Climate Change: Debating Myself

Climate change is not inherently political; it’s an academic issue to be determined by scientists. I am NOT a scientist. So, this post will not prove or disprove “Climate Change” (for our purposes, defined as man-made impact on the environment, sufficient to cause temperature changes and related catastrophes). This article will reference scientific knowledge and doubt to the extent relevant to impact political policy. This piece is part of a series that sorts through various arguments on controversial political issues; wherein I debate... myself. Increased government intervention in Climate Change will be represented by “ME”, government non-intervention will be represented by “Mark”, and my actual views will be represented by “Mark Ellis”. Pro-Climate Change intervention won the imaginary game of rock, paper, scissors. Begin.

ME- Pro- Climate Change Intervention:

1. Data Data Data. Climatologists and environmental scientists have reviewed the relevant data and collectively overwhelmingly come to the same conclusion. Mankind creates an inordinate amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, from our factories through our technological innovations for daily consumption. The distinct human emissions create a greenhouse effect, essentially trapping heat within our atmosphere at an alarming rate, which lead to rising temperatures, cause glaciers to melt, leading to falling temperatures (essentially erratic temperatures) along with a variety of cataclysms, and affect many eco-systems endangering many species, and in the long run, endangering humans as well. The time-line of events is not universally agreed upon by climatologists; some of whom claim that we are already experiencing early affects of Climate Change and some of whom claim that we will experience such affects in the not-too-distant future. More importantly, there is widespread disagreement about what can be done about Climate Change; some advocate worldwide individual and legislative efforts to reduce carbon emissions and others direly proclaim that any efforts are already too late to stem the tide of the change.

2. Science Agrees. It’s not just the climatologists; the vast majority of scientists on the planet agree with the climatologists. Many of these scientists (including physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers, and geologists... and including the vast majority of highly-regarded scientists) reviewed the relevant data and came to the same conclusion about the existence of Climate Change. The objections tend to stem from the fringe of the scientific community and/or disagreements based upon degree. Climate Change deniers tend to be non-scientists claiming fringe scientists (who receive fame for their skepticism) as champions and/or declaring varying degrees of fraud interspersed with conspiratorial rantings. Non-scientists should not be at the forefront of any scientific discussions. The reason scientists attack skeptics is because there comes a point when deniers of a well-supported theory (which in science is more than just a hypothesis) is tantamount to doubting a fact - watching someone repeatedly doubt a truth is frustrating and dangerous. We should rely on the best data, conclusions, and analyses available provided by our scientists.

3. Duh. Common sense tells us that the Industrial Revolution and new technologies have spent 200 years pummeling the planet with high volumes of toxins and pollutants. It would not be surprising to learn that our factories, our homes, and our cars are releasing environmental poisons. Further, every breath we take as individuals impacts the earth infinitesimally, so collectively, with tremendous exponential increases in toxic emissions, it is reasonable to assume that at some point, we humans would impact the earth on a grander scale. Carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in millennia. And it would make sense that a vast increase in one gas could substantively change the earth; carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does affect the weather. Moreover, practically, there does seem to be a trend of extreme weather patterns. Several of the last 20 years have broken records for the hottest years on record. Glaciers are melting, leading to the death of polar bears and other arctic life. There have been several unusually devastating storms, which may reflect some of the early impacts of Climate Change. So, common sense would dictate that these events are linked: we emit enough poison, it affects the earth, which in turn affects our lives (i.e. our large carbon emission output creates increased carbon in the atmosphere, which in turn affects our environment). Therefore, we are impacting those disconcerting weather patterns.

4. Benefits of Changing Energy Policy. Because this is not a scientific argument, but rather a political one, there are political benefits and motivations to act on Climate Change. Potential benefits include: national security benefits by avoiding dependence on foreign oil (divesting in OPEC should diminish its global power and allow us to focus on the human rights violations, refugee crises, and terrorism in OPEC nations) and creating a new clean energy source or harnessing an efficient existing clean energy source could keep America at the forefront of energy, technology, and atop the world’s economy and military for the foreseeable future (especially if oil supplies are not infinite). More specifically, creating a new industry could revitalize aspects of our economy and create jobs. Not to mention, there is a profound benefit in ending a man-made catastrophe, which could theoretically kill/harm billions of people (and may have already caused environmental disasters that may have contributed to causing wars and greater poverty), destroying countless animal species, decimating delicate eco-systems, and impacting the economy. There is evident interest throughout the world to act and prevent further Climate Change. If the U.S. does not lead this effort, others will not follow because we have influence and capability, but also because we are one of the larger offenders. It is our responsibility to act upon the best information and experts available, and that would entail greater action on Climate Change.

