Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sense Amid the Fear-mongering

Every since I heard Bjørn Lomborg interviewed on the radio for his new book, Cool It, I've wanted to check it out. From the review by author Michael Crichton:

Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming will further enhance Lomborg’s reputation for global analysis and thoughtful response. For anyone who wants an overview of the global warming debate from an objective source, this brief text is a perfect place to start. Lomborg is only interested in real problems, and he has no patience with media fear-mongering; he begins by dispatching the myth of the endangered polar bears, showing that this Disneyesque cartoon has no relevance to the real world where polar bear populations are in fact increasing. Lomborg considers the issue in detail, citing sources from Al Gore to the World Wildlife Fund, then demonstrating that polar bear populations have actually increased five fold since the 1960s.

Lomborg then works his way through the concerns we hear so much about: higher temperatures, heat deaths, species extinctions, the cost of cutting carbon, the technology to do it. Lomborg believes firmly in climate change--despite his critics, he's no denier--but his fact-based approach, grounded in economic analyses, leads him again and again to a different view. He reviews published estimates of the cost of climate change, and the cost of addressing it, and concludes that "we actually end up paying more for a partial solution than the cost of the entire problem. That is a bad deal."

In some of the most disturbing chapters, Lomborg recounts what leading climate figures have said about anyone who questions the orthodoxy, thus demonstrating the illiberal, antidemocratic tone of the current debate. Lomborg himself takes the larger view, explaining in detail why the tone of hysteria is inappropriate to addressing the problems we face.

In the interview, which was on Prager's show, he showed himself to be sensible and uninterested in the standard utopianist screeds about who's to blame. Basically he 1) firmly believes that global climate change presents a problem, 2) believes that it is to a great extent caused by human activity and 3) looking at reality, concludes current proposals to address it are wrongheaded. So he separates the facts from the fear-mongering. He gets attacked, of course, for not partaking of the envirofreak koolaid. But he's on Time's influential 100 list, and his detractors are probably out smoking homegrown and griping. This made me laugh:

Lomborg was not the first to say these things, but he hit a nerve. Environmentalists reacted to him in the way that corporate public relations departments had learned not to react to them: by fanning the flames with intemperate attacks. He was vilified in Scientific American magazine. He was found guilty of "scientific dishonesty" by a national committee of Danish scientists (the verdict was later overturned by the academy). With each attack, sales of his book boomed. And try as they might, the critics could not paint this mild-mannered, bicycle-riding, leftish vegetarian as a corporate apologist.

So he's smart, healthy, and these dweebs helped him get rich -- good for him. I'll bet he rides a really nice bike.

As an example of his practical, big-picture view from his radio interview, he agreed that global warming will be a boon to the Anopheles Mosquito, ergo more cases of malaria for those in prone areas. But he points out that in regards to human victims of the disease, poverty will still be a much greater indicator for fatalities than temperature and climate. So resources committed to forcing nations to comply with greenhouse gas emissions standards would be better spent in providing nets and medicines to those potential victims.

But this argument probably only appeals to me because I'm a human who is more interested in helping other, especially poorer, humans than in sticking it to richer humans. If any non-humans, sub-humans, space aliens, human-animal hybrids, envirodorks or anopheles mosquitoes would like to comment, please do so.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Scribblers" and Scientific Chastity

Oswald Sobrino posts on a book by Sir Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. The book was first published in 1934 and most recently reissued in 2002. Mr. Sobrino provides some excerpts from this edition to "help us keep scientific claims in perspective, especially when those claims are pushed forward by non-scientists." His insightful conclusion:

Popper offers a chastened view of scientific claims that most scientists, I think, share; but that few non-scientists are aware of due to the fact that we are so dazzled, as outsiders, by so much scientific achievement in the modern era. In contrast, we have unrestrained scribblers, usually non-scientists, who do not show the restraint of scientists. Well, we live in a society that is, in many ways, out of control -- temperance or chastity are just not the marks of American culture today. To be chaste is not just a sexual virtue. To be chaste is a virtue of humble restraint needed throughout the culture. The lack of temperance courses through our culture from the highly personal aspects of life to the highly public claims of pseudo-scientists. Maybe, there is a testable link.

What would be an example of this kind of link? Could one be a link between people who are into "free love" and, like, totally freaked out by man-made global warming? Maybe... I don't know if it's testable; I'm a non-scientist. But I'm not sure if it really needs to be tested either.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

More Red Mass Hysteria

By way of Roger at Catholic Lawyer, we see another frowny-face made at the Red Mass, this one from a secularist point of view. The first attack I saw mainly focused on the scary guns and patriotic music. (I highly recommend the comments in that one if you are in need of a laugh.) Excerpt:

The homily, or sermon, was delivered by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee. Archbishop Dolan characterized the event as an opportunity "to rejoice in a mutually enriching alliance between religion, morality and democracy." But what he meant, of course, was that we should rejoice in an alliance between a particular religious denomination, Catholicism, and the government. This was no celebration of religion as a general matter.

I'm glad Ms. Hamilton is around to educate us on what the Archbishop really meant.

I welcome substantive discussion of why you think either of these viewpoints is right, wrong, thoughtful or stupid, especially from those readers with law degrees. As a mere layman, I'll just list three things that these reactions remind me of:

1) The widely reported recent Mass at which the Pope "intentionally wore Green vestments", ostensibly to make an environmental statement.
2) Bill Murray's character in the movie Ghostbusters warning of the possibility of "dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria" if they didn't stop the evil spirits.
3) The Spanish Inquisition's use of a "comfy chair" to torture a little old lady on an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus.