Sunday, December 06, 2009

Global Warming, Climategate, and Sanity

In the couple weeks since the climate emails leaked, the responses have been fast and furious. Skeptics have pointed to the emails as the smoking gun, the proof of the conspiracy behind global warming. And climate change believers have brushed the emails off as merely the manipulation of a few data points.

(Disclaimer - I like to think of myself as neither a skeptic nor a believer, but simply a logical person. Read on and decide for yourself.)

And by all means, I think this sort of distortion of data and corruption of science is wrong. But what's disappointing, to me, is that emails haven't caused anyone of importance to say the obvious: Climate science is not a science.

Climate science is a manufactured concept to motivate the masses to action because the short-sightedness and selfishness of man keeps him (and her) from realizing the following logical progression:
  1. Humans have done tangible harm to local environments and continue to do so.
  2. We've seen the repercussions of these harms - to name a few: drastically lowered fertility of Midwest soils, mercury poisoning in fish, polluted rivers and ground water supplies, and, most importantly, the fact that our kids will almost certainly never taste the deliciousness of blue fin tuna due to overfishing aka commercial raping of the oceans.
  3. These harms eventually directly impact humans by decreasing the Earth's capability to provide for human survival (each of the above do this to some extent).
  4. There is a link between scale of destruction and magnitude of harms - if the destruction of the environment continues, there will inevitably be global consequences.
  5. And, most importantly - Keeping these bad things from happening requires a reduction in standard of living and a lowering of economic efficiency.
Climate change/CO2 levels is simply the most global and lowest hanging fruit, so it's getting the most attention. There are many more issues that need attention, of course.

Unfortunately, humans are oftentimes too selfish, passive, and short-term thinking to take pro-active action on environmental issues (see: extinction of the American Buffalo, South American rain forest destruction, etc.) and issues in general (national debt, health care, social security, etc.). So those trying to avoid long term, global environmental damage are forced, by an unmotivated public and an opposition so attached to their creature comforts that they cannot accept "better safe than sorry" as a sufficient reason to take action, to wrap their clause in a cloak of science.

So to those who oppose action on environmental issues: It's going to hurt the economy. It's also the right thing to do. Please grow up.

12 comments:

  1. "The right thing to do" is a dangerous argument. Please see "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand for further clarification.

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  2. "The right thing to do" isn't the argument. The argument is that our short-sightedness and capitalistic society is altering the earth in ways we can't understand. While I agree that "the right thing to do," by itself, is a baseless argument, in this case I think it's appropriately enveloped with more substantiative points. So, "the right thing to do" is a closing statement, not the argument. Could the writer have done without this final oversimplification? Maybe. Does it undermine the argument, certainly not.

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  3. Capitalism does not imply short sightedness; in fact, great capitalists are typically rewarded for their long term vision.

    The author is reflecting upon the conclusion of the NYTimes editorial from yesterday; action is required and the email messages, regardless of their intent, should not be allowed to thwart it. I agree completely with that editorial and with the author's thoughts on the matter.

    However, I don't think using "the right thing to do" as a call to action is a valid impetus, as the popular definition of "right" does not always represent the best path forward (for example, you could argue that it is morally "right" for people to work according to their ability and to receive according to their need). Instead we should be looking to the markets, perhaps with some intelligent regulatory direction, to provide innovation, encourage risk taking, and ultimately, to allocate resources most efficiently. A climate problem, regardless of its severity, exists; the markets will sort the rest out. Letting social will interfere with resource allocation is, as I said, dangerous.

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  4. By capitalism implying short-sightedness I'm referring to short-sighted being one's own lifetime plus that of their childrens' (and maybe their grandchildren.) Three generations is not a very long time. I'm not sure there are many (if any) capitalists leading large corporations or nimble start-ups dedicated to solving finding market solutions to problems with with no pay-offs until their after their grandchildren die.

    The problem is 1) not all problems can be solved in this time period and 2) more often than not, looming problems like climate change, don't have concrete deadlines, further making it difficult for the capitalist to make a case for pursuing a solution to it.

    Essentially, externalities exist which eventually manifest themselves in the present. The tough part is knowing exactly when that conversion happens. Such is the case for someone with a longer-term view than the market itself, the govt (that's the hope anyway), to recognize the need to address this far but-not-improbable externality.

    But, trust me, I'm the last to think the gov't should directly try and find a solution. In fact, I think less gov't in markets is usually the way to go. However, I do think they deserve a spot in dealing with externalities. And I agree with you that the best way to go about it is to incentive capitalists to seek ways to mitigate this externality.

    While I don't necessarily doubt the ingenuity of mankind to solve problems when faced with them, I'm not convinced that all of problems mankind faces can (or will) necessarily be solved within the the alloted time. I don't doubt marthoner Haile Gebrselassie's speed, but what if he only had one hour to complete the 26.2 mile course, not the full two hours and 3 minutes he needed?

    I don't disagree with the notion that the call to "do the right thing" is a good argument. My point was that the author of this blog wasn't using that as their main argument.

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