Friday, February 26, 2010

Global Warming Readings

I'm not scientifically inclined. I'm a very broad, sloppy thinker really. What I try to do to keep safe from justifiable ridicule is to stick close to subjects (such as foreign policy) that are more amporphous, while at the same time more based on clear, moral principles [ie., "don't slaughter innocent people"].

I've pretty much stayed out of the subject of global warming, because I was always pretty sure that I wouldn't understand the scientific points of controversy that are said to exist. I've always leaned towards supporting the side who say that global warming is a threat because I believe that our pollution-spewing lifestyles are unsustainable in any case and that living more simply and sanely is a desirable goal. Furthermore, I'm attracted to the global warming case because of the quality (really the lack thereof) of its detractors. I will grant to the deniers that it's always possible for the accepted scientific consensus to be wrong. It's always possible that the lonely maverick, gettin' all mavericky with the maverick theories and the maverick data can be right. Just because the vast majority of climatoligists say something, it doesn't mean they're inevitably right. For all I know, the climatology journals might be the preserve of a clique that suppresses genuine opposing views. That might all be possible. But it's also possible that since the majority of activist deniers are screeching lunatics, brain-dead shit-heads, and oil-industry hacks, that the climatologists (the vast majority of people with something intelligent to say on the subject) are right.

Sure, the science of climatology might be a tiny clique. But to say that they're a conspiracy? That's insane!

Let's look at what the climate change conspiracy advocates are saying. They argue that the governments of Europe, of the US, of Canada, of China and India, and indeed of much of the rest of the world-governments that rarely agree on anything, I might point out-are acting in concert to promote a bogus claim that the earth is heating up because of man-made release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They claim that this conspiracy is being supported by the almost universal connivance of the world's scientists, who are collectively falsifying data and hiding countervailing data. And all this is happeningthey assert, despite the almost universal opposition of the world's corporations, most of which, we know, are resisting having governments take any serious action to combat climate change, and in many cases (look at the US Chamber of Commerce), are actively challenging the whole notion of climate change.

To believe in such a far-reaching conspiracy theory, one would have to first deny all the evidence before our eyes. But then one would also have to believe that the US, China, and Europe, as well as other countries, are in league. You would also have to assume that thousands of tenured scientists-a group with a disproportionate number of large egos and people with a penchant for disputation and controversy, I might add-are all working in concert to bury information and create a false theory. Finally, you would have to believe that all this effort is being made in order to pursue an economy-crippling strategy of making fossil fuels more expensive that is directly in opposition to the wishes of virtually the entire capitalist system.

And if they're merely a clique suppressing dissent? Given the vast resources of the self-interested carbon-fuels industry and its allies, wouldn't it have been possible to fund a rival scholarly journal staffed by the supposed legions of frustrated anti-global warming climatologists and have at it in a respectable, academic, scientific fashion? It would be possible if such scientists exist, however it appears that they don't.

What about the theory advanced on the left-wing side by Alexander Cockbourn, that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by liberal elites, liberal "environmentalist" organizations that are more interested in raising funds than in saving the environment, and carbon-fuels industries that want massive public subsidies to "explore" cleaner fuels (which also gives the nuclear power industry a new lease on life) and such? Well, Cockbourn's an intelligent guy, but in this instance, he appears to be letting his ego and his prejudices get the better of him.
But there is no elephant trap he is incapable of falling into. He now cites a “paper” by Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, published in 21st century Science and Technology. It sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But the briefest check would have established that this is not only not a scientific journal, it is in fact an anti-scientific journal. It is owned and published by Lyndon Larouche. Larouche is the ultra-rightwing US demagogue who in 1989 received a 15-year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud and tax code violations. He has claimed that the British royal family is running an international drugs syndicate, that Henry Kissinger is a communist agent and that the British government is controlled by Jewish bankers. He sees science and empiricism as yet another conspiracy, and uses 21st Century Science and Technology to wage war against them.
He has waded unprepared into this debate and as his errors are exposed, he lashes out with ever wilder accusations and conspiracy theories. In his attack on the 9/11 truth movement, he rightly complains that “the conspiracy is always open-ended as to the number of conspirators, widening steadily to include all the people involved in the execution and cover-up …. “. Now he invokes a conspiracy that widens steadily to include thousands of climate scientists: “the beneficiaries of the $2 billion-a-year global warming grant industry”. Even the most cursory research would have shown that climate scientists have been consistently punished by the grant-givers in the Bush government for speaking out on global warming and rewarded for hushing it up - you can read more here: Should anyone be surprised by this? Or is Bush now part of the conspiracy too?

Because, if it's true (and I've always suspected that it is), global warming could bring catastrophe and death to billions of people, and severely destroy the quality of life of billions more, I've decided to put my plodding limitations aside and actually study this issue. In that regard, I've begun reading two books, James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore's Climate Cover-Up: The crusade to deny global warming and George Monbiot's Heat: How to stop the planet from burning.

I started Hoggan and Littlemore's book first because it dealt with the sort of easy humanities/social-sciences stuff that I can digest, talking about the political campaign against global warming. I must say that it's gripping stuff. As a progressive blogger I've encountered the names "Tim Ball" and "Lord Monckton" from time-to-time, but I've never had their chicanery laid-out so plainly before. One important point from the book is that the so-called "debate" on global warming consists of climate scientists with peer-reviewed studies on one side, and meaningless petitions, signed by undergraduates, senile former-specialists in other unrelated disciplines, liars, hacks and frauds on the other. None of these scientists (or "scientists") appear to actually write anything.

I just got started on Heat in the wee hours last night. But the thing about Monbiot is that he doesn't just bitch about things. He proposes solutions. He claims that in his book he shows how humanity can reduce our carbon emissions by 90% without destroying our advanced industrial civilization. I just got past his foreward for the Canadian edition and its soberting.


no_blah_blah_blah said...

Heh, I think that your gut instinct about the screeching is right ;)

Climatology is inherently complex, so please don't call yourself a "sloppy thinker". As with many things in life, deep understanding of climatology requires years of study and specialization. It really is one of those times when expert knowledge is needed.

Unfortunately, I realize that I just made an argument based on an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy. Ultimately, that's what a lot of arguments over climate change comes down to: who people trust. It's easier to spread mistrust since once suspicions are raised, it's much tougher to clear the air.

There is a simple argument I can think of to call people to action: There is a very good chance that climate change will lead to global catastrophe within the next century. Why not spend some effort and money to avert (or prepare for) even just the possibility of disaster?

We spend money (deservedly) on the social security net for the possibility of personal disaster. We spend money (not-so-deservedly) on the military for the possibility of needing to defend ourselves (or so they say).

You're doing the right thing by reading up as much as you can. My argument is designed to argue with deniers from a different angle. The more you read, though, the more likely you'll be able to argue denialist points directly.

Happy reading!

thwap said...

I finished "Climate Cover-up" and I'm starting to get angry. Angrier.

I'm glad that I decided to do this.

The Mound of Sound said...

Imagine, a conspiracy perpetrated by thousands of extremely middle class climatologists, hydrologists, biologists, etc., any of which could become instantly and massively wealthy by simply spilling the beans to Big Oil or Big Coal.

A good, comprehensive primer on the effects of global warming, existing and future, is Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers." It's a fascinating read.

thwap said...

Thanks for the tip. And for that other thought experiment. It becomes more ludicrous with each passing day I think about it.