David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Global Warming Skepticism

I’ve been mulling the idea of writing a piece about my skepticism over global warming, but now it looks like I don’t really have to; my friend and fellow Pyr SF novelist Joel Shepherd has written it for me. That’s the great thing about the blogosphere; it saves me the trouble of trying to come up with all these arguments on my own and allows me to just link to someone smarter who’s already done the work.

The pertinent points in Joel’s rather brief piece are these:

  • There’s a big difference between a global warming skeptic and a global warming denier
  • Many environmentalists are trying to stifle argument about global warming by stating that skepticism is dangerous
  • Skepticism is a much more valuable tool in uncovering truth than belief
  • The truth about global warming might be inconvenient, but it’s by no means obvious and almost certainly not settled

In the comments, Joel further points out:

  • Global warming skeptics are in the unenviable position of trying to prove a negative, which is pretty much impossible
  • There are a gajillion factlets out there that don’t quite square up with the theory that human beings are the sole (or overwhelming) cause of climate change
  • Even if the climate is changing, most of the ideas for combating it (e.g. driving Toyotas, turning down your AC, signing on to Kyoto) are pretty lame and ineffectual

For another lucid and brief article along the same lines, see this Straight Dope column on global warming from last April. And also read SF author Charles Stross’ take on “Why I Am [Not] an Environmentalist.”

My personal belief about what’s happening with the planet? If I had to put money on it, I’d say that a) the Earth is warming, perhaps dangerously so; b) we contribute to the warming effect, but on a much smaller scale than the alarmists are stating; and c) there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it anyway, especially not by limiting consumption, because developing nations in Asia will soon swamp any efforts we make at conservation with their own increasing consumption.

That doesn’t mean I think we should sit around and do nothing. But I think clearly we need more skepticism in the debate and more scientific research. Research into whether the climate is changing and how much and why; but also research into what homo sapiens can do to survive this whole mess if the worst turns out to be true and conservation efforts prove useless. If Al Gore’s right about what’s happening, our best bet might be to invest in some hard-core survivalism science.

Here’s something else that’s going to sound incredibly caustic but I need to get off my chest anyway: I don’t really give a shit about the Earth. I only care about whether we can continue to live on it. If we could accomplish that by setting up big climate-controlled science fiction domes and letting the rest of the globe rot, on an emotional level I’d be just fine with that. (On a more practical level, of course, I’m guessing that the rainforests and the wildlife and the amoebuses and all the rest make it a lot easier for us to live here, and there’s really no point trying to invent a livable human environment from scratch when we have one already.)

Can you tell I’m cranky today?

(Oh, hey, and before I forget, Joel’s got a new book out — in the States at least — called Breakaway, the sequel to Crossover. Go buy it.)

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  1. Alexey Romanov on February 28, 2007 at 12:23 pm  Chain link

    Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to post a comment on Shepherd’s blog, so I will try here.

    There’s a big difference between a global warming skeptic and a global warming denier

    Yes. There is an even bigger difference between environmentalists and those who accept AGW (anthropogenic global warming), which Shepherd himself prefers to ignore. See… well, Stross for one example of this difference.

    This also ignores the fact that there are many actual deniers. Are we not allowed to call them that?

    Skepticism is a much more valuable tool in uncovering truth than belief

    Correct. You also need to look at actual evidence. The Oscars ceremony, which got Shepherd “over climate change” is not in any way evidence of AGW or the lack thereof, so he doesn’t seem to be looking at evidence.

    The truth about global warming might be inconvenient, but it’s by no means obvious and almost certainly not settled

    Obvious? No. Settled? Not in details, but the general outline seems clear enough.

    Global warming skeptics are in the unenviable position of trying to prove a negative, which is pretty much impossible

    They need to either propose their own models which fit the facts better and make better predictions than the AGW theory or to show AGW makes wrong predictions. The difficulty with this is that AGW makes pretty good predictions so far.

    There are a gajillion factlets out there that don’t quite square up with the theory that human beings are the sole (or overwhelming) cause of climate change

    Well, anybody who claims humans are the sole cause of climate change is either ignorant or an idiot or making a rhetorical exagerration (natural climate change denier, so to say — or would you object against this name as well?).

    Even if the climate is changing, most of the ideas for combating it (e.g. driving Toyotas, turning down your AC, signing on to Kyoto) are pretty lame and ineffectual

    Here I can agree completely.

    Shepherd also makes the old claim that

    I read a lot of things from a lot of places, and don’t bookmark anything so I can’t point back to it, but I’ve read, for example, that from the 1940s to 1970s, global temperatures were decreasing, and scientists were warning about the approaching ice age.

    Unfortunately, nobody has found such articles in scientific journals of that era — and people have looked! See
    this discussion
    for details.

  2. David Louis Edelman on February 28, 2007 at 12:30 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for that, Alexey. And thanks for the link to the Google Groups discussion. Haven’t read the Crichton novel, I’m afraid.

