"And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn't it?"
-- Al Gore
Global warming, climate change, catastrophe of heretofore unknown proportions, that's what we're heading for, I hear.
This is a tough one for me. As a rule, I like to base my reactions to the big questions of the day on what I can see around me. I can look around and see the results of capitalism, (relatively) free trade, and a tolerant society. Even on subjects as complicated as evolution, I can put together the pieces:
random mutation + persistence of mutated traits through inheritance (DNA as a mechanism) = natural selection
Check. My struggling brain can put together the pieces and analyze the results, no problem.
When it comes to global warming, what the hell do I know?
If person A tells me, "We're in for disastrous global cooling, just look at these figures!", well, okay, looks plausible to me. Then person B tell me, "This chart of the last 1000 years shows that we're warming through the roof!", well, okay, looks plausible to me.
The numbers, they sure is pretty.
These arguments, where we're sometimes talking a degree or two over years or decades, in the context of a global history of naturally occurring climate change, don't result in something I can wrap my head around.
This means I am stuck trusting someone. Which means someone who, while I can't understand how they are deriving particular conclusions, I can understand their general approach to solving problems.
And here is where I get into trouble. Because, see, the people I most often trust when it comes to skeptical questions like alternative medicine, Bigfoot, and little green men, well, near as I can tell, when it comes to the climate change thing they just don't apply the same sort of critical thinking to the subject. They appeal to me to trust the "consensus" and they often pillory people who I do trust on the subject while simultaneously stating they don't actually know what those people believe. Yeah, Steven Novella of the otherwise incredibly excellent Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, I'm talking to you, Mr. "I haven't read Bjorn Lomborg's work but I believe he's wrong"...
Really, he's wrong when he says things like:
Q: Does Lomborg deny man-made global warming exists?
A: No. In Cool It he writes: "global warming is real and man-made. It will have a serious impact on humans and the environment toward the end of this century" (p8).
Q: But he used to deny it, didn't he?
A: No. In both his first Danish book in 1998 and the English version of The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, Bjorn Lomborg stressed that man-made global warming exists. The introduction to a section on climate change in The Skeptical Environmentalist clearly states, "This chapter accepts the reality of man-made global warming" (p259).
Just what is it in what he hasn't read here that Mr. Novella disagrees with?
Further, people like James Randi express their support for the whole global warming thing, and one of the guys on his (unpaid) staff calls Al Gore's statement's "rock solid science" in a podcast interview...but then I look at what Al Gore is saying, and he's saying populist unscientific pap like the quote at the beginning of this post, and I instinctively recoil.
What's a good skeptic to do?
I find I can do nothing but continue to look for those who take a skeptical, critical thinking approach to the subject and thereby sway me with their arguments. To date, Bjorn Lomborg does that as well as anyone I've found. I would summarize what I've learned from him as:
- Global warming exists.
- Man-made global warming exists.
- The impact of global warming is nowhere near as catastrophic as extremists would have you believe.
- Whatever resources we decide to devote to the issue of global warming must be done in a context of all the other things we might due to improve the plight of humanity.
Simple as that. Doesn't seem too evil, does it?
Much more important than the question of global warming is Bjorn's approach to how the world should solve the biggest problems we face. Here is Bjorn discussing how to determine just what we should be trying to fix in this world:
He also edited a book on the subject of what we should be trying to fix today. Check it out. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you'll do so after you know what the guy actually believes and what things he feels need to be fixed first in this world.