category four and five hurricanes that might stay relatively the same. So you know, again, these are, again, the IPCC when it draws conclude shins, I think it tends to be overconfident. The assessment made by a larger group of hurricane experts under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, I thought was more authoritative and had showed less confidence than the IPCC did on most of these, most of the things related to hurricanes and global warming. So, I mean, it's an important issue. And a big part of what my company does is make forecasts of hurricane activity in both on seasonal and daily timescales, and our clients are, like insurance companies and asset managers and and also energy electric utilities, companies who want to be prepared for if they're going to have a big outage, associated with hurricane. So that's a big part of what my company does is making forecasts of landfalling hurricanes in the US.
Nick Jikomes 31:08
Yeah, and one thing that you mentioned just a moment ago is you were talking about historical data, and you mentioned satellite data and how it reaches back to the 70s. And potentially before that, but it didn't get good enough or have enough resolution until 85 or so. And with that in mind, I'm just curious about it. The general and I understand it's a sort of a big, complicated question with with many different pieces to it. But you know, you hear so many arguments about climate change that centered around sort of the notion that, okay, well, the climate is changing now, within our lifetimes, and within the last, you know, couple of human generations, and humans are probably making some contribution to that. But then other people will argue, well, the climate has always changed. It's always dynamic. And there's these, you know, big cycles that go, you know, that cycle over time. So, like, with all of that stuff in mind, how in general, do climate scientists study changes in the Earth's climate since for more than a couple of generations ago, before we had all of the satellites and instrumentation, probing everything that we have today? How much resolution is there, and how you know, how far back in time, can we get reasonably robust numbers that have to do with, you know, surface temperatures, and all of the things that we would want to measure,
Judith Curry 32:25
you know, even though you think the most basic variable would be surface temperature, and that's actually a tough one. Again, the sampling. And whether you're in a city or a rural region, and whether that changes with time will influence, you know, the temperatures, and there's just a lot of, you know, if you're on a mountain, you know, one side of the mountain will have a totally different temperature than the other side of the mountain, you know, and it's all, even though it's sort of close together. So you've got a lot of, you know, heterogeneity, you know, in the temperatures. People who put together surface temperature climatologies, you know, take it back to 1850 1860. And, of course, it increasingly gets worse, the farther back you go, and it's really even more uncertain for the ocean temperatures. You know, the, the North Atlantic is fairly well sampled, you know, ship routes in the Indian Ocean, they have pretty but the vast expanse of the Pacific. You know, a lot of people say you don't have really good records prior to 1960, you know, the Pacific temperatures and certainly prior to 1920. So you know, that the data situation is tough. And once you get into rainfall, and some of the more difficult to measure variables, and it even gets worse. So people rely on proxy, you know, Paleo climate, you know, looking at sediments looking at, you know, ice cores, looking at a variety of things to help in, you know, tree rings to help infer what the climate was before we had good records. The problem is most of those proxies can be ambiguous in terms of what they're actually measuring, particularly tree rings. You know, when I first heard about tree rings, they were measuring rainfall and drought. Okay, and that makes sense. But then with the big hockey stick reconstruction, now, they're all of a sudden they're telling me well, these are measuring temperatures. Well, we can filter out the precipitation component, I don't think so. And then also tree rings respond to increasing co2. So, you know, you're convoluting a lot of different things, you know, and you're trying to extract from that temperature signal I felt, not something I particularly had have much confidence in. So it's hard, you know that the data, the whole climate change issue is under determined by data, there's no question about it, you know, since 1990, we have some wonderful satellite data sets. But even then the satellites have a finite lifetime. And you have to have overlapping satellites to make sure they're calibrated and whatever. And one of the, the biggest uncertainties in climate science is what the solar radiation has been. In the 1990s, there was a gap between the satellites at Kremlin and Akron to to measure what the Sun is outputting. And that gap occurred because of the Challenger that disaster, you know, that blew up, and that delayed the launch of the second one, so you didn't have this overlap period. And there's a huge debate in the solar physics community, as to, you know, which end of these tails, you know, to interpret, one gives a fairly steady, you know, solar scene, you know, since 1980. And the other one is more highly variable one, which would make the sun a more important component of the recent climate. So we don't have any way to resolve that right now. I think we have to wait another two decades, before we have enough data from the current and forthcoming satellites to really resolve, you know, how variable the sun actually is on these timescales. So that's one of the big uncertainties. And that's because we don't have good enough overlap. And in the satellite data, I
mean, it seems like a rather arcane issue, you know, a lot of significance. So that the satellite datasets are wonderful. And, you know, we're getting new capabilities all the time. But the new capabilities are wonderful, they help us understand, but they don't help with this issue of having a long enough record. So, you know, the, the whole situation is under determined by data.
Nick Jikomes 37:28
I see. So, you know, one of the things I did plan to ask you about was how the sun's output just in terms of heat and radiation changes over time, but it sounds like the answer there is basically that the the level of sampling we have of that kind of data isn't very good. And so there's probably a lot of question marks there.
Judith Curry 37:47
Well, there's a bunch of reconstructions, you know, some are high variability, some are low variability. But the more important thing that it's not totally about what is called Total Solar Irradiance, watts per meter squared, the amount of heat, there's a lot of solar indirect effects. Okay, related to ultraviolet radiation related to magnetic field issues related to cosmic rays, there's a whole lot of what is called solar indirect effects on climate, which aren't adequately understood. And, you know, these have an, you know, the potential to amplify the regular energetic variability by factors, you know, as high as five. So, you know, it's a potentially important, very important issue that we just don't have a good enough understanding of. So, you know, if we're really going to be surprised in the 21st century about how the climate change plays out, I think the surprises are probably going to come from the sun, in terms of, you know, some factors that really aren't included in the climate models at this point.
