Overview of the Koonin-Dessler Debate

By Andy May

The SOHO Forum Debate began at 5:30PM (Central Time) on August 15, 2022 in the New York Sheen Center, as I announced here. Koonin won the Oxford Style debate since 25% of the in-person and online audience shifted to his view that the debate question: “Climate science compels us to make large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” is a false statement.

Here I will lay out both Dessler’s and Koonin’s most important arguments, in my opinion. Steve Koonin has generously given me his PowerPoint slides. I also requested Andy Dessler’s slides, but he did not respond to my request, if he does at some point, I will post them and let you know. Steve Koonin’s slides can be downloaded here. You will be able to see the full debate on YouTube before the end of next week, probably by August 24.

Dessler had seventeen minutes to make his initial argument that humanity does need to make large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. He first asserts that the estimated rise in global average surface temperature (GAST) of about one-degree C since the 19th century is unusual over geological time. The accuracy of proxy temperatures used for his GAST record and the temporal resolution of temperature proxy reconstructions is very poor, so this sort of “Hockey Stick” graph has little impact on me, and I suspect on the rest of the audience. In any case, a rise of one degree in 120 years is not alarming.

His next assertion is that solar and wind energy can provide most of the world’s energy, he admits to a few exceptions, such as the airline industry. He cites studies that show the electric grid can be modified to allow such intermittent sources of electricity efficiently. He uses Texas as an example and points out that these sources provide most of the electric generation capacity in Texas. He cites a study that Texans save $20 million per day because of our use of solar and wind electricity generation. Both Andy Dessler and I live in Texas. While this is true, these sources rarely work at capacity, and when they fail due to adverse weather, as they did in February of 2021, the result is catastrophic and deadly.

He also provides evidence that wind and solar are the cheapest sources of electricity, later Koonin counters that those statistics do not include the cost of backup or electrical grid upgrades for those times when the wind isn’t blowing at night or on cloudy days. Koonin cites a Harvard Business School study that puts the cost of the necessary transmission upgrades alone, for the United States, at $2.4 trillion.

Finally, Dessler provides a chart, without numbers or backup, that claims all effects of climate change are negative for humanity. All I could think about as he discussed the chart was: Where are the numbers? Is he talking about GDP, lives lost, what is the scale of his graph? For more on this topic, see here.

Next it was Koonin’s turn. He counters that if we continue using fossil fuels, and if the IPCC climate and economic models are correct, growth of the United States economy will only decrease by 4% for a further warming of an incredible 5 C (9 F) by the end of the century. The United States economy will continue to grow by some 2% per year throughout this century, thus the economy 70 years from now will be ~400% larger if we somehow fix climate change or ~384% larger if we don’t, a barely perceptible difference. There’s a similar story for the world economy. See here and here for more.

Koonin then notes that people are much better off when they use more energy. In the fossil fuel age, life expectancy, quality of life, and real income have increased. Due to technology and cheap energy, our resilience to climate change has increased, and deaths and damages due to extreme weather have decreased.

Electricity reliability is very important, often lives depend upon electricity, and emergency backup generators are too expensive for most people. The Federal standard for the bulk power system is insufficient capacity to meet peak demand less than one day per decade. Koonin cites studies that show the cost of such a system for some common clean sources of electricity and finds that natural gas systems are the cheapest clean energy source, as shown in Figure 1, from his debate materials.

Figure 1. The cost of 99.99% reliable electricity from selected clean energy sources. From Steven Koonin’s debate materials, data from (Dowling, et al., 2020) and related papers.

So, while Dessler is correct that solar and wind can produce electricity cheaper than fossil fuels under ideal conditions, the cost to make that electricity reliable drives the total wind and solar cost much higher. Other problems not properly accounted for in wind and solar accounting are the land required for them and the cost of high value materials, such a rare earth metals, lithium, copper, zinc, dysprosium, and many others. Onshore wind power generation uses nine times more of these materials per megaWatt than natural gas. China accounts for most of the production of these critical materials, and some of them are produced with slave labor.

Fossil fuel use is often accused of causing deaths or shortening lives due to air pollution. Does increasing fossil use shorten human life Koonin asks? It appears not, he notes that while fossil fuel use has increased in India 700%, life expectancy has increased by 16 years. China’s life expectancy has increased by 10 years, even though their fossil fuel use has increased 600%. Fossil fuel use increases human wellbeing as shown in Figure 2, also from Koonin’s debate slides.

Figure 2. A plot of GDP per capita and total energy use per capita. Data from OurWorldinData.org.

In Figure 2 we see that GDP per capita is highly correlated with energy consumption per capita. This should not be surprising to anyone, the more energy we use, the less we must work and the easier and safer our lives are. Notice the correlation is with energy consumption, which goes up as available energy prices come down. If energy is less available, less reliable, or more expensive consumption goes down, and human wellbeing deteriorates, at least that portion of wellbeing that is related to GDP/capita. Unfortunately, Dessler and many other advocates of the debate assertion only look at one side of the argument, and they ignore the benefits of fossil fuel use, warming, and additional CO2.

