A Rant on Climate Change, Science, and Politics

The last two days at lunch I’ve written about some news articles related to climate change, emphasizing the fact that I prefer to let those trained in the science of the areas make the judgement on the findings, as opposed to untrained politicians. I’ve gotten some predictable responses, all from a particular side of the political spectrum that seems to want tear down the notion of climate change. You know this side: they’re the ones that make fun of Al Gore, they’re the side that points to a freezing week and say “How can global warming be happening”. Although I don’t believe it is true of the individuals that responded, often those sharing that political side of the table are the same ones who dispute other scientific findings (such as evolution). This connection of science and political thought bothers me quite a bit. But this post, in particular, is about the issue of Climate Change. So while I eat my lunch today I would like to address the two sides of the question: the science, and the politics.

The Science

First, and foremost, I’m not an expert in the science in this area. I also have never made it through more that 15 minutes of “An Inconvenient Truth”, so I’m not an Al Gore devotee. I am aware that an extremely large portion of the mainstream scientific community believe there is some form of climate change happening (I’m not calling it “global warming”, because that creates the impression that every particular point will be getting hotter every day, and that’s not how weather, as opposed to climate, works). I’m also aware of the “hacked email” controversy. I’d give the latter more signficance if the bulk of the community was responding to it by publically withdrawing their support for the notion of “climate change”. They aren’t. The mainstream scientific community still seems to believe that climate change is happening, even in light of the publicized incidents. I have yet to hear about significant flaws in the theory in the popular science programs that I respect, NPR’s Science Friday or the CBC’s Quirks and Quarks. In particular, if the latter two programs aren’t picking up on the email story and reporting that it has invalidate the science (and they appear to pick up on any science related studies in the news), I’m guessing that in the long-run it is not changing the overall opinion. Thus, I’m of the belief there are non-tainted studies that still support the notion.

I should note, however, that I don’t go with the FUD that is surrounding this issue. I don’t believe that climate change will result in “sure-thing predictions of death, famine and pestilence”. I believe that adaption to the climate change will occur: it has before, and will again.

The Politics

However, the science is independent of the politics. It could be that folks like Sarah Palin view the science as “snake oil” because they don’t like where the politics has gone. Here, I might agree in some ways. I find the whole notion of trading carbon credits to be silly. Yet there are other political aspects that should be embraced even if climate change is bunk. For example:

  • Reducing our dependence on foreign oil makes sense. Even if climate change isn’t happening, depending on other countries for energy needs hurts the balance of trade, and as has been seen, forces us into conflicts to defend that source of oil. So, investing in locally-based solar, wind, and safe nuclear technology makes sense: it keeps the jobs in our country, it provides manufacturing jobs and technology jobs in our country. It just seems to make long-term strategic sense.
  • Reducing our dependence on oil makes sense. Irrespective of whether you believe in climate change, everyone does seem to agree that oil (at least fossil fuel) is a finite resource. If it is not managed, we will run out sooner. We depend on this for more things that running our cars: the plastics and polymers that come from the oil are critical to our technology success (ask yourself how your computer and other small technology would work without any plastics). It makes far more sense to save the oil for those uses than to simply burn it to make our cars go or our homes warm.
  • Moving to energy efficiency makes sense. As there has been more demand for energy, the cost has gone up. Whether or not you believe in insulating a building to prevent leakage to the surrounding environment, you should believe in energy efficiency because it saves dollars, and that should reduce the costs of goods and services. I have yet to hear people arguing for wasting energy.
  • Planning for oceanic rise makes sense. The Boy Scouts have always advised us to “Be Prepared” (it’s their solumn creed). I have yet to hear anyone say that sea levels are dropping, that glaciers are reforming and ice sheets getting thicker. Therefore, it would seem to make sense to be prepared for some rise in sea levels and make contingency plans for the long term. I’m not talking immediate rises of 20 feet, but rises in the area of a foot or less.
  • Reducing carbon output makes sense. Irrespective of whether you believe carbon output promotes climate change, it does increase pollution. Byproducts of combusion provably lead to things like acid rain, and they create compounds that when inhaled are injurious. It would seem to make sense therefore to reduce that output.

My Conclusion
So what’s my conclusion on this? What I said before: leave the issue of global climate change to the scientists, and get the politicians out of it. Irrespective of the fear of catastrophies, many of the ideas that have come out of the discussion make sense on their own terms. Let’s stop using this as a wedge to divide.

P.S.: As I noted at the top, this goes to the general concern I have these days by certain elements of society of dismissing science. I don’t think it is just in the area of climate change — in general, there seems to be a growing distrust of things scientific. Perhaps it is science overload, created by too many warnings of dire effects from everyday items, or perhaps it is from people who don’t understand how to read results. Whatever it is, it is a troubling trend.