Do you believe that human-caused global warming is real and a serious long-term threat?
My short answer was "maybe". But as one is supposed to do in these situations, I did take the time to elaborate my position, and since I already did the work, I figure I might as well put it right here as well.
So here it is:
There are multiple issues here that everyone seems to take for granted as all one single, unified question. To say "human-caused global warming is real" is one question, but then to say that it is a "serious long-term threat" is another question which requires better definitions.
So I feel compelled to break it down a little bit:
- Is global warming real? I think it's clear that it is.
- Do people contribute to it? Again - I think it's clear that we must contribute in some way. We are part of the ecology of the planet after all.
- Are human actions the primary driver of GW? Ah... Well, that's much less clear, isn't it? CO2 only makes up a very small fraction of overall greenhouse gases and human beings, with all our cars and power plants, still contribute only a minuscule amount of overall CO2 emissions.
- Is global warming a serious threat? To whom? Certainly not the Earth itself, which has been much much warmer over its 4 Billion year history. To people? Not necessarily... Consider that we are talking about 1-2 degrees C over the course of 100 years based on current models which also require assumptions about rather significant positive feedback loops in order to be accurate to begin with. The evidence for these feedback loops is a lot less clear than it is often portrayed... and estimates of warming without the worst-case assumptions about feedback loops suggests only a fraction of 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature over a Century - which is far less severe than the worst case scenarios. In fact, in either case, over the time frame we're talking about, the effects of global climate change are so slow and small that they are not actually perceivable by direct observation... Which, by the way, makes comments like "its been blazing hot" utterly useless and not at all representative of evidence for global warming.
Certainly if we're talking about the whole world turning into the Saharan Desert, that seems like it would qualify as a legitimate "threat", right? But that's not at all what anyone's actually talking about - and the historical record shows that in previous periods of significantly warmer global climate, such as the Medieval Warm Period, resulted in an impressive growth of plant & animal life as well as provided opportunities for human beings in previously inhospitable environments to grow more and wider varieties of crops - and for longer amounts of each year - than in colder times.
That sounds like a good thing to me.
But let's assume for the sake of argument that Global Warming is a serious long-term threat. Let's take all of the most extreme positions we can. Let's say that in 100 years, global mean temperatures will be 2 degrees (C) higher than they are right now. Let's say that causes significant melting of polar ice-caps and higher sea levels and everything else that would be worst-case scenario.
How do we solve the problem?
This is where the assumptions of most people arguing these issues really go off the deep-end, as far as I'm concerned. To jump from "global warming is a serious threat", to; "we need to spend trillions of dollars on international programs and control the activities of billions of people around the world to combat this problem" requires dozens of, honestly, really tremendously bad assumptions.
For instance, to get there you'd have to assume that:
- We know enough about climate to know how to control it. (We don't)
- We CAN reverse the effects of positive feedback loops by inhibiting CO2 emissions. (Not likely)
- The best way to reduce CO2 emissions and fight climate change is through government force. (When has that ever proven to be a really viable means of accomplishing any goal effectively or efficiently?)
- The benefits of such policies outweigh their considerable costs. (Virtually impossible)
Likewise, the idea that taking trillions of dollars worth of potential capital out of the global economy and blowing it on a single (or even a dozen or so) top-down anti-climate change goal makes the even more ridiculous assumption that human beings benefit more from the destruction of wealth than from the creation of it. That's just crazy-talk.
If you really want to save people from even the worst effects of climate change, the best thing to do that I can think of is to encourage global production & innovation on scales never-before-seen in human history.
|Don't worry, even in the post apocalyptic world of|
global climate change, you'll still get a great pair of Jeans!
And hot chicks... Don't forget about the hot chicks.
Consider the effects of earthquakes in places like Haiti vs. Los Angeles. Ask yourself why the Hatian people were so screwed over by something that happens fairly frequently in other parts of the world with little of the same consequences. The answer is because of wealth - not the concentration of money, mind you all - but the differences in real productive output of different types of economies. Personally... I think we need to focus way more on bringing people up to our standard of living - and that definitely means finding ways to make energy much more widely and cheaply available to everyone around the world - rather than focusing on capping growth and stalling advancement.
Politically directed solutions are - in my opinion - the worst way to deal with the negative or harmful effects of natural global phenomenon like climate change... So ultimately, even if it was true that it is human-caused and a serious threat, that doesn't instantly give rise to the conclusion that we should advocate the kinds of policies of people like Al Gore.
And that I think is the more salient issue at stake.