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May 12, 2007

Scott Card On GW

From Orson Scott Card's* recent column, "Civilization Watch," on the global warming debate:

How many thousands do you want to spend this year on preventing global warming? And after you find out that there's no proof that humans even cause it, or that it's even a bad thing, how many thousands do you want to spend "just in case"?

Two thousand? Surely you can afford two thousand. What about five thousand?

You're not writing your check. I guess you're not such a true believer after all.

[GW advocate and columnist Andrew] Brod also ignores the fact that the British government report was issued in support of policy changes that are, by any rational standard, pathetic. The changes they are making are ludicrously inadequate to change the levels of greenhouse gases to any significant degree. Given that the results will be near zero, any costs, however divided, might seem exorbitant.

Brod likens this to insurance, but it is not. Insurance is designed to pay you money after a loss. It does not prevent a loss. The valid comparison is to protection money: Somebody comes to you and demands you pay money "or you might have a fire." You pay the money so that they won't burn you out of business.

That's what the global-warming protection racket is about: Hey, we can't prove anything is actually happening, but look how many people we've got to agree with us! You'd better make a whole bunch of sacrifices which, by coincidence, exactly coincide with the political agenda of the anti-Western anti-industrial religion of ecodeism -- or global warming will get you!

Regarding proof, it should be obvious that there can be no proof of a theory that is designed to predict future events. Predictions of future catastrophe can only be proven by waiting to see if it happens. Computerized models that purport to project future events are not proof that those events will take place.

At the most basic metaphysical level, we are all ignorant of the future. I can predict that the earth will continue to revolve as it did today, and thus the sun will come up tomorrow. But to a metaphysical certainty, I have no idea whether I will be proven correct until it happens. If I look out my window, I can't even say for certain that the earth is spinning, or even that it is round. For those facts, I rely on the scientific consensus and my blind faith in the research and observations of others. I have enough confidence in those observations that I don't worry if they are wrong.

But global warming predictions are not based on observations. They can't be, because no one can observe the future. Therefore, when I make a judgment that global warming science is right or wrong, metaphysically speaking, I have no idea what the truth is. Whatever my opinion is, it can only be based on the observations of others, since I have not done the research. But the important point is that nobody has made the relevant observations necessary for proof. Not even the scientists. The data cannot be collected or observed, since the data does not yet exist.

For hundreds of years, Newton's laws were considered to be truth for two simple reasons. First, they accurately described the observed motion of objects and second, they accurately predicted the motion of objects as observed in the future. Based on the technology that existed to detect the necessary proof, Newton's laws were reliable.

Now, of course, we know that Newton's laws are wrong or at least incomplete. Einstein has superceded them. Only advances in technology have allowed us to see that descriptions of reality based on Newton's work could only approximate reality. Newton gets us close enough for most purposes, but metaphysically speaking, it is not truth.

Yet for hundreds of years, Newton's laws were indistinguishable from the accepted version of reality. (Einstein blew a hole in that by showing us that reality itself is relative.) But the point I'm trying to make is that scientific consensus does not equal truth even if the scientific consensus, as with pre-Einsteinian physics, conforms to observed reality and appears to predict future observed reality. Global warming theory, since it seeks to predict catastrophes that are far off in the future, doesn't even have those things going for it.

h/t protein wisdom

* A science fiction writer. I read his most famous book Ender's Game, and thought it was creepy and over-rated.

Which is not to say that GW science is wrong, only that we can not presently know whether it's right or wrong. This is why there's such an emphasis on "consensus." But the media, who don't understand the scientific method, continue to misrepresent "consensus" as truth, when in fact it is not. Without the ability to obtain proof, consensus is about the best people can do, but it is still something short of proof.

Posted by annika, May. 12, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


Nicely put, Annika.

Posted by: reagan80 on May. 12, 2007

The Apollo astronauts got to the moon using Newtonian mechanics, even though that was decades after Einstein, and even though no-one had done that before. The expectation that the atmosphere will get warmer as the CO2 goes up is grounded in physics which is just as fundamental. I think you would be better advised to get behind the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which is a technology-driven Bush initiative for dealing with the problem.

Posted by: mitchell porter on May. 12, 2007

The error in Newtoninan physics is negligible and only becomes a factor at the extremes, for instance when something travels at close to light speed. That's why I said: "Newton gets us close enough for most purposes, but metaphysically speaking, it is not truth."

I don't deny that there is science behind the predictions of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. I'm making philosophical and rhetorical points here. One, we can't know if the theory is correct without observations. Two, my Newtonian analogy suggests that "consensus" is not always truth, so don't get too excited when you hear the word.

