Dear readers: my notes below are a detailed refutation of an East Coast Financial newsletter’s authors claims about climate change. We are often told that combating climate change denialists is fruitless, but I believe there is great value in finding new ways to challenge and learn from the shifting nature of denialist claims.
April 26, 2019
In your newsletter, the Ross Rant, you urged your readers to ‘forget climate change.’ Notes from the Road reached out to you to help offer some clarity on this statement. In your lengthy replies, you stringed together an almost continuous flurry of unfactual statements. The purpose of these notes are to refute your claims.
As this is a science-based discussion, let’s start by reiterating the Sagan Standard, a phrase invented by Carl Sagan to represent a common refrain in science: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Throughout my refutation of your claims, it is vital to note that the science I will cite will not be my personal opinion. Rather, I will be citing orthodox, mainstream, accepted science. Let’s be clear: the science of anthropomorphic climate change is established beyond any doubt.
In other words, I will be defending ordinary claims and the accepted theory of climate change. You will be defending extraordinary claims far outside the bounds of accepted science. In any scientific-based discussion, the onus is on the one with extraordinary claims to provide extraordinary proof. The evidence for climate change is already readily available, and it can be consumed in just about any format and at any reading level —-which means it has been readily available to you for decades.
In the context of ordinary and extraordinary claims, who would back my claims, and who would back your claims, if you provide no more evidence or proof of your extraordinary claims?
Let me guarantee that the following institutions would without reservation back my ordinary claims:
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- The United States National Academy of Sciences
- A consensus of scientists from all branches of science
- The editorial boards of respected Science Journals such as Nature and Science
- The editorial boards of respected science magazines such as Scientific American and New Scientist
- The United States Pentagon and all branches of the U.S. Military
- A consensus of members of the U.S. Federal Reserve board.
- Executive Boards at a consensus of Fortune 500 U.S. Corporations
This is a high bar of authority for your extraordinary claims to challenge. On your Citadel Reality website, which hosts your marketing material for your newsletter, you also cite authority:
“Due to Mr Ross (sic) many years in the market, he has not only his own deep experience in the middle of much of the action, but he also has numerous well placed high level sources who are long standing relationships, who are able to provide insight and information that is not generally available to others.”
If you were to use your own business experience as the sole authority for your scientific claims, this would be an example of the False Authority Logical Fallacy, wherein one uses an expert of dubious credentials to sell an idea on which they are not qualified.
This marketing pitch also asserts that you have anonymous, unknown sources that are ‘high up.’ This might impress a newsletter audience, but the logical fallacy of False Attribution, of citing unqualified, unidentified or fabricated sources will not suffice in a discussion of scientific ideas.
Claim: The world is not ending
Your claim that ‘the world is not ending’, and therefore climate change science does not need to be taken seriously, or climate action can be delayed, is critically misinformed.
We do not know exactly what happens next, but we do know that the Earth has warmed just over 1 degree celsius, due to human-caused inputs. We know that we are on a trajectory of between 2 and 8 degrees warming from there, and that within this range, including the low range, is a future which may include the end of civilization. Think about that for a second. You are asking your newsletter audience to, without even thinking about it, just throw aside the question of climate change until the future, despite the fact that this advice directly contradicts the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Humans are producing C02 at a faster rate than the natural rates of C02 prior to the four climate-driven great extinction events of the past. The dinosaur-ending fifth was created, presumably, by the Chicxulub asteroid.
The IPCC also reported that 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit could be reached in as little as 11 years—and almost certainly within 20 years without major cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Even if such cuts were to begin immediately it would only delay, not prevent, 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming.
You have to understand what it means if the planet warms by 1.5 degrees, and what it means if it warms 2.7 degrees. You have to understand the full range of generally accepted possibilities, because what happens from here is a delta of possibilities, almost all of which present unprecedented challenges for human civilization and even biodiversity itself – the living, breathing organic fabric of our existence.
Start with the IPCC’s special report.
Then, consider this statement from the recent book on what climate change means for human civilization, the well regarded The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells:
“Should the planet warm 3.7 degrees, one assessment suggests, climate change damages could total $551 trillion—nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today.”
Claim: The Oceans Won’t Flood Long Island or Florida
There are three major fallacies associated with this claim.
The first fallacy is the simplification of climate change into a problem of rising seas. I don’t know why the myth that climate change is primarily about rising sea levels persists, but one way to think of it is that rising sea levels is about one-one-hundredth of the total impact of climate change. It is just one of dozens of threats.
