Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A convenient untruth

In an earlier posting I questioned the view that the debate on global warming is over. This opinion doubless led to some head shaking among you Happy Few, the readers of these pages.

I still haven't changed my mind. I don't doubt that some significant global warming has been occurring. Yet there is an important distinction between global warming as a consequence of the earth's internal homeostatic system and anthropogenic global warming, the consequence of human behavior such as the burning of fossile fuels.

In a New York Times op-ed today Gregg Easterbrook, one of the more sensible environmentalists, cites six official bodies, from the American Geophysical Union to the Climate Change Science Program, who say that global warming is now a certainty. Then Mr. Easterbrook says: "Case closed."

I'm sorry, but it isn't. Of the six authoritative bodies, three seem simply to say that global warming is happening, without seeking definitively to assess the cause. The other three cite anthrogenic factors, but use such language as "a substantial human impact" and "human influences on the climate system."

From these opinions two questions arise. In all likelihood global warming stems from two main factors: the earth itself and human activity on the earth. What percentages are to be assigned to each? Even an expression like "substantial human impact" sugggests that the effect might be no more than 40%. Perhaps it is as low as 20%.

The second question is this. How much can we reduce the human contribution to the effect? Unless we go back to a Neolithic economy, advocates concede that even advanced industrialized countries can only reduce their output of fossile fuels by a fraction of the total. In the meantime, newly industrializing countries, primarly China and India, are increasing their contribution to pollution enormously. The savings made up in advanced industrialized countries will more than be made up new transgressions elsewhere. So why must we pay the price, while India and China merrily pollute as much as they want?

Mr. Easterbrook now admits that "President Bush was right to withdraw the United States from the cumbersome Kyoto greenhouse treaty, which even most signatories are ignoring." Wasn't the Kyoto Treaty one of the main accomplishments of Al Gore?

The brings us to the final question--the cui bono. If the evidence about global warming is ambiguous, and I think it is, who benefits from trumpeting the cause? In an obvious trivial sense Al Gore does, because the movie will advance his newly revived presidential ambitions. More generally, the global-warming frenzy has been a bonanza for the media. You don't sell newspapers by saying that the evidence is moot. A more direct economic benefit will accrue to those who are making devices to reduce the effects of global warming. If this production means cleaner air and cleaner water, I'm all for it. But why must the effort be sold by mongering the new chicken-littlism, an apocalypse that isn't coming?

2 Comments:

Blogger The Gay Species said...

You raise two questions. The first, whether global warming exists, I think is indisputable. Aside from the earth's own intrinsic gyrations, ozone holes, receding glaciers and landmass, etc., all point to the obvious. For an "impartial" measure, I'm using scientific resources, not "environmentalist" one. No serious scientific journal disputes the phenomenon. If science doesn't convince you, recall vivid actualities of smog before the catalytic converter. The relationship of air to carbon pollution was obvious to all.

The second question is far more problematic: What can we do? Can it be done unilaterally with any effect? Who will police it? Well, one thing we must stop doing is subsidizing the oil industry. It's heyday is naturally coming to an end, and its natural demise will provoke inquiries and finally solutions into alternative energy resources. Just by letting market dynamics operate, we'd be much farther ahead than we are, and the recent $14.5 billion set asides for oil exploration only delay the inevitable.

Imagine the consequences if technology hadn't invented the combustable engine. Horse maneuer everywhere! The present problem compared to that possibility pales. Still a problem, just not as catastrophic. But as long as we subsidize ineffiency and outmoded industries, technological advances are proportionately delayed. So one answer, admittedly limited, is to stop subsidizing inefficient industry.

I suspect oil will always have a demand, but if we only convert autos to another energy source, that obviously will have an effect.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Gay Species has not read my posting carefully. I said that I do not doubt that significant global warming is occurring. So the answer to the first question is unequivocally "yes," as I acknowledged. Why then the talk about "if science doesn't convince you"? I am convinced, and I said so.

In addition to the first question, there are two others, making a total of three--not just two. The second question is this. How much of the global warming is due to intraterrestrial mechanisms and how much is due to human agency? If the first is 20% and the second is 80%, intervention would be crucial. However, if the proportions are closer to 50-50, then our intervention will be less decisive. While no one can say for sure what the proportions are, it is vital at least to hazard a guess. But of course the Al Gore position is (implicitly) that it is all anthropenic. That assumption, is to say the very least, uncertain.

The third question is what can be done about it? Until someone shows how we can stop China and India from vastly increasing their contribution to the anthropogenic side, there is no point in discussing what WE, in Europe, the US, and Japan, can do. Any steps we may take will be automatically canceled, and then some, by what is happening on the Asian continent. So one must end up asking: cui bono? Who benefits from this quixotic policy.

8:36 AM  

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