Nick Jikomes 39:11
Sorry, I was on mute. And do we know, I mean, again, I really know nothing about this subject. So but in terms of solar solar radiation, you know, and how it changes over time and what those dynamics look like, is it well known that there are sort of rare, big effects that come from the sun over, you know, at least long timescales, like every, you know, on the scale of hundreds or 1000s of years that you can have, you know, big solar flares and things like this, that really deviate from sort of the normal patterns that that we would see on like a human life's lifespan scale?
Judith Curry 39:44
Well, it's reasonably well known to solar physicists. It's not well known to climate scientists, and then certainly not well known to the general public. In fact, I'm reviewing a book on Sun Climate Connections. And there's a whole lot you know, I, I've been interested in this topic. So I may be a little bit more knowledgeable than the average climate scientist. But there was a whole lot in this book that I didn't know about. And you know that this is so basic to the climate problem. We just need to pay a whole lot more attention to this issue.
Nick Jikomes 40:22
And, you know, you know, probably the most well known, publicly, at least the most well known variable, or the one that's talked about, I think the most, when he talks about climate change, especially human induced climate change our greenhouse gases, and in particular co2. So can you give us just like an overview of like, what what do we know about how co2 levels have changed over time since basically the Industrial Revolution? And how do we measure that? And how does that compare to maybe historical levels that we might have records for before that? And what are some of the other greenhouse gases that maybe don't get talked about as much?
Judith Curry 40:59
Okay, co2, you know, over geologic history, you know, millions of years kind of thing, there's been some pretty big variations, and we've had, you know, much higher than we have now. But I would say, during the last half million years, since we've sort of had ice ages, the co2 level has been relatively low, and it rises and falls. With the ice ages, you know, as the land uptake decreases, or the ocean uptake increases associated with the advance of the ice sheets, the warming or cooling of the oceans, you know, all these kinds of things influence the amount of co2 in the atmosphere. You in the current post glacial co2, as measured from the ice core was pretty stable from the co2. However, there's other scientists who are more biological, you know, measure the, the plants domotz. And whatever they say that they think that co2 must have been more variable than we currently think it is. That's a minority view. But it's one, you know, that we don't quite throw out. But so it was the pre industrial concentration of co2 is about 280 parts per million. And we're now almost at 420. So we've increased carbon dioxide by 50%. So we've sort of already conducted half of the experiment of doubling of co2. Now, so do we attribute all the warming since like the mid 18th century, to co2? Well, not really, because that was the Little Ice Age, which was caused by a combination of solar variability, and volcanoes and oceans circulation pattern, something that the jury is still out on exactly what combination of those things contributed to the little ice ages. And we started coming out of the Little Ice Age around 1860, that's when we saw the sea level start to rise, the glacier starting to melt a little bit. And that was before fossil fuels. You know, were very significant, you know, there wasn't really the fossil fuels didn't really accelerate until about 1950. So you started seeing a temperature increase, and sea level rise and everything around 1860. And that was a relatively natural, you know, with a boost from the sun. Relatively low volcanic activity, and presumably, favorable ocean circulations that helped the warming along the warming hasn't been steady. There's a lot of multi-decadal natural variability. But then we do have this slope creep of global warming. Now the emissions really kicked in after World War Two around 1950. But you didn't really see the warming pick up until the 1980s. Okay, so there was a lull between the 1940s and 1980s, where temperatures actually declined slightly, even though co2 was increasing. And people blame this on air pollution, things like that, which to me are very convincing because you saw this going on in the southern hemisphere also where air pollution isn't a problem. So you know, there's a lot of things that we don't even understand about the 20th century climate variability where we do have some pretty decent data. So co2 is contributing people who blame all of the recent warming on co2. I don't think that's justified. I think there's, we had a grand solar maximum that peaked towards the end of the 20th century, which was a player. ocean circulation patterns were favorable in the 80s, and 90s, which I think helped boost the warming. And we only had one major volcanic eruption that was Pinatubo in 1992. So I think those are factors that also helped boost the warming in addition to co2.
Okay, with regards to other greenhouse gases, okay, the second most important one would be methane, which has natural geological sources, but methane, it also has human sources as well, agriculture has boosted methane production, notably rice and livestock. Oil and gas exploration ends up leaking methane into the air. So those are two big sources. But but the variability of methane has been weird, that was pretty flat through the 90s, and then all of a sudden a big uptick around 2006. And it doesn't, you know, trend with anything related to fossil fuels. It may be more related. The methane is reactive in the atmosphere, co2 is pretty inert, nothing's reactive. So it may be the reactants that have been modified rather than the actual emissions of methane. So that's a topic that, you know, there's some debate on and a lot of uncertainty about. Okay, then we have the hydro fluorocarbons. Remember the CFCs that were destroying the ozone? Whether Yeah, yeah, well, they came up with a whole new set of chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons, which don't have the same ozone problem. But a lot of them are very active as greenhouse gases. So they had a you know, they're very powerful absorbers.
Nick Jikomes 47:35
I mean, where did those come from? What are they used in?
Judith Curry 47:38
refrigeration, air conditioner, and you know, the same thing that the CFCs were you add propellants, things like that. So the good news is that the concentration is still pretty small. But you know, in coming decades, if we keep using them, that could be noticeable. Another important is nitrous oxide. And one of the sources of this is from fertilizer. And so a lot of the protests like in another lungs, and Ireland and even Canada related people trying to restrict their use of ammonia based fertilizer. So we don't have this nitric oxide pollution. Well, that's all very well and good, but we also don't have enough food unless we use a fertilizer. So So that's causing, you know, big problems as we speak. It seems pretty misguided to me. So there's, you know, there's other ways of dealing with it nitric oxide from fertilizer, rather than just saying don't use it.
Nick Jikomes 48:45
What are some other ways of dealing with it?
