Saturday, February 13, 2010

Conservative vs. Reactionary

Yesterday I had lunch with a group of educated, influential women, one of whom has a Ph.D. in computer science. Her job involves creating computer models for application to particular scientific questions. Somehow the subject of global climate change (GCC) came up, and one of the women expressed doubt: “They say the climate fluctuates naturally,” she said. “Maybe the temperatures would be rising, anyway, even without human interference.”

I glanced at the scientist, and she rolled her eyes. She simply drew a graph in the air—a simple 45-degree line showing the dramatic upward trend of global average temperatures in recent decades—and said, “That’s not natural.” Then, not wanting to spoil a good lunch by arguing, we moved on to other subjects.

After our recent discussion here about GCC, I was wondering why almost all the books recently published are about “debunking the myths” about GCC and most of the ones I read in the 70s and 80s are out of print. (Another great book I neglected to mention, incidentally, is Extinction, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, first published in 1981.) As we were leaving, I asked my scientist friend why the people who knew best weren’t writing books about GCC anymore. “Once something’s established as fact,” she said, “people aren’t interested in ‘if.’ There’s no ‘if’ any more when it comes to climate change—just ‘when?,’ ‘how much?,’ and ‘what can we do about it?”

I see what she means. Among educated, scientifically oriented people, GCC is an accepted fact, and what we know about it is implicit in discussions of many things, from politics to polar bears. Rational people have long since stopped talking about “if.”

The same thing is true of other subjects about which facts have been tortured to death in recent years for the sake of politics: evolution, the efficacy of torture, the safety of children’s vaccines.

In the public discourse in America, we’ve continued to use the same terminology in recent years, as the right has drifted further and further toward the fringe and as sane fiscal and social conservatives have tended to get mixed up in the public mind with celebrities of spite like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and numerous clueless members of Congress. That seems unfair, because I believe there are thoughtful, intelligent, reality-oriented conservatives out there who might have something to contribute, if only they weren’t continually shouted down by the loudest voices representing ignorance and extremism.

So I propose that we dust off that good old word “reactionary” and put it back to work. Let’s start calling deniers of GCC, evolution, and Obama’s American citizenship “reactionary.” Let’s help them find their own identity, with others who believe that the government is plotting to take away their guns and socialize medicine and education. Then let’s use the word “conservative” to mean what it used to mean—rightfully and responsibly concerned about things like government spending and what “freedom of speech” should mean in a technological world.

How about that—wouldn’t it make things simpler?


Six said...

For 'settled' science, there sure has been a lot of news lately about the amature-ish methods in which the scientists both peer-review and collect their data. Not just the revelation of what is shown in the email exchanges but also the a deeper look in to the fiasco about prediction involving the Himalayan glaciers disappearing (or not).

There is no doubt there is climate change - but the 'science' of it, especially involving the so-called 'top-scientists' is a lot more political than it is scientific. The real questions should be not if it is happening, but if there is anything possible we can even do about it? So far the 'models' have been absolutely wrong, over and over again - so SHOULD we even do something about it like cap and trade - in other words would the cure be worse than the disease? Is the current temperature of the earth the 'optimal' one? By what standards? Is the right answer to give hundreds of billions of dollars to corrupt third-world countries as some form of retrobution - and subsidizing failed technologies like biodesiel and electric cars which in the end result as a net do more harm than good when all things factored in (but make for good politics).

In my limited neaderthal mind, I want to know more about how much affect the big glowing ball of fire in the sky affects our climate? I remember from my freshman year in college anthropology classes that not that long ago (in earth's life terms) that this earth was exploding with life that included supporting blood-pumping-oxygen-breathing monsters walking the earth that were big enough to swallow me whole as an appatizer as well as trees and other vegitation so large that it makes my oak tree look like broccoli. Earth supported all that life with no polar caps, and a planet that had much, much higher CO2 levels and hotter temperatures than today. Somehow, I think earth - and life - will be just fine if the temperatures continue to rise.

Citizen Jane said...

Six, there are untold thousands of scientists working the world over--in national laboratories, universities, and private companies--to create the miracles we all take for granted every day. (Thanks to them, for example, N1H1--instead of being the pandemic it might of been--has been no worse than the seasonal flu.) The odd stories that make headlines do so just because they're exactly that--odd.

As for whether we should do something about climate change, if we don't, the "costs"--regardless of how you want to measure them--will be astronomical. (For a good contemporary look at the economics of GCC, I recommend any recent book by Thomas L. Freidman--he does a good job of looking at the whole issue from a global economic perspective.)

Six said...

Not sure I get the H1N1 reference... if you are saying that science is good, then I agree!!

As for the 'odd' stories about climate change scientists...

when you are the UN appointed organization, you would expect a much higher level of professional standards, but instead you get this:


And I could go on linking more and more articles... but you get the point. Odd implies something that is out of the ordinary, but for 'settled' science there sure has been a common theme recently...

And how is it that the head/chief of the UN's appointed group to determine and assess the risk of climate change who is also considered the 'worlds top climate scientist' is a guy who has no formal training in climatology... or meteorology or anthropology or even geology!?!?! Rather he is trained in Engineering and economics?

It's not the so much that I don't trust the science, its that I am very disillusioned with the politics which make me suspect of those who are so fanatical about this...

Six said...

my first link did not include the whole url for some reason (operator error imo! HAHA!)... here it is again:

Six said...

apprently my url is too long... so here is the rest of the link if you are curious enough to cut/paste:


Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Six,

Your links come through intact on my email notifications. I like blogspot, but I wish it were possible to embed links and use html tags in comments.

IPCC is a clearing house. It publishes many thousands of pages of reports every year, distilled from many sources. As in journalism, mistakes will occasionally happen. That doesn't mean that glaciers aren't disappearing, oceans aren't rising, and desertification isn't accelerating. But GCC deniers seize on every error--or every statement that's not adequately qualified--as evidence that the whole body of knowledge is suspect.

Thus the "debate" rages on--when the only debate we should be having is how to stop, or at least greatly slow, this unprecedented experiment in meddling with the world's climate.