Archive for July 18th, 2006

On a July 28, 2003 senate floor speech, Senator John Inhofe suggested that global warming is “[t]he greatest hoax perpetuated on the American people.” This became an assertion on his January 4, 2005 “Climate Change Update” in which he relies partly on Michael Crichton’s fictional novel, State of Fear, in an attempt to debunk the reality of climate change. For critical analysis of this speech, click here and here.

I’ll leave the science itself aside for now. What I would like to point out is Inhofe’s clear lack of objectivity and respect for science on this subject. He has done what I most detest in debate: he has formed his opinion first, and then looked for the “science” to back him up. He was “happy to report” that Chrichton’s book was on the NY Times bestseller list. He judges from the “welcome success” of the book that the “real story” behind global warming is reaching the American public. He consideres man-made global warming to be “an article of religious faith,” and dismisses the “scientific consensus” as “alarmist.” Inhofe turns on its head the idea of people historically questioning (and murdering) scientists who reject a religious worldview:

This is, it seems to me, highly ironic: aren’t scientists supposed to be non-conforming and question consensus? Nevertheless, it’s not hard to read between the lines: “skeptic” and “out of the mainstream” are thinly veiled code phrases, meaning anyone who doubts alarmist orthodoxy is, in short, a quack.

This is strangely out of synch with the reality that the idea of global warming was unpopular years ago, and only fairly recently have the “quacks” become the “mainstream” in terms of support within the scientific community. This is a case of people finally coming around, of advances in science supporting what the “quacks” have been saying all along. Inhofe has it backward.

More recently, Inhofe has responded with press releases to both Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and to the Discovery Channel’s special, “Global Warming: What You Need to Know,”  hosted by Tom Brokaw. In the former release, Inhofe ignores the overall scope of the documentary, and instead picks at details. He refers to Dr. Michael Mann’s “now discredited ‘hockey stick,'” a record of past temperatures that has been controversial, but is far from discredited. Other independent studies have produced nearly identical results. Interestingly, in every Inhofe document I’ve read, Michael Mann is the only scientist he targets by name who supports the theory of global warming (everyone else in the non-skeptic scientific community is labeled as “alarmists” and purveyors of “bad science”). I’m not sure what to make of this.

In his release responding to Tom Brokaw and the Discovery Channel special, Inhofe challenges Brokaw’s objectivity because of his “reliance on scientists who openly endorsed Democrat Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and who are financially affiliated with left wing environmental groups.” Scientific American’s blog has this to say about that:

These few remaining skeptics, led by Senator James Inhofe, impugn Mr. Brokaw’s objectivity by noting in a press release that he nearly got a job in the Clinton cabinet and that two of the scientists he interviews actively supported John Kerry in the last presidential election. He also points to James Hansen’s article in our March 2004 issue as a confession of just such a manipulation. Unfortunately that confession seems to be missing from the actual article.

I would like to point out that while in office Inhofe has received over one million dollars in contributions from the energy and natural resources sector. Hm.

Science is very different from journalism. The American public has come to demand a certain level of objectivity in news reporting – it wants both sides of the story. The problem with this is that, in science, there often aren’t two sides. The earth really is round, and to give print space to, say, the Flat Earth Society, would be a waste. In science, the line between objectivity and subjectivity is in a different place than it is in journalism. The “we don’t know how this works” pile is separate from the “we know this for sure and we can prove it” pile. While there are still questions about the effects and severity of global warming, the fact that it is happening, and that human activity is a factor, goes in the “we can prove it” pile. It’s time to use what we know to take action. 

James Inhofe is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Judging from the majority press releases, it’s pretty clear that the committee is hostile to the reality of global warming. However, digging a little deeper, one can see that the ‘majority’ does not necessarily mean ‘majority opinion.’ The following statements have been made by fellow committee members:

Along similar lines, in an effort to protect the public from the dangerous trend of global warming, I have actively supported initiatives to cap carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, and legislation to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation, industrial, and commercial sectors. ~Senator Lincoln Chaffe (R-RI)

In their June 30 letter accepting the invitation to join the Dialogue, Lieberman and McCain wrote: “We believe it is important for legislators, business leaders and public interest organizations from the G8 and +5 nations to come together outside of formal negotiating structures to discuss a post-2012 International agreement to curb global warming.”

“It is with great pleasure we accept your kind invitation to join the Legislators Forum of the G8+5 Climate Change Dialogue,” they continued. “We will support the Forum’s efforts to generate productive ideas and exert a positive influence on the inter-governmental negotiations over a global response to climate change. We look forward to the Dialogue’s February 2007 meeting here in Washington D.C.”  ~July 7, 2006 press release.

It is high time to stop relying on technicalities and finger pointing to avoid action on climate change. Science tells us we must begin to act soon if we are to have a chance of minimizing the growing effects of climate change. ~Excerpt from Senator Jim Jeffords’ (I-VT) reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to review the Clean Air Act case regarding CO2 emissions.

As the ranking member of the Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety subcommittee, I have advocated for stronger clean air laws and have urged Congress to do something about global warming which stands as probably our greatest environmental challenge of the 21 st Century. ~Senator Tom Carper (D-DE).

Click here for a full list of committee members.

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I spend a lot of time imagining what the future will bring. Being wholly convinced that we are facing major changes on at least two fronts (military conflict and environmental degradation, and the related consequences), I am naturally inclined to entertain nighmarish apocalyptic scenarios. However, I find the need to continually question my instincts and a fairly dim view of humanity’s capability to forge a better future for itself. I’ve come to believe that we must transcend our current situation, not just change direction or tweak things here and there, in order to avoid catastrophe.

People throughout history have generally viewed their particular time as more dangerous, with the most at stake, than any other previous era. I think this has always been true – we are working our way, very quickly, to a global, or planetary society (distinct, of course, from culture). We are discovering the interconnectedness of everything, the way systems (political, biological, technological, etc.) seem to have the tendency to become more and more complex. 

Not only does social complexity and the extent of spatial connectedness increase from one epoch to the next, so does the pace of change. Just as historical transitions occur more rapidly than natural evolutionary transitions, historical transitions are accelerating. This is illustrated in Figure 2 [p.16], which represents schematically the evolution of complexity of the four major historical phases. Since the time-axis is logarithmic, the repetitive pattern suggests that change is accelerating in a regular fashion. The duration of successive eras decreases by roughly a factor of ten—the Stone Age lasted roughly 100,000 years, Early Civilization about 10,000 years and the Modern Era some 1,000 years. Curiously, if the transition to a Planetary Phase takes about 100 years (a reasonable hypothesis, we shall argue) the pattern would continue.

As a result of the observed increased pace of change, we can expect to see vast changes within our lifetimes. What will happen? Will this be an adventure, a bumpy nailbiter but ultimately a great human success story? Will we be able to identify and choose the correct path in time?

To learn about the Global Scenario Group and their work, click here. The long PDF, “The Great Transition,” is fascinating and well worth the time.

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