A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Global Warming: A Little Moderation

After Katrina and some of the record highs we had before and after, the global warming... advocates?... well, the folks that are sounding the warning klaxons over the dangers of global warming, were all going beserk. Which was dumb, because one or two years of abnormal temperatures means nothing.

The last few days I have heard three separate Right-wing talkers crowing about how the new UN report on global warming shows that temperature increases are not as great as was claimed in 2001, and that ocean temperatures haven't risen, ergo warming can't be occuring. And, of course, since we here in the midwest are mired in an extended cold snap-- supposed to get up to 5 today. It's a heat wave!-- the local talkers are all snarky about wanting more global warming to get rid of our sub-zero temps. Rush had the temerity to state that the 59 degree temps in Hawaii illustrate how stupid global warming theories are.

Anyway, claiming that a cold snap is evidence that no warming is occuring is as stupid as claiming that a hot summer is evidence it is occuring. And using a report that clearly warns of increased warming, and concludes that said warming is almost certainly the result of man's activities, to debunk global warming is... odd. To say the least.

But it does neatly encapsulate the inability of many (most?) in the global warming debate to take any but the most extreme positions and then try to fit available facts to their preconceived conclusions. This is true on both sides of the issue.

I mean, I heard one normally smart person, who prides himself on his use of logic and not getting caught up in emotion during debates, claim that there was no way man's influence could warm the earth since all of our energy comes from the sun. Take away the sun and see how cold it gets with just man's input was his argument. Completely ignoring the fact that the global warming theory is that man's activity concentrates the sun's energy in a manner similar to a magnifying glass, not that we are generating all this heat ourselves.


Let's tone the rhetoric down a few dozen notches. And let's try to figure this out, rationally. There is pretty good evidence that warming is occuring. Less clear is whether that warming has been significantly influenced by man's introduction of large quantities of "greenhouse" gases into our atmosphere in the last 150+ years. Less clear still is what we should do about the warming, if anything, and what the results of the warming will be.

But, regardless of you opinion (mine, for the record, is that warming is occuring and man has a hand in it, but I remain skeptical of measures like Kyoto in dealing with it), what is needed is less rhetoric and spleen, and more science and dispassionate observation. Much like what this guy advocates.

The key, to me, is summed up pretty well in this paper. We are making policy decisions with profound implications without really having sufficient data to make such decisions with a reasonable confidence that they are correct. DOBA moment:

If we are to reduce our world's vulnerability to climate, it could very well be that our worst enemy is the Global Warming: Yes or No? debate itself. Climate impacts cause human suffering, economic loss, and ecosystem destruction. Meanwhile, diplomats, politicians, and scientists pursue a debate that has become too narrow, at times too personal, and increasingly irrelevant to the real impacts. As a striking example of this folly, last fall thousands of diplomats, advisers, and advocacy groups gathered in Buenos Aires to address the climate problem shortly after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 10,000 people in Central America. Some in Buenos Aries even pointed to Hurricane Mitch as a harbinger of future disasters brought on by climate change. We point to Hurricane Mitch as a failure to prepare for climate impacts today.


Unfortunately, in spite of the high moral rhetoric from both sides, the debate itself stands in the way of further progress. We need a third way to confront climate change, even if it means moving beyond now-comfortable positions held fast for many years.

Can I get an amen?
I'm boggled by people who want to deny that global climate change is happening. It is just BEYOND MY COMPREHENSION how anyone can think that's a logically tenable position. Obviously there are powerful non-logical (emotional?) forces at work here that are a mystery to me.

Any insight?
Insight? I dunno, my guess is that it's a knee-jerk reaction to some of the ridiculous over-the-top rhetoric of the Global Warming Will Kill Us All Tomorrow camp. Part of it is likely that to acknowledge that climate change is occurring is to have to accept that we have a certain responsibility to the planet and to posterity.

But I really think that a lot of it is pure X believes Y, I hate X, so therefore Y must be false. And that works on both sides.

"I hate Al Gore and his democratic ilk, therefore, global warming is a farce because Gore says its important." "Rush Limbaugh is an egregious squeezebag, therefore, global warming is a dire situation because Limbaugh says its unimportant."

All of which contributes to dug-in posturing and completely obscures or disregards serious efforts to weight the issue. Because it isn't an either/or problem. It's a cost-benefit analysis, where the data on the costs and benefits are very poorly defined at this point. Making any sort of rational decision-making nearly impossible, in my opinion.

