Politicizing the end of the world

Posted on Tuesday 30 January 2007

I confess; I jazzed the title up a bit — but only a little, because while the end of the world isn’t imminent, it appears that the effects of global warming are going to bring some massive changes:

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Rising temperatures will leave millions more people hungry by 2080 and cause critical water shortages in China and Australia, as well as parts of Europe and the United States, according to a new global climate report.

By the end of the century, climate change will bring water scarcity to between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people as temperatures rise by 2 to 3 Celsius (3.6 to 4.8 Fahrenheit), a leaked draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said.

Not only that, but the report apparently has a very grim outlook for Australia… but hey! That’s okay! At least it’s not Texas, where it’s all about us:

Listen all you tree-hugging, Science class loving, eco-friendly people out there.

I don’t want to hear about how the earth’s temperature is heating up year after year, or how someday there won’t be any more icebergs or glaciers in the oceans.

I don’t care if the effect is more tornadoes and hurricanes, or if the cute little penguins lose their habitat. What about my habitat, huh? It’s been in the thirties and forties for two solid weeks in Texas. In Texas.

The above is lifted from the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy blog, where Eric Berger has helpfully scanned and shared a column from Hearne, Texas’ local rag. Eric’s right to hope this is satire… but I doubt it, and evidently Eric doubts it too:

Ok, so you want to be a little skeptical about global warming. That’s fine if you’re willing to consider the scientific evidence. But I fear that a combination of willful ignorance (i.e., “It’s cold out now, so global warming is a farce”) and blind devotion to politics (i.e., “Al Gore’s an idiot, and so’s anyone who believes in global warming.”) will lead a lot of Americans to simply bypass global warming entirely.

To wit, in the survey, about 18 percent of conservatives view global warming as a serious problem, and 73 percent of liberals do.

Combine this with the depressing survey telling us that 13% of Americans have never even heard of global warming (unbelievable), and we’ve got the makings of yet another political brouhaha.

Sadly, this one (like the current Iraq crisis), seems to boil down to, “Who’s fault is it?”, and Eric’s observations about the impact of blind devotion to politics is bang on [original emphasis]:

Hmmm. Now, for those familiar with simple arithmetic principles, if 50 percent believe there is a link between global warming and human activities, but Americans are least convinced, this means that more than 50 percent of Americans aren’t buying into Al Gore and the media’s nonsense.

As is most often the case, there’s some truth to both sides of the equation, but whether human activities are the sole cause or not is moot.

The problem is real, there are things we can do to mitigate the impact… and moaning about the cold in Texas, or Al Gore, surely aren’t among them.

Get a coat, downsize your car, and quit whining.

    January 30, 2007 | 3:52 pm

    You know, I’d like to be optimistic here, but this is how I think human nature works: we don’t think long term, we don’t worry about problems in 2080. If that report is right, here’s what I think will happen: we’ll all fight about it until it’s too late, we’ll see climate changes and mass starvation and the entire order of the world will be turned upside down, and in 2107 the planet will have fewer people and they’ll be living in different countries than exist today, leading very different lives than we do.

    Fundamentally, we don’t believe the world can change in dramatic ways. Until it does.

    January 30, 2007 | 6:03 pm

    I buy that the earth over some period of years averaged together, has been on a warming trend. I don’t bother to dispute this with myself much when I see the news. I even blindly follow that the ice breaking off of Antarctica and Greenland isn’t supposed to be doing that. I will also go along with trying to find real, serious, and effective changes to be made in our habits to leave the smallest impact on our planet possible. Make humans living on earth leave trash and damage almost as though we aren’t even here.

    But I have problems with how Global Warming is discussed when it is packaged for the general public:
    Yes, disasters such as floods and hurricanes may get worse when the world’s temperature rises. Let’s just not even debate that issue and say that they will. But it is phrased as though we would not have hurricanes and floods without global warming. I don’t like this dangerous train of thought that leads to us blaming every significant tornado and hurricane for the next 20 years on global warming. Just because something hasn’t happened since the 1970′s, or even the 1800′s, doesn’t mean it should never happen again. I’m going to be more impressed with something being directly related to global warming if it has never been recorded. Just because it happened before you were born, doesn’t make it some ancient record to be forgotten.

    Another area that is troublesome is our weather analysis capabilities. I’m not bothered by what we are/aren’t doing. I’m bothered by what people think that we can do/know. For example, we don’t know why with two clouds near each other in the same measured conditions, do not start precipitating at the same time. In other words, we have no model to tell why one cloud produces rain and not another when all measured conditions are the same. We don’t know why cloud tops reach highest averages over land, but tropical storms over water reach higher. We have El Nino and La Nina of the last two decades to study, but none earlier to help form future predictions. It wasn’t until the late 90′s that we began to use El Nino as a predictor for an upcoming seasonal weather pattern. We know that the Pacific Ocean as a whole fluctuates in water temperature over 10 year periods, but we don’t know why. Did you know that cyclical drought pattern in Texas has been tied to 11 year fluctuations in the sun? Is the sun somehow irrelevant in our climate?

    I suppose overall what disturbs me about discussions on global warming by the “fanatics”, not just in general, is there is a tone given off that if humans have the power to inflict a high global temperature, then we also have the power to lower it. It is implied that the earth never has/will/can fluctuate over short periods of time, and that humans must be the only thing influencing the earth.

    January 30, 2007 | 8:49 pm

    Jack — My own interpretation of the global warming issue is that some of this is, in fact, an earth cycle, and I also believe human activities are accelerating its pace. So I don’t think we can just make it go away. OTOH, I think we can slow it — or at least become MUCH better stewards, as you said.

    The increasing politicization of this issue, though, is going to intensify the hostility we’re already seeing between some liberals and conservatives, I think. The more wild-eyed the claims, the less likely those who are yelling will be taken seriously — kind of a double-whammy, because there is a problem, and their concerns shouldn’t be brushed off.

    February 2, 2007 | 10:04 am

    I think the real problem with the AGW debate is how it is being sold: after all, if the hurricane season of 2005 is the direct result of GW, and things are getting worse not better, how to explain what happened in 2006? The reality is that mankind started to adversely impact the planet’s environment when our ancestors learned how to use fire.

    The problem is that we are trying to explain something that can only be understood in geologic time using short-lived anecdotal evidence. So, when we have a swing in the other direction, people tend to dismiss the dire predictions as ‘boy crying wolf’ hysteria.


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