Mar 8, 2011

Admitting ignorance and conceding to consensus

I try to stay at least peripherally aware of many things so as to not feel like a complete idiot should said topics come up in casual conversation (or even in rants as I typically spout spittle-wise at my poor beleaguered girly mate at home). Some things I get to focus more on than others, often because I’m simply more interested in one. Politics, current events, philosophy, you name it — many of the things, and much more, that I choose to discuss here. There are many I’ve yet to touch on that I plan to some day (at least my excuse for not writing more often can never be for lack of ideas; I have a notes file with a dozen or more topics and I forget to add many more every day).

One that I know will be a bit of stickler is climate change. Sure, as if my stance on religion and my crazy notion of principles and individual rights wasn’t whack enough.

As far as most casual conversations go, I probably come off as a simple quasi-Republican. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but short conversation and blurbs don’t generally allow for the nuance and subtle sometimes required to separate the very seriously different ideals and philosophies behind conservatism and libertarianism. It also probably has a bit to do with my lack of desire to start heated debates at work. Rocking the boat isn’t exactly a passion of mine, but less out of cowardice and more out of not wanting to needlessly complicate my present work life.

I’m not a scientist, I have no training in anything remotely meteorological beyond thermometer reading, and I don’t purport to really follow closely the “climate debate.” I find blowhards like Al Gore insufferable. I despise government attempts to “fix the environment” and other such economic nightmares.

But, I have to concede to consensus on this one:

  1. The planet is warming
  2. It isn’t a fluke
  3. It’s at least in some part anthropogenic
  4. It might be a problem, but it’s difficult to tell by how much and how soon

The big issue I see is that climate science is an incredibly complicated thing to model. There are innumerable variables involved, not all of which do we have solid mathematical models to represent, there are a myriad known unknowns and unknown unknowns, and it just gets worse from there. Couple that with the fact that weather predictions, despite technological leaps in recent decades, are still frequently wildly inaccurate beyond a few days out. This tells me that predicting the implications of a few tenths of a Celsius in average temperature over a hundred years, keeping in mind that most major shifts in planet climate take thousands and even millions of years, is beyond our capability in all likelihood.

We do seem to be able to tell points 1 – 3 above, fairly soundly. There aren’t many “climate skeptics” left. Most of the good, honest ones don’t exactly have whoppers to expose, but rather often pointing out important but not earthshaking flaws here and there. These guys are needed and precisely what makes science work. The rest are just as alarmist and hyperbolic as Gore is for the other camp.

Is it a problem? If it is, can we do anything about it? I don’t know, and I’m never going to be the one to ask about that. It will take a lot of smart people over time to even begin to form a glimmer of truth on that question. But I do know that science is amazing and technology has a way of fixing our problems given enough time.

We didn’t have things to truly massively harness fossil fuels on a large and distributed scale until recent memory. Technology has progressed rapidly and continues to do so. My libertarian blood tells me that it’s only a matter of time before we simply come up with new methods for generating energy reliably and cheaply. Just as today we smugly look on the Amish and people from the late 1800s as “quaint” for using horses, someday soon too they will look back on the turn on the millennia as equally quaint for using carbon and combustion for everything.

My stance gets pretty easy to understand from there. I’ll concede to consensus that climate change is real and quite possibly a problem, but my libertarian side refuses to let governments attempt to solve it. I don’t see anywhere in the constitution it says to “provide for a clean environment”, do you? It doesn’t help that most of their proposals (see also: cap & trade, etc.) are ludicrously expensive and economically retarding, not to mention the vast corruption government mega-programs tend to attract. I know it’s cliché, but it applies here too: let the markets figure things out.

Me? I’m confident in the scientists, both those studying climate and those studying energy.

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