Posted by: annika on May. 13, 2007


The problem I have with the reasoning of your piece is that you are talking about living in a material, probabilistic world where "truth" is not relevant. Scientists search for best answers to observable phenomena and then make statistical statements about the outcome of similar events in the future. It generally works and everything we do, drive over a bridge, take an elevator, eat the contents of any package, land on the moon with the confidence that it is there when we have never touched it and only infer its presence from observations made from 235K miles away, etc.

To impose the philosophic idea of "truth" to the realms of science is not productive and cannot be helpful in support any predictions about outcomes in the future.

You, me and the rest all live in a world of probabilities that we, for the most part, reliably predict each moment. To dismiss GW as unknowable because assuming a truth in the future is prohibited by definition advances nothing.

I am not convinced that the activities of humans have caused or exacerbated the global warming that seems to be occurring. I am not sure how much I am willing to spend to attempt to affect it. I am sure that dismissing it is not judicious given the possible catastrophic outcomes, nor am I moving inland or filling sandbags in Battery Park.

Posted by: Strawman on May. 13, 2007

In the second paragraph, Roach makes another point about how Global Warming resembles a religious movement.

Posted by: reagan80 on May. 13, 2007


Tell me what does not resemble a religious movement.

The belief that the war in Iraq is important to the GWOT?

The belief that a gun laden America is a safer America?

Posted by: Strawman on May. 13, 2007

"The belief that the war in Iraq is important to the GWOT?"

For all of his faults, Bush had the foresight to confront terror-sponsoring states before they could someday enable a nuclear kamikaze attack on our soil.

Before the invasion, there were at least 4 enemy states suspected of developing nuclear weapons: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Libya*. Now, Iran and North Korea remain. In response to the continued Iranian threat, the Gulf Arab States are ostensibly pursuing their own nuclear development programs for supposedly civil purposes. Motivated by a history of racial/ethnic (Arab vs. Persian) and sectarian (Sunni vs. Shia) tensions, a nuclear arms race** is underway in the Middle East. If Iran were stopped, this trend could be reversed.

While Saddam may not have had an extensive nuclear program at the time of our invasion, Iran leaves no doubt that they are indeed working to acquire nukes and have announced their willingness and intent to use them. Like North Korea, Iran was developing them before 9/11. If Bush had never invaded Iraq and maintained the regional status quo, Iran would have made the bomb first and Saddam would have inevitably countered his neighboring Persian nemesis by resuming his own nuclear development.

In order to preserve the Middle Eastern balance of power, some realists would say that Iraq would have been justified in pursuing a deterrent in the case of Iran joining the nuclear club. However, Saddam has proven that he wasn't much of a rational actor based on several gross miscalculations (such as invading Iran and Kuwait) he has made. He and his sons could never be trusted to responsibly possess such a capability.

If Bush had let the sleeping dogs of Iraq and Iran lie, we'd have still had to invade, or even destroy, them both later anyway. Like they say, "Either you pay the bill now, or pay it later with compounded interest."

*Saddam was captured a week before the Libyans' revelation, BTW. Make your own conclusions about how that could have factored into their decision.

**I would also like to point out the irony that, despite Israel having most likely possessed a nuclear deterrent for a couple decades now, it is the fear of Iranian domination that pushed the Arab states into starting their own nuclear programs.

Posted by: reagan80 on May. 13, 2007


Stupid conclusions based on lies and more!

The number of fallacious unerlying arguments supporting the crap above is typical of the reasoning that passes for TRUTH around here. Iraq had NO nuculer program to name the first, and the only non-nuke WMD's they had we sold them. Trhey had no capacity to make anything more frightening than discolored powdered milk.

GIve it up, pal. Invasion cover by tattered hankies of trumped up bullshit and fear of GWOT is still a crime that last time I checked my moral compass.

Posted by: Strawman on May. 14, 2007


That's a rebuttal? Everything he wrote is accurate. You know it and, therefore, couldn't rebut it with anything besides childish, ad hominem attacks. They did not have a functioning weapon, but they did have a nuclear program. And they were actively trying to put the pieces together to develop a weapon.

Stop tring to re-write history to fit your political agenda.

Posted by: blu on May. 14, 2007

Anni, you are mixing domains (philosophy and science); briefly put, science is the pursuit of knowledge through observation, hypothesis, analysis, and repetition, not necessarily in that order. Philosophy is too long a topic to espouse on here, but suffice to say, any issue can have any number of arguments presented/asserted with varying levels of support. Let's examine some of yours;

1. But global warming predictions are not based on observations.

The science of climatology is based on observations of climate trends, leveraging astrophysics, atmospheric physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, geophysics, glaciology, hydrology, oceanography, and volcanology, among others. From these observations, multi-variate climatic behaviors are deduced and trialed against the existing data. The current models have enhanced behavior rulesets that are fairly well calibrated against the best data we have at our disposal. Can they accurately predict the future? Have predictions from early, rough models 20 years ago done well against observations over the same timeframe? See below.

