Today is the seventh post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here. –Kay M.
K.M.: What advice and cautions do you have for us regarding the subject of climate change?
Reinert: I worry about who the leading spokespersons are who are presuming authority on climate change. I worry about how too often it is nonexperts who have little understanding of energy who are the ones telling us what we need to do to prevent climate change. And, I worry about how well we can predict the future by extrapolating models because I’ve worked with models plenty in my life and I understand their limitations.
Lord Stern made cataclysmic predictions about climate change that didn’t come true. James Hansen speaks in a similar tone, and that concerns me. I see a lot of people who are the beacons of climate change and they are too often the people least prepared to discuss the science surrounding it. To give you an example, I was invited to a “secret” high level meeting about climate change a number of years ago. I was asked to write a white paper for it, which I did, but, of course, nobody at the meeting had read it. At the table were a couple dozen well known public figures, along with myself, and one university scientist. The discussion at that meeting frightened me because of the low level of scientific knowledge and the lack of understanding of the energy issues, yet, these same people had positioned themselves to lead the public dialogue on climate change.
I’ve done a lot of energy models, and, yes, we can curve fit and model the past, we can smooth out the curves and model carbon, but it is difficult to accurately predict the future from models. I’m worried about climate change and I think we need to address our use of carbon, and I think we’ve begun a hopeful downward trajectory. But while I’m very worried about the acidification of the oceans and the dying of the coral, I’m also worried about people who offer prescriptive remedies to address climate change who don’t understand the huge complexities within the energy systems and the unintended consequences that their often faulty prescriptions might have.
The meeting that Reinert described to me was a rather horrific experience for him, as he named one of those calling the meeting, a former vice-president of the United States who, at the time, was advocating that by converting our fuel supply to one sourced from switch grass, we could help stop the cataclysmic global warming that was rapidly coming at us. Although Reinert had explained in his white paper why it wasn’t possible to convert our fuel to switch grass sourced, they never read his white paper, so he told the table of persons gathered there that day at the end of the meeting that they “were an embarrassment” and shamed them for trying to lead the public discussion about climate change. The other scientist present at the table said he agreed with Reinert, and they left the room.
Weeks later, Reinert said that he received an apology from (Gore) in a written letter. (That day also marked a turning point in Gore’s message to the public about switch grass being the solution to our liquid fuel problem.)
When you hear that and think about the aerial views of the very large house that this vocal spokesperson lived in at the time (do you remember?) it makes us even more confused and frustrated about the message this person was sending.
Today, of course, the information we are listening to on climate science is from scientists, hopefully, but future predictions still are reliant upon models of an extremely complex system. That is why those of us who follow them see so many surprising headlines which show that the science continues to be evolving. Here are two great examples of that from just this past week, each reflecting rather large changes in the modeling: “The missing piece of the climate puzzle – Researchers show that a canonical view of global warming tells only half the story”, and, “New model includes critical plant-soil interaction processes in climate assessments”. —Kay M.
To see last week’s interview subject on “Farming and Monarchs” click here.
Coming next week will be Reinert’s comments on the future of renewables.
Photo credit: FlickrCC by Fizzr.