Steve Koonin

Steve Koonin

Credentials

Profile image via Steve Koonin’s archived profile at Department of Energy.

Background

Steven (Steve) E. Koonin is a university professor and founding director of NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. From 2009 to 2011, Koonin was Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy under President Barack Obama.3Steve Koonin,” NYU. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/QUf1c

Before working in government, Koonin spent five years (2004 to 2009) as Chief Scientist for oil giant BP plc where he helped to establish its Energy Biosciences Institute. From 1975 to 2006, he was a professor of theoretical physics at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and served as provost 4Former Caltech Provost Steven Koonin Nominated for Under Secretary for Science,” Caltech, March 25, 2009. Archived April 17, 2016. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Uhrbrfrom 1995 to 2004.5Steve Koonin,” NYU. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/QUf1c 6DR. STEVEN E. KOONIN – FORMER UNDER SECRETARY FOR SCIENCE,” Department of Energy. Archived February 15, 2012. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/9jyFh

In April 2017, writing at the Wall Street Journal, Koonin advocated for the controversial “red team” approach to climate science.7A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2017. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ypSat E&E News reported he also met with then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to discuss the topic, and that there were rumors Pruitt was considering Koonin to play a role in the process.8Here’s the Obama energy guy that Pruitt might hire,” E&E News, August 7, 2017. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Bxir3

In 2019, Koonin was reportedly assisting the White House in creating a panel to advise President Donald Trump on climate change.9Josh Siegel. “Former Obama official helping Trump establish ‘climate contrarians’ panel,” Washington Examiner, February 27, 2019. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/zXq4n The panel, to be led by CO2 proponent Will Happer, has been described as a “slapdash band of climate contrarians.”10A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2017. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ypSat 11“AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY 4 CLIMATE CHANGE STATEMENT REVIEW WORKSHOP” (PDF), American Physical Society, January 8, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

In 2014, Koonin chaired a similar workshop for the American Physical Society with “experts” including John Christy, Judith Curry, and Richard Lindzen.

Stance on Climate Change

September 19, 2014

Koonin wrote an article at The Wall Street Journal titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled.” Some excerpted quotes below:12Steven E Koonin. “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2014. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/LkeAv

“The idea that ‘Climate science is settled’ runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment.”

[…]

“The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. […] Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

“Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, ‘How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?’”

[…]

“Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole.”

[…]

“We often hear that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.”

[…]

“Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters.”

Key Quotes

April 20, 2017

“The outcome of a Red/Blue exercise for climate science is not preordained, which makes such a process all the more valuable. It could reveal the current consensus as weaker than claimed. Alternatively, the consensus could emerge strengthened if Red Team criticisms were countered effectively. But whatever the outcome, we scientists would have better fulfilled our responsibilities to society, and climate policy discussions would be better informed,” Koonin wrote in the Wall Street Journal.13A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2017. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ypSat

Key Actions

October 7, 2021

Koonin appeared on The Brendan O’Neill Show at Spiked to discuss his new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. 14The climate debate is not ‘settled’,Spiked, October 7, 2021. Archived .mp3 on file at DeSmog.

During the interview, Koonin claimed climate science is distorted by the time in reaches the public.

Steve Koonin: [00:03:56] What the public sees is that the end of a long game of telephone that starts with that information, but goes through the assessment reports to the summaries for policymakers in those reports and then on to the media and ultimately to the politicians and other people talking to the public. And there’s so many opportunities and motives to distort what the real science says that that’s why the public dialog often reminds me of what you hear in The Princess Bride, where one character says, you know, you keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what you think it means. [00:04:34]

On severe weather events, Koonin claimed looking at the records showed there is no human influnce:

Steve Koonin: [00:10:25] You can do the same sort of thing for record high temperatures in the U.S., which are not increasing over the U.S. as a whole. You can do the same for hurricanes. And that’s one that really surprises people. The official reports say there are no human influence. I’m sorry. The right way to say is that there are no detectable long term trends in almost all hurricane properties. [00:10:51]

Koonin claimed variations in sea ice are not caused by man:

Steve Koonin: [00:12:31] On the other hand, as I mentioned in the book and you quoted when you look at the rate at which Greenland is losing ice, it’s highly variable and it was high in the 30s and then it was going and then it was high again, even as the globe was warming steadily. So there’s very likely a large natural variability in the ice sheets. And you’ve got to take that into account as a scientist, if you’re going to say it’s humans that are causing the recent melting. [00:13:07]