Finally, we mention Koonin’s closing statement. Andy Dessler lent his name to a shameless unScientific American article in 2021, the heading of the article is in one of Koonin’s slides and reproduced here as Figure 3.

Figure 3. An unScientific American attempted “takedown” of Steve Koonin and his book.

We expect this sort of slanderous nonsense from the likes of Naomi Oreskes and Michael Mann, but for Dessler to participate is both surprising and disappointing. Further, I read and respected Scientific American as a child, as I’m sure many of you readers did as well, it was once a serious magazine. Now, I see it as the magazine equivalent of CNN or MSNBC. Nothing but opinion and yellow journalism.

The article in question does not dispute any of the facts or analysis in Koonin’s very popular book Unsettled, although they make the attempt to refute what Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote about the book. Even in this, they fail to land any punches.

Most telling is that after publishing this shameful hit piece, unScientific American refused to publish Koonin’s rebuttal to it. Obviously, I have no respect for unScientific American and it obviously has no respect for science. A very distasteful bit of business, but I am glad Koonin brought it up. For the record, Andy Dessler disavowed the article and apologized. This raised my opinion of him several notches. He is a good scientist and has written some very interesting and helpful articles, at least in my opinion. He just didn’t make as good a case in this debate as Koonin did. Koonin had the evidence and the numbers on his side, Dessler didn’t, and that determined the outcome shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. In this Oxford-style debate, Koonin won since 25% of the audience opinions moved to his side after the debate.

You should be able to view the entire debate by August 24th, I’m told, on YouTube. This post is just the highlights of the debate from my point of view, there is a lot more in the actual debate.

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Tom Halla
August 19, 2022 10:13 am

Scientific American is neither. The jumped the shark in the 1980’s, during the SDI “Star Wars” debate. Politics, all the time.

Stan Sexton
August 19, 2022 10:37 am

Be careful! The Davos Boys of the Great Reset are all for drastic climate change agendas to further their cause of world economic disruption and Neo-Feudalism.

August 19, 2022 10:41 am

United States economy will only decrease by 4% for a further warming of an incredible 5 C (9 F)

Dessler rebutted with a slide which was, I think, some fudge from IPCC AR6. Something about uncertainties and things that can’t be known. Funny how a number can be put on something one year and some years later appears to be completely unknowable.

Rud Istvan
August 19, 2022 10:47 am

It appears Dessler did not think he had to be well prepared. This seems a general trait amongst his ilk. Mann was not prepared for his Congressional hearing opposite Judith Curry in 2016. Perhaps they think that their fictional 97% consensus suffices?
It doesn’t. All their past failed predictions are catching up to them. And their faith in renewables while ignoring the obvious shortcomings (intermittency requires grid backup which automatically means incurring the cost of two systems rather than one) reveals either ignorance or duplicity. In AOC’s case, probably ignorance. But not in Dessler’s case.

Apologizing for the Scientific American Koonin smear he specifically lent his name to is too little and far too late to impress me. No different than Mann claiming to Congress he had never called Judith Curry a denier. She interrupted him to say, “Yes you did—in your written testimony for THIS hearing.” When all they have is name calling, you can be sure their scientific stance is very weak.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 19, 2022 11:35 am

Just yesterday I learned that the latest incarnation of “denier” is now “contrarian” when I was accused of being such.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 19, 2022 12:51 pm

I’ve always ascribed positive connotations to the word “contrarian.”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 20, 2022 7:20 am

Me, too.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 19, 2022 1:40 pm

“climate contrarian”

I really like that. It scans very well

I thought immeadiately of the late great Boy Geotrge and his Culture Club band with their hit Karma Chameleon. It would be great if someone could take that song and turn it into: “Climate Contrarian”.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 19, 2022 10:40 pm

Boy George


Jay Willis
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 21, 2022 2:14 am

I think Boy George is still alive.

Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 19, 2022 1:50 pm

Leftist Ode to a Climate Contrarian

You are the very model of a climate contrarian
I have a little climate knowledge and I am authoritarian
But I make no apology for being doctrinarian
We must not plummet to the verbal depths of the barbarian

JCDN Texas
Reply to  Richard Greene
August 20, 2022 7:36 pm

— Burma Shave

Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 19, 2022 7:13 pm


That is when you educate them about what called the Null case. Accepting the Null case (Mother Nature) means you cannot be a contrarian or a denier.

Those are terms for people arguing against natural causes.

Roger Knights
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 19, 2022 7:25 pm

Contrarian is what I suggested that the media use instead of denier five years ago here, so I’m glad it’s getting traction.

Laws of Nature
Reply to  Carlo, Monte
August 20, 2022 8:09 pm

I believe this term was coined by J. Curry!
After all “denier” is quite an abhorrent insult histrocally steming from an attempt to link climate sceptics with holocaust denial.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 19, 2022 1:21 pm

Dessler can’t provide hard data and numbers which back up his case. If he just made some up, it would be quickly uncovered. He had no choice but to be ambigious and hope emotion would carry him through.

