Mazzuca: Informed and thoughtful discussion necessary
There are so many aspects of the climate change debate it’s impossible to detail all the arguments; so instead of looking for the last word, I thought I would try to start a conversation.
Many believe the world faces economic and social adjustments on a scale never before seen because of global warming. That may be true, but we received these same warnings about global cooling 50 years ago. Nonetheless, most climate scientist agree that human activity plays an important role in the matter. We know cars, trucks and airplanes contribute an ungodly amount of greenhouse gases. But less spoken about is how the world’s ruminants (cattle, sheep, deer, giraffes, etc.) release 50% more of these gases than the entire transportation sector.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer, the co-chair of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, announced that UN climate policy was no longer about climate, but rather it’s true goal was the redistribution the world’s wealth. Did Dr. Edenhofer misspeak?
Climate scientists remain at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis other scientific disciplines because of the difficulty testing their theories. I mean they can’t very well conduct a controlled experiment where the world bans cars and cows for the next 10 years to see if it makes a difference. Add to that how conclusions about the effects of solar activity, earth’s orbital perturbations, volcanoes, rainfall, ocean currents and numerous other factors remain elusive, it’s understandable why a financial analyst forecasting market trends will have more precise information from which to base his or her predictions than will a climate scientist.
Climate science is by nature imprecise, making it impossible to know with any degree of certainty what green energy will actually deliver. If the world converted to electric vehicles tomorrow, would it reduce global temperatures by 1 degree or 3, and over what period of time? Unfortunately, there are no scientific models or cost benefit analyses that even attempt to answer those types of questions.
Governments are rightfully hesitant to spend billions on uncertain outcomes because people do not respond well to uncertainty; and the greater the uncertainty the greater the chance fear and blame will dominate the conversation. Uncertainty also conjures images of worse-case scenarios and calcifies viewpoints.
“Deniers” chafe at the hypocrisy of the “doomsayers,” such as when John Kerry, the United States special presidential envoy for climate, effectively says to us, “Do as I say, not as I do” as he flies in his private jet to the next global warming conference; or Al Gore whose home has a carbon footprint 21 times greater than that of the average American household.
Have you ever wondered why so many people are certain about climate in the future, yet the National Weather Service can’t tell us when and where the next hurricane will make landfall until it’s almost ashore? The problem is that most climate models aren’t very effective when predicting natural phenomena — like hurricanes. It’s also not surprising that climate modeling results are frequently dependent upon who does the funding.
Most people believe CO2 is the major culprit in climate change, but it’s not, water vapor is, and most climate models don’t handle water vapor very well. It’s also noteworthy that the global cooling trend that caught the world’s scientists’ attention back in the 1970s began reversing when we started cleaning up our air. Ever wonder why?
Meanwhile, the administration announced it would re-join the Paris Climate Accord, but it might be wise to ask, who’s really footing the bill? Economist Steven Levitt opines that after stripping away the scientific uncertainty and the religious ardor of the climate change debate we’re left with what economists call “externality,“ i.e., when someone takes action but someone else assumes the cost of that action without agreeing to it. Levitt refers to this as the climate version of taxation without representation.
When your neighbor throws a party and the music blares into the wee hours, that’s an externality; so is secondhand smoke. To illustrate, ask yourself if sea levels rise, who will it affect more, the rice farmer in coastal Bangladesh or the Singletree second homeowner living 7,600 feet above sea level? This is a critical part of the climate debate because when people (or nations) aren’t compelled to pay the full cost of their actions, they have little incentive to change their behavior, and the Paris Accord imposes no penalties or limitations on big polluters like China and India.
The subject of climate change is enormously complex; unfortunately, too many people have outsourced their critical thinking on the matter and simply parrot the opinions of others, a practice that does little to move the discussion forward.
Quote of the day: “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it,” — Steven Wright.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. Follow him on his blog at butchmazzuca.com.