global warming, the gift that won’t stop giving

Another day, another debacle around the public's perception of global warming...

wwf global warming poster penguins

Here’s a forecast for blogs and sites that invoke global warming. Elevated comment accumulation with a high chance of hot air from both sides of the debate, especially now, since world renowned skeptic and the face of the international skeptical movement, James Randi, decided to finally speak out on the topic and managed to venture into the denialist camp. He did it very gently, without the hysterics we see in the media, and he said very clearly that his opinion is that of an amateur, but he still threw his voice in support of a denialist project to collect signatures from scientists in the same way the Discovery Institute tried to show dissent from evolution among biologists. At this rate, the issue of what to do about our climactic situation will never get resolved.

First let’s consider the project being quoted by Randi in his post. It supposedly has 32,000 signatures from a variety of scientists some 9,000 of whom hold a PhD and they seem to agree to a slew of ideas ranging from the notion that humans aren’t the sole cause of global warming, there may be no global warming and that the phenomenon probably doesn’t mean disaster for us. If you’re keeping count, that’s three completely different assertions the signatories are asked to back and two of them are contradictory. How big of a part humans are playing in the planet’s warming is still a subject of some debate but whether or not we’re the sole cause of the warming or not, the consensus seems to say that we’re definitely doing our share. But on the other hand, the scientists who sign the petition of scientific dissent are being asked to agree that there is no global warming at all, then that it may exist but if it does, it’s not a big deal. After seeing the details of the petition, Randi went back on his show of support, saying he was unaware of what the project really was. Expect the denialists to claim that he was bullied into submission by environmental groups and AGW believers…

The message of the Petition Project is clear. No matter what the science decides, we shouldn’t do anything to mitigate global warming. In fact, the project was started in 1998 and used dubious tactics to get signatures that were then wielded for political machinations and propaganda tactics. More than half of the signatures on the petition are over a decade old and only a few of the signatories are actual climatologists, although it’s hard to say whether their support was genuine because the petition’s principles are all over the place, denying and accepting the phenomenon’s existence in the same breath. Then again, confusing politics are deniers’ stock and trade, from New World Order conspiracy theories to rigged studies cited with no regard for their quality, just as long as they oppose the dreaded liberal global warming menace. Try to point out their transparent and obvious political motivations, and the denialists will accuse you of political revenge and simply repeat the very same arguments either shown to be wrong or irrelevant with cultist zeal.

That said, we have to keep in mind that the panicked hysterics on the environmentalist side of the debate are not productive and only add to the problem. As noted before, environmental groups have an agenda and use global warming as a boogeyman to force the changes they want to see happen. They politick their way out of accepting the use of nuclear power to cut down carbon emissions, doing tricky accounting to convince us that to fuel a reactor would require the same amount of greenhouse gases as running a coal powered plant, but the real reason is that they’re afraid of nuclear power. They want to force companies to pay for environmental projects via a cap and trade system those who studied economics will quickly recognize as greenwashing, or buying a license to keep on polluting. They try to fund research into alternative energy generation by force, not by explaining its benefits and swaying companies to see how much they’ll save in the long run. It’s absolutely counter-productive and only serves as fuel for denialist pundits and overzealous conspiracy theorists.

While gaming statistics and talk about upcoming ice ages which are supposed to refute global warming just by happening due to our planet’s orbital fluctuations emanate from the denialists, environmentalists have their own brand of hyperbole. Take this gloom and doom column from Ted Rall for example…

Catastrophe no longer looms. Catastrophe is upon us. For example, the polar ice cap is doomed. Summer ice will vanish entirely within 20 years; winter ice will be gone by 2085. Nothing can be done to stop it. It doesn’t matter whether the U.S. and other countries reduce CO2 gas production by 30, 50 or 80 percent. The Amazon rainforest feeds the Amazon River, which by some accounts produces 20 percent of the world’s fresh water; it has begin its death spiral. […]

After a certain point, plants themselves will become a net source of CO2 — all part of the feedback loop that occurs when you mess things up as badly as we did. Giant storms will rage, famine will spread, drought will be ubiquitous. Or maybe we’ll just choke to death. Whatever, at 6°C plus, the human race is outta here.

Really? Another six degrees and the human race goes extinct? Seems highly unlikely, especially since in the worst case scenario these temperatures will be reached around 2100 and this doomsday scenario makes it sound as if we’ll just sit there twiddling our thumbs for the next 90 years or so. A warmer world is something to which we’ll need to adapt, and on a geological time scale this warming will happen in the blink of an eye. But we don’t live on a geological time scale. A human’s lifetime is enough to make drastic changes and when we have to make them, we will for the simple reason that we need to survive. On this topic, I agree with Randi. In the worst case scenario, our species will ultimately survive, even though we’ll need to put in a lot of work to do it. We simply won’t abandon our primal instincts and decline to use our technology.

While it seems like it’s a Sisyphean task to reason with climate change denialists, especially when hysterical environmental groups are screaming overhead, I know there are green organizations who can resist using a global warming boogeyman to demand radical changes this very second via international treaties and orders from governments. By presenting plans for sustainable alternatives, giving a realistic idea of the problem, and allowing businesses to see the savings and other benefits of going green, they could achieve more profound and lasting change than all the Al Gores and alarmist columnists ever will. We need to give them a chance to do so, even if it means allowing denialists a chance to say “I told you so” out of irrelevant spite.

# science // climate change / environmentalism / global warming

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