|View from Apollo 8 December 20, 1968.|
The major climate change story of the year so far are the bush fires in Australia. But is it really a climate change story? My last blog post indicates that there are other man-made reasons for the fires. Its important to remain objective particularly when it's so easy to assign blame. Most broadcast media have already decided this is a climate change story, but a little digging provides other, simpler answers. Here are the conclusions from a recent online article:
"Blaming rising CO2 concentrations and global warming is only misdirecting real efforts to minimize wildfire destruction. What Australia and the world needs to address is 1) human ignitions, 2) invasive grasses and 3) fire suppression that allows surface fuels to accumulate and enable large intense and destructive fires to wreak havoc like never before!"I am a climate change skeptic. I’m skeptical about the alarmism and our attempts to mitigate an objectively non-existent problem, and as I said in my last post, I consider the matter so unimportant (even though I’m still writing about it) that it does not warrant as much attention as it receives except maybe on a very local level to mitigate specifically local problems. I wasn’t always a skeptic.
Years ago, when I was a beginning science teacher and the idea of global warming became a cause célèbre among scientists, politicians and the general public, I was onboard. I brought up the issue to both my junior and senior biology students. Those were really the beginning days of ecological awareness. Acid rain was a big issue, so was over population, the “hole” in the Ozone layer and the idea of limits to growth. Even earlier, when I was a university student, Americans were racing to the moon. Astronauts onboard Apollo 8 around Christmas of 1968 snapped that famous image of “Earth-rise” as they swung around the moon. That powerful image contrasted our beautiful blue planet with the stark cratered greyness of the moon’s surface. We were just one lonely planet in the vastness of outer space, and we had better care for it. That was really not a bad sentiment and I was happy to teach young people these important concepts.
I didn’t even mind it when new government regulations came into force regarding sulfur-content in coal, or when bans on chlorofluorocarbons were instituted, despite my aversion to big government.
It was only when noises got louder demonizing carbon dioxide and fossil fuels, that I became suspicious and skeptical.
Carbon dioxide is important, absolutely vital. It’s NOT a pollutant as many in our government think. I’ve taught lessons about the Carbon Cycle, and the fact that carbon dioxide is central to two of the most important processes in biology, photosynthesis in plants, and mechanical respiration in animals. Yet people were talking about carbon pollution and using computer models to show what would happen if CO2 levels increased in the atmosphere. Global Warming became Climate Change, which meant that any unusual weather event could now be related to the increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Worse yet, if anyone raised doubts about these affects or suggested they were due to natural variability, they were dismissed. Once politicians got into the debate, advocating against fossil fuels and using phrases like “settled science,” indicating an unassailable level of certainty around CO2 caused Climate Change, I knew there was a problem, and my skepticism was complete. Don’t get me wrong. That does not mean I think climate change isn’t happening or even that CO2 is a possible cause. My problem was with the idea of certainty. Once certainty is absolute, then science cannot exist. Dogma is the antithesis of science.
All of science is theoretical. Even those explanations we think of as scientific facts today, are just really good theories that have withstood the test of time. But doubt and uncertainty must always remain, however small. When uncertainty is totally dismissed or denied, then you are leaving science and entering the territory of dogma, a quality more associated with religion than science. When I was a naive young student, then teacher, I used to think that science was self-correcting. Hypotheses were tested by experiments. Those experiments were replicated by others, and good ideas were affirmed while bad ideas were eventually dismissed. There was always a search for the truth. When Climate Change became political, the search for truth was subverted. That state of affairs is not unprecedented. Check out Lysenkoism in the former Soviet Union. More recently the idea that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease or that stomach ulcers are caused by environmental stress, are both widely accepted ideas but shown to be wrong. People still believe these erroneous ideas, which just shows how difficult it is to change a popular paradigm.
I’ll have more to say about skepticism in my next post.