What Do You Mean It Was Just A Symbol?

I see the attempt to mock climatologists has had something of a reverse effect. Mark, too, has been taken in by the cute picture of a polar bear on an isolated oceanic ice chunk. (Not the real image on the left.)

Some enterprising Republican thinks a big scandal has been uncovered by comparing the identical ice, ocean and sky behind the bear and the penguin. Here’s a clue: I knew they were photoshopped from the start. Polar bears, though they can swim, are not aquatic animals. But even getting stranded on a real iceberg (back in 2007) is usually not a big deal. Bears will go to shore–that’s where they hunt, eat, breed, and bother human beings.

Did they not know these images of a lonely animal on a shrinking piece of ice were icons? Symbols to elicit an emotional connection?

It’s good to separate the issues from one another. First, the question of a warming trend in Earth’s climate is pretty well conceded across the board. That’s a step up from ten or twenty years ago. In the bigger picture of the environment, it’s not a big deal. The Earth has warmed and cooled in the past, and will continue to do so for billions of years. Plants and animals will survive, though some species will eventually go extinct and be replaced by new species.

So then the second line of protest is that human beings didn’t really cause the warming trend of the past several decades. Well, the degree to which human heavy industry contributes is not known exactly. It’s greater than 1%, and probably less than 100. There’s no other single factor that accounts for warming across the globe than the byproducts of burning hydrocarbons. Scientists have looked. In the air and oceans. In space. Something might be there that’s causing it, but we know that human beings can significantly alter the Earth’s atmosphere by dumb blundering. Fluorocarbons and nitrogen compounds take out the ozone layer. It happens. We see it and measure it. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are also climbing. People who suggest human beings aren’t at fault haven’t found another suspect.

Third line: there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so let the next ice age or ice melt come. These people may have a point. It might be that human beings lack the ability or even the will to shape their environment. You tell me. I do know that if the Earth’s climate changes, either by flooding Bangladesh or India (Florida, not so much: they always have Alabama) there will be a planetload of political instability falling out from shifts in monsoons, or tens of millions of refugees on the move. Climate change is less about what it will do to polar bears. It will be a hell of an inconvenience if Nashville-style flooding plays out on a national scale in South Asia. Climate change would seem to demand some response from us. At the very least, knowing when to pull Americans out from foreign coastal regions (not to mention Florida and Rhode Island) in case the worst happens.

I know much objection is spit out there because of the political ramifications of climate change. Obviously, Big Oil is on the hook. But in another few centuries we’re going to run out of hydrocarbon fuel anyway. Unfair, others say, to spend our shrinking tax dollars to put carbon emitters out of business. I don’t know. We supported Big Oil and their automakers quite a bit by installing the interstate highway system. Are we operating a welfare state or not? Do we sponsor their shift to hydrogen cells and fusion? How did carmakers treat manufacturers of those horse buggies and steam trains?

Anyway, what to do in public policy about climate change is separate from the debate on whether or not it exists. But posting videos on plants making happy in high-carbon dioxide environments isn’t generating any credibility. That’s third-grade science, one blogger concedes.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to What Do You Mean It Was Just A Symbol?

  1. smf says:

    The “climategate” stuff is largely based on confirming suspicions that there was something a bit shabby, maybe even shady, about the global warming/climate change case. The entire thing is basically been sold using gross oversimplifications on the assumption that the public was far too stupid to understand and would simply trust the “experts”. It just so happens those experts want to fundamentally and permanently alter virtually every facet of the economy, society, and daily life for everyone, everywhere, forever, to solve a crisis only they are capable of seeing. Thus when some things don’t quite add up, when either the experts or their propagandists or the opportunist politicians/capitalists who plan on cashing in do something not quite in line with the truth, then that just seems to confirm the suspicion that perhaps the entire thing may be a bit of a sham.

    Now I happen to think some sort of human impact on climate to some degree is most likely possible, and possibly plausible. There could even be some possibility of catastrophic impact on the environment with calamitous results for people. However, I don’t buy most of the supposed solutions.

    I should mention that a confidential pentagon study on climate change was leaked (partially) a number of years ago (I think during the time Rumsfeld was SecDef) and it had some interesting conclusions and recommendations. Its principal conclusion was that based on the DoD review of the climate models from outside scientists, plus some unspecified other data, that if in fact the models were correct it was already several years too late to avoid major impacts on the climate. (This was based on several factors. One was that a significant lag between greenhouse gas emissions and warming was suspected. Another was that the process may be partially self feeding or running away like a chain reaction. The last was a rather honest assessment of the time required to make world wide changes needed for prevention, which it was admitted would take decades to implement.) Thus the report recommended planning for dealing with the consequences of climate change as being a better use of limited resources than trying to avoid it. The report suggested that increased instability, increased cases of the sort of “small wars” common to underdeveloped places, and increased security concerns in the coastal/littoral regions of the world and urban areas would be likely.

  2. R.C. says:

    I dunno.

    On contentious issues, it’s better practice to be rigorously truthful, not, y’know, “truthy.”

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