Judith Curry 48:48
More chemically, and how efficient application and then more chemically related things. So, but it's a trace gas, I mean, it has a tiny impact, you know, compared to co2 or even methane, it has a tiny impact. It's not worth worrying about, in my opinion, given you know, the issues with co2 and methane. So co2 is the big one. And as politically the important one,
Nick Jikomes 49:19
okay. Yeah. So So co2 is is the major greenhouse gas. And you said it's not reactive in the atmosphere. So it doesn't like there's no chemistry going on. There are very little compared to methane. But it is a greenhouse gas and it probably does contribute to warming to some extent. Can you talk can you give me an idea of like, what are the major sources, natural sources and sinks of co2 that exist on Earth?
Judith Curry 49:44
Well, volcanoes are the big one. Burning, forest fire burning and biomass emits a lot of co2 into the atmosphere. I mean, those are the two big ones. The ocean has carbon dioxide in it. And you know, as you have, if you open a warm bottle of soda pop with a lot of fizz the gases escaping, whereas if you open a coal bottle, you don't get that same escape. So certain regions of the ocean there's a flux of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and other parts of the ocean sort of act as a sink of carbon dioxide. The biosphere take, you know, as it grows, as trees grow, they use sort of co2 effectively as fertilizer. So, people talk about co2 is plant fertilizer. I mean, it very literally is it helps plants grow. So there's a whole there's you know, various geologic processes and seeps, you know, what were co2 escapes. So there is natural processes where there is, you know, variations in atmospheric co2 And then very distant geologic paths, we've seen periods with much higher co2. That wasn't caused by humans, it was a whole host of complicated geological processes that were involved. So there are natural variations, but the emissions from burning fossil fuels have certainly, you know, caused a spike. And right now our emissions are being subsidized by uptake from the land and the ocean, you know, which helps diminish the impact of the co2 emissions on the atmospheric concentration. So the question is, is whether whether those sinks are going to grow, or decrease in the future. Okay, that the signs right now show that both sinks continue to grow. But at some point, you know, could that reverse? I don't know. But yeah, the whole carbon cycle, there's a lot of things that we don't adequately understand about the carbon cycle. But and there's new things that we learned all the time, like somebody identified as an example, somebody identified a bacteria in the ocean. That seems to be sucking up a lot of carbon dioxide. Rather than, you know, the phytoplankton, you know, they use carbon dioxide to grow. But it seems like this bacteria is also sucking up a lot of carbon dioxide. And that's something new. So I'm sure there's no, there's all sorts of new things that we will find out. But, you know, we understand qualitatively how the global carbon cycle works. We don't understand the quantitative details. And the issue is whether this the sinks are going to continue at the same rate, or grow or diminish with time, as we have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I mean, that's the big unknown question.
Nick Jikomes 53:26
And so if we were to substantially cut fossil fuel emissions, such that co2 levels went down measurably? How, how much confidence, would you have that that would likely or plausibly lead to the expected changes in surface temperature?
Judith Curry 53:45
Well, the thing about the climate system is has some very long timescales. And you really can't unring this bell, on the emissions that we've emitted. So some climate models have run the experiment. Okay. And this has they have all the chemists fancy chemistry in the ocean or whatever. Okay, so if you immediately cut off the excess co2 emissions, and you run out the climate model for, you know, couple 100 years, I mean, after 50 years, I mean, there's no equilibration some climate models are still warming, others are cooling, you know, there's no real equilibration V, things like sea level rise, and the ice sheets have even longer timescales. So, you know, that's hundreds to 1000 years before all of that really equilibrates If we were to shut off the emissions, in terms of actually feel, you know, improving the weather and extreme events You know, it's some, even if there is a co2 effect on all that, which is mostly a question, you probably wouldn't feel an impact of that until the 22nd century. So you know, reducing the co2 emissions, I think is a good thing that take the edge off, you know, some really catastrophic outcome, but thinking that we're going to quickly undo this and sea level rise is gonna stop and the weather's gonna suddenly be nice. No, that's not the way it's gonna work.
Nick Jikomes 55:42
When when you think about global temperature changes, and sea level changes since, say, the mid 1800s, where, you know, we have, you know, as good as data as we're gonna get, you know, can you just remind me because I, again, this is my area, I don't even know, how much has the average temperature increase since then. And how much has the sea level changed? Since you know, for the last couple 100 years?
Judith Curry 56:02
Okay, the 1.1 degrees centigrade is what we're talking about since the end of the 19th century until nominally 2020, that's 1.1 degrees centigrade, which is about two degrees Fahrenheit. Okay. Sea level has probably, okay. 100 years is about eight inches, so it's more than 100 years. So it's probably a foot of sea level rise since 1860. Okay, and so, again, a lot of that sea level rise is natural, and some of it is probably associated with human caused warming to some extent. But separating that out and trying to identify acceleration and filter out El Nino effects and life ever, it's not a straightforward thing to untangle. And now, we rely on satellite altimeters to measure global sea level rise, and there's a ton of spatial variation, you know, largely associated with ocean circulation patterns. So this is an A lot of local sea level rise, you know, New Orleans or wherever is associated with the fact that the land is sinking. And it can sink from for geologic reasons. Or more likely, it's thinking associated with land use, you know, the sheer weight of cities, but also the extraction of groundwater and petroleum, you know, oil and gas and whatever.
