Sunday, December 10, 2006

Anchoress Awry!

Thers links to a daft denialist outburst by the Anchoress. I was steeling myself to rebut her nonsense, when I realized that I'd have to log in to leave a comment. That gave me time to remind myself that with conservatarians, it's not the quality of the argument that matters, but the stance the argument is meant to uphold. As I said chez Thers:

[S]he'd sound just as smug and haughty if she were arguing that global warming is "hoo-hah" because Piltdown Man was a hoax; or because it snowed last week in Flin Flon, Manitoba; or because Dempsey beat Firpo in '23.
Essentially, her rule of thumb is that if terrible people like Al Gore and Bill Clinton believe in climate change, it must be false:
The Global Warming Hysteria Movement, complete with Media overhype, is not real. The proof is in the politics of it.
Besides which, all sensible people understand that climate alarmism is simply a cover for the international Islamosocialist plot to enslave the world and make homosexuality and abortion compulsory. And when you face a threat that deadly, it's important not to fall prey to hysteria.

Actually, if the American media have overhyped anything in regards to climate change, it's the scientific stature of denialists and the validity of their claims. And the primary reason for this is not exactly a mystery:
It has long been known that [ExxonMobil], which in 2005 recorded an all-time record for quarterly income, has spent millions of dollars to fund climate sceptics [including Steven Milloy, who's the source of at least some of the Anchoress's misinformation--P]. Exactly how much is unknown but some estimates suggest $19m (£9.7m) since 1998.
Despite ExxonMobil's efforts, and similar ones, only about seven percent of Americans believe global warming is a hoax. I'm reminded of Melmoth the Wanderer, who Poe said "labors accomplish the destruction of two or three souls, where any common devil would have demolished one or two thousand." And that, I guess, is why despite what I said above, I feel like I do have to rebut the Anchoress. Like ExxonMobil, my eye is on the sparrow.

To work, then:
Well, if you’re looking for degrees in Earth Science, then I can’t speak credibly on Global Warming. Then again, Al Gore has no degree in Earth Science, either, and he seems to have plenty of credibility on this issue for some...
This is actually very easy to explain. Suppose that I don't have a degree in astrophysics, and neither does the Anchoress. Suppose further that my review of the scientific literature leads me to accept that the sun has a diameter of 1.392×106 km, and is 149.6×106 km from the earth, while the Anchoress agrees with Heraclitus that the sun is the size of a man's foot and forms anew daily. According to generally accepted standards, I'm closer to the truth than she is, because there's plenty of scientific evidence for my claim and there's little or none for hers.

She goes on to say that once the press "goes orthodox" on an issue, she gets skeptical about it. I'll take her word for it, even though I haven't seen her attacking the proposition that HIV causes AIDS, or that dinosaurs formerly roamed the earth, or that it's healthier to drink water than antifreeze.

Next, she quotes someone named "Fausta," who claims that "there is no consensus on global warming." You might as well argue that since the Flat Earth Society is still accepting membership fees, there's no consensus on the shape of the earth.
You can find data to support any theory you want to - which is why 3o years ago, there was all that staggering, scary data about the coming Ice Age.
Those "data" about the coming ice age may have been scary, but they were hardly staggering and they led to no consensus at all. By contrast, anthropogenic climate change is accepted by the relevant scientific bodies of every major country on earth, including the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Physics, and the American Meteorological Society. That doesn't make it absolutely true, of course, but it does indicate a consensus.

Having convinced herself that it's impossible for denialists to be scientifically incorrect - and isn't it funny how often conservative postmodernism-bashers find themselves espousing a vulgar antifoundationalism? - the Anchoress assumes that denialists are getting jeered at for being politically incorrect. She sheds hot salt tears over the plight of "former-media darling" Michael Crichton, whose heterodox views were suppressed so brutally that despite having no relevent credentials, he was called to testify as an expert witness before the Senate. The Establishment also scuttled his denialist novel State of Fear, limiting it to an initial printing of 1.5 million copies and relegating it to the backwater of Amazon's #1 bestseller list. As a final blow, Crichton was banned from all major media outlets, except for the ones that invited him on to discuss his work.
The truth is, out of 100 scientists, only 19 will tell you Global Warming is real....
This is an odd claim. I'm guessing that she got carried away by an apocryphal AP survey in which only 19 out of 100 scientists contacted thought An Inconvenient Truth deserved "five stars for accuracy" (as I understand it, the other scientists either hadn't seen the film at the time, or were otherwise unwilling to comment).

