14 November 2007

Climate Change: Politics of Science Again

Not long ago I posted on how Alexander Cockburn had embraced a skeptical position on the human contribution to climate change. That post generated a bit of debate. Today the BBC has published this story on the claim that somehow the insititutions and practices of natural science have been biased against those who are climate change skeptics. This is a journalistic rather than a scientific study but, that said, it appears that claims of bias are almost wholly unsubstantiated.

After that earlier post I also had a look at some of the writings of climate sckeptics and their spokesmen. At issue is the extent to which their is consensus on the human contribution to climate change. Here are some passages from a new book* by 'skeptical environmentalist' (the labeling in publishing seems to have gotten completely carried away, this name reminds me of 'the naked chef'') Bjørn Lomberg:

“The problem is that people have substantially increased the quantity
of CO2 in the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuels. ...
As natural processes only slowly remove CO2 from the atmosphere
our annual emissions have increased the total atmospheric
CO2 content - the CO2 concentration - such that today it is 36%
higher than in pre-industrial times. ... More Co2 will hold on
to more heat and raise temperatures. This is the
man-made greenhouse effect.”

“Our best information comes from the United Nations’
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

“The reason we are concerned about global warming is
due to the so-called greenhouse effect, the fundamental
principle of which is quite simple and entirely
uncontroversial. Several types of gases can reflect or trap
heat, most importantly water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2).
These greenhouse gases trap some of the heat emitted by the
earth, rather like a blanket wrapped around the globe. The basic
greenhouse effect is good: If the atmosphere did not contain
greenhouse gases the average temperature on earth would be
approximately 59 degrees Fahrenheit colder. And it is
unlikely that life as we know it would be able to exist.”

Lomberg, hadly an extremist on global warming, proceeds to discuss these claims in a bit more detail and focuses on what sorts of political and economic responses are appropriate. That seems to be the basic pattern in these discussions. But it is clear that he in no way calls the broad scientific consensus on human contributions to global warming into question.

* Cool It: The Skepial Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (Knopf, 2007), pp 10-11.

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Blogger Brandt said...

This recalls the recent NYT piece on "moderate" positions on global warming, as expressed by the ever-moderate Newt Gingrich. The insidious implication is that both the general scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and those who insist on the political urgency of the question are somehow not moderate, which of course means that they are extreme, and so easily dismissed. Blech.

15 November, 2007 07:54  
Anonymous Natalia said...

Imagine my surprise when, in a class on Galileo in Arezzo, Italy, a physics professor from a certain university in Rochester explained to the small group of students in the room that global warming is: a) a natural cycle not effected by humanity, and b) not going to affect humanity all that much since there is still plenty of time to purchase land in North Carolina. Can you imagine the reaction of the weather forecaster in the room?

15 November, 2007 12:49  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Hey Natalie! I hope you are otherwise enjoying your visit to the ancestral homeland!

15 November, 2007 17:42  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

I don't know much about global warming aside from the occasional news articles I read. I couldn't even begin to understand the science and truthfully I'm not that interested in devoting my time to studying climate issues. That said, I believe the news has been biased toward those who preach doomsday only because doomsday stories always sell more papers. Joe Schmo who buys the morning newspaper doesn't have the patience to read nuanced arguments about climate at 7 AM on the his commute to his boring job. Instead what he gets are Hollywood-esque bites about how California is going to be submerged in water in 20 years.

16 November, 2007 15:52  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I make no claim to expertise. And I agree that the press may be biased in the interest of selling papers or advertising or whatever. And I also think that how we ought to respond to global warming and especialaly that porion of it accounted for by human causes is a complicated political problem. All that I am trying to get across is that the scientific world seems to agree both that there is susch a phenomenon as global warming anad that humans contribute in non-neglible ways to it. It is not ncessary too demy that in order to disagree about the media or politics.

16 November, 2007 16:05  

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