Examining a Global Warming Denial Letter

First, let us set some terms.

Global warming, and more specifically man-made or anthropogenic global warming, is an actually occurring phenomenon, supported by the peer-reviewed findings of approximately 97% of the world’s climate scientists; scientists who have published greater than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change.

Global warming denial is a political response to a scientific finding, not a scientific response.

In a recently published Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, claimed by his title that there are “Five Truths About Climate Change,” with a subtitle that said, “during the decade that Al Gore dominated the environmental debate, global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.”

Given our previous two definitions, let’s assume that by climate change, Mr. Bryce means man-made global warming.  He recognizes that science indicates CO2 levels have increased dramatically over the last decade (although he didn’t attribute this number to a source, so I can’t verify its accuracy).  He also recognizes that Al Gore dominated (let’s say, escalated) the issue of global warming.  However, it is less clear why Mr. Bryce decided to connect those two items in the same sentence as they are unrelated.

But you, the critical reader, should already have an understanding of the purpose of this opinion piece, based on the title and subtitle. Here is a writer, speaking of the “truths” of global warming, so we should clearly be looking for references to peer-reviewed scientific findings throughout this piece to support his truths.

Let us begin.

Point 1:  Mr. Bryce I believe is implying that it is futile to regulate or incentivize the reduction of CO2 emissions because the global demand for electricity is increasing.

Counter: The “truth” in this statement is that global demand for electricity is increasing.  Now, the “truth” about mitigating climate change is a little less clear.  It would appear that he is using the statement to advocate a policy position, which in this case is to do nothing; an odd position if an increase in global demand is occurring.  His position would be more defensible had he suggested that humanity must regulate or incentivize the reduction of CO2 emissions due to the increasing global demand for electricity.

Point 2: Mr. Bryce says, “of whether it’s getting hotter or colder—or both—we are going to need to produce a lot more energy in order to remain productive and comfortable.”

Counter: First, I believe it is impossible to get both hotter and colder at the same time.  But given now the pattern of these “truths,” we can now be certain that this is not a piece about climatology, rather a piece on Mr. Bryce’s view of energy policy.  So ignoring the both hot and cold logic gaffe, he’s recommending more energy production which is fair enough; increased energy production does not necessarily equate to increased dependence on fossil fuels.

Point 3: Mr. Bryce says that carbon-dioxide emissions are now a global problem.

Counter: I think most informed people around the issue have understood that this was always the case.  Our pesky atmosphere has never wanted to honor our terrestrial national borders.  So he may actually be saying that the green-house effect is a global problem and needs some sort of international accord or framework from which to tackle it.

Point 4: Mr. Bryce says that we must get better at converting fuel in to energy rather than leaking off otherwise valuable wasted energy via technologically deficient plants, processes, and people.

Counter: No argument from me.  Pretty basic second law of thermodynamics so no matter the fuel source, technological gains should strive to reduce entropy.

Point 5: If Mr. Bryce would have stuck with his policy positions in points 1-4 and provided a bit more guidance on his intentions, then he may have come out of this Op-Ed ok.  But alas he did not.  And included as his crescendo, this zinger of a non-sequitur, quoted here:

The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Counter: Wow.  This statement makes Mr. Bryce’s Al Gore to carbon emissions non-sequitur in the first paragraph look like a young second cousin twice removed compared to this doozy.   By suggesting that one un-tested, un-proven, un-published result of one experiment in quantum physics which still has months if not years of validation to go in order to stand up on its own, means that we should throw out an entire body of another, separate body of science, is, well, silly.

What Mr. Bryce implies in his point 5, is that scientists stop looking.  Clearly he does not understand the scientific method; otherwise, he would know that scientists are the natural world’s skeptics and their only true currency is credibility. By definition, they never stop asking questions.

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