Also, it's interesting that the Anchoress says global warming isn't happening, period, given that she describes Bjorn Lomborg as "persuasive" (according to Lomborg, "global warming is real, and it is caused by CO2").

She also knows that global warming is a hoax because people are talking about it:
[W]hich is why Oprah needs to discuss it with Leonardo DiCaprio - that’s what you do when all you have is an idea you want to promote - you market it.
The problem is, if climate change is real, one would expect Oprah and Leonardo DiCaprio to talk about it. The Anchoress seems to have set up a rather paradoxical standard of proof: She'll believe that disruptive climate change is a real threat only if celebrities don't talk about it, or try to do anything about it. It's a bit like refusing to believe your neighbor's claim that your house is on fire, because you don't like her politics.
I possess recent memory and it serves me well. My recent memory can look back at a summer ten years ago wherein the horrific heat was finally broken with an 8 day deluge that had mothers everywhere beating their kids because they couldn’t take another day of indoors shenanigans.
Yep. Global warming is a hoax because ten years ago, there was a heatwave, and then it rained for eight days. You can't pull the wool over the Anchoress's eyes, no siree, not with that "recent memory" of hers.

Like most lay denialism, this boils down to an inability to grasp two facts:
1. Climate and weather are two different things.

2. Heat is a form of energy, and earth's oceans and atmosphere essentially comprise a heat engine.
If you don't understand this, you'll probably find even the most basic claims about climate change unintelligible. As thus:
[T]here are lots and lots of natural phenomena, btw - the earth is always cooling and heating, but I digress.
Got that? Global warming is a fraud, because we experience weather and other natural phenomena.

The Anchoress's mistake is twofold. First, she thinks that because climate change has happened naturally in the past, it must be happening naturally now. Second, she thinks that local weather and global climate are the same thing. Again, they're not.
My third and most emphatic reason for disbelieving all the Global Warming hoo-hah is a simple one that lots of true believers probably won’t understand. If the people promoting the hysteria on warming were serious - if the issue were a real one and not simply a political tool, then the hyper-concerned folks would be welcoming and heralding thoughtful environmental programs and helpful policies from any-and-all quarters, even - gasp - from the right.
Well, yes. They would. And as a matter of fact, they have. Some "hyper-concerned folks," for instance, have jumped on the nuclear bandwagon (James Lovelock being the most notable). And as I discussed here, others have praised, at least tentatively, Bush's Methane to Markets plan. Others support voluntary reductions (e.g., those pursued by Wal-Mart), as well as carbon trading and other market-based approaches. Still others are intrigued by geoengineering.

The Right hasn't actually suggested very many solutions, since it tends to agree with the Anchoress that there's no problem to solve. And those it has suggested haven't been terribly thoughtful (unless business as usual strikes you as a visionary concept). But to say that environmentalists reflexively reject any policy proposed by the Right is very easily debunked nonsense.

The only really interesting question is what happens to the world if the Anchoress is wrong, versus what happens if climatologists are wrong. Granting that I may be a bit soft on socialism, I do think most people would find mass extinctions, pandemic disease, and global starvation more frightening (and at least as likely to lead to political tyranny, for that matter).

A while back, David Roberts made an excellent point:
The arguments conservatives use for inaction on global warming seem sharply at odds with their arguments about terrorism. Consider Dick Cheney's celebrated One Percent Doctrine, which says that even a 1% chance of catastrophic terrorist attack should prompt us to respond as though it were a certainty.

Well, the chances of catastrophic damage from global warming are a hell of a lot higher than 1%. So ...
The Anchoress would deny that last point, I'm sure. But then, the Anchoress doesn't even understand that climate and weather are two different things.


Eli said...

I'm pretty sure that the 1% Doctrine only applies to Stuff Conservatives Wanted To Do Anyway.

Eli said...

Also: Has anyone ever seen Althouse and Anchoress together?

Marc said...

Wasn't an Anchoress someone who was totally disconnected from the world and only knew or believed what people whispered to them through their little windows.

Thers said...

Marc, yeah, the Anchoress actually says that herself at the top of her blog. Oy.

"Civility" means that both Phila and the Anchoress have equally valid opinions, right...?