New Soon & Legates Skeptics Article

For instructors looking for a concise article outlining the arguments of climate change skeptics, check out the new piece by Willie Soon & David Legates, Avoiding Climate Myopia: Three Considerations for Policymakers Concerning Manmade Carbon Dioxide, Ecology Law Currents (2010). I have a lot of problems with this piece. I think many of the arguments that it advances are straw men, e.g. the assertion that climate scientists didn’t anticipate a potential abatement of warming trends (I don’t think I’ve ever heard that argument advanced by a credible climate researcher), and can’t explain it, as well as the assertion that some climate scientists ascribe warming solely to rising levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (AR4 clearly states that a majority of warming is linked to anthropogenic emissions, acknowledging the role of a raft of natural factors). However, this should provide lots of grist for students to grapple with the science of climate change and examine the premises that underlie this piece’s conclusion that we should “reject any deal that would tax or restrict carbon emissions.”

The authors also include what I thought was a convoluted explanation of why carbon trading isn’t viable, initially asserting that it’s a scheme that’s highly susceptible to cheating, but then focusing on fluctuations in market prices for carbon. Are these two issues linked? Could market fluctuations be linked to an absence of a long-term price signal that could be effectuated through the establishment of medium and long-term emissions reduction mandates? This section of the article also includes a critique of the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS)  that could invoke some good student discussion. The authors argue, inter alia, that EU emissions have increased during the first phase of the EU-ETS, and that allowances were over-allocated. It might be interesting to ask students to square these assertions with the fact that the EU is on track to meet its obligations under Kyoto at this point, and whether over-allocation of credits is an intrinsic flaw in carbon trading systems. You might also ask the students why the authors’ make the leap ultimately to the conclusion that this analysis also means that a carbon TAX would also be a bad policy prescription.

The authors also make the provocative argument that many climate scientists, especially at research universities, may be driven by financial motives. It might be interesting to explore why this allegation wouldn’t be equally salient in the context of climate denialists, many of whose research agendas are funded by the fossil fuel industry. This could also lead to a fruitful discussion of the role of peer review and access to scientific data to replicate results. This could be a good gateway into examining the allegations in the “Climategate” imbroglio, as well as acknowledged errors in AR4.

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