Steve Koonin: [00:13:25] The other thing to say is that if the ice started to melt, all expectations are it would be quite gradual and we would have plenty of time, even according to the IPCC reports. [00:13:39]

He criticized the IPCC’s analysis of sea level rise:

Steve Koonin: [00:16:30] The important thing to understand about sea level is not that it’s rising. It’s been doing that for 15000 years. The real question is whether it’s rising more rapidly in recent decades because of human influence as opposed to its natural rate. And the IPCC, while it talks about how the rate in the last few decades is a lot greater than the average in the 20th century and so on, they entirely do not mention, let alone show, a graph showing you that around 1940 it was rising almost as rapidly as it is today, and then it went through a minimum and now is rising rapidly. Again, I would say I fail the student if they did that, because that is not at all an honest presentation of the data and they get away with it. [00:17:23]

Koonin further questioned interpretations of the recent IPCC reports:

Steve Koonin: [00:21:01] So by and large, you see these kind of apocalyptic predictions or statements coming from non-scientists, you know, with the release of the recent U.N. report, Guterres said code red for Humanity. But if you actually read the report, it doesn’t say that at all. And so these are people who are making a gloss on science that they don’t understand in order to again persuade or motivate people. [00:21:31]

Steve Koonin: [00:21:32] When you read more deeply in the reports, as opposed to people who are trying to interpret the reports, you also discover that you know there’s a lot of fudging going on. […] [00:21:44]

Steve Koonin: [00:22:13] The world has more than enough food right now, and you can bet that we will be able to adapt just fine as the climate changes slowly. […]The same is true of deaths. People make outrageous projections using extreme emissions scenarios and very sensitive models, and then just report the a little bit in the media. [00:22:42]

Later quoting H.L. Mencken, Koonin lists immigration, vaccination, and climate among “an endless series of hobgoblins” to “keep the populace alarmed”:

Steve Koonin: [00:24:21] I’ll read the quote. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence cameras to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” And you see this played out. Not only was climate poor here in the US with immigration, with vaccination. You can go on whatever the issue of the day is. [00:24:48]

Steve Koonin: [00:24:49] And you know, politicians need to motivate people and the strongest motivator is fear. Probably the next is greed after that and then may be lost, but the politicians don’t get involved with that last one. And so, you know, it’s natural for the politicians to do that. And climate is such a great motivator because it’s diffuse. It’s out there in the future. And to the extent that it involves energy, it touches just about everything that society does. So how could you resist, right? What disappoints me most are the scientists who know better, who remain silent while the issue is exaggerated and played up for fear. [00:25:36]

Koonin suggested climate science has been “corrupted” by activists:

Steve Koonin: [00:30:47] I really think that the climate scene has been corrupted by some scientists. You know, in fact, a small minority who have shifted over to an activist mode and are doing activism under the mantle of science. [00:31:06]

Koonin described the idea of Net Zero as “immoral” for the developing world:

Steve Koonin: [00:33:39] If the world were to go to net zero by 2050 is being allocated by many politicians in the UK, the US and more broadly. Nobody ever answers the question of how are we going to get adequate energy to the three billion people who do not have adequate energy in the developing world? They need that energy to develop who is going to provide that? If you can’t do coal and gas because those are the most inexpensive and convenient ways of getting them the energy right now. And until you answer that question, advocating for net zero is frankly immoral, in my view. [00:34:21]

He later expanded on this:

Steve Koonin: [00:35:31] Eco imperialism is a term I’ve heard people use for that. And again, I think it’s immoral, [00:35:38][6.5]

Koonin added his views changed when working with BP:

Steve Koonin: [00:36:08] I did not have the kind of global understanding I have now until I got into a big international company like BP. [00:36:17]

October 1, 2021

Koonin joined the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as a nonresident senior fellow “focusing on climate science and energy policy studies.”15Press Release: Former Under Secretary of Energy Steven E. Koonin joins the American Enterprise Institute,” American Enterprise Institute, October 1, 2021. Archived October 5, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kqs3c 16Steven K. Koonin,” American Enterprise Institute. Archived October 3, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/1Ivm0

