As long time readers and listeners will know, once in while, I go off on what can be called a bit of a rant.
I’m cautious about going on uncontrolled rampages of polemic, because in many cases the justifications for them are rather thin, and do more harm than good.
However, in certain cases, it’s useful to inject a little bit of the combative into things, especially in instances of important public interest. A society can only live or die on the strength of it’s dialogue.
And from the more alchemical/depth psychological point of view, adopting polar opposites in terms of views and understanding can open doors to deeper insight. Dialectics, quite simply.
In that spirit, I’m going to go off a little bit on the subject of global warming, or specifically, the theory of anthropocentric ( man-made) global warming.
Now, a bit of full disclosure here: I am no fan of fossil fuels. I don’t even own a car, let alone drive one. I walk pretty much everywhere, pretty much all the time. I don’t even ride the bus, if I can help it. I am no friend of the oil industry either, or big business oligarchs in general, as five minutes of research of this site will disclose in short order. So anyone who wants to accuse me of being on the payroll of shell or exxon-mobil can fuck right the hell off, quite frankly.
I believe that we should care for the environment. I think we should limit our use of fossil fuels, if for no other reason than efficiency. I think we need to develop a more sensitive and altogether more deep understanding of the natural system we live in. I think we should reign in habitat destruction and species extinction.
In short, I have pretty much all the green environmentalist street cred you could ask for. I even have a functioning vegetable garden in the back yard. So lets not have any nonsense on that score, please.
Not so long ago, I accepted the received wisdom on the subject of climate change. I saw ‘an inconvenient truth’ and walked out with a solemn sense of outrage, and a feeling of solidarity with AL GORE, of all people, the man who launched the cruise missile attack on kosovo…
but as was wont to happen sooner or later I got the yearning to dig a little deeper into this issue. I am, after all interested in such things as systems theory, and the simple notion that burning oil would eventually flood the earth was a bit unsatisfying to me.
Now, In later segments, I will go into the science in as much depth as I can manage. But for now, let me summarize what I found, after a few months of concerted inquiry.
Nobody knows. Full stop.
When you get past the layers of arguments, counter arguments, spurious comparisons, scare tactics, and invective, the simple truth is that there is not enough information to draw anything like a conclusion on the subject of whether or not human generated co2 emissions have any significant impact on the temperature of the earth.
When you get right to the bottom of what is available in terms of research, you have models which are one part assumption, one part observable truth, and one part pure conjecture, if not outright fabrication.
I will repeat: we just do not know enough about too many of the significant variables to even begin to say that we are causing any significant warming of the atmosphere.
Yes the earth is warming. Nobody is disputing that. The earth has warmed and cooled many times in the past. It oscillates within a range of temperatures and activity that we have only the barest inklings of. We have no idea what is ‘normal’ or not. What’s going on right now appears to be an anomaly to our eyes, but to go from that to some half baked greenhouse gas agenda on the strength of some pretty thin data is ludicrous.
Which raises the question: why is that data so thin? That’s simple: because for many many years the scientists involved have focused on the role of co2 in climate change almost to the exclusion of anything else. In many cases they proceed from the notion that co2 must be causing climate change, and the only question is how much, and how much of the world is going to end up swimming because of it.
This is the classic robert anton wilson dilemma: what the thinker thinks, the prover proves. If you start with what you’re trying to prove, then yeah, you can prove it. You cannot do otherwise, really.
If we spent the next twenty years, the same amount of money, and a similar set of assumptions studying the role of water vapor, the sun, variations in the earths orbit, cloud formation, or volcanoes, or any number of other things, on the climate of the earth, we would have a radically different picture of what’s going on here. But we haven’t done that.
Instead we have spent the better part of thirty years and billions of dollars studying what is, on the face of it, the least significant greenhouse gas. Which also assumes that you’re going to study greenhouse gasses, as your primary datum, which is debatable.
And why is this? Hard to say at this point, but I think it’s safe to say that this particular bias has grown out of an agenda on the part of the formative scientists in this field, and subsequent researchers have stood on their shoulders, and inherited their biases. And that’s fine. It happens. Every researcher has their blinders. This is part of why science has to have a process of independent verification. At any point previous conclusions can be subject to falsification.
But, and this is the crucial issue, a process of peer review and independent verification is not the same thing as ‘consensus’ and it certainly is not what is being called ‘settled science’. As I’ve said, the data is simply too thin to make conclusions sweeping enough to say what is really happening, and there have been no experiments yet sufficiently detailed to change that.
What we have are a series of models, and those models are inherently the product of the data you give them. If you cannot model the most significant variables in the real climate, you are left with guesses, and while guesses are perfectly fine for formulating new experimental injunctions, they DO NOT under any circumstances, give you the right to start making policy, or declaring that the process of inquiry is ‘settled’. If I came to you with a model of the world that was (charitably) one third presumption, one third pure speculation, and one third fact (and even those ‘facts’ are still open to interpretation and error), you’d be rightly hesitant to hand me the authority to make decisions on behalf of humanity on that basis, wouldn’t you?
