by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on July 6, 2006.
I acquired the book Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media, by Patrick J. Michaels. I'm on the waiting list at the library to read Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. (I couldn't possibly contribute money to Gore's campaign; then I'd have to buy Ann Coulter's latest book to even out the political karma.) The idea is to read the two books on climate and compare them. Until then, I wanted to discuss some preliminaries.
Issue #1: How much do people contribute to climate changes? Long before people were around, Earth's biology fundamentally changed the atmosphere. Asteroids and volcanoes dramatically changed the weather.
A sign hanging in the American Museum of Natural History reads, "Since the first northern-hemisphere glaciers formed, 2.6 million years ago, the polar ice caps have expanded and contracted in response to variations in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, causing cold spells alternating with warmer periods, like the one we live in now. There is no reason to believe that another Ice Age won't come. In the past, warm cycles lasted about 10,000 years, and it's been that long since the last cool period."
Obviously, factors other than human activity impact climate change. How much does human activity influence it? Whatever the answer, I've seen too many leaps from "people contribute to global warming" to "people cause global warming."
The alarmists also should keep in mind those Christians who have for two millennia claimed that the "signs" point to the imminent destruction of the Earth. When you're looking for "signs" of impending doom as described by Revelations or Al Gore, you're sure to find them all over the place, even if the "signs" are unrelated natural phenomena.
Issue #2: What about bias? Are global-warming non-alarmists more likely to be biased than global-warming alarmists? I think not.
Who are the people raising the alarm? On the activist level it includes people like Gore who make a career out of environmentalism. It also includes those with religious fervor for environmentalist causes of all sorts, which happens to coincide with religious fervor for socialism.
The scientists excited about global warming are largely funded by the government and would, incidentally, benefit enormously by an aggressive, decades-long government crusade to fight warming.
I am not a materialist in the vein of Marx; I believe that ideology is the important motivator. I don't think that, for the most part, where scientists get their money influences their results. Rather, I think that scientists with already established perspectives are drawn to (or excluded from) certain positions and institutions.
Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, writes for The Wall Street Journal, "Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis."
Issue #3: What should people do about it?
The preview for Gore's movie features Hurricane Katrina. Well, it's debatable whether that had anything to do with global warming. But it certainly had a lot to do with the incompetence of the government officials charged with maintaining the levees.
Gore claims that global warming is "causing stronger storms." Lindzen writes that "warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator," which results in "less excitation of extratropical storms." And "tropical storminess" depends on "more evaporation," but "the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature, but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less -- hardly a case for more storminess with global warming."
Gore offers the worst-case scenario of rising sea levels, and his graphics accelerate the total claimed change to a few seconds. This could create 100 million refugees, Gore claims. He continues, "Our ability to live is what is at stake."
But Gore's "ifs" are unlikely to manifest in reality. Climate models that claim to predict the weather decades or centuries out are unreliable, especially since they rely on predictions of economy as well as predictions of natural phenomena. And changes would happen slowly, over a span of decades or centuries, allowing incremental adaptation.
The alarmist "solution" to the presumed problem is a non sequitur: "Because humans are causing serious global warming that will cause great harm, therefore the government should further socialize the economy." The "cure" of the alarmists would only inflict further harm.
A free market, in which government is restricted to the role of protecting individual rights, allows for the most rapid technological advancement and growth of real wealth. Technological improvements are what will enable a larger, wealthier human population to use resources more cleanly and efficiently. And wealthier people can afford greater protection from all sorts of dangers.
A state-controlled economy bogs down in mind-stifling controls, bureaucratic ineptitude, and special-interest warfare, harming the production of life-enhancing wealth.
But, even if it were proven that the Earth will begin cooling, I doubt the environmentalists would give up their quest to subject the economy to more state controls.