Global Warming Basics: Consensus? Yes. But "Settled"? No.

I agree that there is a consensus that man is making significant contributions to global warming. I just don't think that the science is settled. To say it was would be a bad thing. Considering that essentially all global warming scientists don't think that we know everything there is to know about anthropogenic global warming (AGW), I think it is healthy and important to foster an anti-AGW"Yin" as a counterweight to the pro-AGW "Yang".

Way back when I was a kid, the first episode of Star Wars came out on the silver screen, and everyone in the land was gaga over it.  Except for me that is. I didn't see Star Wars for precisely the reason that seemingly everyone else in the world wanted to. That may sound like a dumb reason to be on the "man does not cause global warming" bandwagon, but that's part of why I am.

The dictionary defines "consensus" as "a majority of opinon" or "a general agreement or concord". Using that definition, I agree that a consensus exists that man is causing global warming.  I even agree that it is a very dominant consensus.  Consensus, however, should not end debate on the issue. 

Galileo went against the consensus. Copernicus went against the consensus.  Even Martin Luther and Martin Luther King went against the consensuses of their day. And in every one of those cases, that was a good thing.

Unfortunately, if you type "the science is settled" into google, you find almost every single reference is related to the topic of climate change. We know a lot about global warming, but it's not healthy to say that it's "settled" regarding man being a significant cause. This recent article in Nature, for example, is causing scientists to rethink what they thought they knew about how solar activity affects the warming of the earth's atmosphere.

Claiming that "the science is settled" gives some people the apparent license to incessantly pillory those who disagree with the consensus. Is it okay to point out that some anti-AGWers have received funding from big players in the carbon energy industry? Absolutely--so long as you don't discount the science that they have produced to support their side of the argument until after you've studied it. But pointing to a handful of individuals who worked for Exxon or Big Tobacco as the vanguard of the entire anti-AGW camp is similar to claiming that nothing makes it into print on the pro-AGW side without first receiving the blessing of Michael Mann and the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia. Neither statement is even close to true.

I appreciate a Facebook friend of mine for bringing to my attention this video, of which one main point is that, as it currently stands, increasing temperatures really can't seem to be explained by natural causes, and therefore, it makes sense to look at man as being a significant contributor.  I agree to the point that I wish it were more cost effective for me to have solar panels and a windmill in my backyard, as well as a much more fuel-efficient car than the one I own. Let's just not settle the science, though, but rather let's continue to check our hypotheses against new information that may happen to come along.

Tim Ferris, in his scintillating book The Science of Liberty has this to say about probability vs. possibility:
The current rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases and global temperatures might be a coincidence, but how much do you want to bet on it? The [current] cost of bringing global warming under control is [estimated to be] about 1 percent of global GDP...whereas the cost of inaction [could] be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of global GDP each year, now and forever.

The Science of Liberty, page 282

Wise words, I actually think.  He also reminds us that

Global warming [itself] was discovered in a haphazard manner that illustrates the benefits of having an open scientific community where all sorts of individuals are free to pursue their interests, report their findings, and make themselves heard.

We need healthy debate on this subject of which, although we know so much, we don't know everything. Othewise, global warming will become like unto

the postmodernists [who] began gaining control of university humanities departments and denying tenure to dissenting colleagues.

The Science of Liberty, page 238
or even an Austrian philosopher named Paul Feyerabend, who
supported repressive governmental controls on scientific research. Feyerabend[] offhand[edly] dismiss[ed] the Lysenko Affair, which involved the persecution of talented scientists whose views deviated from the party line...
The Science of Liberty, page 254

I have since watched Star Wars--every single episode.  Someday, maybe even soon, I might even believe that man is causing significant global warming. But don't exclude me from the debate because I currently harbor some reservations about it



Read the "Global Warming Basics" series:

Comments

  1. Not watching Star Wars because of its popularity is fine because you only risk missing out on some entertainment. Dismissing a critical threat to your children because the majority of informed people agree that it's a critical threat is a different ballgame altogether, one that is dangerous and arguably unethical. Certainly debate needs to continue, especially about the truly unanswered questions of climate, but that should not be a reason to delay actions that are likely necessary to defend others. There is more than enough evidence to act now.

    There are plenty of unanswered questions about the nature of the threat of terrorism and the most efficient means of preventing it, but that doesn't keep us from spending a significant amount of resources in trying to prevent it.

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  2. "Galileo went against the consensus. Copernicus went against the consensus. Even Martin Luther and Martin Luther King went against the consensuses of their day."

    It's interesting that each of those people was advocating a divergence from the status quo onto a new path. But those who oppose the climate consensus are advocating that we maintain the status quo of fossil fuel energy. The ones advocating a new path are those seeking a clean energy economy, and the momentum is certainly against them. It is disingenuous to put those who adamantly refuse to consider a new path in the same category as historic reformers.

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  3. Yes, we should continue to check our hypotheses and our data. We also shouldn't dismiss the notion outright and blithely pursue the status quo of "development" and consumption because it isn't absolutely proven either.

    Should we only ourselves undertake environmentally positive actions (whether it's solar panels, fuel efficient vehicles--or choosing to live in a place and manner which reduces our need for personal vehicles--or anything else) when they are the most cost-effective solution for ourselves? Is there no place for personal sacrifice for the greater good (be it minimizing AGCC or reducing the Wasatch Front's bad air quality)?

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  4. I think the bigger threat is all the nasty chemicals that we are using rather than CO2 emissions. My biggest problem with all actions proposed so far allow big corporations to pollute while smaller businesses are saddled with huge taxes. They all reek of attempts at control rather than actually attempting to solve the problems.

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  5. There ought to be debate about what to do about climate change because it's too late to stop it. I see no reason to debate the EXISTENCE of global warming and climate change because it's happening all around us and you'd have to be willfully ignorant to not see it.

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