The next fallacy is the insinuation that wealthy parts of the world can engineer themselves out of climate change. This is both deeply false as well as genuinely immoral. No one region can build a wall or a barrier or a bubble to hide from climate change, leaving the poor on their own, because the effects on biodiversity and global economies and ocean acidification and drought will impact everybody on earth. A wealthy region can’t engineer itself out of a global crisis.
The third fallacy is the false assumption that climate change adaptation is less costly than mitigation. Preventing climate change, especially if we act quickly, is much, much cheaper than adaptation. This is not difficult to figure out. Our challenge would be simple were there no political barriers: we just need to release less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air, and lock more carbon up. Achievable in a short period of time and at minimum impacts on the global economy.
But you insist that it would be better, for example, to build a wall around Florida; a wall that would cost hundreds of billions, or even trillions of dollars. How would this wall work in the Everglades? Don’t such saltwater estuaries require interaction with the open ocean? What would the cost to Florida be to just let the Everglades die out, for your wall? What about all those beaches, those freshwater rivers, the brackish tidelands? The entire state of Florida can be thought of as a permeable zone between land and sea.
Much smaller retaining wall projects are already being built in Florida, especially in the keys where climate change is already causing havoc and causing the state, and homeowners, excessive costs.
Claim: Shift from Fossil Fuels will Create Geopolitical Danger, and Moving off fossil fuels will destroy the economy unless done over a very long term.
As an example, you described a scenario that you claim could very well play out if we were to begin to shift away from fossil fuel usage in a rapid timeframe. “All out war in Eastern Europe and the Mideast could cause the death of millions.”
Your claim that a world that is weaning itself off oil will directly lead to all out war around the world is an overreach, and you provide no examples, cite no experts, and give no credible examples.
Petroleum, like other precious commodities, excerbates conflicts, and oil has certainly played a role in post World War II conflicts. But, unlike the paranoid claims of anonymous internet blogs and newsletters, making grand claims about oil and the new world order, oil does not play any magical role in global affairs; and there is no clear link between receding global demand for a commodity and all out war.
Another precious commodity that has played even more of a central role in global conflicts, is freshwater. And water resource issues, and drought, and flooding are today’s climate-fueled issues, and play a small to moderate role in the many dry world conflicts that have led to war and mass migrations into Europe.
These are current, not fictional future crises, and while there is not always a direct singular path from climate to conflict, the relationship is well established. When you consider the political outcomes in Europe: white nationalism, strongmen candidates and leaders, Brexit, you can see that climate in Africa and the Middle East have played a role in decaying the pillars of modern Western democracy.
Oil is just a commodity. It is actually a beautiful and incredible thing. It is the work of millions of years of Earth’s biological history, compacted by time into precious stored energy. Why not save some of it for when we know how to efficiently tap into it? But oil is still just a commodity, and it has only been of value as a global commodity for the last century and a half. Unlike freshwater, it is replaceable. Supply and demand shifts constantly; a sane West, helmed by diplomatic leaders, will sidestep localized conflicts and quagmires that arise when commodities wax and wane.
Claim: The Climate has been Warming from the Ice Age for 30,000 Years, and Ice Age Warming Continues
In this claim, you confuse timelines and appear to inject one era with a climate change denier’s falsehood about another. When we popularly refer to the ice age, we are referring to the Last Glacial period, which lasted from about 115,000 years ago to about 11,500 years ago. We are actually in an ice age now, but within this ice age period are warmer periods, called interglacial periods. In these periods, it warms rapidly and then cools slowly, on a timescale not relevant to present anthropomorphic warming. When the last interglacial period ended, humans flourished. Human civilization literally began as climactic conditions allowed it.
Since it is well known that the Earth is not warming from the last interglacial period, it appears you are referring to the Little Ice Age, which was a period of cooler temperatures for about 300 years at the end of the Medieval era. Climate change deniers have tried to say the Earth is still warming from the Little Ice Age, but the reality is we do not know exactly what caused that period of cooler temperatures.
Read this summary which supplies data on why the Earth is not seeing continued warming from the Little Ice Age.
Claim: Scientists are Spinning Catastrophe Scenarios for Financial Gain
This is a well known climate-change denialist myth, and it is incorrect from two different standpoints.
