Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Global Warming Debate

I'm going to set out to solve the problem of global warming here on this blog. Well, or at least, to make some sense out of it. Being unfairly biased towards climate scientists, I will refer frequently to Real Climate, the only decent site I've ever found on this issue.

I started thinking seriously about the issue when I was overseas and kept hearing about "desertification'' on the news. Could that word transliterate to a basically identical English word? Could it mean what it seemed to mean? Why hadn't I ever heard the word at home? Huge swaths of China are turning into a dust bowl, seemingly overnight. And yet, at home, all I had ever heard was that there is a 'serious debate' about climate change. Clearly, some people believe that having two grown men screaming at each other makes for more entertaining television than ''desertification''. I think this would be true, were the debaters given large rubber mallets and encouraged to beat each other about the face and neck.

According to some people, the debate about anthropomorphic climate change is all over, but the blather. However, it seems to me that it's simply shifted. Ten years ago, there were still plenty of people claiming that the planet was not going to get hotter. Now, it's indeed getting hotter. Everywhere I've been in the last year, I've heard people talking about how weird the weather is- hotter than ever before in the summer, more intense snows in winter, and generally unprecedented. The people who believe in global warming claim that the case is closed.

One of the criticisms that is often made about the people who believe that the earth is getting hotter is that they are 'alarmists'. I would agree with this to a certain extent. I'm not sure we know enough about the coming decades to predict the end of all life on earth, for example, and I've heard people claim that is coming. Similarly, I wonder how likely it is that huge sections of major cities will slowly sink under the sea without major engineering efforts being made to prevent it.

On the other hand, if the global warming people are guilty of alarmism, the anti-global warming people are guilty of general incoherence. As far as I can tell, the case against global warming goes something like this... ''There is no such thing as global warming. Granted, the planet does seem to be getting warmer. However, that is not global warming. Or, if it is, it was clearly not caused by human activity. We don't know what caused it. And even if it was caused by human activity, it's way too late to do anything now because we're doomed. Or maybe we're not. Besides, Al Gore flies in a plane. So, there. I think that ends the conversation.''

The global warming debate is a perpetual motion machine- the point is to keep arguing, not to win any arguments. Check out the comments section on the great Real Climate site, which consists of climate scientists attempting to address the general public. Invariably, almost daily, someone will post a 'devastating critique' of climate science that has already been answered further down on the main page. And then they never return. After they post these comments, I imagine that they put their feet up, crack open a cold beer, and bask in the glow of a job well done. Again, the point isn't to be accurate, or even coherent; it's to keep arguing.

But, what difference does the debate mean anyway? Most people seem to have noticed that the weather is getting weirder, so why not just agree on that? In fact, what difference does it make what caused it in the end? Essentially, there is a problem that consists of abnormal weather patterns and certain steps that we can take could possibly help alleviate those problems. Does there really need to be an argument at all after that?


gregvw said...

It is a known fact that weather pattens and the average global temperature has fluctuated over time and has at points been significantly different than it is presently. My thoughts on the global warming issue is the following is not whether its happening and if we are causing it, but rather does it matter? I view it as a self-correcting problem and if the earth needs to obliterate humanity to restore equilibrium, I have no fundamental problem with that. Also, any species that extinguishes itself deserves it.
Alternately, thing will change dramatically enough that people will want to do something about it. .. build rafts or something. Things change. That is natural law.

Rufus said...

So we ride it out then? To be honest, one of the reasons I'm thinking about it today is that I need a break from 19th century French travel accounts. I do wonder if human beings are really stupid enough to undertake such a slow-motion extinction without figuring it out beforehand.

Rufus said...

Also, maybe I'm strange, but this sort of seems like a fun problem to brainstorm sollutions to. I agree that the planet will long outlast us, but it seems more enjoyable to think of adaptations to the environment.

gregvw said...

Sure, but that's my point. The beauty of it is that whatever happens, we get what we deserve.

Rufus said...

Ah, but why do I suspect that Mr. Burns's escape pod wasn't too far from the truth?