Nick Jikomes 57:51
Well, I never even thought about it. I never thought about that. Like the the literal mass of cities pushes down the land,
Judith Curry 57:58
especially the groundwater if then compacts. You know, even if you stopped doing the groundwater, you know, there's no way to expand again. So, okay, was done is done. So, in most places, at least 50 per unit where sea level rise is a concern, more than half of the concern is associated with land use. Subsistence so yeah, it's particularly bad, you know, the Gulf Coast, the Galveston, you know, New Orleans kind of area. And then the Mid Atlantic States Chesapeake and around there is where you have a lot of substance, Florida, okay, the state of Florida, which, you know, half the state is under six feet elevation, or they have a sea level rise problem, but it's not really sinking. I mean, their problem is really associated with, you know, the rising sea level. And of course, storm surge, which you know, from hurricanes which vaster base, but it's a slow creep, you know, global sea level rise is a slow creep. The concern about sea level rise is if there could be some, like catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Because it's an unstable ice sheet, I mean, this thing could collapse. And it would have nothing to do with warming these actually under ice volcanoes, and it's just a very unstable situation, warming and raising of sea level and that there's these ice shelves that extend out from the continent. And as the sea level rise, and it's warmer, you're melting the ice from these ice shells from below as well as from above. And once these ice shelves really start to move fast, and then the rest of the West Antarctic ice shelf, the motion would be accelerated. And so that's how you could, you know, lead to collapse of some of the ice sheet. In the last interglacial about 120,000 years ago, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet did not collapse, it appears to have diminished and mass, but it did not collapse. There's not a lot of uncertainty, but as to when the last time there was a pretty big collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, it's something that could happen. If it does happen, this is likely to be caused by geological effects, as anything related to warming, but that's the big wildcard that has everybody, you know, alarmed about future sea level rise, it's just a huge amount of uncertainty. And there's a huge amount of things that we don't understand about, you know, the ice sheet dynamics of these marine ice shelves. So this is a very important and very active area of research. But there's not a lot of confidence with in any of these dire projections of huge sea level rise in the 21st century, I mean, we're talking about most likely another foot or two.
Nick Jikomes 1:01:19
Switching gears slightly, you know, another topic I wanted to ask you about is just how you think about how you personally think about the different you know, why we might or might not use different energy sources available to us. So the way that I begin to think about this, so when people talk about like oil, versus natural gas versus wind versus solar versus nuclear, like we have all of these potential sources of energy that we use in different ways to different extents. You know, when I start to think about it, I think, Okay, well, one, one key variable here, one, one dimension here is how abundant is the energy source? Another dimension is how readily how, how, well, can we utilize the energy source given current state of technology? And then another one would be what's the environmental impact? So you know, across those dimensions, or any others that you think are important, how do you personally think about each of these energy sources and the extent to which we should be using more of one and less of the other and things like that?
Judith Curry 1:02:19
I feel like I need to pull up a table from my book, because I lay out all these different things. If you have it, you go for it. Okay, hang on, I'm just gonna look for a minute.
Nick Jikomes 1:02:31
No, no worries, I was literally my mind imagining a kind of table.
Judith Curry 1:02:36
Because then I won't forget anything is like because I put a lot of thought into this one. Book format, chapter 14. Okay, let me get to my little table here, because I thought this was pretty clever.
Nick Jikomes 1:03:11
So for those just listening, in a moment, Judith is going to pull up a table, so you'll be able to see that on the video version, but we'll do our best to describe it verbally as well.
Judith Curry 1:03:21
Okay. So, again, the first thing is you want it to be abundant, and cheap. I mean, human progress really depends on having, you know, not just, you know, our safety and our daily, whatever, but if we want to make progress, and you know, build our economies and grow and thrive and meet our human potential, I mean, this depends on energy, and we need it to be abundant and cheap. Okay, it also needs to be reliable. And this is, you know, reliability relates to severe weather, things that are dependent on the weather, you know, tend to be less reliable. So, you know, a question that I've asked is if, you know, we're moving to renewables because of concerns about climate change, and its impact on the weather, why are we banking on, you know, on unreliable, you know, subject to weather variability and extremes. Another issue is energy security. And this is one that people sort of forgot about until Russia reminded me by invading Ukraine that we need to pay attention to energy security. Again, clean is another consideration, pollution from emissions mining, ecosystem and human health concerns as well as co2 emissions.
Nick Jikomes 1:04:56
Did you find that table? Yes, I did. should be a Share Screen icon at the bottom of your portal.
Judith Curry 1:05:06
Yes. Host disabled participant screen sharing.
Nick Jikomes 1:05:11
Okay, there you go straight now.
Judith Curry 1:05:14
Okay. Share Screen. Can you see my screen?
Nick Jikomes 1:05:19
Not yet? Yeah.
Judith Curry 1:05:22
Share Screen. Okay, desktop share. There we go. Okay, here we go. Okay. So and also is the issue of you don't want your energy source competing with food and water. I mean, it drives me crazy, the corn ethanol thing drives me crazy. I mean, I it's some crazy percentage of the US corn crop is burned for corn ethanol, which raises the, you know, a bunch, apart from raising the price of food. I mean, it's using water resources is degrading our soils and on and on it goes. The other issue is there's an increasing desire for local control of the power sources. And this relates to I mean, this is where home solar, you know, is a big one, but also micro grids gives, you know, community more control over their power. And the other thing is the land use issue. I mean, all these you know, wind farms and solar farms, not to mention, primary biofuels use a huge amount of land. And this is, you know, interfering with other land use priorities and also with ecosystems. Okay, then we have another issue is material use. Getting relates to the scarcity of rare minerals, scope and scale of the lining supply chain issues, and then no co2 emissions. So when we're envisioning what we want, for a 21st century, energy systems, you know, these are all the things that you would consider, in least in my mind. And I think we need to decouple the energy issue from the global warming issue. Because the urgency associated with the climate change issue drives us in a single direction to use available technology and to implement it quickly. without really doing, you know, full lifecycle assessments of the resource use, and, and even emissions associated with some of these things. You know, in most countries, the land use is prohibitive for you know, having relying on wind and solar, they just don't have the land for it, the US, Canada and Australia and Russia, they have plenty of land, but a lot of European countries and East Asian, you know, Japan, South Korea, they just simply don't have the space course there's offshore. But that's, you know, the coastal shore region is also valuable, as well. So there's a whole host of things you want to consider. There's a lot of reasons to transition away from fossil fuels apart from pollution and co2 issues. First and foremost, is that it has to be continually mined. Okay, as opposed to renewables and nuclear. I mean, once you have the thing built and running, you don't have to continually, you know, mine for fuel on a daily basis. This introduces, you know, cost spikes and variability, geopolitical concerns, a whole host of things. So there's reasons to transition away from fossil fuels independent of the global warming issue. When I look at, you know, I try to imagine what the power systems look like and 2100. I mean, I don't see a planet covered in windmills. I mean, I don't see how we can do this without nuclear power. I mean, in order to make progress, we need power density. Wind and solar are two. They're very diffuse sources of power. I mean, I don't see this without nuclear power. Geothermal would be great, but we're not quite there yet in terms of figuring out how to relay that there. has advanced geothermal and it's not clear, you know exactly what this means and how it will play out. But that seems like another great power source. I think when I think rooftop solar is a great solution that helps, you know, with the personal autonomy that people desire, think when makes sense, you know, in the Great Plains of the US,
there's just nothing there. I mean, in certain regions, I mean, when power seems okay. I think bio energy, we need to get away from that.
