August 14, 2007

Global Warming Revisited

Apparently, my remarks on Global Warming touched a nerve with Remington on Facebook, who made 3 comments on them today. He starts off by challenging my laziness. He asks:


What is it that You don't want to give up or change, to help change for a "subjectively" better world? Your car? Food and other resources that are transported...obscene distances to save a few cents? - Remington

First, the primary thrust of my first post was that I remain unconvinced that Global Warming is a significant problem. To summarize, Global Warming Worries rely on 3 primary tenets:
  1. Global temperatures are rising
  2. Rising temperatures are substantially caused by human activity
  3. Rising temperatures will cause many bad things to happen

While I agree that the case for tenet one is fairly strong, I believe that the case for the latter two is much weaker.

Cause of Warming

First, regarding the human cause of global warming, I pointed out that history and climate archaeology indicates that earth has experience periods of warming before, well before the advent of the gas guzzling SUV. This is further driven home by the recent discover of an error in NASA's data for US temperatures. The correction of this data knocked several of the recently touted "streak of hot years" down quite a bit in the rankings (at least in the US), giving us 4 of the top 10 hottest years in the 1930s [1] and the discovery of a global warming the 20s. [2] Admittedly, the NASA adjustment is not huge and is still relatively warm (if a degree or so can count as significantly warmer). [3]

In fact, scientists have long argued that earth's climate goes through cycles. Some short term cycles are El Nino and El Nina which go back and forth over periods of years, while some long term cycles take place over periods of thousands to millions of years (supposedly ;)), such as Ice Ages (which must obviously be interspersed with Warmer Ages). Included in this list is the previously mentioned polar melting on Mars [4], and it is quite reasonable to conclude that there are natural causes of global warming. Thus, the fact that we are observing warming trends does not mean that this is significantly influenced by human activity.

Results of Warming

Second, I pointed out that there are possible benefits to not only a warmer climate, but having more CO2 in the atmosphere. [5][6]

Error on the side of Safety?

Would it not make sense to place your bet and error on the side of safety, rather than splurge now and worry later? How much would your life really change if you took mass transportation? - Remington

As a minor point, I also observed that most of the plans to reduce emissions do not sound like they provide any significant benefit, even according to the doom prophets promoting them and these plans are not without their own harms.

Furthermore, such plans often have unintended consequences. Consider the rising cost of food in Mexico, not a rich nation, [7][8] as a result of the emphasis on using ethanol and the potential risk of corn shortfalls further exacerbating food and fuel supplies (and thereby prices). [9] And lets not forget that while biodiesel releases less CO2, it releases 2% to 10% more NOx than standard diesel, and NOx aggravates respiratory problems, such as asthma. [10]

To err on the side of safety is not a bad idea, but one can not live without some risks. Consider the man who stays in bed all day to "err on the side of safety", fearing that he may fall, be run over by a car, etc. if he gets out of bed, only to become sickly and weak as his muscles atrophy. The issue is not as simple as just doing something.

My Carbon Footprint

You will probably, as a computer programmer, have the same office that you go to, 9 to 5 (or worse) everyday, theoretically making a commute with mass transportation possible. Imagine the horrors if you gave up driving everyday from a suburb, lived near work, and rode a bicycle. - Remington

Actually, especially during the school year, I do not drive my car that much. I live close enough to the university to walk and I usually do. Furthermore, Cameron and I consistently use much less energy than the average household of our size, according to PSE.

When I work in the summer, I have car pooled at least most of the way with my dad for the last two summers. Finally, the thought of living close enough to work to ride a bike is actually inviting to me, but not something I can afford to do at this time.

Admittedly, I dislike riding buses, primarily due to their slower pace, indirect routing, and time sensitive nature. I also suspect that rumors of their energy efficiency are highly over-rated, given that much of the time, they seem to be less than full.

We Live Here Too

Your dissmissal of Shanon's first argument basically amounts to "everything we do makes us a fuck up, so why worry about fucking it up more?" - Remington

I am afraid that you misunderstood my point there. First, I agreed with the general idea of what Sharon had to say. We are stewards of this earth and thus need to take care of it. However, my second point was to point out that clarification is needed in understanding what is good stewardship and what is truly abusing the environment.

The core of my argument here was that the common method of defining human abuse seems to be to imagine an environment without humans, compare this to an environment with humans, and then instantly classify any difference as a negative effect of human beings. This is an incorrect, inconsistent, and unjustified assumption. In circular fashion, it begins by assuming any change by humans is bad, and then reaches the same conclusion. Furthermore, the converse assumption seems to be made about everything else in nature. Thus, when considering animal x, the changes it imposes on the environment are considered part of the natural system or balance, in stark constrast to humans, who are always seem to be viewed as external to the system and therefore a problem rather than a part of the system. Finally, there seems to be no justification for this double standard. My argument there was not that humans are inherent screw ups.

