Pub questions � JoNova: This is genuinely handy.
1. How can so many scientists be wrong?
- Most scientists are not wrong, but they’re not studying the central question either. Instead they’re researching the effects of warming — not the causes. Whether orangutans in Borneo are facing habitat loss tells us nothing of what drives the weather. Likewise: wind-farm efficiency, carbon sequestration, and insect-borne epidemics. Warm weather changes these things, but these things don’t change the weather.
- Consensus proves nothing. It takes only one scientist to prove a theory wrong. Theories fit the facts or they don’t. Instead of saying “Which side has more PhDs?” a better question is “Where’s the evidence?” Once upon a time, the masses thought the world was flat, that no machine could fly, that the sun went ‘round the Earth.
2. “This cooler spell is just natural variation”
That IS the point. Natural variation, or “noise” is due to something. And at the moment, whatever that is, it’s more important than greenhouse gases. In this case, “noise” is not some fairy force, it’s affecting the planetary climate. If we can figure that out, and stick it in the computer models, the models might have some success.
3. “Carbon dioxide is a pollutant”
Carbon dioxide feeds plants. It’s a potent fertilizer. We can thank the extra CO2 in our atmosphere for increasing plant growth by about 15 percent over the last century. (Fifteen percent!) Market gardeners pump extra CO2 into their greenhouses to increase their crop yield, and we’re not talking a piddling 2ppm extra a year. It’s like, “Will we double CO2, or increase it five-fold?” In other words, there are people alive today thanks to extra carbon in the atmosphere. It’s scientifically accurate to say:
4. What about the precautionary principle?
It cuts both ways. If we make it harder or more expensive for people in Africa to use their coal, it means they keep inhaling smoke from wood fires; babies get lung disease; forests are razed for fuel. Meanwhile electric trucks cost more to run, and that makes fresh food more expensive; desperate people eat more monkeys–wiping out another species; children die from eating meat that’s gone off or get Kwashiorkor–severe protein deficiency. More children could miss out on refrigerated vaccines and die of dysentery as a result. At the same time in the West, money could have been used for gene therapy or cancer research but wasn’t; the delay in medical advances means over 10 years, say, half-a-million people die who wouldn’t have if we’d put that money into medical labs instead of finding ways to pump a harmless gas underground. Either way we can’t afford to get this wrong. That’s why the responsible thing to do is look at the evidence.
There’s a point about cost-benefit here. How many people are we willing to kill in order to protect us from the unproven threat of CO2?
5. Shouldn’t we be looking for greener alternatives to fossil fuels anyway?
Hoping for a good outcome while acting on something for all the wrong reasons is called policy-by-accident. Oil is expensive and finite, so Yes, we could adopt a national taxation system based on a false assumption, employ more accountants and lawyers, and if we don’t cripple the economy too badly, there might be enough money left to research greener alternatives (except we’re not sure what “green” means anymore, since carbon dioxide feeds plants). It’s true, it could work.
Here’s the campaign slogan for that kind of government: “Vote for us, we confuse cause and effect, mix up issues, and solve problems by tackling something else instead!”
Good policies need good science. Everything else is random government.
6. “But carbon dioxide is at record levels”
Atmospheric carbon is at higher levels than at any time in the past 650,000 years. Yes. But go back 500 million years, and carbon levels were not just 10-20 percent higher, they were 10 to 20 times higher. The Earth has thoroughly tested the runaway greenhouse effect, and nothing happened. Indeed the Earth slipped into an ice age while CO2 was far higher than today’s levels. Whatever warming effect super-concentrated-CO2 has, it’s no match for the other climatic forces out there. Further, it doesn’t matter if it’s man-made CO2 or ocean-made CO2. They are the same molecule.
At the current rate we are increasing CO2 each year, we will hit historic record levels in just 3,300 years.
7. “The temperature is rising faster than ever before”
No. Last century, temperatures rose about 0.7°C (and most of that gain has been lost in the past 12 months). But around 1700, there was a 2.2°C rise in just 36 years. (As measured by the Central England Temperature record, one of the only reliable records of the era.) It was three times as large and three times as fast as the past century. Natural variation has been much larger than anything mankind may or may not have induced recently.
8. “This weather is extreme”
For most of the past 1.5 million years the world has been iced over and about 8°C colder. That’s extreme. For most of the last half billion years, the world was 5 or 6 degrees warmer. Temperature wise, we are ‘extremely’ middle-of-the-road.
Each of these points could fill a book on it’s own but all I could give them was a paragraph, so edits were brutal.
The only thing I would change is point 7. It could be made much stronger. As it is, it points to the longest running thermometer record on earth, but that’s a regional measurement, not a global average. The statement “Temperatures are rising faster than ever before” is as meaningless as ever, but that’s mostly because of what we can’t measure rather than what we can. (Pagan satellites being what they were, it’s difficult to know just how much global temperatures ranged back in the minus 2009’s, or the glacial 20,0009’s BC, not to mention the 4 billion years before that.) I mean, really, how the heck would anyone prove that temperatures had never risen more than 0.7 degrees in a century globally before?