The Rhetoric Garage
For the moment, let’s table the fact that the recent warming trend is far outside the parameters any similar previous temperature fluctuation recorded in the geological record, along with the fact that the ability to farm in Greenland as those lucky Vikings could would come at the price of significant portions of densely inhabited costal areas getting swallowed by the sea.Thanks to Ted Remington for pointing me to this piece on George Will's use of rhetoric in framing his words on global warming ... all in all I think it was an interesting analysis of Will's word choice.
The art of rhetoric is alive and well (as well it should be): the whole reason for writing an editorial or a position piece in Newsweek is to persuade, convince, and (dare I say) convert. The appropriate tool for that job is rhetoric, this wasn't a submission for a science journal after all.
But enough about rhetoric ... I'd like to correct some faulty assumptions that rhetoricgarage makes about the "facts" of global warming. (BTW -- one of my favorite movie scenes: So I Married an Axe Murderer, the hero's mother explains that her newspaper is trustworthy and reads a headline. "Man gives birth to baby ... and that's a fact.")
Anyway, rhetoricgarage erroneously believes that "the recent warming trend is far outside the parameters of any similar previous temperature fluctuation recorded in the geological record". Unfortunately for him, this is not a fact. The fact is that we don't have high-confidence estimates of global temperature trends beyond 80-100 years ago. The reason is that we didn't have reliable weather stations at enough locations before this time. Lacking any direct temperature data, we scientists are forced to look for proxies of temperature -- essentially variables that are related to temperature (but nevertheless not driven by temperature alone). Examples might be tree rings, analysis of ice cores, etc. These give an imperfect, fuzzy, and error-prone "history" of the earth's temperature but one that is probably accurate only on geologic time scales (i.e. this gives a good idea of how global climate changes over the course of 10000 years.) There were some papers published a decade or more ago that tried to claim our current warming trend is some sort of thermal abberation (the infamous hockey-stick graph) ... but this paper has been heavily criticized from within the scientific community for both its methodology and its conlcusions. in fact the whole thesis is fragile enough to be completely overturned by removing a single proxy set (the bristle-cone pine data).
So its just not accurate to claim that our current warming trend is abnormal -- we simply don't know what "normal" is yet.
The next "fact" presented by rhetoricgarage is that farming in greenland "comes at the price of significant portions of densely inhabited costal areas getting swallowed by the sea." Er, not really. True, global warming causes rise in sea level. But the rate of this rise is the key issue. For the past hundred years average sea levels have risen, what about 8-10 inches? Current rate of sea level rise? = about 10 inches/CENTURY! Yeah, we're going to have a real crisis because of the flooding this causes. NOT. No city is going to be suddenly swallowed by the sea.
With hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies on global warming agreeing, without exception, that the earth is warming due to human actions, it is those who deny that it is happening who are basing their position on faith divorced from facts...Err, except that this statement is untrue. Though a minority, there are reputable and actively publishing memebers of the global-climate community that dispute this very point. Richard Lindzen and Claude Allegre come to mind immediately. Additionally we should be precise: there are hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that the earth is in a modest warming period (about 1 degree in the last century). There's a scant handfull of articles that try to establish a link between this warming and man's activities. Think about it -- how does one, even in principle, establish a causal link between mankind's CO2 emissions and global climate change? Is this a process that we can experiment with, can we hold all the variables constant except one and do a test? Can we perform multiple runs and find a least-squares fit??? The best the scientific community has done is establish the plausability of such a scenario, and then trot out some computer simulations as proof. (Please excuse me for a second, while I laugh my a** off at this brand of "science"). Alright I'm done laughing.
Lastly let me make one gesture of reconciliation: I am a scientist, and I could be convinced of global warming catasrophe ... if the global mean temperatures were to suddenly accelerate or if sea levels were to suddenly begin rising at a truly unprecedented rate or if scientists made a computer model that was validated to be accurate for more than a few months and it predicted climate catastrophe, in short if there were a solid, fact-based, case that human-caused catastrophe was impending then I'd gladly support reductions in CO2 or whatever solution was found best to combat the coming ... Armageddon?
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