May 2021

Following the release of his book, Unsettled, Koonin was invited to speak in a seminar at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In an emailed statement first published by the Union of Concerned Scientists17Ben Santer. “Climate Denialism Has No Place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” Union of Concerned Scientists, May 24, 2021. Archived May 26, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/8iDD8 and reported on at Earther, leading climate scientist Ben Santer responded that he would be cutting ties with the laboratory in protest of the planned seminar.18Molly Taft. “Top Climate Scientist Blasts Government Lab After Denier Invited to Speak,” Earther/Gizmodo, May 24, 2021. Archived May 26, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Qdm2m

“He is not an authoritative voice on climate science. LLNL climate scientists have devoted their careers to measuring, modeling, and understanding changes in the climate system. Professor Koonin has not,” Santer wrote.19Ben Santer. “Climate Denialism Has No Place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” Union of Concerned Scientists, May 24, 2021. Archived May 26, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/8iDD8

“The decision to invite Professor Koonin will not help LLNL to attract and retain the best and brightest climate scientists. More importantly, LLNL is participating in the dissemination of Professor Koonin’s incorrect views on climate science. This makes it more difficult for US citizens to reach informed, science-based decisions on appropriate responses to climate change.”

Santer added, “Writing and releasing this statement may be viewed by some as an act of disloyalty. I do not see it that way. I chose to remain loyal to the climate science we have performed at LLNL for over three decades. I do not intend to remain silent while the credibility and integrity of this research is challenged.”

“It is simply untrue that Prof. Koonin is confronting climate scientists with unpleasant facts they ignored or failed to understand,” Santer wrote in his resignation letter. “The climate science community treats uncertainties in an open and transparent way. It has done so for decades. At LLNL, we routinely consider whether uncertainties in models, observations, and natural climatic variability call into question findings of a large human influence on global climate. They do not.”

May 12, 2021

Steve Koonin was a guest on episode 10220Danielle Pletka and Mark A. Theissen. “WTH is really going on with the climate? An Obama administration scientist on climate myth and reality,” AEI, May 12, 2021. Archived .mp3 on file a DeSmog. of the American Enterprise Institute’s “What the Hell” podcast series21“WTH is really going on with the climate? An Obama administration scientist on climate myth and reality“ (PDF), AEI, May 12, 2021. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. with AEI resident fellow Marc Thiessen and senior fellow Danielle Pletka, who later wrote about the episode in an op ed at The Washington Post.22Marc. A. Thiessen. “Opinion: An Obama scientist debunks the climate doom-mongers,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2021. Archived May 17, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/phU32

As noted in the transcript, Koonin claimed climate change was “not at all an unmitigated disaster as people would have you believe.”23“WTH is really going on with the climate? An Obama administration scientist on climate myth and reality“ (PDF), AEI, May 12, 2021. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“We adapt and I think we’ll learn to take advantage of whatever changes happen rather than simply tolerate them. That’s what humans do and we’re pretty good at it,” he added.

Koonin also disputed whether decarbonizing the economy was achievable: “If we stop emitting CO2 today, it would still be there in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.” He also argued Western climate targets could prevent developing nations from industrializing, stating: that they “need energy to improve their lot, and fossil fuels are right now the most reliable and convenient way of doing that.”

May 11, 2021

In an interview with Asia Times, Koonin—referencing his recently-published book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters—claimed rising sea levels were no cause for alarm.24Jonathan Tennenbaum. “Rising seas no cause for climate change alarm,” Asia Times, May 11, 2021. Archived May 21, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/vp2Ev

“[T]he models show no signs of apocalypse. A lot of the bad things that people talk about just have not been happening,” Koonin claimed.25Jonathan Tennenbaum. “Rising seas no cause for climate change alarm,” Asia Times, May 11, 2021. Archived May 21, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/vp2Ev

While Koonin admits there could be some sea level rise, he concludes, “even at a rate of five millimeters a year – that is, five centimeters a decade or 50 centimeters in a century – we will certainly be able to adapt to that.”

Discussing trends on storms, floods, and drought, Koonin claimed:

“You see nothing. You see a little bit in the last couple of decades in California, where it has been getting a little bit drier, but over a couple of centuries that’s not unusual.”

