On Global Warming and World Peace

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.


6 Responses to “On Global Warming and World Peace”

  1. jim walsh Says:

    In the October 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben reviews Bjorn Lomborg’s “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming,” together with a few other books on the topic.

    I am sorry that in this e-format I can’t write the second “o” of Lomborg’s name with the requisite slash, but I can identify him as a Danish statistician. And though Lomborg has the cachet of having appeared on The Colbert Report, McKibben’s essay and its survey of the question of global warming seems to indicate that Lomborg’s work is defective in many and important respects.

    737 experts constitute the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a Working Group puts out a report every five years. McKibben tells us that the most recent report, its third (hence “IPCC Working Group III”), came out “just as [Lomborg] was wrapping up this book.” Since the IPCC, as represented by the report of Working Group II, is “the panel of experts whose scientific data [Lomborg] prefers to cite,” the report of Working Group III “undercuts his main argument.”

    McKibben’s review goes on to sketch the scientific, economic, and political factors at work in the issue. The review seems to me to be free of animus. It gives a comprehensive picture of what is at stake in this whole matter and of possible futures. I recommend it as fair and informative (in so far as I can tell — maybe the kerfuffle over Oslo’s decision will motivate more people who, like Mark and me, “don’t know anything about global warming,” to read up on the question.)

  2. Mark E. Says:

    “Nasty dustup” is certainly apt when it comes to the subject of global warming.

    The following link points to a column by the editor of Kiplinger’s
    Personal Finance in which he describes reader reaction to their “Green” issue last month.


  3. consequences of global warming Says:

    consequences of global warming

    It can on occasion become difficile to set apart the valuable climate change reading from the abominable.

  4. Timothy Peach Says:

    For me, the fact that it has become heresy to even suggest that man’s impact on the warming trend might not be material, or that it is not completely clear that warming is bad, puts up a big red flag for me.

    Science is supposed to keep an open mind, and talk about these things in terms of “theories”, not settled facts about which discussion is not permitted (pretty much what the UN commission said).

    When discourse is stifled in this manner, one should suspect that the central conclusion is not academic and scientific, it is more likely “practical” and political.

  5. Timothy Peach Says:

    Hey Granulous, nice post here by the way, and I couldn’t agree with you more on the “category mistake” comment (although you owe Gilbert Ryle a royalty).

    The WSJ editorial page offered us about 15 obvious alternatives, all examples of people putting themselves at risk for others or some important principle (something silly like personal liberty, nothing heavy like “carbon crime”).

    I don’t begrudge the need for Al Gore to keep busy after the painful outcome of the 2000 election. I’m even willing to concede his intentions were relatively pure, and that what he had to say is worth considering carefully. But a Peace Prize? Wasn’t there some kind of quasi-science this could have been squeezed into? Giving him the award for economics would, as an example, been less of a stretch…

  6. Timothy Peach Says:

    I strongly encouraging everyone to read “Notable & Quotable” on the opinion page of today’s Wall Street Journal, which simply transcribes a conversation between CNN and John Christy, who shared the Gilbert Ryle Peace Prize with Al Gore. Unbelievably telling.

    You will note that this guy (a) is a real climate scientist, (b) is pissed that Gore shared the award, (c) is leery of firm conclusions about the “carbon crisis”, (d) builds climate models himself, and (e) says his models don’t predict the catastrophes all the PC talking heads screech about.

    Since the interview called into question the massive PC conclusion on the topic, didn’t demonize America, and didn’t accuse George Bush of genocide, you can expect to hear about it nowhere but in the WSJ and on Fox News. (Expect no repeats on CNN.)

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