What is really galling about global warming

By Andrew L. Urban

“My objections to the global warming propaganda are not so much over the technical facts, about which I do not know much, but it’s rather against the way those people behave and the kind of intolerance to criticism that a lot of them have. I think that’s what upsets me.” – Freeman Dyson [1]

 What is really galling about global warming discussions – from dinner table to grandiose international symposia – is the simplistic, one dimensional nature of the discourse. The plain-packaged parameters of these discussions have been reduced to just two themes: 1 – whether or not you ‘believe’ in global warming (now referred to only as ‘climate change’); and 2 – which countries will or will not promise to introduce some form of emission reduction policies (however genuine or useless or undelivered the policies may be).

Where is the serious, informed and scientific questioning of alternative ways to combat the effects of global warming, real or not, rapid or slow, man made (assisted) or not. Where is the cost-benefit analysis of emission reducing policies?

Of the serious, informed and engaged scientific commentators, Bjorn Lomborg stands out as a voice of reason, learning and common sense, arguing that trying to reduce emissions globally (or even locally) is absolutely the wrong approach; not only is it incredibly costly, it is pathetically ineffective. He is not a ‘denier’, either.

He has written extensively on the subject, pointing out how the money wasted on trying to reduce emissions could be saving lives – by the million. Here’s just one example of his argument: “Global warming is by no means our main environmental threat. Even if we assumed unreasonably that it caused all deaths from floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms, this total would amount to just 0.06 per cent of all deaths in developing countries. In comparison, 13 per cent of allThird Worlddeaths result from water and air pollution.

“So, for each person who might die from global warming, about 210 people die from health problems that result from a lack of clean water and sanitation, from breathing smoke generated by burning dirty fuels (such as dried animal dung) indoors, and from breathing polluted air outdoors.

By focusing on measures to prevent global warming, the advanced countries might help to prevent many people from dying. That sounds good until you realise that it means that 210 times as many people in poorer countries might die needlessly because the resources that could have saved them were spent on windmills, solar panels, biofuels, and other rich-world fixations.”  

“…in a world where a billion people go to bed hungry, and where six million die each year from air and water pollution, most of those in the developing world likely have a very different set of priorities for their future.” (The AustralianJune 18, 2012, writing on the UN Earth Summit inRio.)

Part of the problem is surely the undemocratic – dictatorial, despotic – way that debate is being curtailed by those well-meaning but misguided bullies, the advocates of carbon pricing. They have contributed to an appalling, anti-scientific mindset in public discourse. Instead of encouraging questioning, they hope to shut it down – the exact antithesis of genuine scientific behaviour.

Why would that be? Why such extreme aggression, eg the ABC’s Science Show Host Robyn Williams and his over-heated remarks about ‘deniers’ such as the ex Chair of the ABC, Maurice L. Newman, who likens the avid believers in man-induced climate change to religious believers? (The Australian,November 5, 2012.)

Those like Williams, whose income is not reliant on a great big climate change industry (he has been around a long time) are driven by fervour; genuine passionate belief that science has unequivocally proven that man is helping to distress the planet. This is an understandable view and even forgivable over-reaction. But this view should not blind Williams and others who agree with him to the advantages of a much broader scientific and socio-political discussion about what to do in the face of this threat.

A more cynical view may be permitted about those who do indeed rely for generous income from the climate change industry, whose self interest may collide with their private judgements. But they, too, should welcome a more sophisticated approach to the issue than the only one on the agenda – the impossibly ambitious, perhaps even ridiculous notion that we can impose global controls over carbon dioxide emissions.

 The world has never yet managed to come together even in the most admirable of causes; the UN has failed to keep minorities and women safe around the world, it has failed to bring peace to warring regions, and it has a questionable record on its role as a global policeman on human rights. No other organisation has achieved anything on a global scale, either; so to imagine that governments already besieged by demands for more bread would spend any political capital on making that bread even more difficult to get is a pipedream. Better, more effective and lifesaving to bake some bread and feed the hungry, clean the water and distribute the medicines.

[1] Freeman John Dyson FRS (born December 15, 1923) is a British / American theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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