Laws of Nature
Reply to  6CA7
August 20, 2022 8:10 pm

>> If he just made some up, it would be quickly uncovered.
He did and it was! (watch the question about his slide on warming is always bad”)

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 19, 2022 1:46 pm

It appears Dessler did not think he had to be well prepared.”

How does any Climate Howler prepare to defend predictions of CAGW using science? There is no CAGW. There has been no CAGW for the past 50+ years in spite of predictions of CAGW for the past 50+ years. How can you defend a CAGW prediction that has been wrong for over 50 years? Tap dance?

Reply to  Richard Greene
August 19, 2022 7:24 pm

With Dessler, I doubt the term “tap dance” is possible.

Even country cloggers tap as they dance, not causing earthquakes with every solid thump.

Still unable to defend 50+ years of massively erroneous claims and predictions.

Danley Wolfe
Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 20, 2022 2:53 pm

Being “not prepared” is also a tactic, i;e., presenting informally and therefore no one can try to9 pin you down. But it seems to me that Dessler isn’t trying to appear unprepared, he is not capable of going 1 on 1 mano e mano against anyone with technical and debating capabilities.

Frank from NoVA
August 19, 2022 10:56 am

To have ‘won’, Dessler would have needed to make a scientific case for CAGW and/or an economic case for renewables. From what I saw, he made no attempt at the former and failed badly at the latter with his reliance on the dubious LCOE metric. I say ‘dubious’ because any un-beclowned economist will tell you that highly unpredictable energy production is worth much less than highly predicable energy production, which is why Koonin’s comparison at 99.9% reliability (the Federal standard) easily won the day.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
August 19, 2022 11:13 am

EIA LCOE for wind is faulty for two reasons.
First, it includes no intermittency cost. This is grossly wrong for any grid wind penetration approaching 10%. ERCOT is well above that, as Texas found out to its sorrow February 2021.
Second, it is based on blatantly faulty assumptions, like wind and CCGT both having useful 30 year lives. In reality, wind is at best 20 while CCGT is at worst 40 (GE warranty period). Ignoring intermittency, when properly done CCGT is $58/MWh while wind is $146. NOT the EIA claimed parity.

Chris Hanley
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
August 19, 2022 2:41 pm

… his reliance on the dubious LCOE metric

‘Dubious’ is an understatement.
I don’t understand how or why people, politicians journalists etc., blithely accept that ‘cheapest’ claim when it is manifestly contrary to real world evidence and even common sense.
Dessler must know the LCOE metric is intentionally deceptive or is he a fool?

Kevin kilty
August 19, 2022 10:58 am

Scientific American underwent a change for the worse when it was acquired by a German publisher. I had a subscription from 1971 to 1992, which I let lapse. By the time I looked seriously at the magazine again, I was stunned by its decline. It uses far too many “science writers” rather than front line scientists. It provides a case in point of what John Burnham was saying in his book “How Superstition Won and Science Lost”.

Joe Born
Reply to  Kevin kilty
August 19, 2022 1:25 pm

My subscription ran for just about the same period, or maybe a little later into the 90’s, I’m not sure. But I am sure that the reason I dropped the subscription was the magazine’s failing quality.

For years, though, I would put the old issues in binders so that I could refer to them. Before the Internet they sometimes served as a can-opener into topics I needed to research.

. . . And I really miss Martin Gardner.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Joe Born
August 19, 2022 7:53 pm

Joe Born,
I also miss Martin.
William M Briggs is a partial replacement, statistics mainly, different style.
Gave my SciAm collection to our company library in 1992. Could not stomach the anti-science pop trend.
About 1975 my work colleagues were interested in the emerging field of mathematical geostatistics. I borrowed some ideas and did a series of correlations between global temperatures and diverse factors like global wheat harvest, global refined copper price, tomato harvests in California, and any more long time series I could find. I had to digitise much of the data from graphs and diagrams,
The main, abundant data source was Scientific American, for which I gave thanks.
Very sad to see it decline into the pop science drivel of today.
I suppose today I could study the correlation of tertiary schooling and income levels in individuals identifying as LTBQI+/- or whatever is the soup du jour. But for what gain?
Geoff S

Joe Born
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
August 20, 2022 6:19 am

I’ll have to take your word for Matt Briggs and statistics. Although I know a lot of people hold him in high regard, I’ve personally been unable to make much sense of what he says on the subject. But that may be because my grasp of statistics is poor.

Still, when he’s ventured into things I do know something about I’ve found his notions to be downright looney. So I remain agnostic.

H. D. Hoese
August 19, 2022 11:02 am

“He cites a study that Texans save $20 million per day because of our use of solar and wind electricity generation. Both Andy Dessler and I live in Texas.” I live in Texas also, find that difficult to believe. From the study–“These savings estimates do not include the cost of power purchase agreements used to finance wind and solar projects;…..” Their graphs don’t seem to make sense either. At least one electric company was offering selling customers renewable energy, didn’t explain.