We need more data, we need more discussion, and we need way LESS politicization.
I think part of the problem is that the, let's call them 'status quo' defenders have been very successful- in America- at portraying the critics of global warming as having credence.

The scientific community has done a pretty good job, I think, in identifying the problems, figuring out realistic causality, and postulating ameliorating actions.

Last week's IPCC report was as universal a consensus on the problem as can be imagined, I think.

Are there certain specifics that have not held true? Well, certainly. It's trying to predict an enormously complex system. differential in experiential data from predictions only helps to refine the theories, it doesn't disprove them necessarily.

Two points, I guess: Nick, I see you trying to triangulate based on your own formulation: Al Gore and the Libruls are worried about Global Warming, and I don't like Al Gore, so I don't trust Global Warming theories; although now that the ramifications and supporting evidence is becoming overwhelming, I need to find a way to maintain my difference from those Greenie-weenies, so I'm gonna preach moderation.

Second point: If global warming does exist in some form, does it not make sense to err on the side of the less optimistic scenarios, at least until experiential data indicates that the rate of warming is at least slowing, if not changing? Considering the potentially disastrous effects of even a 6 degree increase in global temperature, why shouldn't we be treating it as a priority?

Okay, I've got a third point too. What is the downside of overreacting? I mean, the industrial folks try to tell us how disastrous any changes to their industries will be, but the reality is that those changes not only get passed through in prices, but increases in efficiency spur invention and new technologies also. Every new technology was created in response to problem; new technologies do not flow froom a status quo or protected position. If we invest in alternative energies, the tech for alternative energies will be developed And at soome future time, when we're driving hydrogen powered aircars to solar powered workplaces, we'll wonder why it took our ancestors so freaking long to kick the hydrocarbon addiction.
Sigh. BP, in a way I suppose I should be happy, since you so clearly illustrate the point I was trying to make, but it makes me sad, and yes a little annoyed, that you so often seem to assume that I'm some total wingnut spouting the far-right wingnut fruhaha of the day.

Why does the topic of global warming cause so many people to lose all perspective and simply paint anyone and everyone who does not fully agree with their viewpoint as a bonehead without a clue?

I was not triangulating, nor have I suddenly changed my opinion on this issue. Go back and read my earlier posts on this topic. All I was suggesting was that instead of being snarky and pissy about the issue, maybe it would be helpful to dispassionately look at the evidence, look at the cost-benefit equations, and try to figure out some solutions that are A) Realistic and fair and B) Include continued study and testing so that we can base future actions on better data.

Kyoto, for example, was neither realistic, nor fair. Any proposal that excludes China and India from its requirements is patently unfair, and highly unlikely to effect much change.

As to your 2nd and 3rd points, BP, why do you assume that I disagree with them? Honestly, I don't. I have no problem erring on the side of caution, and I definitely don't have a problem with spurring innovation in the fields of energy independence and non-pollution. I've talked with Andy about the silliness of burning such a fantastical versatile chemical as petroleum. Think of all the things we make with plastics and other hydrocarbon-based products. And here we are burning the stuff. How dumb.

But it is a cost-benefit equation. Restrictions always have a cost, particularly now in a global marketplace. And the global climate is, as you note BP, about as complex a system as there is. Which means we should have as many brains working on the problem as we can get, and we shouldn't disregard other viewpoints out of hand because we're so convinced we're right.

That was the point of the second essay I linked to-- instead of trying to "win" some debate, let's all work together to figure out how to deal with climate change.
As in many other cases, when some people don't want to face the reality imposed by science, they latch on to the fact that science does not have all the answers, and use that as evidence that therefore science must be wrong.

I think the evidence for global climate change is pretty cut and dry. Unfortunately, scientists don't understand all the details yet, and so people who don't want to face the implications of climate change use that fact to denounce the whole thing.

(The same thing happens with evolution. But I guess we don't need to get into that.)

The reality is that the details matter little in light of the "big picture". Whether catastrophe happens in 10 years or 200 doesn't matter. On our present course, the big picture is that catastrophe WILL HAPPEN. Also, the more time that goes by, the less options we have. What are we going to do about it?
Who said any response has to be fair?

The US uses 25% of the world's annual energy, and creates 40% of the world's pollution. Why shouldn't we assume a large share of the responsiblity in taking action on the issue?
I didn't call you a bonehead, Nick.
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