It cuts both ways

If even the middle class (like Brandon) can't be bothered to change their oh-so-wonderful lifestyles, why would the rich and powerful? - Remington

One of the things that strikes me about your remarks is the glaring lack of any attempt to directly engage the arguments I have presented regarding the true nature of global warming. I would submit to Remington that if he can't be bothered to actually demonstrate that a problem exists, he has no basis on which to castigate other people for (1) disagreeing with him and (2) not acting as he sees fit.

Capitalist vs. Socialist Strategy

I would love to see capitalism to support renewable energy and see it as a possible source of profits, but until it becomes, as always, more cost effective, it won't happen quickly. - Remington

The introduction of Capitalism into this discussion, it seems to me, helps to clarify exactly what is going on here in relation to government. Capitalism is, first and foremost, not an economic system. It seems to me that Capitalism is better understood as , a system of personal freedom and property, that has economic consequences. Thus, a Capitalistic society allows individuals the freedom to choose to act, or not to act, on issues such as global warming as they are convinced in the free market place of ideas to do so.

Convsersely, modern liberalism, tends towards a more socialistic approach of elite politicians controlling what we do based on their conclusions. Whether we trust individual citizens to do the right thing or not, I think we should be able to agree that we can't trust politicians any more (and probably less). It should also be noted that politicians and governments have an incentive to grasp onto doomsday scenarios such as Global Warming in order to justify expanding their power.

The Bible's Relevance

...and quotes of the bible (which, as an atheist, I dismiss immediately), are hardly enough for me to change my stance. - Remington

This does not surprise me. I also suspect that Sharon, as an Atheist, did not find them particularly persuasive either. However, as I believe the Bible to be true, I also believe it to be relevant on this issue. This is particularly relevant to others who are not Christians because Genesis is often used against Christians by environmentalists. You cite it yourself in your third comment when you remark that "they demonstrate 'dominion over the earth'". My primary intent in citing Genesis was to show that not only does the Bible teach the stewardship Sharon believes in, but it does so in balance with the human dominion that is so often cited outside of that context.

Iraq's WMDs

I won't say that any argument of mine is terribly strong, but as he believes with Iraq's WMD, I'd rather take the safe course and act now. - Remington

I am not sure how my supposed past misjudgements alter reality against my current arguments or how my own past history at all is related to the reasonability of my current arguments. I am not asking anyone to take my word on this. I am merely asking that they consider my reasons for my views. I would also like to argue that WMDs were a substantiated danger of Saddam's Iraq, but this issue is already large enough. If anyone wants to know what I have to say about that, let me know.

Fuel Efficiency

When people advocate and ask for more fuel efficient vehicles, they are not asking drivers to change their lifestyles, just drive sane vehicles that aren't gas-guzzling peices of materialist bullshit. A stretch Hummer gets 8 miles to the gallon, so that fools and their money can be parted as they demonstrate "dominion over the earth", without consideration of the harm they do. - Remington

Like Remington, I find stretch Hummer's to be absurd and wasteful. However, I do not support forcing others to not make or buy them. Stretch Hummers are also an extreme not driven by most people. Unfortunately, CAFE standards result in lighter, more dangerous cars. As a result, it is estimated that CAFE causes several thousand additional traffic deaths each year. [11]


As I pointed out earlier, Remington presents no reason to believe that Global Warming is caused by humans, that it can be stopped by humans, or that it will actually cause anything horrible to happen. He merely assumes that it does. Therefore, I challenge Remington and anyone who believes that Global Warming is man-made, reversible, and/or will cause horrible things to happen to present arguments and evidence that this is so. Specifically:
  1. Present evidence that human activity does cause significant global warming. Please include a reasonable impact here, such as 25% of Global Warming is due to human emissions.
  2. Present actions that we can take to decrease global warming significantly. This should likewise include some ballpark figure as to what we can expect to receive for our sacrifice. Ideally, this will also be tied to presented harms of Global Warming.
  3. The Harms of Global Warming. Please present real impacts. Things like death (any creature) are particularly good here. The cost of air conditioning does not count.

If anyone thinks that I am being unreasonable in these requests, please let me know how.


[1] Mark Steyn. "Warm-mongers and cheeseburger imperialists". ocregister. 8/12/2007
[2] John McCaslin. "Inside the Beltway", The Washington Times. 8/14/2007
[3] Bradford Plumer. "Global Warming Debunked! (or not....)". The Plank. 8/13/2007
[4] Kate Ravilious. "Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says". National Geographic News. 2/28/2007
[5] Sylvan H. Wittwer. "Rising Carbon Dioxide is Great for Plants". Policy Review. Fall 1992
[6] Mark Shwartz. "High CO2 levels can retard plant growth, study reveals". Stanford Report. 12/5/2002
[7] Brittany Sauser. "Ethanol Demand Threatens Food Prices. Technology in Review. 2/13/2007
[8] Manuel Roig-Franzia. "A Culinary and Cultural Staple in Crisis". Washington Post Foreign Service. 1/27/2007
[9] Ethanol and food price volatility. Econbrowser. 7/22/2007
[10] "Comparison of Biodiesel, ULSD and CNG for Use in On-Road Heavy-duty Applications". Steve Richardson & Company, LLC. 2004?
[11] "Corporate Average Fuel Economy". Wikipedia.

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