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Climategate: Knowledge, Belief, and Global Warming

It is foolish to take inflexible stands on positions of dubious merit.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

March 15, 2010 - 12:00 am
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I don’t know whether the Earth is warming, cooling, doing both, or doing neither. Nor, if it is doing one of the first three, do I know whether or to what extent it is caused by changeable human behavior or, if so, what if anything can or should be done about it.

The law of unintended consequences suggests that any cure may be worse than the disease, if both the disease and a cure for it actually exist. If the disease does not exist, the results are likely to be even worse. As a non-scientist, I should probably no more attempt to form immutable opinions on such matters than on whether or when a grand unified theory will be developed to reconcile Einstein’s theory of relativity with the behavior of very small stuff like quarks. Nor should I try to predict the human consequences of such a development or the lack of them.

Hardly anybody does that as to a GUT, because relativity and quantum mechanics are rather arcane. More importantly, nobody has figured out how to make that aspect of science an ideological/political matter and get millions of dollars in the process.

Knowledge and belief are different. Knowledge requires significant basis in fact and the training to formulate reasonable conclusions based on those facts as distinguished from ideological predilections. Belief does not. Belief is appropriate in the sphere of religion, and many people believe in things for which no external “scientific” basis exists. Aware of no rational basis for such theological doctrines as the existence of God, the Holy Trinity, transubstantiation, and the like, I neither believe nor disbelieve in them; nor do I find it useful to argue with those who do. I am, quite simply, an agnostic and am content to leave such discussions to the theologians. Were heretics still burned at the stake in Christian countries, if I had to pay homage to such beliefs to get or keep employment, if those who insist upon them required that I purchase indulgences, or if I lived in an Islamic region, my concern would be rather more elevated.

Still, I have some frame of reference on the effects of the law of unintended consequences and on how people — with no better scientific qualifications than I have (practically none) — manage intentionally or inadvertently to distort facts to suit their financial, ideological, and political predispositions. Doing that in a racial context is called racism, a very naughty word. In the global warming context, there are believers and “deniers,” and those in each camp, regardless of their scientific backgrounds or lack thereof, seem to scorn those in the other. They hurl Hurricane Katrina and the recent record-setting blizzards on the East Coast of the United States at each other like snowballs, claiming that they are clearly right and that the others are clearly wrong.

On February 13, snow was on the ground in all of the states with the exception of Hawaii. The recent heavy East Coast snows and the recent very mild hurricane season are cited by both camps as demonstrating the correctness of their views. It’s a snow job, no matter who does it. Based on a completely unscientific, superficial, and statistically invalid study of the media and various blogs, it seems to me that global warming has ceased to be a matter of great importance to many. This gut reaction is supported by public opinion polls, and not only in the United States. As the public grows steadily less trusting of the scientific consensus on global warming, the mainstream media and left-leaning blogs spend less time asserting the bases for belief in global warming. Al Gore, bless him, keeps trying. Every time he does so he becomes even more of a laughingstock. When not seeking refuge in his enormous non-green house, he continues to flit off around the world in his carbon-belching chariot to pursue his holy grail.

We do have problems with environmental pollution. In the air, it’s sometimes called smog. Toxins go into the rivers and lakes and so do nutrients for algae and other undesirable life forms. These have little if anything to do with global warming, regulation of which remains of critical importance principally to those who consider themselves likely to benefit from or be harmed by it.

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