Recently, on the pages of a very high-ranked tech commerce newsletter, I was personally challenged by a former top member of Enron, to answer a series of standard neoconservative mantras concerning global climate change. Talking points that - in my opinion and in the opinion of almost every scientifically-educated person I know - smack of ritualized denial. Illogical and rather frantic catechisms of faith.
What follows is less a refutation based upon facts - since there are countless papers, books and sites devoted to compiling, presenting and hurling mountains of evidence - than it is a list of points offered as perspective. Spotlighting some deceitful tricks used by those who want civilization to sit on its hands, despite a looming crisis.
Let’s start with an excerpt from the former Enronista:
...Global temperatures have not risen in concert with atmospheric co2 levels, which have shot up dramatically, while global average temperatures have not really changed very much at all since the late 1970s.
Except... um... that seven of the hottest years of the last 100 have been in the last decade? But no, I said that will not bandy facts. Except in service of logic. And so commenceth my reply.
1) Indeed, global temperatures have not risen as dramatically as CO2 levels have, in recent decades. CO2 levels, in turn, have not risen as much as CO2 EMISSIONS have. Most atmospheric scientists cite the prodigious buffering capacity of the oceans, but this is a double-edged sword. It also means that that buffering capacity may - at ANY moment - abruptly reach a limit, as anyone who has saturated a solution in chem class knows fully well. When that happens, any perturbation may “blurp” stored CO2 -- or even the methanic clathrates which lie in vast quantities beneath arctic seas.
2) Another worrisome aspect of relying on buffering effects is that this same “climate inertia” may make it extremely hard to enact corrective measures, should our children (cursing our names) decide that they do not like the situation that we bequeathed upon them.
3) An obscure factoid. Our sun’s “continuously habitable zone” (CHZ) actually extends beyond Mars. That poor planet was simply too small. If larger, it would have had seas, kept in “gaia stability” by a high equilibrium level of greenhouse carbon dioxide. (Trust me, planetary scientists know all about this. You don’t even need life on a water-world, in order to achieve gaia-balance, just ocean-mediated chemistry.) The CHZ around a G type star is very wide.
What makes Earth apparently weird, galactically, is that we seem to skim the very inner edge of our sun’s CHZ. Earth’s radiation balance depends on an almost utterly transparent atmosphere, swept almost completely clear of greenhouse gases. (Indeed, that inner edge will pass us in just half a billion years, when nothing will prevent the final warming.)
You can fight atmospheric science and climatology, but not astrophysics.
4) So, science itself must become the target.
Hence, neocon court mantricians like Michael Crichton have rushed to denounce the concept of “scientific consensus”... sneering that scientific “facts are not things that can be voted upon. Nor do facts care about majority opinion.”
Hm. Well. Any scientist would concede this point... then add: “So?”
Public policy is based upon anticipation. Ever since our prefrontal lobes acquired their time forward focus, people have tried to plan based upon best-models of a murky tomorrow. Now that we have moved beyond arm-waving prophecy, the pragmatic question has been, how shall we let science affect policy?
The classic American answer, ever since the days of the great (but now ironically named) Vannevar Bush, was to establish eclectic and august bodies of scientific expertise. To continually exposes areas that need infusions of research support. And for policy makers to keep near them the best advisory teams possible. NEVER have these teams claimed perfect foresight! Despite some mistakes, they have done the best they could. Indeed, the record of good advice racked up by groups like the Office of Technology Assessment is admirable.
How has the Neocon movement broken with this tradition? In 1994, the Gingrich revolution instantly disbanded every bit of autonomous advisory staff answerable to Congress. Later, when this movement took control of the White House, it acted against every scientific agency that could not be dissolved, from FDA to Agriculture to NASA itself, by stocking the top administrator slots with partisan hacks, most of them deeply despised by their scientific peers.
Which brings us to the twin hypocrisy of the Crichtonian rationalization.
a) The creed “there’s no such thing as scientific consensus” is just an excuse for scientifically ignorant politicians who have (at-best) a 52% political mandate, to dismiss as irrelevant the worried expert opinions of (at-least) 80% majorities of scientists, in fields like atmospheric science.
It is just another version of the longstanding British tradition that “boffins” should stay in their labs and leave policy to Cambridge English majors.
b) The “we need more research” mantra, repeated endlessly on the right, becomes hypocritical to a truly treasonous degree when the people who chant this phrase then turn around and cut research! e.g. when they divert and slash NASA’s Earthward studies programs.
5) Another Shibboleth: “Harm to the economy.”
I cannot get over how little faith in markets is displayed by purported defenders of markets! Dig it. Society has artificially subsidized or scarcified numerous commodities, over the ages. Grain subsidies go back to Pharaohnic times. If past history is any judge, the chief effect of artificially advancing the imminent era of higher carbon-fuel costs - in gradual increments - will be simply to open new frontiers for innovative businesses.
Sure, some troglodyte SECTORS of the economy may have to adapt if we take action on climate change, but you don’t see Apple or GE or Hitachi crying fear of a general economic downturn.
6) Penultimate point. There is the matter of “burden of proof.” Of course it is standard - in all emotion-laden polemical tiffs - to try dumping this burden on the other side. All partisans do this and I am no exception.
Still, ponder this -- it has already been proved repeatedly, that humanity is capable of affecting ecosystems, atmospheric systems (I grew up in LA) and even (in the case of the ozone hole) planetary systems. Thus, it is simply mind-boggling that a concerned majority of world scientists should have to prove their worries valid, beyond all doubt...
...before humanity decides to take simple precautions THAT MAKE SENSE ANYWAY.
7) And that is the final kibosh. The devastator. The ultimate eviscerator of this horrific mass-cult. Because they never make clear exactly what it is that they are afraid of!
Let me reiterate. That is what it boils down to.
It is what Al Gore, the world’s scientific “consensus” community, the community of nations and all the sensibly worried folks out here are talking about.
Simply putting efficiency at or near the top of our civilization’s urgent agenda.
Investing in research, tweaking some incentives, adjusting some market parameters (that were already meddle-skewed anyway, in wrong directions)...
... all with the goal that we should ...
...get... more... from... less!
And that last part is the real mind-boggler, when you stop to think about it.
Oh, what has happened to conservatism?
Ever heard of “waste-not, want-not?”
Or “a stitch, in time, saves nine?”
Look back at the old puritans like Cotton Mather and remove their trait of nasty intolerance. Now ask - who most resembles the puritans nowadays? Not today’s profligate, indulgence-promoting conservatives...
...but the worried, chiding and sometimes downright grouchy liberals! Wagging their fingers and saying that we ought to save our pennies and frugally learn to live within our means.
Oh, and not befouling our nest! How about a burden of proof for those who say “no worries” about that? Wasn't "cleanliness is next to Godliness" another conservative reflex? Once?
I’ve said it before and I will again, till enough “ostrich conservatives” wake up to how thoroughly their movement has been hijacked by traitors to everything it once stood for.
Hear that whirring sound. That’s the State of Arizona, drawing half its power from the spinning in Barry Goldwater’s grave.
Not to toot a horn. My novel EARTH (written in 1988) portrayed many of the climate change effects we now see occurring.
==Continue to Part 2: Perspectives on Climate Change and Denial
Also see: Climate Skeptics vs. Climate Deniers