Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Talking Global Warming Blues

We have been in a deep freeze here in southeastern Wisconsin. Yesterday, I took my dogs for a walk (it was -5) and got reported to PETA. Today we had a bit of heat wave- it climbed above 0 and is headed toward low double digits. I am prepared to agree that the "debate is over" on global warming. Let's get on with it.

But skepticism intervenes. Last week, local teacher, blogger and folk singer Jay Bullock wondered why we conservatives don't hop on Al Gore's glory train. (I tried to answer here.) My Backstory colleague Jim Rowen, on his new blog, suggested that the "unequivocal" truth on global warming ought to get us some trains anyway.

We have one side demanding that the debate end and the other asking about this or that "inconvenient fact" that seems to call the orthodoxy into question.
Near as I am able to tell, the science establishes that the earth is a bit warmer and presents a credible hypothesis (not empirically verified) that some or maybe even most of this is due to human activity, although there are alternative hypotheses.

Just how bad this will be is also a matter of debate. The low ends of the recent UN study suggests not so much and it seems increasingly questionable that a Kyoto-like jettison of the global economy will help much at all, much less cause help more than it will certainly hurt. Very few credible scientists seem to think that Al Gore's Oscar-nominated PowerPoint presentation bears much resemblance to the truth but yet the much "thinner" consensus that seems to exist is cited as support for his very "thick" remedies. In any event, the proposition that the modest warming to date will one day have catastrophic consequences can only be addressed by complex forecasting models that may or may not bear much relationship to reality.

Of course, I could be wrong but the problem is this. One side seems to be advancing arguments and the other seems to telling us to shut up and go along based upon appeals to authority. Much of the response to the skeptics' arguments is to assert an ipse dixit and attack "the deniers" as tools of some threatened interest.

But I'm not sure there are any disinterested interests in this debate. There are folks who stand to gain from global warming hysteria just as there are those who might benefit from global warming denial.

I have to admit that I don't trust environmentalists. During most of my adult life, they have been predicting imminent catastrophes that never happened. We didn't have (and apparently are not going to have) a new ice age (except that some people who focus on solar impacts on the climate think that we might). The population explosion imploded. We didn't run out of oil. It's 2007 and I can still breath the air. The rain forest is not gone. I mean, if I had listened back in 1978, it's a miracle that I'm still here and leaving a carbon footprint about the size of Magilla Gorilla's.

Extrapolating from small temperature increases that are not historically unprecedented to huge increases and then making the further claim that these changes are (unlike large changes in the past) caused by and remediable by human beings is a big claim. Using that claim to argue that we should seriously retard global economic development - something that will certainly cause pain and death - is an even bigger one. Saying that we can do that and somehow exempt some of the world's largest (and dirtiest) economies (India and China) is, I think, more than even Al Gore and John Kerry can handle.

So forgive me if I stay inside (out of the Milwaukee cold) while you all are out there proclaiming the end of days.

1 comment:

elliot said...

I grew up in the '70s and whenever I hear the phrase "global warming" I too think about all the catastrophes that were predicted, but never came to pass.

The older I get, the more I believe it's true that 90% of everything is bull.

(Do I think global warming is impossible? No. But media-inspired hysteria always brings out the cynic in me.)