Rick Perry is making headlines with more Bachmannesque brayings. This time, he is accusing scientists of basically making up global warming as some sort of evil joke – the way they did with evolution. As the competition to win the nomination of the Inherit the Wind Party heats up, it’s getting harder and harder for rational conservatives to get their point across on any subject.
Many reality-based conservatives are concerned about the shape of the debate over climate change. Their concerns are being starved out by the low-fact diet that politicians like Perry are serving. If we allow ourselves to be painted into an anti-science corner, we will lose this and other critical debates in the long run.
It’s important to recognize what the science does and doesn’t tell us about climate change.
The Earth is warming. That warming over the past century has been dramatic, but not at all unprecedented on a 10,000 year scale. We have to remember that climate is constantly in motion. Despite the recent increase, global temperatures are still in the low range when compared to averages over the past 5,000 years according to EPA and IPCC research.
It is not the degree of heating, but its apparent cause and the unknown potential for it to trigger abrupt, accelerating climate change that have scientists worried. There is clear consensus among scientists not hired by Exxon that human carbon emissions are contributing to that heating in some manner. But that’s about where genuine scientific certainty ends and a very interesting debate about the limits of science in determining policy begins.
Before going any further on the subject of climate change, let’s remind ourselves what science is. Science is a process we use to determine facts, not a method for establishing truth. Truth is a more complex matter. Science takes a question like, “what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”, and finds an answer through observation and repeatable experiments. If there is any lesson we learned from the 20th Century, it’s that science is only helpful in defining reality, not determining our values.
Science is very good at answering a specific question like “how much fat is in this doughnut?” It has a harder time answering complex matrix questions such as, “What should I eat?” In science, the farther you get from any experimental capability, the less reliable the results. It’s not terribly hard to build an experiment that will predict with confidence how much salt there will be in your next order of French fries. It is very difficult experimentally to establish which combination of foods over a lifetime is best for any particular person.
You can find a perfect example of what happens when science is divorced from experimentation by talking to a physicist. The field of particle physics outran its experimental capabilities a long time ago. The mysteries physicists confront, with only limited tools for proof, are making them sound slightly mad.
Listening to a physicist explain string theory is a disheartening experience for anyone who confuses science with the pursuit of truth. Close your eyes while the physicist describes the multiple dimensions and parallel universes necessary to make their theoretical math work, and you could imagine you’re listening to some hippie on a bad trip.
That brings us back to climate science.
Climate is a classic matrix. It is not one thing, or even a dozen things, but millions of things interacting in ways that we scarcely understand. Understanding how a change in one of those variables will affect the whole is no small challenge. Scientists have been able to build computer models that simulate historical climate patterns with some impressive accuracy, but that is not the same thing as having a genuine experimental capability.
Though researchers generally agree that human carbon emissions are influencing our climate, there is serious and genuine disagreement as to the exact nature and meaning of the influence. For example, as carbon levels and temperatures begin to rise, will other factors such as levels of atmospheric water vapor or carbon uptake by vegetation operate to blunt the heating? Or will factors like glacial and icecap melt contribute to a feedback cycle that accelerates the increase? How many factors will affect these cycles and in what ways? Which factors will have the most influence?
If the fix for climate change were as simple as changing a light bulb, then the disagreements over these details might not matter much. The evidence we have would be enough to justify the effort.
But we’re being asked to undertake the wholesale re-engineering of the entire global political and economic order. This radical shift is based on a complex research subject in its scientific infancy and beyond our ability to experimentally test. Worse yet, the left’s giddy enthusiasm for global warming, and the supposedly inevitable solutions it requires, make their arguments sound just as politically driven and scientifically suspect as Michele Bachmann’s enthusiasm for intelligent design.
Even assuming that the most extreme predictions of man-made global warming are correct, we will not fix it by strangling western economic development with artificial bureaucratic constraints. The solutions proposed by the left aim to leverage this problem to build the economic order they have failed to achieve by other means.