I mean, Europe, I mean, the US is crazy with its, you know, corn ethanol, but in Europe, they're actually burning wood chips, you know, in their power plants. And, you know, they're importing wood chips from the North Carolina forests, and they're clear cutting forests and Canada and shipping it over to Europe to be burned. You know, because this is renewable energy. Well, it's renewable energy, it's destroying our ecosystems. And it's also emitting a heck of a lot of co2 into the atmosphere, it makes no sense. So, you know, the bottom line is what I like right now is nuclear, geothermal, rooftop solar. And I think wind has certain niches, you know, but who knows what the future holds for new energy technologies. But, you know, here's the checklist that I think you want to, you know, look at when you evaluate these individual energy sources. But but the underlying thing is abundance, abundant, cheap energy, this is what we need. In the developing countries, I mean, people fear. In developing countries, they fear, a lack of energy and the inability to grow the economy much more than they fear, climate change. And the developing countries, particularly in Africa, they don't have access to grid electricity. And they're being even though they have a lot of natural gas resources. They're not receiving loans or anything, or assistance from World Bank or whatever, help actually utilize those resources rather than they, they mined them and then ship them off to Europe. Because you're a peasant capacity to use them. So it's really exploitative, been referred to as green colonialism, energy apartheid. And I've been very vocally against that strategy for trying to reduce co2 emissions by keeping Africans in poverty, I think it's neither moral nor just makes no sense. So again, I think energy abundance, first and foremost. And while we're at it, you know, let's work down the list and see what makes sense in terms of, you know, each region, and each economy is going to have, you know, different resources and different needs. And so, there'll be a lot of different solutions and different locations, that this is the way I see it, playing out where co2 emissions is not the primary determinant. Like I said, moving away from fossil fuels, I think that's going to happen anyways. But in terms of what next? There's a lot of other considerations to be. What about
Nick Jikomes 1:13:49
it? Yeah, so so you've got for those just listening, you know, we're looking at this table. And there are all these values, as Judith is calling them that each have their own risks and dangers. One is the abundance of the energy supply. One is the reliability of the energy supply, how secure is it? How clean is it? How does it affect our food and water supply? How does it give or take away people's local control of the land? Is their minimal land use associated with it as their mineral material use? And then co2 emissions? So there's all these factors that go into, you know, a matrix of considerations with respect to each of these energy supplies? And, Judith, how would you summarize what you just said, it sounds like basically, you like nuclear energy, you think that's the way to move you like wind for, you know, the niches of the world where it can be used, and there's enough wind and not a lot of other need to use the land. And you think we're going to move away from fossil fuels anyway, not just because of the co2 emission side of the equation, but because there's a variety of other reasons to move in other directions as well. Yeah, I also
Judith Curry 1:14:53
like rooftop solar. I'm not a fan of the big solar farms because they just the land use is crazy. for solar farms are even less dense than wind turbines. But rooftop solar, I think is a fabulous solution. It doesn't add to the land use problem, and it helps promote the local local control issue.
Nick Jikomes 1:15:14
I see. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah, a lot of I know that one of the criticisms of a lot of those big solar farms is that they just take up so much land, and there's not a lot of bang for our buck there, especially when you consider what other things that land could use for such as such as food. Exactly. And, you know, on the question of food, you know, this is another thing. I'm certainly not an expert in and a lot of people seem to have very strong opinions here. So, you know, when we think about land use for food production, and how this ties into, you know, climate related externalities. You know, you get some people arguing that we shouldn't be farming animals anymore, because that's associated apparently with more co2 emissions. Other people say, Well, yes, no, maybe so but when you have large swaths of land devoted to, you know, these these plant monocultures, that has a lot of its own issues to do with, you know, destroying local wildlife populations and increased use of pesticides and things, how do you think about land use in terms of food and how it ties into how we should think about food production, as it relates to the effect on the local climate in the local environment?
Judith Curry 1:16:28
Well, the intensity of food production relative to the amount of land has increased substantially in recent decades. So we're getting much greater yield per acre. And you know, that trend, you know, is continuing with better farming practices better, better hybrids of crops, and whatever, that there's a lot, there's a lot that can be done for smart agriculture, in terms of, you know, better serving the land, you know. And increasing yields. And, again, one of one of our clients is an NGO working in South Asia to help farmers make better use of weather forecasts information, so they can plan their, how much to plant, when to plant and when to fertilize, how much to fertilize, when irrigation is needing when to yield, you know, when to harvest, which helps them increase their yields and reduce their risks from adverse weather, both seasonally and you know, on a weekly basis, so there's a lot that can be done to minimize fertilizer use to make farming more efficient. There's many, many things that can be done to make agriculture better with relate with regards to animals, you know, cows and whatnot, they can help the land, you know, by grazing can help the land and there's ways to make this better, I don't see people giving up meat, for the sake of co2 emissions, I don't see that happening. You know, that there's ways to manage the land, so that the soil stores more carbon. And again, there's better farming practices that can be used. And there's a lot of research on this. But at the end of the day, biggest problem is food waste, there's a crazy amount of food that gets wasted. In my own household, I solved that problem by feeding our chickens, the, you know, any meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, kind of nuts, seeds, scraps to the chickens, and so recycle that into eggs. So we have very little food waste at my house. But, you know, globally, food waste is just crazy. And so if we figure out ways not to waste so much food, I mean, that that would be you know, a big solution rather than trying to convince people not to have livestock and, and not to eat meat. I don't see that as happening.
