Wednesday, 2 January 2008


Neither, actually. The first thing to realize about the scientific evidence for man-made global warming is that it is about probability, not definite fact. Science is like that – it cannot actually prove any concept absolutely.
The second thing about science is that it always has a political agenda. This is true of those who offer ‘evidence’ for, and those against. Hence, the only rational answer to man-made global warming is the power of reason to plough through the propaganda.

This is a problem I’ve thought about long and hard.

Pascal comes to mind. He argued it is better to believe in God as, if He doesn’t exist, when you die it doesn’t matter; but if He does? Well, let’s air on caution.
If there is a high probability that man-made global warming is a reality, then it is better to use caution – basically, the precautionary principle. But reason can go even deeper than this twee argument – at least, ‘twee’ according to some.
It is all to do with the possibility of man having an effect. If we take carbon dioxide, man’s effect seems to be slight when dealing with the release from a typical volcanic eruption. However, the problem is not that simple.

Volcanoes play a part in the regulation of temperature and atmosphere.

Their releases are part of the natural system. But can we say the same for the seemingly tiny releases produced by fossil fuels?
Sadly, we cannot. Fossil fuels come from the remains of dead life. It has been locked out of the system over millions of years. Which prompts a simple statement: If something that has been removed over eons of time is spurted back in a century or so, it simply has to have an effect.
This is not taken into account. I use a simple analogy. Imagine a car balanced on the edge of a cliff. It can be as much as a human finger that can upset the balance and send it crashing over the edge. In other words, an effect can be disproportionate.
Some would say this analogy is rubbish. But they only place that ‘opinion’ before me. They cannot back it up absolutely. Which brings me back to Pascal - better to be safe than sorry. But this is not enough for a sceptic.

This is because of the politics of the issue.

And they have a point. Those who seem to be ‘for’ man-made global warming tend to be those with a distinct political agenda, ranging from the UN who want to redistribute wealth to the Third World, to multi-nationals who’ve realized that in accepting man-made global warming, their monopoly on power can be sustained by nuclear once the oil runs out.
It seems to me that rationality has gone out of the window regarding the argument, and politics rules, OK. So, can a sensible agenda be placed to back up skeptics accepting the man-made global warming argument?

Let us pretend that man-made global warming is wrong.

Even if we do so, something is still happening to the atmosphere and weather. It could be a natural cycle, for instance. They’ve been known before.
But a question: can our present infra-structure continue if we suddenly find ourselves with the heat of the 12th century, when grapes were grown in Northumberland, or the freezing temperatures that froze up the Thames in the 16th?
The simple answer is no. We can come to this conclusion by remembering the wrong snow bringing our railways to a standstill. Hence, regardless of the argument, something must be done.

It must be done because a large, cumbersome infra-structure could well crack.

And the effect would be catastrophic on a large scale. Rather, we need new, simpler technologies, which could be run by smaller companies, more accountable, and with fewer problems in case of atmospheric problems which could quite likely occur, WHILST STILL MAINTAINING OUR STANDARD OF LIVING.
Such technologies already exist, but are being ignored by big business, which is hardly surprising because they would sound the death knell of their monopoly. And there lies the truth of the man-made global warming debate. It is not to do with science or the survival of man, but with the survival of big business.
As for me, I accept man-made global warming is a reality. And I can also say that, if you’re a sceptic, then my agenda is more reasonable than yours. Put simply, whether climate change is man-made or not, the answer to the problem is the same.

© Anthony North, January 2007

Environment Page


Devil's Kitchen said...

"Imagine a car balanced on the edge of a cliff. It can be as much as a human finger that can upset the balance and send it crashing over the edge. In other words, an effect can be disproportionate."

This is a simple analogy: too simple in fact. What you are proposing here is a positive feedback system which simply cannot exist in any stable system. The earth's climate is pretty darn stable, QED.

For more, see here (and the accompanying links, but especially this one).

For more on the false dichotomy that you have set up -- the Pascal's wager argument -- and why it is wrong, see my post here (and the accompanying comments), and this post too.

As I have said, I will write a full summary but it's going to take a little while.


Twilight said...

I opted out of discussions like this some time ago after driving myself nearly frantic.

The simple fact is that nobody knows. I don't care how well informed, erudite or insightful anyone is, or how optimistic or pessimistic about the future.
Nobody knows, because there is no exact precedent. Best guesses are all we have.

At least most people are now aware of a potential problem, a probable risk, related to climate change, even within their own lifetime.

I'd go along with AN's assessment - err on the side of caution - it can do no harm, but an awful lot of good. The Earth needs cleaning up, man-made climate change or no. We need to re-learn simplicity.Corporations and big business needs to learn that they do NOT own the Earth.

anthonynorth said...

Hi DK,
Your first links are covered by my first statements in the post - whenever I see 'Sceptic', I get feelings of deja vu.
We could keep on throwing scientific 'evidence' about forever, but it solves nothing.
Is there a reasoned argument? That's what I'm interested in. Could there be a disproportionate effect? You cannot cancel out the probability with science, as it can never cover every eventuality. Science is limited. Indeed, does climate and temperature go hand in hand? I don't think so.
Maybe Earth's climate is so stable until a disproportionate effect from outside the system enters it? We cannot test this scientifically, so we're back to probability and caution.
As for the links you use for Pascal, logic and reason are separate things, surely?
Above all this, is a person's scepticism really down to credible scientific argument, or socio-political-economic arguments?
Whichever side a person is on, the science bends to their agenda.

anthonynorth said...

Hi Twilight,
Your comment jumped in whilst I was writing mine. As you can guess, I agree with you completely.