Feb 2, 2007

On Global Warming, Science, and Politics

Left: Estimates of expected global temperature change in the next century using current models

(Paris) Human activity is "most likely" the source of global warming, according to a scientific report on greenhouse gas emissions issued by a United Nations panel in Paris today.

The excerpts from the Climate Change 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - released via Webcast around the world - also said global warming could not be reversed, and that direct action today will only help prevent further warming in the future.

I am still waiting to download the full report, but I must admit I am tiring of the politicization of science. The most extreme environmentalists want to reduce human civilization to some mythical pre-industrial paradise, while people like Rush Limbaugh claim global warming is some sort of socialist conspiracy, or the work of willing dupes. He confidently said this today about global warming, by the way, at about 2:18 EST, in a moment of asininity high even by El Rushbo's standards:

"There's no science in this, folks. Zero. Zip. Nada."

Uh, Mr. Limbaugh? There is plenty of exemplary science involved in the debate over global warming, and I know of no reputable scientist who claims global warming is not happening. The debate is over the level to which humans have contributed to, or exacerbated, the rise in global temperatures and CO2 levels, and the differences of opinion among scientists revolve around how data is interpreted.

Limbaugh argued today that "proof" of the conspiracy is to be found in foundations and individuals who make careers out of the "global warming industry." The same could be said, though, about individuals who derive comfortable incomes from conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the John M. Olin Foundation. It's a capitalist world, Mr. Limbaugh, and I think you know how money functions in a market-based economy.

The politicization of science leads to bad policymaking, in my opinion. If we embrace the most dire of projections about global warming, we run the risk of wrecking the global economy, while perhaps having little effect on what might be a naturally-occurring climate cycle. If we take the advice of people like Limbaugh, we run the very real risk of acting like the proverbial ostritch with its head in the sand.

The sooner we cease viewing global warming as some right-versus-left dichotomy, the sooner we will begin to make intelligent choices about the environment and the future.


Anonymous said...

Limbaugh's a windbag, Mike. Why even listen to that idiot?

As far as global warming goes, I only know a few people who buy into the conspiracy crap. Most people I know with a brain understand we have to make some changes, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that carbon fuels have increased CO2.


historymike said...

I listen to a variety of voices on the right, JD, if for no other reason than to understand what they think.

I agree that Limbaugh is, in the main, a blowhard. The quote from today's show was an example of Limbaugh at his most ignorant, and my time spent listening (about 30 minutes) was a useful lesson in how out of touch he is with thoughtful discourse.

historymike said...

I noticed quite a spike in traffic over the last few hours, and then clicked on the referral function to see the source.

Welcome to readers of the Huffington Post, which was kind enough to link this post.

Anonymous said...

I too wish the issue not be politicized by either side. There is too much at stake.


microdot said...

Mike, thanks for writing a sane balanced piece on the politization of global warming. Thanks to the Bush Adminsitratiion has done to suppress discussion and supply misinformation, 34% per cent of Americans couldn't even define global warming or say that they had even heard of it.
Now, Bush has grudgingly admitted in statements that it exists, but the programs he has proposed are more harmful than good. As usual, he has taken some snippet of research and trumpeted it as an answer...proposing huge solar mirrors to reflect sunlight back into space. Totally unpractical and shaky science which if investigated would waste billions of dollars and probably would have unforseen side effects. Like his space program, "A Man on Mars by 2020" or the continued waste of money in "Star Wars" anti missle shields and other Space War ideas. All ideas to generate billions of dollars of profits for a few defense contractors while having no real effect on us and our welfare!

The Screaming Nutcase said...

I think part of the reason a lot of people don't buy the science is because we can't expect a truly accurate forecast from the TV weathercaster a week in advance, and these guys are trying to predict a hundred years of trends--using less than 200 years of accurate temperature data for a planet a couple hundred million years old.

If you want to take the politics out of science, you're going to have to wean scientists off the public teat.

