August 20, 2006

More inconvenient truths...

Remember that bit about 99% of all scientists everywhere who agree on man-centered global warming creating huge hurricanes? Never mind.

I want to do a longer post on this and juxtapose it with the debate raging now on whether Kuniper Belt objects are planets in our solar system, with the larger point being that such intellectual turmoil and disagreement is the history of science, not a nice clean linear growth of knowledge. My problem with the global warming "debate" such as it are the groups and individuals who are trying to score a "Rachel Carson" moment to shape public views in an ideological way. In this sense, they are not at all different in my mind from Herbert Spencer and the group that founded the Eugenics movement as a result of Darwin and Wallace's theorizing about evolution and differentiation, with the tragic public policy results of forced sterlization and apartheid segregation. I also think that there's an interesting overlay in the timing of the rise of the "global warming" movement and the collapse of Soviet Communism in the early 1990s, in that it provides a low-impact way to be opposed to capitalism while seizing the moral highground.

Posted by Steve-O at August 20, 2006 08:14 AM | TrackBack

Limbaugh has been saying it for years and Michael Crichton used these themes in his best-selling novel: State of Fear.

Posted by: LMC at August 20, 2006 10:08 AM

Is "an interesting overlay in the timing" the ivory tower way to say "questioning"? Let me know so I can get on the bandwagon asap.

And LMC is right about State of Fear -- which is actually a really good book and a quick read.

Posted by: Leopold Stotch at August 20, 2006 10:53 AM

Mmmmm, bait.

I would like to stress at the outset that Steve is my friend (at least until I publish this post) so this isn’t an ad hominem attack, but an aggressive discussion between friends. I want to argue two issues with this post, the rhetorical tricks and the facts presented.
On the rhetorical level, while the first sentence makes for a humorous and effective attack on the credibility of global warming, it is factually incorrect and the implied criticism (i.e. global warming is false or overstated) is completely untrue. First, 99% of all scientists everywhere, particularly climate scientists, did not agree that global warming caused huge hurricanes. There were a few recent studies that made a link between hurricanes and GW. A more recent study out of MIT raised significant questions about those (and I emphasize) recent studies. The 99% agreement among scientists is about anthropogenic climate change, i.e. global warming through CO2 emissions (primarily) not about hurricanes. Your first sentence is loaded to discredit the entire body of science by using a recent example that has already self-corrected through the normal process of science. It is not unusual to see a scientific claim be discredited in a few years, but global warming has been studied for over 3 decades and the scientific evidence on the phenomenon has not been challenged in any real way by serious scientists (sorry LMC, a rightwing pundit and an MD that writes science fiction don’t count). So we will assume the best from Steve and suggest that this was simply a socratic moment where Steve threw out a comment hoping it would be challenged…
The second rhetorical attack comes by comparing global warming advocates either to the relatively unimportant argument of what size rock can be called planet, or to genocidal lunatics (and yes ultimately to the holocaust and Nazis because Hitler used Eugenics arguments). So concern about global warming is either trivially academic or crazy. Sure some people are using global warming in a political fashion, that is completely independent of whether global warming is real or not. These comparisons are disingenuous because global warming has real ramifications on the survival of the planet, while whether Pluto is a planet or not, who really cares? Nor can the actions required to control global warming in way shape or form be compared to forced sterilization or apartheid. Again, effective rhetoric, but substantively inaccurate. Yes, scientific knowledge advances in fits and starts, but that point is irrelevant to a 30 year body of work that has international consensus on its conclusions. There is disagreement on the magnitude of the problem, but not on the basic fact that there is a problem.
Now the very shady claim at the end of the rise of GW awareness in the 90’s with the fall of the Soviet Union as a way to oppose capitalism. Quite succinctly, bullshit. Sure there are a few people that have advanced GW because of their political agendas (and certainly the opposite as well), but if you think that GE has rolled out a new ad campaign for Green Innovation because they are fundamentally opposed to capitalism, you have been huffing too much glue. There are a few industries that stand to lose quite a bit of profitability with eco-responsible practices. Exxon’s aggressive funding to discredit global warming is not likely to be an honest effort to shed light on a burgeoning anti-capitalist movement in the US, but a vigorous defense of the status quo that is generating historic profits. The only controversy about the reality of GW exists in the papers, not in the science.

