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tv   Steven Koonin Unsettled  CSPAN  December 23, 2021 10:13am-11:17am EST

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>> season one focuses on lyndon johnson. you'll hear about the night to 64 civil rights act, a 1954 presidential campaign, the gulf of tonkin incident, the march on selma and the war in vietnam. not everyone knew they were being recorded. >> certainly johnson's secretary knew because they were tasked with transcribing many of those conversations. in fact, they were the ones who made sure that the conversations were taped, as johnson would signal to them through an open door between his office and there's. >> you also some blunt talk. >> jim? >> yes, sir. >> i one report of number of people that signed the tesla cited unity of the day he died at the number assigned to me. i want right quick. if i can ever be in the bathroom i won't go. from issue i will go anywhere. i will go right behind here. >> presidential recordings only on the c-span now mobile app or
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wherever you get your podcasts. >> welcome to the latest in a series of the manhattan institute's streaming events. and today i've got the pleasure of hosting the event with steve koonin. stephen is an eminent scientist, now a famous scientist. for some an infamous scientist, a professor at new york university, nyu, formerly the head of the department of energy research portfolio under secretary of energy, in other words, senate approved post under president obama. prior to that he was a chief scientist at bp. many of you may remember that used to mean british petroleum. then admit beyond petroleum, then went back to bp, we'll be talking about that. prior to that stephen was a professor at caltech which is, i'll confess, i'm jealous
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because that was my first choice were wanted toir go to school. s a scientist not a dilettante. we are going to talk about his book if you are joining us you know why we are talking about the book it is what climate science tells us and it was published on the circuit i know what that's like. it can be annoying but if you write a book it's a lot of work and you hope people will read it. there's this issue of talking about science in the public
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space and changing civilizations energy. in full disclosure i reviewed the book and i hadn't known him before. i thought i would like him when i read the book but i reviewed it for "the wall street journal" very favorably. it was good i guess you could say publicity helps people focus on why the book was written. humanity has known that there's been an atmosphere and scientists figured this out carbon dioxide was discovered 250 years ago and the scots
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invented everything i think. i'm not scottish, british, but they did a lot and 200 years ago almost exactly, a couple years for the anniversary, the idea of the greenhouse effect identified by a mathematician which is kind of fun. transforming anybody in the science or math he was a mathematician and he figured out the earth was getting warmer than it otherwise would be. if it didn't, there would be no life on earth so humans are interested in the climate science and also interested in the weather. this will talk about different phenomenon even longer because we care about the weather and it affects our lives and nature has been trying to kill humans with
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whether for most of forever. understanding the climate and the weather matters because it is consequential and interesting so that's my bias and why i'm interested in books like what stephen has written so let's start out with this title because when you're on the circuit, typically you will find people have nothing better to ask you, why did you title the book what you titled it. enough about me. why the title, and it gets to what we are going to talk about, why did you write the book. >> first of all it's a pleasure to be talking with you.
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when i found out that the science wasn't as solid as i previously had believed. looking at the science, not because somebody -- i mean, somebody paid you to do that, the under secretary of energy, but nobody paid you in the kind of world we live now when it comes to the climate issues, nobody paid you to disassemble the narrative that we have for the solid view of the climate
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crisis. from about 2005 when i joined up until the time i left the government in 2012, i was working to develop technologies of various kinds but in 2013 i was asked by the american society that is the professional society that represents 50,000 physicists to do a refresh on climate change and issued a statement to controversy among the membership the issue statements rubberstamping what the un ipcc says.
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we should have a deeper look at the issue and so i convened the workshop. they sat and listened to three consensus scientists and all of them were authors in one way or another and three skeptical scientists there were presentations that were told and i came away with the sense there's a lot here we don't understand and some of it is very important to know. i was also surprised by how i had not heard about those shortfalls in the time that i had been studying the matter so about the substance of the science and also how it had been communicated. >> similar to mine years ago on
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a different subject, nuclear energy, which we will come back to. i spent a week at the accident when i first came to the united states as he documented immigrant. despite our trials and tribulations, i'm still proud to be year although it is challenging these days. but enough about canada. i was thrown into the debate around nuclear energy in 1979 and spent the week of the accident immersed in the commission hearings that looked at nonproliferation issues for energy primarily and then the safety issues for the commission. he did a spectacular job at doing what you just described. the accusation was too safe to operate. we should abandon it.
