Monday, January 05, 2009

Global Warming, Etc.

Despite the drop in sea ice this summer, it grew back in record time, up to 1979 levels:


I’m going to meander through this mine field again, partially in reaction to my reading about the “science court.” The climate change is precisely the sort of thing that could stand a good, direct discussion in an objective forum. Of course I’ve already mentioned the difficulties there: one side says, "The issue is already settled! We need to do something NOW before it's too late!"; the other side is saying, “Hold on, all the data isn’t in yet.” This actually requires two separate discussions, neither of which has yet taken place, to my knowledge:

  • What’s going on? What is the actual data concerning climate change? Are we getting warmer or colder, and how much of that is related to human activity? What can be done to ensure that we have all of the necessary data? What experiments, if any, can be performed to verify particular theories?
  • What do we do about it? Once we are clear on what’s actually happening with the planet’s climate, we need to give serious thought to what should be done—if anything. The idea of doing nothing doesn’t appeal to folks who prefer an activist government (liberals, neo-cons). The idea of taking drastic, expensive action with vast economic consequences probably won’t appeal to large segments of the voting public in the U.S., and other nations (China, India) might not participate at all. And what will the cost/benefit statement look like? Environmental activists bristle when crass “economic arguments” like that are used. However, costs and benefits need not be just a matter of dollar and cents. Why should large segments of human civilization be slowed down drastically NOW, especially if the payoff isn’t that great. Bjorn Lobmorg’s recent book on this issue deserves further attention.

In any case, until a civil and conclusive discussion or debate can be held regarding point 1, point 2 will always be problematic. Will our new president take this sort of caution to heart when he starts modifying U.S. environmental policy? I’m not particularly hopeful on the score, but the idea of a discussion is at least preferable to an enforced mandate from above.

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