Reply to  Andy May
August 19, 2022 3:54 pm

I haven’t read the study on Texas’ cost basis for wind. But did they include the the costs of transmission lines? West Texas is a long way from the population centers.

A 2019 Manhattan Inst. article stated that the LCOE calculated by the EIA did not include transmission, backup, taxes or profits, and used a 30 year depreciation schedule [about 10 years longer than the expected lifespan of an onshore wind turbine].

Reply to  Bill Zipperer
August 19, 2022 4:42 pm

I assume that hidden in the terms ‘taxes and profits’ is the ‘subsidy’ (either direct or indirect) that is necessary to accomplish said profit or is given as tax break.

As such the EIA not include transmission, backup, taxes, profits, indirect subsidy, or direct subsidy, and used a 30 year depreciation schedule [about 10 years longer than the expected lifespan of an onshore wind turbine].

Reply to  Bill Zipperer
August 19, 2022 8:55 pm

It’s not just the added cost of transmission nor the redundancy capex, it also needs to account for the extra instrumentation and a lot of sophisticated switchgear and algorithms to dampen surges, hunting, and harmonics, along with trying to preserve fault current discrimination. Often this is bundled under the term”hosting capacity “.This calls for enhanced supervision and regulation. It’s a costly nightmare .

Reply to  H. D. Hoese
August 20, 2022 10:48 am

Drove through the Texas Panhandle on I-40 Thursday on our way home from a Grand Canyon trip. For about 50-60 miles on either side of Amarillo, saw hundreds and hundreds of unmoving windmills. I’ve been through West Texas where there are thousands of them. Eerie at night when only the red lights can be seen on top. What a waste of resources.

JCDN Texas
Reply to  BobM
August 20, 2022 7:39 pm

I have been driving through West Texas a good bit for the past several months. There is a large wind farm about 60 miles South of Lubbock, West of Hwy 84 with about 150-200 turbines that have been inactive for at least the 6 months I have been driving back and forth.

August 19, 2022 11:12 am

If wind and solar are cheaper then why do our electricity bills keep rising everywhere they are implemented? The cost of electricity in Germany has risen astronomically since they implemented Energiewende along with a reduction in reliability.

Reply to  Andy May
August 19, 2022 11:39 am

I agree Andy. You can add service life costs to the equation as well. Are they fooling the people who see their bills increase or are they fooling themselves? Or both?

Dave Fair
Reply to  markl
August 19, 2022 12:55 pm

Neither, they are just profiteering liars. But that is fashionable now and will lead to great sorrow.

Leslie MacMillan
Reply to  markl
August 19, 2022 12:48 pm

LCOE is useful, sort of, to investors who want to know the lifetime-averaged cost of getting a MWh out of a generator. It has little relation to the retail price of electricity, any more than the cost of harvesting a ton of coffee beans affects the price Starbucks charges for a latte. Rent and wages may have greater impact. Even more unlike electricity, Starbucks charges the same during the morning rush to work as they do in the quiet middle of the afternoon. But electricity is worth many-fold more than the LCOE at peak demand times. If you have invested too much in wind and not enough in gas, you won’t be able to meet that peak demand when the wind stops blowing at 5 p.m. You will have a blackout unless you can import large amounts on a moment’s notice from a neighbour, for which you will pay through the nose because your neighbour is trying to meet his peak demand, too. That is the true cost of intermittency.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  markl
August 19, 2022 9:46 pm

The price of Australian east coast electricity 9the major part) can be displayed in many ways. Here is a graph I made comparing electricity price to the general cost of living from our Bureau of Statistics.
Something big happened around 2008. Geoff S

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
August 20, 2022 5:02 pm

Geoff, 2008-2009 was the establishment of the national energy market…that one big bureaucracy that sets the national power prices. I just checked the AEMO website this morning and demand in all southern states exceeds generating capacity due to the crap winter cold front going through so Qld is supplying all the south the power gap, so electric prices in Qld are currently -$42, no way a base load generator can survive that!

Bill Hirt
August 19, 2022 11:30 am

Scientific America has been “unscientific” about global warming since an August 2007 article described as “The Undeniable Cause for Global Warming”

August 19, 2022 11:36 am

Thanks for a very good summary.
I decided to watch the free video “later:
Later it was gone.
The debate was supposed to be about science. That puts the Climate Howlers like Dessler at a disadvantage. Their always wrong wild guesses of a coming climate crisis are not science. They are politics — maybe climate astrology is a better term. The Climate Howlers rely on scary predictions and the appeal to authority logical fallacy. They can’t win a debate that strays into science and reality.

The mass media will not report the debate. or will claim Dessler won. And he will get a Nobel Prize, or at least a Nobel Prize participation trophy. He deserves credit for showing up. Now Climate Howlers can claim they DO debate. Never mind the Dessler lies, distortions, fake data and wrong predictions of climate doom. That’s all they’ve got.

August 19, 2022 11:42 am

If Dressler did as poorly as commenters have said, I doubt YouTube will allow it online. Try to get it on Rumble. Also, it should be distributed to news outlets.

