Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change (AGWCC) has been an issue of public debate for several decades now. It is a matter of great importance for our world, and yet it has been argued by both sides with a level of deceit, ad hominem hostility, and sarcasm undeserving of a middle school taunting match.
The advocates of an AGWCC crisis have considerable support in modern climate measurements showing a century-long warming trend. Unfortunately, the extent and dimension of the crisis is based on the projections of long-term scientific models of such complexity as to be incomprehensible to non-scientists and subject to enormous variability resulting from very small changes in estimating parameters. (Remember the “butterfly effect”?) Climate is dependent on a huge number of variables, many of them poorly understood (or simply undiscovered); this is why some meteorologists, who labor to produce reliable temperature projections for the week ahead, are somewhat skeptical of climatological statistical models which predict a single degree increase over decades.
When legitimate questions are raised about the conclusiveness of the prevailing AGWCC opinion, the advocates turn to a particularly ugly ad hominem attacks bordering on character assassination. AGWCC skeptics are branded as unscientific flat-earthers or paid stooges of industry. They attempt to silence critics, arguing that the science is settled and the debate is over. (Indeed, this may be the first time in history that science writers have used the term “skeptic” as a pejorative.)
Then, along comes something like…new data.
“Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.” Economist magazine, March 30, 2013.
The Economist is no right-wing tool of polluters; its editorial on this story is full of “now is the time for carbon taxes” rhetoric. But it is a generally honest reporter of news. And the news is that global temperature has remained stable for the past ten to fifteen years. Why? No doubt there are explanations, and the scientists will no doubt pursue them, and possibly find them. But the takeaway should be that there is a lot to this climate stuff that we just don’t know yet. And Al Gore’s doom-saying breeds cynicism as well as alarm.
On the other side, the “debate” has been little seemlier. Every time it snows on one of Al Gore’s AGWCC speaking events, some of the skeptics double over with contemptuous laughter. And every time a climatologist is caught fiddling the numbers, the skeptics fold their arms as if to say “QED. We told you so.” And the legitimate skeptics are not helped by the support of truly anti-scientific folks such as the fundamentalist “intelligent design” creationists. The ad hominem attackers on this side point to Gore’s energy-glutton home and super-profitable “carbon offset” merchandising; valid criticisms of the man, but useless in considering the issue.
We are in fact a long way from any QED on climate change. At this point I think we can say the following with relative certainty:
- Global climate appears to be in a long-term warming trend that is outside the normal range of variability.
- Carbon buildup in the atmosphere is occurring, and is one factor that could trigger warming.
- Human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is one factor in atmospheric carbon buildup.
That appears to be about it. How much of the problem is fossil-fuel use? How big an effect has the sun, with its little-understood cycles? What other as-yet undiscovered factors are involved? All good questions.
And why has the warming ceased for the last decade? Take a look at the Economist article:
[It] “might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before.”
“Might mean”, “for some unexplained reason”, “or it might mean that”, “or it may be that…” This is an apt description of scientific research in action – but it is NOT a picture of a settled debate, or of a Manichean standoff between smart people and ignorant yokels.
THE ULTIMATE HYPOCRISY
As I have said, the terms of the “debate” ought to be an embarrassment to both sides. But there is a particular element of hypocrisy in the AGWCC advocates that calls into question their sincerity and integrity at the most basic level.
The AGWCC argument leads quickly to a carbon tax to run up the cost of fossil fuel use, and thereby drive the growth of non-carbon-based energy generation. What type of energy generation?
Here is Al Gore in a July 17, 2008, at a Washington, D.C. energy conference:
“We have such fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.
“And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.
“The quickest, cheapest and best way to start using all this renewable energy is in the production of electricity. In fact, we can start right now using solar power, wind power and geothermal power to make electricity for our homes and businesses.”
Notice anything missing? What about nuclear power? Hydro-electric power?
No, at Al Gore’s end of the political spectrum, these are the fuels that dare not be spoken.
Nuclear power plants provide about 13% of the world’s electricity – 19% in the US, 80% in France. (By comparison, solar, wind, and geothermal (mostly wind) together generate 3% of US electricity.) Hydroelectric dams provide 16% of the world’s electricity – 8% in the US.
Neither type of power plant produces carbon emissions. If the US followed the French example and generated 80% of our electricity with nuclear and/or hydropower, we would reduce our total national carbon footprint by 25%.
Hydropower is restricted to certain locations, so it can’t be increased much. Nuclear power could. But we haven’t built a new nuclear plant since 2007.
“The average age of U.S. commercial reactors is about 32 years. The oldest operating reactors are Oyster Creek in New Jersey, and Nine Mile Point 1 in New York. Both entered commercial service on December 1, 1969. The last newly built reactor to enter service was Watts Bar 1 in Tennessee, in 1996. In 2007, the Tennessee Valley Authority voted to complete construction of Watts Bar 2. This reactor is planned to begin commercial operation in 2013.” US Energy Information Administration.
Does Al Gore call for more nuclear power plants? More hydroelectric dams? He says (in that same speech) that:
“The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more – if more should be required – the future of human civilization is at stake.”
With human civilization at risk, shouldn’t we mobilize every possible resource and strategy?
No. Nuclear power is off the table. In a speech of 3259 words, Gore never used the term “nuclear” or “hydroelectric”. After all, some things are more important than the future of human civilization.
We know why. The environmental left began as a luddite protest against nuclear power at places like Seabrook NH. One of its next targets, especially in the west, was hydroelectric dams. The green left has never approved of anything but solar, wind, geothermal, and conservation. (As long as we don’t have to put windmills where we can see them, like Cape Cod, or run transmission lines through our neighborhoods.) Everything else has been off the table, out of the question, not to be spoken of or even thought of.
Political correctness, like all ideology, consists in large part in making certain thoughts both unspeakable and unthinkable. For this to be the mode of the “forces of Science” just fuels the cynicism which hinders the entire debate. If (as I believe) this is a serious matter, then we should recognize how much harm has been done, not just by alarmism, but by hypocrisy.
(Let me know what you think. Click the “Comment” icon above and tell me.)