Vail Daily column: ‘Cui bono?’
July 11, 2016
Regardless of one's position on the subject of climate change, the Latin term cui bono (who benefits) is perhaps the most relevant phrase one can use when discussing the subject. Anyone who's ever engaged in debate on the topic understands these are usually no-win situations because regardless of one's position someone else will see it differently and offer his or her own set of facts.
So it is with the science is settled argument; perhaps the most absurd statement ever made on the subject. Science is never settled and it's patently ridiculous to support the notion that any science is impervious to challenge.
The most unfortunate aspect of the "settled" argument is that it has distorted much needed public policy debate on issues such as energy sources, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment.
The matter is far from clear-cut. Both natural and man-made factors enter into the equation, i.e. the effects of the perturbations in earth's orbit, the burning of fossil fuels, solar activity, increasing amounts of animal agriculture, volcanic eruptions, de-forestation, changes in ocean currents, etc.
The fact is our climate has always changed and always will. The earth has been alternately warming and cooling for 4 ½ billion years. There have been periods when the earth was very cold and periods when it's been very warm; yet no scientific study can tell us what the ideal temperature of planet earth is supposed to be, much less during what geological period that 'ideal temperature' occurred.
With that said, perhaps we should view this topic from a different perspective, i.e., we should also look at the motives behind the research and the subsequent findings. When police investigators look for a motive the first question invariably asked is, "who benefits?" so why not examine climate change data through a similar lens?
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A number of years ago, I attended a lecture given by a man who many believe to be the greatest scientific mind of our time — theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. After the lecture during the question and answer period one member of the audience asked Dr. Hawking if he and his colleagues did any research on time-travel.
After the chuckles from the crowd subsided, Dr. Hawking told those in attendance that funding for the research conducted by him and most other scientists in his field came from the government where the term "time-travel" was considered science fiction and strictly verboten.
Stephen Hawking has a surprisingly wry sense of humor, which was evident in his answer, to wit: Hawking told the audience that when applying for grants and other forms of funding he and his cohorts would routinely state on their respective grant applications that they were researching "relativistic physics" and "Einstein-Rosen Bridges."
Then, with perfect timing, Hawking confessed to the audience that relativistic physics and the Einstein-Rosen Bridges were scientific terms relating to space-time, which by definition includes the study of, you guessed it, "time-travel,"—the audience roared its approval.
Hawking had admitted, albeit rather humorously, that as a matter or course he and many fellow scientists would tell the funding entity what they wanted to hear in order to obtain the grants and endowments for their research.
Closer to home, President Obama has told us that our greatest national security threat is climate change. So when determining who receives government grants and subsidies for research is it possible the administration might be inclined to favor those scientists and scientific studies agreeing with its positions while disfavoring those that depart from them?
And what about all the findings from the UN's International Panel on Climate Change we continually hear about; what might be the motives of the scientists who develop that data? Before answering that question we need some background.
For years, the UN has pushed for a carbon tax on the wealthier industrialized nations (read: the USA). And being keenly aware of just who butters their bread; isn't it possible that some UN scientists might also do or say whatever necessary to retain or obtain funding?
Isn't it also possible that the leader of a third world country standing to gain monetarily from a carbon tax on the United States might be influenced by the largesse his country may potentially receive? And what scientists might the leader of that country choose to conduct the research; and is there a chance the research might be biased?
The study of climate change is both art and science; it's neither settled nor is it a hoax, and both sides of the debate have valid points. But all things considered, when looking for meaningful answers to the issue of climate change, it might be wise to first ask, "cui bono," i.e., "who benefits?"
Quote of the day: "Men argue; Nature acts." — Voltaire.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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