UPDATED 6/8/15 (comment added by Bill McKibben, see end of article) About a month ago I got an e-mail from Bill McKibben telling me that he would be in my town to do a presentation on June 5th. He wanted to know if he could meet with me and just sit down over a beer and talk about things. I jumped at the chance. This photo below was taken yesterday, June 5th, at the Sierra Nevada Taproom in Chico, CA just before 6PM PDT after I had a two hour conversation with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.
One of the most interesting things about Bill McKibben is that he has always been civil and courteous to me unlike some others that are on the other side of the climate debate aisle. So, I didn’t think twice about meeting him because I knew that despite our differences we would likely have a very interesting and productive conversation.
My prediction came true. We had conversations that spanned everything from stories about our families and how we grew up to the current debates over climate and energy. We also spoke of the personal challenges that each of us face due to who we are and how we are perceived by others.
I didn’t make any recordings and I didn’t make any notes, I also did not tell anyone I had a time of this meeting and I don’t think Bill did either. I really didn’t want to because the last thing I wanted was to have someone come along and disrupt it. As I mentioned to Bill that some of the local environmentalists have what I would describe as a “severe hatred” of my position on climate change and because I have the to temerity to dare write about it. In fact, he was going to be addressing a number of environmentally oriented people right after our meeting at an event cosponsored by our local alternate radio station and the Butte Environmental Council. I suggested to Bill that perhaps he should mention that we had a pleasant and productive meeting to see if a “groan” might erupt from the audience. He said he would but I have not heard back from him yet as to whether or not my prediction came true.
Bill and I both had a couple of beers and we shared a dessert all the while chatting away as if we’d known each other for years. Essentially we have, but we just never met in person before.
Below are a few highlights that I remember from our conversation.
What we agreed upon:
We both agreed that tackling real pollution issues was a good thing. When I say real pollution issues, I mean things like water pollution, air pollution, Ocean plastics pollution, and other real tangible and solvable problems.
We both agreed that as technology advances, energy production is likely to become cleaner and more efficient.
We both agreed that coal use especially in China and India where there are not significant environmental controls is creating harm for the environment and the people who live there.
We both agreed that climate sensitivity, the response to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, hasn’t been nailed down yet. Bill thinks it’s on the high side while I think it’s on the low side neither of us thought the number had been correctly defined yet.
We both talked about how nuclear power especially Thorium-based nuclear power could be a solution for future power needs that would provide a stable base electrical grid while at the same time having far fewer problems than the current fission products based on uranium and plutonium.
We both agreed that the solar power systems we have put on our respective homes have been good things for each of us.
We both agreed that there are “crazy people” on both sides of the debate and that each of us have suffered personally at the hands of some of the actions of these people (you know who you are). We both spoke of some of the hatred and threats that we have endured over the years, some of which required police intervention.
We both agreed that if we could talk to our opponents more there would probably be less rhetoric, less noise, and less tribalism that fosters hatred of the opposing side.
We both agreed that we enjoy the musings of Willis Eschenbach on WUWT, and we spoke about his most recent essay describing the self-regulating mechanism that may exist due to albedo changes in the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ).
We both agreed that it would be a great thing if climate skeptics were right, and carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere wasn’t quite as big a problem as we have been led to believe.
What we disagreed upon:
Climate sensitivity was the first issue that we disagreed about. While we both thought the number has not been nailed down yet, Bill thought the number was high, while I thought the number was lower such as the kind of numbers we were getting from the recent climate sensitivity analysis of Judith Curry and Nicolas Lewis. I spent a fair amount of time explaining to Bill how I believe, as do many others, that the effect of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is now approaching saturation point, such that a doubling of CO2 from this point forward might not be as catastrophic rise problematic as we have been told.
Bill seems to think that carbon dioxide influences along with other man-made influences have perturbed our atmosphere, which he considers “
finally finely tuned”, enough to create some of the severe weather events that we have witnessed recently. He specifically spoke of the recent flooding in Texas calling it an “unnatural outlier”, and attributed it to man-made influences on our atmospheric processes. I pointed out that we only have about 100 years or so of good weather records and that we don’t really know for sure what the true outlier bounds are for such kinds of events. For example I told him of the great 1861 flood in California, followed by an exceptional drought within a few years. At the time, both events seemed like fantastic outliers. I also spoke of studies that have been attributing more extreme rainfall to the effects of cities.
