Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No Straw Left Ungrasped

Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation apparently fancies himself a deadly ironist.

You can do a lot of things when December rolls around and temperatures plunge. But would you hold an international conference on global warming? The United Nations did.
How about that, folks? It was cold in Montreal, but the UN held a conference on "global warming" anyway. What hypocrisy, eh?

This daft non sequitur leads to an equally daft complaint about the "contradictory" science of climate change:
[T]he speakers could never quite agree what we're up against. While most Kyoto enthusiasts have long argued the planet is getting warmer, a recent report in the journal Nature hints that a new Ice Age may be on the way. The report says the ocean current that keeps Europe warm may be shifting, which could make the continent cooler.
Before continuing, let's note Feulner's prejudicial use of the term "Ice Age" to refer to what he himself identifies as an example of regional climate change within an unsettled global system.
[N]o matter what, the worrywarts have the future covered. Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace explained, "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter; that's what we're dealing with." No wonder humanity is having trouble addressing the problems -- we can't even decide what the problems are.
Of course, scientists can agree on what the problems are, by and large. What they can't completely agree on is the full spectrum of possible results...which is not very surprising when you're talking about a problem in nonlinear dynamics. This is a point Feulner himself makes the moment it suits his purpose:
With all our scientific advances, we can barely predict what the weather will be tomorrow, let alone forecast what will happen 50 years from now.
Thus, Feulner acknowledges that scientists can't be expected to predict the precise results of climate change, while pretending that their lack of unanimity somehow renders them ridiculous. He uses a similar sleight of hand to "discredit" Guilbeaut, who's actually pointing out that global warming can have "contradictory" effects simultaneously (e.g., more rain in one region, and more drought in another).

The notion that a warming earth could lead to colder regional temperatures is widely accepted, and it's really not hard to grasp when you picture, say, melting ice caps. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explains the process in terms just about anyone can undertstand:
Warming is causing more water to evaporate from the tropics, more rainfall in subpolar and polar regions, and more ice to melt at high latitudes. As a result, fresh water is being lost from the tropics and added to the ocean at higher latitudes. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the additional fresh water can change ocean circulation patterns, disrupting or redirecting currents that now carry warm water to the north. Redirecting or slowing this "Atlantic heat pump" would mean colder winters in the northeast U.S. and Western Europe. But the heat gained from higher greenhouse gas concentrations is still in the climate system, just elsewhere. The result: a warmer earth, a colder North Atlantic.
Simple enough, unless you're a loony-libertarian dead-ender in utter thrall to Richard Mellon Scaife.

It's funny that Feulner sees fit to upbraid scientists for their intellectual sins, while making bizarre pronouncements like this one:
What we do know is that as a country becomes more affluent, it becomes cleaner.
To the miniscule extent that this is even arguably true, it ignores the fact that pollution control is usually achieved over the deafening protests of industry-funded Chicken Littles like Fuelner, who screech that it will destroy economic or scientific progress. I suppose you could argue that Britain's industrial revolution eventually resulted in some controls on industry, but its initial effect was to increase pollution, and I'll bet that this was its net effect, too. If anyone needs another example, the automobile contributed a great deal to the economic growth of the United States, while contaminating the environment with, among other things, millions of metric tons of lead. You can argue that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental costs, if you wish, but you can't coherently argue that economic growth leads reliably to a cleaner environment, unless your definition of "cleaner" is so idiosyncratic or dishonest as to be incomprehensible.

But of course, shills like Feulner aren't looking for coherent arguments; they're looking for sophistries with which to baffle an already confused public.


WHT said...

What we do know is that as a country becomes more affluent, it becomes cleaner.

I think he meant to say "as a country becomes more effluent" because then he could enjoy swimming in his own fecal matter.

Thersites said...

Omigod, Phila, but you've just been slammed.

Phila said...


She's quite right, but I refuse to take any personal responsibility regardless. It's plain as day that Amerikkkan society is ultimately to blame.

Engineer-Poet said...

Goodness, that was even funnier than brainwashedgod or the best attempts of a certain soi-disant Savant.