The Politics of Desperation

I apologize. My skepticism concerning global warming has endangered the planet in ways I could scarcely have imagined. That’s right, friends. I have set us up for an alien attack.

Let me clarify a couple of things, lest my heat-fearing acquaintances lump me together with the hoards of toothless, drooling “deniers” they visualize while reading Mother Jones.

First, the Earth may indeed be getting warmer. As a consumer of both sides of the issue rather than only one, I have concluded that there may be a warming trend. I say “may” because there are horrendous problems associated with measuring the temperature of a house, much less an entire planet. The bedroom on the northeast corner of my house gets significantly colder than the rest of the rooms. How should I combine its temperature with the others to get an overall reading? Should I take into account its size? Average by numbers of rooms? Add to that the fact that temperature satellite locations have changed over the years. A little research will reveal that the changes were not balanced, but favored a hotter reading overall. A warmer Earth? Let’s give that one a hearty “maybe.”

Second, it is not clear that humanity is the primary cause. I gather that even the most ardent warmers recognize that the draconian measures they advocate would do little to change the warming trend, even if it exists. It is far more likely that this is primarily a natural trend to which we will have to adjust. We do know, however, that energy is essential to life. People who live in poverty can be helped only with the man-made energy that is used to make medicine and grow food. Sweating more while drinking fresh water and eating well is hardly something to get worked up about.

Third, it is not clear that warming is a bad thing. For all of Al Gore’s hyperbolic claims about polar bears, there is little evidence to support the dire predictions he makes while jetting about the world in his private plane. In fact, it has been suggested that growing seasons will be longer and fewer people will freeze to death. Surely this is not a bad thing. In the end, warming would be a mixed bag of good and bad. Welcome to life on this planet.

Fourth, I work with statistics. Modeling even the simplest relationships among variables is mind-bogglingly difficult. Models are useful for understanding some of the dynamics of phenomena, but are notably poor at actually predicting outcomes with any accuracy. The models used to predict climate change are rife with assumptions, the kind that always seem to be necessary to make models work. The problem is, headlines do not include these provisos. Rather, they say things like: We’re Going to Die! There. Got your attention. The fine print should read: “And by the way, this is only the case if the alleged effects of warming multiply themselves over time, which we assume to be true.”

Fifth, we know a lot more about the harmful effects of stupid legislation than we do about the possible effects of climate change. A nation with a moribund economy needs energy, not witless bureaucrats. Come to think of it, a nation with a sound economy needs energy, not witless bureaucrats. No one, repeat no one, wants truly harmful pollutants swirling through the atmosphere or rivers flowing with toxins. What skeptics want is sound science and a rational balancing of policy, not panic. Forgive us.

All of which brings us back to aliens. Like liberals, warmers are getting desperate. First, Paul Krugman invokes an alien invasion scenario to elucidate an admittedly opaque idea about government spending. Now NASA (curiously, right after big funding cuts) pleads its case in helping defend us from threats beyond our atmosphere–all because of something bad ol’ man did. Look for ads soon featuring Bigfoot, something that does not exist, begging us to stop anthropogenic global warming, which barely exists, if at all. Yep, I am scared–scared that I will laugh myself into a heat stroke.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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6 Responses to The Politics of Desperation

  1. sallylacy says:

    Hey Terry,

    Seems like this blog could be a great opportunity for a simple experiment. I looked up the tenured track faculty members of ISU’s School of Biological Sciences and saw that there are 32 faculty members. Was wondering if you’d mind sending this article to each of them and request feedback-something basic and quantifiable–yes/no responses and use of likert scale for the last two questions- (questions could follow your five points; something like, based on current research in your field, do you believe 1) the earth is getting warmer, 2) humanity is the primary cause, 3) warming is (or isn’t) necessarily a bad thing, 4) with what degree of certainty do you trust current methods of a) measuring past climate data and b) predicting future climate changes, and 5) Ask them to rate their impression of the effectiveness of current environmental regulation in regards to climate change data.

    You could include non-tenured track faculty as well, to increase your sample size (which isn’t a bad idea-college sophomores seeking extra credit are a more reliable group when it comes to responding to questionnaires.) You are offering your statistical expertise in an area of science that coincidentally lines up on the same side of the fence with your politcal views regarding regulation. I’d be interested in knowing how scientists at your institution, who presumably are much more closely involved with climate change data, would weigh in on this issue. I’m taking a risk here too, as you hear that not all scientists (i’ve heard percentages ranging from 2 to 10%) don’t believe in climate change. I have the (maybe jaded) assumption that the scientists who don’t believe in it are more likely at institutions like Oral Roberts University rather than a state university, and your results may be a real eye opener for me. Hope you’ll be willing to do this. Hope you’ll post findings in your blog.


    • Terry Noel says:

      Sounds fair to me. Let me see about getting that done. Two points of clarification, however. My statement about the statistics was not a claim to knowledge, but skepticism about a specific claim. The conclusions of the Warmers bear close scrutiny because they involve modeling that makes numerous assumptions and is exceedingly complex. Second, consensus, even if it exists, is not the final arbiter of the truth. Many “consensuses” have been dumped over the centuries when evidence against proved overwhelming.


      • sallylacy says:

        So true. Science often takes a turn when a new piece of evidence is discovered. Continuing reams of new evidence I have read, seen ,heard, continue to build the case for climate change greatly accelerated as a result of human activity (the fact that some green house gases-primarily halocarbons- have no natural source, as well as analyses of geographic differences in concentration of green house gasses and analyses of isotopes for source of emissions to name a few.) When the overwhelming amount of evidence points in one direction, and someone chooses not to believe it, seems to me there is usually a very personal (which could be political, financial, religious…) reason behind their stance.

        Odd that some only require a second, maybe third medical opinion before they allow a physician to cut them open for their own health, but ignore the findings of 90, 95 (?) % of climatology scientists when it comes to changing habits for the health of our planet.

        I’ll be very interested in your colleagues’ feedback. Keep me posted.


  2. Outland says:

    I found a little known article on the subject and thought you might enjoy it…

    Lawrence Solomon: Science getting settled | FP Comment | Financial Post:

    “In this chamber, 63 CERN scientists from 17 European and American institutes have done what global warming doomsayers said could never be done — demonstrate that cosmic rays promote the formation of molecules that in Earth’s atmosphere can grow and seed clouds, the cloudier and thus cooler it will be. Because the sun’s magnetic field controls how many cosmic rays reach Earth’s atmosphere (the stronger the sun’s magnetic field, the more it shields Earth from incoming cosmic rays from space), the sun determines the temperature on Earth.”


  3. Terry Noel says:

    All good points. My biggest beef is the failure of folks to dig into the nuances of the findings and recommendations. There is a whole range of opinion on the severity of warming if it exists at all and even more on the appropriate response. I urge caution in public policy because it would be awfully easy to do something stupid on the basis of questionable data and modeling.


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