Monday, April 30, 2007

My "Official" Global Warming Position

This post has been rolling in the back of my mind for quite some time -- I just haven't sat down long enough to put it all together. The purpose is really to dispel the notion that I am somehow against behaving in an environmentally responsible way. My position is, rather, that sometimes we are not the responsible party.

When you take a position such as mine that it is doubtful that CO2 drives climate and that man is causing any significant climate change outside of land-use changes, you immediately attract attention as someone who must be "anti-environment". In fact, I believe it is absurd to call just about anyone "anti-environment". I'll acknowledge that there is a small percentage of the human population who may be deranged enough to actually wish, even actively pursue environmental harm as a serial killer or mass murderer might pursue his or her urges... but by and large people do want to protect our environment. I would even go so far as to say that practically nobody is in favor of environmental carelessness. Most acts of environmental harm, I believe, are not intentional, but are a product of laziness, thoughtlessness, ignorance (sometimes willful) or a "just this once won't hurt" attitude. With amnesia.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I'll qualify that here, for reasons that will become clear later. I consider myself a rational, classical environmentalist. I believe in recycling. I believe "renewable" energy is an interesting idea, especially in small-scale applications. I hope we get better at making it more effective and reliable. I believe in keeping pollution down as much as is practical. I love wilderness more than most. I like being in it. My favorite places on the planet are places where you can't see a road, a power line, a building -- anything man-made. I am very thankful that some of our forefathers had the foresight to set some land aside so that I can go be in such a place. I feel thrilled and honored to be there when I am there. I love mountains, especially snow-capped ones, and I don't like the idea that a warmer climate is making large glaciers at mid latitudes a rarer thing.

I believe the earth is nearing or at the peak of a modest warming period. I base this mostly on looking at the reconstructed average global temperature graph over the last 10,000 years and observing a pattern where the earth has warmed or cooled by a degree Celsius or so for a few hundred years -- alternately warmer than "normal" and cooler than "normal". The recent warming trend looks remarkably unimpressive when looked at in context.

I believe that man's activities have little if anything significant to do with this warming.

My beliefs are borne out, it turns out, by the ice core data that Mr. Gore uses to show the correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide. From a distance, and with the lines separated on the graph, it is not apparent that one causes the other, but when you zoom in on a graph where they are superimposed, you see that first the temperature goes up -- then the carbon dioxide goes up. If there is causation, therefore, it must be that higher temperatures drive CO2 levels and not the other way around.

Environmentalism has morphed into a practically full-blown religion. Al Gore appears to be the current Pope. The basic premise seems to be that the earth is in a determinate, delicate balance, and it is our moral imperative not to disturb it lest that balance be thrown off and the planet will be "ruined". Any behavior of any life form on the planet other than that of humans is deemed to be "natural" and essential to this balance, while anything humans themselves do beyond perhaps living in caves and hunting with spears is deemed to be "un-natural".

I believe this planet, like everything else, is a process, and that we are a part of that process. The earth has never been, is not now, nor will it ever be in static balance. There are balances, but they are constantly shifting. There is no "correct" state for the earth to be in. That doesn't mean we can't do things that make it less hospitable to us. But the earth doesn't care one way or another any more than it cares if an asteroid plunges in to it and brings mass extinction and an ice age.

Like any religion, Environmentalism has its good points in the ways that it encourages "good" behavior (in this case conservation and preservation). And like any religion, the more zealous the adherent, the more tunnel vision he develops, and the greater the potential for damage to others and humanity as a whole he becomes. And like any religion, it is ultimately based on a myth. While myths can be powerful, useful, and worthwhile - they also, as I mentioned above, have the potential to drive the over-zealous to all kinds of bizarre conclusions and actions -- in many cases undesirable actions. It has even led to (so far relatively minor, thankfully) cases of environmental terrorism.

A rational human familiar with the history of the planet knows that the planet has changed dramatically, often catastrophically, without any input from humans in the past. Gigantic super-volcano eruptions, asteroids and comets, wobbles in the tilt of the planet, orbital variations, and variations in solar output have all caused massive extinctions, changes in global vegetation, ice, temperature, sea levels, etc over the millennia. These are all considered natural. Only human impact is considered unnatural. It is as if everything on and of this planet is natural except for us, as if we are not on and of this planet.

It is, in effect, an anti-human religion.

For some reason the moral state of balance the Environmentalists insist we preserve is the mean of climate over the last 10,000 years. Not surprisingly, this 10,000 years makes up most, if not all, of mankind's collective memory. Thus it seems, not surprisingly, that the balance we seek to preserve is the mean of the climate during the period humans during which humans have done very well. This would seem to infer that Environmentalism should be a pro-human religion. It sounds like it should be a religion whose focus is to preserve what is good for humans. However, the rhetoric is anything but that. It also seems to ignore the possibility that what was good for humans in the past may not continue to be necessary for humans in the future.

The Global Warming theory -- or as it's more accurately put, the Anthropogenic Global Warming theory, has been a God-send ... or rather, a "Gaia-send", for this environmental religion. It has become the lightning-rod rallying point to justify action on practically every cause the faithful believes in. It gives them a powerful tool to curb industry, force conservation and preservation to their standards, stop drilling, curb human population and economic development. It is a powerful tool for socialists to put a regulator on capitalists to blunt the competitive advantage capitalism brings. It helps justify general loathing of the U.S. It argues for increased government regulation of our activities. And it just makes people feel good about themselves to feel like they are among the enlightened few telling everyone else how much better they are for caring. After all, who is going to argue for a hot, poisoned, dirty, ugly environment?

It appears from looking at actual data that the theory that even a small amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has a very large impact on Earth's average temperature is just wrong. It was an interesting hypothesis, perhaps even a respectable theory. But theories need to be backed up by testing and corroboration. Despite volumes of research, the main evidence for environmental catastrophe caused by increased CO2 levels is model output. And as Things I Know #3 states, models are not reality. Models are mathematical expressions of belief.

If your theory dictates that CO2 drives climate, then that belief will be expressed in the math of the model. It should be no surprise, then, that the model will predict that more CO2 will produce higher temperatures. Every year, however, the predicted massive increases in temperature are pushed farther and farther into the future as the data doesn't back the alarmism.

After years of the data not bearing that theory out, and research into the relationship between CO2 and global temperature in the past refuting that premise, a rational person would abandon that belief and look for one that fits reality better. But as is the case with most of the religiously over-zealous, Environmentalists don't. Because it's a matter of faith.

See also: My Skeptic's Guide to Athropogenic Global Warming.