Sunday, April 08, 2007

A question of belief...

Our age of criticism is based on one teeny logical flaw: Ideas need not be perfect to work. While I have no pretensions of being a man of science, I have come to respect deeply the power of Science - the inclusive search for objective truth. Engineers like me put scientific results to work, and we rely upon scientific method to continue to serve as as it has in the past. Even if our understanding is incomplete.

Hence my position on anthropogenic climate change. I have written several times ( here, here, here, here, and here) about the evolution of my position from general skeptic to acceptance of the position favored by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. In short, I believe in wise crowds.

The recent predictions by the IPCC - even after watering down - reinforce my conviction. I would offer four other reasons why I embrace the position that humans are causing a significant portion of the now verifiable global warming.
  1. The flip-floppers seem to be all flipping one way. (OK, Mitt Romney is an exception, but is there any issue he is not steering hard right on?) If anthropogenic climate change was still in a hazy cloud of uncertainty, shouldn't scientists be changing their positions in both directions? Farmers have another issue as well: biotech acceptance. How can we deride those who overlook the consensus of science saying biotech plants are safe when we refuse to acknowledge the consensus of science on global warming?
    In any case, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that current varieties of genetically enhanced crops are safe to eat and don't pose unusual risks to the natural environment. But that isn't stopping Greenpeace from waging a global "Say no to genetic engineering" campaign or the Friends of the Earth from demanding a GM Freeze. Perhaps the idea of scientific consensus is not all that it's cracked up to be. After all, scientific consensus does not mean "certain truth." Whatever the current consensus of any scientific issue is can change in the light of new research. Nevertheless, environmentalist ideologues accuse those who question the climate change consensus of bad faith and worse. But aren't they exhibiting a similar bad faith when they reject the broad scientific consensus on genetically modified crops? [More]
  2. The politics of resistance to human-causality now overshadows the science. Thank you very much, Al Gore. Many on the right are cut off from objective thought because it could lead to idealogical apostacy.
    As I see it, the opponents of action on climate change fall into two camps. In one camp are the ideologues. These are people with a knee-jerk negative reaction to any kind of environmental regulation—or, for that matter, any kind of government regulation. They are also people who never met an international treaty or institution that they felt was worthy of U.S. support – apart, perhaps, from the International House of Pancakes. Getting this group to support U.S. action on climate change and/or U.S. participation in any kind of national or global response to this issue is, in short, a lost cause. [More]
    Since global warming has become a political issue, we decide by politics - although to be fair, the performance by pseudo-conservatives in power in other arenas (economics, foreign policy, etc.) is making this less of an issue.
  3. Real businesses betting real money. Seriously wealthy board members on large corporations are betting fortunes that the climate problem is real. Some want to make money fixing it, some want to avoid losing money because of it, and some simply think it it the right way to act. Climate change is on the agenda.
  4. The skeptics are becoming shriller and stranger. The tenor of the debate has become paranoid in the opposition. Conspiracy and even weirder threads fill the void left by decreasing rebuttal evidence.
Several readers have offered links to the opposing viewpoints, which I have carefully read, and used to check my own position. Find them here and here.

Science, in the course of history, has been self-correcting and productive. Neither can be said for religion or ideology. I'm going with the scientists on this one.

But I support your right to choose otherwise.


Anonymous said...

I do accept that the earth is warming. I believe the question remains how much is caused by man. (Remember, my Viking ancestors used to farm in Greenland.) Even if man causes most of the warming, the question remains if our actions today can have any appreciable effect in reversing it. One we thing we do know is that agriculture can sequester LOTS of carbon. But we need a way to get paid for it. Also, conservation tillage has reduced emmissions dramatically from ag, equivalent to taking millions of cars off the road annually. Important issue, lots of questions, few answers.

Anonymous said...

I take it that since you believe in the religion of global warming, what are you going to do about it??? What are you going to give up??? Al Gore is "buying" carbon credits (like the mob giving money to the church). Will you be buying these also to operate your machinery this spring??? Just curious.

John Phipps said...

I refute the term "religion". This is my best scientific judgment. Categorizing positions that way is unhelpful to say the least. This reinforces my point that the debate has become harsher from the opposition side.

The more likely outcome is a carbon tax, rather than carbon trading, I think. I will be blogging about this soon.

Anonymous said...

John, when you say "I'm going with the scientists on this one" I take it you mean just those who concur with the UNIPCC position.

There are many, many well qualified, well respected scientists who have very different views. For example here's a collection of articles documenting sixteen of them. They're well worth reading but beware that doing so may alter your view of the fabled "consensus".

John Phipps said...

jr: My use of the term consensus was not a whim. Please check the multiple links for my evidence.

BTW, Newt just joined the club.

Anonymous said...

John, I also belive the cilmate is changing. I believe it has been changing since the begining (whichever begining you believe in big bang 7 days etc.) However, the current warming phase that we are in started around 1900 lang before the SUV and severe increses in CO2. Actually there was a period of cooling between 1950 and 1980 or so when CO2 was on the rise. Which is why there was a cooling scare in the late 70's early 80's.
As someone who has a scientific (Ph.D.) background in an agricultural field. I can tell you that beliveing the consensus about GMO's and disbelieving the consensus about global warming is perfectly fine and should be. Comaring the scientific methods of GMO food safety research to the methods of weather forcast models is not like comparing apples to oranges it is like comparing apples to dump trucks. I do not have references at hand for the comments and points that I have made so you may not believe me. However, please do some more research and stop listeneng to the media and politicians when it comes to science.
PS. If they can predict the weather 50 years from now why can't they tell us weather it will rain tommorrow with more than a 20 or 50 % certainty.

John Phipps said...

We are all placing our bets on this issue. I stand responsible for my position and I'm sharing it with you - not pushing anyone to buy into it.

One of my links pointed out the evolution of the debate has been from
1)No, there is no global warming, to
2)There is, but it's natural, to
3)OK man is affecting it but not much, to
4)OK, humans are a big factor, but it will cost too much to fix.

This seems an apt summary to me.

danadj said...

I was listening to one of my associates recite what he had heard concerning the melting of a particular glacier over the past several years after which I reminded him that our country’s geography was shaped by glaciers that are now melted, hmmm, must have been a warming trend some other time as well. As for the word “religion” being used, I would say Al sounds more like a preacher than many a church service I’ve attended in my lifetime, only his message has enough hot air to raise the temp more than the small change that has recently been reported. An example of his exaggeration would be the level of the ocean rising some twenty feet. Even the most ardent global warming scientist will tell you the highest could be around 20 inches. This is not a bad debate except for the demonizing of anyone who chooses to challenge the “believers”. I would enjoy intelligent dialog where we discuss the various probable causes of temperature fluctuations ranging from solar flares to volcanoes to anything mankind would possibly do that could equal either of the previous factors.

John Phipps said...

While meaningful (whoever decides that!) debate might be illuminating, I'm not that qulified. As I said, as in a medical question, I am following the advice of experts I trust. I passed along my reasons for choosing my stance, not to open a debate, but to simply explain my thought process.

There are several links I have used that might offer better chances for back-and-forth than JWorld. I'll see what I can find and pass them along.

I've made a decision, and while I will keep my mind open to new data, am ready to proceed beyond discussion. I'll let you know how this journey goes.