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Climate Change and the Theater of the Absurd

A recent column by Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times dealt with the topic of skepticism about the validity of the science of global climate change. Admittedly, there are many populist groups such as the Tea Party whose members also tend to doubt the theories. But that isn’t “news”. It’s not news when a group of people with conflicting interests who are unschooled on the science of global climate change express doubts about things they don’t want to be true.

What makes Kaufman’s story interesting is that she discussed the skepticism over global climate change theories held by – of all people – TV weather forecasters. Referring to a study performed by researchers from George Mason University and the University of Texas, she says, “. . . that only about half the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was ‘caused mostly by human activities.’” So some weathercasters have doubts. Oh boy!

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“Not Evil Just Wrong” – the Movie

I’ve always claimed to be open minded enough to review and consider all sides of an issue. In keeping with my boast, I endured the public release of Not Evil Just Wrong, Ann McElhinney’s cinematic effort to counter Al Gore’s Nobel Prize winning An Inconvenient Truth.  I knew I was in for a real scientific treat when I walked into the small military church in which the movie was playing and was asked to sign the guest book to validate the Tea-Partier’s attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records.  It’s not clear why it was important to be a part of history’s biggest opening night for pathetically flawed pseudo-documentary films.  I can only assume that if it somehow wormed its way into the record book, that would prove the rambling nonsense it contained would magically become validated science.  Judging from the number of empty seats in the room, it’s probably a non-issue anyway.

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Still Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

We humans are programmed to make assumptions, to extrapolate, to assume things move gradually from the past and into the future. If we see an object rolling down a slope, we’re wired to conclude it will gradually gain speed and ultimately reach the bottom of the slope. This ability serves us well when shooting clay pigeons, jumping on escalators, and swatting flies with a newspaper. Problems arise when the phenomenon being observed is more complicated than the simple, linear events we’re accustomed to seeing.

Consider a couple of rather poignant examples. House prices will always go up so buying a house is the only safe and secure investment a person can make. For a long time, that was true. House prices bounced a little, but by and large they increased continuously for a long time. But nothing increases forever, not even entropy. Many Americans were lulled into a false sense of security, but have now learned the meaning of terms like “short sale”, “up-side-down”, and “sheriff’s sale”.

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Time to Panic – Part 4 of 4 – Now What?

In the first three parts of this series, I’ve tried to avoid the techno-jargon while addressing the absolute minimum I believe every American needs to know about the global warming debate. In Part 2, I emphasized that it may literally be a matter of life and death that we come to grips with the concept of a “tipping point” before we reach one.  Part 3 tried to shed some light on the most common arguments against anthropogenic (human caused) global warming and why they are fallacious.  In this final part, I talk about a couple of common sense considerations that should leave little question as the qualitative, if not quantitative, impact of our actions on the planet and mankind’s future upon it.

“I won’t drop it.”  [CRASH]

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Time to Panic – Part 3 – The Moon-Bats of Denial

If the debate over global warming could be reduced to an “applausometer” type test where the loudest whistles and yee haa’s carried the day, the question would still be undecided.  There are substantial numbers of Americans that insist global warming is a myth.  A few acknowledge it is a reality, but only insofar as it is a natural, cyclical phenomenon and we just happen to be on the up-slope right now.  There are even groups largely from the evangelical wing that insist it’s all part of “the plan”.

There will always be people that take contrarian positions on pretty much anything and everything.  It’s not limited to global warming.  I suspect you can still find people believing the earth is flat, the stork delivers babies, gravity is a myth, the earth is the center of the universe, you can turn lead into gold, Bush has a brain and Michael Jackson is normal.  At my wife’s high school reunion I actually shook hands with a classmate named Travis Walton who spent three days as a prisoner on a flying saucer playing cribbage with aliens.  I’m not beginning to joke (except maybe about the cribbage; it may have been pinochle).  What should alarm you is that he says it with a straight face too.  See for yourself – http://www.travis-walton.com.

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Time to Panic – Part 2 – Tipping

When talking about global warming, scientists speak of “tipping points“. I suspect the average citizen has a cognitive grasp of the concept, but is light years away from a deeper understanding of a tipping point in this context – the “gestalt” so to speak. But if we are to avoid the annihilation of the human race, it is critical that main street America, including Joe the Plumber, gain a deeper understanding of tipping points. Once you witness one for the global climate, it’s probably too late to survive it.

There are tipping points all around us. They generally don’t carry the consequence of a global warming tipping point or you probably wouldn’t be here to read this. A tipping point is generally approached in what appears to be a very gradual fashion, frequently without any notice that you’re getting close to it. When you get there, however, you’ll know it. The problem is you generally can’t reverse it. You can’t go back. If you didn’t want to go there, you’ve got a serious problem because you no longer have the option of return even if you’re wearing Dorothy’s red shoes.

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Almost a Time for Panic – Part 1

On the topic of global warming, I’m a pessimist. I’m afraid the human animal is not evolutionarily prepared to understand and deal with the problem we face today. We’re capable of producing scientists that can see the problem, analyze it and recommended solutions. But frankly put, as a race, humans carry too much other evolutionary baggage to make it possible to shepherd themselves through the crisis. It’s not that we’re too stupid to see it coming or deal with it; it’s that we have other attributes that have served us well for tens of thousands of years that will prevent us from successfully dealing with the impending doom.

Greed, avarice and the ability to deny the inevitable have served us well in our old tribal environments, but they won’t get us through the current crisis. The inhabitants of the Easter Islands have given us strong evidence that human beings won’t sacrifice temporal pleasures for long term survival. It would be great to interview some of these people, but sadly they no longer exist. They “consumed” themselves into nonexistence. 

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