Don’t Be Deceived

Things may not be as they seemWe can be so easily fooled by an illusion or by what someone tells us.  It happens all the time.  in the photograph at the right, it appears that I’m leaning on a large cactus, which would not be wise in most circumstances.  Can we believe our lyin’ eyes?  How do we know the truth?

When experts tell us something, it is natural to believe what they say.  There is a fallacy known as argumentum ab authoritatum (an argument from authority).  Just because a source is an authority on a matter, doesn’t necessarily mean what we are told is true.  It might be, but then again, maybe not.   But we are at a disadvantage, because we don’t have the expertise to refute the argument.

There is a corollary to this fallacy known as argumentum ad verecundiam (an argument to shame).  This occurs when the so-called experts remind the skeptics of their ignorance in an effort to stifle any contrary opinion from being heard.

What could be more authoritative than a United Nations organization comprised of thousands of scientists issuing reports claiming 95 percent confidence in the following statement?

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

Who would dare to disagree with such an august organization?

About 25 years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations “. . . to assess all aspects of climate change and its impacts, with the intention of formulating realistic response strategies.”  To date, the IPCC has published four reports, and is in the process of releasing the Fifth Assessment (AR5) in 2013/2014. The Summary for Policymakers of the AR5 was published this past September 27th.

Without disputing the claims of the AR5, I offer some observations which everyone should know about our world and its climate.  These are facts derived from reading the IPCC reports as well as many other sources.  I believe most reputable scientists would agree with these statements.

  1. Climate changes, it always has and it always will.  There is no such thing as a normal or even a typical climate for any location or for our entire planet.  The Earth’s climate changed in the past, before humans or any life existed on our planet, and it will continue to change in the future.
  2. A large number of factors contribute to climate change, some very important, other factors contribute to a lesser extent.  Many factors influence climate over the long-term,  over thousands or even millions of years, while other factors may cause significant local or even global changes in climate over a very short span of time.
  3. Weather describes atmospheric conditions for a specific time and place.  Climate describes average weather conditions.  The global climate characterizes the average weather conditions for the entire planet.
  4. Human activities can affect weather by changing the atmosphere, the oceans, or even the surface of the land.  Human activities which influence long-term and wide-spread weather patterns would necessarily and by definition change the climate in a location or on the entire planet.

So what is the problem?  Where is the disagreement?  Why is there so much angst over the issue of global warming and climate change?

Scientists do not know how much humans influence global climate, because they do not yet understand how the climate changes naturally.  The argument is over whether we can do anything about it, and if so, what should we do.  It is a political argument in which the various interests lack sufficient information to win the debate.

Some would argue that doing nothing guarantees the catastrophe.  This is a straw man argument, because many people, governments, and organizations are actively pursuing answers and solutions.  Furthermore, which catastrophe are we choosing to avoid?  Do we spend our limited resources to prevent a dangerously hot planet or one that is very cold when the current interglacial comes to an end.  What if extreme and costly efforts prove to be unnecessary?  We may be fortunate to live on a planet that quite naturally adapts and moderates in response to our many insults.  Quite possibly, natural forces would overwhelm our efforts to control climate through human technology and political will, and we will have destroyed our economies in an act of catastrophic folly.

Contrary to the arguments of the climate alarmists, I believe we have time to better understand the earth’s atmospheric dynamics before we choose a proper course of action to ensure a prosperous future for our country and all of humanity.  And the last thing we need to do is stifle the voices of reason, on either side of this or any other argument.

About DocStephens

Retired college professor of science and mathematics, academic administrator, and president (emeritus).
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Human Behavior, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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