Monday, October 19, 2009

Superfreakonomics Challenges Global Warmism

When it comes to climatology, I have as much professional training as Paul Krugman. That is, none. I follow the public debate and ask myself questions. Since I am not, like Krugman, a polemicist, I am most interested in watching the way the marketplace of ideas is working, or not working, in the case of global climate change.

The debate is heating up right now because Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt are publishing a new book called: "Superfreakonomics" wherein they suggest that to them global warmism feels like a religion.

As is his wont Paul Krugman has charged into the debate with paroxysms of righteous indignation. Links here and here.

Krugman insists that the science is settled, that global warming is real, and that it is caused by human beings. If left unabated, he declares, civilization as we know it will come to an end.

Thus, the ferocious urgency to act now, decisively, to stop the slide into civilizational oblivion.

One wonders how a man of science can allow himself to be so carried away on waves of what looks like religious dogma. In this, Dubner and Levitt are certainly correct.

Following the lead of Al Gore teams of scientists and polemicists have been working night and day to convince Americans to allow them to do what they please to the American industrial base. And to do so because of a threat that they perceive but that does not, in any sense of the term, rise to the level of scientific fact.

While most global warmists blame a sinful humanity for the woes of climate change, the more sane among them are clear enough that the primary culprit is the American industrial base. While the Chinese and Indians are becoming increasingly concerned with industrial pollution, global warming produced by carbon dioxide is a completely different animal. We all know that these developing countries are not going to stop building power plants because of some rantings by Al Gore and Michael Moore.

If Gore were standing in Times Square holding a sign that read: The End is Near, and calling on all of us repent now or face fire and brimstone... then people would see this debate more clearly.

For now the effort, joined by Krugman, among others, to shut down debate feels more like an intimidation tactic and less like an effort to persuade.

Thus, the vitriol heaped on "Superfreakonomics" for having committed the sin of using the phrase: "global cooling" on its jacket. And hence, the effort to discredit and defame anyone who would dare doubt the ultimate truth about global warming.

We know that certain political leaders convince by the strength of their conviction. Fanatics are persuasive because we assume that the depth of their conviction must mean that they have seen a truth that is beyond what we would normally imagine. They convince us that we ignore them at our peril.

Once enough people believe in the dogma then anyone who disagrees is going to be denounced as psychologically defective. Krugman declares that those who question the global warming dogma are in denial. If not in denial, they are troglodytes or imbeciles.

Once such thinking enters a culture it is far easier to go along with the conventional wisdom than to challenge it and be denounced by Paul Krugman.

So, the global warmists want us to believe that while sophisticated computer models cannot predict the hurricane season accurately, we should believe that they can predict the state of the global climate a century from now.

A couple of decades ago James Gleick wrote an excellent book on chaos theory. Gleick opened the book with a scientific analysis of how a random movement by a butterfly can provoke a chain reaction that will influence the weather. Thus, he explained, it is devilishly difficult to predict the weather with anything resembling complete accuracy.

I keep recalling a statement by the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: "It is an hypothesis that the sun will rise tomorrow; and this means that we do not know whether it will rise."

Wittgenstein is applying the scientific method and warning us not to mistake predictions for scientific facts. True science involves hypotheses that can be either proven or disproved once relevant and observable data are collected and analyzed.

Of course, there is a very high statistical probability that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. It would probably not spend too much time planning for the alternate eventuality. But let us not say that our ability to predict tomorrow's sunrise, and to subject our hypothesis to experiential validation, is in any way similar to a prediction of what the global climate will be like decades from now.

The longer your time frame the more variables enter the equation. To take an example recently in the news, how can you predict solar activity or inactivity over the next decades. Surely, the sun exercises an important influence over the climate, one that is outside of the control of human beings. Link here.

When you are talking about tomorrow's weather or sunrise, you are talking about a hypothesis. When you are talking about the state of the climate a hundred years from now, you are offering a prophecy.

It is one thing to dismantle the better part of the American industrial base for a scientific fact; quite another to do it for a prophecy.

As Stephen Dubner judiciously explained: "We discuss how even the most sophisticated climate models are limited in their ability to predict the future, and we discuss the large measure of uncertainty in this realm, given that global climate is such a complex and dynamic system." Link here.

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