The SuperFreaknomics fiasco (a sequel to a very popular book on economics which has a very bad chapter on climate change) is a case where Joe Romm’s approach is entirely appropriate. I hope Joe will forgive me for quoting a good chunk of his article, which includes some forthright statements by Ken Caldeira. It’s something nobody should miss.
One sentence about Caldeira in particular is the exact opposite of what he believes (page 184):
Yet his research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.
Levitt and Dubner didn’t run this quote by Caldeira, and when he saw a version from Myrhvold, he objected to it. But Levitt and Dubner apparently wanted to keep it very badly — it even makes the SuperFreakonomics Table of Contents in the Chapter Five summary “Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?” It fits their contrarian sensibility, but it makes no actual sense.
Here is what Caldeira really believes:
I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero. I believe that it is essentially immoral for us to be making devices (automobiles, coal power plants, etc) that use the atmosphere as a sewer for our waste products. I am in favor of outlawing production of such devices as soon as possible….
Every carbon dioxide emission adds to climate damage and increasing risk of catastrophic consequences. There is no safe level of emission.
I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies … It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.
I am in favor of fire insurance but I am also against playing with matches while sitting on a keg of gunpowder. I am in favor of research into geoengineering options but I am also against carbon dioxide emissions.
Carbon dioxide emissions represent a real threat to humans and natural systems, and I fear we may have already dawdled too long. That is why I want to see research into geoengineering — because the threat posed by CO2 is real and large, not because the threat is imaginary and small.
Emphasis added by me. See the rest of Joe’s article here.
Update: See also Ezra Klein (h/t Things Break): “The problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one.”
Update: The authors, Dubner and Levitt, are busily jumping the shark, now calling critics “fraudulent”.