Friday, December 17, 2004

Junk Science

Okay, let's pretend for a moment that there's no evidence whatsoever that global warming presents a problem. Let's pretend it's all a matter of interpretation.

Now, how does this statement come across, as a simple matter of logic?

Bjorn Lomborg...dismissed concerns about the catastrophic impacts of rising sea levels.

"We are probably gong to see sea levels rise about 50 centimeters over the coming century. Now that is a substantial amount, but what we don't remember is that in the last century they rose somewhere between 10 and 25 centimeters - and did anyone notice? I mean it is something we dealt with," Lomborg told
Fair enough. Suppose I lost 5 to 10 percent of my income in a given period, but was able to "deal with it." Does that say anything about my ability to deal with a further loss of 20 percent? Of course not. Below a certain income level, I'm not going to be able to sustain myself. Where that level is depends on a variety of specific factors (my rent, my burden of debt), all of which have to be addressed. Whatever you believe about global warming - and Lomberg concedes that sea levels are rising because of it - you can't logically say "We dealt with 25 centimeters and no one noticed; therefore, another 50 centimeters is not a serious problem." That's just stupid. Lomborg, it's worth noting, holds no degree in environmental science or climatology; he's a political science major, and his work in environmental science has been torn to shreds by a number of experts in Scientific American. For more information on this astonishingly weird man, you can check out the very entertaining Lomborg-Errors website.

But if you really wish to be guided by illogical claims, made by people with no background in climatology or meteorology or environmental science, forget Lomborg: Myron Ebell is your man. Ebell holds degrees in economics; he has no expertise in the matter of climate change whatsoever, as this next quote demonstrates:
...Ebell questioned why rising Arctic temperatures were something to fear. "If global warming in the Arctic is such a problem, why do 80 percent of Canadians live within 50 miles of the U.S. border?" Ebell asked rhetorically. "If Canada warmed up a bit they might be able to live in more of their own country," he added.
And if San Francisco started freezing over in the winter, I could go sledding down Telegraph Hill. But so what? What's at issue here isn't where people can or can't live, it's what the effect of a warmer climate would be on all the biological and meteorological processes now happening in the Arctic.

Ebell's a member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a far-right think-tank comprised mainly of political scientists and economists with no background in hard science; you can read about them here.


echidne said...

Economists tend to do that. We have always been imperialists in our strivings to explain everything using economics. But it's a new twist to go into other fields and explain things there without bothering to get the training for it. I really should do the same: I have always wanted to be the oracle of Delphi.

Economists are doing this in evolutionary science, too.
I'm ashamed of the company I keep.

Anonymous said...

Interrobang from Eschaton here...

Ebell's also wrong about Canadian geography. There's no way in hell 80% of Canadians live "within 50 miles of the US border," as the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa/Hull, Montreal, Edmonton, and Calgary (which collectively account a staggering amount of Canada's population), are all further than 50 miles from the border. If he'd said 250 miles, I might be inclined to agree with him.

Climate change which still wouldn't make much more of Canada amenable to living in, though. It'd just turn the permafrost into muskeg, and you can't farm on the Canadian Shield, because the bedrock is too close to the surface. In much of northeastern Canada, the further north you go, the more the terrain becomes a choice between "rock" or "lake." There's not much point in living somewhere when you have to ship in all your supplies, although some people do it.

Phila said...

Good point, IB. To say nothing of the fact that melting permafrost is affecting existing structures already, so far as I know. Runways, too.

Your comment was also interesting because literally two minutes before I read it, I was thinking about the Canadian Shield...which is not something I think about often! But I'd just looked at a photo of Ulster Co. in New York state, which reminded me of living in Toronto, which reminded me of the Canadian Shield. Truth really is stranger than fiction!