How Insensitive

Hot on the heels of Climategate II, Walter Russell Meade brings to our attention a peer-reviewed paper from the latest Science that calls into question “settled” wisdom about the sensitivity of global temperature to increases in atmospheric CO2. Here.

Traffic’s up around here lately, and this might be a good moment to reiterate our position on Global Warmism for new readers. We break the issue into four questions:

1) Is the Earth currently getting warmer?

It may well be; we have no idea. The Earth has certainly has got warmer and colder many, many times in the past — most of them long before humans could possibly have had anything to do with it. No reason it mightn’t be doing so now.

2) If the Earth actually is warming, is it due to human activity?

Given that the Earth’s climate has fluctuated continuously throughout the eons, then any current warming trend isn’t necessarily due to human activity. But if the Earth is indeed in a warming spell, it’s certainly possible that human activity may be partly or even largely responsible this time around.

3) If the Earth is warming, and that warming is in large part due to human activity, can it be ameliorated or halted by curtailing that activity?

We don’t know. Perhaps it can. On the other hand, if any ongoing warming is simply the latest of the natural fluctuations that Earth’s climate has always been subject to, perhaps not.

4) If the Earth is warming, and that warming is in large part due to human activity, and can in fact be ameliorated or halted by curtailing that activity, is it worth it to do so?

We’re stacking up a pretty big pile of “ifs” by this point. To answer this question we need to weigh, as best we can, the adverse social, political, and economic costs of taking action, against the negative (and positive!) consequences of doing nothing. (We also need to factor in the chance that whatever we try to do, at terrible cost, may not even be effective.) There are all sorts of hidden agendas and ulterior motives in play here, and most of the remedies on offer are burdensome indeed, mainly in terms of economic cost and bureaucratic infringement on national sovereignty and individual liberty.

Our position, then, is best described as conservative: distrustful of grand, disruptive schemes, mindful of the fragility of prosperous, happy societies, and keeping a cynic’s wary eye on the various Utopians, collectivists, grant-recipients, professional uplifters, and “green-energy” grifters who see all this as little more than a juicy opportunity for self-advancement, and a “crisis” not to be wasted.

We set the bar, then, rather high: to justify the drastic responses that many currently seek, we will need to be convinced beyond any doubt 1) that the Earth is indeed in a warming phase, 2) that we are the cause, 3) that drastic measures can actually make a meaningful difference, and 4) that the consequences of not taking drastic action are clearly worse than the costs of doing so.

3 Comments

  1. “…, and 4) that the consequences of not taking drastic action are clearly worse than the costs of doing so.”

    And 5) that Al Gore is not a fat, ignorant, and lying son-of-a-bitch.

    Posted December 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Johnny Caustic says

    I propose that you add question 5): If the earth is warming, is that bad?

    The thing that bugs me most about global warming is that nobody ever discusses this, the most important question. People just talk as if this were a settled question. But it’s even less settled than the other questions. By logic and geological evidence, times of warming on earth and times of greater carbon dioxide should be times when the earth teems with life and provides more food. Why is global warming not seen as a desirable goal? What exactly is the bad thing that’s supposed to happen if the earth warms up?

    Posted December 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Johnny, as I said above:

    To answer this question we need to weigh, as best we can, the adverse social, political, and economic costs of taking action, against the negative (and positive!) consequences of doing nothing.

    I completely agree that too little is said, in public debate, about the possible “up-side” of warming.

    Posted December 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

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