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they set up the commission to examine the science and engineering of what we know or don't know. great experience but what i learned to your point was this profound difference between what people thought they knew in the public space and what some scientists thought they knew and debated about and the people around were a minority. a lot of scientists don't want to get in then i can tell you i tried to get a lot of the community to come and join me in the debate. we were being told the world would end. we had prominent scientists to name names and other places like that. we almost lost pennsylvania because of 3-mile island. all these things are going to happen.
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scientists didn't want to join me. they felt very fortunate for a variety of reasons then on that subject iowa to say it felt a lot like where we are now but on the steroids. you learned there's something to debate, there is a bit of a blowback when you wrote a piece on the journal five years ago now. seven years ago. i guess i wasn't surprised the blowback i failed because i'd been in the middle of an accident or a trigger event. blowing up a billion-dollar reactor, melting down a reactor and blowing of the investment was a consequential event so you saw a lot of emotion. this was a little different.
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full disclosure i am a nuclear physicist. we have a set of documents that are in fact the un reports for the government reports and they allegedly define the science. second, this has been building for quite a while but i think it is getting more serious now as you see governments proposing actions that will affect people's lives more directly in terms of reliability, cost of energy and even the behavioral patterns so i think there's a much greater desire to be
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looking at the allegedly authoritative science than it was say five years ago or thereabouts. i do want to get to the one thing you wrote in your book that i thought you handled extremely well. the language of the debate when people have decided to call those that argue about the science deniers. i think it's important that as you have been asked this by others it's important in every venue to take this issue of being labeled a denier when you talk about the climate of science.
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i was called pretty recently in the media 200 of my extended family died in the camps in world war ii. when i enter the micro aggressions i get so mad. this is about science. we should try to take the emotion out of it. from the official assessment reports of the un government so if somebody takes issue with what is in the book we can have a conversation of who is denying what. they wrote the reports themselves. >> like you, what i write in the public space, and this is just the nature of the space on the energy of climate science one tends to use research then you
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do your best to reflect on what they said and then you write your own synthesis. that's what research is like. you find and i'm paraphrasing to colleagues debating the size don't keep saying that he is very adamant about the science and scientists are very good.
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it's interesting, important. to the extent he can get angry he gets borderline angry when people label it but it's the translation into a public discussion but there's no answer to the question. in the science and public policy, you can't avoid it because public policy supports science, so it's not like it's a bad future and it's a difficult one but the process of science and reaching a consensus is important to understand and understanding the continuum of knowing the earth is round to knowing the temperature of the planet into centuries are different parts of the continuum. you undertook this examination
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based on that simplistic premise. how do you, not one but how do you bridge that divide of the consensus when they say different than you say you are cherry picking. the consensus is we've got a problem. you have to distinguish between what the science says from what you or anybody else thinks we should do about it, and i try to be very careful about that. we can discuss what we might do but let's talk about there's a game of telephone i like to say that starts with the research papers and goes into the assessments for the policymakers and those assessment reports which are heavily influenced. you get to the media politicians and there are so many
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opportunities to distort the message. as i wrote the book, i tried hard to stick to some of the statements in the report to give the public the non-expert readers some insight into what the science actually says. in the movie he says you keep using that word. i don't think it says what you think it says. a lot of people are surprised when i say no human influence is detected in the economic impact of what will be minimal et cetera. so those are some surprises that the process has buried. show me the other part.
