Repent evil fuel-users, the end is nigh.
Or so we are told, and told, and told. The evidence is so overwhelming that “science” cannot afford the luxury of debate. An editorial today conveys the hysterics. The stage is set, according to the LA Times, for “for catastrophic flooding, destruction of valuable buildings, costly damage to ports and even some airports, inundation of low-lying towns unless adequate sea walls are built, and erosion of coastal cliffs and beaches.”
You have seen this in countless movies and television shows. The protagonist appears and shouts something along the lines of “quick, get in the car, I’ll explain on the way,” and then rockets off to save the day. Hollywood uses this trope for a singular purpose, to advance the action while keeping some of the motivation concealed a while longer. The problem is that science does not work that way.
Science is all about debate. The debate leads not to consensus but refinement. Absent the Hegelian dialectic that advances scientific knowledge, there is no science. A hot summer, wildfires in the west, and storms in the east, are proof of nothing. The global cooling people, known as the global warming people, now advertised as the climate change people, do not seem to understand science, so they meet any evidence that does not support their narrative with derision and name-calling.
So let’s all settle down, turn on the air conditioning, and address three essential questions with the best science available at the moment and acknowledge one vital and unassailable fact.
1) Is the Earth warming? It seems to be warming slightly, though not at the speed predicted by computer models. Our best knowledge does indicate a small increase in global surface temperatures, but we lack the long-term context to understand this trend, as well as the knowledge of how subsurface and atmospheric temperatures are behaving. So the short answer is that the globe does seem to be warming, but we do not have enough data to make too much sense of it.
2) If the Earth is warming who is to blame? Flatly, we do not know. It could be man, or it could be solar flares. Larger trends – in geologic time – could be at play, or cow flatulence, or the Great Space Owl (from Adventure Time cartoon). We can guess, but we cannot know. At least not yet.
3) If the Earth is warming, and mankind is to blame, can we fix it? Not one person can honestly answer this. The answer is too dependent on questions yet unanswered. Naturally the subsequent questions must be these, “if we can fix it, is it worth the cost (however measured)? Should we fix it?” As far as I know, no one has made any serious attempt to address this.
4) Predictions almost always fail. To the point, no field of study has a worse record than science. Science is almost always wrong. Why? Because that is what science is supposed to be. Science stumbles toward truth, but does so by exploring many, many options, possibilities and theories. The predictions of worldwide famine by Thomas Malthus are laughably wrong. We scowl at phrenology and race theory, and have changed our facts on the links between Australopithecus to homo sapiens too many times to recant. Recently, science just told us that Pluto is not a planet. Soon, physicists expect new knowledge from the Large Hadron Collider that will upend everything. Heck, I bet that most people still do not realize or understand that the Newtonian physics they learned in school has been declared bunk by the advances in quantum studies. In all seriousness, the history of every science is the history of a slow march – sometimes with a step back – to be ever less wrong.
In summary, the Earth may be changing, or it may not be. It may be our fault, or part of a natural progression. Science should press on. We need science to continue slowing becoming less wrong, we need to support science, and give it and its stalwart practitioners time and space free-from-politics to work.