If we must find ways to reduce carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, we will do it through technological innovations and adaptation. In other words, we will fix/adapt to this problem in the same manner we’ve done with every other environmental challenge we’ve faced in human history. Strangling western economies will make that goal harder to reach, but it won’t change what we have to accomplish to get there.
Rational conservatives trust science, but are skeptical of politically motivated hype. Most of the GOP’s remaining rational wing shares Gov. Perry’s reluctance to embrace the left’s “solutions” to climate change even while his ridiculous characterization of climate science make us cringe. Perry is right, if only by accident.
Even a blind squirrel will sometimes find a nut.
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I appreciate you making this distinction, Chris. I think it’s obvious that climate has changed – the question for me has always been how much of it has been due to “us”. The far left pretends like they have a definitive answer, but as you so excellently point out, they don’t.
To me that doesn’t give me a free pass to call all of them enviroweenies or tree-hugging quacks and dismiss the issue altogether, but it does give me enough right to not to buy b.s. “Carbon Offset Credits” that just goes to making some con artist rich. In the meantime I simply make a serious effort to reduce the amount of garbage I produce, and contribute to local organizations that help to clean up parks, lakes, etc.
I generally appreciate your articles, and this one is no different. I find this statement to be rather optimistic though:
“If we must find ways to reduce carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, we will do it through technological innovations and adaptation. In other words, we will fix/adapt to this problem in the same manner we’ve done with every other environmental challenge we’ve faced in human history.”
Not being from California you may be unfamiliar with the lessons of Cannery Row (unless you enjoy Steinbeck I suppose), but over-fishing there did not lead to new innovations in the harvesting of ocean life. Rather it lead to the destruction of an entire community. This would seem a rather loose definition of “adapting” to a problem.
Liberals don’t share your optimism, and if global warming is to the Earth what overfishing was to Cannery Row, the destroyed community will not be limited to Monterey.
If we agree that 1. the earth is warming, and 2. human carbon emissions are contributing to the warming, then your “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” approach seems folly. It is easy to imagine a sardine boat captain having similar thoughts in 1950’s Northern California.
What is so disagreeable about levying a carbon tax (other than violating Grover Norquist’s asinine pledge)? It is not as if global warming is the only negative effect of fossil fuel combustion. Smog is unhealthy, oil funds support corrupt regimes across the globe, and cheap gasoline discourages innovation in alternative energy technologies.
I may not have faith that humans will adapt to a warmer Earth in time to stave off annihilation, but I have faith we will adapt to a higher price of petroleum. Why is the former test of adaptation preferable to the latter?
What is so disagreeable about levying a carbon tax
Because the Left doesn’t wanna reduce CO2, they wanna increase revenue from it.
Currently we tax corporations in several ways. We do it by corporate profits and then we do it by taxing the jobs they produce. If you would say to me this:
If the Left would say THAT it would go a long way towards making me feel this wasn’t just another method to siphon money to the government for their pet politically driven special projects.
I’m not sure I understand. Do you agree that 1. the earth is warming, and 2. human carbon emissions are contributing to the warming?
If not, then it seems you are saying that the entire debate around climate change has been a decades long worldwide conspiracy masterminded by American Democrats to increase the size of government.
If so, then it seems you are saying that smog, petro dictators, and the destruction of the Earth are all bad, but not as bad as increasing the size of government.
I can’t believe that either of these are your beliefs, so if you could clarify, I would appreciate it. Do you support steps to reduce global warming, just not a carbon tax? If so, then what do you support?
And for the record, speaking for myself:
I am willing to shift the tax burden from hiring people, unemployment tax, FICA tax, healthcare tax and all the other taxes, to CO2 so that the Federal take is revenue neutral.
Finally, I have to say I find the cynicism in your first sentence a bit insulting. I’ve never heard this idea before (that CO2 control measures are a ruse for raising revenue) but I think your statement reveals much more about you and your thinking than it does about liberal lines of thought.
Do you agree that 1. the earth is warming
2. human carbon emissions are contributing to the warming?
Yes. There are many inputs that are causing the earth to warm. 1 of which is human activity.
