August 18, 2007

The Global Warming Challenge, Take 1

Yesterday, I challenged [2] those who fear global warming and think we should take drastic and often coercive regulatory measures to save ourselves from the dreaded roasting of the earth to providing substantiated arguments for three primary ideas:
  1. Human cause
  2. Consequences
  3. Human solutions

This morning, Sharon took a crack at these on Facebook.

Human Cause

Whether or not humans caused the problem is a great argument. But I think it's irrelevant to the situation at hand, or at best, not the only thing to consider. - Sharon

It is reasonable to argue that global warming is a natural occurrence, that it will cause horrible things to happen, and that we should do something about it, but it seems like the action we should take is much less clear in this case.

Point 1 has been argued back and forth hundreds of times. It's impossible to say at this point who's feeding whose pocket, and where the truth really lies. Without being a climatologist myself, the best I can say is that there's good evidence on both sides of the argument, enough to convince any reasonable person of either side, with a sufficiently open mind to good logic and facts. All that really goes to show is that *we don't know*. - Sharon

I obviously disagree. It seems to me that the doom prophets are long on supposed disasters and calls to action, and short on solid evidence and arguments. Indeed, I would argue that this also characterizes much of the discussion we have been having here. I have spent quite a bit of text examining reasons to doubt that global warming is caused by humans and in reply I have received limited claims and opinions to the contrary and a lot of arguments that we should do something.


Sharon begins with several seemingly well justified premises:
  1. Temperatures are rising
  2. Polar caps are melting
  3. Ocean levels are rising

Before moving to any negative impacts, she attempts to bolster to expected magnitude of these three effects by arguing that global warming begets more global warming.

Positive or Negative Feedback

Sharon argues that given these premises, global warming will make itself worse through positive feedback. In support of this idea, she cites a Science Daily article. The article offers the following argument:

an increase in arctic temperatures...could result in...higher levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere...[fueling] global warming even more.

The study found...elevating summer temperatures by about 2 degrees Celsius...on plots of arctic tundra increased the CO2 emissions by 26 to 38 percent under normal snowfall. When snowfall on some plots was increased...[a reasonable possibility]...CO2 emissions increased 112 to 326 percent.

Although this is interesting, the article presents no significant impact or magnitude of this discovery. It makes no attempt to compare expected CO2 emission increases caused by this effect given expected warming with any figure (CO2 emissions from cars) that means anything at all to me. Furthermore, as the mechanism for the release is plants drawing CO2 out of the soil and releasing more of this absorbed CO2 into the air than it draws from the air and uses, I suspect the equilibrium here is relatively low. Therefore, this article provides very little reason to suspect a significant increase in global CO2 emissions and thereby global increases in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Rather than accepting that Global Warming will worsen as a result of natural positive feedback, it seems to me that the global system is much more self-correcting. Assuming the CO2 even is a major cause of the global warming we are experiencing, it also stimulates the growth of plants, which work to extract it out of the atmosphere, as demonstrated by sources I cited in my last article. [2.5, 2.6]

Therefore, it seems to me more likely that rather than a delicately tuned system that could spiral out of control on account of minor changes, the climate seems much more like a self-correcting system. Furthermore, as the articles also demonstrate, this effect will be a boon to farmers, helping them grow more food to feed people around the world. So far, on the whole, global warming sounds like a positive thing for the world, not a negative thing.

Swift Destruction

As further evidence, Sharon points to the recent discovery of well-preserved frozen mammoths, which were probably frozen pretty quickly. I don't remember a whole lot about this case, so I can't say much about it without further research. However, as Sharon remarks, I would consider the flood as a prime suspect, but I do not think the event, whether by global or local flood, lends itself to the granted causes (melting polar caps and thermal expansion of the ocean). It seems to me that both of these lend themselves to a slow creep of rising water (mm over years) [3] rather than a sudden deluge.

It should also be noted that the mammoths froze before SUVs.

Death and Destruction

Based on these 2 arguments, Sharon makes the following argument:

The polar ice caps melting drastically in unpredictable manners causing vast havoc over the world will definitely cause a lot of death. I'm not going to argue that's a bad thing, other than that I'd kind of like humanity to be around for a while. I'm fond of them. And while aquatic life is great and all, a tree falling in the forest is just that.

This is certainly a real impact. Allow me to summarize:
  1. Vast Havoc on Land
  2. Destruction of Humanity (and probably many animal and plant species as well)

However, I do not see how these really follow from the given premises and the 2 arguments Sharon presented, given for the moment. Am I misunderstanding an extent here?

