Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beware the anti-climate change alarmists

After sitting through a thoughtful, considered, authoritative exposition of the challenges involving energy facing society in the next few decades given by one of the directors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Sunday night (the price one has to pay for an expenses-paid trip to SERCh), it was more than doubly depressing to open the Tribune Tuesday morning still bleary from the exertions of the weekend. Dennis Byrne is urging us to beware the climate change "alarmists." Already one knows from the emotive language where this is going.

The director at Oak Ridge described energy as the "defining issue" of our time. It is not difficult to sustain the argument: demand is growing and supplies of the fossil-derived variety are peaking and at some time in the not-too-distant future will decline. That equation represents a terrifying prospect. Adding into the mix the consequences of increasing fossil fuel consumption on climate change presents an even greater need to take action. So why is there such entrenched opposition to the idea of change, particularly among those on the right, even to the point of adopting almost untenable positions in denying the reality of climate change? It boggles the mind, and drives one mad.

As a skeptic about most things myself I can rationalize why we should take action even without necessarily believing the worst prognostications. Ironically, Christian conservatives, many of whom are among the more ardent climate change deniers, might be familiar with the argument. I can apply Pascal's wager equally well to climate change as to faith. If I bet on it being right, but am eventually proved wrong, what have I lost? Nothing. By taking aggressive action to develop "green" sustainable alternative energy sources, the nation will be well-placed to profit when the fossil varieties run scarce. Why would we wish to be beholden, as we are now to largely disreputable oil-rich nations, to other countries for energy because we haven't bothered to invest in their development? On the other hand, as Pascal argued when considering the existence of God, if I bet on it being wrong, but was eventually proved wrong, then I have lost everything. The likes of Mr, Byrne and the rest of them seem satisfied, nay even proud, of taking that wager.

Further reading of Mr. Byrne's column turned up some familiar chestnuts. Firstly there is the sneering demeaning language, characterizing the thousands of hours of work by professional scientists as 'alleged "scientific" evidence...incomplete at best and...manipulated for political reasons'. Rarely, if ever, is scientific work complete as each discovery tends to bring forth new questions. Not even something as successful, long-standing and rock solid as the quantum theory is by any means complete or certain. So, are we to bide our time until "completeness" can be obtained? Of course not. While there are many uncertainties pertaining to the time scale and magnitude of the outcomes, I am satisfied that the consensus of there being a ninety percent probability of the connection between greenhouse gases and global warming being correct is sufficient to merit doing something.

I am further puzzled as to why the likes of Mr. Byrne and others are so convinced that evil politicians are gladly manipulating data for political reasons. Surely it is politically expedient to deny climate change and avoid taking action. Why would governments wish to take the politically unpopular but necessary steps of making changes that will have costs to their constituents?

I note that Al Gore is mentioned, implying that all scientists that are concerned about climate change are Al's disciples. This is just not so. Mr. Gore may have served some value in heightening awareness, but it does not mean that the real science is defective because his film was flawed. Don't tar everything with one brush.

Why was I not surprised to see the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change rear its ugly head in this article. I wouldn't be surprised if it had sent Mr. Byrne the script. In that author's eyes, the NIPCC contains the true scientists and all the rest are clueless nitwits. Mr. Byrne refers in adoring tones to the "two-inch thick volume" called "Climate Change Reconsidered."

The NIPCC is the faux authority ghosted by the Heartland Institute, regrettably based in Chicago that I have chronicled in these pages previously. Interestingly, while Mr. Byrne pours scorn on all the climate change alarmists (all scientists who have concern about the state of the climate), he pours lavish praise in equal measure on the NIPCC folks. He laments that people will not bother to obtain a copy to educate themselves. Really, why would one bother? There is real science and there is fake science. To admit the NIPCC into the same arena would be equivalent to admitting scientific creationists into a discussion about the origins of life; there is no point to it. You can dress nonsense up with fancy graphs and persuasive jargon but it is still nonsense. Who was it who said something about lipstick on a pig?

The tag line in Mr. Byrne's article warns us to beware of any science that claims to fully describe (hate the split infinitive) in single theory any phenomenon as complex as global climate change. Is this being done by the thousands of scientists working on this issue? I think not. Lots of models and lots of arguments are going on. There may be consensus on the overall picture, but I believe that there is very healthy debate about the details. It is the simple-minded that are prone to be conned by the mischievous members of the fake NIPCC.

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