Thursday, March 01, 2007
Al Gore & Global Warming
I just got back from watching Al Gore speak at OU about global warming. Before that, I went to a debate about global warming by two professors. There have been a lot of people talking about the subject lately. Here are a few thoughts.
There seems to be two main camps that a lot of people fall into. There's one that has no doubt whatsoever that human activity is the cause of global warming, that's it's a huge problem that will lead to all kinds of catastrophes, and that anyone who disagrees with them is a complete idiot and/or doesn't care about the world. These people tend to think they know it all, and a lot of them are political activists who think they're saving the world. There were a few sitting next to me at both presentations today. A couple of them were mocking one of the debaters, as if they (who probably weren't scientists of any kind) knew so much more about it than a scientist who studies it.
Then there's another group that thinks all this global warming stuff is nonsense, that it's not really happening and/or not really a problem, or that it's part of some kind of left-wing conspiracy. These tend to think that anyone who disagrees with them is a hippie environmentalist or a crazy liberal. Some of them have an "it doesn't matter because God will take care of it" approach.
Both of these frustrate me. A lot!!!! It's amazing how people can turn a scientific issue into an ideological one.
I listened carefully to Al Gore's presentation. I'm not really qualified to talk about the public policy aspects of it, but here's how I feel about the science of it: for the most part, it was pretty good. It was based on very basic principles that should not be controversial at all. On the other hand, the climate system is quite a bit more complex than he implied, and some of his figures and statistics were a bit misleading.
There were only a couple things I heard that were flat out wrong, but they were very minor points (e.g., when talking about recent record temperatures, he said "South Dakota shouldn't be as hot as 120 degrees (F; as it was a couple summers ago)", when in fact SD often is very hot during the summer, and North Dakota reached 121 degrees over 70 years ago). But most of his discussion about the science was pretty good. I was skeptical at first because he's not a scientist, but being who he is, he has easy access to (and has consulted a lot with) leading scientists/researchers. So he does have some credibility. More than I once thought.
He came to some interesting and somewhat scary conclusions. I can't say whether the 'doom and gloom' scenarios will actually happen. I have serious doubts. But it's really hard to know. And that's my main point with all of this. We don't have global warming all figured out, so we shouldn't act like we do -- that's true for scientists, but even more so for political activists who haven't actually studied it. I don't know for sure that it's a big problem or not, but it might be. And because it might be a problem, I think we should take appropriate steps (just in case) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as is reasonable .