Monday, December 14, 2009

Considering the Source

By Capt. Fogg

As you may have noticed, I'm ambivalent about global warming and reluctant to argue for or against it. Whether or not it's an ongoing process subject to random variations lasting a decade or a century or many, many centuries; whether burning fossil fuels and deforestation are a major factor in any trend or whether or not much can be done about it are moot questions once one realizes that the human race won't do any more about its behavior and its environment than yeast fermenting in a vat will do to prevent the alcohol it excretes from poisoning it. We won't do a damned thing until we have massive famine and drought and huge uncontrollable migrations and bloody wars to stop it. Even then we will not spend any money on change because there will be " a war on" and we won't allow ourselves to afford it.

If, in 200 years, we're all baking and the tundra is a rain forest and Kansas covered with sand dunes, the "conservatives" will find or invent some scapegoat, invoke some hoax or alternative explanation. On the other hand, if things haven't changed much, change, like Armageddon will still be a dire threat, just around the corner, lurking in new technology and demanding that we go back to riding horses, living in the dark and taking cold showers once a week.

Face it, not only are we thoroughly irrational, self centered and dishonest apes who love our opinions above all else; not only are we not very smart, but we simply can't deal with the immensity of time and the transience of our species. We've all got to go sometime and we all will -- and if you're one of those people who likes to talk about our planet as a living entity that needs to be saved, perhaps the sooner, the better.

I have too much respect for science to indulge in the certainties and partisan bravado both sides have barricaded themselves behind. Nobody is completely right and all projections become blurry as they are extrapolated or trimmed to fit the opinion and it's all very obvious that the certainties seem to swarm most heavily around those with no background whatever in atmospheric or Earth sciences. Why this should be such a political dispute, I do not know. I remember well the Geological dispute between Static isostasy and plate tectonics but I doubt it ever came up on the Senate floor or that Joe the anything had any awareness much less a militantly expressed opinion -- even though it was heavily disputed and careers began and ended over it. It was settled, in the end, by irrefutable data, not by politics or by gyrating TV pundits bellowing like blue-assed baboons about conspiracies.

My inner suspicion is that the apparent lack of facts, the apparent contradictions and the apparent conspiracies appear sharpest through the glass called "I don't want it to be true" but I know full well that cataclysmic predictions have had a very, very poor record of accuracy.

While other popular disputes can be better understood by looking at the demographics; the viral etiology of AIDS, for instance. The origin of species through natural selection, the great age of the Earth: these things after all are threatening to some religious certainties. Climate change may be more independent and may even fit into apocalyptic molds. I'd venture to speculate, however, that those who become most irate at the suggestion that the post industrial revolution climate has been altered by that human factor are those who fear government itself -- and that those who feel an imminent threat and want something done right now are those whose fear of industry and the political power of industry feeds an opposite attraction to government action.

None of us can really handle the truth, nor do we want to. What we do instead is to vilify, to deny, to attack. Is Christopher Monckton, one of the loudest U.K. naysayers indulging in neurotic denialism or are his opinions driven by rigorous scientific investigation? Does the fact that he also thinks we should round up all HIV-positive people and imprison them for life argue for his intellligence? Does his comparison of those who find evidence of man-made climate change to Nazis really inspire confidence in his objectivity? Then again do the kids carrying signs and painting themselves green really have any background making their opinions worth listening to -- or do they just believe what is fun to believe, what people of their social class believe and is useful for picking up girls of like opinions?

One thing that I'm pretty certain of and the evidence supports, is that environmental change drives biological evolution. It also drives cultural evolution and technological evolution. If anything now alive has massive potential for opportunism, for adaptability, for evolution, it's us -- some of us.

The climate is going to change over time -- a very big change. Something will fall on us from space, vulcanism will come and go, the Earth's magnetic field absolutely will fail and then slowly reverse with potentially dire but unknown consequences, a gamma ray pulse may blow away the ionosphere, the continental ice sheets will eat up most of North America and Europe once again. None of these things depend on our politics and prejudices or prayers. Our adaptability and survival however does depend on abandoning the ape-like tribalism, the ape-like confidence in things we have no business being confident in and the ape-like resort to chest thumping, shit flinging and hooting that are more likely to accompany the end of the world than any whimper.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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