Alarmists On A Hot Tin Roof: Global Warming Psychology
By: Robert E. Meyer
An issue that has garnered much attention lately, in between the media bites about Iraq and the salacious lives of celebrities, is the controversy over global warming. Both the pro and the con side consider their opponents the heretical misfits and purveyors of junk science.
But the debate is not so much about whether the earth is actually warming, but whether the phenomenon is man-made, and must culminate in catastrophe.
While most of us lack any academic credentials to have an informed opinion on the matter, we do possess the logical faculties to philosophically cross-examine the cogency of any theory presented to us.
I remain skeptical of the alarmist approach, and wish to offer some concerns I have.
Geologists tell us that we had a glacial ice age only several thousand years ago. How did the earth warm by over several degrees without any man-made carbon dioxide to account for it?
Whenever people say: “Most credible scientists believe…” The statement following becomes subjective and almost meaningless, because unless someone first believes in particular interpretations of a given phenomenon, they won’t be considered “credible” to begin with.
In general, people confuse two concepts: expertise and objectivity. Having great intelligence or specialized knowledge isn’t assurance against a person remaining unbiased in their public opinions. Persons of all stripes are generally loyal to their source of income. We shouldn’t assume that every expert begins their search tabula rasa, that is to say, without an agenda or wholly independent of prevailing consensus.
Why do we assume that a variance in the 5% of carbon dioxide caused by human activity is sufficient to put the climate out of kilter, but changes in the 95% of naturally produced carbon dioxide is irrelevant? Notice also, that whether it is warm or cold, global warming is given as the reason, thus inoculating the concept from falsification.
How come developing countries such as China or India are held to lesser pollution standards under the provisions of the Kyoto Treaty? Does the environment care which countries contaminate the atmosphere?
The whole psychology of catastrophe is hardly new. When my parents were young, they were told we would soon run out of the earth’s supply of coal. At various times, the same was predicted of crude oil. When I was younger, I sat in science classes where documentary films were shown that predicted the earth was cooling, and that we would all need gas masks by the mid 1980′s because of pollution. Such was predicted in a Newsweek editorial in the April 28th, 1975 edition. (source)
In the 1960′s we were terrorized by the specter of Paul Ehrlich, and his “population bomb” statistics. When we moved into the 1980′s, we were warned of the ominous “Jupiter Effect,” an event where all the planets were in orbital alignment, causing a catastrophic gravitational force for the inhabitants of earth.
In the fall of 1983, we had a Sunday night television premier of the “The Day After.” The movie depicted a nuclear holocaust, and how it impacted residents of small town Kansas. The movie terrified a nation that had endured over three decades of cold-war threat. After the movie, a network anchor interviewed then Secretary of State George Shultz, asking the prophetical question borrowed from Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol: “Are these shadows of the way things must be, or only shadows of the way things might be”? Schultz emphatically answered “neither.”
And who among us was not impacted by the hype surrounding Y2K? When advertisements for ordering gold coins and dehydrated food supplies via credit card started popping up, I knew it was overblown and unlikely to be problematic. Why would anyone exchange vital survival supplies for worthless credit card receivables if they were convinced of certain crisis? If experts have been dead wrong about all these calamities, I don’t think my own skepticism is entirely irrational.
As for great variance in temperature readings, I suggest people should do some reading on the weather patterns of the 1930′s. That decade witnessed great thermal extremes here in the U.S.A. If you recall, the Midwestern “dustbowl” was a factor contributing to the severity of the nation’s Great Depression. In many areas, we experienced extremely hot summers. At that time, nobody was advancing theories about carbon dioxide causing warming of the earth. We had fewer man made contributors. So if global warming in really occurring, can burning less fossil fuels really keep it from happening? I don’t know, but I doubt it.
There are probably a myriad of other hysterical incidents that can be recalled, which were supposed to spell doom for mankind. One issue that has been the fodder for disaster films in recent years is the idea that a large asteroid will collide with earth. Now how do we solve that problem?
There will always be some crisis looming on the horizon threatening human existence, with no foreseeable solution. There will always be a cadre of alarmists who want to remind you about these insurmountable challenges.
Environmental stewardship is beneficial, agenda driven hysteria is not.