Tuesday, December 08, 2009
RealClear Politics posts a link to an article by George Monbiot in The Guardian in which the noted advocate of government controls premised on global warming moves from defense to offense in the aftermath of the breaking of the ClimateGate scandal. I had earlier noted here that I found that an earlier response of his to the leaked emails at least bore some resemblance to what that of a conscientious scientist would be like.
But the global warming debate is a confused mess of state-funded science and pressure group warfare, and Monbiot is firmly in the government coercion camp of the political debate. Today, we see how he reacts as the political activist he is. I must say that I find him much more disappointing on this level.
Monbiot's piece takes three observations as his point of departure. Here they are below, listed as bullet points directly from his piece. I follow each with my brief response in bold.
- The first is the tendency of those who claim to be the champions of climate science to minimise [the] importance [of the leaked emails]. True.
- The second observation is the tendency of those who don't give a fig about science to maximise their importance. Also true, and, moreover, even some who do care about the science might be jumping the gun.
- The third observation is the contrast between the global scandal these emails have provoked and the muted response to 20 years of revelations about the propaganda planted by fossil fuel companies. This is where things get interesting.
But first, a word about the science. I am not a climatologist, but I am a scientist. I have recently started looking at the scientific side of this debate and find that the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis (or at least parts of it) to be reasonable, but I am still learning about the evidence pro and con. Although I am disinclined to accept the hypothesis, I am still weighing it.
At this point, I have to declare my official position to be agnostic on the scientific questions of (1) whether there is warming, (2) if so, whether it is due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; (3) if so, whether human activity has caused a substantial portion of said increase; and (4) what effects would accrue from such warming. Nevertheless, as an advocate of capitalism, I am completely opposed to the economic strangulation of the global economy that is being proposed as a "solution" to this alleged crisis and would be even if I regarded the most dire predictions to be likely.
With that in mind, I do have to take issue with one scientific point Monbiot makes.
Even if you were to exclude every line of evidence that could possibly be disputed -- the proxy records, the computer models, the complex science of clouds and ocean currents -- the evidence for man-made global warming would still be unequivocal. You can see it in the measured temperature record, which goes back to 1850; in the shrinkage of glaciers and the thinning of sea ice; in the responses of wild animals and plants and the rapidly changing crop zones.No. I think you would see an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and an increase in global temperature for this time period. However, without proxies (for temperature, carbon dioxide, and any number of other things), you would have no way of discerning whether anything like what we're observing has also occurred before the Industrial Revolution or is within the normal range of variability of the global climate. Proxies are vital to evaluating this theory in the same way that we use historical evidence to evaluate political theories: We simply can't run experiments on the the entire planet, so information from the past is the next best thing.
Also, you would need climate models to integrate all the climate data with your theory to (a) discern whether your theory might indeed accurately describe what is going on now, (b) look into the past to see whether your theory still explains things without man's current output of carbon dioxide, and, thereby (c) determine whether there might be something your theory is still failing to account for. (And, yes, if everything holds up, you can reasonably attempt to forecast what might happen to earth's climate in the future.)
Ditto for "the complex science of clouds and ocean currents." For one thing, these (and many other factors that affect climate) would need to accounted for in anything as complex as a decent computer model of the climate. If correlation does not equal causation, it certainly doesn't equal "unequivocal" proof of the hypothesis that man is causing the earth to warm, and indeed "a novel and radical theory [might] be required."
Monbiot's third argument is something of a cross between, "May he who is without guilt cast the first stone," attempting to hide the elephant we have all just found in plain sight and right under our noses while we watch, and the argument from intimidation.
Predictably jumping straight for the throats of the wicked "energy companies," Monbiot screams payola and cites deliberate attempts by companies to plant "memes" with the help of "PR companies and hired experts." These "memes" are targeted at less educated and less intellectual demographics who are "more confident expressing opinions on others' motivations and tactics than they do expressing opinions on scientific issues." (Would you feel more confident arguing about the minute details of how a carburetor works with a mechanic or discussing his honesty? Some things simply are more accessible to more people.) The "memes" include such ideas as, "climate scientists are only in it for the money, or that environmentalists are trying to create a communist world government."
"Remember," Monbiot says, "these ideas were devised and broadcast by energy companies." Never mind that the measures being considered are worldwide economic controls that include massive redistribution of wealth. Never mind that the climate scientists' government patrons are busy spreading memes of global catastrophe of their own devising. Never mind that our government-controlled education system is so saturated with tenured radicals and global warming alarmists that the best chance at persuading someone that these measures are a bad idea might appear to be to reach out to those not subjected or susceptible to its constant ideological barrage. Never mind that pervasive government controls of the economy necessitate public relations campaigns targeted at voters by all kinds of corporations. And never mind whether these "memes" might actually be true: If you buy them, George Monbiot has just called you a fool or a tool.
I personally don't think that fighting mainly over the science is the best tactic for the embattled energy companies to take. Rather, they should start proudly standing up for themselves as producers on moral grounds and for everyone's freedom on the basis of the idea that a government's sole proper purpose is the protection of individual rights.
It has been the sheepish acceptance of altruism and state controls by the corporations that has caused them to cede the moral high ground to people like George Monbiot and Al Gore, and desperately fight them on the home turf of climate specialists, gambling that either they're wrong about the science or (worse) that they can wrongly convince most of the public that these scientists are wrong. The proper tactic, again, is this: Whatever the science says (yes, no, or maybe), admit it. And then argue from correct political principles that take into account man's nature and the proper role of government when engaging in the political debate about global warming legislation.