Chris Morris
August 19, 2022 11:52 am

There seems to be a mistake in your maths. 99.99% reliability is just under an hour a year outage time. I believe the reliability you are reporting as the standard is one “9” higher.
Reliability is better expressed in maximum grid minutes. How many GWh are lost from outages over total load per year. So a small load centre on the extremities of the grid doesn’t have the effect of an outage on the core, like say taking down New York.

Leslie MacMillan
Reply to  Chris Morris
August 19, 2022 12:57 pm

Our electricity goes out for an hour or two, two or three times a year, almost always from tree branches falling on distribution lines (only rarely high-voltage transmission lines) during thunderstorms or from ice accumulation during freezing rain. Outages can be widespread, especially from ice. But we always know the crews are out there working their butts off in the middle of icy cold nights to get the power back on. If we had to be told by the utility, “Well, we don’t know when the power will come on. It depends on when the wind starts blowing again,” there would be riots.

Chris Morris
Reply to  Leslie MacMillan
August 19, 2022 1:39 pm

There is a difference between grid/ transmission outages and distribution outages – yours were distribution. The split is normally the lines above 100kV are transmission. The border is generally the disconnector to the stepdown transformers in the local grid substation.
Grid outages generally don’t get caused by power line failures (exception being a storm knocking down a transmission tower carrying heavily loaded lines – or single line supplies to spurs) but a shortage of generation. A large generator tripping and not enough reserves, that sort of thing..

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Chris Morris
August 19, 2022 1:17 pm

I would suggest that for purposes of comparing renewables to conventional generation, one would want to strip out any outages caused by equipment failure downstream from where the generated energy enters the grid. In that sense the 99.99% hurdle seems reasonable.

Dave Yaussy
August 19, 2022 12:17 pm

I was pleased with the swing in opinion, but was anyone else heartened, as I was, by the fact that almost 50% disagreed from the outset with the premise that “climate science compels us to make large and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”? Maybe the room was weighted toward skeptics to begin with, but the the later movement in opinion suggests not.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Dave Yaussy
August 19, 2022 9:04 pm

almost 50% disagreed

It is the Great Divide that polarizes and paralyzes the United States. The country is of two minds and has great difficulty communicating with the other side. Look at the large number of people commenting on the internet about how Trump should be “strung up,” even before any charges are filed, let alone having a trial. It would appear that roughly half the country no longer believes in the Rule of Law or the precept that a person is legally presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law. It is the same with climatology. Roughly half the population accepts the claim of CAGW based on what the MSM writes, and have no standards of proof, or care for proof. They are willing to accept what they read from the MSM.

August 19, 2022 12:18 pm

Thanks Andy for posting Koonan’s slides. It was unfortunate that they appeared so very small on the screen The first SOHO forum I’ve watched and doubt I’d watch another if the technical issues were repeated.

Re your comment:  “A very distasteful bit of business, but I am glad Koonin brought it up. For the record, Andy Dessler disavowed the article and apologized” 

Dressler may have eventually apologised but he certainly argued first that he was not an author of the piece, over and over again it seems everytime Koonan pressed him.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Tomsa
August 19, 2022 9:06 pm

Dessler may not have authored the piece. However, lending his support to it is not unlike co-signing a loan for a dead-beat relative. There are consequences.

Michael in Dublin
August 19, 2022 12:31 pm

Solar and wind can produce electricity cheaper than fossil fuels under ideal conditions.

For how long would that average in a year of 365 days x 24 hours?
For how long would that last before repairs or replacement are needed and at what cost?

Wondering Aloud
Reply to  Michael in Dublin
August 19, 2022 1:21 pm

Is the world record for wind still 19% of rated power? That seems an answer.

August 19, 2022 12:33 pm

Andy, how did both men behave during the debate?

August 19, 2022 1:04 pm

Thank you for the report, Andy. I don’t need to go over those arguments I know so well over an hour-long debate, so for me your report is perfect. I wasn’t going to watch the debate anyway.

To me, anybody that signed that unScientific American article does not deserve any respect. Co-authors in scientific articles are fully responsible for their whole content. If not, they should withdraw their signature. Submitting authors are required by the journal to state they have the permission from all co-authors and it is a serious offense not to have them. If he didn’t agree with the article, and did not want to sign it, he had an easy avenue by contacting the journal.

The main problem is that climate science has allowed itself to be colonized by activists, abandoning the Popperian goal of neutrality. Andrew Dessler is a perfect example of what a scientist should not be. Another disgrace to the profession.

Wondering Aloud
August 19, 2022 1:17 pm

If the warming enthusiasts actually believed carbon emissions were a threat, Wouldn’t they have started pushing for nuclear and geothermal power 30+ years ago? Am I wrong ? If the money wasted on windmills and preaching against carbon had been spent building geothermal power wouldn’t we have significantly reduced carbon emissions without driving up electric prices nearly as much?

Ron Long
Reply to  Wondering Aloud
August 19, 2022 1:59 pm

You’re not wrong, but the reason nuclear is discounted is that a majority of “warming enthusiasts” believe that the movie “China Syndrome” is a documentary.

