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Sunday, April 15, 2007


Subtitled Global Warming, Global Stifling, this article in the May 2007 issue of Liberty by Gary Jason is worth a read:

The debate about global warming has reached a crescendo, and has acquired a deeply unsettling tone. We are witnessing a veritable rush to judgment — a rush that has now been accelerated by a United Nations report that accepts and supports the global warming theory. If there was ever a time for skepticism, it is now. The time has come for people who have reasonable doubts to speak up and offer the reasons for their doubts.

In this article I will try to clarify what parts of global warming science give cause for doubt. I will also state the features of the global warming debate that are troublesome to me — and should be troublesome to you.

I'll start by making some distinctions. The first distinction is between the narrow theory of anthropic global warming (hereafter, the "Narrow Theory") and the grand metanarrative of global warming (hereafter, the "Grand Theory").

The Narrow Theory lies exclusively in the domain of climate science, and holds simply that:

1. The earth's climate is warming significantly.
2. This warming is exacerbated by the generation of CO2 and other anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
3. This warming threatens to induce widescale ecological changes.

The Grand Theory — as presented on television and in several recent movies — is vastly more than a theory of climate science. It is a multiple-domain metanarrative or integrated worldview, including both moral assumptions and policy prescriptions. In essence, it posits twelve theses:

1. The world is warming dramatically.
2. This warming is unlike any other warming or cooling in the history of the planet.
3. The warming is caused primarily by humans' burning of fossil fuels.
4. If we keep burning fossil fuels at the present rate, warming will accelerate and increase without end.
5. The result of warming will be a huge increase in the number of ecological and meteorological disasters, which will be of biblical proportions.
6. These disasters will not be counterbalanced by any favorable effects of warming.
7. Both warming and disaster will occur with such rapidity that mankind will be unable to adjust.
8. The process can be reversed or controlled by drastically curtailing the use of fossil fuels.
9. The only way to do this is by drastically curtailing the use of fossil fuels.
10. The best plan is to slash the use of fossil fuels in the United States and other countries of the developed world, while leaving the less-developed world (including Brazil, China, and India) alone.
11. Use of fossil fuel can best be curtailed by the exploitation of wind and solar power, and by massive "conservation."
12. Whatever this will cost, directly and indirectly (and estimates range from trillions of dollars to nothing at all), will be less that the costs of the damage wrought by continued warming.

This Grand Theory is a wide ranging worldview, of which the Narrow Theory is but a minor part. It includes theses that are well beyond the domain of climate science, including theses derived, at least ostensibly, from history, geology, economics, agricultural science, power-plant engineering, and geopolitics, then given a moral cast, i.e., imbued with moral judgments.

For example, Theses 6, 10, 11, and 12 are all either completely or in great part economic claims, having little if anything to do with climate science. To cite a specific example, Thesis 10 is a claim that can only be proven by looking at detailed, empirically based projections of emissions figures from industries in developed countries compared to those in the third world, and factoring in projections of efficiency and productivity. Another example: Thesis 11 is a sweeping claim about the economics of power generation, and can only be proven by looking at the economics of all known methods of generating power, including every feasible alteration in those technologies.

Most of the theses in the Grand Theory are packed with morally charged concepts. If an epidemiologist says, "The chance of bird flu becoming epidemic is growing significantly," she is making a narrowly scientific statement. If she says, "Bird flu is about to explode catastrophically! We have to stop it now!", she is going beyond science to make a moral and a policy judgment. That isn't a problem if the economics and morality are obvious — if, say, the cost of inoculation is trivial compared to the costs associated with a disease that has a mortality rate of nearly 50%. But when the economics is complex (with costs and benefits hard to measure, the range of options large, and the chances and scale of an anticipated event hard to estimate), or when the moral case is unclear (say, when the moral values being balanced are incommensurable with one another), such value-laden language is dangerous.

Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, an eminent specialist who is favorable to the Narrow Theory, made this point well in a recent interview with the BBC. He said, "Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists, too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror, and disaster with the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions? . . . To state that climate change will be 'catastrophic' hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science."
Click here to continue reading Heresy: Global Warming, Global Stifling.


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