Frankly, if you had some ridiculous amount of money to be spent improving the world (say, a couple billion dollars a la the Gates Foundation), I could think of dozens of ways to better spend it than climate change.

The carbon will take care of itself, eventually: when we start running out of oil in 50 years, and gas shoots up to $10/gallon or more (today's dollars), there will be no shortage of alternative fuels cropping up.

microdot said...

That's what happens when you get all your science info from Willard Scott.

MP said...

If you want to take the politicization out of science (and I wholeheartedly agree that it should be done), start with the end to this "maybe" and "might" language.

I understand a reasonable margin for error, but when we don't use words like "absolutely" or "almost certain" or "98-99% chance" when we talk of the effect of humankind upon the global climate, dissenters step up and point to the "maybe" like science is telling us a giant lie.

Personally though, when I don't see a single scientist anywhere standing up and saying, "the earth is NOT warming because of the actions of human beings AT ALL," I tend to take the "maybe" and "might" out of the equation anyway. Too bad we can't count on much of the rest of the nation to do the same.

Or to care.

Dariush said...

Limbaugh has now been "nominated" (God only knows how or by whom) for the Nobel Peace Prize.

First Kissinger and now this.

This man truly is some sort of Messiah for "real Murrcns", reinforcing every last idiotic iota of their worldview.

His whiney, self-pitying, self-serving horses**t has served as the blueprint for all those who followed in his wake from Jim Bohannon and Sean Hannity to Dennis Miller, the latter of whom Westwood One, in its eternal wisdom, has seen fit to grant his own radio show.

I don't know about "peace", but these shows clearly serve their purpose.

For one, they act as a safety valve for all these "real Murrcns" who're "losin' their kuntry" to blow off some steam.

For the rest of us, they act as a window to a world which we are not a part of. The lessons which we learn from such programs are invaluable.

Clearly no people on the face of the earth can hold a candle to the North American Peckerwood when it comes to a "culture of grievance" and congenital self-pity, hubris and xenophobia.

No one else feels quite so persecuted and put upon so long as there's anyone on the face of the earth who fails to acknowledge their self-evident superiority.

Sorry about focusing on the "Limbaugh" angle of this story, but his fans aren't the only ones who need to blow off steam.

Maggie Thurber said...

The sooner we cease viewing global warming as some right-versus-left dichotomy, the sooner we will begin to make intelligent choices about the environment and the future.

Too bad some of the people leaving a comment couldn't leave the politics out of it...

Great post, Mike, and a terrific conclusion. Most scientists who study this issue have differing opinions on many of the specifics. I don't know of anyone who denies that the Earth goes through warming and cooling cycles...the devil is in the details when it comes to the impact humans have had.

The Little Climatic Optimum in the Middle Ages wasn't attributed to CO2, but (some believe) was impacted by sun spot activity. Many of the computer models used to predict our future temperature rise cannot account for this warm era...so taking all the 'predictions' with a grain of salt is a wise thing.

It's true that some environmental groups use "the earth is warming" as a means to their own ends - more restrictions and regulations on emissions, etc. It's also true that some industries use "the earth is warming but it isn't because of us" as an excuse NOT to do things that would be good for the environment even if it doesn't impact global warming.

I suspect that an objective discussion and examination of the issue would result in some balance between the two extremes.

liberal_dem said...

'There are none so blind as they who do not see.'

Unfortunately, many of 'the blind' run our government and out corporations.

Hooda Thunkit said...

"The sooner we cease viewing global warming as some right-versus-left dichotomy, the sooner we will begin to make intelligent choices about the environment and the future."

Exactly Mike!

I am a firm believer that "global warming" is part of the Earth's natural climate/weather cycle, slightly affected by man's abuse of the planet.

Therefore, although I believe the temperature changes to be mostly natural, I also believe that man can do a much better job regarding his stewardship of our planet.

Even if we clean up our acts totally, the temperature will continue to cycle over the eons.