Caleb Howe of RedState, a downright decent guy writing for a den of vipers, was shocked and appalled that I wasn’t shocked and appalled by his Saturday post on global warming, here. Unfortunately, I was too sick on Saturday to read much of anything, and thus had to miss it. Thankfully for Caleb, this also proves that his post wasn’t the cause of my illness…
Simply put, Caleb doesn’t like global warming. And that’s fine. But it’s not fine to take as a reason not to like it the fact that it’s “politicized,” it’s not fine to read the science as “uncertain,” and it’s not fine to read any stated uncertainty as a reason to do nothing. Let’s explore.
First, calling a scientific topic “politicized” is a handy way to bootstrap one’s way to an argument. Especially when your side is the one doing the politicizing. In the modern era, lots of scientific topics break along political lines. A few years back, a majority of Republicans did not “believe” in evolution, and there’s no reason to think the numbers have gotten better. Similarly, a Republican congressional majority managed to parade enough non-subject matter specialists in front of the Supreme Court to convince five Justices, but none of the trial courts that heard the matter, that intact dilation & extraction abortions were inherently dangerous to women (see my published works…). Despite the fact that there is no serious debate among people knowledgeable on the subjects that the “liberal” positions on each issue are, in fact, correct, these subjects are “politicized.” But that does not entitle one approaching the issue to disregard either position on the strength of that alone. Always be alert for politicians attempting to create a controversy, and then use a controversy to prove its own existence. As Mad Eye Moody would say: CONSTANT. VIGILANCE.
Next, there is no serious debate within the scientific community about anthropogenic global warming’s existence, or its danger. As facts haven’t yet persuaded a soul among our honourable friends opposite, I see no reason to rehash that debate (Gore handles it pretty well, too). Suffice it to say that, setting aside a few bad people, whose misdeeds have been wrongly imputed to the entire community, a healthy degree of dissent is what we expect when the scientific community is functioning normally. Scientists question themselves, and each other, as a way to push the community forwards to the next breakthrough, but while such questions illume the way forwards, they don’t necessarily question the foundational principles of the field. Remaining unanswered questions need not — and cannot — foreclose action on matters of importance, as a matter of common sense, and society cannot vest a heckler’s veto in a straggling minority. 10% shouldn’t be able to hold the remaining 90% hostage to their version of reality. There does exist a level of uncertainty at which action becomes unwise. But uncertainty, pleaded but not proved, is never enough to f0reclose a previously well-supported scientific theory, which global warming emphatically is, as a basis for legislation.
Especially when the stakes are this high. We can reduce the danger of global warming to a simple thought experiment. Being generous to our honourable friends opposite, the science behind global warming has raised a 60% chance of utter ruin; 40% of continued survival in the long term. Draw up the equation, with (x) as the harm of inaction, and (y) as the harm of taking corrective action. To justify inaction, both sides of the equation must balance:
Now, assign a value to the harm of inaction (x) — on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, Armageddon is probably a 10. No? Now assign a value to the harm from action (y) — on the same scale, spending lots of money and facing inconvenience might get you to 4. So:
.6(10) [?] .4(4);
6.0 > 1.6
Even if you discount the possible harm by the value of time — namely, it won’t happen for a while — you have to be pretty selfish to not be persuaded. Add in the plausible side benefits of cleaning up the environment — better air, water, etc. — and under what twisted logic will this equation balance?
time(6.0) + benefit < 1.6
Despite the fact that they were suspiciously quiet about the subject for eight long years, we hear a lot from the far right today about how out-of-control debt is mortgaging our children’s futures. This is the same issue, but with a much higher certainty of harm. Keynesian economics has pulled us out of worse, and at the very least, our spending is informed by an expectation, hitherto borne out, that it will be paid back. On the other hand, there’s no rational basis for taking a bet on inaction in the context of global warming. Let’s throw in a Jefferson quote:
Then I say the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully, and in their own right. [. . . .] For if the 1st. could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not the living generation. Then no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of it’s own existence.
And, for the avoidance of doubt, the HBO John Adams clean-up:
I am increasingly persuaded that the Earth belongs exclusively to the living, and that one generation has no more right to bind another to its laws and judgements, than one independent nation has the right to command another.
The nature of the global warming debate — an extreme harm, substantially proven at the very least — requires our opponents to be absolutely certain that inaction is the responsible choice. That they cannot be.