By Steven Spencer: Interview with Richard Nolthenius

Environmental Professionals Postulating

Steven Spencer hosts a new podcast called Environmental Professionals Postulating.

On October 27, 2017 Spencer interviewed Dr. Richard Nolthenius, a professor of climate science at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz California. I recently discovered Nolthenius and am very impressed, in part because he respects and acknowledges Tim Garrett’s work, and in part because he is so knowledgeable.

I’ve listened to hundreds of interviews with climate scientists over the years and this ranks among the very best.  Spencer asked good questions and Nolthenius responded with lots of depth, breadth, and candor.

Given that Nolthenius understands Garrett’s thermodynamics of climate change you will detect segments where he lapses into denial, but he does far better than most climate scientists.

Highly recommended.

The 3 hour interview was broken into 3 parts:

Part 1 – Policy Mechanisms for fighting Climate Change

Part 2 – Technological Solutions for fighting Climate Change

Part 3 – GeoEngineering and the “Garrett Relation”


Dr. Richard Nolthenius has a background in thermal engineering and astronomy. He currently runs the Astronomy Program at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz California. He also lecturers and has been a visiting researcher for UC Santa Cruz since 1987. He describes his professional transition in to climate science as “quite a shock, not necessarily a pleasant one”!

Dr. Nolthenius suggests that Professor Tim Garrett’s work on linking global wealth and energy consumption has not been given the attention it deserves, Dr. Nolthenius also concludes that the only way to advert the increasingly critical climate change situation is in line with Prof. Garretts publications and therefore requires sharp, rapid cuts to our use of fossil fuels.

To achieve this end Dr. Nolthenius has compiled a list of 7 Policy Mechanisms which he will discuss in Part one. These include:

  • Tax and Dividend
  • End government subsidies to fossil fuel companies
  • Trade sanctions against all countries who do not enact Tax and Dividend or end fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Devise an efficient mechanism to impose Tax/Dividend on all externalized costs.
  • Tax consumption, not income.
  • End Child Tax Credit, and promote policies which economically discourage population growth.
  • Amend the Constitution.

Dr. Nolthenius explains exactly what the above may involve, and discusses ideas for getting them implemented with a million person Occupy DC movement.

In Part Two Dr. Nolthenius highlights potential technological ‘band aids’ (and their short falls) which could potentially be implemented alongside the Policy Mechanisms discussed in Part 1. These include:

  • Energy technologies (PV, Wind, Hydroelectric, Geothermal and Nuclear).
  • Carbon Capture and storage
  • Artificial capture of CO2 from the atmosphere via ‘Air Capture’
  • Climeworks commercially operated Air Capture CO2 machine.
  • BECCS – BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration.

Dr. Nolthenius also points out how even if we ended all our carbon emissions today, the effect of Thermal Inertia would still cause global temperatures to rise.

Part 3 covers GeoEngineering including:

  • Permafrost Carbon
  • How do we choose?
  • Solar Radiation Management
    1. ‘Butterflies’
    2. Asteroids with dust secretion
    3. Reflective Aerosols
    4. Refreezing the Artic using pumped sea water.
  • ‘Loan Shark’ methods that won’t work long term
  • Why there is no ‘Magic Bullet’

Finally, in Part 3 Dr. Nolthenius takes some time to explain how economics is related to climate change, and why we need to stop our obsession with Growth.  The work of Prof. Tim Garrett / “The Garrett Relation” is expanded upon and discussed.

Reference is made by Dr Noltheius to “E.C.S”, although not covered in the series this stands for Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity. More information on this is available in Dr Noltheniuss presentation ‘Earth Climate Change in One (very long) Lecture’ available here:

Many thanks to Dr Richard Nolthenius for joining me for this 3-part series, I hope I can discuss more issues with him in the future. I highly recommend visiting his website where there is a wealth of information freely available: His college lecture presentations (powerpoint and pdf versions) relevant to the topics covered can be found at: .

Professor Tim Garretts work as discussed can be found here:

All 3 parts where recorded Friday 27th October 2017.

13 thoughts on “By Steven Spencer: Interview with Richard Nolthenius”

  1. Hmmmm. Denial? Where did I lapse into denial? Just to note, I do think we have a substantial risk of societal disruption and resulting needless death and mayhem. But Russia and Canada will remain climate- hospitable (well, if you like Putin) even in the realistically worst CO2 cases, for quite a long time (long term H2S mass extinction I can’t comment on the odds for that, but you should realize that the AMOC did shut down during a previous interglacial and it did not result in the global mass H2S death that it did in the prior non-asteroid mass extinctions, as described by professor Peter Ward. Realize the inaccuracies from Guy McPherson. We’re not going extinct in 8 years. Frankly, that’s ridiculous and cruel for him to keep telling people. Sorry, but we’ll have to muddle through.