Here is a great case on how scientists are not being motivated by grant money. Also, even if there are cases of scientists motivated by biases or money, science is a powerful methodology that works despite the personal weaknesses of those who practice it.
I share the same passion for discovery and knowledge as the scientists I know personally, and this may come as a surprise to a commercial real estate developer, but a passion for discovery is a cornerstone of a healthy society, and it is certainly a cornerstone of higher education, science and the arts.
This recent article in the New York Times debunks the false claim that climate change science is falsified for financial gain. The article cites this video, which explains how grant money is spent.
I recommend two books by acclaimed science communicator Edward O. Wilson, Letters to a Young Scientist and The Creation, both of which make a strong and concise case for the strength of the scientific method.
Claim: Climate science is a far left issue, and the Far Left is in Cahoots with Environmental Scientists on Extreme Predictions
The idea that scientific research is inherently a left-wing issue is nonsensical. From this standpoint, maybe gravity is a right-wing issue, and the theory of relativity is a centrist issue!
This claim, which is used to discredit science by attaching it to a political fringe, is patently false.
Here are a few reasons why:
In most of the world, climate change science is accepted across political spectrums. According to research at the University of Queensland:
“We found that in approximately 75 per cent of the countries surveyed, conservatives didn’t show any more scepticism of climate change than other people.“
The same article found that the main factor for why Americans didn’t believe in climate change was a strong belief in conspiracy theories, such as the belief that the U.S. government was responsible for 9/11.
While progressives have correctly adopted an interest in climate change earlier than conservatives, the numbers don’t support your contention.
The Sierra Club cites a surprising statistic in a February 2019 article:
A record number of Americans—73 percent—now understand that global warming is happening. About 62 percent of them know that humans are mostly responsible.
By your numbers, that means that 73% of Americans are far left. Not so fast, according to an article in Fortune Magazine, the far left constitutes only 8% of all Americans!
Claim: The United States is the only country that has seen successes in limiting CO2, whereas other countries, such as in Europe and Asia, have only increased CO2.
This is a deceptive claim, on many levels, because it falsely implies that the U.S. has singularly seen success in curbing emissions. The United States is among a small group of countries that are not even close to meeting their Paris Accord goals, but U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been declining in recent years for a suite of reasons, from the 2008 recession, to the rise in natural gas and renewables, to warmer winters. Many European countries, like Germany, the UK and Finland, have seen success in limiting their emissions through intentional efforts to lower their emissions. But other European countries, particularly Spain, have eaten away at their regulatory framework, spiking emissions so acutely that it has affected the overall numbers for the European Union on the whole.
There are a lot of factors in shifting C02 emissions. In Europe, look to the UK, which has seen the most significant greenhouse gas emission reductions.
China, the world’s largest CO2 polluter, has both good and bad news. It’s important to understand the whole story. Quoting Inside Climate News in 2018:
For its part, China’s economy grew nearly 7 percent in 2017 but carbon dioxide emissions increased by just 1.7 percent due to the continued development of renewable energy and the replacement of coal with natural gas, according to the IEA report. The low growth in emissions relative to economic growth is in line with the country’s pledge under the Paris Agreement to reduce its carbon intensity, or emissions per unit of GDP.
Nevertheless, it’s important to look at how some smaller countries are coming closer to meeting their emissions goals.
For example, if you consider the success of not only Britain, but Morocco, Gambia, India and Costa Rica, you’ll see how your statement is simply untrue.
Claim: In the 1950’s, Scientists in the American southwest blamed weather anomalies on atomic tests in the desert. In hindsight, the alarmism of these false fears show that modern climate change research should be questioned.
This claim is loaded with problematic intent, and is an example of the Bare-Assertion fallacy, in which the arguer asserts something without having any support for the claim. In the 1950s, citizens in the American southwest, rather than a scientific body, were concerned about the impact of atomic testing on regional weather. As citizens, they were fully within their right to question the dangers of atomic testing, of which there are many. Among those changes, we know today, are an impact on climate. Scientists believe that the 600 megatons TNT equivalent of energy released by nuclear testing during the twentieth-century actually has a slight cooling effect.