Reply to  Wondering Aloud
August 19, 2022 8:07 pm

I think you will find a few who are worried about the warming we are experiencing are keen on those two you mentioned.

August 19, 2022 1:41 pm

After reading Mr. May’s summary I no longer have any interest in viewing a video of this debate. Not Mr. Mays fault. Dessler is in fantasyland with fake statistics and claims. Unfortunately, Koonin seemed to join in with an equally fake statistic — computer game nonsense — summarized in this portion of the article:

“Next it was Koonin’s turn. He counters that if we continue using fossil fuels, and if the IPCC climate and economic models are correct, growth of the United States economy will only decrease by 4% for a further warming of an incredible 5 C (9 F) by the end of the century.”

This planet has had manmade CO2 emissions for over 100 years.
There has been global warming for 47 years, since 1975,
although not much in the past 7 years.
That’s reality
There are data.
Scientists should debate what actually happened.
Do they know what effect CO2 had?
Has the global warming harmed anyone?
Where and when was the most warming?
Why was there global cooling as CO2 rose from 1940 to 1975?
These are things that actually happened.
They are real.
There are data.

The future climate is just speculation, with no evidence that any humans are able to accurately predict the future climate. What is the point about arguing over predictions? To claim: “My prediction is better than your prediction” (in spite of my track record for poor climate predictions?)
ow is that science? There are no data for the future climate. Can there be science with no data? For the future climate there are only unproven theories, speculation about the future, and a track record of wrong predictions. That’s a climate fantasyland — I prefer living in climate reality.

Lewis Buckingham
Reply to  Richard Greene
August 20, 2022 3:27 am

Koonin was very sharp.
He was using the IPCC’s own figures to explain why the outlook was not catastrophic and we do not have to ‘decarbonise’ immediately, the topic on debate.
He pointed out that a 4% fall in projected GDP was nothing in the face of rapid growth which we would otherwise be denying most of the world.
He pointed out that air pollution was worse if you burn dung and live in a thatched hut and that natural gas is actually particulate free when burned properly as is coal if scrubbed.
So he was merely using his opponents figures to show that there was not an impending catastrophe.
He was careful not to argue that the base data may be contaminated by adjustments or that the models were wrong, except that he accepts the,from memory,1.5 C model as being benign on human life and that it will save people from dying of cold.
He only disputed the models when the economic outcome was destructive and the economic model was based on an average of ALL the scenarios of warming, so it must end up bad.
He won easily because he deconstructed the ‘climate emergency’ case using the IPCC as the authority. After watching him I still don’t know if he actually believes the anthropogenic argument.

Reply to  Lewis Buckingham
August 20, 2022 3:30 pm

The AGW supporters will now publish wild estimates that replace the 4% GDP figure. PhD students have made some wild claims in the past that were just fictional.

When the data doesn’t fit your dogma, the data must be wrong and you can’t question data that fits. I think Koonin was more pragmatic & understood the detail, Dessler repeated the headlines & exaggerations but hadn’t looked deeper.

Gary Pearse
August 19, 2022 3:22 pm

Judging by pre-debate and post debate dramatic differences, I find myself in admiration of the audience! The Clime Syndicate (gotta love the sharp pen of Mark Steyn), desperate 20yrs ago to improve their communications tactics to the public because of failed debates with sceptics and disappointing polls, hired Madison Avenue mind changers to polish their messaging.

Even Madison Ave couldn’t fix it, because in the first place, their clients didn’t have game and in the second, to a person, I can’t think of anyone among the dark side of climate that doesn’t share the same dour, petty, whingeing, acerbic, petulant, unhappy personality. Not good for selling any product let alone the empty gray box. A Voodoo Priest would have suited their style better.

I worried that the audience, de-educated, and under a constant barrage of proppaganda would have been easy prey listening to the very familiar catechism of climate. But no! A convincing argument turned them upside down. The truth and logic still have currency. As Jordan Peterson said, he has spoken to more than a hundred million people who chose to watch his videos and attend his lectures on several continents. And he’s a social psychologist for goodness sake! To Peterson, this means their is a huge craving for what he has to say about damage to culture, and human wellbeing and what to do about it.

Maybe, Madison Ave sized the situation up and advised these sorry folk to avoid debates at all costs!

August 19, 2022 3:42 pm

Onshore wind power generation uses nine times more of these materials per megaWatt than natural gas.

Using a capacity base for this comparison is nuts. It needs to include the actual capacity factor. At best it is 25% so that takes the factor to 36X for energy basis (MWh) before there is any allowance for curtailment (overbuild), storage and transport.

Total material intensity of a wind turbine is closer to 100X that of a gas turbine on a MWh basis. Even allowing for the fuel burnt, a gas turbine is less material intensive than a wind turbine. This highlights why the technology is not sustainable – wind turbines consume more energy than they can produce over their productive life..

This is why Australia does not make solar panels or wind turbines. This is why Germany does not make solar panels and wind turbines. This is why USA does not make solar panels and wind turbines. Or if they are now, they will not be doing it for much longer as China takes over all manufacturing.