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>> i don't think that it means what you think it means we can go back and look it up. >> it's probably more important. that's when they were following them. anyway, so look you put your finger on something here that's important and especially in the public policy space. you went to great pains in your book to use primary sources to reach a different conclusion people use in the same primary sources. perfectly reasonable form of deliberation. >> i would say i don't reach a different conclusion. the conclusions sometimes don't
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put the proper context in the conclusion and they truncate the history or don't give a sense of scale. >> it is difficult in some ways on tv. if you are lucky you get three or four minutes of airtime like it's a hoax or obama was wrong or trumpeted this or that. you need to come back with an answer. you have to reach the conclusion and in three minutes, it's hard. it doesn't adapt well at all you
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and i talked about this after we published the review that i can share with the audience as i look at your book which is very helpful i will tell those listening if you haven't read it you should. it is a lecture in the form where you carefully explain what's happened and where we are and what the data means and where they come from so i look at the sea level and it also accelerated and d accelerated. what you don't see is a signal saying there is a trend over the last centuries. you don't have a straight line this or that in the race. to your point again 20,000
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years. we know a lot about the sea level rise because human beings have had docs at the seams measured carefully for a couple of millennia. there's a lot of other historic measurements because they will have these values. it's in a soundbite you don't see any acceleration or signal because it is a noisy phenomena which simplistically is for those that say they are accelerating. the sea level rise accelerated for the last couple few decades.
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it tells you maybe we don't know much about what the factors are. i think you have to add for those that are up to date on the subject the influences were a quarter of what they were today and maybe even less than that so it was ups and downs pretty much on its own. to say it seemed they would like to have this called a climate
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crisis rather than climate change so we've got this nomenclature problem pushing towards what's going on and we should get to this because it's an important point attaching whether short-term events that are geographically located to the atmospheric events that are long so i called are related and different. i think it's important to explain how they are related and different. it's defined as a long-term average so if you tell me the last three or four years have been unusually dry, if you tell me the last three decades are
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dry, then we can start talking about climate. i have a wonderful graph in the book, it isn't my data at over 1,800 years you see they were very good and precise. it's got long-term trends superimposed on the ups and downs and you can be sure there were some farmers who got worried when it was going down for a couple decades but then it turns around again and it had nothing to do with human influences because it was wrong. >> that is one of the most delicious graphs in your book and i'm sure you have this experience with graphs and books in the public space generally speaking they tell you to get
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the grass out of your book because it scares people away. i don't mean an illustration it just is all true. it's very dramatic and then to explain it it speaks volumes to that specific. and it's interesting as i started to put the book together we had a debate and the publisher, the agent -- the way that you talk about the data and the language of science you can't talk about it any other way although i have had some
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friends read it. people who look at stocks and so on -- it's like every other skill people are good at reading the reports and can smell a copy that's lying or not lying. i was working on an investment fund and i would watch some of the guys i work with look at the financial pages and run the numbers. but you are right you explain the graphs and the narrative.
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let's just stipulate that those who think we shouldn't be in a hurry to change the energy system of the world and for the time being, the loss of debate the audience surely knows they've gotten 3% of their energy from wind and solar and the other 10% from non-combustion sources and otherwise 80 plus% 20 years ago. here we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars somewhere between one to $2 trillion in europe and the united states on the non-hydrocarbon energy sources. you work for bp in the height of
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the petroleum days when for whatever reason they had on the public relations side to signal there is a transition to a post-petroleum world i guess. we will talk about energy and nukes but let me ask you this question you are a scientist. it's 2035 and we are forecasting based on what you know about the physics of energy. as the world still using a lot of oil, supertankers, is the oil spill the source of transportation? >> there are good reasons why they changed. two of the most important are
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they need to be there every day. that's one. the second is there are large capital investments involved. you put down a nuclear power plant or gas plant and expect it to last many decades and so it is still there and running and it takes a long time and what is being proposed now is to force the system to do something unnatural. i like to say it changed the system.
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i've taken the position publicly and it's not a tough one to take but we are going to build more nonhydrocarbon in the system that's locked into the system they are better than they were. but accelerating it and forcing it through subsidies doesn't create new physics or machines easily. it takes a long time. i learned this when i was much younger. at least in the obama administration i must have been in diapers when i was in the administration the geopolitics of energy matters enormously because the war has been fought for millennia.
