I ask this question with great sincerity. A climate debate is currently raging between those who deny climate change concerns and the alarmists who incite fear and confusion at the same time that they promote green technologies intended ‘to save the planet.’
Richard Lindzen gives us an idea of the intensity of this debate in an article entitled Climate of Fear:
“There have been repeated claims that this past year’s hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?
The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism. Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science–whether for AIDS, or space, or climate–where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.
But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. 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.”
So let’s see what this debate is really about. And let’s ask ourselves how can we best prepare ourselves for the difficult decisions that we are being called upon to make in the wake of such a frenzied dabate.
Think about it this way: if humans everywhere lived with certain environmental principles in mind there wouldn’t be much argument about the man-made pressures on climate. There wouldn’t be that many. We would be deliberately keeping the human population in check; we would be actively constraining deforestation; we would have strict global standards in place for pollution and corporate excess; we would already have made climate change an integral part of educational curriculums beginning in our grade schools; and we would long ago have halted the production and use of PLASTICS that are grossly damaging to the environment including our oceans.
See this powerful video on our seas of plastic by Capt. Charles Moore
We would also not be continuously polluting the air with excessive carbon emissions from our automobiles and chimneystacks. Our cars would be smaller, our public transit systems would be more prominent, and citizen demands for a clean environment would be echoed in the hallowed halls of congresses worldwide.
But this is not how it is today.
Today we are exerting undue pressure on the finite resources of the of Earth in terms of its oil and coal reserves. We are overpopulating the Earth and, in the process, exacting huge associated demands on available green spaces. Human encroachment is also pushing many life forms to the brink of extinction. Too many carbon dioxide emissions, too many people, too many industrial pollutants, not to mention aerosols in the atmosphere, snow, ice albedo, volcanoes – all of these things are taking an irrefutable toll on our ability to make accurate, long-range predictions about future climate changes.
Collectively, we are not even close to having an EARTH FIRST! approach to the world around us. We are luxuriating in our highly urban settings and demanding more and more from an increasing array of technologies that have seemingly unlimited (and benign) potential to enhance our lives.
Is there a problem with that? You bet! So are we to blame for the current climate crisis? Maybe, maybe not.
But what is certain is that we are not living in harmony with the planet, regardless of any climate change concerns we may have.
There is Plenty of Blame to go Around
What does blame ever do for us in the end? In this case it has polarized thinking into the hot ticket climate camps that are now battling for our allegiance. Such polarization is highly triangulating at best and, at worst, it intensifies and distorts our struggles to better understand the physical world around us.
And it results in an explosion of green profiteering schemes and the emergence of what some call junk science. This is when good science is forsaken for alarmist science.
Emotional triangulation at any level of human interaction is a largely dysfunctional process that begets dysfunctional behavior. As anxiety escalates the emotional process deterioriates, and intellectual functioning also deterioriates; resulting in problematic analysis no matter where we focus. This happens in family relationships, in our houses of Congress, even in the cut-throat and often combative world of science.
Triangulation is a process that pits Camp A against Camp B over some weighty Camp C outcomes. In the realm of climate change this translates to DENIAL, ALARM, and POLITICKING as disparate players struggle to stay on top in their highly unstable game.
But That’s Not All
My dissatisfaction with the climate change debate today is that it is myopic at best.
The Earth’s geophysical self was in place three billion or more years before we humans left our first footprints here, and it will continue long after we have worn our planetary welcome out. We humans are the ones we should be concerned about, not the Earth. The Earth will prevail.
The question is – will we?
Instead of worrying about a changing climate, we ought to be worried about whether (or not) we are adequately positioning ourselves to adapt to whatever Nature sends our way. Nation states need to be building self-sufficiency for food production and energy. Clearly, if the alarmist predictions do materialize, it will result in severely reduced greenspace for agricultural pursuits. Millions will starve as more and more arid hot spots erupt on the warming Earth’s surface, making food production increasingly difficult.
But no one is talking about that. Instead, we’re myopically focused on how to [fix] something that we still know too little about.
Political Agendas Corrupt Absolutely.
And when those political agendas involve science, then they corrupt science absolutely as well, resulting in what is referred to by some today as ‘junk science’, a concept I agree whole-heartedly with.