Mark- Anti-Climate Change Intervention:

1. Glorified Weathermen. Climatologists and environmental scientists are not the cream of the scientific crop. (If you don’t believe there are different caliber of facts or pseudo-sciences, try googling whether an egg is good for you or maybe not.) Weathermen are notoriously frequently wrong; so are environmental scientists. It is not entirely clear to what extent they were wrong or to what extent they were exaggerating the dangers of the diminishing ozone layer (or acid rain). Just as importantly, there have been several claims of data fraud to confirm conclusions about Climate Change. There is always an incentive to manufacture data or sensationalize conclusions for access to grants, but the wave of recent environmental panic has led to greater funds and greater support for preordained conclusions. Further, the analysis of the data is all over the map, from how long before the impacts take affect (including whether we are currently impacted by Climate Change) to whether it is too late to alter the course of Global Warmi... Oh, is there a reason these scientists changed the nomenclature? And according to the scientists advising Al Gore in the 1990’s, I think the world was supposed to have ended by now (kidding).

2. The Weird Union of Scientists. While the vast majority of scientists agree on the data collected by the environmental scientists; some still disagree. In the absence of replicable tests, we are drawing conclusions from a series of compound data sets and correlations. Yet: (1) as mentioned, we can’t trust the data sources, and climate change is not being critically scrutinized by the foremost scientists, (2) correlation is not causation, which means that correlation may be coincidence or even that the higher temperatures may cause the greater carbon retention (meaning causation in the opposite direction- which is probably incorrect, but it may be worth consideration), and (3) the collective scientific community is frequently inaccurate (see gravity: Aristotle was wrong- Newton was wrong-ish- Einstein was inaccurate; and who knows if quantum mechanics is any better), which is not meant as an attack on science, but rather a reluctance to sacrifice a great deal based on a theory that gained acceptance roughly a decade ago. The occasional skeptical scientist that questions the data or conclusions is laughed, ridiculed, and shouted out of the room in a chorus of hate fermented in rigid orthodoxy. This treatment is more akin to how the religious faithful treat heretics rather than how scientists treat fellow truth-seekers. Moreover, Climate Change has come to symbolize science as a whole, and skepticism is considered anti-science, rather than merely questioning complex data and hasty conclusions. So, scientists expressing doubt as to Climate Change are perceived as scabs or traitors to the cause of science, rather than skeptics of a specific conclusion. Thus, scientists have a disincentive to proclaim skepticism about Climate Change for fear that their unrelated scientific work may be unduly scrutinized or discredited.

3. As Unpredictable as the Weather. The weather is volatile; it changes by the minute, day, month, season, year, and even by era. There are regularly upward and downward trends in the weather. The term “climate change” does not always even incorporate mankind’s influence on the weather. Well recorded temperatures are limited to the last couple of centuries, and detailed worldwide temperatures are more recent. This calls into question the sample size (and collection methodology) of the relevant data. And the earth has undergone wide varieties of temperatures, including various ice ages, without human involvement. The most recent mini-ice age ended around 300 years ago, and our emergence from that mini ice age (potentially explainable by greater solar strength) would explain why the Earth may be trending hotter. And there was a Global Warming hiatus for about 15 years where there was some cooling. Assuming Climate Change is the cause of the change in weather may be the product of perceptional phenomenon including recency bias, apocalyptic predilections, and generic narcissism. Regardless of what point we are in history, we tend to think that the moment we are currently in is special (e.g. this is the coldest winter ever) and similarly, throughout history, many people collectively fantasized that the end of the world was nigh (based on diverse concepts: the arrival(s) of Messiah or the Anti-Christ, the advent of nuclear weapons, Y2K, and Global Warming). But more to the point, the Earth is enormous, and to think that our limited activity has such a drastic impact on the weather at large is premature and egocentric. Cows emit tremendous amounts of methane and that is considered part of the human impact on Climate Change and we naturally breathe out carbon dioxide; our impact is not altogether too much greater than mother nature’s impact.

4. Risks of Changing Policy. But again, this debate is not actually about the science of Climate Change, it’s about the practical political applications thereof. So, if there is no Global Warming, then we should not pretend there is and act against our interests to prevent the fictional danger; if Climate Change is already so dire that there is nothing we can do to minimize its affects, then we should not act against our interests to prevent an inevitable outcome. Similarly, if other polluting developing nations are going to continue high carbon emissions, then our decision to change our behavior may have limited impact on the environment. And for practical purposes, if our national behavior has very limited impact on the environment, then we should more strongly consider the health of our economy: jobs for thousands of people who work for energy companies and millions who rely on steady supplies of abundant, relatively inexpensive oil, coal, etc. (energy) to make their lives manageable and businesses profitable, rather than sacrifice our way of life for a futile effort or a very limited benefit.

Mark Ellis

I can’t stress this enough; I am not a scientist. Neither are most politicians; so they should gather relevant information and consult with experts to decipher the data and reach conclusions. And regardless of our non-scientific skepticism, we should use their best available advice, whether that is as true as the bulk of the scientists claim or merely somewhat true. So, whether the scientists are correct (or if they replace their current theory in five years with some other apocalyptic vision), ignoring them would be purposefully ignorant. Of course, we should consider other aspects of our national interests in formulating a larger policy agenda, but we ought not sacrifice our future on the planet for current economic health. Ideally, we can find a happy medium that minimizes the loss of jobs, builds a new American technology and industry, and has other benefits like reducing our foreign oil dependence. As for whether I personally believe in Climate Change, yes... but lightly.


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