Thursday, July 06, 2006

Critics of Global Warming

K and my father both pointed to Prof. Richard S. Lindzen's article on the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal

Prof. Lindzen wrote a justified diatribe on both Al Gore's approach in his movie and various hyperbolic media statements regarding the ramifications of global warming. He specifically said that there is no "consensus" within the scientific community for global warming.

There is no "consensus" for the simple reason that there is no "community" and there is no mechanism for "consensus" other than polls by journalists. Daniel Dennett, the Tutfs University philosopher famous for his missives on evolution, once said that any new idea in science goes through three stages:

  1.  "That can't be right!"
  2.  "Well", in the face of overwhelming evidence, "you might be on to something..."
  3.  "Of course!  Everybody knows that."

Those stages constitute "consensus" in the scientific community. Note that there could very well be a fourth stage when the notion enters school text books. I think that global warming is somewhere between stages (2) and (3).

Prof. Lindzen has most probably fueled the ill considered media storm that he dislikes. His article was aimed at the media and politicians coming to the wrong conclusions, but he failed to highlight where consensus does occur. He did say:

- "Most of the climate community has agreed since 1988 that global mean temperatures have increased on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, having risen significantly from about 1919 to 1940, decreased between 1940 and the early '70s, increased again until the '90s, and remaining essentially flat since 1998."

- "There is also little disagreement that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen from about 280 parts per million by volume in the 19th century to about 387 ppmv today."

- "Finally, there has been no question whatever that carbon dioxide is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse gas--albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming."

He made the point that the Earth's climate is dynamic, and it surely is. Understanding the Earth's climate is probably harder than rocket science and for the same fundamental reasons. Rocket combustion is complex (in the scientific sense of the word) and so is the climate. There are too many variables which interact to too many ways to measure.

So, what is going to happen? We don't know. Al Gore said it, Prof. Lindzen said it and I've just said it. However, consider this. We do know that we have been polluting the air, water and land all around us since the industrial revolution and are continuing to do so at an increasing rate. We do know that badly polluted areas are difficult to live in (such as Mexico City) or even impossible (such as Prypiat, Ukraine). Should we continue to pollute at such a rate until the science is 100% accurate in its ability to predict the future, or should we reduce our pollution rates?

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I replied to part of this post at my weblog, and I would like to invite your opinion into the conversation:
    Global Warming too?... what next, politics