Today’s junk science mob is generating faulty scientific data to persuade others that its aims are humanistic: the media, lawyers, social activists, government regulators, businesses, politicos, yes even scientists, are just some of the major players in schemes to profit from scientific alarmism.
Of these mobsters we must beware, for theirs are self-interests. Even if the climate warnings hold some measure of truth, their offerings are not going to free us from any future climate predicament; the reason being, they don’t understand any better than anyone else what is going on with climate today because their own science is faulty.
Their data-gathering techniques leave [living organisms] out of the entire climate-change equation!
The mobsters may actually be underestimating the problem without realizing it. The truth is, atmospheric physics and its elaborate computer-generated equilibrium models have never yet accurately predicted climate into the future.
Indeed, models from the 1960’s forward predicted the onset of an ice age, which has not happened to date. And the measured sea level from then to now has actually risen nearly two times faster than was predicted. There are other discrepancies, as well, involving the dynamics of melting glaciers and an unseen progressive decline in the population of ocean algae (algae acts to cool the Earth by reducing barren areas of black, open ocean).
Equilibrium models do note take into account the living organisms that make up our biosphere – organisms (including us) that clearly help determine the surface composition and temperature of the planet. Geophysiology tells us this. Geophysiology studies the impact of organisms of the Earth and their ancestral past while atmospheric physics deals strictly with our geologic history minus the presence and impact of living organisms. Climate scientists tend to see Earth as a dead planet, maybe because dead planets are so much easier to model…
But an Earth science like geophysiology encompasses all of the Earth including its oceans, surface rocks, atmosphere, and living organisms – all in a dynamic system of self-regulation. It is a true systems science; atmospheric physics is not although it continues to be our primary scientific discipline for studying climate.
But what if the atmospheric physicists are wrong? What if seeing the Earth as something that they can [manage] is totally off-base? What if the Earth, as James Lovelock postulates, is more than “a ball of rock moistened by the oceans and sitting within a tenuous sphere of air.”
Systems Thinkers They are Not
Climatologists today align themselves in the atmospheric physics camp because systemic thinking has not yet been widely embraced by science in general, but most certainly not by those in atmospheric physics. Until that happens we must rely on non-interactive climate change models with therefore unreliable predictive abilities. This needs to change. The methods of scientific research need to change.
By now there is ample evidence to support a large-scale shift to dynamic models of climate change.
* We cannot begin to predict the prevailing economic dynamics fifty years from now; why do we think we can predict the future of climate which embraces far more complex variables that are not yet being fully assessed?
An interesting characteristic of science historically is that it is a largely fragmented domain. The different scientific disciplines (physics, biology, chemistry, genetics – to name but a few) do not communicate among themselves; their communications are discipline-specific to the point of having their own separate, disciplinary languages that are indecipherable by others outside of that discipline. They have their own research publications, as well. Scientists in one discipline do not talk to scientists in other disciplines. Frankly, there are no free-flowing information highways that allow us to systematically pull data from all corners of the life sciences, as this data is simply too hard to get.
This must change.
And we (you and I) must become much more knowledgeable about those who are doing our work for us. We also have to know exactly what special interests prevail (and why) so that we can avoid being caught up in their schemes and misconceptions. This is true in the case of those who represent us in Congress, as well as for those scientists in whom we invest our trust to accurately analyze the physical world around us.
Even our textbooks need to be challenged for they, too, fall prey to distortions and political agendas.
Romantic Nonsense Prevails
Whatever our problems related to climate change are, they are much bigger than us and they are certainly bigger than any individual efforts to plant trees and drive smaller cars, or install wind turbines and other so-called green technologies in our homes and businesses.
Certainly we need to turn off our electric lights when not used, and we need to conserve our own individual energy uses at all times, for the sake of future generations if nothing else. Maybe a little carbon trading is not so bad, even sustainable development schemes are at least in theory good – but a panecea they are not.
Understand that climate change, natural or otherwise, will always rear its ugly head. That’s what climates do, they change. And there may be little that we can do about it except learn to (hopefully) adapt as the Earth’s cooling and heating cycles continue to vacillate.
The green technologies give us the illusion of power over climate change. And while the illusion is comforting, they fail to prepare us for the realities that lie ahead; realities that will not likely be as controllable as some would think.
