Saturday, February 28, 2009

Will's Climate

I haven't bothered with George Will's wacky Washington Post op-ed last week on climate change. I suppose he needs to be engaged (as do the editors at the Post for publishing clear falsehoods), but really only because he apparently still has some clout as a public opinion maker... or at least in shaping other ignorant media figures' opinions who then disseminate the same silliness.

But that's it. The argument about the existence of climate change as a serious argument is over. The real discussion is about how best to engage in mitigation and adaptation efforts (which are coming up to steam anyway), how we take up our moral responsibilities to the most vulnerable, and what kinds of tradeoffs we're prepared to make. Will's and others' insistence on continuing the existence debate postpones public discussion of these important questions. In this sense, it is morally irresponsible. Unpublished data I've seen suggests real concern on the part of the public and a willingness to make significant economic sacrifices in order to tackle climate change. But the public needs to understand what is at stake much better than they do. They've been propagandized on this question for so long that there's a lot of confusion about who they ought to believe. That confusion has been intentionally nurtured by public figures like Will.

Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that you should go read Cheryl Rofer's brief piece on Will's column and electrolyzed water at Whirled View. I particularly want to point out this neat passage:

The evidence for global warming extends over the entire world and includes such things as rainfall frequency, nighttime temperatures, bird migrations, glacial ice and sea ice, soil temperatures, sea temperatures, first freeze dates, and many other things. The central way of analyzing this evidence is through complex computer models which take many of these variables as inputs to reproduce others. Some of the models describe limited parts of the system, like the movement of glaciers on land or the formation of clouds, and others are global. There are many models, coming at the problem with different approaches, and they are tested against each other.

All the results indicate that as the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase, some areas of the earth will warm up and some will cool; some will have more rainfall and some will have less.

Will (and others) approach global warming like a geometry proof: one counterexample undoes the proof. That is not the nature of global warming. Any one observation needs to be woven into the complex of evidence and models to see what it means.

So, under Will's criteria, I can cite my sister's observation that vultures have arrived in Oregon, two weeks earlier than usual, or the unusually warm winter in Santa Fe as evidence for global warming. Take that, George Will!


troutsky said...

It's not as innocent as that. The little rat bastard has killed millions and now he wants to kill my grandchildren (for profit) He needs to be made an example of in a very graphic way.

MT said...

It's Bishop Wilberforce all over again. Who'll be Huxley?

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