Human Solutions

But the important part of what I believe falls around point 2. Assuming A.) we'd like humans to be alive and B.) we'd like humans to be alive on THIS planet forces us to say a few things. - Sharon

Sharon follows this with the two examples:
  1. NASA's search for asteroids on route to strike earth
  2. The fate of the Spotted Owl

Essentially, the argument offered here is summed up by this excerpt:

The world is complicated. Bloody complicated, even...My point here is that we don't always know what we're doing in terms of ecological harm or help. In fact, we barely know at all. But if we do nothing, we're guaranteed to lose all of what [evolution|God] has created so far. And so it seems that even though our hand may be heavy and stupidly placed sometimes, we should try to save some of it. Because once it's gone, like the spotted owl, we're not going to get it back. And who knows but what might some species or other be essential in the long run to our survival. - Sharon

In other words, we do not know if global warming is a problem or not, but we should try to fix it anyway. Unfortunately, it is one thing to plan for contingencies and significantly restrict the production of certain goods based on the idea that something might be a problem. If we tried to fix every possible problem, not only would find ourselves attempting obviously impossible things, but we would find ourselves attempting contradictory solutions. For example, consider trying to stop global warming because it might be happening, and at the same time trying to stop global cooling, because that might be happening as well! It was not so long ago that the next Ice Age, rather than the next Scorching Age was what people were concerned about. Even today, some people are concerned that global warming will cause the next ice age. [4]

In short, we should require solid evidence that global warming is going to cause serious problems (1) and that there is something we can do about it (2). And remember, this isn't just a question of us "doing something". Many of the proposed plans to solve global warming would cause major hardship and possibly even death for many people around the world. For example, as I pointed out in my previous article [2], the diversion of corn production from food to ethanol is causing food shortages in Mexico and CAFE standards designed to decrease emissions from cars kill about 2000 people in the US every year. As someone once said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Trusting God

It is true that the Bible does outline some future events that require humanity to still be around when the events occur. As a result, we can know that Global Warming won't kill us all. However, that does not mean God won't allow humanity to hurt itself pretty badly. The Biblical account is full of people who did stupid things that God let come back to bite them.

But if I were in my home with the rising water and praying to the God of the Bible to save me, at least one scenario has him up there saying "Well you dummy, I showed you how you were supposed to be careful and responsible. It was your own choice not to be careful with your [nuclear plants|emissions|resource usage|]." - Sharon

I suspect God would also be wondering why the person was sat in the house and watched the water coming, then stayed in the house will the water came in the house. This analogy reminds me of the story of a woman who climbed onto her roof during a flood. Once there, she proceeded to pray to God for deliverance. A boat and a helicopter both came by and offered to save her, but she replied that God would save her. After drowning, she got to heaven and asked God why He did not rescue her. God replied that He tried twice, once with a boat and once with a helicopter and she turned them down.

Human Arrogance

I have heard the argument several times that the very idea that humans could affect any global system is patently arrogant and absurd. I do not subscribe to this notion. It should be noted that it was because of man's wickedness that God destroyed the earth with a flood (not by our power, of course, but on account of us).


I am not sure what fate vs. freewill really has to do with this discussion.


[Forgive me for the rhetoric, I'm a 2AR junkie. It's habit.] - Sharon

Don't worry, rhetoric happens. ;)


In summary, I asked for three arguments regarding Global Warming:
  1. Human cause
  2. Consequences
  3. Human solutions

and I'd say she spent most of her time arguing for 2.

Human Cause

She presented a reasonable dodge on 1, arguing that the whether man caused it or not, any potential problems will hurt us just as much. This approach makes it possible to argue that bad things will happen and we should do something, but it also makes it unreasonable to blame people for destroying the planet. It also makes it harder to argue that there is much we can do about (or else we'll probably have to work harder, if we've influenced the global climate once, it shouldn't be as hard to influence it again. However, if we accept that human activity has not yet significantly influenced global climates, we have a lot further to go).


Unfortunately, I did not see any specific or substantiated consequences to global warming. What I saw was two fairly weak and vague arguments attempting to support the idea that global warming will speed up and that climate change can happen fast. This was followed by several long arguments illustrating that we don't know what is happening, but we should do something. All of this was interspersed with repeated leaps of logic to the destruction of humanity and the earth as we know it.

Human Solutions

No concrete recommendations with accompanying expected results were presented, although many calls to do something were included. Again, what I am looking for here is specific actions that we can take and what results we should expect from these actions. Even if I bought the Consequences of Global Warming arguments, I'd be left with nothing specific to do or any expectation of actually helping at all. In fact, I might do the wrong thing and just make us burn or freeze faster!

In conclusion, I find Sharon's argument in defense of global warming devastations and the call to act now decidedly unsupported by facts, evidence, or reason.

[1] "Increased Arctic Temperatures Could Speed Up Global Warming". ScienceDaily. 3/2/1999.
[2] Me. "Global Warming Revisited". Ramblings. 8/14/2007.
[3] Sea level rise. Wikipedia.
[4] Thom Hartmann. How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age.... 1/30/2004

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