The church of climatology

One of the things that has always confounded me about many liberals is their arrogance. They are so darn certain they are right that they are unable to entertain any divergent views. Ever try and have a truly rational discussion with a liberal on race? On abortion? How about the war in Iraq? Or Guantanamo Bay? As they say on the Sopranos: Fuggedaboutit.

There are no areas of compromise on what I call the signal issues of the left. And even worse, if you dare to think differently, you are immediately attacked as a racist, a sexist, a fascist or just plain stupid. Using such personal attacks with such highly inflammatory labels has the effect of putting those with opposing views on the defensive, and distracting the discussion from the issue at hand. It is a very common -- and very effective -- way for the left to quell honest debate on many of the most important issues of the day. It's disingenuous. And it works.

Climate change is a perfect example of this. Bill McKibben at the left-leaning Foreign Policy magazine has a fantastically irresponsible piece on global warming where he claims without qualification that global warming is an irrefutable fact and that it might already be too late to save the planet. The science is apparently settled:

Every national academy of science, long lists of Nobel laureates, and in recent years even the science advisors of President George W. Bush have agreed that we are heating the planet. Indeed, there is a more thorough scientific process here than on almost any other issue: Two decades ago, the United Nations formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and charged its scientists with synthesizing the peer-reviewed science and developing broad-based conclusions. The reports have found since 1995 that warming is dangerous and caused by humans. The panel’s most recent report, in November 2007, found it is “very likely” (defined as more than 90 percent certain, or about as certain as science gets) that heat-trapping emissions from human activities have caused “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century.

According to McKibben, the IPCC (a UN sponsored body that is rife with political considerations) has decided that humans are warming the planet -- and so it must be true. He speaks as if the science of geologic activities on the earth -- a planet billions of years old -- is settled fact because a group of scientists have been studying the issue for twenty years or so. That he speaks with such certainty of the science behind temperature change within earth's complex ecosystem is the height of arrogance. How do we know that this isn't normal change in the ebb and flow of the earth's climate process? Doesn't anyone recall that the earth was once covered in ice? And that the onslaught of the ice age happened so quickly that it wiped the dinosaurs from the face of the planet?

McKibben has no such questions, however. His article also includes a strange defense of China as a main culprit of the carbon dioxide that he blames for heating up the earth -- and herein lies a clue as to his political motivations. McKibben argues that while it is true that China has overtaken the U.S. as the main producer of carbon emissions, the only fair way to view the issue is on a per capita basis: because China has four times the population of the U.S., China is not as bad a carbon scofflaw as America is:

And by that standard, each Chinese person now emits just over a quarter of the carbon dioxide that each American does. Not only that, but carbon dioxide lives in the atmosphere for more than a century. China has been at it in a big way less than 20 years, so it will be many, many years before the Chinese are as responsible for global warming as Americans.

Starting to see the picture? China produces more carbon emissions that the U.S., but we are the bigger sinners, since they are new to the game and we've been doing it for years. And, if that isn't bad enough, McKibben actually gives credit to the Chinese political leadership for doing more about global warming than we are:

What’s more, unlike many of their counterparts in the United States, Chinese officials have begun a concerted effort to reduce emissions in the midst of their country’s staggering growth. China now leads the world in the deployment of renewable energy, and there’s barely a car made in the United States that can meet China’s much tougher fuel-economy standards.

Maybe McKibben hasn't been paying attention to the air quality issues athletes faced at the Beijing Olympics, or the tremendous air quality problems throughout China that have created serious health issues. China has one of the worst environmental records in history, and their rapid industrialization has been virtually without restraint.

But none of this matters when you worship at the Church of Climatology, where faith trumps fact every time. It is more important to punish the culture of consumption in the United States and place the blame on Americans who drive SUV's and other cars that the left finds to be a sin against their belief that everyone should ride a bike to work. We are the original sinners, after all; we are the true crucible of industry. It is because of America that the automobile is so ubiquitous in our world.

So according to McKibben we must repent and change our deadly ways. And even then, it may be too late:

The only question now is whether we’re going to hold off catastrophe. It won’t be easy, because the scientific consensus calls for roughly 5 degrees more warming this century unless we do just about everything right. And if our behavior up until now is any indication, we won’t.

And the left always says that conservatives practice scare tactics!

Now, I'm not a scientist and I don't pretend to play on on the Internet. But I've done a little bit of research, and the science of climate change is not settled. Take a quick look at the informative article, for example, at the aptly named, which takes you through the science of greenhouse gasses and global warming. The most interesting section is the following:

Who says it (the earth) is warming catastrophically?

Humans have only been trying to measure the temperature fairly consistently since about 1880, during which time we think the world may have warmed by about +0.6 °C ± 0.2 °C. As we've already pointed out, the estimate of warming is less than the error margin on our ability to take the Earth's temperature, generally given as 14 °C ± 0.7 °C for the average 1961-1990 while the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) suggest 13.9 °C for their average 1880-2004

We are pretty sure it was cold before the 1880 commencement of record and we would probably not handle the situation too well if such conditions returned but there has been no demonstrable catastrophic warming while people have been trying to measure the planet's temperature.

If we have really been measuring a warming episode as we think we have, then setting new records for "hottest ever in recorded history" should happen just about every year -- although half a degree over a century is hardly something to write home about -- so there's really nothing exciting about scoring the highest number when looking at such a short history.

The article has lots of interesting graphs -- perhaps the most interesting is the one which shows the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and temperature. For a full resolution image of the graph, click here.  This graph shows a slight uptick in temperature (to the tune of .5 degree centigrade over 120 years), but you see a much larger increase in carbon dioxide over the same period. Doesn't look like a clear causal relationship between the two to me -- and this is the primary foundation for both McKibben's article in Foreign Policy and almost all climate change policy.

The point here is not that the earth isn't warming -- clearly, it is to a small degree. Rather, the issue is how much and why: the left wants us to believe that the science is clear that we are to blame, and that the impact of this change will be catastrophic. These scare tactics are designed to quell open debate about climate change, and to make it impossible to discuss alternative explanations (or solutions) to the problem.

Most religions are organized around fear to a certain degree, and the Church of Climatology is no different. It's a powerful motivator for change. In this case, that change is to remake the world in a more progressive fashion -- wind, solar, electric cars, etc. The only way to get to this in a rapid fashion is to galvanize people through tales of Armageddon. How much are you willing to spend to save the earth from certain destruction? To the green movement's lasting delight the answer is plenty. And with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in charge, you can bet that the money will be flowing for the foreseeable future.