Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 31, 2015

Robert J. Samuelson needs to meet Mother Nature

I have followed the Washington Post columns of Robert Samuelson for many years and have considered his advice to be well grounded within the realm of economics. At the same time, I have been disappointed in his attitude when the subject concerned climate change.  By his own admission, he is not a scientist, he is an economist and that is all too apparent in reading his columns.  His recommendations for either action or non-action on fighting climate change have always been skewed towards the Business as Usual, fossil fuel sources of energy, which have been dominating economic forces in the USA and great barriers to needed changes.

Over the years, Samuelson has shown himself to be on the same path as the “deniers” of man-caused global warming. That is, his views have progressively morphed as follows: First, there is a serious doubt that the science is correct. Then there is the suggestion that maybe things won’t be so bad.  Then there is the view that we cannot afford to try to solve the problem and then that it is too late to try.  Samuelson is now in that second to last phase, as evidenced by his last column on this subject (see  )

This column, entitled “Fighting climate change requires more than soothing fantasies” requires careful reading because Samuelson now skillfully presents himself as a fair and sympathetic judge of the efforts made, to date, to fight climate change – while he has been no such thing. His comments now suggest that the advocates of action have failed us (in spite of all the help we have given them) and, therefore, we should now continue with Business as Usual and simply hope that “something comes up” that will save us from predicted catastrophes. Not being a scientist, Samuelson gives no details about what that “something” might be (presumably leaving that ‘minor point’ for scientists to figure out).

In his last paragraph Samuelson provides an example of his deceptive presentation when he says:

“We have been searching for solutions for decades with only modest success. We need to keep searching, but without meaningful advances, regulating the world’s temperature is mission impossible.”

What he fails to mention is that in that “search for solutions”, the highest barriers to finding them have been thrown up by our mighty fossil fuel industries that don’t want to go there. After all, if one of the means of addressing climate change is to eliminate CO2 emissions, superficial economic theory explains why the fossil fuel corporations might prefer to simply “kill the messenger”.  So while the wealthy fossil fuel corporations have spent less that 1% of their profits on the development of alternate means of energy production, they have provided large sums to organizations (and possibly to columnists) that undermine our nation’s confidence in science, in general, and climate science, in particular.  In addition, we have not yet installed a carbon tax as a fee for using our atmosphere as a garbage dump for CO2.  Note that Samuelson says nothing about these enormous barriers to needed action and states only that the promoters of action against climate change have not done enough yet as to prove that their solutions would work.  All of this further undermines our nation’s confidence in a more scientific approach.

Where there is a will there usually is a way and when there is no will there ain’t no way. In Samuelson’s case, there is no will and never has been.  In his defense, he is merely an economist used to small incremental changes in society and is not equipped for advising us on a scientific topic that is about to cause huge quantum shifts on our planet.  His advice only applies to“enjoying the party while it lasts” and has nothing to say about what happens after those shifts are allowed to occur. We can do much better than that only if we all face the fact that Mother Nature calls the shots and she is going to do things Her way. Unfortunately, “Her way” is not even mentioned in Econ 101 and, therefore, Samuelson is only aware of the smaller half of the problem. People do tend to be aware of the things they already know a lot about (I wonder if Yogi Berra ever said that.)

I only wish that Samuelson was not such a clever writer. His last piece will fool a lot of people into thinking he is concerned with their welfare. While he might be, he is even more concerned with the welfare of Exxon-Mobile. For an example of this see in which Samuelson suggests that Exxon-Mobile’s deceptions of the past concerning climate science are legal and even commendable because of our freedom of speech rights.


  1. I agree with Samuelson’s article. He’s doesn’t think that solar and wind will be enough without expansion of nuclear power. I don’t understand the concern about nuclear considering that we already have storage that needs to be baby-sat for generations. In other words, we are already in nuclear. Replacing fossil fuels is a huge challenge. Samuelson is about the economy and you are about science. Some comments from experts in energy would be appreciated.

    [Response from EPG: I also wish that we had more nuclear power plants in operation today, but we don’t. And guess why. In the ’70s we abandoned their construction because we found that they were not financially competitive with fossil fuel fired power plants. Same old story. While the costs of nuclear waste disposal was included, of course, no charge was and is applied for the disposal of CO2 into the atmosphere. Not fair. Coal is cheaper than dirt. ]

  2. Samuelson is not the only sane economist. My youngest son was fortunate enough to study “Economics 101” in a course delivered by Jack Chambless:

    Chambless received death threats for this comment:
    “What we now have is the law of unintended consequences taking place, where FEMA has come into New Orleans, a place where, ecologically, it makes no sense to have levees keeping the Mississippi River from flooding into New Orleans, like it naturally should.”

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