Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Global Confusion Science

So this post has been a while in the making. It’s been really interesting to see the “global warming” debate play out, not only in the scientific literature, but in the NEWS. For a guy who hasn’t really made up his mind on this, I have been surprised to see what is fundamentally a scientific debate turned into a public relations campaign on both sides of the issue. After reading Brian Anderson’s thoughts on the subject, I felt like it was time to get this one out there.

There are two basic questions at the heart of all the “global warming” hype. First: is the temperature of the Earth increasing? Second: if the Earth is warming, what is causing it? The answer to the first question is “yes”. Since diligent temperature record-keeping began in the mid 1800’s, there has been an upward trend in Earth’s temperature. I don’t know what the answer to the second question is, and I think the people who do know need to do a better job of communicating that to the public. The people who don’t know (or think they know) need to shut their cakeholes.

Now that I’m up on my soapbox, let me just summarize my thoughts on the subject: Whether or not human activities are causing global warming is a hard question to answer. The people who know the most about climate admit it. A lot of people think they have it all figured out, or think they really could figure it out if. Only. They. Had. More. Research. Funding! (Sniff, sniff! Call the wah!mbulance!). But my personal opinion is that this is in fact an open question, despite what Al Gore, Rush Limbaugh, Senator Inhofe, or RealClimateScientists say.

Here’s the thing: if man-made climate change is still an open question, there are two “worst-case-scenario” questions everybody (everybody who has an opinion anyway) needs to ask:

1. What if global warming has NOTHING to do with human activities, but we try to do something anyway? I guess that depends on what we try to do. If we’re going to penalize companies for non-compliance to arbitrary regulations, we run the risk of hurting US, and as a result, world economies. That’s a bad thing. On the other hand, if we’re talking about throwing money into research and development, I think developing new energy-efficient or energy-production technologies is definitely a good thing, even if “experts” are wrong about global warming.

2. On the other hand, what if global warming has EVERYTHING to do with human activities, but we don’t do anything? That’s a tougher one, in my opinion. If we don’t start doing things now, we will be in a world of hurt later. Sure, climate changes. But if WE’RE causing it, every living thing will be affected and we are bad citizens. Worse than that, if there’s something we could have done and didn’t, then by the time we convince Senator Inhofe, we’ll REALLY have our work cut out for us.

Either way, it seems that the prudent thing to do is hedge our bets, and focus on developing energy-efficient and energy-producing technologies. There are at least 3 other good reasons for doing this: 1) We will stay on top of R&D and innovation in the world, 2) With innovation come more jobs and better standard of living, and 3) New technologies can help get us off dependence on foreign oil. All of these are in my mind more immediate, tangible reasons for Energy R&D than averting *possible* climate change.

There I said it.

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