Posted by: LB buddy at August 20, 2006 11:28 AM

LB Buddy, you should read Crichton's book, beginning with the author's message (inconveniently placed at the end of the work rather than the beginning). Crichton's point is that we simply do not know enough about climate change to know what the trends are, what causes them, the impact (if any) of human activity, whether global warming (if it is occurring) produces net beneficial effects or net harms. The climate models bandied about do not accurately describe what we know of the weather trends to date, much less what will happen in a hundred years. What is indisputable is that the climate on this planet has undergone countless warming and cooling periods over the eons. Crichton's call is for vigorous basic research and scientific debate unhampered by political agendas.

Posted by: LMC at August 20, 2006 01:16 PM

I recently blogged on why I don't care about global warming anymore, namely because I feel a terrorist nuke going off in a US city is something we should be concentrating on instead.

Your point is well taken. Science can't agree on how many planets there are, much as they can't agree on a lot of things. One guy puts out a paper on a subject, and two more put out a paper illustrating all the ways the first guy is crazy.

In 5B years the sun will flare up and bake the 4 inner planets to a nice crackly crunch. There's your global warming.

Posted by: Barry at August 20, 2006 01:39 PM

I remember back in the 70's when I was in high school there was a TV series hosted by Leonard Nimoy called, "In Search of..." and one of the episodes was on the (Cue ominous music)... coming ice age.

Since I lived in Texas I remember one of the money lines: "People in Texas may have to get used to old fashioned New England winters."

So which is it? Death by freezing or spontaneous combustion?

I'm no scientist, but the Lord blessed me with enough abstract reasoning ability to figure out that the earth's climate interacting with solar cycles is simply to comlex and dynamic a system for a computer to reliably model. I think everybody who opines on this subject one way or the other is simply an idjit.

The world ends on Tuesday anyway, so who cares.

Posted by: Hucbald at August 20, 2006 02:59 PM

The only post that would change our friendship Shawn would be the one in which you endorse Steinbrenner and Dubya....Because then I'd know the pod people got you.

Posted by: Steve the LLamabutcher at August 20, 2006 03:56 PM

Yeah, 9 out of 10 plants surveyed are quite happy with the increase in CO2 levels. Makes them more productive, yielding more fruit - so to speak.

Speaking of CO2 emissions:

Carbon dioxide is far from being the only determining factor in the global temperature. Those who consider only CO2 levels when discussing climate change completely ignore the effects of sulfur dioxide and aerosols (both of which have a cooling effect on the climate), water vapor, methane, land usage, albedo (the amount of sunlight reflected back into space) and dozens of other factors whose impact on global temperature is still not completely understood, like solar output.

The 99% agreement among scientists is about anthropogenic climate change, i.e. global warming through CO2 emissions (primarily) not about hurricanes.

Posted by: Skye at August 20, 2006 05:38 PM

I think there's less public dissent over global warming than there is private dissent, partly because scientists don't want to risk grants or be labeled "out of the mainstream" and have their careers ruined by taking unpopular positions.

I'm no expert, though. I'm still holding out hope for magnetism and phrenology for being the cure to violent crime.

Posted by: The Colossus at August 21, 2006 08:22 AM

Skye is right. And further, the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (eclipsing all others put together) is water vapor. Which combines with other aerosols (aka cloud condensation nuclei) to make, well, clouds. And GCMs (Global Climate Models) upon which things such as 10 degree F temperature rises in 50 years are forecast, have a notorious problem realistically resolving cloud cover in regards to solar radiation (trapped in the lower troposphere, or refracted back into space before ever reaching the surface).

So. We are seeing a (so far) modest temperature increase. Some of which (unknown amount) is probably due to anthropogenic sources. All of which will have unknown consequences, positive or negative or both. It is well to remember that chaos theory was born partly of Lorenz's study of the long term (like, two weeks) predictability of the weather.

Posted by: Pep at August 21, 2006 12:44 PM