Nick Jikomes 1:19:33
So, I mean, as a as a climate scientists with with your background and your expertise, and just the human being living on the planet. If you were to, you know, if we could just wave a magic wand and Judith curry is the CEO of Earth. What specific concrete actions would you have policymakers implement to, you know, optimize for human wellbeing? With respect to energy usage, and minimize some of the negative consequences of using different energy sources, well, what would that look like in the near term? The next 510 15 years? What should we be doing? And what what should we stop doing? And, you know, all of that within the domain of like what's actually implementable with the technology we have today?
Judith Curry 1:20:20
Okay, I strongly support transitioning to a 21st century energy system, you know, that's more abundant, cheaper, cleaner, whatever. Okay, we want to do that transition. But in order to get there, we need lots of research and development. And we are also going to need a lot of fossil fuels in the short term. I mean, how are you going to build the nuclear power plants and the big wind turbines and do all that mining and everything about fossil fuels and the machines that are fueled by fossil fuels and the mining and everything. So we're going to need, we just need to accept that we're going to need more fossil fuels in the short term. And once we accept that, and stop trying to kneecap the fossil fuel companies, you know, with all these silly things, canceling pipelines and divestment, and no loans and all this kind of stuff, we could get on with the transition. Okay, having abundant energy right now, so people aren't suffering, but we have enough energy to actually, you know, build this new system, and all these new, you know, power plants, and whatever. So we need to drop the, you know, for the next 30 years, we're going to be using fossil fuels. So we need to get over it, and not try to tie ourselves to these timetables with co2 emissions, and whatever, which, you know, we're not going to get anything accomplished. And then we need to the next thing on the list, you know, we've got energy, water and food, those are the three big ones, okay, we need to manage our water resources better, I mean, oftentimes, we're faced with either too much or too little water, we need to, you know, figure out how to deal with, with floods, even big floods, and we need to deal how to deal do a better job of water storage. So we're not faced with these, you know, crises. And if, and once we have, you know, really abundant energy, we can do desalinization, you know, with coastal plants, so, abundant energy will really help us, you know, adapt to climate change, you know, everybody can have air conditioners, we can have at least the coastal regions, we can have, you know, abundant water with the salinization you know, things like that, so, deal with water and then deal with food. You know, there's better better agricultural practices that, you know, protect the land, there's smarter agricultural practices that can be enabled by, you know, better use of weather forecasts information, there's new hybrids, varietals, you know, that will be more robust to whatever, you know, the weather situation turns out to be so you know, dealing with energy, food and water, as issues in and of themselves, forget the climate and co2 For the moment, but just figure out what we want our energy, food and water systems to look like for the 21st century to provide security abundance, and so that, that humans can develop and progress and realize our potential in the 21st century. So that's what I'm looking at, you know, we need to just drop the focus on co2, and focus on these other things, and co2 will, you know, take care of itself. And if it really turns out to be a big problem, we don't understand the magnitude of the problem we're facing in the 21st century, it could be relatively benign or there could be some, you know, crazy things happen that we don't expect. But if we're prosperous, you know, we can increase our resilience so that we can handle whatever nature dishes out at us. So energy, food and water, and then we resilience against extreme weather events, and whatever, whatever climate surprises nature might throw at us. I think that's what we should focus on. And if we start talking about co2, we can get on with some of these things and make real progress and if co2 really turns out to be a bigger problem, than we think We can deal with direct air capture and, you know, whatever. Other kinds of things we might try to do to sequester carbon dioxide.
But in order to do that, we're going to need a lot of energy and a lot of land for direct air capture. So it's all used up by wind turbines. Never, you know, this is all competing against each other. So, you know, it's a complex issue, but energy is at the linchpin for all of our, you know, telecommunications, you know, transport logistics, you know, everything that goes on in the world is you know, underpinned by energy. And we can't sort of kneecap ourselves by trying to play games in the near term, with trying to restrict fossil fuel use, you know, it's just going to do way more harm than good. And it's going to slow down the eventual transition to what will eventually be a cleaner energy system, and perhaps an agricultural system with less co2 emissions.
Nick Jikomes 1:26:14
Yeah, on the subject of extreme weather events, and being resilient to the sort of high magnitude, low frequency disasters that could happen with, you know, the climate and geological phenomenon, things, are there any extreme kinds of extreme weather events, or geological events that you're particularly concerned about, or you think we're particularly underprepared for compared to others?
