Steven Levitt in controversial claim shock…

Perhaps I was naive in my reading of Superfreakonomics, but it didn’t occur to me that the chapter on geoengineering would stir up such a storm. I liked the book, but worried about the chapter. I wrote:

As for the final chapter on global warming, it is a striking discussion of geo-engineering, surveying various schemes for cooling down the planet rather than trying to prevent climate change by cutting carbon emissions. This is a strong story, but it is also one-sided, portraying the geo-engineers as brilliant iconoclasts, dismissing the objections to geo-engineering as the knee-jerk reaction of the unreflective, and failing to convey the views of a single credible geo-engineering sceptic. A well-deserved swipe at Al Gore does not really count.

According to this chapter, the only reason everyone is making so much fuss about carbon dioxide is that they’ve never heard of geo-engineering, or are the kind of stubborn Luddites who think technology never solved anything. I have some sympathy with that view but the section nevertheless needed more balance.

Anyway, others have put their criticism in rather firmer terms. (Brad DeLong even thinks the above paragraphs constitute a defence of the global warming chapter; well, you be the judge of that. I won’t deny that I liked the book overall.) Those who are interested could do worse than start at Free Exchange and follow the links. The uberbloggers you’ll find for yourselves, but also check out Yoram Bauman and Joshua Gans. Stephen Dubner defends the chapter here.

As for me? (Not that I am an expert: I presume I was invited to review the book because I am authority on popular economics writing, not an authority on climate change.) Well, I read all the criticism and the back and forth, went back to the original review, which I penned three weeks ago, and… I don’t think I’d change a word. It is a strong story. And it is one-sided.

Update: Nathan Myhrvold responds at Freaknomomics. Brad DeLong apologises to me, which is decent of him but not really necessary.

Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.