Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Will on Global Warming

Although it’s odd to hear talk of global warming on a day when the high temperature, for the third day in a row, is not expected to exceed single digits, George Will offers a few "inconvenient truths" regarding the matter:

1. "We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this [global warming]. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being—better nutrition, medicine, education, etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet’s climate?"

2. "Over the millennia, the planet has warmed and cooled for reasons that are unclear but clearly were unrelated to SUVs. Was life better when ice a mile thick covered Chicago? Was it worse when Greenland was so warm that Vikings farmed there? Are we sure the climate at this particular moment is exactly right, and that it must be preserved, no matter the cost?"

3. "Nothing Americans can do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will make a significant impact on the global climate while every 10 days China fires up a coal-fueled generating plant big enough to power San Diego. China will construct 2,200 new coal plants by 2030."

4. "Ethanol produces just slightly more energy than it takes to manufacture it. But now that the government is rigging energy markets with mandates, tariffs and subsidies, ethanol production might consume half of next year’s corn crop. The price of corn already has doubled in a year. Hence the tortilla turbulence south of the border. Forests will be felled (will fewer trees mean more global warming?) to clear land for growing corn, which requires fertilizer, the manufacture of which requires energy."

Discussions - 19 Comments

Wow. Where to start on this?

" The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being—better nutrition, medicine, education, etc."

First of all, the real violators are NOT the manufacturers of nutrition or education, but rather of other items with more toxic side-effects. In addition, pollution is pollution, whether we grow economically or not. The crap coming out of the Monsanto plant (and Kodak, and General Motors, and Exxon/Mobil....) pollutes the earth and contributes to greenhouse gasses in times of recession, as well as growth. Unless something is done about the pollution, then it is an increasingly influential variable, and is NOT just tied to growth.

"How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet’s climate?"

First we were told that a vote for the Democrats would cause the terrorists to overrun our shores. Now Will is suggesting that our medicine and our kids’ education will be forfeit if we try to clean up our planet! Where is the "truth" in that? why doesn’t he just hold a baby out the window and threaten to let it go if his favorite CEO fails to take home 5 billion in bonuses this year?

"Was life better when ice a mile thick covered Chicago?"

I’m pretty sure that Chicago had not yet been founded during the Ice Age. Now that it is there, I’d prefer that the people living there should live long and healthy lives. What does Will prefer?

""Nothing Americans can do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will make a significant impact on the global climate while every 10 days China fires up a coal-fueled generating plant big enough to power San Diego. China will construct 2,200 new coal plants by 2030."

Funny. It is impossible to measure the effect of human activity on the climate, but it IS possible to state with certainty that we CANNOT have a significant impact.

""Ethanol produces just slightly more energy than it takes to manufacture it."

Is the refining of oil also energy-free? Does anyone know the numbers? How expensive is our dependence on Middle East oil, in terms of energy, human lives, for instance?

This reminds me of the tobacco push against the "loony left" and its crazy "science" suggesting that cigarettes are addictive and carcinogenic. Once again, The Right weighs in on its priorities: the health of human beings, or the health of big business. What a surprise. What a moral stance.

Will’s piece is terrific. The whole debate over global warming is microcosmic of how easily science can be grotesquely politicized. This is not a knock against politics but rather a comment on the "architectonic" character of political science, as Aristotle understood it. In other words, the ideological committments infesting the current scientific debates are good reason for understanding science in need of ministerial guidance. For a climatologist’s account see:
http://www.canadafreepress.com/2007/global-warming020507.htm

Nobody says that global warming would mean that there would be no local cold snaps, John, so it’s not that odd.

I can’t find the quote, but there is some blogger out there who suggested that global warming skeptics would move from denial to despair (or a belief that nothing can be done) without missing a beat. Looks like he was right with respect to Will, who just a few weeks ago was pushing the canard that scientists in the 1970s were crying wold about global cooling, so we needn’t worry about what they say about global warming.

You know what pollutes the air? It’s all that dope liberals smoke.

the real violators are NOT the manufacturers of nutrition or education, but rather of other items with more toxic side-effects.

These factors are inseparable. Nutrition and education are the side-effects of a wealthy society, which is in turn the effect of a free economy (see Lawson and Gwartney’s Economic Freedom in the World to see how closely these things correlate).

Funny. It is impossible to measure the effect of human activity on the climate, but it IS possible to state with certainty that we CANNOT have a significant impact.

That’s cute, but it doesn’t address the central point--that in terms of production of greenhouse gases China is the biggest offender. Why should the United States disadvantage itself economically by signing off on any climate-control treaty that does not commit China to the same goals?

