Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics

Brett Stephen writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Suppose for a minute—which is about 59 seconds too long, but that’s for another column—that global warming poses an imminent threat to the survival of our species. Suppose, too, that the best solution involves a helium balloon, several miles of garden hose and a harmless stream of sulfur dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere, all at a cost of a single F-22 fighter jet.

Good news, right? Maybe, but not if you’re Al Gore or one of his little helpers.

The hose-in-the-sky approach to global warming is the brainchild of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold. The basic idea is to engineer effects similar to those of the 1991 mega-eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which spewed so much sulfuric ash into the stratosphere that it cooled the earth by about one degree Fahrenheit for a couple of years.

Could it work? Mr. Myhrvold and his associates think it might, and they’re a smart bunch. Also smart are University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, whose delightful “SuperFreakonomics”—the sequel to their runaway 2005 bestseller “Freakonomics”—gives Myhrvold and Co. pride of place in their lengthy chapter on global warming. Not surprisingly, global warming fanatics are experiencing a Pinatubo-like eruption of their own.

Mr. Gore, for instance, tells Messrs. Levitt and Dubner that the stratospheric sulfur solution is “nuts.” Former Clinton administration official Joe Romm, who edits the Climate Progress blog, accuses the authors of “[pushing] global cooling myths” and “sheer illogic.” The Union of Concerned Scientists faults the book for its “faulty statistics.” Never to be outdone, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman scores “SuperFreakonomics” for “grossly [misrepresenting] other peoples’ research, in both climate science and economics.”

In fact, Messrs. Levitt and Dubner show every sign of being careful researchers, going so far as to send chapter drafts to their interviewees for comment prior to publication. Nor are they global warming “deniers,” insofar as they acknowledge that temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.

But when it comes to the religion of global warming—the First Commandment of which is Thou Shalt Not Call It A Religion—Messrs. Levitt and Dubner are grievous sinners…

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