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Human climate disruption [Jun. 18th, 2006|09:27 pm]
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Update post coming soon, but first:

I read this annoying editorial in the newspaper this morning about global warming (which I'm going to refer to as "human climate disruption" instead, because calling it "global warming" misleads the discussion). Actually, I only read about half of it, because as I said, it was annoying.

I was pondering a counter-letter to the editor, but then I realized that it was unlikely to do any good if I didn't address the issues in contention. If you're going to try and change somebody's mind with new information, you have to figure out what information would actually matter, or all you're going to do is add heat to the disagreement.

And so, a quiz:

So, whaddaya think about anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change?

A) It's totally happening
B) A lot of people say it's true, but I'm not convinced
C) I hear arguments for and against, and I'm not sure what to think
D) I think it's some kind of hoax
E) Other

If you answered anything other than A, I'd like to try and change your mind, so leave a comment explaning why (generally speaking) you don't find the idea persuasive.

I was thinking that I'd write a short explanation of the physics involved, because it's actually pretty straightforward. But I want to know whether that's actually where the disagreement arises...

[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2006-06-19 04:46 pm (UTC)
Some more ruminations.

One thing that puzzles me somewhat on this topic is the degree to which the argument loses sight of its practical goals.

I mean, it seems to me that the claim that matters for practical purposes -- the reason this is a political issue rather than an academic one -- is: "If we change our pattern of fossil fuel use in ways that reduce X and increase Y, we will change global climate conditions over the next N years in the following positive ways."

I find it rare that anyone discussing the underlying science remembers that that was the point. At best, they seem to be trying to prove "Our pattern of fossil fuel use over the last N years changed global climate conditions in the following negative ways."

And I get that the latter is an important step on the way to the former... but if you stop there, you get reactions like polyrhythmics. You also get a lot of knee-jerk environmentalism. "Global warming is our fault so we have to save the whales!" and that sort of thing.

So if you really want to weigh in on this usefully, I think you need to make the following points:
1) Global climate is significantly different today from what it was two hundred years ago, in the following ways: X, Y, Z.

2) Those changes are not just normal climate fluctuations, it's not solar permutations, it's not just one of those things that happens for reasons we don't understand. It's the result of our own actions, had we not done A, B, and C we would not be experiencing them.

3) Those changes are dangerous to humans. (People who talk about "destroying the environment" annoy me.)

4) Those dangers can be mitigated or eliminated by changing our behavior in various ways. If we do A', B', and C' and stop doing A, B, and C we will no longer suffer those dangers.

The evidence for 1) seems overwhelming and straightforward.
The evidence for 2) is not straightforward, and requires some care and intelligence to follow, but there sure is a lot of it.
The evidence for 3) seems pretty clear.
I'm remarkably uncertain about 4), myself.

And really, if 4) isn't true, then why should anyone outside of academia give a damn about 1-3?
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2006-06-19 06:56 pm (UTC)
[I'm just gonna say it. It's fun watching you have a conversation with yourself...] Can you expand out your ovjection to "destroying the environment"?

For that matter, I don't understand your fourth sentence. Isn't history important even to non-historians?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2006-06-19 07:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, just wait 'till I start disagreeing with me and calling me nasty names.
Then the fun _really_ starts.

(Why yes, I _am_ bored today. How did you know?)

Re: "destroying the environment"

Objecting to "destroying the environment" makes one sound vaguely altruistic... like we're preserving a national monument or something.

Which just ain't so.

We can't destroy the environment any more than we can destroy the universe... at the end of the day there will still be an environment. The flap isn't about not "destroying the environment", it's about avoiding a lot of death and property damage... most relevantly to ourselves and property we'd sorta like to hold on to, like our houses and stuff.

Which is obvious, natch, but I hear people talk as if it weren't.

Re: history being important even to non-historians (which one is my fourth sentence again?)... typically, it isn't important in ways that have billions of dollars associated with them. I mean, sure, I'm vaguely interested in, say, how the asteroid belt formed. But I doubt I'll see much political discussion stemming from different theories about it.
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