  3. cephyn on February 28, 2007 at 2:09 pm  Chain link

    RealClimate.org has a ton of info on this – real science – that strongly suggests human factors are the #1 contributor to global warming. So here’s my question:

    Why is it that there are so many generally reasonable, intelligent people out there, who normally respect scientists and specialists, that completely discount what professional climatologists are finding?

    I just don’t get it. It’s like many of the global warming agnostics and disbelievers will trust any scientist but a climatologist – do you think they use voodoo dolls or something? That they warn about catastrophic climate change because they think it’s funny to watch people worry?


    Just read it. Check out any theme you want. Then if you still think its bad science or that climatologists are the stupidest of all scientists, OK. But just know that’s ridiculous.

  4. christopher on February 28, 2007 at 4:24 pm  Chain link

    although i consider myself an environmentalist, i agree with a lot of what you said. like any other political and financially-impacting issue, there’s a lot of hype and lack of facts being tossed around. although i enjoyed it, i was even bothered by the lack of strict focus on the facts in ‘an inconvenient truth.’

    but what struck me the most is something i’ve often said but have yet until now to hear anyone else say: that i don’t care about the earth, i care about me on it.

    i wouldn’t say i want to live in domes – this habitat we already have is fantastic and should be preserved as much as possible. but to put the earth itself on a pedestal above human beings? sorry, no. this is a vessel. maybe eventually we’ll completely use it up and move on to another one. if that’s the case i (though probably not still existing at that point), won’t shed a tear for it.

  5. Paul Raven on February 28, 2007 at 8:34 pm  Chain link

    I’d like to see the Earth stay pretty and full of life, but I’ve been a ‘get us into space where we can get the hell on with doing the really awesome sh*t’ advocate since … well, getting into science fiction, I guess.

    That said, I think that sorting out our rampant over-consumption of resources is still a worthy pursuit, if only for the fact that we’ll have to learn how to be damn frugal once we get off planet, and we might as well learn the basics while we have somewhere reasonably conducive to our existence to practice on.

    Interesting and provocative post, though.

  6. David Louis Edelman on February 28, 2007 at 9:52 pm  Chain link

    Cephyn: Thanks for the link to the RealClimate site. There’s some real good stuff on there, and it’s refreshing to know that the actual climate scientists are getting out there and getting their voices heard.

    I think that the problem is not that we don’t trust or believe the scientists, but that it’s so much more often the politicians and the journalists who report on what the scientists are saying. I’m astounded at the idiocy that you find in the most basic science and health journalism. I mean, if they can’t even come up with a consistent take on the Atkins Diet, what hope do we have that they can understand and interpret global climate?

    (Oh, and thanks for the Infoquake review, too.)

  7. […] – David Louis Edelman’s Global Warming Skepticism “Here’s something else that’s going to sound incredibly caustic but I need to get off my […]

  8. kendall on March 2, 2007 at 2:11 am  Chain link

    David, I’m about the opposite of you with regard to the Earth. I care a lot more about the continuation of the Earth as an ecosystem than I do about my particular species. Global climate change will not destroy the Earth’s ecosystem. Carbon dioxide is not a form of pollution, the plants in fact love it. Compare that with plutonium, something that does not occur in nature and can do a huge amount of damage to the ecosystem.

    Human beings are incredible and awesome, but we are a product of our ecosystem. We will eventually go the way of Erectus and our other extinct ancestors, but something else will come along. That’s the beauty of the Earth’s ecosystem and why it’s far more important than humanity. And our technology will influence our evolution, probably even direct it going forward. I also agree that we need to get off of the Earth and find ways to populate other moons and planets with life — not just human life.

    Is global warming real, is it caused by human activity? For a long time I was very skeptical, the evidence was not strong enough for me. But these days the facts are clear enough (for me). What’s the big deal? Really, I see the biggest impact to be the melting of the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. In the very short term, flooded coastal cities will create a lot of suffering and economic upheaval. But humans will get over it, and the Earth’s ecosystem will hardly even notice.

    The answer, whatever it is, should most definitely NOT involve the production of plutonium.

  9. Joel Shepherd on March 6, 2007 at 12:11 am  Chain link

    Hi Dave

    Glad to see I’m not alone. BTW, to Alexey, on whether scientists were predicting an ice age back in the 70s, I’ve updated my original post to include an article written in 2001 by a member of the British Antactic Survey that addresses that specifically, and she says differently (I have to go on what I read, I was born in the 70s and don’t remember anything much except Abba).

  10. Gary Wray on March 22, 2007 at 6:47 pm  Chain link

    Why is there global warming on planets that have no humans. In the 70’s it was global cooling. I am a pilot and know that jets consume gallons of fuel. Ok Gore back up all your garbage and fly like we p-ons. Plus park all the SUV’s on your police escorts. I am tired with it always being Americas fault. When I was kid in Europe you could not see across the street because the smog was so thick plus you could taste it.

