This article isn’t here to convince people that man made global warming is a reality. The evidence for that is abundant and overwhelming, but… well, you can lead a moron to knowledge, but you can’t make him read. If you are still unsure about the strength of evidence available, you should have a look at New Scientist’s Guide For The Perplexed.
Arguing with climate change deniers is exhausting and generally a waste of time. Having somehow managed to avoid absorbing any independent information on the subject for the past two to three decades, they’re hardly likely to change their minds now. However, I’ve noticed there are different types of denialist morons, and here I try to classify them into various groups.
Denialist Morons Type One: “There Is No Warming”
This is proper, old-school denial of the simplest kind. After losing some ground in the 80s and early-90s, the fossil fuel industries created a powerful lie machine, and simple denial was the first tool to appear out of their box of tricks. Step one was to simply deny that there were any data to demonstrate warming. Once that was exposed as nonsense, step two was to discredit the data as mistaken in some way. One of the tools for this was the “heat island effect” – claiming that temperature readings had increased over several decades because cities had grown to encompass the stations where temperature readings were made. However, satellite readings then came on-stream, also showing global warming, and negating the “heat island” myth.
Denialist Morons Type Two: “There Is Warming, But It’s Not Man-Made”
Having seen type-one denial defeated with overwhelming evidence, the more sophisticated moron then moves to stage two: admit warming, but say it’s not man-made. This class of moron will generally use the argument that “the climate has always been changing”, somehow believing that this proves their case. Of course it’s true that the climate has always been changing. Climate scientists have told us that. So type two morons are prepared to believe scientists about past reasons for climate change but not present reasons. It’s a strange thought process, but don’t forget, these are morons we’re dealing with here. Bizarrely, if you follow this reasoning process through carefully enough, morons may accept that the fossilisation of carbon led to global cooling in past geological eras, but that the freeing of that same carbon into the atmosphere (by burning petrol in your car for example) won’t result in warming. Go figure.
It’s pretty easy to demonstrate that CO2 levels have increased since the industrial revolution, so the link between these and the rise in temperature becomes harder to deny, though of course morons do try. Eventually, this argument collapses under its own weight, and the less-moronic type-two morons then evolve to the next stage.
Denialist Morons Type Three: “There Is Man-Made Warming, But There’s No Point Reducing CO2 Emissions”
So having belatedly accepted what’s been generally known for almost 30 years, morons fall back on claiming that there’s no point doing anything. Note that the power of the denial movement comes from generous funding by the fossil fuels industry. The oil business doesn’t particularly care whether people believe in climate change or not – just so long as governments are prevented from taking action (which would result in large drops in revenue for their industry, and which industry wouldn’t fight against that?).
These arguments are far more subtle, and tend to come from economists. They come in two flavours: optimistic and pessimistic.
The Optimists say, “mankind will find a fix to this problem as we’ve fixed problems in the past”. The flaw in this argument is that we often haven’t fixed problems in the past. Many a civilisation has collapsed under problems of its own making or as a result of natural disasters (including natural climate change); the only difference this time is that we’re looking at the first truly global collapse. I’m sad to say that the Freakonomics guys fall into this category, making the “something will turn up” case in their book, Superfreakonomics. I have huge admiration for Levitt and Dubner, and strongly recommend their fascinating podcasts, but sometimes economists need to look at history and science as well as economic theory. The reality is, perhaps something will turn up; that “something” will need enormous funding by someone; it needs to happen in a very short time-space; and if we’re lucky, it may even work and not produce unexpected side-effects. But the history of engineering says that every right answer comes after many wrong answers have been tried, and we don’t have too much room for manoeuvre here.
The Pessimists say, “OK, things are going to get nasty, but it’s probably cheaper and smarter to just let mankind adapt as the change happens – after all, we’ve adapted before”. I looked at a specific case of this type of argument by economist David Friedman in a recent article. There are many problems with this argument; from a simple economics point of view, arguing that a huge unknown cost may be smaller than a known cost is moronic. Factoring in risk means that action must be taken, unless the cost of not doing so can be proven to be lower than the cost of acting. It’s also completely false to say that mankind has comfortably adapted to huge change in the past. In previous ages, the population of the planet has been so much lower that there has always been space for migrations to take place. This time, the change will affect everyone, everywhere. This argument is basically a call to allow people to die in huge numbers – given the existing squeamishness about migration at its current low levels, can anyone envisage that hundreds of millions (or billions) of people will be allowed to successfully migrate and begin life elsewhere?
We’re watching a slow-motion train crash unfold, and yet morons still persist in their endless denial. The tipping point will only come when the US accepts the need for change, and that needs the Republican Party to accept it. But with their moronic, science-denying ways, and endless millions of dollars being sent their way by the oil business, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.