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>> for the challenge we have today the world will use a lot of oil if we stick with oil, hydrocarbon. given who produces the oil and use at in meetings i am sure. the two big players, saudi arabia and russia are the number two and three players. the rest of the world imports oil primarily russia and saudi arabia. i think it's a formula for the challenges. >> strangling the domestic oil and gas industry and i would remind people it accounts for
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80% of the gdp. it produces about 12% of the world's oil or something like that. but if we shut that down, we are still going to need oil and other countries are going to need oil and we will be seeing the leverage that you talked about. that seems to be a pretty silly thing to do. again, for what. we an amount to 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions and it is declining as the rest of the world uses more and more energy to develop so it is a negligible influence on the climate and i think we would be putting our economy and greater turbulence if we don't do this. >> by not domestically producing
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but importing it we not only damage 80% of the gdp but we require the importation on 8% at least so it is a 16% hit which is an astronomical hit to the economy. a. >> i would agree. there's another aspect. i don't want to dump too much on the administration because they are doing a number of good things but this notion that you are going to create jobs and boost the economy by moving to clean energy. remind people where technology gets invented is different than where it gets manufactured and where it gets deployed and you can see that playing out in real time so even if we invent something here. >> the quintessential example
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they were invented and developed here. 90% of the solar panels as you know they are manufactured largely in china and asia broadly. i'd like to say because it turns out as brilliant as the invention was and it's an incredible chronology, it's easy to make. they are not complicated things. the hydraulic fracturing and oil, making a rock yield hydrocarbon is hard work. i don't think it's an accident they are the biggest importers. >> also geometry and geology working against them. the availability and facts they haven't built the system that says they are not going to produce gas. >> since we are both physicists,
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i was a physicist for a while. i quit graduate school as my colleagues know because not that it was too hard but because i wanted to work on building stuff and in those days you didn't get to build anything in the universities. >> one of my elders once said something. he said it is a license to poke your nose in anybody's physics and i had great fun doing that. my family will attest to so let's turn before we go to the q and a. then i get to include solar energy. the only in the history of
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humanity which is excited by photons and then tinkering with the nucleus which is nuclear energy so we have a nuclear fission and fusion. as i said earlier, i was branded in the intellectual sense of defending nuclear energy for years. i think there is no phenomena that is remarkable and challenging as making nuclear energy viable and, i mean, safe and low cost to deploy but i'm encouraged by this new class of small reactors. i wonder if you are encouraged by how interesting. >> to get the modular reactors now we see at least one of them moving into licensing.
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it's not a new idea. we've got dozens of them around and they run just fine. now it's not quite the same as it is but there are many of the same principles and when you look at the new designs, we hope to be able to build them in a factory. they will be modular so you can build one and use the cash flow to build the second one. licensing should be a lot easier and if the nation really wants to d carbonized electricity system and run its transportation on electricity as well, it's going to have to have vision as an important part. to me what is interesting is not that there is no question. it's like the energy density.
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it's just they disappear in the noise of the fuel material perspective but to get to the next stage more quickly given the nature of the environment that we have you know full well having worked in these days if an administration were serious about the energy transition, wouldn't that be the first thing we tackle? >> this administration has been a little bit shy about talking about nuclear. remember the private sector is involved here as well. if they can to get an initial
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deployment in the u.s. then they try to go elsewhere and i'm sure there are many that would be interested. if you think about the cycles they think they are up to three years or five years between fueling's. the idea that you could build a reactor that small and be buried next to a town and run the town for five years and then every five years trucks show up what a magical thing. they run on highly enriched uranium which you do not want floating around in unprotected spaces but you don't refuel them very often. that makes them wonderful and we
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have ways of handling the waste safely and economically. it's not a technical problem. it's a political perception problem. a. >> it's so small and volume and we can track single atoms. there's nothing else like it. radiation stands up and wants to be counted is the way i say it. one place we do it is very small
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amounts. i have a good friend who is a physicist asked by his advisor probably 75 how many fusion reactors he thought would be in the world in 20 or 30 years by the year 2000 and his answer was a couple. he was overly optimistic because we still have a couple. i have my opinions about how hard fusion is. it's fascinating physics. where is your head on the visibility to what i would guess you would call the equivalent of a shipping port reactor. so the world is focused on either which is enormous and the southwest france i think they
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expect and about 15 years if i'm not mistaken and from then you've got to do a demonstration plant and it starts to get commercial. i'm something of a fan about this effort and for full disclosure i sit on the science aboard of a small commercial form and i've been watching them for more than a decade as an advisor and they are again good progress if things turn out well for them, we could see within six or seven years something that has got a positive that means you get more energy out of then you put in and from there, it's probably not so different. so i think 15 years the earliest at some scale may be 12 if they
