While I’m watching an artificial (but completely real and frightening) crisis unfold, I started thinking about another real and frightening crisis of our own making, and about the fact that many of the same people involved in the former crisis have an even less sensible position on the latter. So, just as a reminder, I’m going to make a brief public service announcement.
Global warming is real. Humans are causing it. The data are overwhelming. There is a wide scientific consensus on this. If you honestly don’t believe that this is true, then either you have been intentionally misled or you are unaware of the facts. But that’s okay — there are plenty of facts to go around, and they all point to the same conclusion: we are making the planet warmer. The fact that many politicians in this country believe that global warming is not real, or that it is real but humans are not causing it, is a sign of wildly dangerous incompetence that we can’t ignore. (And the fact that some politicians espouse this belief without actually holding it is a sign of frighteningly cynical short-sighted self-interest.) The Republican Party is the only major party in any developed nation that does not accept that human actions are increasing the average temperature on earth by a substantial amount. Am I being partisan? On this issue, absolutely. There’s no reason to be even-handed once the debate is over, and this debate is long since finished. One side is objectively, provably incorrect about the way the world works, full stop.
If you disagree about the best way to handle the situation, that’s fine. If you want to look into unorthodox solutions to the problem, that’s fine too. Just keep in mind that the estimated human costs of allowing the problem to continue unchecked are massive and demand action. And please remember that the human cost is not necessarily the same as the economic cost — you can destroy a large number of countries for a small fraction of global GDP. Also remember that the unrestricted free market is not a magical fairy land that solves all problems optimally, and that some negative externalities need to be put into the market somehow, because humans are terrible at perceiving global long-term risk. But all that being said, sure, let’s talk about our alternatives. Want to talk about a carbon tax? Or cap-and-trade? Or even large-scale environmental engineering? That’s all fine. I’d love to find the best solutions to our problem. But if you don’t think that humans are causing global warming, then you have left the realm of rational discourse,1 no matter how smart you may be about other things.
Am I going to convince anyone with this blog post? Probably not — I don’t even know if anyone who reads this blog disagrees with me. And using a rhetorical bludgeon is not usually the most effective way of getting people to change their minds anyway. But if nothing else, maybe you can use the hard facts that I’ve linked to here as rhetorical ammunition the next time you run into a climate change denier. Or go over to RealClimate, Climate Central, or the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, and learn about this stuff from the experts2 instead of a freelance astrophysicist.3
- Of course, some elements of the Republican Party don’t put much stock in rational discourse, or in science, and that’s frightening too. Science works, and policy should be based on it. [↩]
- Here’s another point that’s worth remembering: experts are worth our attention. These are intelligent, honest people who have spent their lives painstakingly researching this subject, and they have unfortunately come back with news so terrible that nobody wanted to hear it. [↩]
- Other useful resources from non-experts are Skeptical Science, Climate Progress, and DeSmogBlog. [↩]