Reply to  RickWill
August 20, 2022 4:20 pm

Actual Australian wind CF is just over 30%. Unfortunately, both CSIRO and Aurecon use the wrong EIA figure of 35% for their cost calculations.

August 19, 2022 4:21 pm

Color me disappointed. There is no way that renewables will ever be as cheap as fossil fuels. It is only through the manipulation of subsidies, taxes, penalties, forced inefficiencies and ignored costs that renewables can approach the same cost as coal or gas.

Fossil fuel power plants need to be compared on a 70-year life cycle vs 15 to 20 year life for renewables. Fossil fuel power plants need to be compared at their highest efficiency and without renewables on the grid, which is where they would be operating without forced reductions due to renewables. Renewables need to be compared at 25 to 30% efficiency. And when renewables are on the grid, the cost of backup and fossil fuel power production needs to be added to the cost of the inefficient renewable source using the forced inefficient fossil fuel power cost that occurs when renewables are on the grid.

Fossil fuels need to be compared without the added cost of penalizing taxes and regulations, and renewables need to have all subsidies removed for a proper comparison.

Then add to the cost of renewables the incremental cost of transmission lines, added switching gear, etc.

Years ago I read where it cost about $.01/kwhr for coal, $.02/kwhr for nuclear, $.15/kwhr for wind and $.22/kwhr for solar. Some of those costs may have changed some, but in not way would they change to where renewables are able to compete with fossil fuels.

Reply to  SMS
August 20, 2022 4:28 pm

The Australian FCOE cost comparisons per kW over an approx 70-year period are:
CCGT gas: A$4112
USC coal: A$4800
SMR Nuclear: A$5596
Wind with backup: A$12372
Large scale solar with backup: A$14882
Comparisons exclude extra transmission lines for renewables.

August 19, 2022 4:43 pm

(Dessler) … first asserts that the estimated rise in global average surface temperature (GAST) of about one-degree C since the 19th century is unusual over geological time.

During the last glaciation the “D-O” events (Dansgaard-Oeschger) saw temperature spikes of 10-14 degrees over a few centuries, followed by equally rapid cooling back to the initial temperature. During these events both warming and cooling of 2-6 degrees per century occurred.

And this not once, but up to 20 and times during the glacial interval.

So one degree per century is entirely unremarkable.

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navy bob
August 19, 2022 6:54 pm

I don’t understand this: “Next it was Koonin’s turn. He counters that if we continue using fossil fuels, and if the IPCC climate and economic models are correct, growth of the United States economy will only decrease by 4% for a further warming of an incredible 5 C (9 F) by the end of the century.”

Why would Koonin say it will be 5 C warmer by the end of the century if IPCC models are correct? What is his point?

Ty Hallsted
Reply to  navy bob
August 19, 2022 9:26 pm

Probably to illustrate that even the worst scenario predicted by the models has a nearly imperceptible impact on the economy – ie no urgency, no crisis.

Laws of Nature
Reply to  Ty Hallsted
August 20, 2022 8:23 pm

>> Probably to illustrate that even the worst scenario predicted
Indeed, Koonin even made a statement like that even in this scenario the economic gain from cheap energy far outweights any costs evne for the inprobably 5K far beyond the worst predictions .. or similar.

August 19, 2022 6:56 pm

For a debate that may have had biased advertising (eg. avoided by AGW supporters) & open for people to lie about starting position, I take the % result with caution. Similar debates could have had the opposite results if promoted amongst AGW supporters. People should be as honest as possible.

Dessler says it’s going to be bad but we can’t tell how bad. The problem of “we can’t make a reliable prediction” means he shoots himself in the foot.

Dessler quoted the green energy capacity built by China & then compares it with current USA electricity consumption. A MW of renewable energy capacity does not mean a MWh produced every hour day & night to meet average demand. It doesn’t meet peak demand of any hour.
So 1100GW could be 900GW or 45GW or an average of 350GW depending on the time of year, hour of the day & weather.
Yes, you could build 4x wind+solar for similar capital cost but that doesn’t gives you ~25% cf (capacity factor) for solar, 33% CF for wind & 80% cf for nuclear(when <20% RE). Again he confuses nameplate capacity with actual generation which can vary greatly.

Dessler shoots his argument again by buying expensive batteries & fossil fuel generator for blackouts while blaming the Fossil fuel gens for cold weather, lack of FF capacity when needed, grid fires etc. Wind & solar can be built to have spare capacity but we can’t turn it up, all we can do is more expensive storage or curtailment (both involve increased energy losses). When a FF/nuclear gen is running below nameplate capacity, it’s usually easy to turn it up (but some ramping takes 30mins to over 1 hr). FF/nuclear gen have natural inertia to deal with smaller demand fluctuations. Renewable generation has greater supply variation independent of demand & relies on other sources to fix their problems. The more FF/nuclear sit idle waiting for wind+solar to fail increases the cost of FF/nuclear (capital cost & fixed running costs). The cost+disadvantages of adding the 1st 10% of wind+solar is vastly different to cost+disadvantages of last 10%.