May 4, 2021

Inside Climate News reported that in his new book slated for release on May 4, titled Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters, Koonin argues “that the impact of human influence on the climate is too uncertain, and may be too small, to merit costly action to reduce fossil fuel use. Society, he says, will be able to adapt to warming.”26Marianne Lavelle. “A New Book Feeds Climate Doubters, but Scientists Say the Conclusions are Misleading and Out of Date,Inside Climate News, May 4, 2021. Archived May 7, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/c2qQj

Scientists were critical of the new book. “The bottom line is that despite uncertainties in the magnitude and patterns of natural climate variability, human-caused climate change fingerprints have been identified in pretty much every aspect of climate change scientists have looked at,” said Benjamin Santer, an atmospheric scientist and leading climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 

“He’s not a fearless ‘truth teller,’” said Santer, referring to a Wall Street Journal headline on a piece about Koonin’s book. “He’s muddying the waters here. He’s making it much more difficult to make informed decisions.”27Marianne Lavelle. “A New Book Feeds Climate Doubters, but Scientists Say the Conclusions are Misleading and Out of Date,Inside Climate News, May 4, 2021. Archived May 7, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/c2qQj

“What he does is he just takes potshots,” said Don Wuebbles, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, who has helped lead the National Climate Assessment, which Koonin’s book criticizes roundly. “He pulls one figure out of context, and then makes a whole chapter on it.”

Describing his book, Koonin has claimed: “The impact of human influences on the climate is too uncertain (and very likely too small) compared to the daunting amount of change required to actually achieve the goal of eliminating net global emissions by, say, 2075.”

“For me,” Koonin concludes, “the many certain downsides of mitigation outweigh the uncertain benefits: the world’s poor need growing amounts of reliable and affordable energy, and widespread renewables or fission are currently too expensive, unreliable, or both.”

Koonin wrote: “I believe it is a responsibility, almost an act of conscience, to portray without bias just how settled—or unsettled—the science truly is.”

February 2019

Steve Koonin was reportedly assisting the White House in creating a panel to advise President Donald Trump on climate change. The committee would be led by climate science denier and CO2 proponent Will Happer.28Josh Siegel. “Former Obama official helping Trump establish ‘climate contrarians’ panel,” Washington Examiner, February 27, 2019. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/zXq4n

It would “advise the President on scientific understanding of today’s climate, how the climate might change in the future under natural and human influences, and how a changing climate could affect the security of the United States,” according to a discussion paper.29White House prepares to scrutinize intelligence agencies’ finding that climate change threatens national security,” The Washington Post, February 20, 2019. Archived February 20, 2019.Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/lX2E8

The paper also claims that prior government-issued reports finding climate change to be a serious threat “have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.”

In an interview, Francesco Femia, chief executive officer of the Council on Strategic Risks and co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, described the committee as a political tool:

This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn’t think nuclear weapons exist,” he said. “It’s honestly a blunt force political tool designed to shut the national security community up on climate change.”

April 20, 2017

Koonin wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal titled “A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science.” In the article, he suggested “A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits.”30A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2017. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ypSat

Richard B. Rood of the University of Michigan speculated Koonin’s article may have played a role in persuading Administrator Scott Pruitt to call for a public red team-blue team review of climate science.31Red Team-Blue Team? Debating Climate Science Should Not Be a Cage Match,” DeSmog, August 18, 2017. E&E News commented that Rood was also a likely pick by Pruitt for a role in such a team.32Here’s the Obama energy guy that Pruitt might hire,” E&E News, August 7, 2017. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Bxir3

November 4, 2015

Around the time of climate negotiations in Paris, Koonin wrote an op-ed at The New York Times pushing for adaptation as a solution to climate change as opposed to implementing policies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Koonin proposed there are “two sobering scientific realities that will weaken the effectiveness of even the most ambitious emissions reduction plans”:33The Tough Realities of the Paris Climate Talks,” The New York Times, November 4, 2015. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/IFHZ0

“The first reality is that emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas of greatest concern, accumulate in the atmosphere and remain there for centuries as they are slowly absorbed by plants and the oceans,” he wrote. “The second scientific reality, arising from peculiarities of the carbon dioxide molecule, is that the warming influence of the gas in the atmosphere changes less than proportionately as the concentration changes,” Koonin wrote.

Koonin suggests it would be a slow and difficult process to limit carbon emissions, so instead proposes adaptation:

“The critical role of adaptation in responding to the realities of climate change demands a deeper analysis and more prominent discussion of the nature, effectiveness, timing and costs of various adaptation strategies. But whatever the outcome in Paris, or of future discussions of emissions and the climate, the reality is that humans must continue to adapt, as they always have.”

