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« Truth on Downward Spiral | Main | Standard Assumptions »

September 29, 2006

Catastrophic Global Warming -- Fact or Faith?

As promised, the Governator signed the unprecedented AB32, which calls for the state of California to reduce emissions by 25% in the next 14 years. The unprecedented action gained plaudits from many, among them Tony Blair, who gushed: "You are showing brilliant leadership that will inspire people around the world." To which Governor Schwarzenegger responded, thinking about his current prospects for re-election, "I'll be back." (OK, I made that part up.)

Senator James Inhofe made it clear on Monday, however, that he is hopping mad about the whole Global Warming matter. Sen Inhofe covered all of the bases in his lengthy floor speech, and had this to say about the use of predictive models:

One of the ways alarmists have pounded this mantra of “consensus” on global warming into our pop culture is through the use of computer models which project future calamity. But the science is simply not there to place so much faith in scary computer model scenarios which extrapolate the current and projected buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and conclude that the planet faces certain doom.

It's important to realize that the ability of these models to reliably predict environmental catastrophe is the sole basis for any kind of opinion on the matter. Full disclosure: I am among the skeptics. I'm not a statistician, but I've worked with statistical models in academia and in Corporate America. Rule #1 in using statistical models is never, ever, ever use them to predict something which has never occurred. (Rule #2, by the way, is not to be shocked if an apparently powerful predictive model utterly fails when used in the real world.)

Yet that's exactly what those warning of calamity are doing. Now, if the risk to rely upon the model is low, then the decision to use the model is rather easy. Inhofe, however, argues that this is not the case at all, warning that actions like the Kyoto Treaty will result in "back-breaking poverty and premature death" in developing countries.

So should we eschew reliance upon statistical models Well, this begs the question: If there really is going to be an environmental catastrophe from global warming, how might we hope to understand that reality now? And the answer, to be fair, is, yes, statistical modeling.

The point is this: It is utterly incorrect to claim that a coming global warming catastrophe is anything even close to a scientific certainty. But we are also called to be caretakers of the earth, and we need to take that charge seriously, as Chuck's Breakpoint commentary from April 12, 2005 explains. As we choose our sides on the matter, we need to approach environmentalist issues intent on stewardship, with a clear-eyed view as to what is and is not knowable, and a concern for those affected by our policies. None of us will be afforded the luxury of certainty, I'm afraid.

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Comments

Walrus

Once you tune out the histrionics from extremists on both sides of the question, some things emerge which seem to be difficult to contest.

Some kind of global warming is occurring. Human activity is a factor. Our impact on our environment is increasing rapidly and dramatically.

While I am somewhat skeptical that we are the core cause of global warming, it is clear that we do have a hand in aggravating it, and it seems to me to be very prudent to try to diminish that impact.

When my children were young, I taught them not to litter. "God didn't make the world to be a garbage can." In the same spirit, we should not be flinging our refuse - organic, gaseous emissions, chemical effluent, you name it - out into the environment like a modern version of emptying our kitchen scraps and chamber pots onto the sidewalk. (Medieval cities were not pleasant places.) Cleaning up after ourselves is just common sense.

Florida Gene

Being the younger person that I am, I have listened to arguments of "global warming" most of my life, going right back to Saturday morning cartoons with Captain Planet. Therefore, I found it festinating when I recently heard that prior to my lifetime, they were arguing about global cooling!

It seems to be a sad truth that most of the people sounding the alarm about global warming are looking for large federal grants to research it, or have been fooled by those who are. I have read the Kyoto protocol, and I suspect if it were followed to the letter, there would actually be a global INCREASE in the so called greenhouse gases.

Robyn

Hi, I'd like to make a few points about this post on global warming.

First, you self admittedly aren't a statistician or a scientistist of any sort but, you say, you've worked with statisticians. You feel this gives you the right to make some relatively broad claims about the state of the earth. This is something like a layman making an assessment of a person's illness... because he's "worked with" a neurologist or a surgeon.

Presumably you've also read a number of books, written for the layman about the subject of global warming. I can understand the false confidence these give about the subject. Would you go into surgery with this same sort of lay knowledge? Of course not. Yet you're quick to ridicule the idea of global warming.

I hope my point is obvious. Global warming is not some heady academic thing... it's life and death. For us, but mostly for our children and our grandchildren. The earth is already sick; when someone (or something) is sick we go to God for healing of our souls... not for science. Since when are they the same?

As an aside, if you'd like to see a place where weather has been permanently altered by the destruction of the environment, take a trip to Haiti. Long ago, the mahogony forests were mowed down by the French and so, without the oxygen rising from the trees, all daily rain has stopped returning to the island. This is dramatic! Because it means nothing can grow there. It's a wasteland... a microcosm of global warming.

Puzzled

There is as of yet no evidence for global warming.

Yes, that's right.

There is evidence for a tremendous amount of fraud on the part of grant-seeking scientists, and power-seeking governments.

There are many sites on the net for this information, and I would recommend Michael Crichton's novel _State of Fear_ as well. It is not his best novel, but the graphs, data, and facts about the global warming movement make it worth a read.

I have now seen the AGWs say that shrinking glaciers prove global warming, and growing glaciers prove global warming. Ultracold temperatures in the upper atmosphere prove global warming. Normal iceberg calvings prove global warming, thickening Antarctic and Greenland ice proves global warming. A radical increase in the number of glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park proves global warming. More snow proves global warming, less snow proves global warming. A normal hurricane season proves global warming. Thermometers that 100 years ago were in a rural area and are now in the asphalt jungle heat island effect, prove global warming. The normal 1300 year North Atlantic Occilation proves global warming.

If everything proves it, then it is no scientific hypothesis at all.

The world is not as warm as it was during the Medieval Climatic Optimum, Norse farmsteads are still coming out of the ice, and the tree stumps of Medieval forests in the tundra where trees cannot grow today because of the cold, all stand as evidence.

Should we do more research? You bet. But should we panic and introduce draconian government crackdowns on freedom in the face of no clear trend in either direction? No.

Robert Vaughn

I am neither a scientist nor a theologian, but after following the global warming "debate" for some time I offer the following question: Could the whole issue boil down to our worldview? That is, are we so anthropocentric (as opposed to theocentric) in our worldview that we believe we now affect the weather? Do we believe we are that significant in the context of the entire universe?

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