Sunday, January 20, 2008

Global burn

This post at Left in the West oversimplifies matters a bit. Steven Running argues that global warming is "just plain facts." So far as that goes, it's true enough. Even the global warming debunkers I have read do not dispute that carbon dioxide levels are increasing, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that greenhouse gases produce a warming effect. After all, greenhouses work, don't they?

The dispute is over two other matters:

1. What effect will all of this ultimately have on the world's climate? Since climate is so complex, it's understandable that there should be disagreement even among the best scientists about exactly how serious the effects of global warming will be. The fact is, nobody knows for sure.

2. Given that uncertainty, how much should we rationally try to do to prevent the effects of global warming? Again, it's a complicated question since the results of global warming will no doubt be mixed. As a good conservative, I argue that it makes sense to take modest steps that would make sense even if global warming turns out to be no big deal: energy conservation, alternative energy sources, pollution cleanup measures, and so on.

Radical extremists on the left think that's not enough; they may be right, but it isn't clear that we could do enough even if we wanted to. Radical extremists on the right think we should do nothing at all until we are sure it's too late. That's just suicidal.

Global warming skeptics make a key mistake: They point out that uncertainty over the effects of global warming means that it may not be as bad as the more extreme scenarios anticipate. But they forget that the uncertainty also means that the effects could be far worse. They play a dangerous game. No wonder they get so angry when the debate doesn't go their way.

As long as we are on the subject, let's take a shot at another point global warming skeptics make over and over again. They point out that climate has changed radically for natural causes in the past. That's true. But then they leap to the conclusion that all global temperature change must be the result of something other than human causes. Sorry, that doesn't compute. And even if it did, it still wouldn't mean that we should do nothing.

2 comments:

MTSentinel said...

Global warming skeptics make a key mistake: They point out that uncertainty over the effects of global warming means that it may not be as bad as the more extreme scenarios anticipate. But they forget that the uncertainty also means that the effects could be far worse. They play a dangerous game. No wonder they get so angry when the debate doesn't go their way.

Sort of. If the implications of GW are rated by severity from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most serious (say, mass global extinction), I'd say the scenarios predicted by global warming alarmists fall in the 8-10 range. This is the criticism of global warming debate that comes most frequently from main-stream science: don't oversell the problem to scare people into action. Since the risk scenarios are already set at the most extreme side of possibility, a skeptic is correct in suggesting that it is likely that it won't be as bad as is predicted.

As long as we are on the subject, let's take a shot at another point global warming skeptics make over and over again. They point out that climate has changed radically for natural causes in the past. That's true. But then they leap to the conclusion that all global temperature change must be the result of something other than human causes. Sorry, that doesn't compute. And even if it did, it still wouldn't mean that we should do nothing.

Yes, climate change has occurred naturally in the past. Skeptics I know - at least the smart ones - have not used that fact to establish a universal statement like "global warming must not be caused by man" but instead to challenge the universal statement of global warming advocates "global warming must be caused by man."

Jay Stevens said...

"Oversimplifies" the issue? I wasn't talking about the effects of global warming, I was talking about how the energy industry has poisoned the debate.

What you say about the debate within scientific circles is accurate. The consensus is that warming is here and, at least in part, caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

BTW, MTSent, not even the most shrill critics of the IPCC and other major climate institutes disputes that human activity has contributed to warming. The question is, to what extent? Is our measured warming a natural process exacerbated by human activity? Or is the warming caused by human activity?