Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Time to become better informed

Babble on.

There's a very interesting discussion going on in comments to this post at Treehugger's place. I would strongly encourage you to head on over there, and jump into the comments if you feel you've something to add.

When it comes to climate change, I quite frankly don't know what to believe. Most scientists seem to agree global warming is real, and that human factors are a significant driver of the trend. Or do they?

Even if they do, I don't know if I trust them. In fact, that's yet another reason to oppose political imbalance in academia: it undermines trust in what should be unbiased information.

Uber-commenter Balbulican provides a harsh synopsis of my position:

So to sum up the loyal opposition:

  • We don't know enough to have an informed opinion

  • We don't care enough about it to learn enough about it to have an informed opinion, but,

  • Notwithstanding (a) and (b), we don't trust the people who are telling us there's a problem, so

  • Let's just let things slide until...?

He's right: this is too important an issue for me to remain as woefully underinformed as I am. But where to go for credible information? I can wade through executive summaries to my heart's content, but unless I can understand the science that drives the conclusions, I don't know how to judge the counterpoints I hear and read from the odd dissenter.

Balb is typically dismissive with his third point, but I submit it's a serious problem. Unless I can trust the science, how the hell do I know which political and economic policies to support?

He goes on to state:

...I've found the evidence challenging [the premise of significant impact of human intervention on climate change] to be pretty weak. It seems to me to be largely accumulated by a very small group of scientists, almost none of whom are climatologists, pointing out what they perceive to be anomalies in the current models. That's fine, and it will certainly help to refine the current models: but those arguments are seized on by ideologues as definitive rebuttals of the major premise, which, frankly, is just about as accepted in the community as evolution is among biologists. That doesn't mean that the current model of evolution is universally understood or accepted: but pointing out possible anomalies in the model does not invalidate the general finding.

Again, though, unless I'm willing to take Balbulican's word for it, I don't know if the dissenters are more like Gallileo or 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Are folks a hundred years from now going to look back on our generation and wonder why we were so eager to overlay massive political interpretations on what amounted to a natural climatological phenomenon? Or are they going to wonder how we managed to ignore a dangerous environmental trend that was as plain as the nose on our face?

LrC raises many of my own issues far more concisely than I would have:

I reiterate:

  1. Intuitively, human activity affects climate.

  2. Factually, we currently are observing mostly warming trends.

  3. Factually, all the models and estimates of the impact of human activity on warming trends are just educated guesses. The hypotheses remain hypotheses.

  4. Factually, we have finite resources with which to try to counteract climate change mechanisms and climate change effects.

Now add what we don't know intuitively or factually:

  1. Whether the human component of climate change is significant.

  2. Whether the human or natural components of climate change can be meaningfully negated or reversed.

  3. Whether it is within our resources to negate, reverse, or adapt to climate changes.

  4. What compensatory mechanisms exist in nature which will act to unseat the assumption that the trends we observe are monotonic.

In short, as much as some exhort us to believe we know, I disagree that we know enough to pursue policy solutions at significant expense. You want to spend money right now to provide the fix which you believe is the answer to all our problems; I want to continue to spend money to determine whether we are trying to solve the right problem and whether the problem is within our means to solve.

Out of all of this, the only thing I know for sure is that I need to know more.

Babble off.


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