Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Clarification

In response to a couple of emails, it seemed prudent to issue a clarification regarding my own personal understanding and belief as to the cause of recent weather events, and Global Warming in particular. The really funny part of this is that the misunderstanding was initiated by a hysterical article in Rolling Stone Magazine on the "Global Warming" phenomenon. Not usually a source I turn to in search of scientific information, perhaps it was some mentions previously in this space to articles in that magazine, combined with my recent (and perhaps previous) articles on the phenomenon that combined to create this recent confusion, in a really humorous twenty-first-century Google-inspired info-gestalt.

Anyway. it is my own personal, strongly held belief, grounded in my readings in the scientific literature and filtered through my own scientific background and polymathic pretension, that our planet's climate is always changing, and recent events do seem to bear that out. Also, it is possible, but nowhere near definite, that human activities are contributing to or accellerating these changes, if only in a small way. Increased insolation alone provides more than enough heat to account for the apparent additional heat in the atmosphere, if indeed the atmosphere is actually containing more heat today than it would have if we had never evolved into a sentient species. Measurement of the totality of this heat is still beyond the ken of mankind. Attempts to measure and understand weather and climate are ongoing. As our understanding of these things improves, we may yet be able to answer our questions, but the current state of the art in climatology is, to be kind, imperfect. They still can't predict next weekend's weather with any certainty, but they are getting better. I haven't the space, or inclination, to go into this in more detail right now, but the "Global Warming" alarmists have made some predictions over the last several years, and all of these predictions have been dismal failures. (For links, comment or email.) If these predictors are wrong over years, why should we have confidence in their longer-term predictions?

There do seem to have been a number of unusual and extreme weather events in the last few years. A few small climatic changes have appeared in some localities. In a necessary coincidence, the ascent of Mankind has occurred in an era of idealized climate on this planet, and this little party may indeed be showing signs of coming to an end. It would be entirely natural, and a repetition of previous actions of planetary climate, if it became significantly warmer in the coming centuries. It would also be entirely natural for an Ice Age to begin at any time. Paleometeorologists have detected all of this behavior in our planet's past, long before our ancestors climbed out of the trees. Are we the cause of the most recent change? The only sober answer is that it is slightly possible that we have indeed contributed in some small way to changes in climate. It is, however, much more likely that the few percent change in greenhouse gas attritubitable to us is insufficient to have such a large effect on climate. Some better questions are: Would our lives be better today if we had never discovered how to use fire to enhance our existence? Would we desire to have avoided the recent deadly heat wave in Europe by never having built Europe in the first place? And, is Mankind an asset to his planet or a vermin species which does not belong? These are telling questions to ask of those who are Global Warming true believers.

The final, and most important question that must be answered before Mankind commits to massive action is: What can humans do to interfere with global climate, and change it to better suit our comfort? This is the real action plan of the alarmists, but they would never put it into these words. That is because they would never admit to such hubris as this undertaking requires.

Those on the other side of this debate from me, to paraphrase, say exactly this:
Man has soiled his nest by making it too comfortable. We have used too much energy, and are therefore making our entire planet uninhabitable. The only, and sure, way to put things back the way they were is to use less energy in the short term, and perhaps find methods of generating and using energy that will not soil our nest. The richer nations alone must bear the entire burden, and their resulting impoverishment serves them right.
This is not their scientific opinion. This is their religion. It has no basis in fact. It is hysterical. It is unreasoning. It is perfectly natural for frightened humans to react this way. But it would be absurd if the entire human race were to react this way, like some kind of planet-wide cargo cult.

Mankind is trying, and will continue to try, to answer that final and most important question. Changing our environment to better suit our comfort is, after all, what distinguishes us from most of the other animals. Acting on the basis of fact and understanding is also a hallmark of human behavior, as is the seeking of power and the waging of war. I really wish that, before we act hastily, we wait until we can gain a better understanding of the forces that we wish to control. Otherwise, we will be acting out of hysteria, guided by hubris. The consequences could be dire.