Confessions of a Climate Change Heretic

I'm hijacking my writing journal another week for another political piece.

I suppose deciding if I’m a “Climate Change Denier” depends on who you ask.

While I don’t doubt there is evidence that through the end of 1990’s the world has been growing warmer, I have my a few doubts about the causes and even more about what we should do in response to rising global temperatures.

One thing I’m not confused over is that the global climate is a mind-numbingly complex system of interdependent variables.  I remember back when I was studying fluid dynamics in my University days – it was extremely difficult to mathematically describe the velocity profile of a fluid flowing over anything beyond the simplest surfaces or through the least complex shapes.  It took hours and hours to build finite difference models to simulate what was happening in the real world – and even after that, we would still get results that were directionally incorrect.

Of course I realize I was but a lowly student and not to be compared to those with lofty doctoral degrees in meteorology, but to me the complexities surrounding the modeling of a planet’s climate – a model that, by necessity, must contain thousands of variables and thousands of assumptions/estimates, and extend over many years of history and future – appears to be an overwhelming task.

So is it any wonder that today’s models have failed to accurately predict the last 15 years?  Maybe someday someone will develop the ultimate climate model, one that predicts the future reliably and accurately and can properly take into account human impacts on global temperature.  But we’re not there.  At least not yet.  As Niels Bohr once famously said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

So does it make me a “climate denier” that I’m unsure of the role of human activity in driving the global climate?  If we weren’t here, would the climate rest in a happy steady state?  Wouldn’t everything be copacetic?

Who knows?

I do agree there are credible arguments that the increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere (undoubtedly the result of human activity) will gradually increase temperatures.  Historical curves matching global temperatures with rising CO2 concentration ought to be concerning to anyone.  No, I don’t have a problem conceding that human activity is almost certainly driving higher CO2 concentrations which are most likely driving temperatures higher.  My problem is the proposed cure.

If global warming continues unchecked – as per the IPCC consensus forecast, which is based on climate models – we can expect a significant rise in temperatures by 2055-2080.  According to the IPCC second installment, it will cost between 0.2% and 2% of global GDP to adapt to this.  In other words, it represents a significant problem, but one smaller in cost than either of the two world wars or the great depression.

Combating climate change, according to the IPCC third installment, will cost upwards of 4% of GDP by 2030, 6% in 2050, and 11% by 2100 – and these numbers may be optimistic as they assume the development of alternative technologies to combat CO2 emissions that don’t exist today.

So which is worse?  The disease or the cure?

Clearly, if you think of the situation in purely human terms, dealing with the problems presented by climate change as they develop will be substantially cheaper.  And what about the often-cited argument that climate change will disproportionally impact the poor?  If we are relying on this as justification for spending trillions of dollars to try to slow and ultimately reverse a climate in full gallop, there are more effective alternatives help the poor.

We live in a world where one in six deaths is a result of easily curable infectious diseases, and one in eight deaths is caused by air pollution – mainly the result of cooking inside and using twigs or dung as fuel.  Do we honestly believe that gradually rising global temperatures figure more largely into a poor person’s needs than a cure for malaria?  Than a lack of sanitation or clean water?  Than basic medical care?

I don’t deny that global temperature increases represent a problem, but they certainly don’t merit the degree of alarmism currently being ascribed to them.  And certainly “denying” or largely ignoring it is far from “dereliction of duty,” as President Obama recently said in a graduation ceremony speech to coast guard cadets.

Instead of lavishly spending on preventing climate change, why not put our focus on developing future technologies to help us cope with its effects.  If we spent ten percent of the “savings” on vaccinations for poor children in third world countries, the positive impact on humanity would be massive.  The total bill to provide clean water to those in poverty ought to be far less than what has been proposed to manage climate change, and the impact on the poor will be greater and more immediate.

Yes, I understand there is a case to be made for preventing the climate from drifting into unknown territory, a place where there may be a tipping point that tilts us toward catastrophic results.  But given the costs and the lack of precision in our ability to foretell the future of our global climate, in my humble opinion the costs are far too high.

So, am I a climate heretic?

Probably.  Certainly, in the opinion of those most alarmed about the potential impacts of climate change on the planet, I am.

But I’m comfortable with that.

These are the three novels in my "Carson Trilogy."  Click on the image to get a description of LEVERAGE, the first book in the series.

These are the three novels in my "Carson Trilogy."  Click on the image to get a description of LEVERAGE, the first book in the series.