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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Climate Change and the Energy Problem

A recent book by David Goodstein called "Climate Change and the Energy Problem: physical science and economics perspective" has slipped under the radar. Goodstein is a professor of physics at CalTech and a disciple of Richard Feynman, the AGW skeptics' favorite quote-machine.

This is the follow-on to Goodstein's earlier book "Out of Gas" that ties together the hydrocarbon depletion challenge with the climate change problem. In interviews, Goodstein agrees that climate denialism, at its root, is a desire not to face the energy problem. He says that the people seriously working on peak oil are not at the margins but are at the forefront of change.

Goodstein has serious credentials, and is one of the top thermodynamics and condensed matter physicists in the world. He treats the AGW problem as obvious:
"Fortunately for us, that is not all there is to it. If the average surface temperature of the Earth were 0°F. we probably would not have been here. The Earth has a gaseous atmosphere, largely transparent to sunlight, but nearly opaque to the planet's infrared radiation. The blanket of atmosphere traps and reradiates part of the heat that the Earth is trying to radiate away. The books remain balanced, with the atmosphere radiating into space the sonic amount of energy the Earth receives, but also radiating heat back to the Earth's surface, warming it to a comfortable average temperature of 57°F. That is what is known as the greenhouse effect. Without the greenhouse effect and the global warming that results, we probably would not be alive. "
And Goodstein is also formidable when it comes to dealing with crackpots. His true skeptical credentials are revealed in his book "On Fact and Fraud: Cautionary Tales from the Front Lines of Science". This is a fascinating read as it deals with the Pons/Fleischmann cold fusion debacle as well as the Schon affair which I am very familiar with.

The interview linked above is good. Goodstein sounds like a Brooklynite and delivers answers to the questions in short, no-nonsense  replies.  The only chuckle that I heard was when the interviewer remarked that coal-power was not used to mine and transport the coal. 

Throughout Goodman stresses the significance of liquid fuel,  revealing the difficulty in boot-strapping the lower-grade forms of fossil fuels. 

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