Wednesday, May 9, 2012

AGW on my mind

As of late Global Warming/ Climate Change has once again been brought to the forefront of my mind.  One reason has been my reading of “Tyranny of Cliches”* authored by Jonah Goldberg who is a political pundit/think tank fellow at the AEI/editor/podcast guest/ and greatly disliked a great deal by Prof. P.Z. Myers, and Brian Dunning’s latest Skeptoid piece on anthropogenic global warming (AGW.)  

The Goldberg book does not focus on AWS, but he does state in part: 

. . . where the progressive protagonists insist that they are mere servants of the facts and their opponents are backward deniers of the unfolding apocalyspe. Whenever a scientist follows the facts in the direction contrary to environmental dogma, he is no longer a real scientist. (Goldberg, pp72iPad) 

Goldberg goes on to argue that even if AGW does exist the consequences may not be worth drastic changes to our carbon rich society as ". . . net cereal crop yeilds likley will increase 5 to 20 percent . . . New sea routes, primarily through the Northwest Passage, will be open as well."(Goldberg, pp72-3iPad)

If only Henry Hudson were alive . . .

Dunning's piece is more a call to try to erase the politics of AGW, and just look at what the experts have to say on the subject.  The experts are climatologist. The vast majority of climatologiest seem to agree on the basic premise that the Earth is warming up, climate will therefore change, and the cause of this change is human activity.  

I have noted in the past to being skeptical of AGW, and apparently it took Penn & Teller sometime to come around on AGW so I guess I am in acceptable company.  The late Perry DeAngelis questioned AGW, although one can only speculate if he would hold a similar position today nearly five years after his death.  Mention AGW on a skeptical messaging board and see the flame wars begin.  In the end, I personally have no clue of AGW is real or not.  The science behind AGW appears to be pretty solid, but in all honesty it’s all pretty much Greek to me.  I am taking the consensus word on the topic, because that’s what I do or as in Dunningese ". . . go to our best scientific consensus and roll with that; you'll be right far more often than you'll be wrong."
 However, Goldberg notes that there are ‘scientists’ and other watchdog types that disagree.  Why should I believe them over the specialist scientist?

If I have chest discomfort which result in my family doctor sending me to a cardiologist for a consult and the cardiac specialist diagnoses me coronary artery disease, I am likely to believe I have a cardiac condition.  To push the analogy°, I see five other cardiologists, another family doctor, a chiropractor, and a friend who reads a lot of stuff on the alternative medicine on the internet for their opinions.  At the end of this endless series of visits five of the six cardiologist say I have cardiac disease, the family doctors are split on the issue, the chiropractor says I am fine, and the friend tells me doctors diagnose treatable disease to pay for their Cadillac and country club membership.  Chances are taken as a whole the reasonable person would conclude that because the majority of the cardiologists opine that one has a cardiac disease it’s time to seek treatment.  Sure one cardiologist disagrees, but the consensus is pretty clear.  To not seek treatment based upon the opinions of non-specialist and an outlier specialist would be foolish.  Is it possible that the one cardiologist is correct and the rest are all washed up?  Sure it is possible, but not probable or prudent to not follow up with treatment. 

I am not saying my analogy is an airtight comparison with the general climate debate today.  In my opinion giving greater weight to the non-specialized experts and pundits over the specialist is the only way a layman can rationalize that AGW is either not occurring or climate change is not caused by human action. This strikes me as odd.

For me the trickier question is what to do about AGW.  Do we just rely upon increasing technological sophistication to make reliance on carbon based fuel sources obsolete at some point in the future?  Should governments sink vast sums to come up with solution?  Do we rely upon the unseen hand of the market to correct current carbon use trajectories?  Should society just batten down the hatches, harden soon to be flooded areas from rising oceans and buy stock in air conditioning companies?  Can we even do anything helpful in the face of Chinese and Indian increased consumption and energy use beyond our direct control?  

Goldberg pointing out the positives of AGW such as increasing food production is like pointing out to a cancer patient about all that unwanted weight they will lose during their chemotherapy.  I suspect Goldberg's sources might be correct in the shorter term, but longer term with even warmer temps cannot be a good thing.  

*I have to say at this point I am a bit disappointed in the book.  I did not expect to agree with all of Goldberg’s opinions. He does make a colorable case that ideology is inescapable and a lot of short hand statements and retorts in political discourse are not really logical shortcuts, but are cheats.   Part of problem with the book is the writing is not as snappy as some of his other efforts, and I think his use of analogies is laid on rather thick. While some of his analogies are thoughtful, others leave me wondering what was the point of that tale?   I am only half way through the book.  It might get better. My expectations were quite high.  The book deserves a full read and perhaps a full blog post to do it justice.

°The footnote above questions the use of analogies, and I use one myself. The hypocrisy is so noted. 


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