Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Global Warming Is Not a Crisis: A Debate

Adding to the list of debates/discussions I've been mentioning here so far, I came across one involving global warming, via World Climate Report. It was distributed by NPR which provides an edited 50 minute broadcast as well as the unedited 90 minute version. As an interesting note, before and after the debates, the host Intelligence Squared, polls the audience for their vote on the motion. For this specific debate the results were as follows (before, after):

Those for the motion: _____29.88, 46.22%
Those against the motion: _57.32, 42.22%
Those undecided: ________12.80, 11.56%
Apart from the opening statements there wasn't too much in-depth analysis of scientific data. I would say it was more talking at crossed purposes. What is needed in any type of debate like this is an agreed upon frame of reference. The panelists mentioned "consensus" several times. In fact, you can hear it everyday from news reports about climate science. But what is really needed is for consensus to be demystified.

George Musser attempts to do just that in his post over at Scientific America. He points out that consensus should not be understood as arbitrary groupthink but instead that, "[w]hen scientists use this term, they mean it to say that certain scientific questions have been settled to most people's satisfaction and that it's time to move on to other questions."

On the surface, this idea makes sense. Scientists perform experiments that attempt to explain causal phenomena in reality. An experiment's validity rest on the fact that it is reproducible for others to investigate and analyze. But unlike most other fields of science, climatology is the least predictable. It involves a vast array of complex interrelated variables that is hard enough for meteorologists to decipher for one week, let alone climatologists for 100 years. In science, uncertainty is involved with every measurement taken and reports projecting well into the future assume broad uncertainty in their results. So when people read about how climate models are constructed, how their parameters don't even begin to mirror reality, e.g. cloud cover held constant over time, and are only a "best guess" there is bound to be hesitancy on the view of consensus.

It should also be remembered that the consensus science that is touted by the advocates of measurable anthropogenic climate change is not as pure as they make it be. As politically controversial as the subject as become it is only natural for the science itself to be influenced by the structure that makes it possible. In recent weeks there have been complaints put forth against the Bush administration for suppressing specific climate science that it finds objectionable. Whether or not this is true, it should give people pause to consider whether it is a legitimate responsibility of the government to be in the business of science. Projects that are considered for funding by the government will naturally use political pull to get that funding. This also is a double edged sword. By using limited funds for research, approving funding for one project will always deny funding for others.

I found this argument to be well presented in Patrick Michaels' Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media. Instead what is needed is a radically different way in which we view government and its natural responsibility. Otherwise as Ayn Rand pointed out in her essay "The Nature of Government" in The Virtue of Selfishness, "We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."