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are lucky or 20 to 25 years. i keep asking why do we need this. it's got to work better than the alternatives. fusion, wind and solar. the commercialization is going to be an issue. >> if i were the given the timelines described to say 12 to 15 years then you and to that to get the commercial data 15 years from now and then you start scaling the design it's another ten to 20 years so you are half a century out before you start scaling which is typical. we've touched on some of it but it was a very specific question
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of what could specifically be done to accelerate the next generation reactors. pretend this administration actually asks you that question to get to that there are some lessons to be learned from the commercialization of the first generation of reactors where the government first of all had the military need to build reactors for nuclear weapons and submarines and then in some ways the commercial effort was an offshoot from that, but the government promoted the technology and released liability from the reactor operators and in general it is stimulated through regulation and financial help to get the industry off the ground. whether you could do that today
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for the new emerging generation i think it would be more difficult to do that in the present political climate. as you know there's always been a big debate about the proper relationship during the private sector and the government in stimulating and deploying new technologies. there is a wonderful line in one of the federalist papers i think it was madison who wrote it and asked the question if he would stake his business on government regulation because it is sickle and can change every four
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the president pro tempore: the senate will come to order. under the previous order, the senate stands adjourned until 4:30 p.m. on monday, december 4:30 p.m. on monday, december >> they will be back for legislative work on monday january 3rd at 5:30 p.m. eastern, consider the nomination at of california to be a circuit judge for the ninth circuit. to live coverage here on
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"c-span2", it would take you back to work book tv programming. >> i suggested it with the media and things got very quiet after that. and that's a classic example. >> so i will tell you what the question is and you can choose have the answer and the advanced and i was usually saying that i
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was trained in physics not in psychology but you cannot question all of the time and you hear what you say about the study of science and climate science and you read your book and we hope they do, then it begs the question of why, is it because of the other analyses are not genuinely good analyses or is it because their concern of people or are there some other personal or political agendas animated and so i could ask that all of the time and i'm sure you can ask that all of the time and it does require, well let's say you. >> and whether or not i'm not sure i can get inside of people's had been to canada see that there is a conflict of interest among the various
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parties in the new york with providing the river. [inaudible]. and from the site is i think that some of the scientists generally do feel that the earth is involved and they want to help but their motivations are through grants and academic procedure and so on and then for the politicians, point to hr lincoln who was a journalist in the early part of the 20th century as a the book, rights and it's a purpose of practical politics, is to get the public alarm with a series of most imaginary goblins so that there would be led to safety. and whether it's in climate or immigration or there's a lot of things you can side, i think that is also something. >> and another question came to
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the proficiencies and will callt it the educational system in the pipeline of the scientists into the working apollo under public policy and i will expand by not asking about proficiencies per se, to say the characteristics of the system that lead to the debate of often it heated and emotional, not the best in history but this particular debate seems to really ignite that. and is that a deficiency and i would ask is that the nature of the system we have or as a deficient now compared to wherei it used to be and let's say, when you went to school. >> i do know that people going into physics have a different degree of curiosity and from people who go into some of the field but i have not interacted
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with the students at that level but i do teach a graduate class to mostly the engineers and the ultimate lady, and energy and is such a joy for me there doing technology not politics and were doing revelation in business i'm going to show you the science and the department of energy and using their eyes open up the students most of whom have had no experience at all to the climate for the energies system except with so part of my book is p to give them the facts, not to persuade them. >> will have the same experience, and you get few
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moderates one or two reactions because often it in amazement becauseo that's what a lot of e research does but with his and around about what somebody said or the source and most people cannot do that so unit having to, not the not capable to realize that they are better at something else in the place a certain amount of faith in the nature of all teaching is to be honest will tell you that i get this question a lot and you must have a for the last critically seven years since you wrote this wall street journal piece. okay, if it you say is true and what i accept what you say is probably true, then what is going on. it's kind of that fox trot, look at the trillion dollars that,