Now, I should stipulate that my belief in global warming is similar to yelling “FIRE! FIRE!” And upon being questioned where the fire is, you answer “In the fireplace.”
The degree to which we contribute is small. And if we humans weren’t here, the earth would be just as warm, virtually, than it is now. So any activity to “reduce” global warming is going to get a skeptical reaction from me.
If so, then what do you support?
Virtually nothing. At most, continued scientific research to measure the “problem”.
I have to say I find the cynicism in your first sentence a bit insulting.
I understand. But how else do you explain the concepts of massive revenue payments from the developed world to the non.
Anyway. Yes, the world is warming and yes, we are contributing to that. The world has been much colder with much more CO2 in the air. Further, the world has been much warming with much less CO2 in the air. And finally, the human race does BETTER when the world is warmer. Much more food and much less disease. We thrive in the heat.
Fair enough Pino,
Can I trouble you for some data to support the below statement? This is what I’m most interested in investigating further.
“The degree to which we contribute is small. And if we humans weren’t here, the earth would be just as warm, virtually, than it is now.”
While we’re at it, anything you have on this would help me as well:
“The world has been much colder with much more CO2 in the air. Further, the world has been much warming with much less CO2 in the air.”
Also, you’ve lost me with the massive revenue from the developed world to the non-developed world comment I’m afraid. You are saying liberals want to give more money to poor countries than conservatives do? How does that relate to the accusation that liberals use global warming as a ruse to raise revenue? Liberals want to scare Americans into instituting a pointless carbon tax so the revenue can be sent to the third world? I’m utterly confused…
Finally, I admire your moxie with this one:
“And finally, the human race does BETTER when the world is warmer. Much more food and much less disease. We thrive in the heat.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a chuckle out of it. Of course, I live in San Diego. I imagine a few people in west Texas might be less inclined to see the humor.
The consequences of agw are unknown also.
We cannot measure whether carbon credits do any good at all in fighting man made global warming . What if we do it and we still have global warming ? What will be the left’s answer ? Drum role please,,,,. We must do more . Like the failed stimulus. The answer, the stimulus was not big enough. Wow, I feel like Kreskin. I can predict that we will have to tax those carbon bastards even more. We don’t care if it ruins every country. We are fighting for Mother Earth.
However, my sane friends, we can measure the economic destruction of our leftwing friends solution to global warming . We know that it will cause economic destruction . We know that green dividends are lies . Examples, Obama’s green jobs .. Evergreen Solar Inc., in Massachusetts went bankrupt. .Solyndra, Inc.in California failed . Both lost hundreds of millions of dollars .
Unlike man made global warming, these are documented facts .But you say companies fail all of the time. Well how about a whole country failing at least partially because of going green.. Can you say Spain ? They went in whole hog for green . They are another of Europe’s basket cases .
Then you have corn based ethanol, which even tree huggers admit is a waste. The list never stops .
Alan, The argument that it will damage the economy to work against global warming has already been disproven. The EU has met the Kyoto standards, if anything that has helped their economy and given them a technological edge in green technology that China is getting far more serious about needing to purchase and develop. Germany’s economy is out performing the US economy in part because of those innovations. Yet I was told by some on the right that Kyoto was a plot by the Europeans to hurt the US — they’d force us to play on their terms and we’d be handicapped and lose out. That was silly, but some really believed this idea that Kyoto was economic death. Well, the EU met the goals, their economy was not harmed and if anything helped. It’s harder to hold on to those ‘the sky will fall’ predictions when reality has proven otherwise. That’s the documented fact — what you call documented facts are, well, silly.
Just a clarification. The Germany economy is no longer outperforming the US economy. Last quarter it grew at a 0.1% seasonally adjusted growth rate vs. 1.3% growth in the first quarter. Futhermore, Alan’s points on both solar and ethanol are valid. I think the government does have a role in green energy, but that role should not consist of choosing individual companies. As both Evergreen Solar and Solyndra attest, bureaucrats are very bad at choosing winners.
Government should focus its efforts on areas where corporation would never risk capital on basic energy research.