Judith Curry 1:26:41
things having to do with floods, you know, hurricane, storm surge, and flooding river, I mean, these are the ones that are the most devastating, and where the most lives are lost, and the most damage is done. You know, so you know, storm surge, you know, you can do natural coastal protections, you know, engineered barriers, and all this kind of stuff. And the Dutch are certainly the experts to those kinds of barriers, actually, and part of it is, is really zoning, we're developing too much on the coast, and in floodplains. So if we're going to build in those areas, that should be cheap stuff, you know, with a lifetime of 20 years, you know, that you're going to expect it to be destroyed at some point. So we just need to either stop, you know, like Florida, I mean, the whole state, a potential disaster zone, but I understand the appeal, you know, of that, of that climate and the beautiful coast and everything like that. So you're not gonna say don't live in Florida, because, you know, you're gonna get blasted by sea level rise and hurricanes, but you can build structures, you know, that are elevated, so they don't get so impacted by storm surge, and sea level rise, or you can build really cheap stuff. So when it gets blown down, you know, you just rebuild it, you know, relatively low cost. So I think water, you know, too much water floods and river floods and, but but the river I mean, you're gonna farm, you know, in river basins, and flood pond because that's just the richest soil, but you don't need to have whole cities there. So I think better zoning, and, you know, discouraging, you know, building in, in floodplains. Okay, it's an important thing to do. Because, you know, a lot of these people, you know, that their places get knocked down by hurricanes are wiped out by a flood, and then then they, they get funds to rebuild. And the same things happen. I guess, if there's some area in Louisiana, where a lot of the structures have been rebuilt 12 times the same location, and they keep getting wiped out. Now, that makes no sense. We need to stop subsidizing that kind of behavior. So this is what I think the big disasters are like, heat waves and cold waves. If you have adequate energy supplies, these are non profit. These are non problems, but it's too much water is the big problem. You know, these big floods that can be horrendous. To me are the biggest problems.
Nick Jikomes 1:29:40
And can you go ahead and close out the screenshare? There we go. Um, you know, obviously, you're no stranger to the politicization of science and how how polarizing you know, climate science is so you know, one of the most interesting and upsetting Things about climate sciences, you know, you can pluck a random person out of the population, and you can have a very good guess as to, you know, what their views are going to be based purely on their how they vote politically. And I'll assume that most listeners are not going to be unfamiliar with that with respect to climate science. But, you know, even more generally, in your view, and based on your experience in this whole climate science, you know, controversy that that, you know, it's been controversial and polarizing for a long time. What is it about certain fields of science that make some of them more prone to political politicization that than others?
Judith Curry 1:30:40
Well, if it's policy relevant, you know, the one thing that's worse than climate change seems to be gender and GMOs. That people are even more passionate about that kind of stuff. That the, the issue, the problem with climate, and this one is unnecessary. And it was done by, you know, it was trying to oversimplify the problem, to meet with a pre planned political agenda, you know, trying to push this dangerous anthropogenic climate change, and that we need to, you know, eliminate fossil fuels. And this was decided on, you know, in the early 1990s, before we knew much of anything about this problem. So we had the policy cart way out in front of the scientific horse, and people just, you know, at, scientists were told to build consensus around this, you know, to provide enough certainty. So the policymakers could proceed with this. And this is like the totally wrong way to make policy, totally wrong way to let science do its thing. So we can actually understand this problem. And so you ended up getting a lock in, you know, in terms of the policy and the science, there was so much inertia, you know, heading in this direction. And then, you know, at some point, say, in the last five years, people realize, well, this isn't really working, we're not accomplishing much. We've got this huge amount of political polarization emissions are still increasing, the public is at war over this, the science has been framed too narrowly, and even corrupted in some instances by this whole thing. And, you know, this is not healthy for scientists not healthy for policy, it's not healthy for humans who want to move forward in the 21st century, you know, with a better situation, you know, cleaner environment, more energy on and on it goes so that they can really develop the full human potential to thrive. So we're stymieing progress, human progress, as well as signing progress on actually reducing co2 emissions. You know, yeah, we're putting in a lot of windmills and whatever, but it's not displacing fossil fuels at this point. Fossil fuels are still like 82% of, of whatever. And most of the clean stuff is hydropower or nuclear it just like a tiny amount of wind and solar, globally, it just isn't. It seems like a lot. But in terms of the overall energy that we use, it's just like a sliver. So you know, that this, this isn't working, and the politics of fear trying to scare people into doing something about climate change, I think has backfired. And the most interesting thing about this inflation Reduction Act, which looks at recently passed the Senate, is that it wasn't billed as a climate change. Bill. It was titled with something else. There's a lot of incentives for people to do various things related to clean energy. So it's more of a carrot rather than a stick. So they're trying to, and there's also stuff in there for fossil fuels. It's really about energy abundance, and trying to provide people with incentives, you know, to go towards cleaner energy sources. And you know, this was a political winner far more than the carbon tax and cap and trade and, you know, the punishing of the oil companies, all these other things that have been tried that haven't worked. I mean, this one seems like a political winner. Don't call it climate change, and give people carrots rather than sticks. I mean, that seems like the win And recipe.
So I mean, maybe we can make some progress here. But we need to get away from this arbitrary deadlines of emissions, we can't build a new gas power plant because of co2 emissions. Well, if you don't build that gas power plant, you may not have enough energy to build your renewable energy. And you're going to have, you know, people don't want to pay more money for energy. He's seen this everywhere, you know, in Europe, the US and the poor countries like Pakistan and whatever, they can't afford to pay these high gas prices. And people are, you know, just really suffering. So, not having enough energy is very, very bad for humanity, we need abundant cheap energy. And if we can make it clean, great. But we don't try to cut off the tap, before we've accomplished the clean energy infrastructure. We need fossil fuels until everything's in place.
Nick Jikomes 1:36:10
And, you know, on this on the subject of the politicization of science, and how and why the science is conducted. So in your experience as a climate scientist, how does something like scientific funding and how its allocated and doled out influence or set up incentives for scientists to seek out certain conclusions versus others? How does how does the way that science gets funded in the US at least start to relate and shape? The types of results that people go out and look for?
