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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Global Warming Answers

by folkbum

This morning I asked a serious question about global warming, and I got a few thoughtful answers. I wanted to know why conservatives are often downright hostile to the idea of global climate change. I don't think the answers I got are sufficient, but they deserve response from me.

First up, Dad29, in comments to that post, starts a trend. "Before 'solving' a problem," he writes, "make sure that it IS a problem; then determine whether the 'solution' will be efficacious, including unintended consequences." In the process, he denies that the noticeable changes in climate that scientists have observed are abnormal, caused by human behavior, or anything to worry about. I'm not sure what he does for a living, but when he consensus of the scientific community--the people who do do climate science for a living, is that Dad29's wrong on all three counts, I trust them, not him.

I said it was a trend; Rick Esenberg responds similarly:
It is one thing to observe an increase in global temperatures and even to accept the notion that human activity has something to do with it. It's quite another to buy into Gorean hysteria over what that means and what ought to be done about it. Contrary to Jay's assumption, there is no scientific consensus about that.
In other words, as Dad29 wrote, any "solution" to the problem may be worthless--or, at least, not worthwhile. In the process, Esenberg warns, there is a real danger of hysteria that will in the end only be costlyHe adds a "South Park" reference to make sure we get that point. This is echoed in an interesting post by Nick Schweitzer:
The fact that the problem exists and that human behavior contributes significantly to the problem is hardly proven science. The data is very much still open to interpretation. In fact, there has been a lot of cherry picking of data regarding what the climate was like centuries ago in order to "prove" the change. [. . .] What all of this has led to is a bad case of "do something syndrome". Before we actually know the scale, or even the real cause of the problem, people are all up in arms to just do something... anything. The problem, is that the scale of the problem (if it exists and we can change it) is so large that the cost of doing something is huge.
Schweitzer's "Do Something Syndrome" frame is clever and, indeed, representative of quite a lot of policy-making in Washington or Madison or any other capital you could name. But I don't think it, or the answers provided by Dad29 and Rick Esenberg, is an accurate way to describe the calls for action about global warming.

I think the problem may be that the three see this as an issue driven by environmentalists. Not that I have anything against them, but even I think of environmentalists as being an awful lot like Jesse of "I won't eat anything with a shadow" fame. When they stand around and scream "Do Something!" I might take a mild interest in what they have to say, but I'm not going to go out of my way to please them.

No, what worries me about global warming is not the level-five-vegan crowd, but the scientific community. See, as much as Dad29, Esenberg, and Schweitzer may hope that there is no proven causal link between human activity and climate change, fact is that there is (thanks to Seth for that link; I was going to use this one from The Guardian):
The first phase of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is being released in Paris next week. This segment, written by more than 600 scientists and reviewed by another 600 experts and edited by bureaucrats from 154 countries, includes "a significantly expanded discussion of observation on the climate," said co-chair Susan Solomon, a senior scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She and other scientists held a telephone briefing on the report Monday.

That report will feature an "explosion of new data" on observations of current global warming, Solomon said. [. . .]

The February report will have "much stronger evidence now of human actions on the change in climate that's taken place," Rajendra K. Pachauri told the AP in November. Pachauri, an Indian climatologist, is the head of the international climate change panel.

An early version of the ever-changing draft report said [. . .] "An increasing body of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on other aspects of climate including sea ice, heat waves and other extremes, circulation, storm tracks and precipitation."
And we needn't rely on a study that isn't out yet--most of the data in the report, it sounds like, is based on previously-published, peer-reviewed research. The notion that human behavior doesn't contribute to climate change is one clung to only by those with politics or paychecks riding on their denial.

In other words, Al Gore may make a convenient target as the face of the "Do Something Syndrome" crowd when it comes to global warming, but it isn't Gore's alarmist theatrics that ought to convince the skeptics. Rather, it's the studious, sober, and increasingly frequent calls by people whose names you will probably never hear again for us to take them seriously. To dismiss the issue--or the need to "do something"--as mere hype is dangerous.

Aside from calling my original essay a "rant" (I counted it among my "rambles," alas), Schweitzer's answer is, like Esenberg's, reasoned and even thought-provoking, especially in raising the necessity of balancing cost and benefit of taking action on global warming. But, in the main, I'm not particularly talking about them. Both seem to accept that something is happening to the climate, despite wavering on whether human activity has an effect of the speed or scope of that something and whether we need to change human behavior in response.

But in my reading of them, neither has ever exhibited the kind of outright hostility that prompted my original question, the personal attacks against anyone who deviates from the conservative party line or suggests that when a previously stable ice shelf breaks off into the the ocean it could be a sign. Those two weren't cheering on when a school district banned An Inconvenient Truth; they didn't call anyone names after 2006's calm hurricane season.

And that's what I'm really hoping someone can explain. It's one thing to debate the extent of our nation's response to global climate change; it's quite another to plug your ears and hurl insults anytime someone reminds you of cold, hard facts.

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