I’ve never written anything about global warming on this blog, for the simple reason that I don’t know anything about it. The notion that industrialization has increased carbon levels has always made sense to me, as has the further notion that these higher carbon levels could push our atmosphere out of equilibrium if current trends continue. On the other hand, I find these notions far less intuitively appealing than the suggestion that time and space are independent of each other, which is apparently not true.
Anyway, I may not know anything about global warming, but I know incivility when I see it, and there has been plenty about global warming. That’s why I was about to post something on last Sunday’s op-ed piece by Bjørn Lomborg, when all of a sudden I learned that Al Gore had won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to draw attention to global warming. So now I’m off in two directions at once.
First, notwithstanding the rather surprising Nobel announcement, I still think Lomborg’s piece deserves notice. Readers may recall that Lomborg, a Danish economist, wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist, for which he was not just criticized but vilified within the environmental movement. The claims and counterclaims are so dizzying and detailed that I won’t venture to summarize them, but you can read what Wikipedia says about them here. Suffice it to say that it was all fairly nasty.
Lomborg’s stated thesis last Sunday was that the nastiness is getting in the way of the truth:
[T]he discussion about climate change has turned into a nasty dustup, with one side arguing that we’re headed for catastrophe and the other maintaining that it’s all a hoax. I say that neither is right. It’s wrong to deny the obvious: The Earth is warming, and we’re causing it. But that’s not the whole story, and predictions of impending disaster just don’t stack up.
We have to rediscover the middle ground, where we can have a sensible conversation. We shouldn’t ignore climate change or the policies that could attack it. But we should be honest about the shortcomings and costs of those policies, as well as the benefits.
Being ignorant myself of what I would need to know in order to judge between conflicting claims about climate change, I have perhaps been more keen to notice the certitude of others. Frankly, it puzzles me. It’s not like scientists can announce that they’ve re-run the Industrial Revolution ten times in a laboratory environment, and each time the whole climate changed; nor can they announce the opposite. “Chilling out,” as Lomborg recommends, seems like a good idea.
So what are we to make of Mr. Gore’s prize? I confess that my first reaction was to think that some sort of category mistake had been made. Wasn’t there someone who actually did something to contribute to world peace? Perhaps not; but if not, then perhaps there should be years when no one gets a prize. Couldn’t the Committee could just make an announcement that we’ve all been very naughty and send the money to Darfur?
Lomborg, for his part, said Gore’s 2,000 co-laureates on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deserved the award more than Gore did. I suppose that’s the sort of statement that could be viewed as conciliatory in some quarters but not others.