Global Warming Skepticism

 Posted by on 13 April 2006 at 8:15 am  Uncategorized
Apr 132006

One of my friends asked me why I was skeptical about global warming, and I told him I’d send him a few weblinks on this issue. I thought some of the NoodleFood readers might find these useful as well, especially if they’re asked similar questions by their friends.

So here is a slightly edited version of my e-mail to my friend:

Here are a couple of recent articles in the British press:

Kyoto is pointless, say 60 leading scientists
(Daily Telegraph 4/9/2006)

There IS a problem with global warming… it stopped in 1998
(Daily Telegraph 4/9/2006)

Here are two more articles by Dr. Richard Lindzen, currently Alfred P. Sloan professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT.

Basically, he argues that the global warming alarmists have distorted the science, and are suppressing the skeptics. And this is quite ironic, given that the global-warming alarmists are the ones claiming to be suppressed, but their side of the story is the one that one always hears on NPR, NY Times, ABC news, etc.

Climate of Fear: Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence
(Wall Street Journal, 4/12/2006)

The second is a longer, more detailed scientific analysis:
Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus
(Regulation, 2002)

Taking a broad perspective, here’s what would need to be proved before one could make a scientific case that we should implement major changes in our laws with respect to CO2 emissions:

1) We’d have to show that global warming is actually happening.

2) We’d have to show that it’s a result of human activity (not just normal cyclical natural variations).

3) We’d have to show that the degree of human-caused global warming would cause significant harmful consequences.

4) We’d have to show that these consequences could be reversed by taking certain actions.

5) We’d have to show that any proposed action (such as the Kyoto treaty) would actually be effective in preventing/reversing the harm.

6) We’d have to show that any proposed action wouldn’t cause worse harm than it prevented (i.e., that the “cure” wouldn’t be worse than the “disease”).

As you can see, all 6 elements would have to be proven true before one could begin to argue that it would be appropriate to adopt a major international treaty like Kyoto.

Numerous news articles have shown serious problems with points (5) and (6). I think there’s also significant legitimate scientific uncertainty about (1) through (4) as well.

I don’t necessarily expect you to immediately change your mind on this issue. At this point, I mostly wish to make the point that the issue is not the simple slam-dunk as is typically portrayed in the usual news media. Nor are the opponents of global warming hypothesis/Kyoto treaty necessarily stupid or corrupt.

And of course, Bjorn Lomborg’s book Skeptical Environmentalist covers this topic in exhaustive detail.

(Some may ask why I’ve cited the Cato journal Regulation. Although I don’t support or endorse the organization, many of their specific articles on concrete topics make valid points, and I take the same position with respect to papers from several other public policy think-tanks. A similar principle applies to my citation of Lomborg.)

Update: Based on multiple helpful comments and e-mail, I’d like to make a few additional points of clarification.

1) It’s extremely important not to accept any of the premises of the anti-capitalist environmentalists. Their agenda is antithetical at the core to the protection of individual rights and the requirements for man’s survival, and should be rejected as such. As has been pointed out, the current global warming debate is not about protecting individual rights and addressing provable significant injuries, but instead about strangling productive economic activities in name of goals that are (at root) anti-man.

2) In cases of legitimate rights-violations caused by pollution, my understanding is that under a proper government, the court systems should in general be able to handle such cases. As always, there are interesting issues of the exact implementation in the protection of individual rights, but those debates fall under the more specialized field of philosophy of law. The fundamental principle is that the only role for government is the protection of individual rights, and hence no laws should be implemented unless they serve that end.

3) The 6 scientific conditions I listed previously would be only a minimum set of necessary (and not sufficient) conditions before one should even begin to consider any changes in the law. One would also have to show that these constituted a genuine rights-violation and that the situation was not adequately addressed by current laws. If there’s no rights-violation, then there’s no need for the government to do anything.

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