Koonin seems happy to wait for better technology at cheaper prices when they are available in the future. Dessler seems happy to waste money on removing & replacing good capacity with less & hope someone else pays for it (waste money now will make it cheaper in the future). It will be replaced again in ~20yrs with something better & cheaper but why waste money now to do that? Why do a temporary “fix” when you know it’s a waste of time & resources? The line of wishful thinking ever moving forward to sometime in the future but we have to start picking winners now before we can verify their claims instead of market forces.

“trust me, I’m an expert … sorry, I haven’t read that study or I don’t have the numbers” is bad on both sides but it seems Koonin was better informed & prepared than Dessler.

My biased opinion was that Koonin won the debate. Historical facts & current situation beat wild guesswork, crystal ball computer models & opinions with little evidence.

August 19, 2022 7:06 pm

For the record, Andy Dessler disavowed the article and apologized.”

You don’t mention when Dessler disavowed and apologized.

Though, if Dessler had immediately disavowed the article when it was originally published, it would raise opinions of him.
Not necessarily mine, as that would require Dessler to publicly write a disavowal and retraction request to SciAm editors removing Dessler’s name.

Somehow, I doubt that is when or how Dessler disavowed the article or apologized. I suspect he disavowed the article and apologized at the debate.
A virtue signal that I doubt is meaningful beyond a ‘pity me’ ploy in a desperate attempt to stave off negative perception by attendees at the debate..

Great summation of the debate, Andy!
Thank you!

Roy Langston
August 19, 2022 7:28 pm

Once-great SciAm is a pathetic woke shadow of its former self. It has been unscientific and unreadable leftist trash for decades.

Pat Frank
August 19, 2022 7:47 pm

solar and wind can produce electricity cheaper than fossil fuels under ideal conditions

Linearized cost of energy relies on arguing that wind and solar are free. So energy production is cheap.

But intermittency is not included in the calculation and the cost of construction is borne by the fossil fuel economy.

The argument fails.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Pat Frank
August 19, 2022 9:18 pm

Not unlike the argument that EVs are cheaper to operate because the infrastructure is paid for by gasoline taxes. If electricity for charging were similarly taxed as gasoline is, EVs would be a lot less attractive.

Ty Hallsted
August 19, 2022 9:35 pm

SciAm did the same thing to a Bjorn Lomborg when his Skeptical Environmentalist hit the shelves. IF I remember correctly, they published 12 pages of criticism and denied him even a single page to rebut. So he put up his own page and copied the criticisms there along with his rebuttals. SciAm made him take the page down due to copyright infringement.

August 20, 2022 2:43 am

An Oxford-style debate?
The audience has to be large, balanced of opinion and above all honest.
Ask political pole takers if honesty of reply is their experience.
What’s to stop someone voting against their true intention at the start and then switching to their real intention the end of the debate?

Lewis Buckingham
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
August 20, 2022 3:39 am

But then everyone can do this.
I recall a front lawn meeting in the late ’60s which the left was unable to swing.
One of them called out ‘This meeting is stacked’.
A voice came back from the huge crowd,’ Yes, by students’.
From the actual debate 100,000 were watching then, hard to rig.
Once the video is up and running, an international non voting audience will be watching.

Laws of Nature
August 20, 2022 7:13 am

>> For the record, Andy Dessler disavowed the article and apologized.
For the record he first denied the evidence several times and only apologized under pressure to a small audience in order to win the debate (which he did not because his other arguments were too weak and wrong). I believe the motivation for his apology has to do with personal gain, he looked quite uncomfortable being exposed like that and being caught in a repeated lie right there, he just tried to wiggle out as fast as he could!

Now that he knows that his name is used for that article he has the option (and moral obligation) to take it down, let´s judge him bis his actions, not his words.
Taking the article down corrects some of his falsehood, but does not make him a good person.

Laws of Nature
Reply to  Andy May
August 20, 2022 3:46 pm

Oh, I see now that my last sentence sounds more dire that intended. I was strictly speaking about his behavior in regards to this article!
Frankly, I do not know much about him nor do I want to.
I saw him in various debattes, typically he is a lot less eloquent than he thinks he is, so he typically ends up not looking too good.
Surving the hype of climate alarmism without too much contribution or talent himself.

Roy W Spencer
August 20, 2022 12:54 pm

Thanks for providing this summary, Andy!

JCDN Texas
August 20, 2022 7:34 pm

Well, unScientific American — which I also respected many years ago — has been a peddler of ideology masquerading as science for a good while now.

I remember an article from 2013 about ice cores and was struck by a comment in the article by Dr Edward Brook:

“The idea that there was a lag of CO2 behind temperature is something climate change skeptics pick on,” says Edward Brook of Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. “They say, ‘How could CO2 levels affect global temperature when you are telling me the temperature changed first?’”

Damned right we pick on that scab…

The article was about getting the CO2 lag down to “just” 200 years…


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