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Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

Published 13th October 2009 - 14 comments - 2928 views -

Four years ago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner wrote a book called Freakonomics. It was a huge hit, selling more than three million copies.  

Now, they're back with a follow up that's bound to upset liberal sensibilities and cause outrage among the global warming faithful. The new book is titled Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

For the global cooling part of the book, Levitt and Dubner call upon Nathan Myhrvold, a former colleague of Professor Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, who became futurist-in-chief at Microsoft, and Ken Caldeira, a Stanford University ecologist and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Super Freakonomics Caldeira starts out by saying that increases in carbon dioxide can be positive. For example, a rise in atmospheric CO2 means that plants need less water for their growth. In his studies, he has demonstrated that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide, while holding steady all other inputs, such as water and nutrients, yielded a 70 per cent increase in plant growth. Those of us who had a decent education know that carbon dioxide is the lifeblood of plants, but this will probably come as a surprise to today's schoolchildren who are being indoctrinated that CO2 is toxic.

Myhrvold says that while the IPCC is causing alarm about the level of COin the atmosphere increasing from about 280 parts per million to 380, our ancestors evolved at a time when the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was over 1,000 parts per million. He then turns heretic by pointing out that "nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth: ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, rather than before it." This might explain why the recorded temperature of the planet has not increased over the past 11 years.

But if, for argument's sake, we assume that the "experts" advising our leaders are right in their belief that humanity is threatened by the greenhouse effect and its consequences, Myhrvold has thought that through as well. He's got a simple plan for saving the planet.

Pumps and hoses and helium balloons

He believes that the biggest sudden natural cooling events are major volcanic eruptions, which spew vast quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which leads to a decrease in ozone and a diffusing of sunlight, followed by a drop in global temperatures. So, why not bring about the same effect through geo-engineering? He has conceived a system of pumps and hoses, which would be taken up into the atmosphere in helium balloons. They would spray colourless liquid sulfur dioxide that would wrap around the North and South poles in two weeks. Myhrvold estimates that this "save the poles" project would cost about $20 million, with a yearly operating cost of $10 million. Planet rescued! Phew!

The British Government, on the other hand, is suggests spending $1.2 trillion a year on a global de-carbonization program. The problem with that, of course, is that even if the British end up paying an enormous price for their power by banning coal — the world's cheapest and most plentiful form of stored energy — the developing economies of China and India have no intention of denying themselves the benefits of cheap, dirty power. 

So, will the innovations outlined in the new Levitt- Dubner book be welcomed in Copenhagen? Will Nathan Myhrvold be showered with Nobel Prizes by delighted Norwegians? Not likely. The idea that the problem could be solved by spending $10 million a year on squirting sulphur dioxide around the poles would mean no more dramatic summits. As well, alarmists and utopians would be deprived of a platform and a manipulative press would be starved of populist end-of-the-world fantasies. 

Category: Climate Heroes, | Tags: cooling, thinking, positive, hawking, levitt, dubner, myhrvold, caldeira,


Turboblock on 13th October 2009:

This is what Caldeira really said “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.”

And also: “If we keep emitting greenhouse gases with the intent of offsetting the global warming with ever increasing loadings of particles in the stratosphere, we will be heading to a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze that we would need to main more-or-less indefinitely. This seems to be a dystopic world out of a science fiction story. First, we can assume the oceans have been heavily acidified with shellfish and corals largely a thing of the past. We can assume that ecosystems will be greatly affected by the high CO2 / low sunlight conditions — similar to what Earth experienced hundreds of millions years ago. The sunlight would likely be very diffuse — maybe good for portrait photography, but with unknown consequences for ecosystems.

We know also that CO2 and sunlight affect Earth’s climate system in different ways. For the same amount of change in rainfall, CO2 affects temperature more than sunlight, so if we are to try to correct for changes in precipitation patterns, we will be left with some residual warming that would grow with time.

And what will this increasing loading of particles in the stratosphere do to the ozone layer and the other parts of Earth’s climate system that we depend on?

On top of all of these environmental considerations, there are socio-political considerations: We we have a cooperative world government deciding exactly how much geoengineering to deploy where? What if China were to go into decades of drought? Would they sit idly by as the Climate Intervention Bureau apparently ignores their plight? And what if political instability where to mean that for a few years, the intervention system were not maintained … all of that accumulated pent-up climate change would be unleashed upon the Earth … and perhaps make “The Day After” movie look less silly than it does.

Long-term risk reduction depends on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Nevertheless, there is a chance that some of these options might be able to diminish short-term risk in the event of a climate crisis.”

DavidC on 21st October 2009:

You know it’s going to be a weak, flawed and impotent article when it starts with:

> ...upset liberal sensibilities and cause outrage among the global warming faithful.

What you really mean is that the rational have something to say about it and climate scientists are able to pull it to pieces because it is utterly flawed.

For anyone wanting to see the deluge of evidence and science-based criticism levelled at this book, a compilation of critiques from economists and climate scientists are available at

Or you can just read conservatives, like this blogger, denying reality - as usual.

Eamonn Fitzgerald on 21st October 2009:

Well, DavidC, that commment cannot go unanswered, but for my reply, I’ll hand you over to the Freakeconomics people themselves. Here’s

“Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear”

DavidC on 21st October 2009:

Well, Eammon, is that the best you can do? Offer up the Superfreaks who are denying that they got anything wrong - what a surprise! - despite a mountain of criticism from economists and scientists.

Hmm, who should we believe? Two people trying to defend and sell their book? Or numerous, impartial experts, citing evidence and science?

That’s a tough decision… if you’re incapable or unwilling to think objectively and rationally. George Bush and Tony Blair have both told us they did a heckuva job. Do you believe them as well?

P.S. If you’d followed the link I provided, you’d have found that the ‘Anatomy of a Smear’ post has already been deconstructed and is as persuasive as the book.

car accident insurance claim on 11th November 2009:

Never considered this gracious point thank you a lot. 

car accident insurance claim on 15th November 2009:

What an interesting article, obviously there are great discrepancies between these judicial systems… this makes me realize how relative everything is and that justice is an utopia.

Tony on 22nd November 2009:

Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed and informative article. It has given me a lot of inspiration and I look forward to more like this in the future.
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Terry on 03rd February 2010:

I’ve read freakonomics. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is an easy, interesting book, even for people who do not usually like nonfiction or economics. Levitt addresses a number of questions in Freakonomics and uses straight-forward analysis to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Freakonomics will give you plenty to talk about, but is not an in depth analysis of the issues presented.
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Jules on 09th February 2010:

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.
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Mark Ewans on 09th February 2010:

Me and my friend were arguing about an issue similar to this! Now I know that I was right. lol! Thanks for the information you post.
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Jess on 04th March 2010:

What an interesting article, obviously there are great discrepancies between these judicial systems… this makes me realize how relative everything is and that justice is an utopia.
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Richard on 16th March 2010:

Well I think I will just stay neutral on this matter
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Checks Unlimited Offer Code on 22nd May 2010:

I’ve read Freakonomics… must read for sure

Mark on 24th May 2010:

This article is truly a good read for me! Informative and very interesting!, Cheers wink
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