Making Sense with Sam Harris #95 – What You Need to Know About Climate Change (with Joseph Romm)

Making Sense with Sam Harris #95 - What You Need to Know About Climate Change (with Joseph Romm)

In this episode Sam Harris speaks with Joseph Romm about how the climate is changing and how we know that human behavior is the primary cause. They discuss why small changes in temperature matter so much, the threats of sea-level rise and desertification, the best and worst case scenarios, the Paris Climate Agreement, the politics surrounding climate science, and many other topics.

Joseph Romm is one of the country’s leading communicators on climate science and solutions. He was Chief Science Advisor for “Years of Living Dangerously,” which won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series. He is the founding editor of Climate Progress, which Tom Friedman of the New York Times called “the indispensable blog.” In 2009, Time named him one of its “Heroes of the Environment,” and Rolling Stone put him on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy in 1997, where he oversaw billion in low-carbon technology development and deployment. He is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT. He is the author of Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.

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20 thoughts on “Making Sense with Sam Harris #95 – What You Need to Know About Climate Change (with Joseph Romm)”

  1. I wonder if Sam has actually looked at the 'deniers' arguments. Did you do your own research Sam? I doubt it.
    Read the NIPCC reports.

  2. Whether or not you believe the science, common sense should tell you that we are doing too many things in excess. No natural system can take too much of anything. Like a human body, anything in excess is bad, the earth is the same. Even things that are good for us that are consumed in excess, have negative effects.

  3. 41:00 "… less potable water; less arable land…" With desalinization plants, we will have more fresh water than EVER, right where we need it, at the coast where our biggest cities are located. With fresh water, we can grow all the food we need in hydroponic factories, or just farm the deserts. So, cheap electricity to make desalinization cheaper would solve every possible problem.

  4. Excellent discussion. One of the best demystifications of Global Warming I've come across. He just sold a copy of his book…and a few more if I can help it.

  5. I like Sam a lot but it was a torture to listen to this podcast – this man is a professional manipulator with vested interest in the subject and he was spewing lie after lie for 2h while Sam was hanging him softball questions. Really disappointing ☹️

  6. This was a very provocative podcast to listen to. Upon starting some research about various topics on overpopulation, pollution and climate change I can say that this podcast has really helped solidify my newfound perception of the topic.

  7. Really enjoyed this talk, a lot of great content! Would like to have heard a little more about renewable energies and the reality of popularizing these efforts and investments over nuclear energy?

    I´ve heard from many sources that in order to implement renewables such as solar farms, wind turbine farms you have to clear so much wildlife and ecosystems just to get them on the ground. Not to mention the cost and realistic energy return in comparison to this destruction and financial barrier. I understand that nuclear also takes a lot of investment etc. but the returns in terms of energy are way more cost effective and beneficial overall?

    Would highly recommend to anyone to check out the arguments comparing nuclear over renewables.

  8. Was hoping Sam would challenge him at least a few times. Granted he did try and get a rational response with Climategate, but certainly didn't follow up with his tepid response. I get that they're pretty well aligned on this topic, but where Sam is such a well established voice of reason it would have been nice to hear him offer some ideas from other perspectives. I for one am very convinced that climate change is happening and that humans play SOME sort of role. Where Dr Romm starts to lose me is when he emphatically declares that humans are the sole cause (at worst 95%) without anything factual to actually back that up. It seems to me that if we were the sole cause, the efforts that we (and Europe) have made over the past 10 years would produce something tangible in terms of reducing the rate of climate change but that doesn't seem to be the case. Nothing we've done so far has proved to help?!?! Maybe human activity doesn't DRIVE climate? Dr. Romm seems very politically driven (border reference, pejorative description of Scott Adams because he has a differing view, etc) and his description of the 97% consensus was just patently wrong. You are part of the consensus if you acknowledge that climate change is occurring and that Humans play A role. It doesn't require you to say that humans are THE cause. So you end up with plenty of "skeptics" who are part of the 97%. Kind of ironic in a way. Anyhow, would have been great to hear Dr. Romm respond to these ideas. Perhaps Sam could have Dr Linzen, Dr Spencer, Dr Curry, or some of the other reputable scientists with differing views on to share their thoughts. As for Nuclear, I can't grasp why he would cite cost as a barrier. Nuclear is most certainly something the "skeptics" would not only be okay with but embrace so if clean energy is what will save the planet, why wouldn't you explore what could actually come about?

  9. The Earth has been slowly recovering from an ice age for about 10,000 years. The glaciers finally finished melting from Minnesota about 7,000 years ago. 300,000,000 years ago there were NO polar caps at all because it was too warm. Tropical plants grew as far north as Greenland back then. The Earth's climate has always been changing, either up or down and it will continue to change as long as the Earth exists. A few tank fulls of gas aren't gonna have any major permanent effect on that …

  10. Given that fossil fuel’s are finite eventually the cost of extracting oil from the ground will exceed the cost of renewable energy. . When this happens we will shift away from fossil fuels. Until that happens there’s nothing anybody can do to stop global warming. To survive we need economic growth. Implementing a carbon tax would do nothing but hurt the economy, especially given the fact that China and India are now the worst polluters. I just wish the right was honest, and would admit that global warming is real man is the cause but there’s nothing we should do financially to try to stop it.

  11. 21:52 (SMH) "This is science . . ." Just the kind of tone-deaf hubris that undermines his case. He's completely oblivious to the obvious comeback: 3 astronauts died in a 1968 launchpad fire . . . and 14 more died in two shuttle explosions.

  12. Great talk, but did not go far enough. Partly because the discussion centers on generalities about the consequences of climate change, instead of putting a dollar value on the costs. It also does not tie the problem back to the agents that generate the problem: namely, population growth and economic growth. As such suggestions that implementing the Paris agreement will solve the problem, are disconnected from the impact of the Paris agreement on both, people’s lives and climate change, i.e., we don’t know how much they will help climate change and we don’t know how much they will impact the world GDP.

    As for the politics of it, the main problems are twofold: first, there is the “I am not going to lower the standards of living in my country. Let someone else do it first” and second the political system especially among the two countries that count the most in greenhouse gas emissions (China and US) is corrupted. China is a dictatorship while the US system is controlled by powerful lobby groups that are against doing anything about climate change.

    There is also the problem of economic inequality that is closely tied not only to climate change but also to other forms of pollutants in general that is absent from the discussion. And it is ironic that the people who are in general in favour of doing something about climate change are also in favour of doing something about economic inequality, notwithstanding the fact that there is a contradiction here.

    Unfortunately, we cannot solve the problem of climate change and general pollution with technological fixes if we still pursue the politics of unrestricted population and economic growth. One or both of those things will have to go. And nether can we solve the inequality problem if population and economic growth are not controlled.

    I recently published a book on Amazon where I discuss all these things and where I calculate a value in terms of costs and deaths of climate change and other general pollutants. You can find the book here:

  13. Why do people have such a distrust of scientists. Maybe they only believe people that manipulate them for personal gain.

  14. The website that Joseph Romm refers to: relies heavily on a very flawed study by John Cook ( ). It is one of the studies that launched the 97% consensus claim into the media. Please read the study for yourself and see how biased it is. On the website you can even rate the abstracts they used for the study and see how you compare to their ratings.

    If you are interested in further reading this is a nice article to get you started: Pages 9 till 12 go specifically against the conclusions of Cook's study using his own data.

    Just to be clear I am not entirely sure yet about the human influence on global warming and the timescale we should allow for cost-effective innovations in renewables and nuclear before implementing them. But I do believe the issue is much more nuanced than Mr. Romm makes it appear.

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