But the underlying falsehood of this claim is that when the author of the Ross Rant makes an assertion about an obscure, irrelevant moment in climate history, that that claim is supposed to somehow throw in to doubt modern scientific research and consensus. These are not the same things. If Sally, who lives within 200 miles of an above-ground atomic test site and makes an observation about unusual weather, her hypothesis-making is actually an admirable quality. In the 1950’s, the local press in the three-state region surrounding the tests were largely positive about the tests. But any citizen who questioned that story, even if their hypothesis wasn’t up to snuff with modern science, would have been sniffing up the right mushroom.
In science, we don’t judge scientists on whether their hypothesis proved correct, after all, but whether they tested and came to a conclusion about the question that they asked.
But one’s personal (and imperfect) recollections of a distant past are not in any way the same thing as peer-reviewed research. Your assertions that citizen concerns about atomic tests somehow cloud the integrity of the modern science of climate change is a genuinely embarassing bare-assertion fallacy and does not hold up in a reasonable science-based debate.
Claim: Efficient and Cost-Effective Alternatives to fossil fuels do not yet exist
Rapid global innovation is quickly changing the story about alternatives to fossil fuels. According to an article from Climate Progress on April 4, 2019:
“The rapidly dropping cost of renewable energy has upended energy economics in recent years, with new solar and wind plants now significantly cheaper than coal power. But new research shows another major change is afoot: The cost of batteries has been declining so unexpectedly rapidly that renewables plus battery storage are now cheaper than even natural gas plants in many applications…”
This article cites a study from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and states:
“The Renewable Electricity Futures Study found that an 80 percent renewables future is feasible with currently available technologies, including wind turbines, solar photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, biopower, geothermal, and hydropower. The study also demonstrates that a high renewables scenario can meet electricity demand across the country every hour of every day, year-round.“
However, the strategies for combating greenhouse gasses is not as simplistic as the price of wind and solar energy. Every region would have a very different suite of fossil fuel alternatives. There is no one answer to climate change, but all the tools exist and the underlying technology, efficiency and costs are improving by the month. Underlying the quiver of existing tools we have today is key: political and societal will.
Here is a quiver of tools that, used together, can rapidly begin to address the greenhouse gasses that threaten civilization
- Carbon taxation
- Nuclear power
- Planting a trillion trees
- Reforesting Deserts
- Infrastructure Updates
- Energy-usage Changes
- Preserving half the Earth’s land and oceans
- Carbon-friendly agricultural processes
- A global shift from beef and dairy
- Geothermal power
- Carbon capture
In your newsletters, you consistently deride professional journalism. Here, without proof, you offer up your thesis that Americans cannot trust a professional press:
“(Connie Chung) said the press had devolved into a bunch of lazy unprofessional kids who just rush out a story without bothering to check veracity. She decried how the press had become rumor mongers and unprofessional. They sure have.”
Then, you offer your readers an alternative to educated journalists:
“They will probably not change much until they realize the world has moved on to social media and the press has minimal credibility now.”
In another newsletter, you describe how Americans can ignore expertise, and instead rely on their own instincts, as you have learned to do. In this scenario, newsletter authors without a firm grip on the English language, and angry, ranting bloggers are superior conveyors of both news and analysis to experts in their fields:
I do not read the NY Times nor do I watch NBC or CBS or CNN. I talk to lots of real people who are doing whatever they do day to day and try to glean tidbits and connect the dots. Any of you can do the same and probably better than me. I just try to disconnect myself from what the talking heads are saying, and the latest fad of political thinking, and try to see it from a distance with some objectivity.
In another newsletter, you appear to celebrate what would happen if Trump would become elected: Climate change legislation is dead and the Paris pact will be defunct.
In the same paragraph, you appear to give away your reasoning. As a commercial real estate developer, you celebrate the triumph of decreased climate regulations: Developers win because the EPA will be defanged.
But perhaps you can see now, as I have shown you your habitual use of unfactual statements and poor analysis, that in the pyramid of trust and authority, perhaps bloggers and industry-motivated newsletter writers are not the equal of respected journalists and respected journalistic institutions.
Perhaps science journalists, educated in their field and motivated by higher quality motivating factors, represent a good starting point on learning about climate change after all.
Perhaps there is something better in you than your motivation to see your industry win. I am motivated singularly by the belief that I must pair my time here on Earth between my own pursuit of life, liberty and happiness with that higher calling – that I am here to leave this place better off. I have a direct motivation in this, in that if we don’t make rapid progress on climate change, my son will live in a terrifying world. That terrifying world is being made a reality by those who publish calls to inaction and calls of denial about climate change.