Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Dear Dad: Anthropogenic Climate Change is not "hypothetical"

My dad (Ed Cunningham), commenting on one of my posts on Facebook, 2-6-11:
Where in the world are our priorities? We agonize over a future hypothetical scenario -- CO2-induced global warming, which many knowledgeable scientists are convinced will never occur -- while billions of people suffer from a host of very... real energy- and health-related hazards in the here-and-now.
Why would anyone in their right mind give the governments of the world a mandate to totally restructure human society to fight a hypothetical problem of vastly greater complexity than the very real and clearly-identified problems we currently face? Why should we not rather confront these genuine energy and health threats with all due haste and with every modern tool we have at our disposal?

The conclusion is what I've been saying all along: and, while the IPCC is using global warming to convince governments and the public that action needs to be taken to reduce CO2; the real problems related to land depletion goes unnoticed and uncorrected.

We would do much more for humanity if we were to take advantage of the current natural warming period to grow food for everyone and reduce hunger throughout the world.

Craig, these scientist are not promoting the growth of CO2 and by you and others like you continue to keep your head in the sand and promote this global warming nonsense, we could be having a real debate on how the world could be saved.
While most people use Facebook ("FB") to play games and update each other on the latest news about their pets and kids, my dad and I have been going back and forth in a rather heated manner for some time now about a number of subjects, including educational funding, health care, the desirability of living in cities, and global warming. Other than our completely opposite opinions of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, our "discussions" about global warming and climate change have shown probably the most clashing of perspectives.  I routinely "share" web pages that offer further evidence that humans are influencing the climate and suggest policy approaches to dealing with it, and he routinely questions whether the science is real or whether any such policy approaches are feasible or worth the cost. 

I find the entire debate fascinating, especially the way that each side uses rhetorical devices to downplay the opinions or "facts" garnered by the other side.  Occasionally others weigh in on these discussions, which are scattered throughout my FB profile (and sometimes on my dad's profile).  Most of my friends on FB are rather liberal, and most of them agree more or less with me on these debates; however, I have enough friends who aren't liberal that sometimes there are a few who take my dad's side.

(Most recently, a guy who was a student in the high school I taught in in the mid-1980s chimed in to say "I'm sorry Craig, but the only thing that has been proven about the effects of climate change and the rate at which is changing is that the people creating the reports to display the data will lie at all costs to further their cause. There is 0 credibility with this topic anymore." Interestingly, most of the people who "chime in" like this very quickly lose interest and stop participating as soon as they see that I am not willing to let comments like this stand unchallenged:  WHO has zero credibility, for example.) 

When we discuss these issues on my dad's profile, pretty much everyone who comments (if they do) agrees with him--I don't think my dad HAS any liberal friends (at least not on FB), and his sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews all pretty much believe, like him, that global warming is a "sky-is-falling" liberal panic designed to take money away from the people and give more power to the government. Indeed, over time I have come to understand that you can pick almost any political issue and you are sure to be able to predict my dad's position (and the position of nearly every other member of my extended family) by negating what I believe.  Why is this the case?  I'm not entirely sure, although I think you can blame my college and graduate education for some of it: until 1978 or so, I was a republican too, but once I began hanging out with the the liberal elite and learning from highly-educated professors, I pretty quickly understood that republicanism is just another name for getting normal people to vote against their better interests and in favor of corporate interests that they think are their own interests (except, of course, for those who actually share corporate interests and benefit from them).

Anyway, back to our debate about global warming.  My dad can be counted on to pretty much spout the expected "party line" on this issue.  During the previous 12 months or so he has pulled all kinds of interesting arguments out of his hat:  global warming is natural; the "hockey stick" graph is a hoax; the shift from talk about "global warming" to talk about "climate change" indicates some kind of liberal backtracking; "Climategate" proves that it's ALL a hoax; and even that the recent ice storm in Houston proves that the world is not warming up.  I have, of course, responded to each of these claims with what I consider to be the facts, in each case offering links to web sites with supporting materials.  At one point, I challenged my dad to show me a list of real scientists that have doubts about man-made global warming, and he very helpfully provided this link, which does, indeed, give a list of scientists who have expressed doubt about global warming, although I can't tell if any of the people listed are climate scientists who are currently publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

My dad also periodically posts his own "evidence" that global warming is a hoax, most recently an article about an unfounded claim about Himalayan glaciers that found its way into an IPCC report. I usually take the time to read these posts, to try to understand if they represent anything that should cause the average person to reassess their point of view.  Sadly, nearly all of the things my dad posts on this issue show overt bias or fail to "show" what it is that my dad thinks it "shows". (For example, the article about the unfounded claim about glaciers quotes the scientist who discovered the lack of evidence for the claim as lamenting the "wasting away" of the world's glaciers.  This doesn't indicate a failure of science; it represents a success.)

Sometimes, I wonder whether these discussions have any point.  My dad seems quite unlikely to change his position...and I am pretty unlikely to change MY position.  So why bother discussing it?  For me, I think the value of the discussions is NOT the possibility that I may convince my dad (or the rest of the extended family) that they are wrong (although I would be happy to do so!!!); but rather, the value to me is that it gives me a direct window into the thinking of people who have a very different appraisal of the current scientific point of view and a very different reaction to academic scholarship than I do. 

There was one time when I felt that the discussion had actually advanced beyond "he said/she said" contradictions between incompatible points of view.  That was when my dad admitted, after a long string of back-and-forths on the issue of whether there is a scientific consensus, that scientists probably DID generally believe that man-made carbon was affecting the climate, but that the liberal media and politicians had turned this into a panic by exploiting the science to make unsupportable claims about how fast it was happening and what needs to be done about it.  (Sadly, I can't locate this comment in my FB archive.) 

Another time, my dad got fairly frustrated with my line of argument, and revealed something about his own beliefs:  he basically said "you may be right about the science, but there's no way you liberals are going to use this issue to destroy America by insisting that the potential costs of global warming be borne by the taxpayers."  (Again, I can't find this in the archive, unfortunately.)  What this said to me was that this argument isn't about science, or data, or facts, or even the validity of certain predictions: it's about the desire to hold on to the "American way of life" (consume, exploit, consume some more) in the face of efforts by liberals (and Europeans) to force Americans to accept that they can no longer get away with this dirty and unsustainable behavior. 

This exchange, like others on this topic, helps me to understand some of the difficulties involved in public education on the issue of climate change.  People aren't going to allow themselves to be convinced on scientific grounds if they feel that the real issue is how much it is going to cost them in terms of their lifestyle choices. I would ascribe this to the operation of the hierarchy of needs:  people who want cheap gasoline aren't ready to listen to ANY person who believes that cheap gasoline is not now, nor ever will be in the future, possible.

[None of those people are going to keep reading this blog post, for example, now that I've revealed my hand here. :-)  Well, maybe my dad will: he wants to know what I'm going to say about him, below.]

[gotta go; more later....]


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