September 19, 2014

Koonin wrote the article “Climate Science Is Not Settled” in The Wall Street Journal.34Steven E Koonin. “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2014. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/LkeAv

According to a response at Climate Science and Policy Watch, “Koonin mis-states a number of scientific details, and ultimately lures readers toward the conclusion that climate change isn’t an urgent problem.”35On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal publishes call to wait and do nothing,” Climate Science and Policy Watch, September 20, 2014. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/GJdj6

The response included statements from scientists Michael Mann, Michael MacCracken, and Howard Frumkin. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, wrote:

“Koonin mentions that this climate is always changing. This is a standard line in the WSJ because it sounds reasonable at first blush, but of course it conveys a deep falsehood. The fact is that the actual peer-reviewed scientific research shows that (a) the rate of warming over the past century is unprecedented as far back as the 20,000 years paleoclimate scientists are able to extend the record and (b) that warming can ONLY be explained by human influences.

“Indeed, it is the RATE of warming that presents such risk to human civilization and our environment. There is no doubt that there were geological periods that were warmer than today due to long-term changes in greenhouse gas concentrations driven by natural factors like plate tectonics. But consider the early Cretaceous 100 million years ago when CO2 concentrations were even higher than today, and there were dinosaurs roaming the ice-free poles. Over the last 100 million years, nature slowly buried all of that additional CO2 beneath Earth’s surface in the form of fossil fuels. We are now unburying that carbon a *MILLION* times faster than it was buried, leading to unprecedented rates of increase in greenhouse concentrations and resulting climate changes. To claim that this is just part of a natural cycle is to be either deeply naive or disingenuous.”

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Policy at the Climate Institute, wrote (emphasis in original):36On eve of climate march, Wall Street Journal publishes call to wait and do nothing,” Climate Science and Policy Watch, September 20, 2014. Archived March 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/GJdj6

“Of the many points to be made, here are a few:

“Koonin’s analysis totally fails to consider the significant risk of very serious impacts on marine life of ocean acidification from the rising CO2 concentration. Impacts are already affecting those growing oysters and other shelled organisms in the Pacific Northwest, and coral atolls around the world are at risk over coming decades—and that is pure chemistry totally independent of climate models.

“Koonin’s point that the climate has changed so much in the past is actually one of the key reasons to be worried about human-induced climate change. Were the past climate stable even as the various natural forcings were changing, then there would be less reason for concern that human-induced forcings could change the climate. But reality is that past natural forcings caused significant changes in the climate—and now human activities are leading to forcings that are comparable to or even larger than natural ones in the past. In addition, the forcings being created will change climate more rapidly than have natural factors, making this unprecedented except for the catastrophic changes that have followed the impacts of large asteroids. Thus, contrary to Koonin’s assertion that past climate change suggests a policy of caution, a more appropriate conclusion would be that insights gained from past climate change should be leading to much more aggressive policy action than is now underway.

“Yes, there is lots more to be learned, but the basic physics of the climate change issue have been clear since the 1960s when the President’s Science Advisory Council sent their report to President Johnson and Congress in 1965. Except for refrigerants of various types, human activities are adding increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (and other substances) to the atmosphere that are amplifying the natural warming effect of these substances in the atmosphere—it is not that we are not familiar with the substances we are adding to the atmosphere and have dealt with for decades. That these gases will cause warming has been recognized since the mid-19th century and adding more will surely cause more warming. Certainly, there are more questions to be investigated and resolved, and they do affect how best to adapt and other policies—but they do not alter at all the fundamental reality that human activities have become the primary driver of changes in climate, overwhelming the cycling changes in solar radiation and being much longer lasting than the occasional volcanic eruptions.

“On sea level rise, Koonin’s comments are again mistaken and misleading. The present rate of sea level rise is well above the rate for the first half of the 20th century. The relatively stable climate that has allowed civilization to expand over the last several thousand years has kept sea level quite constant—you can still visit the coast of Sicily and find the remains of salt flats constructed in ancient times. That climate change can cause sea level to change is a key lesson from past changes in the climate that Koonin fails to mention. Since the peak of the last glacial cycle, sea level rose about 20 meters for each one degree Celsius increase in global average temperature (equivalent to a sea level rise of about 30 feet per degree Fahrenheit!!) While it took centuries or more for the full effect to be felt in the past when natural forcings were changing slowly, the adjustment will likely be much more rapid with the faster increase in forcing due to human activities. While the rate of rise will likely decrease slowly with warming because there is less ice on land to be melted, there are still about 75 meters (near 250 feet) of potential sea level rise in the ice tied up in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which have been experiencing accelerated loss of mass.”

