It’s the acid, man

[Crossposted at A Path to Sustainable]

plankton by RemusShepherd

Why Everything in Superfreakonomics About Global Warming Is Wrong

[Via Deltoid]

I reviewed Freakonomics when it first came out and really liked it. So I was looking forward to the sequel Superfreakonomics. Unfortunately, Levitt and Dubner decided to write about global warming and have made a dreadful hash of it. The result is so wrong that it has even Joe Romm and William Connolley in agreement.

So what went wrong? One possibility is that Freakonomics was superficially plausible but also rubbish, and it was only when they wrote about an area where I was knowledgable that I noticed. But I don’t this is the correct explanation. I’ve read the journal papers on sumo cheating, Lojack and abortion and crime that they cite in Freakonomics and they are fairly represented. Superfreakonomics, on the other hand, misrepresents the scientific literature on global warming. The difference here is that the papers cited by Freakonomics were Levitt’s own work and he understood them, while Levitt and Dubner do not understand the climate science literature. This by itself would not be fatal, but what has taken them off the cliff is the Freakonomics formula: “What you thought you knew about X is wrong!”. If you want to apply this formula to global warming you can easily find many superficially plausible arguments on why the mainstream science is wrong. Bang those into your chapter on global warming without bothering to check their accuracy and the only work that remains is the tour to promote your book.

But enough on why they got everything wrong. Let’s look at what they got wrong. My Global Warming Sceptic Bingo Card is a bit out of date but they manage to tick five boxes: global warming is a religion, ice cores show warming comes first, ice age predicted in the 70s, water vapour dominates and climate modelling isn’t scientific. William Connolley stopped when he had found ten serious errors, so I’ll continue where he left off and see if I can find ten more. To make it more of a challenge, I’m just going to look at the extract that appeared in the Sunday Times entitled “Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong” (not yet available from their website). And remember, this is on top of the ten serious errors that Connolley found.


I really hate this sort of thing. We spend so much time stomping out mistruths and misrepresentations and then something like this comes along and starts the whole process again.

This sort of complete flubbing of the matter seriously puts any of their writings on tenuous grounds. This entire chapter sounds like a complete travesty, with long debunked stories brought back to life because they did not actually talk with people who knew the subject matter.

And this is just from excerpts of the book. It has not even been published yet. I wonder how far off it will be in other places.

And you can guarantee that every denier will be using this, just as they used Michael Crichton’s words, even when he was wrong.

One of the major problems with simply geoengineering our way out of warming, by somehow making less of the sun’s energy hit our planet, is that it does nothing for the acidification of the oceans. This is caused simply by the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that we are putting there.

More acid makes it harder to form calcareous shells. No shell means no plankton. No plankton not only means a collapse in the entire structure of aquatic life but also is a major source of oxygen. According to National Geographic, half the world’s oxygen supply comes from plankton.

This should be greater worry than warming itself and no sort of geoengineering attempt works here. We might survive warmer temperatures. It is much less likely we could survive if the oceans get much more acid.

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