‘Cancel the climate crisis’: Steven Koonin delivers Ath Talk challenging common climate change concerns

A divide between two glaciers beneath a blue sky and clouds.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

Steven Koonin, professor at New York University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke at the Claremont McKenna Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Thursday, Feb. 23, about his research and misconceptions of the climate crisis.

Koonin argued that climate group movements to halt fossil fuel extraction aren’t as urgent as the public may think. Instead, he had suggested a different approach to combat climate change.

“What do I think we should do? First thing is we have to cancel the climate crisis. This is not a crisis,” Koonin said. “I think we need better representations of the situation to non-experts and we need to improve climate and energy literacy.”

In his latest book, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters,” Koonin argues that current warnings about the magnitude of climate change are misleading and not backed by science. 

His presentation illustrated that sustainable energy, such as wind and solar power lacked reliability. Koonin also argued “fancy” sources of renewable energy such as graphite and cobalt were not only expensive but unhumanitarian for many “undeveloped” countries. 

“I think we must not constrain the developing world’s energy supply,” he said. “Right now, they need the energy and fossil fuels are the best way to get them.”

Koonin argued that climate movements in “developed” countries like the United States disregard the need for energy in developing countries. Rather, for some other countries, renewable energy can mean undependability, inaccessibility and infeasibility.

For some students like Anna Short PO ‘24, Koonin’s presentation brought new considerations for their outlook on renewable energy.

“It was cool to learn from a different perspective. I think that there were a lot of good points made, especially about the developing world and how they need access to energy,” Short said. 

However, she was not entirely convinced that Koonin’s presentation addressed the major concerns of most climate change activists.

“I feel like he was too often going after an angle that was not the best representation of the ‘care about climate change’ movement.”

In April 2022, a Pomona College referendum revealed that almost 90 percent of students who responded to the survey are in support of divestment from fossil fuels. The vote followed a Dec. 2021 rally led by 5C clubs, including Divest 5C, Sunrise Claremont, KKR Kills and Students for Justice in Palestine. 

However, Koonin pushed back on advocating for divestment.

“If the Claremont colleges were to sell their fossil fuel stocks, someone else would just buy them,” Koonin said.

Along with his support of fossil fuel energy, Koonin highlighted climate and science education as a crucial aspect of today’s climate discussion.

“When you misrepresent things in order to persuade people rather than to inform them, you take away the right of the public to make fully informed decisions,” Koonin said. “You distract from more urgent needs, and boy do we have many of them.”

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