Judith Curry 1:36:41
Well, yeah, what it's really the the funding agencies issue, announcements of opportunity, that are framed around helping us to address the climate crisis. Because you know, and so, like, you've already presuppose a complete conclusion that the most even the National Science Foundation, which isn't, you know, supposed to be mission oriented, you know, it frames a lot of its announcements, you know, related to human cause climate change, and it's very, and the main problem is that natural climate variability has been marginalized. I mean, NASA is really good at funding the sun, the solar research. So you know, kudos to NASA, NASA on that one. But, like the natural climate variability, the ocean also lay that gets just a sliver of funding from, you know, the oceanography division at NSF, or something like that. So that there's basically no funding, you know, for this you know, which is a problem and a lot of the really interesting work. That isn't, you know, along this mainstream narrative comes from people from outside climate science, and even outside academia. In fact, some of the most important research on climate sensitivity is being done by Nick Lewis, who is a British fine semi retired British financier, who happens to know a lot about math and statistics, and majored in physics and math, I guess, at Cambridge or something, but he's doesn't have a PhD. And he's not an academic, but he's doing what I regard to be the most important research on climate sensitivity, as an example. And, again, like I said, I'm reviewing a book right now written by a molecular biologist, on the Sun, Sun, Climate Connections, you know, so it's coming from a very different, you know, neither of these people have, like, government funding for what they're doing, you know, it's just being done all of their own interest in their own passion. So, you know, it's a sad state of affairs. Some really important science, it's just getting completely neglected, because the whole climate change issue has this narrow frame around it. You know, it's all about dangerous anthropogenic climate change. And so everybody's searching for, you know, and then it results in what I call climate model taxonomy where people look at the output of climate model and say, Oh, no, we aren't going to be able to grow wine in California and 2200 You know, this kind of stuff, which is way beyond what the climate model can support. But then the person gets, you know, headlines and a lot of positive career reinforcement just to do this rather silly climate model taxonomy. You know, so it's, we've started climate science has become this diverse field, you know, academically, like I said, back in the day, I was a graduate student, climatology was a subfield of geography. Now you have whole colleges of climates, climate studies, you know, which integrates human systems and social justice. And they may learn a smattering of actual physical climate science, but it's become this very broad issue incorporating politics. Economics, many social science fields, which is good, but it's very hard. But they're all presupposing all this that we understand the climate system, and we know what's going to happen, and it's dangerous. So so all of this is built on, you know, presuppositions that we frankly, don't have all that much competence. And
Nick Jikomes 1:41:09
we'll do this as we start to wind down here, do you want to maybe describe for people the book that you're writing, and what it's all about, and why you chose to write it?
Judith Curry 1:41:18
Okay, the book that I'm writing is climate uncertainty and risk. And it's being published by an Academic Press. So it has to pass academic muster, and lots of references and everything, but I'm also trying to write it so that it's understandable by anybody with a college degree that has some background knowledge about the climate issue. What I'm trying to accomplish is is to reframe this, you know, is to be is to, it's really the politics of uncertainty, if you will, I mean, that we really don't know what's going on, and that we need to make decisions in a different way, rather than trying to speak consensus to power, you know, having scientists negotiate a consensus, and then send it off to the policymakers and say, do this, you know, that's not what we shouldn't be doing. It, we need to treat this as a systemic risk management problem with many dimensions that there's no silver bullet solutions, I mean, the best we can hope for is to carve off little pieces to make progress. And this is a climate change. Generally, it's a problem that humanity has lived with, since, you know, its inception for 10s of 1000s of years, or however long, and that it will continue to be a problem. And that we need to not treat this is a scientific problem, but it's a human problem. And that the decision making and policy space needs to be opened up, you know, and try to find, you know, a much broader range of solutions to little pieces of the problems that we carve out. And to treat this as a risk management problem. And to use some principles from decision making under deep uncertainty. And a lot of this is to focus on the solutions and trying to get agreement on the various solutions, rather than trying to getting lost in arguments about what's causing the problem, like people can agree on maybe what are the parameters for a 21st century electric power system to look like? I mean, maybe we can agree on that. But we're going to disagree on if it's tied up in climate science, we're going to disagree on the motivations and the magnitude of the problems, and we're gonna get lost, and never get to the actual solutions, which people have agreed on, without even thinking about climate change. So the book, it's a message of, you know, we want to promote human prosperity flourishing, thriving in the 21st century. And this includes, you know, not just for the developed countries, but first and foremost, providing these opportunities for developing countries, particularly in Africa, something that's a moral imperative, and that there's a lot of tools in the policy, making arsenal and risk management and decision making under uncertainty that we can bring to bear to this problem to make some sensible decisions. That by the way, will probably will make us less vulnerable to climate change the extent that we can actually manage co2 remains to be seen, I don't know that we can. And also the extent to which increasing co2 is really going to mess up our climate in the 21st century relative to whatever natural variability dishes out, that also remains to be seen. So there's a great deal of uncertainty all around. But we can use this uncertainty to help us think outside the box and come up with some better solutions that have broader buy in
from the affected people. So that's what I'm trying to accomplish with the book. The first part is more about the philosophy and politics of science. The second part is focuses on what we might want plant what the climate might look like, in the 21st century, and how uncertain it is. And then the third part is really about risk and response. So it covers some pretty broad territory, but I think it and it's designed for somebody who didn't know me, or wasn't, you know, they would have a hard time they would read this book, this is my goal, they wouldn't know where I stand in the debate, you know, whether I'm on the right or the left or, you know, denier or alarmist or whatever my idea is to, you know, present the perspectives, you know, or in their rational people can disagree, you know, about a lot of these things. So I try to really take a centrist acknowledging the debate, you know, acknowledging the uncertainties, you know, pointing out both sides, how they've made the situation worse. So it's trying to, I'm trying to present a very even handed analysis, and some of framing for how we can move forward on this issue.
Nick Jikomes 1:47:04
Well, Dr. Judith curry, I think that's a good place to end it. Thank you for your time, and everything that you shared with us today. Any final thoughts? You want to leave people with beyond what you just described?
Judith Curry 1:47:15
I'm not really I think, you know, we have, let's just look at this as an opportunity to move forward in the 21st century, rather than a hair shirt that needs to, you know, to be born and that we need to, you know, punish ourselves and restrict ourselves, you know, so that we don't increase to it. We need we need more carrots and fewer sticks in order to make progress on this.
Nick Jikomes 1:47:47
All right, Dr. Judith curry, thanks again. Thank you