Well, anyone truly interested in a wealthy society should address the dramatic leap in the disparity between the CEOs of the major polluting companies and the serfs in the middle and lower classes whose education and nutrition Will is pretending to care about. I’m sure that the Child Labor Laws caused a great amount of weeping and wailing among the fat cats, too, but they seem to have weathered THAT storm. Are you suggesting that we should revert back to exploiting children because failure to do so gives China some advantage?

We are supposed to be leaders, and not followers. Let us set an example, and let the rest of the world follow. Maybe if we’re lucky, then all of THEIR kids will develop asthma in epidemic numbers, the way our do. Then, maybe we can spend less on inhalers and more on nutrition.

I don’t understand how you can look at the salaries and bonuses these guys take home, or send to some Swiss bank, and then actually worry about how greening up is going to crush the American Dream. For most of us, that dream has already followed our heating bills, prescription copays, doctor copays, health plan premiums, credit car payments, taxes, mortgage payments.... right out the window.

And now, you think we should ignore the consensus of hundreds of scientists and instead believe the self-serving malarky of the same jerks who opposed safe, clean working environments, child protection laws, minimum wages..... They are so smart; they make the big bucks, they should be able to figure this out.

I can’t find the quote, but there is some blogger out there who suggested that global warming skeptics would move from denial to despair (or a belief that nothing can be done) without missing a beat. Looks like he was right with respect to Will, who just a few weeks ago was pushing the canard that scientists in the 1970s were crying wold about global cooling, so we needn’t worry about what they say about global warming.

It is not a canard. I can locate for you an article published in Science (the peer-reviewed scholarly magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) in 1979 that argued we were experiencing a global cooling. One of the co-authors was Carl Sagan.

When I had to do some elementary study of arguments about global warming (about a decade ago), the argumentative ace-in-the-hole for global warming advocates were projections of computerized general circulation models. Considering that meterologists cannot reliably predict the weather three weeks hence, some rube like me might just come to the conclusion that climatologist-advocates might just be overly sure of themselves. The professor made comments on my submissions (which cited critics of the thesis in his own field who had published scholarly articles on the subject in th previous few years) to the effect that he thought I was being obstinate.

And now, you think we should ignore the consensus of hundreds of scientists and instead believe the self-serving malarky of the same jerks who opposed safe, clean working environments, child protection laws, minimum wages..... They are so smart; they make the big bucks, they should be able to figure this out.

That’s cute, but it doesn’t address the central point--that in terms of production of greenhouse gases China is the biggest offender. Why should the United States disadvantage itself economically by signing off on any climate-control treaty that does not commit China to the same goals?

Farming differences-- Already, certain things are noticable. California, which produces a large part of the agriculture that is sold around the nation, is already becoming a more difficult place to grow certain crops, like the booming California grape and wine economy. Meanwhile, we notice places like Ohio becoming better for grapes to grow. So, we’ll need to prepare for that.

The agricultural heartland of North America is the Great Plains region. Precipitation in southern California is seasonal and subject to considerable year-to-year variation. Fruiticulture there has been rendered possible physically by the construction of irrigation works and economically by subsidized provision of water on the part of public authorities.

Art Deco: the canard is the implication that because there was a different theory within Will’s lifetime, that we should view the current theory with skepticism. One wouldn’t make the same argument about theories of computing power itself across 30 or 40 years, for example. And, at any rate, Will seems to have dropped the argument.

If things get real ugly, we’ll build a friggin’ dyke around Manhattan. Next topic. . .

Art Deco: the canard is the implication that because there was a different theory within Will’s lifetime, that we should view the current theory with skepticism. One wouldn’t make the same argument about theories of computing power itself across 30 or 40 years, for example. And, at any rate, Will seems to have dropped the argument.

That Will did not mention that in that particular column is of scant importance.

’Computing power’ is a manifestation of a manipulable technology non existent and unobserved up until about sixty years ago. The weather has always been with us, and palaeoclimatologists have considerable knowledge about the history of climate.

It is, again, not a canard. It is proper to be skeptical of a supposed ’scientific consensus’. We been here before.

Please note, the aforementioned climatologist had no particular reply to Dr. Lindzen’s criticisms, or to complaints uttered about the reliability of general circulation models (in which he himself had an investment). He merely said that such complaints were ’not convincing’. Dr. Soon has been subject to truly repellant public abuse for points he has made about the Medieval warm period. For the layman, this sort of thing gives off an odor.

"The weather has always been with us."


Human genes have "always been with us," but anyone who tried to say anything about how we passed on traits to each other until, say, 6o years ago, probably isn’t worth citing. One could multiply the examples.