    Tim Garrett and I are in pretty close alignment. My attempts to disprove his work in the historical evidence instead made the validity of the “Garrett Relation” only that much stronger than in Garrett’s original work. I believe there is more possibility for “human agency” than Tim may believe, but that’s a poorly explored area of science so there’s room for intellectually honest people, as I certainly regard Tim, and I, to possibly disagree.

    I commend Steven Spencer for his fine work here, and opportunity for me to educate to a wider audience.


    1. Thanks for stopping by indy222. I am not a fan of Guy McPherson either and I agree there is zero chance of extinction in 8 years. It was a long interview listened to months ago so I do not recall the specifics I disagreed with but I suspect it may have had something to do with not acknowledging the peril we face from depletion of low cost fossil energy. Regardless, as I said in the introduction, the interview was on the whole excellent.

      See here for more detail on what I probably objected to in the interview:


  2. Do you mean the resulting rising cost of energy and the economic impact? I agree that fossil fuels will get more expensive and that will have a bad effect on economic growth. As we saw with previous oil shocks. We’re so deep in debt and have already floor-boarded interest rates in an attempt to rev economic growth, that we don’t have much room for new “stimulus” w/o more QE, which only puts off greater pain to the future. Nate Hagens, energy expert and former hedge fund manager, thinks that we are only a few years away from a debt-induced Depression like none other, perhaps lowering “permanently” our GDP by some 35%. I agree. We’re living on borrowed time and the bill collectors are coming.


    1. Yes, I think oil is effectively depleted when the cost to extract oil is higher than the price our economy can pay and still grow. We’ve bought some time by growing debt faster than the economy but I think we’re approaching the end of growth which will be a traumatic event for the world. See here for a recent essay I wrote:

      I’m a friend and long time admirer of Nate Hagens. You will find his best work posted on this site:

      I’m interested in your opinion on whether the end of growth may be enough to prevent a climate incompatible with civilization.


      1. No, not at this point. The old IPCC carbon budgets are woefully politically manipulated and wrong, missing key physics and assuming massive carbon capture and sequestration later this century to boot. We are crossing the permafrost thaw tipping point right now – since Vaks et al 2013 showed that +1.5C was the tipping point, and we’re arriving there right now, as of the end of 2016 +1.48C if you use the new Schurer, Mann et al 2017 work on what is the more reliable measure of “pre-industrial” temperature. We’re passing the West Antarctic melt tipping point too, and even at today’s temperatures the Arctic Ocean is soon to be free of summer ice. It’s too late for merely ending growth (as if “merely” were easy or going to happen !). We’ll need active human-effort’ed atmospheric CO2 removal and sequestration. AFTER ending growth, AFTER ending all current CO2 and GHG emissions. Also, merely ending growth doesn’t stop energy generation. We still need to support all past growth. Even getting to the point we can do that with renewables entirely, still means we need much more CO2 emissions from factories etc just to build the infrastructure to put in place an entirely new grid and energy system. 81% of primary energy consumption in the world today is still fossil fuels and that hasn’t budged for the entire century we’re in. I’m reading 2% growth in emissions in 2017, and predicted 2% more in ’18 and another 2% in ’19. While renewables has a good % growth rate, it’s on such a tiny base that fossil fuels even at only 2% are easily able to keep the same percentage of total energy. The only solutions at this point are going to be EXPENSIVE, as in maybe 5-10% of GDP for a very long time, to do the transition and take Earth to the Urgent Care ER. And we as a global society only do “expensive” when we get short-term bling out of it. No; we have to grow up, spiritually and emotionally, in a huge hurry, and so far I see none of that, but instead I see more fear-induced wall building, demagogues, and violence. As scarcity increases, I expect to see more of it, not a “come let us love together” transformation, I’m sorry to say.


        1. Thank you for the frank and informative answer.

          I frequently make the case that despite the grim outlook we should do what we can to reduce personal CO2 emissions because there are still degrees of bad we can influence. Do you agree, or do you think forces not in our control now dominate?

          In other words, do you think an individual should party on while they can, or conserve and set a good example?


  3. Great quotes you found, listed on the right side. I didn’t know someone else had used the “higher elevation” metaphor in so closely a way as I talk about as well.


  4. I see one small mistake in your generous comments on my work. My website giving my Presentations is not on the UC Santa Cruz servers, but on the Cabrillo College servers, so “university” should be replaced with “college” towards the end when you mention the link to the powerpoints and pdf’s. Thanks!


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