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maybe is 1.7 trillion outcome of hethat this administration is proposing to spend to address climate change although a lot of it we know is a conundrum of what it is but we know that. in getting us back to the psychology question, if you can't dodge i mean, if you actually work in public policy, during that sphere and the people say, why, what gives here. >> i haven't had this for the policy choices that people make it and i have a similar through the science advisory. i am they are to inform the decisions that were made involve a host of other things in which i am not particularly an expert entered generational equity
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envelopment versus environment and so how can i don't know about that. that is the political debate we should be having and the president will decide to go one way and someone else and on so be it, at least they did it with a full understanding of what we know and what we do not know and right now, the book is an attempt to do that. >> you put your fingerge in the right answer and when it comes to the science advice, there also from years ago, clear to me that the politics do matter and what has one's political opinions and false opinions. they want tode make decisions as fast as they can on what is the best information you have so let's go back to this question, it is a big question now and
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elevated by the debates around and is one of my friends call it, the corona pirates. and it doesn't matter if it's around the climate or covid-19 or environmental something more about you remember the debates. we don't have a technology with that anymore and the science advisory office is an important one in my opinion it and work on it but that is a political office and to your point, the debate takes place in congress and that's where it belongs. and congress does not have an advisory body anymore but the reason the ota severed the things that they have suffered without going into that, i'm curious about your view of
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resurrecting something like this, ota do you think it is a good idea and or if human is that we have left, does this debate certainly touches on the importance of it, how do you do that was a framework for it. >> i would say there's another set of players that can do something about that and that is a national cannabis where the national research council which is talking about the national things and they run a host of studies the government agents and agencies and by and large, i think it would be a very good job and i was part of the organization as you may know, for six years i chaired a couple of studies on fusion. and i think we need a refresh of the players in the economy and it is the single thing and so we
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need fresh eyes that would be wonderful and then think tanks and mostly for the defense department. and i have some association with, and rand, cma and so on so use the sources and they do provide input to their legislature. ultimately, it would be good idea to have an organic set of analyst in the congress that could be therefore short turnaround advice. >> you are correct it, you know, but in my book, other kinds of institutions that exist in science expertise designs provided input devices are extremely important and they could be enlarged in a way but
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the velocity of the response required it is part of the future of policymaking as you know in the science would like to be rushed, but that is life in you get a rush of guess in my mind, i would like to believe that if one worker to create a 98, science and technology assessment, into different things which you should be obvious but apparently it is not but anyway that education could have a budget that would create a do with the pentagon is done where you have an order of pallet that is available in the think tank sort academia or private sector that can be turned on quickly and funded on a minimal basis and that model strikes me as that if it is packaged it correctly, it could be sellable. and as a practical matter, maybe
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it can actually - and so the economies do function like that but pretty slow. [inaudible]. but i did a number of a group of things and jason said with providing detailed advice, contracts many of these other with equations and turns run the study in about a year importantly but also the primacy provided with the technical input to decisions to abide by a comprehensive test management in the '90s. and quickly done. >> i think it is a great example
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and will close that out and i think a version of the congress would be terrific and obviously the cost, pretty low cost so let me again getting a wrap up signal in your been very generous with your time and i know you are crazy busy in the book circuit and it's kind of you to do this and i really do again, i tell everybody who is listening, you should read the book and stephen is an expert writer and clear explanation, steven koonin. so thank you for joining me. >> this is been a great conversation and i hope that we can do this again. >> i agree and i pay homage to my commanders this is a great institute and for those of you who do not know much about it, if you're watching it, even on
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the website, i think they are all free will i know they're all free and there's reports and also many other areas obviously nonprofit to steve's point about the think tanks and it's things and if your potential supporter, take a look and ensure they could use your help and i would appreciate that so thank you all for watching and listening and that is my new friend, the scientist steven koonin. >> both the house and the senate - they will return in january for the 117th congress upon his return, the senate will take up the presidents climate and social spending plan, known as build back better and joe manchin is announcing his opposition to the bill incident democratic leadership also take on inflation which will require
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changing filibuster rules there's also deadlines for both chambers of congress to pass additional federal spending legislation on government shut down and watch these developers on the cspan network when congress returns, or you can watch our full coverage on c-span now, our new mobile video app and also had over to cspan.org for scheduling information, or life or on demand at any time, cspan, your unfiltered view of government. >> a new mobile video app on c-span, cspan now, download it today. next on the tvs author interview program, afterwords journalist lizzy johnson, looks at the root causes of california 2018, camp fire the deadliest u.s. wildfire in the century and she's interviewed by terry baker society american

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