I nearly burst out laughing the other day when I heard Secretary of State John Kerry say about global warming that “We do not have time to wait for the next meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” This arrogant declaration comes from an administration that claims to be an authority on all things but actually is an authority on only a few, that is, incompetence, corruption, stonewalling and demagoguery. This, however, does not mean that climate change is not worthy of discussion.
As I understand it, climate change in the form of global warming is said to be a serious crisis which threatens the continued existence of life on earth if not stopped and reversed. This is due to the release of “green house” gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels by humans. According to some authorities, hot weather, cold weather, wet weather, dry weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and droughts all are caused by global warming. Granted, these events do occur, but the question is what causes them? Are they simply random weather events or are they caused by global warming, or by something else? How do we establish cause and effect here? How do we know we are not falling victim to the fallacy of the false cause? (post hoc ergo propter hoc, i.e., event A precedes event B, therefore A causes B). The many logical fallacies studied in logic and writing courses warn us to be careful about jumping to wrong conclusions and engaging in sophistry and demagoguery.
The earth has experienced climate change since the beginning of its history; this has consisted of alternating periods of warming and cooling. According to the Utah Geological Survey website (http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/gladasked/gladice_ages.htm) “An ice age is a long interval of time (millions to tens of millions of years) when global temperatures are relatively cold and large areas of the Earth are covered by continental ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Within an ice age are multiple shorter-term periods of warmer temperatures when glaciers retreat (called interglacials or interglacial cycles) and colder temperatures when glaciers advance (called glacials or glacial cycles).” There have been at least five ice ages, obviously meaning that both global warming and global cooling have occurred previously. The website continues that we now are in a “warm interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago.” The Medieval Warm Period from about 900 to 1400 A.D. would be part of that.
The Utah Geological Survey website continues: ”Glacials and interglacials occur in fairly regular repeated cycles. The timing is governed to a large degree by predictable cyclic changes in Earth’s orbit, which affect the amount of sunlight reaching different parts of Earth’s surface. The three orbital variations are: (1) changes in Earth’s orbit around the Sun (eccentricity), (2) shifts in the tilt of Earth’s axis (obliquity), and (3) the wobbling motion of Earth’s axis (precession). . . . . Records show that ice ages typically develop slowly, whereas they end more abruptly. Glacials and interglacials within an ice age display this same trend. On a shorter time scale, global temperatures fluctuate often and rapidly. Various records reveal numerous large, widespread, abrupt climate changes over the past 100,000 years. One of the more recent intriguing findings is the remarkable speed of these changes. Within the incredibly short time span (by geologic standards) of only a few decades or even a few years, global temperatures have fluctuated by as much as 15°F (8°C) or more. For example, as Earth was emerging out of the last glacial cycle, the warming trend was interrupted 12,800 years ago when temperatures dropped dramatically in only several decades. A mere 1,300 years later, temperatures locally spiked as much as 20°F (11°C) within just several years. Sudden changes like this occurred at least 24 times during the past 100,000 years. In a relative sense, we are in a time of unusually stable temperatures today . . .” (emphasis added).
In addition to eccentricity, obliquity and precession, variance in solar radiation, volcanoes and the oceans all can play a part in global climate change, and so can man, but to say that man is the sole cause of climate change today is going too far. The science is not nearly as settled as some claim. To claim the science is settled is to change what very likely is a multivariate phenomenon to a univariate phenomenon and thereby commit the fallacy of the false cause. I simply cannot do that. Neither can I support the irrational destruction of important American industries and the jobs they generate to achieve what may well be an illusory goal, especially when China and India are moving in the opposite direction without apology. And, I want someone to address the possibility that global warming might, on balance, do more good than harm. The assumption always is that it must be harmful. A recent article in the March 27 edition of the Wall Street Journal by Matt Ridley, “Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm,” makes precisely that point and says that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the Global Warming Policy Foundation both have retreated from their earlier apocalyptic prognostications of impending global doom.
I am, therefore, going to be like the man from Missouri: Show me. I want hard evidence, no doctored computer models, hidden emails or post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments that global warming actually is caused by man and not by other phenomena. Then I want to see hard proof of what it is that man is doing to cause it so it can be determined if eliminating that activity is worth the cost. (We will not return to horses and buggies or using outhouses and we will not quit heating our homes in winter.) In other words, I want clear and convincing evidence that global warming is caused by man and not natural forces beyond his control, not what some talking machine with no credibility says. This is far too important an issue to rely on the ignorant pronouncements of the Obama Administration. And, in spite of Secretary Kerry’s tacky remark, this is a perfectly legitimate and rational position. I haven’t attended a meeting of the Flat Earth Society in years but I have seen a lot of cold weather lately.
Letter from Winfield H. Rose, Professor of political science