The blurb you quoted from Card is full of empty, baseless claims; he clearly doesn't have anything to offer but emotive cues. Paying attention to pundits and talking heads on this subject is an utter waste of time; they really don't know anything more than they've read from some other pundit or shill. If you want to learn something interesting on this subject in a semi-daily fashion, I recommend reading this blog by a group of paleoclimatologists and modelers.

You'll see today's article about an early climate model from 1988 and how its predictions almost 20 years ago stacks up to climate observations over that same time period.

2. the important point is that nobody has made the relevant observations necessary for proof.

We technically haven't proven a link between smoking and lung cancer, though there are definitely clear epidemiological trends. Remember, Newton was very close to being completely correct, just not at the extreme edges. So if climate models are 99% correct, or even just 90% correct, that's enough in the ballpark to make decisions about mitigation and adaptation (the latter not being 'free' by a long shot).

There is not the space in a short message like this to explain the many aspects with any depth of detail. I recommend that you visit RealClimate about twice a week to come up to speed on the subject and stay current. Indeed, I challenge anyone here to do so and stay a denialist for more than 3 months.

Posted by: will on May. 15, 2007


There are many, many men and women much smarter and well-informed than you who are "denialists."

Such arrogance....

Posted by: blu on May. 15, 2007

blu, you make an interesting pronouncement, though there is a dearth of metrics to support your claim. I make it a point to choose to listen to those who know what they are talking about, instead of simply babbling away like Card. Being smarter about sources keeps one from having their head filled with propaganda by the "much smarter and well-informed" pundits, lobbyists, and surrogates.

Afraid to accept my challenge? I'm sure you'll come up with some excuse.

Posted by: will on May. 15, 2007

No doubt, you are more on top of it than the numerous scientists that don't support your position.

You are a propogandist for a cause. That's it. Unfortunately, your cause will do little more than destroy economies and hurt poor and middle class people while doing nothing for the environment. How many people are you willing to put out of work, Will?

Posted by: blu on May. 15, 2007

blu wrote: No doubt, you are more on top of it than the numerous scientists that don't support your position.

I appreciate your confidence in my abilities, but you'll find that there are really a tiny minority of scientists actively involved in climate research who support your position. And every year or so, they have to step back from one or more claims; early 90's "It's a LIE that the Earth is warming"; late 90's "Ok, it's warming, but it's a LIE that warming could result from human activities."; early 2000's "Ok, so human warming is taking place, but it's a LIE that it accounts for most of the warming"; now "We just don't know enough".

You are a propogandist for a cause. That's it.

That's it, eh? Ok, I'll humour you; Show me the misinformation I've peddled, and the propaganda techniques I've used to peddle it. Be clear and concise with your analysis. I'll even give you a link for your benefit;

Unfortunately, your cause will do little more than destroy economies and hurt poor and middle class people while doing nothing for the environment. >i>

Unsupported assertion. Have the economies of Kyoto nations been destroyed? Let's look at Germany and the UK, two heavily industrialized nations; what impact has this had on their economies? How much debt are they currently carrying and how much do they go in the whole per year?

You find it easy to make specious statements, but unless you have naught but fustian

How many people are you willing to put out of work, Will?

:-) When are you going to stop beating your wife, blu?

Still afraid to accept my challenge? I'm frankly not surprised...

Posted by: will on May. 16, 2007

And blu, why not check out how accurate your vaunted climate skeptics really are, starting with the 'esteemed' Patrick Michaels;

Posted by: will on May. 16, 2007

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Posted by: mami camilla italy on May. 19, 2007

I always find it curious that armchair denialists so frequently base their arguments with appeals to purported scientific authorities. If you're going to make the argument from authority, you need to explain why you choose to ignore the *vast* majority of authorities (climate scientists) who believe the case for anthropogenic global warming has been made.

Regarding Card's article, he seems to claim that all the recent warming is due to solar forcing. I'm going to make my own appeal to authority: see this claim thoroughly debunked by climate scientists at Real Climate.

Also, you claim that AGW theory can only be tested by waiting to see what happens in the future, and indeed that future predictions is all that the science is about. This is false. Much of the science involves explaining what forcings caused recent warming.

Posted by: Samuel Quill on May. 29, 2007