I realize that in conservative and Strauss-influenced circles there is a sense that science is unreliable. Fair enough. But we are also at a point - and we have been there for some time now - where human capacity to do harm is literally life-threatening, and we probably need to be responsible enough to rely on overwhelming scientific consensus where it exists.

Is this "overwhelming scientific consensus" anything like other consensuses of the past, such as "the world is flat," "the Piltdown Man is the missing link," "acid causes ulcers," or "there are nine planets in the solar system...oh wait, eight." Arguments from authority (which the "consensus" argment is) are inferior to EVIDENCE. And the argument isn’t if global warming is occurring...we know that it is. The argument concerns the causes of that warming, and that’s not so clear at all. Personally, I think we have accelerated what is a normal cycle, but "fixing" it does NOT call for massive government control or deindustrialization. Rather, the current debate is healthy, and hopefully the new moderate "consensus" will emerge from this dialectic. For a variety of environmental and political reasons, we need to gradually shift away from fossil fuels...but we don’t need Al Bore to tell us that.

Dain,

The science-haters on this blog are likely to interpret this:

Is this "overwhelming scientific consensus" anything like other consensuses of the past, such as "the world is flat," "the Piltdown Man is the missing link," "acid causes ulcers," or "there are nine planets in the solar system...oh wait, eight."

as more science-bashing. It looks as though you have little respect for the empirical approach, and I know that you have argued FOR it in other contexts. While the "world is flat" example really can’t be attributed to science, the rest of them can. Still, I would not suggest that any of your examples represent regressions, or even static periods in the search for truth.

In other words, the early belief that acid causes ulcers is (a) not completely wrong, since without acid the ulcers would not hurt, or proceed as quickly, and (b) a very important step in the right direction in the advance of science. The same may be said for the "missing link" of the day, and for the status of "planets."

So, while some may choose faith or cynicism over science, I would only like to make the observation that the scientific approach differs from both cynicism and faith-based approaches in that it (a) freely offers its "facts" to public and peers for disconfirmation and replication, and (b) results in a greater, steadily more accurate body of knowledge than the previous one.

Well, then you should agree with me, Fung. "Consensus" is not a substitute for science...indeed, "reality" doesn’t give a rat’s ass about "consensus." If Al or anyone else wants me to believe in GW, then present the evidence. Don’t yammer on about "experts believe" etc. yadda yadda yadda. Convince me with logic and evidence, not peer pressure and social confirmity.

The "GW deniers" actually tend to produce evidence that questions the "consensus." I’ve read lots of it, and I think the "consensus" is so-much bandwagon effect (Federal funding does wonders for expert opinion). Moreover, I’d like to hear some positive solutions from the GW priesthood (e.g., algae-farms, gassified coal), not more blather about "emission reduction" and other gun-to-your-head crap.

"If things get real ugly, we’ll build a friggin’ dyke around Manhattan."

Exactly! That’s the sort of thing we need to start getting ready for. We do stuff like that and we’ll be (relatively) fine.

There is a big difference between (1) arriving at individual conclusions by consensus, and (2) arriving at a consensus regarding a plethora of individual and empirically derived conclusions.

Basically, the effects of greenhouse gasses can be described, explained, and predicted, as well as demonstrated in the lab. Those same effects are being experienced right now, and the likely causes are obvious, and growing. This is similar to a 3-pack-a-day smoker getting lung cancer, and suggesting that it was inherited. Could be, but probably not.

George Burns lived to be over 100, but I’m not going out to buy a box of cigars.

At some point, we all have to choose who we trust. You think there is a conspiracy among hundreds of independent scientists from all over the world, who will somehow benefit if they can fool us all into believing that the crap we send into the atmosphere has a predicted and predictable noxious effect on people and the environment.

I choose to mistrust wack jobs like Sen. Inhoffe, and the industrialists who value their quarterly figures over the health and well-being of Americans whom they have already deserted by moving their bases to China.

Fung, as I think you know, there’s a big difference between the lab setting and reality. Foremost, there are numerous feedback loops that suggest that the relationship between warming and greenhouse gas emissions may not be linear. Moreover, there are other causes (i.e., natural cycles) that complicate the picture. Even "whack jobs" aren’t saying that the planet isn’t warming...they are questioning the human contribution to that warming, and the policy relevance of the science. Why is it that people on the Left can only think "regulation." Government won’t save us, Fung. What will is making green-tech PAY for itself. And I really can think of no good reason to damage our own economy if China, India and other big players won’t cooperate (hell, even the Kyoto signatories are missing their targets). Al Bore is trying to scare people into dumb, counterproductive and ultimately useless policies (pretty typical of the Left). Let’s hear some positive steps that DON’T involve the government and/or international cooperation.

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