    Any way we have a better chance to get hit by a big rock than being destroyed by Green House Gases. Why do you think the Lord put a hole in the top so they could escape…I get tired of Hollywood and politicans running my life..thank you gary

  11. Karl Helper on May 24, 2007 at 2:03 am  Chain link

    I wonder why Greenland was called Greenland. If, and when the Ice is gone again, will it be green?

  12. Geoffrey Allan Plauche on February 10, 2008 at 4:04 pm  Chain link

    Hi Dave. Good to see another person who feels similarly on this issue, although I’m perhaps a bit more skeptical on (a).

    RealClimate isn’t the only climate science blog online. You may or may not have heard of these:

    Climate Audit (Steve McIntyre)

    Climate Science (Roger Pielke, Sr.)

    World Climate Report (Patrick Micheals of Cato, and others)



    CO2 Science

  13. anton devrietas on September 27, 2009 at 7:57 am  Chain link

    Interestingly enough, the links Geoffrey Allan Plauche posted in his February 10, 2008 at 4:04 pm comment ( http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/current-events/global-warming-skepticism/#comment-765 ) are all URLs of climate skeptic sites, most of whom have received funding from energy companies, and one still holds existing links to Big Tobacco.

    Hardly objective, nor convincing. As for the comment DLE makes about living in glass domes and screw the planet? Well, you do really need to get your head out of scifi and come to your senses once in a while: you are a product – an emergence – from that same ecosystem you so casually throw away to oneside because you cannot imagine changing the patterns and luxuries of your consumption habits? That is – in a non-professional opinion – insanity. It also really does show a set of priorities that are so out of step with the propensity for tremendous and untold suffering for human and non-human species, those particularly in the global south (human species) and throughout the planet (non-human species), and all of this because you couldn’t be bothered to reconsider that your consumption-based lifestyle isn’t even yours anyway: it was manufactured for you, you were shaped into adapting and becoming coupled to it. Thereby you are now dependent on the very pattern that is causing all of this havoc. No doubt the film “The Matrix” must have kicked up some kind of associative thoughts for you? Being coupled to the engineered and corporate owned lifestyle that is completely unsustainable, and must be continually reinvented so that it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own hubris. You like to think yourself sceptical, as a pathway to the “truth”? Well, here’s one for you then – how logical and beneficial is it for one species to eat its entire support base? Is the answer really to then throw away the empty container and go off into outer space to see if we can find another drive-through-planet to use up? Ecological wisdom would suggest that one do no more than consumes what one needs and not prevent any other species from doing similarly. Being homo sapiens sapiens suggests we possess some strange quality called wisdom. As far as I can tell, unnecessary suicide is probably not the pinacle of wisdom now is it, and yet this is – fundamentally – what you advocate with your “let’s live in bio-domes” adolescent enthusiasm. Did you not read about the impacts of BioSphere II? It was no go – they had to keep providing ecosystem resources to the inhabitants because the system could not do it itself. Really, do you think that’s the way to go … some kind of Moon Landing fantasy? We have an existing biodome – its called, inter alia, terra firma or Earth – and we can’t even take care of this one, and this one is far more tolerant and able to accommodate and self-repair in orders of magnitude at a better quality and reliability than anything that we can hope to come up with in 50 years time. What would you think is going to change us around now if we have to live in engineered bio-domes. You are entitled to your opinion of course, and maybe I’m just getting old, but I have to tell you – there are some just plain silly opinions being passed off to all and sundry on the Net which don’t evidence even the slightest bit of critical thinking. That’s okay in itself; what concerns me though is that these acritically considered opinions are then linked to in the blogosphere as if the sheer accumulation of foolishness suddenly created a critical mass whereby it is converted into common-sense. Quantity of information, not quality of information, seems to be the prevailing currency in the Internet economy of argumentation.

  14. David Louis Edelman on September 27, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Chain link

    anton: Whooooaaa there, pardner.

    I think we agree more than you think we do. I don’t think the human race could survive in bio-domes, at least not at present, and that’s not what I’m advocating. Nor do I think there’s much prospect of us tossing aside this planet and hopping onto a new one. We’re kind of stuck with this place for awhile.

    What I am saying is that all of this drivel about “loving the Earth” is just nonsense. We should take care of the planet because the alternatives, as you point out, are pretty minimal if not nonexistent. You can’t “love” a big ball of rock. We should learn to live sustainably because we have to. Doesn’t mean I have to like it any more than I have to like taking out the garbage.

    As for me clinging to some corporate-engineered lifestyle of decadent consumption that we don’t need… Let’s face it, we don’t need any of this. We could survive as a species perfectly well by sleeping outdoors naked and picking berries. We need practically nothing but water, food and occasional shelter from the elements. After that, it’s all a question of want. Underwear is a corporate-sustained conspiracy designed to keep us on a treadmill of consumption for a needless luxury, but I’m going to keep wearing it anyway.

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