I’d never heard of Evergreen or Solyndra before, so I’m thankful to know a bit more. I agree that subsidies are rarely effective, but I don’t think it is necessarily liberals who are the biggest champions of them. It was the Democrats who were stymied earlier this year when they tried to eliminate subsidies for oil companies. This is understandable, if unwise, given the right’s stonewall on taxes (revenue neutral or not). How else to promote growth?
So my question to you (and Alan I suppose) is what do you propose to reduce CO2 and/or slow global warming? I’m not sure why Alan has so little faith in carbon credits. From what I’ve read cap and trade worked quite well under George HW Bush.
Am I missing something? (In Alan’s case I’m not sure he believes there is a problem, so I don’t expect him to provide a solution).
Finally, I thought the bit about Evergreen was interesting. Obviously I am just beginning to learn, but is it possible this was a case of the nay sayers winning the battle but losing the war? It seems like Evergreen’s woes and redemption both lay with China, something Scott alluded to above…
“Evergreen — hurt by lower-cost competition in China and plummeting prices for solar panels — also said it will cut more jobs — 65 layoffs in the United States and Europe, mostly through the shutdown of its Midland, Mich., manufacturing facility. That would leave Evergreen with about 68 workers according to a head count listed in the bankruptcy filing.
To cut costs, Evergreen shifted some of its production to Wuhan, China, last year. That joint venture will remain operating subject to financing talks with Chinese investors.”
Thanks as always, -Joe
I have never been a fan of cap and tax unless, as pino says, the government makes it revenue neutral. Cap and trade is certainly a better solution because it uses market mechanisms, and has worked well in the past (the Acid Rain program). An even better way to cool the planet is through geoengineering. If the government had instituted a cap and tax program of $25 per metric ton of CO2, it would have cost American tax payer about $75 billion in 2008, and it would only have reduced future carbon emissions. However, for only $2 billion, the government could release tons of silicon dioxide into the troposphere in one year to cool the planet by one degree Celsius.
The problem with Evergreen is that there are already Chinese firms that can outcompete US firms on cost alone. For both Evergreen and Solyndra, it never made sense to build plants in states where labor is highly unionized and labor costs are far too high. I cover both in my book, but that is for another day. 😉
On subsidies, you are right about both Dems and Republicans being ridiculous. I loathe Republican Chuck Grassley, for instance, because of his support for ethanol subsidies.
This is an interesting idea:
“However, for only $2 billion, the government could release tons of silicon dioxide into the troposphere in one year to cool the planet by one degree Celsius.”
I know nothing about it, but what makes you think it would work, let alone cause less problems than it solves? It seems counter-intuitive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea.
Here’s the main problem with this though (and it’s the same problem with everything else at the moment). Even if everyone accepted that global warming was a problem and that this strategy was scientifically proven to work and even if it could be proven to result in an overall economic gain in the long term, Republicans would block it. Not because it’s a bad idea, and not because they disagree with it, but because it costs $2 billion. Where would we get even that (relatively) paltry amount? Taxes? Borrow? And so we end up with tax breaks for pet corporations that are far less (if at all) efficient.
I look forward to hearing more about the book. Cheers, -Joe
There is a good article in The Economist several months back that runs through this and several other approaches. The book, Super Freakonomics also covers similar approaches. At low altitudes, SO2 is bad, but if it is high enough in the atmosphere, it can be beneficial. Of course, not all of these approaches have been fully vetted, but they definitely lower the earth’s temperature. The effect is called the Mount Pinatubo effect. Every time there is a massive volcanic eruption, the ash thrown into the atmosphere blocks out some solar radiation, and thereby results in atmospheric cooling.
You can get around Republican votes, by including the expense in the defense budget under the Air Force’s weather control unit.
Respectfully, I disagree with everyone of your points . Germany outperforms the American economy for various reasons, none of them are green. I saw a bumper sticker in my town that said ” Stupid should hurt ” . Green is stupid . It just hurts less when you are rich like Germany and China .