How exactly an assemblage of ‘scientists’ who have presumably been schooled in scientific epistemology, and what constitutes a valid knowledge process, have allowed themselves to become attached to any platform that wants to end debate by decree and proclaim the new dogma, is a mystery to me.
There’s a good reason why science is supposed to stay apart from politics, and why ideology is supposed to stay out of the laboratory. The human mind is an instrument, and when you start introducing political and philosophical presuppositions into it, you begin to cloud the observed truths that science is supposed to categorise.
That what ought to be a debate of science, and observable truth has degenerated into zealotry, death threats, apocalyptic scare mongering, sloganeering, and attempts to close down honest inquiry, is nothing short of appalling. This is what happens when you reduce a complex system to a punchline, or a rock concert, or a movie. You end up making sweeping simplistic statements, and not surprisingly, those simplistic statements start to fall apart with any close inspection, as I will happily demonstrate before long. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong, mind you, but it does mean that what they say is cut and dried, is not at all this way.
Quite simply, what masquerades as an informed consensus on this issue is nothing of the sort. The vast majority of those who claim to be ‘informed’ operate on a superficial or compartmentalized understanding of the issues, including more than a few scientists. News flash: not all scientists study the same things. Ecologists might not know the infra red absorption spectrum of greenhouse gasses. A computer modeler might not know any number of things that might be relevant to their model. A chemist will not necessarily understand systems theory very well. A consensus of scientists is not necessarily worth any more than a consensus of people on the street. Like anyone else, they will operate on a set of assumptions and fall in line with their peers, more often than not. Like anyone else, they simply often do not have the time, and in many cases, the inclination, to get down to the source codes of these conclusions and test them.
So if anyone tells you that ‘most’ scientists, are in agreement, that doesn’t really mean much. Most scientists were in agreement that the sun went around the earth and that god created the world in seven days, at one time. Just because they think that, doesn’t mean they know.
I’ll say it again: Just because a lot of people think something, doesn’t mean they know. Any scientist will tell you how hard it is to come to a conclusion about the simplest experiments, let alone getting a group of scientists to agree on the outcome of those experiments. So when some ideologue comes on tv telling you that they’ve come to an consensus on something as complex as the earth’s ecosystem, you can be pretty sure they’re full of shit.
Why is this a big deal, you might ask? Aren’t they arguing for things that we should be doing anyway?
Yes, up to a point. I agree that we should start to lower our consumption of fossil fuels, but I have the a strong feeling that we’re going to be lowering them regardless or what anyone wants, so I’m not too worried about that.
What I am worried about is what the net effect of this policy mobilization ultimately is: the developed nations have already demonstrated their willingness to blithely ignore targets for reducing emissions, so really the only people who stand to take the hit on carbon emissions are the less developed countries, who will, if they fall in line behind this reduced carbon footprint idea never ‘develop’ in any sense that we would think of it.
Because let’s be clear: with our current understanding of how to produce energy, carbon emissions parallel our use of energy. Our use of energy parallels our growth in population, our production of food, our ability to maintain or improve standards of living. As it stands, a decrease in carbon emissions equals a decrease in energy use. And the people who will actually suffer from that are people who didn’t have much to begin with.
That is the net effect, in the real world, of your greenhouse zealotry: poor people who get to stay poor, starving people who continue to starve, sick people who get to go to hospitals without lights and refrigeration because they have to use solar panels and windmills instead of natural gas. It may well be that these people would remain in their wretched predicament, regulation or no, and it may well be that we should reduce our energy consumption as a global population anyway, but the point is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else, has the right to decide that for them.
Meanwhile you get to keep your light and heat and your hybrid car, and your lavishly energy intensive diet, while you watch Al Gore mug for the Live Earth concert. You rave to your friends over a cappuccino made from fair trade coffee beans, about how the oil companies will see us all under 20 feet of water, and we’ll all die of malaria.
You surrender your critical thinking to a group of climate scientists who are being thrust into the role of some kind of priestly moral arbiters of what is good and proper in human society, which isn’t doing them or yourself any favors, unless you have some hidden fondness for the pattern of social relations that we dispensed with at the end of the dark ages.
So the next time you want to call someone who disagrees with your interpretation of what are, at the end of the day some pretty thin scientific conclusions, a Nazi, or a Flat Earther, think on this:
Who in fact is trying to shut down inquiry? Who, in fact, is party to genocide? Who, in fact, is talking about population control? Who, in fact, is living in the lap of luxury, while poorer people pay the price for your fashionable ideas?
Do yourself, and the world, a favor, and inform yourself. If you’re so fucking concerned for the world, start growing your own food and sell that car. Plant some trees. Encourage some actual debate on the facts. Start agitating for some intelligent reforms in our energy infrastructure. Do something to restore the credibility of science, because at the rate this is going, there isn’t going to be much of that left, and we’ve got enough real problems to deal with without wrecking the reputation of climate science for a whole generation over the biases of a few people.