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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
My dad past along this Wall Street Journal article to me this morning, and I thought it was too good not to mention on here.
The recent discovery by a retired businessman and climate kibitzer named Stephen McIntyre that 1934--and not 1998 or 2006--was the hottest year on record in the U.S. could not have been better timed. August is the month when temperatures are high and the news cycle is slow, leading, inevitably, to profound meditations on global warming. Newsweek performed its journalistic duty two weeks ago with an exposé on what it calls the global warming "denial machine." I hereby perform mine with a denier's confession

I confess: I am prepared to acknowledge that Mr. McIntyre's discovery amounts to what a New York Times reporter calls a "statistically meaningless" rearrangement of data.

But just how "meaningless" would this have seemed had it yielded the opposite result? Had Mr. McIntyre found that a collation error understated recent temperatures ... would the news coverage have differed in tone and approach?
...
I confess: I am prepared to acknowledge that the world has been and will be getting warmer thanks in some part to an increase in man-made atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. I acknowledge this in the same way I'm confident that the equatorial radius of Saturn is about 60,000 kilometers: not because I've measured it myself, but out of a deep reserve of faith in the methods of the scientific community, above all its reputation for transparency and open-mindedness.

But that faith is tested when leading climate scientists won't share the data they use to estimate temperatures past and present and thus construct all-important trend lines. This was true of climatologist Michael Mann, who refused to disclose the algorithm behind his massively influential "hockey stick" graph, which purported to demonstrate a sharp uptick in global temperatures over the past century. (The accuracy of the graph was seriously discredited by Mr. McIntyre and his colleague Ross McKitrick.) This was true also of Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, who reportedly turned down one request for information with the remark, "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"

I confess: I understand that global warming may have negative consequences. Heat waves, droughts and coastal flooding may become more intense. Temperature-sensitive parasites such as malaria could become more widespread. Lakes may be depleted by evaporation. Animal life will suffer.

But as Bjorn Lomborg points out in his sharp, persuasive and aptly titled book "Cool It," a warming climate has advantages, too, and not just trivial ones. Though global warming will cause more heat deaths, it will also mean many fewer cold deaths. Drought may increase in some areas, but warming also means both more rain and longer growing seasons... Does anyone know for certain that the net human and environmental losses from global warming will exceed overall gains?
...
I confess: Though it may surprise those who use the term "denier" so as to put me on a moral plane with Holocaust deniers, I have children for whom I would not wish an environmental apocalypse.

Yet neither do I wish the civilizational bounties built up over two centuries by an industrial, inventive, adaptive, globalized and energy-hungry society to be squandered chasing comparatively small environmental benefits at gigantic economic costs. One needn't deny global warming as a problem to deny it as the only or greatest problem. The great virtue of Mr. Lomborg's book is its insistence on trying to measure the good done per dollar spent. Do we save a few lives, at huge cost, as a byproduct of curbing global warming? Or do we save many, for less, by acting on problems directly?

Some might argue it is immoral to think this way. Maybe they are the ones living in denial.

2 comments:

Amy Witty said...

Hey, Darius, there's an article on that MIT Professor (Lindzen) in the latest Outside magazine. Paul has the magazine if you want to borrow it. Not sure how good the article is since I have no time to read anymore. :-)

Darius and Elisabeth said...

Yeah, that would be cool. It wasn't available online, so perhaps I can borrow it sometime. Thanks for the heads up!

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables


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