China continues to build coal fired plants while it builds wind farms . Much of that wind power remains disconnected from the grid . . China needs to keep millions of dirt poor workers employed . Building Wind power is their version of paying people to dig holes and fill them back in . Also since Europe has gone green the Chinese are building much of the green machines the Europeans are subsidizing .
And as far as high speed rail, need I point out the corruption and cost overruns brought to light by the Chinese rail accident .
Europe is a basket case . We can argue whether green energy or Socialism is most at fault . Both require massive government spending which has to be extracted from the real economy . The profit driven economy .
” So my question to you (and Alan I suppose) is what do you propose to reduce CO2 and/or slow global warming? ”
Absolutely nothing . This world has so many problems that are real. We do not need to solve imaginary ones . We sure do not need Al Gore type solutions that add to our other problems . We have a bad economy. That is job one to fix. One way you fix that is to make food and energy cheap. Those have been too expensive for years . All green solutions raise the price of those two things .It is that simple .
If you want to believe in man made climate change , go ahead . Every flood or drought blame yourself . I ain’t playing . I dare you,, do not take Al Gore’s word look things up yourself . Look it up, the climate is always changing . 8 thousand years ago the Sahara was not a desert . I bet the tribes that got wiped out by that climate change were praying to their Gods, wondering what they did to cause it . It’s a shame there was no Al Gore to tell them to lower their Carbon footprint . Or maybe he could have told the people 10,000 years ago what a good job they did ending the last ice age with their camp fires . The Egyptians had the old Kingdom fall when the Nile stopped flooding for years . Then it flooded again .
Who is to say man’s carbon emissions are not delaying the next ice age . When that finally happens and your descendants are starving, they will pray for global warming .
I expected something like this, which is why I wrote:
“(In Alan’s case I’m not sure he believes there is a problem, so I don’t expect him to provide a solution).”
As long as I’m going to reply though, I’d like to point out a fallacy in your logic.
You make three statements:
“Look it up, the climate is always changing .”
“8 thousand years ago the Sahara was not a desert”
“If you want to believe in man made climate change , go ahead . Every flood or drought blame yourself . I ain’t playing .”
You don’t (ever) bother to provide links to your sources or information, so I have to make assumptions about where you learned the information you cite in your first two statements. I don’t disagree with you though. I too believe that the Earth’s climate has changed in enormous ways across the eons and that the Sahara was not always a desert. Presumably we both learned about these facts in the same way, which is that they are conclusions drawn from exhaustive, detailed research done by the highly intelligent and diligent global community of climatologists.
The fallacy occurs with your last statement. This is because the same highly intelligent and diligent global community of climatologists whose exhaustive and detailed research you reference in your first two statements overwhelmingly disagrees with you on the third.
Click to access 012009_Doran_final.pdf
The thought of global warming does not make me happy, and I would feel some sense of relief to know for certain that there was nothing we could do to accelerate or decelerate the changes in the climate. But at the same time, I agree with the climatologist community when they say climate change has happened in the past. I agree with the climatologist community when they say the Sahara has not always been a desert. And I agree with the climatologist community when they say humans are contributing to climate change.
How you can agree with the experts on two counts but not the third makes sense under only two scenarios:
1. Your beliefs around climate change are politically, rather than scientifically, motivated and you choose to believe research that supports your predetermined political beliefs while disbelieving research that undermines those beliefs.
2. You are yourself a climatologist and your third statement stems from conclusions you have drawn based upon data that you have personally conducted.
Alternatively, perhaps you would like to reconsider the validity of your first two statements. Maybe climatologists were just as wrong about prehistoric Ice Ages as they are about man made climate change. Perhaps the Sahara actually has always been a desert. Few people would agree with you, but that’s not an inherently bad thing, and at least you would be consistent in your distrust of climatologist research.
When I said look up climate shifts, I meant it . There have been many in the past . They are not hard to find . That is why I am skeptical . I am not anti science . i am anti using science to push an economical agenda . Namely to get Al Gore’s investments in Green tech and carbon credits to pay off.
Here is an article about when the Sahara was green . I tried to pick a non political one so that you’d believe me .
