Friday, February 24, 2017

Yes, Global Warming Is Real and Man-Made: and the Earth doesn't care if you believe that

So, I posted this status update on my Facebook page Wednesday:

It's mid-February in Michigan and I drove to work with my sunroof open. We're expecting a high of 67 degrees. Global warming is the greatest man-made ecological disaster in history, but some of the individual days are quite pleasant if you live in the North but aren't a fan of winter.

Tom Schoenberg, another FB friend of mine expressed the same notion more elegantly, "The weather is absolutely delightful, assuming you don't think about it."

I wasn't really trolling for global-warming deniers on purpose, though it ended up that way. Mostly I was just trying to express the notion that although I've been enjoying the warm weather we've had in Michigan -- which is usually a hopeless, frozen, iceball of grey death this time of year -- my enjoyment is muted a bit by the knowledge that it comes as part of a weather pattern exacerbated by global warming, and that the same weather pattern that brought me a pleasant drive to work has also resulted in a lot of hardships elsewhere.

In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that some of my conservative amigos chose this post to dispute the notion that global warming is real, that it is man-made, and that it might just be related to unprecedented record high temperatures across the US.

But here's the thing. The reality of man-made global warming is not a "belief." It is a fact. And the Earth doesn't care if you believe that or not.

A belief that global warming is not real or caused by human activity has become a bedrock conservative belief, enshrined with "cut taxes" and "cut government." While I think we'd all agree that reduced taxes and smaller government are core beliefs of conservatism, I'd certainly argue that opposition to man-made global warming is no more intrinsic to conservative political philosophy than opposition to gravity, chemical combustion, or the "theory" that the Earth is round and orbits the Sun.**

As the oft-ballyhooed statistic goes, the fact of man-made global warming is supported by 97% of climatologists and nearly 100% of climatologists not funded by the fossil-fuel industry. However, since the fossil-fuel industry also provides a ton of funding for Republican politicians and media, an entire political party has now bought in to the cottage industry of pseudo-science devoted to disputing the reality of man-made global warming. This is part and parcel of the same industry-funded lobbying pattern that has disputed other proven facts to try to avoid or ease anti-pollution regulation: "Nobody knows whether smoking is bad for you." ... "There's no connection between lead in gasoline and lead blood levels in children" ... etc.

There's another factor at work, too. If you conclude that global warming is real and man-made, then lots of individual decisions that you make on a daily basis -- everything from choosing a car to turning on a light bulb -- are complicit in making the Earth a worse place for future generations. That sort of knowledge is really a drag. It's a lot easier on the conscience to just ignore it if you can find a good rationalization for doing so.

The opposition to the reality of man-made global-warming has transcended tactical lobbying. It has become a tribal marker for Republicans. If you say that global warming is real and man-made you are immediately marginalized with the RINO (Republican in name only) tag. Ask Jon Huntsman. The only parallel I can think of is evolution, the mention of which immediately conjures similar debates, though that controversy has its roots in religious beliefs, not a profit motive.

And herein lies the problem with almost everything in our political culture these days: selective bias abetted by paid shills with a profit motive. People choose to believe things based on their allegiance to one side or another in our partisan world, then cherry pick the pile of crapola that Information Age has become for support. Beliefs based on tribal loyalty override beliefs based on a preponderance of the evidence.

And in the middle of it all, truth and facts die.

I don't know how to fix that. I wish I did.

Making reliable information available to people is the very heart of what I do professionally.

For what it's worth, my own certain knowledge that global warming is true and man-made has roots that go much further back than the partisan wars or even my decision to eventually align with the Democratic Party. For me it's probably worked in the opposite direction: repeated denial of global warming by the Republicans is one of the factors that pushed me to become a Democratic voter, then an active Democrat.

I took an Earth science class back in 1987 at Cornell that included a substantial unit on the science of global warming, which was at the time a much less well proven theory. Aside from going through a lot of the basic science of how it works -- looking at absorption spectra, testing results in small-scale samples -- it also served as a good marker for me in terms of the forecasts that existed at the time.

There are lots of complications in climatology: feedback loops, complex air and ocean currents, natural variation, natural trends, the difference between climate and weather. There's lots of room for debate among the details. But as far as man-made global warming goes, from my perspective we've been running a big, giant experiment for the last 30 years. As far as I'm concerned, the results are in.

Theory (1987): Greenhouse gases warm the earth. If you add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the Earth will warm further.

Experiment: Add "x" amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, a few others) for 30 years. Measure temperature before and after.

Prediction: Earth warms.

Results (2017): "x" amount of greenhouse gases have been added to the atmosphere. Earth has warmed.

Conclusion #1: Adding greenhouse gases to the Earth's atmosphere warms the Earth.
Conclusion #2: We have no idea what happened. It's inexplicable!

You literally would have to live that experiment then choose Conclusion #2 to believe that global warming is not man-made and caused by increases in greenhouse gases. That is not a rational choice.

But it is tribal. And very human.

**True story: about six months ago I was unable to convince one particular conservative Republican that the Earth is round and orbits the Sun. I don't suffer the delusion that this particular essay will change anybody's mind about global warming, either.


  1. You solve be eliminating Gerrymandering. Once politicians have to run to the middle instead of fearing getting primaried.... they will be free to ignore the lunatic fringe on both sides of the party. (and the left has its own nuts... anti-vaxxers, anti-floridators, anarchists)

    The tragedy of modern politics is that the lunatic fringe has taken over what used to be an honorable opposition party.

    Fox News and Breitbart only work because the fairness doctrine was repealed and outright lies are allowed to pose as news. The Fairness doctrine was only repealed because gerrymandered representatives had NO interest in appealing to the middle or the other side.

    It all comes back to electing the most extreme people possible.

  2. I hate to tout gerrymandering as the silver bullet that will cure all political ills. But it is kind of the secret sauce of horrible. It takes anything bad in politics and makes it much worse.

  3. In the very long ago I gave a speech deep in Kansas. Afterwards a tall, bright-sounding lawyer came up and, as in your case, tried to argue for a flat earth too. It did not prevent him from making a good living, obviously. But it does occur to me that after solving the gerrymandering problem, we should turn to grade school education next!