There’s a new non-peer-reviewed working paper making the rounds that suggests that the social cost of carbon might be negative, meaning carbon pollution is a good thing. It’s written by some guys at the fossil-fuel (and cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon) funded Heritage Foundation and Ross McKitrick, the Canadian economist perhaps best known for his many failed attempts to disprove Dr. Mann's hockey stick graph. The study was funded by Heritage, the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute, and the Canada-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy (while the Frontier Centre’s funding sources are unknown, its President Peter Holle is on CFACT’s Board of Advisors…).
In a nutshell, the paper uses the denier-beloved estimates of climate sensitivity (1.64°C) based on the faux pause of the last decade and a half to suggest CO2 doesn’t cause much warming and in fact, according to one model, carbon pollution will be good for us.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of unbiased and neutral third party that could hear the best of “both sides” of the debate and render a judgment about who’s right?
Well, turns out exactly that has already happened, back in April. In a lawsuit in Minnesota, now-bankrupt coal giant Peabody Energy put forth its best case for a low climate sensitivity to argue for a low, and possibly even negative, social cost of carbon. The judge ruled that the prior amount the state estimated the burning of fossil fuels to cost society, $0.44 to $4.53 per ton, was too low. The new figure is between $11 and $57 per ton, with the range being a result of how one chooses to discount future costs, itself a complicated issue (though it can be explained with otters).
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The experts hired by Peabody Energy argued that the world hasn’t been warming much, so the climate’s not as sensitive to carbon dioxide as we thought, and carbon dioxide is good anyway so we shouldn’t penalize it. They claimed, like this new white paper, that climate sensitivity is around 1.5°C. The judge ruled that Peabody failed to demonstrate that convincingly, and sided with the robust mainstream science pointing to sensitivity in the 2-4.5°C range.
The Guardian’s 97% blog covered this twice, first a fairly brief summary, then a more in-depth look at the Peabody side’s losing argument. But now, John Mashey at DeSmog has poured through the hundreds of pages of court documents to produce an incredibly impressive post cataloging the complex web of testimony, rebuttals to testimony, rebuttals to rebuttals (called surrebuttals) and ultimate hearings and judgements/findings. There’s lots of great language about how Peabody’s team cherry-picked and misrepresented science, used straw men and attacked the messengers. Par for the course for the deniersphere, but nice to see it skewered so thoroughly in court.
With so much on the line, one can rest assured Peabody hired the best experts they could. Those experts turned out to be some of the usual suspects of the deniersphere (Mashey’s post has a great table on the experts and their fossil fuel connections and payments). These “experts" failed spectacularly to make any sort of convincing argument. But they did essentially the same exact thing this new white paper does- point to the few studies claiming a low climate sensitivity to argue a low social cost of carbon, and suggest carbon pollution might even be good for society.
So this new paper, funded by the fossil fuel industry’s non-profit surrogates, came to the same conclusion that a fossil fuel company's top experts presented in court. And lost. Badly.
One might think the fossil fuel industry would be wise to save its money and stop funding these sorts of pro-pollution attacks on the science. But from their perspective, as long as we’re arguing about the science, we’re not arguing about solutions.
Which, given the suffering inflicted by climate change, is pretty heartless. One might say it’s downright coal-blooded.
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