Sunday, October 01, 2006

Climate change and tobacco, part II

A while back, I blogged about the connection between denialists on climate and tobacco. Here is an interesting BBC report on the same subject:
(tip 'o the hat to random variable blog via deltoid)


Mark UK said...

The tactics are the same, the results will be the same. There is no scientific basis for what the deniers produce and in the end they just won't last the distance. Already the arguments are down to the simple "no it's not!" level. When are we going to see a good quality scientific theory with a factual basis that provides an alternative for current consensus on climate change? There is none so far.

D. B. Paul said...

I don't see how you can compare smoking studies to climate change. Smoking can be demonstrated over and over again through testing to increase the statistical chances of getting cancer. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer, and not everyone who doesn't smoke won't get cancer, but smoking certainly raises the chances you will get cancer. Obviously, there were and still are those who deny that, but the key point here is this something that can verified and measured by repeatable testing.

The same cannot be said for climate change. There is no repeatable test. We can't go back and form a control group and try different carbon dioxide concentration scenarios. All we have is what we can measure and computer models. Wouldn't it be great if we roll the earth back to 1900, and keep CO2 at 250 PPM for the entire 20th century and see what happened with the climate. That's exactly the kind of repeatable test you can perform with smoking, but not with climate change.

Since this blog is named "science and the politics of global climate change", let's talk politics. It's not that I don't believe the global climate is warming, but the terms "climate change" or "global warming" are now pejorative terms because of the politics. I believe four questions need to be answered:

1. Is the earth's climate warming?
2. If yes to 1, to what degree is man reponsible?
3. Does the warming matter - is it beneficial or detrimental?
4. If detrimental, is the benefit/risk worth doing something about it?

When I hear the terms "climate change" or "global warming", it always is in the context of the following answers to these four questions:

1. Yes
2. All of it is because of man
3. No benefit, only terrible consequences - there will be no ice left on earth, sea levels will rise 150 feet, horrible diseases will be everywhere and we'll all die
4. We must take drastic measures to reduce CO2 and benefit/risk shouldn't even be considered because it is so bad.

The context is always that the debate is over and those are the answers to the 4 questions. In reality, I believe 1 is yes, and 2-4 have yet to be answered. This is the political side - answer yes to question 1 and there are no varying degrees of severity on questions 2 through 4 and no reasoned debate about what can be done about it. I believe each of these questions needs to be answered separately and the language of the debate needs to be precise enough to show different positions. It is not an all or nothing proposition. Since so much political posturing is done using all or nothing language, it is not surprising that when the science got hijacked by politics, the language became all or nothing as well.