15 October 2007

Called Out

Scalpel (and many of his commenters) doesn't believe in climate change, and in his faux dialogue on the topic uses me as an example, implied anyway, of hypocrisy.

You just know I can't let that go unanswered.

It is kind of wasted effort, though, since it's already been defined as a matter of belief and not of evidence. The vast majority of the evidence, and the vast majority of the world's experts have achieved a consensus that climate change is real, and climate change is to a large degree caused by human activity. I'm not going to indulge in a link-war on this point, because there are, I am quite sure, hundreds of "climate change is a myth" links, and the simple engaging in that sort of tit-for-tat implies a false equivalence. So I'm going to accept that climate change is one of those concepts that attract a population of adherents who just cannot be dissuaded by evidence, along with:

Evolution is unproven.
The moon landings were faked.
Mercury and vaccines cause autism.
Chronic Lyme disease/Morgellon's/etc exist as separate disease entities.
The income tax is unconstitutional.
The earth is flat.

There's an old saying that "there's no point in trying to teach a pig to sing, because it just wastes your time and annoys the pig." In the same spirit, I'll not argue the evidence that man-made climate change is real, but rather accept it as a given. If you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments, but I won't follow your links or engage any further on the point.

Scalpel did make one interesting point, though, that is worth discussion. To what degree is it possible for individuals to make a difference by changing their lifestyles? Am I indeed a hypocrite for driving a fast car, for not living in a geodesic dome powered by wind and solar, mulching my waste, and eating only organically grown food from my own garden?

It pains me to say it (really), but I agree with Dick Cheney on this point. He famously said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." As Scalpel also pointed out, jet emissions as well as industrial activities so overwhelm the individual's ability to make a difference that it is all-but-pointless to try. The solution to this problem will not come from a grass-roots people-powered change, especially one that involves personal sacrifice. It would be nice, but human nature and the limits of technology make that unlikely.

The solution must be government-based, with sensible measures like raised CAFE standards and increased use of nuclear (yes, nuclear) energy in concert with investment in alternative technologies, and market-based incentives to reduce emissions, and regulatory penalties with real enforcement for violators. We're not going to get any of that under a Republican government, as the last seven years have shown. So my personal investment is to some degree (not completely) defined by my support of Democratic candidates for federal office.

And my car gets 25 mpg, which is no LEV, to be sure, but better mileage than a SUV. So my liberal conscience is OK with that.

One other point of agreement might be that the Cassandras of climate change do, I think, tend to overstate the catastrophic consequences. I am deeply ambivalent about that. It's an effective tool to motivate people and stimulate necessary change, but it does tend to undercut the credibility of the movement when subjected to close and unfriendly analysis.


  1. We actually seem to have several points of agreement, which is encouraging. The question I haven't seen yet answered is "where is the evidence that even the most restrictive proposals to reduce emissions would have a significant effect on the global temperature?"

    Do we restrict industry simply because it MIGHT help and there is nothing else we can think of to do about the problem, similar to the rationale for bleeding patients back in the early days of Medicine? You consider me to be a flat-earther, I consider you a bleeder. Heh.

    When, as one respected meteorologist has pointed out, we are only one volcanic belch from trivializing all of our efforts? Why do the greenies tend to refuse to accept the fact that while humans likely play a role in the global warming process, there are other forces of nature that dwarf our contributions dozensfold?

  2. I have a friend who uses otherwise discarded grease/oil from restaurants (her brother owns a restaurant---he's her supplier) and some sort of garage-based home manufacturing process to make a diesel fuel substitute.

    She ends up paying, she said, 35 cents a gallon for fuel or something and gets the same gas mileage as with regular diesel.

    She doesn't do it particularly for environmental reasons, she does it to save money on her big, huge diesel farm truck's fuel costs and for---get this---fun.

    I think the relatively high cost of fuel (esp. in Europe, etc where it can be around $8/gallon in some places) will cause some innovation to be had soon. No one will change unless it's CHEAPER and convenient to do so.

    Biodiesel is cheap, effective, but extremely inconvenient. Make it convenient, and there's a fossil fuel solution which is cheap and environmentally "friendly".

  3. The vast majority of the evidence, and the vast majority of the world's experts have achieved a consensus that climate change is real, and climate change is to a large degree caused by human activity.

    The validity of any scientific proposition is determined not by how many members of the herd believe in it, but by the strength of the supporting evidence.

    During the 19th century, there was a consensus among scientists that all moving bodies were conveyed by "the ether." Anyone questioning that "fact" was sneered at. Then, it was shown (by Michelson and Morley) that "the ether" didn't exist.

    If you can extract your head from the sphincter of smug self-satisfaction long enough to actually examine the objective data, you will discover that the evidence isn't by any means conclusive.

  4. LOL Catron. "Sphincter of smug satisfaction." I love it. It sounds like some weapon a superhero in a cheesy comic would carry.

    "Look out, Batman! Incoming criticism!"
    "Quick, Robin! Don the Sphincter of Smug Satisfaction!"

    Maybe you do have a sense of humor after all.

  5. Shadowfax,
    I agree with catron; joining a herd is not a method of supporting evidence. Lumping together climate theories with flat earth thoughts and vaccine theories is just silly.
    I do agree with you on nuclear energy. Every year in the US, 10-20 apartment dwellers and homeowners die in explosions from their natural gas or propane furnaces. How many have died from nuclear energy? NONE. What actually happened at Three Mile Island? NOTHING.

  6. Maybe you do have a sense of humor after all.

    It usually lasts from the time I get up until I leave the bosom of my family to go to work. Then I become a knuckle-dragging reactionary for the rest of the day.

  7. The biggest problem with nuclear energy is security in a post 9/11 world. Keeping the plants themselves and the hazardous waste that would be generated secure would be a nightmare. Mistakes are a lot easier to correct than sabotage, usually.

    I am an MD not a climatologist. But my favorite analogy for climate change is granny rocking in her chair. She has been rocking (analogous to normal climate oscillations)for a really long time. Someone has just given her chair a push--will she tip over? Or recover (she's a pretty tough old bird.) We will know for sure when it happens (when it's too late). Meanwhile we wonder about how much we should try to catch her...

    There are however benefits not just downsides to restricting carbon emissions "just in case"--improved air and water quality (forgotten acid rain?) not to mention incentivizing our much vaunted ingenuity to diversify our energy inputs--making them less vulnerable to supply and price fluctuations. JM$.02


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