Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poison

[Updated 13 August 2007. Added link to Reuters report on bio-fuels. Added excerpt and link to new essay by Freeman Dyson.]

First of all, let me say I believe climate change is real. I believe it is a natural phenomenon that has been going on since earth became a planet. Historic data backs this belief up. There's nothing esoteric about it. The earth's climate has been changing even before we showed up. We do not know what causes it. Apparently the sun's own cycles have an effect. What is in dispute is that human activity has a profound effect on climate change. In this there is no scientific consensus. But the 'It's all our fault' crowd has started to fight dirty. In an exercise in blatant well poisoning, Al Gore, in a forum on climate change in Singapore said
"There has been an organized campaign, financed to the tune of about $10 million a year from some of the largest carbon polluters, to create the impression that there is disagreement in the scientific community," Gore said at a forum in Singapore. "In actuality, there is very little disagreement."
There IS disagreement, Mr. Gore. And to tarnish the reputations of scientists who honestly question the conclusions of your camp is beneath you. The debate is between empiricists and modelers. The empiricists rely on historic data while the modelers rely on sophisticated computer programs to try to predict the future. Im firmly on the side of the empiricists on this one. The modelers have complete control of the data that they enter into their models. Alas that's not real life. In real life,we have no control over what the earth does. We can't even predict the weather next month with any reasonable accuracy, but the modelers are proposing to predict the weather hundreds of years from now.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media is firmly on the side of the It's-all-our-fault crowd; with stories favoring them getting front-page treatment, and stories critical of their claims getting buried right before the Obituaries.

But, one might ask, if this is a natural phenomenon, does that mean there is nothing we can do? Placeholder points to a scheme to put more salt into the oceans so as to prevent a disruption in the Thermohaline Circulation. Another scheme is to put up reflectors in orbit around the earth to reflect back some of the sun's heat, a scheme that would cost between 500 billion to 6 trillion US dollars. There are other schemes, each trying to take advantage of our technological advances. I suppose they miss the irony of all this since if the It's-all-our-fault crowd is to be believed, our technology is what got us into this mess in the first place. But this just points to a mindset we humans have been prone to since the Protestant reformation, the industrial revolution, and the enlightenment: First, the idea that we have dominion over the earth. And second, that we can fix things. That we can geo-engineer the earth to suit our purposes. That is the way to disaster. Even now there are warnings that the push for bio-fuels will kill millions from hunger, but who's listening? Our new senator Zubiri is proud of his Bio-fuels Act.

OR, we can learn to live within our means. Instead of us dictating to the earth, we can let the earth dictate to us how we should live. But try and tell that to the world enamored with wealth and power and property. With consumption, consumption, consumption. Even China has succumbed to to the consumption patterns of the West. And the Philippines? Forget about it, we are caught up in this as well. We are pushing for industrialization (more carbon) even if we cannot feed ourselves without importing food from other countries (even more carbon--consuming local farm produce leaves a smaller carbon footprint than consuming imported food).

But whatever it is we decide to do, one thing is certain: Nature always wins. It is arrogant and naive of us to think that we can tame nature. The earth self-regulates. It will protect itself and the life within it from harm as much as it can. If the earth's carrying capacity states that it can only support 2 billion of us, then that's what will happen. We best use our resources wisely. The resources that would be spent in geo-engineering schemes--six trillion smackers for that reflector scheme!--could be put to better use eradicating poverty, fighting disease, educating people.

Climate change is a fact and there is something we can do about it. Let's just hope we do the right thing.

===

Update: Check out this debate on National Public Radio held earlier this year.
From the debate:

Michael Crichton:

Well, if this is the situation, I suddenly think about my friends, you know, getting on their private jets. And I think, well, you know, maybe they have the right idea. Maybe all that we have to do is mouth a few platitudes, show a good, you know, expression of concern on our faces, buy a Prius, drive it around for a while and give it to the maid, attend a few fundraisers and you’re done. Because, actually, all anybody really wants to do is talk about it. They don’t actually do anything. And the evidence for that is the number of major leaders in climate who clearly have no intention of changing their lifestyle, reducing their own consumption or getting off private jets themselves. If they’re not willing to do it why should anybody else?

Is talking enough? [Does] talking cure the environment? It didn’t work in psychology. It won’t work in the environment either. Is that enough to do? I don’t think so. I think it’s totally inadequate. Everyday 30,000 people on this planet die of the diseases of poverty. There [is] a third of the planet doesn’t have electricity. We have a billion people with no clean water, we have half a billion people going to bed hungry every night. Do we care about this? It seems that we don’t. It seems that we would rather look a hundred years into the future than pay attention to what’s going on now. I think that's unacceptable. I think that’s really a disgrace. This doesn’t need to happen. We’re allowing it to happen. And I don’t know what’s wrong with the rich self-centered societies that we live in in the west that we are not paying attention to the conditions of the wider world. And it does seem to me that if we use arguments about the environment to turn our back on the sick and the dying of our shared world, and that's our excuse to ignore them, then we have done a true and terrible thing.

Update 13 August 2007: Freeman Dyson on models:
My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.
From Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society (08 August 2007).

3 comments:

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

sorry, jego, but i can't follow you here. if global warming or whatever it is has unclear causes, then that means we should take that seroiusly all the precautions the al gore people are saying, right?

Jego said...

We should be doing that anyway, global warming or not is my stand on this. But Al Gore and company, like Michael Crichton said, are not willing to change their lifestyle.

Im saying, if youre preach from a pulpit against global warming, ACT as if you think it's serious.

There are things that ought to be occupying us NOW instead of spending resources preparing for something that may or may not happen.

Jego said...

Here's what Im talking about, Gwapings :-D

Food prices are rising in the US according to this article. One of the reasons?

Why are food prices rising? It's partly because of corn prices, driven up by congressional mandates for ethanol production, which have reduced the amount of corn available for animal feed.

Instead of reducing consumption, farm lands are devoted to fuel production so the rich can maintain their high power lifestyles. On a BBC podcast I heard, scientists estimate that if the whole of the UK were devoted to bio-fuel production, it would be just enough for the fuel consumption of the UK alone. That's fine if they give up eating entirely.