The Real World of Climate Forecasting
The bottom line is that those accountable to governments and business markets do not make reliable arguers for the future climate on Earth and its consequences. They have, after all, motives for what they say and do.
According to Voice of America, “This month’s UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen comes amid growing scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising, and that the warming trend is having a measurable impact on life on the planet. According to a 2007 UN intergovernmental panel report on climate change, 11 of the previous 12 years were the warmest on record. Although disagreements persist on the extent to which human activity is responsible for climate change, the Earth’s warming no longer appears in doubt, and the long-term consequences look increasingly grim.”
But is it true? Is there really a consensus about what our future climate holds for humankind? No, there is no such consensus.
Consensus is a political beast, normally it is not even a part of science as we know it. So we should already be suspect. Science is concerned with probabilities, not with certainties. Its forecasts are conceptual models that very often differ greatly from real-world measurements. In science, consensus is never a priority.
So it doesn’t really matter then that 1,000 IPCC alarmist scientists claim consensus because that consensus, if it does exist, is primarily about what international markets and governments want to hear and think about climate change.
It also doesn’t help to DENY alarmist notions about climate change. The truth, if anything, lies somewhere in between.
Our aging planet is showing signs of buckling under the weight of its 7 billion human inhabitants who live increasingly urbanized lives. This fact alone is effecting climate in a multitude of interacting ways. Climate change, then, is not just about the Earth’s surface environment as the alarmist warnings would have us believe: it is far more complex than those models suggest. If serious climate change looms it is partly because [we] are an interactive and integral part of the climate system and we are not living sustainable lives.
We have, in fact, been reckless inhabitants of the Earth.
What to Do Then?
For starters we each need to responsibly educate ourselves about climate and about the historical patterns observed so far in the Earth’s adaptations to periodic climate variations. We can no longer leave this job to the atmospheric physicists, and most certainly not to others with obvious political agendas, Al Gore included. Clear thinking does not emanate from triangulated agendas.
An educated public is a powerful public but to a politician, ignorance is bliss.
We must arm ourselves with knowledge against those who think we can’t possibly know what they are talking about. We can know. We can learn to decipher junk from real science, and humanitarian offerings from profiteering ones. Education is key, and it demands that we insert the climate and systems-oriented Earth sciences into our elementary and secondary curriculums before it is too late.
History is another critical discipline that must be expanded and enriched as primary curriculums. We need to understand what has happened in the past so that we can respond knowledgeably to present and future concerns. This is true not only in terms of the history of science, but also with regard to the social, cultural, biological and geophysical worlds around us.
AN ASIDE: At center stage in the current climate debate is the very interesting notion of cognitive dissonance. Leon Festinger originally described cognitive dissonance as the feeling of discomfort we feel when trying to reconcile two simultaneous but contradictory ideas. We tend to try to reduce the dissonance (or confusion and uncomfortability) by rejecting one of the conflicting ideas in favor of the other. While this most certainly oversimplifies the issues involved, it does serve to make us feel more comfortable. And so we tend to do just that whenever we can, because uncomfortable feelings don’t feel good.
This is what you are [really] seeing when folks band together into the different ideological camps of climatology. They are reducing their feelings of dissonance but…at what cost?
Surely we can do better than this.
So get busy. Do your homework. Keep an open mind. And find out for yourself what is reliable and what isn’t in the climate change debate. Do it because it is the right thing to do for yourself. Learn to think systemically about the world around you.
And if I may, let me suggest these places to start:
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).
Charlson, Robert, ed. Earth System Science (London: Academic Press, 2000)
Flannery, Tim. Now or Never: Wy We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009).
Lawson, Nigel. An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming (London: Gerald Euckworth & Co., 2008).
Lovelock, James. The Revenge of Gaia (London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 2006).
Lovelock, James. The Vanishing Face of Gaia (New York: Basic Books, 2009).
Mabey, Richard. Country Matters (London: Earthscan, 2005)
Margulis, Lynn. The Symbiotic Planet (London: Phoenix Press 1998).
Schneider, Stephen H., Global Warming (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1989).
Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).
Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. © 2010 Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph. All rights reserved.