So for years I have watched climate study turn from a scientific inquiry into a political one. From my perspective the Global Warming debate has a lot in common with the Intelligent Design debate. In both cases there are very real and verifiable phenomena that are supported as much by faith as by actual data.
I posted quite a while ago about a group of scientists who were investigating Global Warming and had decided to plant GPS devices on the top of Greenland’s glaciers. Their hypothesis was that due to global warming, over the course of a few years we would see the GPS devices drop in altitude as the glaciers melted out from underneath them. After a few years of measuring the glacier’s height though, they discovered that the glaciers had in fact grown in height, not dropped. The conclusion they reached when confronted with evidence that directly contradicted their hypothesis was that the glaciers were getting thicker because of more snowfall caused by more cloudcover caused by …. global warming.
Now I am not using that as any sort of evidence that global warming is not happening. I have been a skeptic on this issue for years, but more of a skeptic of the alarmism than a skeptic of Global Warming itself. Global warming may indeed be occurring, but I do not yet believe that the evidence is conclusive that the warming is caused by humans. I also have seen no reason to believe the “end of the world” doom and gloom prognostications that are commonly blasted across the screens of CNN or the New York Times. In fact, as I have pointed out before, Time magazine once ran a sensational cover story about the coming ice age complete with a picture of New York City covered in ice. So I pay little attention to the yammering of the mainstream press on this subject. As any competent climatologist will tell you, we have had periods of sustained warming in the historical past, and the world did not end. In fact the most recent period of warmer temperatures (called the “Medieval Warming Epoch“) coincided with a huge growth in human population and human wealth, including a surge in exploration and technological advances. In a nutshell, the last time the earth warmed up a bit, those were “good times” for the human race. I see no reason to assume the same situation will somehow be catastrophic if it happens again.
Also there is significant evidence that the earth’s temperature has not significantly increased in the last decade, in spite of greatly increased sensitivity and breadth of climate tracking. So for the most part I consider the entire global warming catastrophe industry to be indistinguishable from the “Great California Earthquake” industry or the “Yellowstone SuperVolcano” Industry or any other of the industries that grow up around predictions of doom and devastation. I’m more of an “end with a whimper” sort of person when it comes to the end of the world, not an “end with a bang.”
But there is one area of the whole global warming debate that does worry me more and more. And that is the violent reaction in the science community towards anyone who questions the now commonly accepted maxim that humans are hell-bent on destroying the earth through SUV driving. The viciousness that is expressed in these “debates” is almost always from those who support global warming against those who question either the proof of its existence, or the certainty of its detrimental effects.
There are increasingly stories appearing in the press about dissenting views being shut down, even to the point of jobs being lost over the issue. This is not good for science. It is not good for our society either. The very same people who claim to sanctify the “skeptical examination” of things taken on faith will pull no punches when their own beliefs on global warming are met with skepticism.
There is also a tangential issue to touch here, which is that we have lost sight of what it means to be an “environmentalist” in this country. What we have today in the political spectrum are not environmentalists, or people who are concerned about the environment and want to be sure that humans are not having an overly negative effect on the environment, no what we have are “preservationists” who are demanding that humans have NO impact on the environment except to insure that the current state of things on earth remain in stasis. Any change to the environment is met with alarm because it might impact some local species variation of slug. My environmental philosophy might best be described as “managed environmentalism” by which I mean we should be good stewards of the earth and its resources, but we should not wall humanity off from the natural world, even if the goal is to “protect” the natural world. My experience has been that those who best care for the environment are those who have a vested interest in interacting with it. Not those for whom it is some sort of fairy tale that they only partly believe in.