Monday, July 21, 2008

One-sided science

Climate change is a touchy issue for a lot of people - and justifiably so. We're talking about the future of the planet and the worldwide economy - it's important stuff.

I don't claim to have any kind of solution - I think claiming to understand or control our climate is even more conceited than thinking we can unilaterally run an economy.

I submitted the following while defending a fellow liberty lover against the claim that to grant any admission that there might be some climate change occurring is anti-freedom on a Western Standard Shotgun blog post:
Any claim that we can know
what the climate is doing one way or another is nonsense - there's no way that meteorologists can't reliably tell me whether or not it's going to rain this afternoon but some politico knows exactly what is or is not influencing the long-term climate patterns of the planet.

As such, it's completely consistent to not have an opinion on whether or not climate changes are man-made, man-influenced, or man-independent but to have an opinion on what the best solution to concern over the issue is. Let the market decide if there is a problem, whether or not anything needs to be done to fix it, and what the best way to go about all of it might be.

The controversy doesn't come from the complexity of the science behind global warming; it comes from meddlers on either side of the issue who are "sure" they're right and agonizing over not being able to impose their decision on the rest of us if it's left to the market.Some people might think that this isn't something that can't be left to "the market" - some faceless body ruthlessly making decisions based on profit without taking into account what's really important to people... but the fact is that the market is (or would be, without government interference) just a mechanism through which people indicate, through prices, what's most important to them. Whether it's buying stock in an environmentally friendly company or simply buying "green" products, people make all sorts of decisions indicating how important the environment is to them without turning it into a zero-sum game by involving the government.

As such, one thing I do think warrants attention is the lack of tolerance for debate on the issue by those agonizing over whether or not they'll be the one to prescribe the solution. I don't normally get too upset about stories of private censorship on this issue, but I find it very hard to ignore when statutory bodies such as Ofcom in the UK start censoring the debate.

Government, which is always trying to catch up to technology, is certainly not a force I want picking and choosing winners any field of scientific study*, especially one as potentially important as the study of climate change.


(*Or any field of anything, for that matter.)

Cross-posted to Bureaucrash

1 comment:

Fortitudine said...

I'm in complete agreement with you regarding the appropriate medium for decision-making should an environmental catastrophe be identified. The free market is and has always been the surest mechanism for societal change known to mankind (http://thecanadianrepublic.blogspot.com/2008/07/meet-enemy.html).

I do dissent, however, from your somewhat pessimistic evaluation of our capabilities regarding prediction of global weather patterns, particularly with reference to climate. The problem is that we've been studying the wrong things. Al Gore pulls out his carbon analysis graphs in "An Inconvenient Truth" which display some specious correlation between increased carbon levels and higher global temperature while completely ignoring the most important factor in planetary climate; the sun (incidentally, the graph Gore employs show that rises in global temperature in fact preceded augmented levels of carbon in the atmosphere). The majority of the work on climate change has missed the point. Studying sun activity has consistently proven to be the most important avenue towards understand atmospheric carbon levels and rising global temperatures.

Although our climate technology is still in a nascent stage of development, it is an invaluable source of information (e.g. hurricane tracking, early warning tornado systems, etc). I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss human understanding of the climate.

As to your claim that it is consistent to not have an opinion regarding anthropogenic global warming, I can only say that every piece of evidence that suggests humans have had a more than negligible effect on the earth's climate has been soundly refuted. As a general policy, it is unwise to hold opinions for which no evidence exists. Although that doesn't mean it's impossible that humans have had a significant impact on the climate, there is currently no strong argument for thinking that we did.