Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Global Warming: A Real Movement

From my couch, I can see Global Warming in my own back yard.  For the last few years, my quince bush that used to lose its leaves every winter has stayed green all year.  Now it’s morphed into a Little Shop of Horrors monstrosity.
Global Warming is real, yet it’s also a movement.  Movements have several characteristics.   The issue is so important that the end justifies the means.  It’s so necessary to sway people to the proper beliefs that a little exaggeration is okay.   Movements preach that if we make a few sacrifices now, a glorious future for posterity will ensue.  Movements are ideologies, causes, cults.  It seems odd that a scientific issue can become a movement, but global warming has.
From Al Gore (in interview with Grist Magazine May 9, 2006, concerning his book, An Inconvenient Truth)
“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous (global warming) is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are...” What is the difference between “an over-representation of factual presentations” and a lie?
The Global Warming movement uses images to sway people. Images can illustrate facts, but they’re not facts in themselves.  Take the famous picture of the polar bears huddling on a shrinking ice floe.  The reader is supposed to imagine the grim future when all the polar bears have become extinct as the Arctic ice melts.  For all we know the picture was taken in August and that it might even have been photoshopped.
In the case of global warming the warnings are slanted toward the worst case scenarios.  Positive aspects of climate change are ignored: longer growing seasons, CO2 as a plant stimulant, increased areas for settlement and agriculture in northern latitudes and that more people die of excess cold than excess heat.
Possible negative effects are seized upon.  Will malaria increase with a warmer climate?  Probably not, because malaria was endemic in cold climates in the 19th century. Some say Climate Change was responsible for Superstorm Sandy, but no one storm can be due to Climate Change, just as no one case of lung cancer can be attributed to smoking because not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer and people who’ve never smoked get lung cancer.  One case does not a trend make.
The issues keep being restated to ramp up their urgency.  Global Warming has switched to Climate Change and has now been reframed as the Climate Crisis.  The word crisis means something has to be done and it has to be done now.
Movements insist it’s extremely urgent to act now.  From  “Accelerating arctic warming and other early climate impacts have led scientists to conclude that we are already above the safe zone at our current 390 ppm, and that unless we are able to rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.”
Ad hominem arguments, the hallmark of those who must stoop to attack their opponents’ character, distinguish movements.  From Oregon State philosophy professor Kathleen Dean Moore: “Unchecked anthropogenic climate change will profoundly harm the chances of future generations, undermining the necessary conditions for human life and liberty...It’s wrong to violate human rights, condemning all future people to struggle and misery.”
Another hallmark of a movement is that anyone who disagrees is treated like a heretic.  In the global warming movement, instead of heretics, they’re called  “climate change deniers.”  It’s a good thing we don’t do the burning at the stake thing anymore.   (The other side calls climate change activists “Warmists.”)
It’s always handy to have someone to blame.  Dean Moore continues, “millions of dollars are poured into attacks on climate science and scientists by those deeply invested in preventing society from drawing any conclusions that might block the unimaginably profitable activity of pouring carbon into the air. What they really must believe, but cannot say, is that greed and limitless profit trump the human rights of all future generations.” OregonLive 12/01/12
I conclude with another example of the end justifying the means from Stephen Schneider (leading advocate of the global warming theory in interview for Discover magazine, Oct 1989)
"We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”
But are the exaggerations and propaganda doing science any good? Says Dr Richard S Lindzen, leading climate and atmospheric science expert of MIT,  "In the long run, the replacement of the precise and disciplined language of science by the misleading language of litigation and advocacy may be one of the more important sources of damage to society incurred in the current debate over global warming."
The scientific method is our best method for gaining knowledge we can have confidence in about our world.   Political advocacy about science is a travesty of science.  Science is science, not a movement.