Monday, February 12, 2007

I like us

"I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future."

How did climate change become so partisan that Ms Ellen Goodman would make this kind of comment in a mainstream newspaper in America and the Democrat half of her readership would agree with her? For a non-initiate in the fanatical religion of Eco-self-loathing, comparing a skeptical view of whether global warming exists and if it does, whether its our fault; with fascists and Islamo-fascists who deny the holocaust is surreal. Over the last two or three weeks, a much harder Eco-religious line has been in evidence on the 'denial' issue. We're not quite to the point where no cartoons may be drawn that mock the Eco-religious or their prophets, but it can't be too long.

For me, as I suspect for many well-educated conservatives, the main question would be: is something true because a huge number of scientists voted for it at a conference? It may be likely, but there is no reason why it must be true. And if I choose not to accept their vote, what does that imply about me? That I am obviously a deranged maniac who hates the worlds children and grandchildren, and is willing to condemn them to a scorching death so that Mobil and Exxon can keep their profit margins for a few more years? Or that a healthy skepticism of the political views of scientists is a sensible state to maintain given how badly wrong scientists as a herd have been in the recent past?

When it comes to demonstrable, verifiable, reproducible matters of fact, I am willing to follow the scientists pretty much anywhere- as, presumably, are all the other people in society who value rationality and the empirical way of finding truth. What I will not do is venture off with even very large groups of scientists into an unknowable future and make very bad decisions about what I do today based on shaky political positions linked to models of what might happen in the future. As Mark Steyn points out, twenty five years ago there were large groups of scientists predicting an impending Ice Age. There was lots of good evidence pointing to it, and who knows, maybe it will still happen. The truth is we didn't know enough about how the world works to say whether there was going to be an ice age, and we don't know enough about the world to really say whether there is human-attributable global warming. We also don't know whether human-attibutable global warming would be a bad thing or a good thing. As with many things, there would probably be winners and losers. Large parts of Canada, Russia and North America that are currently very cold would warm up and become habitable. Large parts of Africa and Asia would be too hot for human habitation. The middle east would become much hotter, and would desertify.

There is the possibility that the earth will become much more hostile to humans whether we do nothing and even if we do all the things that the Eco-fanatics want us to do. 74,000 years ago there were only about twenty/thirty people on the planet, due to the collision of a very large body with the earth and a resultant 'nuclear winter'. In 74,000 years from now, maybe there will only be twenty/thirty people again due to circumstances beyond our control. Cutting carbon emissions does make sense, but there are many many threats to us that we have no answer for, no levers to turn.

What I suspect many conservatives feel is that they don't trust the scientists to make a valid judgement about human responsibility. There is a pervasive conviction amongst the neo-hippies, lefties, anti-globalists and eco-doommongers that humans are a scourge, a disease and a blot on the planet. In my personal experience, a large majority of scientists exist at least to some extent in that world-view. And because the conviction that we are inherently destructive of the world, and that we have no right to live on the earth and use it for our purposes informs so much of scientific debate, those of us who like the human race and approve of its role on the planet can't really get on board with the scientists conclusions.

There is also the curious matter of 'steady state'. Much of the debate on global warming assumes that there is a 'normal' state for the earths climate. Most of the last three million years, the earth has been plunging into ice ages, with very large percentages of all the pure water on the planet locked up in the ice caps. Before that- not. Could we be reverting to what the earth maintained as a 'steady state' before three million years ago? Can we possibly say? I'm guessing not. Much as our information has improved, the earth is vastly more complex than even our most developed models, and therefore behaves according to rules which we just don't know about yet. Perhaps we won't ever discover them, as the tools for finding out are beyond our capacity to build.

I wish I knew more about all the various strands of science which together form the corpus of knowledge about earth climate- but not because I want to 'prove' that global warming doesn't exist, or that human beings didn't make it happen. I don't believe that this is a partisan issue at all, and consider the 'Easter Island' parable a highly persuasive argument for us. For those of you who don't know the story, the Polynesians who migrated to Easter Island cut down all the trees to make canoes and failed to plant any. After the last trees were cut down, Easter Island civilisation imploded and became hideously murderous, because there was no escape from the island and no way to fish and provide food. If we find that we are behaving in a way which will lead directly to the destruction of our own societies, we should of course change our behaviour and live 'sustainably'. Hopefully we can detect more effectively than the 'Easter Islanders' which branch we are sitting on and stop sawing.

But I don't see a future where large numbers of people join up with the human-haters and vote for ending our way of life when the main reason for doing so is a crazed sense of guilt for existing in the first place.

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