These rainfall shifts have a lot to do with heating and cooling cycles . Another site that shows variations over a longer timeline . http://www.livescience.com/4180-sahara-desert-lush-populated.html
You said ,” This is because the same highly intelligent and diligent global community of climatologists whose exhaustive and detailed research you reference in your first two statements overwhelmingly disagrees with you on the third.”
The scientific community can be corrupted like any other human group. Their life blood is research money . Tow the line, you get grants . Dispute it and starve .
I am not a climatologist . I have just read a lot and came to my own conclusions . I study history . When global warming was first invented , it conflicted with events I remembered reading about years before, so I researched it . The more I research it, the more climate shifts I find in the past . All before Carbon emissions .
Alan, we’re talking past one another. You don’t have to convince me of historical climate shifts. As I said before:
“I too believe that the Earth’s climate has changed in enormous ways across the eons and that the Sahara was not always a desert.”
The point is WHY we believe these things. Since you are not a climate scientist your research is all second hand. You yourself are not actually going out and taking measurements from samples of Saharan soil and drawing conclusions from the resultant data, so whose conclusions are you researching?
The answer is climate scientists’ conclusions. The same climate scientists who overwhelmingly agree that mankind is contributing to climate change (as the two links I provided before attest to).
This is from the footnotes of the study referenced in the first article you linked to:
“Fieldwork and lab work was supported by the National Geographic Society (to PCS, EAAG), the National Science Foundation (to CMS, KJK), the Yates Foundation and The Island Fund of The New York Community Trust (to PCS), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (to CMS, EAAG), and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University (to CMS, KJK). Preparation of samples for radiocarbon dating was supported by Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat Expérimentations et Approches Numériques, Université of Pierre et Marie Curie (to J-FS).”
That last one translates to: “Laboratory of Oceanography and Climate: experiments and numerical approaches”.
Here is one of the team members’ page from the second article: http://www.sfb806.uni-koeln.de/index.php?option=com_joodb&view=article&Itemid=185
Evidently he specializes in African Archaeology, (although his fellow team lead is from the institute of meteorology). Is there a reason you believe a specialist in African Archaeology when he tells you the Sahara was not always a desert, but you do not believe a specialist in Climatology when he tells you mankind contributes to climate change?
“The scientific community can be corrupted like any other human group.”
Why do you believe climatologists are more prone to corruption than archaeologists?
I’m no astronomer, but I believe that Jupiter is a massive gaseous planet and I believe Saturn has rings of ice. I believe these things because there is widespread consensus among the global community of astronomers that this is true. I’ve never actually seen either planet with my own eyes. I’ve never even owned a telescope; but I still believe that Jupiter is mostly gas and Saturn’s rings are mostly ice.
Now imagine I told you that despite these beliefs, I don’t believe that the Sun is mostly hydrogen. I just don’t believe it, even though astronomers tell me it is so. Wouldn’t it be silly of me to accept certain things about the solar system and not others when they are all told to me by the same people and I haven’t personally done any first-hand research into it myself?
You pretend that there is some inconsistency in climatologists findings when you say:
“The more I research it, the more climate shifts I find in the past . All before Carbon emissions .”
However, I think it makes perfect sense that there could be multiple catalysts for climate change: volcanic eruptions, meteors striking the earth, or man made carbon emissions among them. More importantly, the climatologist community you simultaneously revere and bemoan sees no inconsistency (again, see the links I provided previously).
You are the one being inconsistent.
All opposition to doing anything about global warming is led by blind squirrels. In a world inhabited by coyotes, owls and hawks, trusting our future to blind squirrels is bad policy.
Alan Scott said:
None attributed almost exclusively caused by increases in greenhouse gases emitted by humans, however; none in the span of modern human existence with CO2 levels so high as now.
When I look up recessions, I find many in the past. They are not hard to find. That doesn’t mean the current one can be cured by simply creating a new federal banking system, nor by changing the shipping rates of grains, nor by getting into a world war — nor do those solutions’ eminent irrationalities mean we are not in a recession now.