January 8, 2014

Steve Koonin chaired a “review workshop” on the American Physical Society’s climate change statement. Ben Santer, a climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, later described the exercise as similar to “red-team, blue-team” exercises that Koonin advocated in the future. Santer was a member of the “blue team” in the APS exercise, along with Isaac Held from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab and Bill Collins from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The “red team” members opposing established climate science were Richard Lindzen, John Christy, and Judith Curry.37“AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY 4 CLIMATE CHANGE STATEMENT REVIEW WORKSHOP” (PDF), American Physical Society, January 8, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“I did not think that the red team arguments were successful,” Santer commented in 2017.38Ben Santer on the Climate Red Team,” YouTube video uploaded by user “greenmanbucket,” October 5, 2020. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

“For example, John Christy showed this figure, A not equal to B, and was asked by one of the physicists in the room, well, why? Why, Professor Christy, what’s going on? How do you explain this divergence in warming rates between the models and the observations? What’s going on there? And John, Christy shrugged his shoulders and said Mother Nature’s going to do what Mother Nature’s going to do.”

According to the APS proceedings transcript, Christy had commented on the models as follows:39“AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY 4 CLIMATE CHANGE STATEMENT REVIEW WORKSHOP” (PDF), American Physical Society, January 8, 2014. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“My comment to the committee when something like that was asked to me a month ago was, ‘Mother Nature has within her all the necessary tools to generate extreme events that exceed what we have seen in the past 50 years.’ So, whatever we have seen out there, Mother Nature already has the ability to do it.”

Santer added: “John Christy was not interested in understanding the why. Why are there these differences in warming rate in the early twenty first century that really aren’t there in the late 20th century? What’s going on? That’s where the science is. That’s what you want to know. The why the understanding and his answer to that question was Mother Nature’s going to do what Mother Nature’s going to do. He made no attempt to provide an explanation as to what he thought physically was going on there. And that was that was telling.”40Ben Santer on the Climate Red Team,” YouTube video uploaded by user “greenmanbucket,” October 5, 2020. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

Santer suggested another “telling” moment was when all of the team members were asked if isotope data supported the conclusion that about 75% of the increase in atmospheric CO2 since the Industrial Revolution was due to the burning of fossil fuels, and Christy was the only member who disagreed.

“Of course, those isotopic measurements have been made by labs around the world. You know, it’s very, very well established science. But John Christie did not agree. And when Professor Koonin asked him, well, why don’t you agree? John Christie said, because I did not make the measurements myself. And again, you could sort of see the amazement in in the room, the the import of that statement is that I am not going to trust anyone else, no measurements unless I’ve made them myself.”

Santer concluded:

“So the red the red team lost, the red team was not convincing to the members of the American Physical Society, Steve Koonin stepped down as chair of this subcommittee charged with updating the statement. And now he’s calling for the same red team blue team process, even though the process that he presided over. Did not yield a result that that he liked, that he was comfortable with.” 

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A general keyword search of Google Scholar returns a report by the Steering Committee on Computational Physics where Koonin is listed as a member. He also wrote an article related to BP (formerly British Petroleum) in Physics World entitled “A physicist’s view of energy supply.”

Google Scholar returns a report for The Novim Group on “Climate Engineering Responses to Climate Emergencies.” In that report, Koonin is introduced with his affiliation as Chief Scientist at BP.54J. J. Blackstock, D. S. Battisti, K. Caldeira, D. M. Eardley, J. I. Katz, D. W. Keith, A. A. N. Patrinos, D. P. Schrag, R. H. Socolow and S. E. Koonin. “Climate Engineering Responses to Climate Emergencies” Novim, 2009. Archived online at: http://arxiv.org/pdf/0907.5140

The report includes this note under a section on conflicts of interest:

”[…] [I]n this instance, Dr. Koonin has an extensive history of devoting a part of each year to small-group studies of societally-relevant science. These activities long predate Dr Koonin’s joining BP, and BP allowed him to continue this practice in his individual capacity. BP contributed no funds into this study and had no influence over its content. Moreover, as discussed in the report Prelude, all participants share the belief that the relationship between climate engineering and CO2 policy is so complex and multi-faceted that directionality cannot straightforwardly be assigned between encouragement of climate engineering research and discouragement of CO2 reduction policies.”

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