And there just doesn’t seem to be any significant trend as this graph shows:
Global Precipitation, from CRU TS3 1° grid. DATA SOURCE
[Willis Eschenbach writes] As in all of the records above, there is nothing at all anomalous in the recent rainfall record. The average varies by about ± 2%. There is no trend in the data.
As does this one:
Bill also seem to think that many other weather events could be attributable to the changes that humans have made on our planet. He was quite sincere about this belief and cited many examples of events he witnessed or saw the aftermath of. I could tell that his perspective was one of empathy as were many of his concerns. But I came away with the impression that Bill feels such things more than he understands them in a physical sense. This was not unexpected because Bill is a writer by nature, and his tools of the trade are to convey human experience into words. I can’t really fault him for feeling these things and expanding on them but I did note he seemed quite resistive to factual rebuttals because they didn’t assuage the feelings he harbored.
For example I tried to explain how the increase in reporting through cell phones, video cameras, 24-hour cable news, and the Internet have made severe weather events seem much more frequent and menacing than they used to be.
Bill and I disagreed about the usefulness of computer models and I pointed out how models have been diverging from the measurements. Bill seemed concerned that we have to act on the advice of the models and the people who run them because the risk of not doing so could be a fateful decision. I pointed out that mankind has been quite adaptable and resilient, and thrived on warmer periods of Earth’s history than cooler ones, while he seemed to think that we are more fragile especially when it relates to crop production then one might think.
A few other points that we discussed:
Bill and I talked about how government can sometimes over-regulate things to the point of killing them, such as some of the problems I had with the California Air Resources Board and my attempt to start an electric car company in 2008. He was surprised to learn that electric cars in California have to be emissions tested just like gasoline powered cars, instead of simply looking into under the hood and noting the electric motor and checking a box on a form. He laughed all the way through my tales of woe trying to deal with that insane bureaucracy, and was quite sympathetic.
I told Bill that up until recently I had trusted (but considered misguided) the climate scientists at NOAA/NCDC, but with the recent publication of the Karl 2015 paper and some of the data manipulation shenanigans that I witnessed, I no longer have that trust. Bill responded with he doesn’t know those people but he believed that Dr. James Hansen had integrity. I asked Bill that if the people at NOAA/NCDC had the same integrity he believed Jim Hansen has, why would they have to adjust data that had been previously considered okay, and why would they not publish data from the most state-of-the-art Climate Reference Network in our monthly and yearly US. State of the Climate reports, but instead rely on the old and problematic surface temperature network that is full adjustments, assumptions, and biases – none of which exist in the Climate Reference Network? He didn’t have an answer.
Bill and I both lamented how some people perceived us on opposite sides of the aisle. He was annoyed that some people see him as an “idiot”, while I spoke of my annoyance of being called a “denier” when I don’t deny that the climate has warmed; I just don’t think it’s as big a problem as some others do. I can tell you this: I don’t think Bill McKibben is an idiot. But I do think he perceives things more on a feeling or emotional level and translates that into words and actions. People that are more factual and pragmatic might see that as an unrealistic response.
Bill was amazed at my ability to keep WUWT going all these years without having any budget, sponsor or funding. I explained to him, as I have many times to readers that doing this is little more than an extension of all my years in broadcasting. In broadcasting we never allow for “dead air”; we always have to keep fresh content going and thanks to the help of many people who contribute their time for moderation, in the form of guest articles, and in the form of comments I am able to keep this enterprise fresh and relevant. Bill says he reads every day and I took that as a compliment.
I offered Bill the ability to inspect what I was going to write about our meeting before I published it. He declined saying it’s okay, that he’ll just comment on whatever I write.
All in all it was a good meeting and while we might fervently disagree on some (but not all) issues, I can say that Bill McKibben was a pleasant individual to talk to and that I could count him among one of the more friendly people in the climate debate.
In comments Bill says that he really isn’t for nuclear power of any kind. I got the impression that he was against conventional fission reactors, due to the problems and costs, but because he voiced no strong opinions to me about Thorium power,( that Jim Hansen also agrees with me on) I got the impression he was open to such new technology. Apparently, he isn’t. His comment is reproduced below: