Saturday, July 26, 2008

On Global Warming

While I don't think I've ever really talked about it here, one of my many interests is the battle between climatologists and those who deny the reality of Anthropogenic (that is, man-made) Global Warming (AGW).

It's a fascinating thing to watch, since many of the most vocal denialists seem to be coming at the topic with at least some understanding of the science involved. They're not generally experts, but they've devoted enough time that they can at least lay claim to a reasonable understanding of the science involved (often more than I have, anyway).

Still, they harbor some deep-seated political or philosophical beliefs that cause them to interpret that science in a way that is contrary to what the experts come up with, but that supports their preexisting beliefs. This is somewhat different from the manufactured debate about evolution, for instance, because those arguing against it are at least attempting to operate in the sphere of reason.

Of course, vastly more don't operate in the sphere of reason, have no understanding of the science involved, and simply parrot what they read on the Drudge Report. To be fair, many who believe in AGW don't do so for rational reasons either. But they're likely right despite that fact.

Case in point: I recently had someone tell me that AGW is a myth because "last year was the coldest on record." This is, of course, total bullshit. Perhaps last year really was the coldest on record somewhere, but that has nothing to do with the global temperature. And even if it were true globally (in fact, last year was slightly cooler than the year before), it says nothing about the overall trend towards warming, which is vastly more important than any individual point of data. The claim was also made that there's no scientific evidence to support AGW, which is of course nonsense.

However, as I said, I'm not an expert on climatology and I mainly defer to the general consensus of people who really do understand such things on a deep level. This general consensus skews strongly towards the belief that AGW is a reality.

Still, I have to ask myself: "What if the denialists are right?"

Well, luckily for me, I subscribe to Bob Park's weekly email newsletter, and he said it far better than I ever could:
Suppose, I asked myself, that the deniers are right and the CO2 thing is a mistake? What will happen if the world takes the CO2 thing seriously, adopting common sense measures to counter anthropogenic warming and there never was any warming in the first place? 1) there will more non-renewable resources to leave to our progeny; 2) we will breath cleaner air and see the stars again, the way we saw them half a century ago; 3) we could stop paving over the planet, and 4) cut down on the number of billionaires. If we’re wrong we could have a party. We could have a party either way.
Dang, I wish I had said that.

Now, it's entirely possible that some of the better-informed denialists are just making an academic case that the current understanding of AGW is wrong and, theory aside, support doing many of the same things that the rest of us support. But that's certainly not the case among their more ignorant followers, who mostly seem to subscribe to the belief that if AGW isn't real we should just go on doing what we've been doing.

Exactly what benefit do we get from not changing what we're doing? I can't think of one, and am left wondering just why anyone would support that course of action. Is it laziness? It is hiding one's head in the sand? Where are their parties?

Honestly, I have no idea. Anyone have a clue about this?