Archive for Monday, February 16, 2009

Economy overshadows climate concerns

February 16, 2009


— A corollary of Murphy’s Law (”If something can go wrong, it will”) is: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist, seems to embrace that corollary but ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.

Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

No more lettuce or Los Angeles? Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen. Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950” (The New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a “basket” of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama’s science adviser. Credentialed intellectuals, too — actually, especially — illustrate Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.”

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of manmade global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal. The proclaimed faith of eco-pessimists is weirdly optimistic: These optimal conditions must and can be preserved or restored if government will make us minimize our carbon footprints, and if government will “remake” the economy.

Because of today’s economy, another law — call it the Law of Clarifying Calamities — is being (redundantly) confirmed. On graphs tracking public opinion, two lines are moving in tandem and inversely: The sharply rising line charts public concern about the economy, the plunging line follows concern about the environment. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked which of 20 issues should be the government’s top priorities. Climate change ranked 20th.

Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Harpo 9 years, 4 months ago

uh oh...............

Well played, George.

Discuss amongst yourselves.........

Phillbert 9 years, 4 months ago

Too bad for George Will that his column relies on made-up facts:

A sample from TPM:

Will wrote: "According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."

But within hours of Will's column appearing, the ACRC had posted the following statement on its website:

"We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined."

"It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts."

Trobs 9 years, 4 months ago

Ideological blinders huh?

I bet if you took the global cooling stories of the 70s, injected them into today's stories about global warming you would see little difference.

Step 1 - Find something scary Step 2 - Find a way to sell the fear Step 3 - Profit from the fear Step 4 - Repeat whenever the fear runs out from step 1

Welcome to modern media and politics.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

Interesting conspiracy theory, Trobs, but the the short-lived speculation about global cooling some thirty years ago says absolutely nothing about the phenomenon of global climate change due to greenhouse gases produced by human activity, or the data and science behind it.

Trobs 9 years, 4 months ago

Not really a conspiracy theory. It's how our government has operated for a long time. Find something they can use to scare people with and use it for political causes. It works. Need proof? Hitler did it the best of anyone. The Soviets did it for years. Right now? Our foreign enemies use it. We use it.

The fastest way to gain approval for a cause is to scare the people into believing it. In light of a lack of evidence fear works.

I can list plenty of examples for you. My view on global warming is simple. In the history of the world we have had more CO2 in the atmosphere. During these times we had more plant and animal life then we do today. I am not afraid of the world heating up.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

" During these times we had more plant and animal life then we do today."

Yep-- problem is, repeating those conditions is not at all favorable to the survival of 7 billion humans.

" I am not afraid of the world heating up."

Depending on your age, it may not have that much direct effect on you, anyway. Maybe your descendants will be some of the lucky few who find a way to survive.

think_about_it 9 years, 4 months ago

Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. - Former astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who walked on the moon and once served New Mexico in the U.S. Senate, doesn’t believe that humans are causing global warming.

"They’ve seen too many of their colleagues lose grant funding when they haven’t gone along with the so-called political consensus that we’re in a human-caused global warming," Schmitt said.

Of the global warming debate, he said: "It’s one of the few times you’ve seen a sizable portion of scientists who ought to be objective take a political position and it’s coloring their objectivity."

Trobs 9 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for validating my thread. Fear sells!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

I'm sure glad that Schmitt chose to argue the science (sarcasm.)

Trobs 9 years, 4 months ago

I was talking to you Bozo.

Schmitt does quote what I assume is his work in the article. However, there is little to look at in the article to validate any claims he has made.

think_about_it 9 years, 4 months ago

He has and did in this story clown:

"Schmitt said historical documents indicate average temperatures have risen by 1 degree per century since around 1400 A.D., and the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise.

Schmitt also said geological evidence indicates changes in sea level have been going on for thousands of years. He said smaller changes are related to changes in the elevation of land masses — for example, the Great Lakes are rising because the earth’s crust is rebounding from being depressed by glaciers.

Schmitt, who grew up in Silver City and now lives in Albuquerque, has a science degree from the California Institute of Technology. He also studied geology at the University of Oslo in Norway and took a doctorate in geology from Harvard University in 1964."

Just not the junk science that you want.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

There seem to be a lot of geologists who've decided that their expertise is really climate science.

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 4 months ago

"I've seen a lot of trouble in my time, and much of it has never come to pass." -Mark Twain

think_about_it 9 years, 4 months ago

Especially in that geology is the only record of the past available to us. Everything else is just speculation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 4 months ago

"Especially in that geology is the only record of the past available to us. "

Over geologic time, it tells us much. But it doesn't happen to tell us that much about relatively modern human history (as in the last couple thousand years.) With one exception, core samples from glaciers, and the message coming from that is that global climate change from human activity is a definitely serious concern.

Trobs 9 years, 4 months ago

According to that graph of ice cores. CO2 Shoots up then drops off before settling in a constant cycle.

think_about_it 9 years, 4 months ago

Schmitt was a geologist in Norway and Alaska studying ice core samples. Your saying that he came up with the wrong conclusions because they don't match your political ideologies?

gr 9 years, 4 months ago

"There seem to be a lot of geologists who've decided that their expertise is really climate science."

You mean like a lot of climate scientists who've decided their expertise is really geology among other disciplines?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.